Wednesday, May 22, 2024

How Can Loving Parents Do That?!

Recently, it came to my attention that very few people are aware of the infamous “Midwest Children’s Opium Epidemic of the 1880s.” In the years after the Civil War, as Americans expanded westward, children were smoking opium and getting addicted, primarily in the cities of Kansas City, Topeka, and Wichita. The parents of these children provided the opium, and approved of their offspring getting high on a daily basis. Even when the children started to have major problems as a result of their addiction, parents continued to give them the drug. Most parents explained that their kids really enjoyed opium, and if they took the narcotic away, the children would be ostracized and teased at school. The Kansas City Star reported that many parents were unwilling to have their children be the only kids in school who didn’t smoke opium. The epidemic, which began in the early 1880s, continued unabated for a full decade. 
I am quite surprised that more people are not aware of this embarrassing chapter in U.S. history. It’s just mind-boggling that so many otherwise sane adults let their precious children be ravaged by a powerful drug for so long.

Actually, I suspect the main reason so few people are aware of the infamous “Midwest Children’s Opium Epidemic of the 1880s” is the fact it never happened. That’s right, I just made it up. But I bet as you were reading the first paragraph you were getting rather upset. “How could parents do that?!” you were most likely thinking. “How could they watch their kids ruin their lives, and yet do nothing?!” 
Loving and sane parents would never do that, right? They would never willingly give their children a powerful mind-altering substance and just passively stand there while their kids’ lives were destroyed, right?

Well, don’t be so sure. A similar situation is taking place right now, and unfortunately it’s not something I just made up. Today countless parents are providing their children with a highly addictive product, and are just standing by passively as the kids’ lives are being ruined. The powerful mind-altering drug being given to America’s youth today is the deadly cocktail of smartphones and social media.

Studies have found that emotional issues and mental health problems among adolescents have skyrocketed in recent years. It’s at epidemic levels now. A major spike in children’s mental health problems began right around 2012. Why then? Because that was the time when the majority of youngsters fully embraced smartphones and social media. 
The federal Health and Human Services website has this to say about the issue: “Children and adolescents who spend more than 3 hours a day on social media face double the risk of mental health problems including experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety. This is concerning, as a recent survey showed that teenagers spend an average of 3.5 hours a day on social media. And when asked about the impact of social media on their body image, 46% of adolescents aged 13-17 said social media makes them feel worse.”

Today’s drug dealers work in fancy office buildings, making tons of money for online services such as Tiktok, Snapchat, and Instagram. It’s been proven beyond a doubt that these companies develop their products to be highly addictive, especially for young people.

I hope a hundred years from now, folks are not talking about the infamous “U.S. Children’s Social Media Epidemic of the Early 2000s,” and wondering how loving and sane parents could have stood by passively and allowed their kids to be harmed so much. Unfortunately, the way things are going today, this will be a major topic for historians and sociologists to investigate. That is, of course, unless our entire society collapses before then. 

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Everyone Wants to Go to Heaven, But…

There’s an old expression: “Everyone wants to go to Heaven, but no one wants to go next Tuesday.”

This summarizes quite well the dilemma we human beings face. On the one hand, we truly want to spend eternity with the Lord in the paradise of Heaven. I mean, the alternative location where we could spend eternity is not very appealing. But on the other hand, we kind of enjoy life, at least most of the time, and we’re not all that crazy about experiencing death. So, we all want to go to Heaven, just not right away.
Scripture tells us that in Heaven, we will be given glorified bodies. I don’t know about you, but I’m looking forward to my glorified body, especially since the one I have now is falling apart. No matter how great that glorified body sounds, I’d still rather not get it next week. 

This dichotomy, this tension, with which we struggle is understandable. And it’s actually healthy. When we seek the eternal joy of being in Heaven, we are expressing trust in Our Creator. We are taking Him at His Word. When the Lord tells us that those who die in fellowship with Him will be brought into the Divine Kingdom for all eternity, we believe Him. When we look forward to Heaven, it is a sign of having faith and hope — two things that are absolutely critical. 

When our longing for Heaven conflicts with our longing to stay alive here on earth, that’s a good thing. It’s a sign that we value life. It is true that in Christian theology, physical death is the gateway to eternal joy in Heaven (or somewhere else if we have no faith). But the Bible says that death was not part of God’s original plan for humanity. Death entered the world because of sin, and it is a corruption of God’s amazing creation. However, God used death to make something even better available to us. No matter how wonderful Heaven is, it is proper for us to value our natural life and to strive to live a long and fruitful life. 
The two greatest commandments, as taught to us by Jesus, summarize this situation very well. The first commandment is to love the Lord our God with all of our heart and soul and mind. When we long for Heaven, we are demonstrating that we love God. Otherwise, why would we want to spend eternity in His presence worshiping Him?

The second greatest commandment, to love our neighbors as ourselves, shows that we cherish relationships with other people. Despite what some folks think nowadays, the reason we were put on this earth in the first place was not to get promoted to a corner office, or buy a Lamborghini, or vacation in the Bahamas. The reason God created us was to enter into loving relationships with God, first of all, and then with other people. 

Those of us who want to go to Heaven, but cringe at the idea of going there next Tuesday, feel this way because we don’t want to be separated from the people we love. We trust God’s promise that we will be reunited with our loved ones in the next world, but for now it really hurts when a loved one dies and the close relationship is broken for a time — especially if we are the loved one who dies.
So, it is perfectly understandable, perfectly natural, and perfectly right that we want to avoid going to Heaven for as long as possible. Wincing at the idea of dying next Tuesday is logical. 

When we have faith in God and hope in His promises, it not only is our ticket to Heaven, it also makes our journey in this world much more peaceful and joyful. Two for the price of one! 

And next Wednesday morning, we all can wake up and say, “Whew, not yet!” 

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.