Regret v. remorse

Let’s distinguish between regret over an action versus remorse about an action:

  • Regret is a negative conscious and emotional reaction to personal past acts and behaviors
  • Remorse is an emotional expression of personal regret felt by a person after he or she has committed an act which they deem to be shameful, hurtful, or violent.

Every so often there’s a “top regrets of the elderly/dying” sort of piece that makes the rounds. These are heavy pieces, but they’re usually vague. What sort of specific regrets do people have? they wish they had “let themselves be happier,” or “expressed their feelings” more often.

These sorts of things are hopeless as signposts for improvement among the living. Why? They’re sentiments, not insights. They’re generalities, not specific points of remorse due to specific actions or missed opportunities.

Look at those definitions again. You end up with “regret” over banalities: Not partying more in college. Not hitting the gym more often. Hooking up with the wrong person. Eating too much. Seeing a bad movie. These are regrets, but because they’re also generalities we’re unlikely to be things we’re really remorseful about, because what would be the point? (Regret sometimes hangs out with its cousins, false nostalgia and romanticism.)

When we’re asked about “things you regret,” I think the real question is often “What are things you feel remorse over?” We have minor “negative emotion reactions” all the time. We sometimes face tragedies over which it’s worth feeling remorse, like missing the birth of a child, or being cruel in a friend’s final moments, or getting passionately or violently physical with someone you love. It’s worth feeling remorse over corrosive aspects of our personalities that lead to specific misdeeds for which we can atone. It’s probably not worth feeling regret over the thousand small incidents of negative emotions that flood our daily experiences. I suppose that’s the sort of distinction I’m trying to draw out here: you might regret something, but it’s the things you’re really remorseful about that you’re most likely to feel the need to really make amends for.

(And carrying remorse with you, that accumulated weight of anger, fear, self-pity, and emotionalism, makes the Christian duty to live with joy really impossible. Confession allows an unburdening and a way to obtain specific forgiveness for specific wrongs.)

I care much more about learning what you’re specifically remorseful over than the fluffy and sentiments we have come to call regrets. Remorse describes those things we genuinely hurt over, and until we can speak about them to one another we likely can’t heal or really make a change.

So let’s ask each other about what we’re remorseful about, rather than what we regret. The answers will probably be better.

Generous social policy isn’t socialism

Kevin Williamson writes on the crisis of Venezuela’s experiment with socialism, and in the course of that describes economics and what good social policy looks likes:

Many progressives (and many right-wing populists) believe that economics is less of a science and more of an ideology, that all of that talk about scarcity and supply and demand is mostly mumbo-jumbo deployed by people who are getting their way to ensure that they keep getting their way. The alternative view (the view of most economists) is that economics is an effort to describe something real, that while it is important to understand the difference between the map and the territory, all those economic models and demand curves add up to a description of an aspect of reality that is not subject to negotiation and is not a matter of mere opinion.

That was what concerned Hayek and his colleagues in what has become known as the Austrian school of economics, Ludwig von Mises prominent among them. They believed that the central-planning aspirations of the socialists were not simply inefficient or unworkable but impossible to execute, even in principle, owing to the way in which knowledge is dispersed in society. Drawing on more recent work in fields ranging from physics to computer science, modern complexity theorists have expanded enormously on those insights, arguing that markets, like evolution, are complex behind comprehending even in principle, hence unpredictable and unmanageable.

As he famously summarized it: “The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.” From this Hayek, an old-fashioned liberal, concluded that while there might be room in a free and open society for a broad and generous welfare state, the project of providing benefits to poor and vulnerable people must be understood as distinct from the socialist project, which is to put economic production under political discipline. And this has been born out in our own experience: Sweden is simultaneously a free-trading, entrepreneurship-driven capitalist society and a society with a large and expensive (and recently reformed) welfare state. Sweden, sometimes held up as the model of good socialism, has in fact been following a policy of privatization and libertarian-ish reforms for 20 years, with an explicit commitment of moving away from an economy of government planning to an economy of market choice.

