Is Our Political Identity Overtaking Our Religious Identity When Choosing a Mate?
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Stephanie Coontz’s provocative opinion piece in today’s New York Times touches on some interesting dilemmas facing men and women in modern America. It’s well worth reading and is a fun conversation starter with your spouse and parents. But, it was the above infographic accompanying Coontz’s commentary that caught this editor’s eye.
For the most part, the top five traits that men look for in potential wives have changed very little in 70 years. In 1939, the five most important qualities were:
- Dependable character
- Emotional stability, maturity
- Pleasing disposition
- Mutual attraction, love
- Good health
And, in 2008:
- Mutual attraction, love
- Dependable character
- Emotional stability, maturity
- Education, intelligence
- Pleasing disposition
The big mover: education and intelligence. It climbed from #11 to #4. Good health dropped two positions, and I suspect will plummet further down the list in the coming decades. The romantic in me is heartened to see that love and attraction are sitting atop the field.
For the purposes of this blog, though, the precipitous drop in having a similar religious background and the slight rise in men seeking a woman whose political background is similar to his own is intriguing. It seems men’s personal identities are mirroring our larger cultural identity. As U.S. society has become increasingly divided and hyper-partisan in political terms, men are assigning more value to having a like-minded partner in the political persuasion department. Will this trait continue to rise in importance? I hope not.
Source: “Measuring Mate Preferences: A Replication and Extension” by Christine B. Whelan, University of Pittsburgh, and Christie F. Boxer and Mary Noonan, University of Iowa
Which Catholic Values and Social Teachings Get Noticed?
by Martin Marty, guest contributor from Sightings
Maureen Dowd wrote an almost innocuous column in The New York Times in which she noted, or argued, that “American bishops have been inconsistent in preaching their values.” Any reader who is up on the teachings of the company of bishops should not be surprised that they are inconsistent or that Ms. Dowd caught them in action. Such a reader who is up on the parties in play can also expect that the columnist is zeroing in on a zone of teachings about sex, which are of a different nature than are the rest of the social teachings. Someone had to notice her generalization.
Someone did. An authoritative if informal response came in the Letters to the Editor column from Bishop Howard J. Hubbard of Albany who wrote on “The Values of the Bishops.” He argued that Ms. Dowd and so many like her were not paying attention, so he cited all kinds and degrees of interest they had shown in focusing on the social teachings. Since we don’t often hear about almost all of them, it pays to note his list.
Bishop Hubbard pointed out that the bishops consistently raised grave moral concerns regarding the decision to invade Iraq back when that stance was unpopular, before the war became unpopular in the mind of the larger public. Who noticed? The bishops have been consistent supporters of efforts to repeal the death penalty, and have held this position for decades. They challenge the capital punishment culture and routinely request clemency for death-row inmates, in low- and high-profile cases alike. Who noticed?
The full body of bishops in 2007, Bishop Hubbard argued, overwhelmingly adopted "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship," a document which showed them “preaching their values.” Who noticed it? Bishop Hubbard listed some of the specific “values” positions, e.g., against torture, racism, and the targeting of non-combatants in acts of terror or war. These were “intrinsically evil.” Facing up to the need to deal with the suffering “from hunger or a lack of health care, or an unjust immigrations policy” also escaped public notice among many. “Today, we bishops are exercising our leadership in advocating for the protection of poor people at home and abroad in the continuing budget debates.” Notice, anyone?
Included in the values list were condemnations of “abortion, euthanasia,” and he could have added, “homosexual” activity. Now, check these three as “noticed,” “noticed,” and “noticed” by much of the Catholic public which likes to ignore all the other “values” here, and by non-Catholic publics who never heard of other parts of the “seamless” or consistent ethic about which we heard some years ago. Now we are left to ponder: which zones of values get noticed by Catholics (including “by which Catholics?”) and which not? Who praises the bishops for what they put on the extensive values lists which are as old as 1893 or 1917 or other times of the formulation of social ethics? And is “consistency” among them to be valued? Also, which consistent instances help the Catholic “values” cause, and which are counter-productive? An election year is a good time to ponder some answers to the questions. One hopes that the whole range of issues will get noticed.
A last question: how do these values differ from those of most humanist, mainline Protestant, and Jewish choices? Believers and unbelievers are in much of this together. Do the old lines and definitions still serve? It’s time to notice.
Martin E. Marty is the Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus at The University of Chicago. He’s authored many books, includingPilgrims in Their Own Land and Modern American Religion.
This essay is reprinted with permission of Sightings from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.
The Work We Value, The Intelligence We Ignore: Is the Work that Made America Great Valued Any Longer?
