Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Hey Mr. Alpha, I’m Beta Than You!

Recently, I learned that supporters of one of the presidential candidates are in the habit of derisively accusing their opponents of being “beta males.” (Presumably they don’t say this to their female opponents, but you never know.)

I’ve heard of the term alpha male, which I think describes a take-charge, leader type of guy. I wasn’t sure what beta male meant, nor why it was an insult, so I looked up the definitions.

It turns out I was correct about alpha male. Here is one definition: “Alpha males are strong-willed leaders who love to take charge. Exuding charm and machismo, they’re known for their natural confidence and exceptional leadership abilities. They know what they want, never back down from a fight, and aren’t afraid of making waves to obtain their goals.”
The same article defined beta males this way: “Beta males are extremely kind and down to earth. Shyer and more reserved, beta males value personal relationships over material wealth or career achievements. They’re often associated with happy, long-term marriages and children that adore them. Betas are communicative, creative, and make great romantic partners.”

Um, OK, I don’t see at all where the term “beta male” could be considered an insult. I kept searching online, and found this comment: “Beta males never could’ve planned and executed the D-Day invasion at Normandy.” Well, I suppose that’s true. But on the other hand, the D-Day invasion of Normandy would not have been necessary if the out-of-control alpha males had not made such a mess of things. It seems some fellas think the best way to show off for the ladies is to invade a nearby country. Can’t they just tell a few jokes and buy them a drink?
It turns out there are multiple designations, as some psychologists apparently decided to give the Greek alphabet a real workout. Besides the aggressive alpha male and the laid back beta male, there are these additional “modalities of manhood”: 

Gamma males are the life of the party. They are equally creative and adventurous, and are generally fun-loving men of culture. They are loud and bombastic, and constantly on the move.

Delta males are very responsible and highly adaptable. They are competent with a strong work ethic, and love learning new skills. Deltas are dependable and unpretentious.

Zeta males are one-of-a-kind progressives and nonconformists. They don’t care what other people think and refuse to change in order to fit into a social category. Zetas are fiercely creative and trailblazers. 

Sigma males are confident mentors who are not interested in power or social status. They spend time helping other people, and often earn the respect of their peers, but don’t really need it.

Omega males are skilled introverts. They are independent and comfortable being alone. Omegas prefer to come up with brilliant ideas rather than socialize with others. They have a keen sense of humor, which is often uncouth.

Hmm, that’s probably more information than I wanted to know. It’s disconcerting enough to learn there is something called “modalities of manhood.”
Personally, I know I’m not an alpha, nor do I want to be, but I wonder if it’s possible to have some traits from multiple categories. If so, I should’ve joined the Beta Sigma Omega fraternity at college, because those are the modalities I identify with the most.

Being a Beta-Sig-O, I would rather shove a sharp pencil in my ear than get into a shouting match with a fervent supporter of either presidential candidate. But if it happened, and the other person derisively accused me of being a “beta male,” I would reply, “Thank you for the compliment. My wife, family, and friends are very grateful that I don’t possess the skill set needed to start a World War.”

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Famous Atheist Identifies as ‘Cultural Christian’

Recently, famous atheist Richard Dawkins surprised a lot of people when he said to a journalist, “I call myself a cultural Christian. I’m not a believer, but there’s a distinction between being a believing Christian and being a cultural Christian.”

Dawkins went on to explain, “I love hymns and Christmas carols, and I sort of feel at home in the Christian ethos.…We [in the U.K.] are a ‘Christian country’ in that sense.”  
Those are amazing statements, coming from the author of best-selling books such as “The God Delusion,” in which Dawkins insists anyone who believes in God is deluded; and “The Blind Watchmaker,” a tome claiming that incredibly complex biological life came into existence on this planet purely by accident, without any design or plan or supernatural guidance.

Dawkins is not wrong to recognize that Christianity is responsible for the freedoms, science, and belief in human rights that emerged from Western Civilization. Oh sure, the process was gruesome at times, with many powerful Christians displaying a startling aptitude for selfishness, greed, and hypocrisy. But the fact is, many of the great social advances of humankind — abolition of slavery, democracy, women’s suffrage, and the Civil Rights movement — were spearheaded by believing Christians.

Those advances in the rights and dignity of all people simply did not emerge in other cultures that were unfamiliar with the Judeo-Christian worldview.

