“Sizing up and taking down the things we read, watch, and play, this all-star team of analysts provides a series of delights
and surprises that will make you ponder anew the deep structures that inform our lives, even when we think we’re off-duty.”—Kyle Smith, movie critic, New York Post
Contemporary popular culture, from books to film to television to music to the deepest corners of the internet, has provoked a great deal of criticism, some of it well deserved. Yet for many Americans, and particularly for younger Americans, popular culture is culture. It is the only kind of cultural experience they seek and the currency in which they trade.
In Acculturated, twenty-three thinkers examine the rituals, the myths, the tropes, the peculiar habits, the practices, and the neuroses of our modern era. Every culture finds a way for people to tell stories about ourselves. We rely on these stories to teach us why we do the things we do, to test the limits of our experience, to reaffirm deeply felt truths about human nature, and to teach younger generations about vice and virtue, honor and shame, and a great deal more. A phenomenon like the current crop of reality television shows, for example, with their bevy of “real” housewives, super-size families, and toddler beauty-pageant candidates, seems an unlikely place to find truths about human nature or examples of virtue. And yet on these shows, and in much else of what passes for popular culture these days, a surprising theme emerges: Move beyond the visual excess and hyperbole, and you will find the makings of classic morality tales.
As the title suggests, readers will find in these pages “ACulture Rated.” This lively roundtable of “raters” includes not only renowned cultural critics like Caitlin Flannigan and Chuck Colson, but also celebrated culture creators like the producers of the hit ABC comedy Modern Family and the host of TLC’s What Not to Wear. Editors Christine Rosen and Naomi Schaefer Riley have tasked these contributors—both the critics and the insiders—with taking a step or two back from the unceasing din of popular culture so that they might better judge its value and its values and help readers think more deeply about the meaning of the narratives with which they are bombarded every waking minute. In doing so, the editors hope to foster a wide-reaching public conversation—one that will help all of us to think more clearly about our culture.
Free excerpts, videos, and additional commentary available on www.acculturated.com.
The tradition of agape, or unconditional love, is not exclusive to any one religion. Actually, it is a major underlying principle found in religions worldwide. The concept of altruistic love is one that challenges the spiritual person to "love your enemies," or to "love without thought of return." It is a love that flows out to others in the form of compassion, kindness, tenderness, and charitable giving.
Buddhists have a path of compassion, where caring for others becomes the motivating force behind existence. Hindus have a branch of yoga, the heart-centered path, that leads to enlightenment through an overwhelming love for God that takes the form of loving all of humanity. Eastern religions, such as Taoism and Confucianism, see transcendent love as essential part of true wisdom.
The universal theme of love is found in all religious traditions, Buddhist, Christian, Islam, or others. As we begin realize that all religions have at their core this spiritual principle of love, we can develop a sense of common humanity. The religious tradition of agape love examined in this book will serve as an inspiration for those who are learning to grow in compassion and love for all people.
Over the course of a career spanning the fields of education, politics, philanthropy, and media, Ian Rowe has looked at the question, “How can we help our children succeed?” from nearly every angle of contemporary society. He spent ten years running a network of charter schools in the heart of the South Bronx, where he was responsible for educating thousands of kids. Time and again, he found that these young people were being limited by the adults in their lives, who perpetuated the self-defeating narrative that external forces controlled their destiny.
While serving in the White House, Rowe observed how top-down, well-intentioned programs like No Child Left Behind could produce unintended consequences that failed to improve student outcomes. A stint at MTV convinced him of just how powerful popular messaging can be in shaping developing minds. And an executive role at the Gates Foundation made him realize that spending billions of dollars on education made little difference if zero resources were spent on emphasizing the importance of family structure.
Drawing from this diverse background, Ian Rowe formulated an effective philosophy for connecting with the hearts and minds of young people—particularly young people from underprivileged communities—and setting them on a course for life success and satisfaction. His approach is encapsulated in the acronym FREE, which stands for Family, Religion, Education, and Entrepreneurship. Rowe has found that these four principles, when communicated properly, inspire in students a spirit of agency—a sense that they have the power to achieve great things and live successful lives. His “boots on the ground” experience has convinced him that helping kids believe in themselves and teaching them how to make important choices responsibly must become priorities in schools across the country.
In Agency, Ian Rowe expands on his timely message, shares his compelling story, and digs into the research surrounding the principles FREE. Along the way, he lays out a bipartisan vision for how we can empower members of the next generation of Americans—particularly those born with the fewest advantages—to realize their full potential.
A growing number of studies indicate that social ties that are formed by older people in the church have a significant positive impact on their physical and mental health. Aging in the Church: How Social Relationships Affect Health by Neal Krause constitutes the first attempt to provide a comprehensive assessment of the various types of relationships that stem from church involvement.
Among the many types of relationships Krause explores are closecompanion friendships, social-support structures (such as assistance provided by fellow church members during difficult times), and interactions that arise from Bible study and prayer groups. Through his thorough investigation of the underlying links between these relationships and the ways they relate to attributes like forgiveness, hope, gratitude, and altruism, the author hopes to explain why older adults who are involved in religious activities tend to enjoy better physical and mental health than those who are not involved in religious communities. Going well beyond merely reviewing the existing research on this subject, Aging in the Church provides a blueprint for taking research on church-based social relationships and health to the next level by identifying conceptual and methodological issues that investigators will have to confront as they delve more deeply into these connections.
Though these are complex issues, readers will find plain language throughout, along with literature drawn from a wide array of disciplines, including sociology, psychology, public health, medicine, psychiatry, nursing, social work, gerontology, and theology. Insights from these diverse fields are supplemented with ideas drawn from literature, poetry, philosophy, and ethics. As a result, Aging in the Church takes on a truly interdisciplinary focus that will appeal to a wide variety of scholars, researchers, and students.