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
"The skills gap is a reflection of what we value. To close the gap, we need to change the way the country feels about work."
Working is part of our genetic make-up in the United States. One of my personal goals producing for this program is to present the many forms of grittier intelligence that exist in the world — reminding myself and our audiences of the intellectual integrity and the nose-to-the-grindstone beauty of people in this land I call home.
The value of work and how we work and how we become civic beings is embedded in this concept of everyday living. I ask myself, “Why did so many people love the story about the oldest living man from Montana who just recently died?” I don’t think that it was just about longevity, but that he was a railroad man who had practical advice and obvious wisdom. He distilled the complexity of life into practical advice that I believe he formed by working the lines and the farms. I think all of us long to know more about people like that, the quiescent majority.
Reading the following testimony from Mike Rowe, the creator and host of Dirty Jobs, before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation has reignited my urgency to find more of these voices in the months to come. Here’s his speech in its entirety; it’s well worth the time:
"Chairman Rockefeller, Ranking Member Hutchison and members of this committee, my name is Mike Rowe, and I want to thank you all very much for the opportunity to testify before you today.
I’m here today because of my grandfather.
His name was Carl Knobel, and he made his living in Baltimore as a master electrician. He was also a plumber, a mechanic, a mason, and a carpenter. Everyone knew him as a jack-of-all-trades. I knew him as a magician.
For most of his life, my grandfather woke up clean and came home dirty. In between, he accomplished things that were nothing short of miraculous. Some days he might re-shingle a roof. Or rebuild a motor. Or maybe run electricity out to our barn. He helped build the church I went to as a kid, and the farmhouse my brothers and I grew up in. He could fix or build anything, but to my knowledge he never once read the directions. He just knew how stuff worked.
I remember one Saturday morning when I was 12. I flushed the toilet in the same way I always had. The toilet however, responded in a way that was completely out of character. There was a rumbling sound, followed by a distant gurgle. Then, everything that had gone down reappeared in a rather violent and spectacular fashion.
Naturally, my grandfather was called in to investigate, and within the hour I was invited to join he and my dad in the front yard with picks and shovels.
By lunch, the lawn was littered with fragments of old pipe and mounds of dirt. There was welding and pipe-fitting, blisters and laughter, and maybe some questionable language. By sunset we were completely filthy. But a new pipe was installed, the dirt was back in the hole, and our toilet was back on its best behavior. It was one of my favorite days ever.
Thirty years later in San Francisco when my toilet blew up again. This time, I didn’t participate in the repair process. I just called my landlord, left a check on the kitchen counter, and went to work. When I got home, the mess was cleaned up and the problem was solved. As for the actual plumber who did the work, I never even met him.
It occurred to me that I had become disconnected from a lot of things that used to fascinate me. I no longer thought about where my food came from, or how my electricity worked, or who fixed my pipes, or who made my clothes. There was no reason to. I had become less interested in how things got made, and more interested in how things got bought.
At this point my grandfather was well into his 80s, and after a long visit with him one weekend, I decided to do a TV show in his honor. Today, Dirty Jobs is still on the air, and I am here before this committee, hoping to say something useful. So, here it is.
I believe we need a national PR Campaign for Skilled Labor. A big one. Something that addresses the widening skills gap head on, and reconnects the country with the most important part of our workforce.
Right now, American manufacturing is struggling to fill 200,000 vacant positions. There are 450,000 openings in trades, transportation and utilities. The skills gap is real, and it’s getting wider. In Alabama, a third of all skilled tradesmen are over 55. They’re retiring fast, and no one is there to replace them.
Alabama’s not alone. A few months ago in Atlanta I ran into Tom Vilsack, our Secretary of Agriculture. Tom told me about a governor who was unable to move forward on the construction of a power plant. The reason was telling. It wasn’t a lack of funds. It wasn’t a lack of support. It was a lack of qualified welders.
In general, we’re surprised that high unemployment can exist at the same time as a skilled labor shortage. We shouldn’t be. We’ve pretty much guaranteed it.
In high schools, the vocational arts have all but vanished. We’ve elevated the importance of “higher education” to such a lofty perch that all other forms of knowledge are now labeled “alternative.” Millions of parents and kids see apprenticeships and on-the-job-training opportunities as “vocational consolation prizes,” best suited for those not cut out for a four-year degree. And still, we talk about millions of “shovel ready” jobs for a society that doesn’t encourage people to pick up a shovel.
In a hundred different ways, we have slowly marginalized an entire category of critical professions, reshaping our expectations of a “good job” into something that no longer looks like work. A few years from now, an hour with a good plumber — if you can find one — is going to cost more than an hour with a good psychiatrist. At which point we’ll all be in need of both.