It’s almost comical that Dawkins can say with a straight face that he’s glad the churches and cathedrals in England are mostly empty nowadays, while at the same time lamenting that these historic achievements in architecture are being torn down.

The thing is, Dawkins cannot have it both ways. If Christian doctrines are false — delusions, as he puts it — then Christian culture will not survive. This worries Dawkins, who expressed alarm that churches are closing all over the U.K, while 6,000 additional mosques are scheduled to be built in the coming years.

Writer Shane Morris summarized the situation quite well: “You can’t have Christianity’s fruit without its root.”

Another author, Tom Holland (who is not a Christian, by the way), had this to say: “Secularism and Dawkins’ own brand of evangelical atheism are both expressions of a specifically Christian culture — as Dawkins himself, sitting on the branch he’s been sawing through and gazing nervously at the ground far below, seems to have begun to realize.” 
I remember when I stopped being an atheist, almost four decades ago. Back in the mid-1980s, I heard a preacher on the radio say that America had become a “post-Christian nation.” The country was founded and built predominantly by believing Christians, he explained. However, by the late 20th century most people no longer believed the fundamental teachings of Christianity: the Ten Commandments, sacrificing for others, being humble and honest, etc. We were, as he put it, “a country running on Christian fumes, but it can’t last much longer.” 

Well, the changes that have occurred in our society in the past four decades make it pretty clear, to me at least, that the Christian fumes are just about used up. Our new national creed, “Do whatever you want!” is not really working out so well. When a culture rejects traditional morality as old-fashioned, it does not become amoral, it becomes immoral.

Another talented writer, Rod Dreher, observed that for Richard Dawkins to claim that he likes cathedrals and Christmas carols, but is glad church attendance is declining, is like saying he enjoys eating but is glad his country’s farms are closing. 

It’s tempting to read about Dawkins’ interview and laugh at how this otherwise brilliant man cannot see the forest because of the trees. The first impulse is to mock a person who has been such a relentless opponent of religious faith for so many years. (And I, unfortunately, was born with an abundant supply of mockiness.)
But I think the proper thing to do here is pray for Richard Dawkins. Just think how powerful a witness he could be if, as happened with philosopher Antony Flew in 2004, Dawkins comes to understand in the final years of his life that creation requires a Creator. 

We should do what Christians are always supposed to do: love God, and love our neighbor as ourselves.

Tuesday, May 7, 2024

Senior Years a Chance to Avoid Purgatory

Being elderly can be a struggle. It’s difficult watching our bodies and/or our minds steadily deteriorate. Actually, it’s often impossible to “watch” our bodies deteriorate since our eyesight has gotten poor, too.

However, there is a silver lining. The senior citizen years are a great time to make sure we don’t have to spend time in Purgatory. 

No matter what you’ve heard, Purgatory is a valid Church doctrine. It is a wonderful reality and a sign of God’s mercy. After all, if we have faith in God at the moment of our death — the basic requirement for salvation — but with a lot of bad attitudes as part of our personality, then we will not at all enjoy Heaven. This is because Heaven is the place where every person forgets about him or herself and focuses all attention on the divine Lord. Well, just imagine a guy who is only happy when people focus their attention on him. He’ll be miserable in Heaven. He’ll be pleading, “Hey, look at me!” but no one will even notice him. 
So, people like that really need a little “attitude adjustment bootcamp” before going to Heaven, where all bad personality traits can be corrected. Purgatory is the opportunity to have selfishness, anger, cynicism, prejudice, and pride scrubbed away from our souls. 

The worst sin is pride, since it is the foundation of so many other sins. Pride is when we are obsessively focused on ourselves, and we constantly compare ourselves to others. As C.S. Lewis so brilliantly explained, pride does not take any pleasure in and of itself, but only in the comparison to others. For example, people are not proud of being good looking or wealthy; instead, they’re proud of being better looking or wealthier than others. If everyone was beautiful and rich, these folks wouldn’t be happy because they could not say that they’re “better” than others.

The opposite of pride is humility — which is not the same as humiliation. A humble person understands the reality of his situation. If he’s good looking or financially successful, he knows those are gifts from God. If other people are better looking or wealthier, he is genuinely happy for them. He doesn't need to be constantly pleading, “Hey, look at me!” He is content with who he is, since he is not in competition with everyone else. He is focused on loving and serving God.