But men do not like being told that they cannot do that which they wish to do, and this is particularly true of men who have a keen interest in political power. Hayek believed that efforts to impose central planning on economies were doomed to fail, and that this failure would not be met with humility but with outrage.

We have the means to experiment with a more generous social policy in America, across the spectrum of what we can consider social issues. I think we should be able to achieve universal healthcare, automatic voter registration, and should consider a universal basic income to replace much of the existing patchwork welfare state.

Civilizations without communities

Donald DeMarco writes that “civilization matters”:

The father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, once wrote “I scorn to distinguish between culture and civilization.” At the heart of this statement lies Freud’s philosophy of culture. For him, the transition from culture to civilization is not a favorable one. Indeed, he said that “every individual is virtually an enemy of civilization.” In other words, civilization places too many restrictions on man’s need for instinctive satisfactions and too many obstacles in his path toward happiness. For Freud, civilization is man’s enemy. For this reason, Philip Reiff, editor of the ten-volume Collected Papers of Sigmund Freud, refers to him as “the champion of the second best.”

The Catholic view, on the other hand, sees civilization is the crown of culture—it is the condition to which society aspires. Just as the individual person aspires to better things, so too, does culture (a society of persons) aspire to higher modes of civilization. Indeed, the scholars of antiquity contend that if all the great and broad contributions of the ancient Greeks could be distilled into a single word, it would be civilization.

Freud seems to be thinking of civilization as a problem for the individual, if civilization means communities and the relationships and duties and rights and responsibilities that come along with it. And Catholics understand civilization as a crowning achievement because it has been the context in which individuals form the relationships that let them practice virtue and try to be moral creatures in relation to one another. What if it were possible to abstract civilization from community life, though? What would that look like in practice, and how would it change human life experienced both in its individual and communal spheres? That’s the sort of civilization we have now, according to Yuval Noah Harari in Sapiens:

Prior to the Industrial Revolution, the daily life of most humans ran its course within three ancient frames: the nuclear family, the extended family and the local intimate community. Most people worked in the family business – the family farm or the family workshop, for example – or they worked in their neighbours’ family businesses. The family was also the welfare system, the health system, the education system, the construction industry, the trade union, the pension fund, the insurance company, the radio, the television, the newspapers, the bank and even the police.

When a person fell sick, the family took care of her. When a person grew old, the family supported her, and her children were her pension fund. When a person died, the family took care of the orphans. If a person wanted to build a hut, the family lent a hand. If a person wanted to open a business, the family raised the necessary money. If a person wanted to marry, the family chose, or at least vetted, the prospective spouse. If conflict arose with a neighbour, the family muscled in. But if a person’s illness was too grave for the family to manage, or a new business demanded too large an investment, or the neighbourhood quarrel escalated to the point of violence, the local community came to the rescue.

The community offered help on the basis of local traditions and an economy of favours, which often differed greatly from the supply and demand laws of the free market. In an old-fashioned medieval community, when my neighbour was in need, I helped build his hut and guard his sheep, without expecting any payment in return. When I was in need, my neighbour returned the favour. At the same time, the local potentate might have drafted all of us villagers to construct his castle without paying us a penny. In exchange, we counted on him to defend us against brigands and barbarians. Village life involved many transactions but few payments. There were some markets, of course, but their roles were limited. You could buy rare spices, cloth and tools, and hire the services of lawyers and doctors. Yet less than 10 per cent of commonly used products and services were bought in the market. Most human needs were taken care of by the family and the community. …

Life in the bosom of family and community was far from ideal. Families and communities could oppress their members no less brutally than do modern states and markets, and their internal dynamics were often fraught with tension and violence – yet people had little choice. A person who lost her family and community around 1750 was as good as dead. She had no job, no education and no support in times of sickness and distress. Nobody would loan her money or defend her if she got into trouble. There were no policemen, no social workers and no compulsory education. In order to survive, such a person quickly had to find an alternative family or community. Boys and girls who ran away from home could expect, at best, to become servants in some new family. At worst, there was the army or the brothel.