I came here today because guys like my grandfather are no less important to civilized life than they were 50 years ago. Maybe they’re in short supply because we don’t acknowledge them they way we used to. We leave our check on the kitchen counter, and hope the work gets done. That needs to change.
My written testimony includes the details of several initiatives designed to close the skills gap, all of which I’ve had the privilege to participate in. Go Build Alabama, I Make America, and my own modest efforts through Dirty Jobs and mikeroweWORKS. I’m especially proud to announce “Discover Your Skills,” a broad-based initiative from Discovery Communications that I believe can change perceptions in a meaningful way.I encourage you to support these efforts, because closing the skills gap doesn’t just benefit future tradesmen and the companies desperate to hire them. It benefits people like me, and anyone else who shares my addiction to paved roads, reliable bridges, heating, air conditioning, and indoor plumbing.
The skills gap is a reflection of what we value. To close the gap, we need to change the way the country feels about work.”
If you have suggestions for voices that could fill this gap in our coverage, please drop me a line in the comments or by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Day 20 - Muna Jondy: “After Faith, It’s Character”
Revealing Ramadan: 30 Days, 30 Voices [mp3, 4:14]
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Muna Jondy is the 20th voice in this series. She’s an immigration attorney who runs her own private practice in Michigan. Muna, who was born in the U.S., is one of nine children of immigrant parents. She says the simplicity of her faith streamlines her life, but that the society around her can make it difficult to raise her children in an Islamic manner — instilling values of kindness, consideration, and community.
Check back on this blog each day or on our Facebook page to hear a new voice in our “Revealing Ramadan” series. If you’re the on demand type or simply need a more automated form of listening, we’ve produced a special podcast feed that’s available now. Oh, and a special show too!
Who Are We When We Are At Work?
Kate Moos, managing producer
Damon Drake, above, was one of the people taking part in an informal conversation about the role of faith and belief in the workplace one evening last week, which I happened to enjoy. Drake told about his personal mishaps as a fervent new convert to Islam 13 years ago, when he discovered that his practice of declining handshakes from women colleagues alienated them.
Now Drake says he makes accommodations in some of his religious practices if, in actuality, they subvert their original aim. On another occasion, however, he chose to leave a position when too many required business meetings were conducted in settings with alcohol. Such are the tensions of bringing our faith lives to our workplaces.
The discussion I joined was organized by Seeing Things Whole, a group that explores the value of personal spirituality and faith in organizations, theorizing that the bottom line in most organizations is best if assessed by measures in addition to profit: balance, contentment, a sense of shared purpose. The idea that the hygienic modern workplace should be uncontaminated by personal belief is appearing more and more outdated, as our lives become more global and as companies embrace diversity and pluralism as necessities. And, the idea that organizations themselves may take part in embracing a theological view is finding more ground, both in corporations and in academic settings.
In the interests of full disclosure, my invitation to take part in the discussion came from Bob Wahlstedt, a board member of Seeing Things Whole, who is, coincidentally, a benefactor of Speaking of Faith.
Michael Naughton, from the University of St. Thomas’ John A. Ryan Institute for Catholic Social Thought, explained the role of purpose in organizational life that, along with identity, mission, and stewardship, creates balance and success. “Purpose,” he pointed out, “aims us toward the deepest and most transcendent reason for why we work, which offers a spirituality of communion.”
In small groups we talked about our own challenges bringing our values or faith to work. Marty Kotke, a sales rep at Reel Precision Manufacturing, shared his appreciation for being able to be a Christian with Bruce Peterson, a Hennepin County District Court judge, and Kyle Smith, the president of RPM, whose lunchroom provided the setting for our gathering.
Another speaker, John Wheeler, was the general manager of the Mall of America for 18 years. A Buddhist, he learned to practice the principles of his spiritual life in what is arguably a sort of cultural icon of consumerism. “I loved my job,” Wheeler joked, “except for its true essence.” Wheeler said his grounding as a Buddhist helped him address concerns about problems with unsupervised youth at the so-called mega-mall with respect for all parties.
Who are you at work, relative to your spirituality, values, or faith? Have you experienced difficulty with your religious beliefs or practice in the work place? How do you think organizations might benefit from a “theology of organizations?”
Bono Rocks His Own Soul
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor
I’ve been skeptical about celebrity pet charity projects and rock stars like Bono who have endorsed the RED campaign — encouraging people to shop and buy stuff in order to aid impoverished Africans. It just rings hollow to me and somewhat paradoxical, even though I recognize the good intentions behind it.
And then I read these lines from his op-ed this weekend:
It’s Lent I’ve always had issues with. I gave it up … self-denial is where I come a cropper. My idea of discipline is simple — hard work — but of course that’s another indulgence.