Being humble is the attitude God wants from us, and it is the attitude we need to have to fully enjoy the delights of Heaven. 
Many people with genuine faith in God go through life exhibiting far too much pride and way too little humility. If things don’t change, these people are going to need a big dose of Purgatory to get ready for Heaven.

But there is a way to avoid Purgatory and go straight to Heaven the moment we take our last breath here on earth. We need to make humility a major part of our personality. And how do we become humble? Well, one way is to deal with the trials and tribulations of aging with the right attitude. 

As I mentioned at the beginning, the senior citizen years are when our bodies and/or minds steadily deteriorate. If we are prideful, and therefore constantly comparing ourselves to others, our final years will be miserable, because at that point in life, EVERYBODY is going to be better looking, younger, stronger, and more productive. 

If we instead develop a sense of humility, focusing on God rather than ourselves, and accepting that our current situation is God’s will for us, we will definitely have more peace. And we just might become humble enough to skip Purgatory and go straight to Heaven.
Whenever we realize we are comparing ourselves to others, with selfish pride making us unhappy about it, we should thank God for the gift of a long life, and ask Him for the grace to accept the trials we face. Then we should focus on being genuinely happy for all those young pups out there who still have strength and stamina, rather than being envious. 

If we can cultivate the virtue of humility in our senior years, we will be much more content during the time we have remaining. After all, turning into a grumpy old man (or woman) is not inevitable. Neither is Purgatory.

Sunday, May 5, 2024

Is Earth Spinning Out of Control?

Recently I read a news story with this headline: “Earth is spinning faster than it used to. Clocks might have to skip a second to keep up.”

The main body of the article said this: “For the first time in history, world timekeepers may have to consider subtracting a second from our clocks in a few years because the planet is rotating a tad faster than it used to. Clocks may have to skip a second — called a ‘negative leap second’ — around 2029, a study in the journal Nature said.”
Some people read or heard that news story and probably said, “Oh no, is the earth going to spin so fast that the centrifugal force sends us all flying off into space?!” I suspect the people who made this comment were involved in the infamous “merry-go-round playground incident” at Abraham Pierson School in Clinton, CT, in 1964. Back then, a few rambunctious boys — whose names have escaped my memory at the moment — started spinning the merry-go-round as fast as possible, and poor little Cindy McGillicuddy lost her grip on the metal bar and went flying off into the air. The subsequent seven weeks of wearing a cast on her arm certainly was not the fault of the rambunctious boys, since they had nothing to do with the decision to install the playground merry-go-round, not on wood chips, not on sand, not on grass, but instead on a hard asphalt surface.

In retrospect, that foolish decision paled when compared to the even more egregious decision to install the playground monkey bars on the same hard asphalt surface. The injury rate was at least ten times greater on the monkey bars compared to the merry-go-round. Countless skinny second graders would lose their grip on the bars, and not only fracture a wrist, arm, or ankle when they slammed onto the blacktop, but also experience the joy of whacking their chin or forehead onto a metal pipe as they began their rapid descent. It’s a miracle we survived growing up in that era.
Other people, upon reading the recent news story, probably wondered what’s the big deal about the earth spinning slightly faster? So what if we will need to make a one-second adjustment in five years? For most of us, if all of our watches, clocks, computers, coffee makers, and microwave ovens are within about four minutes of each other, that’s more than accurate enough.

However, according to the news story, there are two established versions of time being used today: astronomical and atomic. If those two different timekeeping methods are not synchronized exactly, it causes big problems with high tech systems such as computer networks and communications satellites. Well, I’m not sure what to say about that, since I have no idea how any of that stuff works.

Anyway, when I read that news story, my first thought was: “There’s really an occupation called ‘world timekeeper’? You’re kidding me.”

How do you land a job like that? Do they advertise for the position on Indeed or ZipRecruiter? How many drummers showed up for an interview? (“The other guys in the band say I’m excellent at keeping time.”) I wonder if people misread the want ad and showed up looking for a job as a beekeeper, peacekeeper, shopkeeper, innkeeper, or chimney sweeper? 
I wonder what the business card looks like for someone who is an official World Timekeeper. “Phineas Q. Pifflepants, DTK” (which stands for Doctorate of Time Keeping). And which colleges offer advanced degrees in timekeeping? 

It seems like much ado about nothing. But on the other hand, if those timekeeping geniuses could make Mondays disappear, then I’d be interested.

Also, I still can’t remember who those rambunctious boys were.

