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Saturday, October 12, 2019

An Unhappy Age with Mark Galli

An Unhappy Age

Philosopher Charles Taylor has named our era A Secular Age, the title of his book that, according to many, like Robert Bellah (one of the greatest sociologists of our times), is “one of the most important books to be written in my lifetime.” No small praise.
Not all is happy in this era:
So why are humans in the secular age so unhappy? [Roberto] Calasso says it is because they find something ominous in the insubstantiality they feel both within themselves and in the world around them, an emptiness from which they began to recoil at the very moment secularity prevailed—“around 1950 in the United States,” Calasso declares with half-facetious but plausible specificity.
Such is the theme of Calasso’s latest book, The Unnameable Present, and the book’s review by Jay Tolson, editor of The Hedgehog Review. Lots of food for thought from the review and this distinguished Italian intellectual, who, I must admit, I had not heard of before reading this review.
‘Emotional Obesity’
Speaking of unhappiness:
In her new book, Sweet Distress, the teacher and therapist Gillian Bridge says that allowing children to wallow in their emotions is akin to giving them sugary treats: it makes them feel better in the short term, but it’s bad for long-term mental health. She argues that instead of teaching pupils introspection, they should be given a sense of being part of history, to be taken outside of themselves.
As the subtitle of the review puts it, Today’s overly emotional young people should read some Schopenhauer,” who argued that the way to find happiness is to not seek it. Makes one think of The Beatitudes.
Meritocracy Misery
Happiness, or lack thereof, seems to be the theme of the day. Daniel Markovits, author of The Meritocracy Trap, summarizes the book’s argument in his The Atlantic essay, How Life Became an Endless, Terrible Competition.” He shows how so much of modern life plays by the rules of meritocracy, and how it makes the lives of many, including the winners, more miserable.
Be Still Our Souls
One response to all the confusion and noise of our age is the classic call to silence:
In silence, we are confronted with God’s voice, a voice that we often drown out for fear of being found out or found wanting. In silence, we are judged for our desperate need to fill up our lives with frenzied activity. In silence, we discover that we are not ultimately in control; we are weak and vulnerable and awfully in need of God’s grace.
So writes O. David Taylor in Make a Joyful Silence Unto the Lord.” This has been key to my mental and spiritual health, to be sure.
Traffic: The Conundrum
Last week I featured a video that looked at the most efficient way for passengers to board a jet liner. The week, it’s about The Simple Solution to Traffic.” Naturally, what is “simple” and “optimum” is not necessarily what people are willing to make changes to make happen. At any rate, it helped me see why traffic slows down on “free” ways even when there seems to be no logical explanation for it.
Grace and peace,

Mark GalliMark Galli
Mark Galli
Editor-in-Chief, Christianity Today

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