This anthology brings together for the first time leading essays and book chapters from theologians, philosophers, and scientists on their research relating to ethics, altruism, and love. Because the general consensus today is that scholarship in moral theory requires empirical research, the arguments of the leading scholars presented in this book will be particularly important to those examining issues in love, ethics, religion, and science.
The first half of The Altruism Reader offers key selections from religious texts, leading contemporary scholars, and cutting-edge ethicists. Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism are represented. Among the highly respected writers are Thomas Aquinas, the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh, John Polkinghorne, Stephen Pope, Louis Fischer, Amira Shamma Abdin, Katharine Doob Sakenfeld, and Daniel Day Williams.
Primary readings on love and altruism from the sciences are featured in the second half of the book. Here the focus is on anthropology, psychology, sociology, biology, and neurology, with material written by Daniel C. Batson, David Sloan Wilson, Robert Wright, Stephen G. Post, Robert Axelrod, Richard Dawkins, Holmes Rolston III, and other renowned scientists and philosophers.
"Virtually all people act—and often talk—as if they have some inkling about love. We speak about loving food, falling in love, loving God, feeling loved, and loving a type of music. We say that love hurts, love waits, love stinks, and love means never having to say you're sorry.We use the word and its derivatives in a wide variety of ways . . . . My own definition of love is this: To love is to act intentionally, in sympathetic response to others (including God), to promote well-being."—Thomas Jay Oord
What motivates altruism? How essential is the phenomenon of altruism to the human experience? Is altruism readily accessible to the ordinary person? In The Altruistic Species, Andrew Michael Flescher and Daniel L. Worthen explore these questions through the lenses of four disciplinary perspectives—biology, psychology, philosophy, and religion. In the course of their investigation, they make an extended argument for the existence of altruism against competing theories that construe all ostensible cases of benevolence as self-interest in disguise. The authors consider theories of egoism; the role of genetics and evolutionary biology; the psychological that induce altruistic behavior; philosophical theories of altruism in normative ethics such as Kantian, utilitarian, and Aristotelian models of moral action; and accounts of love of the neighbor in Christianity and Buddhism. Additionally, they offer a new, comprehensive definition of altruism that is inclusive of the insights of each of these perspectives.
The Altruistic Species reinvigorates the debate over the prevalence of selfless motivation in human behavior—whether it is a rare or ubiquitous phenomenon, something that is always to be considered exceptional or a capacity that members of any community potentially could develop. This noteworthy interdisciplinary examination of altruism balances science, virtue theory, and theology. It is ideal courses in ethics, human behavior, and evolutionary biology, as an educational resource for other multidisciplinary studies, and for interested lay readers.
Populists on both sides of the political aisle routinely announce that the American Dream is dead. According to them, the game has been rigged by elites, workers can’t get ahead, wages have been stagnant for decades, and the middle class is dying.
Michael R. Strain, director of economic policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, disputes this rhetoric as both wrong and dangerous. In this succinctly argued volume, he shows that, on measures of economic opportunity and quality of life, there has never been a better time to be alive in America. He backs his argument with overwhelming—and underreported—data to show how the facts favor realistic optimism.
He warns, however, that the false prophets of populism pose a serious danger to our current and future prosperity. Their policies would leave workers worse off. And their erroneous claim that the American Dream is dead could discourage people from taking advantage of real opportunities to better their lives. If enough people start to believe the Dream is dead, they could, in effect, kill it. To prevent this self-fulfilling prophecy, Strain’s book is urgent reading for anyone feeling the pull of the populists.
E. J. Dionne and Henry Olsen provide spirited responses to Strain’s argument.
A few years ago, a debate between atheists and religious believers spilled out from the halls of academia and the pews of America’s churches and into the public spotlight. A crop of atheist manifestos led the charge, surmounting and holding the tops of the nonfiction bestseller lists. This offensive brought on an outpouring of religious rebuttals. As both sides exchanged spirited volleys, accusations were leveled; myths, stereotypes, and strawmen arguments were perpetuated; and bitter hostility filled the air. Today many of these misconceptions and myths linger on, along with the generally acrimonious spirit of the debate.
In America’s Blessings, distinguished researcher Rodney Stark seeks to clear the air of this hostility and debunk many of the debate’s most widely perpetuated misconceptions by drawing from an expansive pool of sociological findings. Looking at the measurable effects of religious faith and practice on American society, Stark rises above the fray and focuses exclusively on facts. His findings may surprise many, atheists and believers alike.
Starting with a historical overview, Stark traces America’s religious roots from the founding of the country up through the present day, showing that religiosity in America has never been consistent, static, or monolithic. Interestingly, he finds that religious practice is now more prevalent than ever in America, despite any claims to the contrary. From here, Stark devotes whole chapters to unpacking the latest research on how religion affects different facets of modern American life, including crime, family life, sexuality, mental and physical health, sophistication, charity, and overall prosperity. The cumulative effect is that when translated into comparisons with western European nations, the United States comes out on top again and again. Thanks in no small part to America’s rich religious culture, the nation has far lower crime rates, much higher levels of charitable giving, better health, stronger marriages, and less suicide, to note only a few of the benefits.
In the final chapter, Stark assesses the financial impact of these religious realities. It turns out that belief benefits the American economy—and all 300 million citizens, believer and nonbeliever alike—by a conservative estimate of $2.6 trillion a year. Despite the atheist outcry against religion, the remarkable conclusion is clear: all Americans, from the most religious among us to our secular neighbors, really ought to count our blessings.