Wednesday, May 1, 2024

Geezer Offers Advice to Younger Generations

As an official senior citizen, I’ve noticed the biggest misconception young people have about old people is this: young people assume that old folks have been old for so long that our default setting is “geezer.” That is: we are old people, we think like old people, we act like old people, and we have no understanding of what it’s like to be a young person.

For example, when I was a mere lad, I assumed my grandmother had always been old. Then one day, I saw an old photo of her when she was about 30. That photo blew my mind. I couldn’t believe she once was a regular person. 
That way of thinking, I suppose, is understandable for a little kid. However, that view of elderly people doesn’t change much when little kids become young adults. 

In my case, age 70 is only a few years away. I am definitely old, and I know it and accept it. But when you look at the timeline of my life, being old is a very small percentage. I once saw a T-shirt that read: “I don’t act my age because I’m new at being old.” That kind of sums it up for me.

My 50th high school reunion will be happening in another year or so. And I can already tell you the most frequent comment that will be made at that event: “I can’t believe we got old so quickly!”

I guarantee my classmates will exclaim that statement dozens and dozens of times. How do I know that? Because other friends and coworkers who are in my age range have been exclaiming that very same thing for the past decade.
Even though I am officially a geezer now, I can vividly remember being a teenager and playing football and baseball in high school. It doesn’t seem like it was all that long ago.

I can remember when our daughters were really young, a time preserved forever in video. Apparently, back then you were not allowed to use the video camera on any days except December 24th and 25th. All of our family videos were shot during Christmases over the course of many years. But those videos are still wonderful keepsakes of those delightful times. It was over three decades ago, but in my mind those days seem very recent.

So, I wish younger generations understood this about old people: we are genuinely stunned that we are old. During the vast majority of our lives we were not old. The aging process happened so quickly and we were quite surprised when half our hair turned gray and the old half turned loose. We were, and still are, surprised that we now have more doctors than close friends.

Just think back to your first days of being a freshman in high school. Everything was new and a little frightening. You didn’t know your way around at all. Well, that’s the way senior citizens feel about being old. It’s all new and a little frightening. 

Even though young people are convinced that we are crotchety old geezers (which, of course, we are), we weren’t always like this. During the vast majority of our lives we were young. In the back of our minds, we still believe we are young.
So, young people of the world: please cut us some slack. This old age thing is new and uncharted territory for us. And don’t forget: someday, sooner than you think, you will be in the exact same situation. When that happens, I would like to be able to say to you, “Ha, I told you so!” But that likely will not happen, since I don’t expect to live to be 109 years old.

Tuesday, April 30, 2024

The Two Most Important Days

Mark Twain once said, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” 

When I first heard this quotation, I was watching a religious video. When the person said the first most important day is “the day you are born,” I immediately thought he was about to say the second most important day is the day you die. In Christian theology, physical death is not the end, it’s just the beginning. The first important day, the day of our birth, is when we join the Church Militant, those of us who fight the spiritual struggle that defines our time here on earth. Then, at the moment of our death, that’s when we (hopefully) join the Church Triumphant, those who live in eternal joy in Heaven. 
Of course, there are a couple of other options at the moment of death. We also could join the Church Suffering, those souls that are in Purgatory going through spiritual bootcamp to prepare for the joys of Heaven. Finally, people who die without having any genuine repentance for their sins or expressing any sincere faith in God end up outside of God’s love forever. The Bible makes it very clear that this state of eternal existence is, um, well, let’s just say it’s not very pleasant.

Anyway, when I first heard Twain’s quotation, that’s what I thought the second part would be: the day of our death. Obviously, in that fraction of a second, I didn’t think the whole thing through with the same level of detail I’ve explained in the previous two paragraphs. But I just thought the guy was about to say, “The day you die.”

So, I was a bit surprised when he said, “The day you find out why.” I thought, “Ooh, that’s clever. I didn’t see that coming.” Mark Twain was known for being rather clever, and this is a good example.
Finding out why you were born means discovering your purpose in life. For many people these days, their main purpose in life seems to be maximizing comfort and pleasure, and accumulating as much material wealth as possible. But those things are so fleeting; here one day and gone the next.

Seeking our true purpose for being alive means we have to look at the religious and spiritual component of this topic. After all, if we assume there is a WHY to our existence, then our Creator has to be part of the discussion. You see, if there is no Creator, if our existence is just a random cosmic accident, then there is no WHY. We just appeared on this planet for a brief time — no plan or purpose — and when we’re gone, that’s it.