All this changed dramatically over the last two centuries. The Industrial Revolution gave the market immense new powers, provided the state with new means of communication and transportation, and placed at the government’s disposal an army of clerks, teachers, policemen and social workers. At first the market and the state discovered their path blocked by traditional families and communities who had little love for outside intervention. Parents and community elders were reluctant to let the younger generation be indoctrinated by nationalist education systems, conscripted into armies or turned into a rootless urban proletariat.

Over time, states and markets used their growing power to weaken the traditional bonds of family and community. The state sent its policemen to stop family vendettas and replace them with court decisions. The market sent its hawkers to wipe out longstanding local traditions and replace them with ever-changing commercial fashions. Yet this was not enough. In order really to break the power of family and community, they needed the help of a fifth column.

The state and the market approached people with an offer that could not be refused. ‘Become individuals,’ they said. ‘Marry whomever you desire, without asking permission from your parents. Take up whatever job suits you, even if community elders frown. Live wherever you wish, even if you cannot make it every week to the family dinner. You are no longer dependent on your family or your community. We, the state and the market, will take care of you instead. We will provide food, shelter, education, health, welfare and employment. We will provide pensions, insurance and protection.

Romantic literature often presents the individual as somebody caught in a struggle against the state and the market. Nothing could be further from the truth. The state and the market are the mother and father of the individual, and the individual can survive only thanks to them. The market provides us with work, insurance and a pension. If we want to study a profession, the government’s schools are there to teach us. If we want to open a business, the bank loans us money. If we want to build a house, a construction company builds it and the bank gives us a mortgage, in some cases subsidised or insured by the state. If violence flares up, the police protect us. If we are sick for a few days, our health insurance takes care of us. If we are debilitated for months, national social services steps in. If we need around-the-clock assistance, we can go to the market and hire a nurse – usually some stranger from the other side of the world who takes care of us with the kind of devotion that we no longer expect from our own children. If we have the means, we can spend our golden years at a senior citizens’ home. The tax authorities treat us as individuals, and do not expect us to pay the neighbours’ taxes. The courts, too, see us as individuals, and never punish us for the crimes of our cousins.

Not only adult men, but also women and children, are recognised as individuals. Throughout most of history, women were often seen as the property of family or community. Modern states, on the other hand, see women as individuals, enjoying economic and legal rights independently of their family and community. They may hold their own bank accounts, decide whom to marry, and even choose to divorce or live on their own.

But the liberation of the individual comes at a cost. Many of us now bewail the loss of strong families and communities and feel alienated and threatened by the power the impersonal state and market wield over our lives. States and markets composed of alienated individuals can intervene in the lives of their members much more easily than states and markets composed of strong families and communities. When neighbours in a high-rise apartment building cannot even agree on how much to pay their janitor, how can we expect them to resist the state?

The deal between states, markets and individuals is an uneasy one. The state and the market disagree about their mutual rights and obligations, and individuals complain that both demand too much and provide too little. In many cases individuals are exploited by markets, and states employ their armies, police forces and bureaucracies to persecute individuals instead of defending them. Yet it is amazing that this deal works at all – however imperfectly. For it breaches countless generations of human social arrangements. Millions of years of evolution have designed us to live and think as community members. Within a mere two centuries we have become alienated individuals. Nothing testifies better to the awesome power of culture.

Harari suggests that markets and states foster “imagined communities” that serve as emotional replacements for the community life of the past because they allow for new feelings of participation with our neighbors, even if we don’t know the neighbors.

The civilization of the past is described by Harari as a cycle of “weak individuals > strong family and community > weak state and market,” and our present civilization is described as a cycle of “strong individuals > weak family and community > strong state and market.”

So what does all of this suggest? It suggests that we’ve created a civilization without community life; at least without the sort of specific and obvious community life our ancestors would recognize. It suggests we’re living through something new.

Considering voluntary associations

Daniel McCarthy writes that we might need an extraordinarily virtuous and heroic leader, singularly capable of harnessing the power of the executive to its fullest to restrain American governmental excesses. How do we get a powerful executive branch to intentionally restrain its incredible power for the sake of the constitution and the common good of the American people?