Then comes the dying and the living that is Easter.
—Bono, lead singer of U2
Whatever brash generalizations or dismissive attitude I may have held, that changed after reading the Irishman’s contemplative words. Even though the rest of his essay is much more poetic and eloquent, it’s that second sentence above that captured me. He recognizes the falsehood of working harder. That staying at work is often an escape, a source of leisure rather than fulfilling one’s obligations and roles of responsibility at home — the mundane tasks of being present while one’s children ask for your time or hiding behind a gadget rather than engaging your spouse. Here, the man is revealing something of himself, his ordinary self. He is speaking to something greater than his own ego — and mine.
Nearly two years ago, I enjoyed Bono’s speech at the National Prayer Breakfast with President Bush. Like many others, I admired the way he was reaching out; yet, his words felt removed to me — a diplomatic performance to unite disparate parties.
But, his reflection in this essay starts from his personal core. They reveal a man who is a seeker of some greater truths, both personal and universal, that have a grounding in fallibility and transcendence. And that I respect greatly.
I can only hope that Krista could interview him for SOF. Perhaps at Trinity Wall Street? Wouldn’t that be an incredible event to witness? The likelihood is minimal, but it would be a dazzling adventure. Can anybody make it happen?!
Hard Times, Hard Times (Come Again No More)
Kate Moos, Managing Producer
In 1934, on August 16th my mother, Marva Maxwell, turned 18. She had graduated at the top of her class at Sacred Heart High School. That was the public high school in Sacred Heart, Minnesota, in the western, sugar beet-growing part of the state, where her father grew crops for feed and raised beef cattle.
My mom had saved money up in order to attend college a hundred miles north and east of her home town at the Normal School for teacher training at St. Cloud, a little burg on the side of the Mississippi River. She had made money over the years candling and selling eggs and walking beans. If my memory preserves her story accurately, in August of 1934, with her whole life in front of her, she had 200 dollars in the bank, and a scholarship to college. Then the bank closed. It had already been hard times. Now times had gotten worse.
I heard her tell this cautionary tale hundreds, if not thousands, of times over the course of my childhood: when it was time for school to start her father drove her to St. Cloud, dropped her off at the residence hall, Schumacher (which she would later get kicked out of for smoking), and handed her a $20 bill: “I hope everything works out for you here,” he told her, “because we don’t have anything much for you back home on the farm.”
Years later, during World War II, my mother took the train to San Diego and Camp Pendleton where my father was assigned as a Navy dentist, with her first child in tow. They sucked on malt tablets (not the candy but a nutritional supplement) to keep their hunger pangs at bay. From this era of her life came the stories of butter and sugar and gas rationing, and of living off-base in a house where precious avocados and oranges grew on trees in the backyard where she could gather the windfall for lunch.
These stories explain things about my mom — and others of her generation. Like why she always had 6 cans of 12 varieties of Campbell’s soup in the basement pantry at any given moment, and if the supply fell lower than that it was immediately replenished. This was the generation that came home from the world’s greatest war and never threw away another piece of string or aluminum foil so long as they lived.
We want to believe that hardship will ennoble us and teach us virtue, without robbing us of the aptitude for joy, or making us mean and peevish. In reality, sainthood is a by-product of adversity only for a few. The rest of us struggle through, managing a little generosity here with a large dose of self-interest there.
I think often of my parents’ generation as the uncertainty of the global economy continues to roil and brew. I am not worried so much about our generation’s ability to survive hardship in the sense of giving stuff up and doing without. But I worry quite a lot about our ability to live with uncertainty.
What my mother really gave up as she stepped away from her father’s car as he left her at college, or rode the train pell mell to a California she had never even dreamed of, was her sense of control over the future: that she knew what was coming next — and could count on it.
I’m pretty sure I don’t know what will happen next, and it makes me jumpy. I take comfort in my usual sources of sanity: work, yoga, my family and friends. At SOF we’re starting to dig hard into some of the questions that come up for us personally. We’d love your help:
For starters, in what way(s) do you consider this a moral or spiritual crisis? Of your own? Of our culture’s?
What moral and spiritual resources, what virtues, do you bring to approaching it — in your own life, with colleagues at work, in your family, in your religious or other community settings? What are you doing now that is different? How is it different, and why?
What kind of wisdom and leadership are you looking for at this time, close to your life? Where are you finding it?
In addition to posting and collating your responses, we’ll be reflecting on these questions in our production process and our blog and posing them to wise thinkers in the realms of business, education, philosophy, science, and religion.
(photo courtesy of the Boston Public Library)