Since we have a supernatural Creator, there is a WHY to our existence. The reason God created us is very simple: love. Jesus could not have been more clear when He taught that the two greatest commandments are to love God with all your heart, and to love your neighbor as yourself. 

That is the answer to the second part of Mark Twain’s quotation. The reason we were born was to enter into loving relationships — first with God, our Creator; and second with the other people God has put in our path during this adventure called life. 

Loving relationships are eternal. These relationships most definitely can continue on forever in Heaven. The eternal aspect of love makes it purposeful, not fleeting. 
Even though Mark Twain reportedly was very skeptical about religion, his famous quotation has a religious component, whether he intended that or not. The two most important days in your life are the day you were born and the day you find out that the main reason you were created is to love God and to love your neighbor.

Everything else people focus on in this hectic world takes a distant back seat to our primary purpose in life: love. And the source of all love in the world is the Lord God Almighty. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

The Only Thing Certain Is Our Uncertainty

The Transfiguration is a famous event during the earthly ministry of Jesus. Bringing along three of His disciples — Peter, James, and John — Jesus went up on a high mountain, and suddenly His clothing and His body became dazzling white with a supernatural glow. Then heroes from the history of Israel, Elijah and Moses, appeared and conversed with Jesus.

Needless to say, the three disciples were awestruck by the three glowing people. The Bible explains that Peter “hardly knew what to say, they were so terrified” (Mark 9:6).
When it was over, as they were walking back down from the mountain, Jesus told His three disciples not to tell anyone what they had just witnessed, “except when the Son of Man has been raised from the dead” (Mark 9:9). Then Scripture says, “So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what rising from the dead meant” (Mark 9:10).

This is one of many incidents in the Bible when Jesus’ disciples were confused. Now, don’t forget: these men left everything behind to be with Jesus. They put their faith in the Lord and trusted Him completely. They were destined to be the founding fathers of the Church. And yet, they were often confused. They did not understand many of the things Jesus said, and they understood even less about Jesus’ plans for the future. The fact they were baffled by Jesus’ statement about “rising from the dead” proves that Jesus’ Apostles, the chosen Twelve, did not have anything close to certainty when it came to Jesus’ mission.

This episode from Scripture, which reminds us that even the founding fathers of the Church were not sure about everything regarding religious faith, should make us pause. If famous saints like Peter, James, and John were often befuddled about Jesus’ plans and intentions, then who are we to act as if we know exactly how everything should be?

If you haven’t noticed, nowadays there are a lot of people who are convinced that they know exactly what God wants us to do. And not only are those folks absolutely certain that they’re right and everyone else is wrong, they’ve taken it to another level by insisting that those who disagree with them must be evil.
Most people have witnessed this phenomenon in the polarized political world. Countless people on both sides of the aisle are passionately certain that they’re right and their evil opponents are wrong. If the opponents are evil, then it’s perfectly acceptable to demonize them. 

Well, a similar situation exists in the religious world. It’s frightening how many people these days are absolutely certain that they, and they alone, have the real truth. For example, on one side there are folks who insist that God wants ONLY the Latin Mass. On the other side, there are people who insist God wants anything BUT the Latin Mass. Instead of this being a “different people have different preferences” kind of situation, many on both sides of this debate are taking an absolutist position: “I’m right and anyone who disagrees with me is following the devil.” 

Unfortunately, there are many other religious topics that are just as contentious.

Now, obviously there are certain doctrines that are non-negotiable. The statements listed in the Nicene Creed come to mind: God is real, He’s our Creator, Jesus is the Son of God, He really rose from the dead, etc. But most other religious issues are not as clear cut. If Peter, James, and John were alive on earth today, they just might say to us, “Whoa, chill out, guys. We’re not gonna know everything with certainty until we get to Heaven. For now, the Lord wants us to love Him and love other people. Acting like know-it-all Pharisees is not a good look.”
So, let’s learn from Biblical events like the Transfiguration. The top three Apostles were often confused and unsure what Jesus wanted. But they knew Jesus was the Lord, so they continued to put their faith in Him and they trusted that it all would eventually make sense.

That’s exactly what Jesus wants us to do: Love God; Love our neighbor; and when in doubt, err on the side of Mercy.