Dan also teases out an incredibly important point about the role played by America’s “mediating institutions”—the “voluntary institutions” that create the vital civic space in this country between the government and individuals in their daily lives:

The checks that the Constitution cannot supply, and which may or may not come from the character of those who hold office, might be sought outside of politics. In a healthy republic, there is a moral balance—a counterweight to the moral exceptionalism of the modern executive, as well as a practical check on power itself. The counterweight rests with the public, in the form of civil society: voluntary institutions that obviate the need for government power, stand ready to act as centers of moral resistance and to inculcate a different way of looking at the world’s problems.

Yet there is a defect in the way that lovers of liberty such as Hayek conceive of “voluntary institutions”: too often they only feel the force of half of the idea. Voluntary association cannot fulfill its task if it is more “voluntary” than “associative”: it has to be both. Association, quite apart from conscious voluntary commitment, has to involve solidarity, a sense of common feeling and duty among members, something rather contrary to the spirit of individualism. Worse, the spirit of civil society has an element in common with collectivism that is not shared with the ethos of the free market.

The old voluntary associations were only semi-voluntary: ethnic communities and their institutions, for example, and above all churches. The family has never been wholly voluntary, though it is not “collectivist,” either. Class-based organizations like labor unions are perhaps inherently dyseconomical and coercive. And the largest of all meaningful associations, the nation, is in its essence not voluntary.

These institutions could be abusive and limiting to individuals, but they helped to establish widely shared and inflexible moral convictions, which imposed certain constraints upon political power. As individuals have become emancipated from traditional semi-voluntary associations—as all institutions have become more voluntaristic—moral attitudes have fragmented, and only relatively simple and ephemeral passions come to be widely shared.

This is why civil society has not been an adequate check on the growth of power even in a free country such as our own. Not only does the state often undermine civil society, but freedom itself does so. This is partly because civil society traditionally contains an element of unfreedom, and it’s partly because the psychological attractions of freedom are so different from those of “thick” association. Solidarity, loyalty, friendship, and love, as constituent elements of civil society, cannot be faked. They cannot be revived by dedication to “voluntary association” or “civil society” in the abstract.

If its true that civil society and its ability to negate the need for a strong central government in the first place is undone by open-ended freedom, then where does that leave us? It leaves us needing new forms of association as citizens, as neighbors, as people of faith, etc.—associations that are still voluntary, but “thicker” in terms of at least semi-lifetime commitment. We need voluntary institutions that are harder to withdraw from, both in tangible and intangible ways ranging from attractive employment/family benefits that would be asame to lose, to subtler penalties for withdrawing from cooperation with neighbors, community obligations, etc.

America was created to be a free society, but the crucial question for every citizen is “Who and what are you going to serve with that freedom you’ve got?” At present, the answer is usually “I’m going to serve myself.” Our divisive politics and stagnant economics are testament to how well that approach has been working.

I think improvement can start with asking young people how they’re going to use their freedom for something beyond self-pleasure. And not accepting abstract answers (would be worthless) but trying to get at as concrete an answer as possible.

State College master plan

It’s been nearly two years since I wrote that I read State College’s 2016-2023 master plan. I thought at the time that I would share some impressions, but never got around to it. Correcting that now after revisiting the master plan the other day, after wanting to find a sketch of what the intersection of College Avenue and Allen Street is envisioned to look like at the Allen Street Gates (before/after left/right):

The master plan includes a lot more than renderings of specific improvements, but among the renderings and maps it does include, these may be the most significant because they concern the part of Downtown State College that is so “present” in the minds of students, townspeople, alumni, and others when they think of Happy Valley.  Rough costs and overview of the conversion to a more beautiful, brick-paved streetscape:

Some of these improvements have already taken place. You’ll notice the new brick-paved sidewalks on Pugh Street and Frasier Street, as well as along a small stretch of Beaver Avenue near Frasier Street. It looks like on-street parking in certain places will be removed to make way for a better pedestrian experience in the heart of town, which I welcome:

State College’s master plan includes a vision for holistic/coherent development of the entire borough, which specific height/building story limits envisioned for different parts of town to help the downtown maintain its historic and human-scale feeling rather than become a claustrophobic place dominated by overly-dense towers.

