Posts tagged ‘National Review’

Social Media Sins

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Credit: Erik Lucatero on Unsplash

A new study from the Journal of the American Medical Association finds that teenagers who spend as little as one hour on social media over what they normally would in a given year show increased markers for depression. According to the report:

Repeated exposure to idealized images [on social media] lowers adolescents’ self-esteem, triggers depression, and enhances depression over time. Furthermore, heavier users of social media with depression appear to be more negatively affected by their time spent on social media.

In an article for Christianity Today, Jeff Christopherson decries the dangers lurking in social media not only for teenagers, but also for society-at-large. He explains:

If the social media experiment was intended to connect and enlighten the world, it appears to have failed, and failed spectacularly. Our social connectivity has actually produced a more disconnected, isolated and polarized society. We have become more entrenched, angrier, and observably much, much dumber. Political, cultural, and – yes – theological echo chambers have only served to exhaust any semblance of critical thinking and extinguish any light for truth.

Mr. Christopherson’s sentiments are echoed by National Review writer Kevin Williamson, who, in an excerpt from his new book, describes how the memes we post on social media are often nothing but agents of attack on others rather than windows into an understanding of others. He writes:

We think in language. We signal in memes. Language is the instrument of discourse. Memes are the instrument of antidiscourse, i.e., communication designed and deployed to prevent the exchange of information and perspectives rather than to enable it, a weapon of mass intellectual destruction – the moron bomb. The function of discourse is to know other minds and to make yours known to them; the function of antidiscourse is to lower the status of rivals and enemies. 

All this is to say that there are plenty of dangers prowling around social media.

Sadly, Christians are not immune to these dangers. Mr. Christopherson, in his article, takes Christians to task for their sometimes reckless ways on social media. But even if we are not immune to social media’s sirens, we can fight against them. In a social media environment that feigns perfection in picture postings, we can point toward true perfection in Christ. In a social media environment that stupefies with anti-proverbs, we can teach with true wisdom from Christ. In a social media environment that inflames hatred, we can live out the love of Christ.

At the heart of many of our social media woes is a problem with comparisons. We either compare our lives to the idealized Instagram-filtered lives of our peers and find ourselves lacking and thus sink into despair, or we compare our opinions to those of others on Twitter and find others lacking and thus ascend into arrogance. But there is an antidote to the sins of despair and arrogance: humility. A humble person, instead of craving to compare, is comfortable in their own skin. They feel no need to measure up to others or to look down on others because their identity, worth, and world is not found in others, but in an Other – Jesus Christ. A humble person measures their self-worth not according to their own shortcomings or successes, but according to Christ’s death on a cross, which levels the playing field between all people as it reveals every person as a sinner in need of God’s grace.

In a social media ecosystem filled with comparison, perhaps we should post more about and point more to Christ. After all, whether a person is posting polished pictures on Instagram or vicious vitriol on Twitter, that person needs Christ, too.

August 19, 2019 at 5:15 am 3 comments

When Not Practicing What You Preach About Sex Is a Good Thing

Holding Hands

It’s no secret that we live in a sexually infatuated society.  In an article for The Federalist, Shane Morris cites research showing that 92 percent of the 174 songs that made it into the Billboard Top 10 during 2009 included references to sex.  What’s more, in another study, researchers found that from the 1960s to the 2000s, songs with sexual subject matter sung by male artists went from 7 percent in the decade known for its “make love, not war” attitude to a whopping 40 percent in the 2000s.   In another compelling factoid, Morris mentions that out of Billboard’s top 50 love songs of all time, only six are from the year 2000 or later.  Why?  Because artists just don’t sing about love like they used to.  Instead, they boast about sex.

And yet…

For all our boasting about sex, it turns out that actual sexual intimacy between real human beings is down.  In a study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, researchers found that “American adults had sex about nine fewer times per year in the early 2010s compared to the late 1990s” due primarily to “an increasing number of individuals without a steady or marital partner.”  Even those who are married reported “a decline in sexual frequency among those partners.”  Interestingly enough, these same researchers found that, out of all the recent generations, it was the generation born in the 1930s that enjoyed intimacy most often.

As Christians, we know that part of our culture’s quandary over what we say and what we actually do about sex comes because sex has become largely decoupled from its biblical context – that of marriage.  Our culture’s vaulted sexual revolution has not led to more or better sex.  It’s just led to the enshrinement of sex as an idol.  And anything that is idolized inevitably becomes counted on for too much, which, in turn, makes it deliver less than it could if it was kept in its proper place in the first place.  Thus, it is no surprise that our near-worship of sex has not led to an increase in sex.

There are some hopeful signs that we, as a society, know, even if only intuitively, that we have taken a wrong turn when it comes to sex.  In a post for National Review, Max Bloom notes that for all of the avant-garde attitudes Millennials might have about sex, in their actual intimate lives, they are trending toward the traditional:

Millennials are more than twice as likely to have had no sexual partners in their early 20s than those born in the 1960s. In general, Millennials have about as many sexual partners as Baby Boomers and considerably less than Generation X-ers – those born in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s.