But there are plenty of places in prime, downtown locations that have nothing approaching even the four-story height/density envisioned by the master plan, and the plan includes concepts for what sort of redevelopment might occur to replace/convert low-slung one story buildings into more beautiful architecture that places more residents downtown and close to Penn State’s campus—which in turn will improve the experience of this central part of town by ensuring it doesn’t become a complete ghost-town after these one-story businesses close.

It’s an impressive master plan, and I hope almost everything in it is realized in practice in the years to come—though I expect much of it to occur over decades rather than just the next few years. We need a mayor, borough council, and planning commission committed to this vision and with the wherewithal to make it a reality.

Some qualities of maturity

Ben Sasse writes on how to raise an adult in a time of perpetual adolescence:

Our nation is in the midst of a collective coming-of-age crisis. Too many of our children simply don’t know what an adult is anymore—or how to become one. Perhaps more problematic, older generations have forgotten that we need to teach them. It’s our fault more than it’s theirs.

My wife, Melissa, and I have three children, ages 6 to 15. We don’t have any magic bullets to help them make the transition from dependence to self-sustaining adulthood—because there aren’t any. And we have zero desire to set our own family up as a model. We stumble and fall every day.

Resist consumption. Although we often fail at it, Melissa and I aim to imprint in our children the fact that need and want are words with particular and distinct meanings. …

In a 2009 study called “Souls in Transition,” Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith and his colleagues focused on the spiritual attitudes and moral beliefs of 18- to 23-year-old “emerging adults.” They were distressed by what they discovered, especially about the centrality of consumption in the lives of young people. …

Embrace the pain of work. Many of the same social scientists highlighting the emptiness of consumption point to a very different key to happiness: meaningful work. Over the years, I’ve found that just about everyone interesting I’ve ever met possesses a strong work ethic, focused on doing even humble jobs well, and they typically learned it early in life. They usually have a passionate answer to the question: “What was the first really hard work you did as a kid?” …

Connect across generations. Today, young people’s lives are driven by one predominant fact: birth year. … A 2014 Boston Globe article neatly summarized much of the recent research on this question. One study found that, among Americans 60 and older, only a quarter had discussed anything important with anyone under 36 in the previous six months. And when relatives are excluded, the percentage drops to just 6%.

This isolation is no way to raise responsible adults. The anthropologist Alice Schlegel, co-author of a classic study of 186 preindustrial cultures, concluded that age segregation is correlated “to antisocial behavior and to socialization for competitiveness and aggressiveness.” Social science confirms what parents know from watching older siblings care for younger ones: Adolescents acquire vital social skills by interacting with people outside their peer bubble. …

Travel meaningfully. Decades ago, the historian Daniel Boorstin drew a distinction between the nobility of travel and what he saw as the boredom of touring, with its large groups and controlled itineraries. What he called “the lost art of travel” involved going out “in search of people, of adventure, of experience.”

When we travel this way, we subject ourselves to the vertigo that accompanies leaving familiar surroundings, customs, language and food. It’s especially valuable for adolescents. Like hard work, it makes them appreciate not just the comfort of their own lives but the satisfaction of trying new and difficult things. It also forces them to look at the material nature of their lives. Do I really need so much stuff when I feel freer away from it? …

Become truly literate. Reading done well is not a passive activity like sitting in front of a screen. It requires attention, engagement and active questioning. Unfortunately, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American now reads only 19 minutes a day—and the younger you are, the less you read.

That our young people take so little interest in reading is sad, but not just for them. It also keeps them from growing into the sort of engaged, responsible citizens our republic needs. America’s founders understood literacy as a prerequisite for freedom and self- government, and we are paying the price today for failing to take that truth seriously.