It turns out that, when it comes to sexual partners and practices, what is old is new again.  There is still plenty of room for monogamy and abstinence.  Bloom notes that Millennials are trending traditional in other ways, too: “They are less likely to drink, smoke marijuana, or use cocaine than previous generations.”  But for all their traditional habits, one non-traditional trend continues:  Millennials continue to increasingly drift from traditional religious practices such as worship and prayer.

So, what does all this tell us?  First, it tells us that even as our culture drifts from any understanding of or appreciation for Christian orthodoxy, natural law, à la Romans 2:14-15, seems to still hold some sway over our concrete propriety.  Second, our trending sexual traditionalism also tells us that our God really does have, even for a society that can be as misguided as ours can be, what the Calvinists call “common grace.”  Regardless of whether or not our culture believes in traditional sexual mores, the very fact that so many of us live by a more traditional code of ethics that protects us from the pain, fear, and heartbreak that sexual egalitarianism inevitably brings is a testament to God’s broad, gracious protection of society.  To those who have walked down the road of sexual anarchy and have had their hearts and bodies broken in the process, Christians must be prepared to offer love, understanding, guidance, and grace.

Hopefully, the materializing rupture between what we as a culture believe and what we as a culture do when it comes to sex will lead us to try to reconcile our curious pockets of orthopraxy with a much-needed orthodoxy.  Our culture will be better for it.  And who knows?  We might just be able to stop boasting about sex in songs because we’ll actually be enjoying more love in life.

July 24, 2017 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Family Is Good, Even If It’s Not Good For You

New research from Northwestern University indicates that an intact family structure is important for the wellbeing of all children, but especially for boys. The New York Times reports:

Boys are more sensitive than girls to disadvantage. Any disadvantage, like growing up in poverty, in a bad neighborhood or without a father, takes more of a toll on boys than on their sisters. That realization could be a starting point for educators, parents and policy makers who are trying to figure out how to help boys – particularly those from black, Latino and immigrant families.[1]

This, of course, is not to say that girls do not suffer when a family is not in tact. Sara McLanahan and Isabel Sawhill, writing for Princeton and Brookings, talk about the effects of broken families and children in general:

Marriage is on the decline. Men and women of the youngest generation are either marrying in their late twenties or not marrying at all. Childbearing has also been postponed, but not as much as marriage. The result is that a growing proportion of children are born to unmarried parents – roughly 40 percent in recent years, and over 50 percent for children born to women under 30 …

The consequences of this instability for children are not good. Research increasingly shows that family instability undermines parents’ investments in their children, affecting the children’s cognitive and social-emotional development in ways that constrain their life chances.[2]

Families are falling apart. And the results are not good.

Certainly there is a theological argument to be made for the necessity of the family. Adam, Eve, and their command from God to “be fruitful and increase in number” (Genesis 1:28) speaks to the divine origin and order of the family and points to it as a gift from God to humanity. But there is also a teleological argument to be made for the necessity of the family. For instance, an article in National Review notes, “Married parenthood was a stronger predictor of economic mobility than was a state’s racial composition or the share of its population that is college-educated.”[3] If you want your children to grow up to be economically secure tomorrow, offer them a healthy family structure today. This applies, of course, not only to future economic mobility, but to future emotional, relational, and vocational stability as well.

So if this is the case, why is there no rush to trade the cohabitation, permissive divorce laws, and broken families of today for the nuclear Leave It To Beaver-style families of yesterday? The answer is, once again, teleology. The teleological argument for the family that focuses on kids assumes that the primary goal of parents is to want what is best for their kids. And many times, even in broken families, parents do want what is best for their kids. I know many single parents, for instance, who will sacrifice in any way they can right now to try to give their children the best possible shot at stability later.

But sometimes, among some people, the teleology of personal desire and pleasure trumps the teleology of the thriving of children. “Even if a traditional family is better for my kids,” some may say, “I don’t want to be tied down by the traditional accouterments and commitments of marriage.” “Even if a traditional family is better for my kids,” others may say, “I don’t like the sexual restraints that traditional family structures demand.” Though I doubt many people would be so bold as to outright say such things (although some have), the enticement of the teleology of personal desire and pleasure is powerful, even if subconsciously.

So as we talk about why the traditional family structure is good and why it should be promoted and protected, we also need to ask the question, “Good for whom?” If we mean a traditional family structure is good for children, we could not be more correct. If we mean it is good for selfish desire and pleasure, we could not be more wrong. Having a family of your own, much like being in the family of Christ, is a lesson in dying to oneself (cf. Matthew 16:25). And though this is good transcendently, it’s not easy practically. Nor is it always desirable personally. This is why for some, the demands of a traditional family structure are simply a bridge too far. They will not sacrifice themselves for the sake of another. But for those who do, even if their traditional family structure has been broken through no fault of their own, allow me to say “thank you.” You have discovered what matters most in life: others. And because you have discovered that, who comes after you will be better because of you.

____________________________________

[1] Claire Cain Miller, “A Disadvantaged Start Hurts Boys More Than Girls,” The New York Times (10.22.2015).

[2] Sara McLanahan & Isabel Sawhill, “Marriage and Child Wellbeing Revisited: Introducing the Issue,” Marriage and Child Wellbeing Revisited 25, no. 2 (Fall 2015): 3-9.

[3] W. Bradford Wilcox, “Family Structure Matters – Science Proves It,” National Review (10.23.2015).

November 2, 2015 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


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