These are great, broad ideas on essential quality of adulthood and maturity. It freaks me out when I see people who are too cocooned in their own bubbles in any of these ways, and I try my hardest not to become encased in any of those cocoons myself for too long.

American Health Care Act

Speaker Paul Ryan and the House of Representatives passed their American Health Care Act yesterday. It was immediately lambasted by opponents, and tweaks various things that were a part of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. I think Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry gets at the heart of the problem with both the Democratic and Republican attempts to reform healthcare, which is in essence that neither achieves universal healthcare—something that a majority of conservatives, liberals, and independents want Congress to achieve:

Republicans are in denial about a central truth of the post-ObamaCare landscape: A health-care bill that doesn’t cover everyone will be highly unpopular. If Republicans want to pass a bill that won’t cost them at the ballot box, they need to reconcile themselves to the idea of universal coverage.

I unapologetically support universal coverage — and I’m a conservative! I share my fellow conservatives’ concerns about the size of government, but the size of government is out of control thanks to other entitlements. In and of itself, universal coverage wouldn’t be very expensive. The United States is still the most fantastically wealthy nation on Earth.

Conservatives care deeply about dignity, responsibility, and don’t want government to encourage bad behavior. I wholeheartedly agree. But getting cancer or a chronic disease is not bad behavior. Conservatives don’t want the government to help those who can help themselves, but we also agree — or we should agree — that people who can’t help themselves should be helped. National solidarity is an important value, and this should translate into a system that protects people from the worst. I don’t want the government to control or manage health care, but I do want government to protect people from the expenditures of catastrophic health problems.

But never mind the substance, what about the politics? Here, the picture is even starker. We’re talking about health issues — life and death issues. This is something about which people are rightly very emotional, and understandably very risk-averse. You can’t just take away people’s safety net and replace it with fairy dust. The winning message isn’t “ObamaCare is big government and big government is bad.” The winning message is “We’ll make sure everyone is covered for health-care catastrophes, and moreover, we’ll make it happen in a way that uses common sense and puts you, not hospitals and insurers, in control of your health care.”

This is a winning message. And in terms of policy, it can be done. By shifting power away from middlemen and towards consumers, through health savings accounts and regulatory reforms, Republicans can make American health care more streamlined, more innovative, and less expensive. But for that to happen, they need to pass a bill and make sure that bill doesn’t destroy their majority. Before they can do that, they must come to grips with what is politically acceptable in today’s America.

BugPAC

College towns often suffer from a lack of engagement between shorter term residents and longer term residents (students and “townies”). In my experience of State College, it’s often the case that the townies make that lack of engagement worse by demeaning students for their worst behavior, and marginalizing their role in the life of the community.

When I arrived in State College as a Penn State student in 2005, I heard how Elizabeth Goreham referred to many students as “miscreants” and “lowlifes”. She was a borough councilwoman then, and that rhetoric didn’t stop her from becoming what she is now: mayor. Since then, young people have been called by all sorts of other names by State College borough officials: drunks, wolves, rats, bugs, etc. A diverse and healthy community doesn’t speak this way, and whatever the conduct of some of the worst bad actors in a community might be (young or old), it’s never helpful to stereotype or slander entire constituencies—especially when State College residents actually are 70+ percent student.

We all want a healthy State College that’s welcoming and diverse. But if diversity in the community is to mean anything in a practical sense, it’s got to include diversity of age and experience. That’s why I’m fascinated to watch what my friend Kevin Horne has created with BugPAC, a political action committee working to elect a future-oriented mayor and diversity-appreciating borough council candidates:

BugPAC is born out of both frustration with the present but optimism for the future of State College as a place to live for students, young professionals and long-term residents who appreciate and love the unique energy that only college towns create. We aspire to build a Happier Valley for all residents.

It was State College Borough Councilwoman Theresa Lafer who notoriously referred to young people as the equivalent of “bugs” who flock to the lights downtown and create a nuisance simply by their presence. Her attitude typifies the divisive sort of rhetoric that older people in town should be smart and gregarious and welcoming enough to avoid if they want to enjoy healthy community life. While I don’t live in State College, I wanted to offer my support nonetheless, which is why I wrote to the Centre Daily Times with this sort letter to the editor:

Vision, energy, commitment

Penn State and the State College communities have been in my family’s blood for nearly 80 years. I grew up in awe of this special community, and the people and places that make Happy Valley distinctive. …

It’s why I wrote “Conserving Mount Nittany” to tell the story of our mountain’s conservation. And it’s why I visit town as often as possible, volunteer for the Penn State Alumni Association, and give proudly to Centre Foundation and other local causes.

What I’ve never loved about State College is the needless animosity and bitterness between students and townspeople that sometimes poisons the good feeling of the town. As we get older, it’s incumbent on us to cultivate friendships and forge relationships with young people, both students and newly settled young professionals. Young people deserve to be loved by those of us who are older and have more experience and context for the community they’ve come into and try earnestly to be a part of.

I’ve been watching the borough race with interest, and am putting all my love and support behind Michael Black for mayor, and Marina Cotarelo, Dan Murphy and Evan Myers for Borough Council. We need their vision, their energy and their commitment to building upon the successes of so many generations in State College to create a more inclusive and vibrant town.

Tom Shakely, Philadelphia

Every college town should probably have something like BugPAC to focus energy and attention on creating a healthier community life that’s built around neighborly solidarity across the age and experience spectrum.

Athanasius the resilient

Anyone who has achieved something significant knows the feeling of having set himself against the world to do it. Athanasius was one of those people in Christian history, and really world history. Archbishop Charles J. Chaput writes about Athanasius and why he’s worth paying attention to for his faith, his sheer resiliency, and his incredible grit:

Whether history judges the record of Christian discipleship in our own country a success or a failure finally depends on us—clergy, religious, and laypeople—and how zealously we live our faith; how deeply we believe; and how much apostolic courage we show to an unbelieving world that urgently needs Jesus Christ. We American Christians have far more freedom to live and preach our faith than do Christians in nearly any other nation. And God will hold us accountable for how we use it.

We live in a confused time, with deep anxieties even within the Church. But we’ve been here before. The Nicene Creed emerged largely from one of the most hotly contested gatherings in the life of the Church: the First Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325. It was a meeting marked by fierce conflict between leaders of orthodox Christian belief and leaders of the Arian heresy—a heresy that appealed to many of the learned, comfortable, and powerful.

The Council of Nicaea could have failed. It, and all the long history that followed it, could have turned out very differently. It didn’t, because of one man—a young deacon and scholar (and later bishop) named Athanasius. Earlier this week, on May 2, Western Christians celebrated the feast of this man, whom we now remember as one of the greatest bishop-saints in history. His episcopal see was the city of Alexandria in modern Egypt. And his life is a lesson for all of us in the years ahead.

Athanasius fought for the true Christian faith at Nicaea and throughout his career. Arian bishops excommunicated him. Emperors resented him. His enemies falsely accused him of cruelty, sorcery, and even murder. He was exiled five times, for a total of seventeen years, and survived multiple assassination attempts. And in the face of it all, he became the single most articulate voice defending the orthodox Christian faith, which is why even today we remember him as Athanasius contra mundum: “Athanasius against the world.”

He had courage. He had the truth. He fought hard for it. He never gave up. And in the end, the truth won. The faith we take for granted today, we largely owe to him.

Historical State College

I visited Eric Porterfield yesterday. He recently picked up these historical State College photos from someplace, and I grabbed pictures of them myself to share. They tell such a visceral story of the development of State College from something less than a speck on the map into the place we know it as today. They’re a witness to Pennsylvania’s past, and a key to understanding its future as a place with fundamentally rural and secluded roots:

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1876- College Avenue and Beaver Avenue as taken from Old Main tower. The frame house on the left, along East College Avenue, was the John Foster home. This house remains today at 130 East College Avenue.

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1924- A view of our growing town from the Old Main tower.

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1890- South of West Beaver Avenue. A child stands in a field on the William Foster farm, the site of present day Memorial Field and Central Parklet.