Busted Halo

In Virtue/Vice, Dr. Christine B. Whelan blogs about news, books, scientific and psychological research and her general musings about virtue and vice in our everyday lives.

 

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August 24th, 2010

sweatlodgeIt’s been nearly a year since three people died and dozens more were injured during a self-help retreat led by the now-infamous James Arthur Ray. At the time, I wrote a piece in The Washington Post and was outspoken about the fact that, although we’d like to write them off as New Age wackos, the folks who stayed in a steamy sweat lodge well past when it was physically safe were just like you and me: Seekers who were smart, educated and interested in pushing themselves to achieve greater things.

In this month’s SELF magazine Shepelavy has a terrific piece about the lessons we can all learn from last year’s deaths. Roxanne and I logged in several hours of talk time over the last few months as she crafted the piece, “When Self-Help Harms,” and she did an excellent job. (Yes, I’m quoted extensively, but I don’t rave about all the pieces that quote me, lemme tell ya!)

Check it out here—and, because it’s always more fun to read glossy magazines than words on a screen, buy the September issue in hard copy.

Self-help doesn’t have to be harmful, but too often gurus lead enthusiastic people astray. I …

August 20th, 2010

You may have been following my adventures at Rendezvous with G-d, from covering a website for religious Jews seeking extramarital affairs, to interviewing Muslim women and their views on wearing veils. You might remember stories about my personal life, some of which were so personal I chose to later take it down. And today, I close a small chapter of this blog, and open a new one as I move out again. This time I am moving to Brooklyn with a (non-practicing) Catholic and (semi) observant Jew. And more difficult than finding the apartment, might be how to live in the apartment with such varying religious traditions.
So meet the girls who have decided to take this interreligious journey with me. They too will now be contributing to Rendezvous with G-d, as the three of us use our day-to-day living as material for this blog. What will happen if one of us forgets and breaks an important law during Shabbat? Will we get scared of the religious man torching our kitchen in order to make it Kosher? Will one of us become more, or less, religious during this experience? These are all the questions we ourselves are curious to …

August 19th, 2010

emailforwards-flashThe dreaded email forwards.  Pictures of puppies wearing hats, drawings of angels, images of sunsets.  I don’t get a lot of these emails except for the occasional prayer chain letter from my mom.  But poor Brandon gets a lot of them.  I think it’s because he likes computers so people think he will like any email sent to him.   Usually they are pretty harmless.  The ones that I can’t stand are the ones the spread ignorance and intolerance.

Brandon recently received an email forward from a person that he knows in a professional capacity.  I won’t repeat the exact email but it was a joke about Mexicans that insinuated that they are all lazy and should go back to Mexico.

Let’s put aside for a moment that this man sent this email to my husband knowing full well that I’m Mexican-American.

What makes me mad is that the people who write things and forward things like this are not putting any thought into their opinion.  They are not making logical arguments or good points or adding anything to the immigration debate except unfiltered xenophobia and prejudice.  There are many opinions about immigration and many different solutions but calling immigrants lazy …

August 19th, 2010

market-morality-flashAre Shoppers Fairer? asked John Tierney in his New York Times column and blog.

Do markets and morality – as we like to definite fairness in modern societies – reinforce one another? Does shopping at Wal-Mart, as the fair-minded people in Missouri do, strengthen one’s tendency to follow the golden rule in dealing with strangers?

Turns out that in a multi-country anthropological experiment, Americans shoppers scored higher in a test of fairness toward strangers than those surveyed in Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Africa, Asia and Latin America.

The researchers played the game “dictator” with folks around the world: The person who is in the “dictator” role is given a sum of money and told they can keep it all, give it all away or share some part of it with another player, whose identity remains secret.

How much would you give? Half? A bit less than half?

That’s what standard American ideas of fair would suggest… but that’s not necessarily everyone’s definition of equity. Some nomad communities would only share a quarter of the prize. Indeed, the study finds, “most hunter-gatherers, foragers and subsistence farmers were less inclined to share.”

Why? Tierney explains:

In explaining attitudes toward fairness, Dr. …

August 18th, 2010

How does the Church really feel about games of chance? Tune in to hear what Fr. Larry and Fr. Dave have to say……

August 17th, 2010

narcissism-flashAre college students today more narcissistic than their peers from previous generations?

Based on the results of the narcissistic personality inventory, a standardized test that has been given to students at the University of South Alabama over the last 15 years, the answer is a resounding yes.

“I’m extremely confident,” San Diego State University psychologist Jean Twenge told Discovery News. “I think these analyses end the debate completely. It’s clear narcissism is rising.”

But is this inventory the best judge of narcissism-and what does that really even mean? Narcissistic personalities are usually defined as people who think very highly of themselves, are self-absorbed and have unrealistic views about their own qualities and little regard for others.

Sounds like every Millennial you know, right? Well, you may fit the bill, too.

Take the inventory for yourself here and here.

Narcissism is most certainly not a virtue. But as a vice, it may be one of most common throughout history. Younger Americans, however, have been raised on a steady diet of self-esteem boosting. After getting a gold star for every effort, no wonder young-adults are tipping the scales of this inventory.

Regardless of your age, if you’re a true …

August 13th, 2010

isitworthit-flashI recently had a conversation with an old friend who was thinking about making some major life decisions without telling her family about it.  She knew they would disapprove and she didn’t want to deal with them.  She justified it by saying that she believed in what she was doing and just wanted to do it and tell everyone later.

This is a tough issue.  There is great tension between wanting to be independent, to be your own person, to make your own decisions and your responsibility to your family.

After 25 years of having to figure out what to share and not share with my family, it’s still a tough call each time.  I know that I don’t want to have to lie to my family so I try not hide things that I’ll have to lie about to cover it up but at the same time I don’t tell them every detail about my life.  It’s one thing to get a tattoo that you never tell mom about because hopefully she’ll never see it.  It’s quite another thing to elope and move out of state saying adios to the family through your rear view mirror as your drive …

August 12th, 2010

courageunderpressure-flashIf the pilot of your plane has a heart attack mid-air, could you land the plane? With the help of some calm, fast-thinking air traffic controllers, Doug White of Archibald, La., was able to land the plane — saving both his own life and the life of his family.

You probably didn’t hear about this story–from more than a year ago–or the brief media mentions of the Archie League Medal of Safety Award that the National Air Traffic Controllers Association gave Brian Norton and Lisa Grimm for talking Mr. White through a harrowing situation on Easter Sunday 2009. But when I come across stories of courage like this, I think it’s important to highlight them, no matter when they happened.

Mr. White knew how to fly a smaller, less complex type of aircraft, so that helped, but in the audio tapes of the event, you can hear the fear in his voice. 

According to CBS News, the controllers on the ground stayed calm, instructing

GRIMM: “We’re going to have you hand-fly the plane…Hold the yoke level and disengage the autopilot.”
WHITE: “Alright, I disengaged it. I’m flying the airplane by hand… You find me the …

August 11th, 2010

Part of our Catholic tradition involves a concept known as “natural law,” a term used to describe a “right” ordering to the universe.  As a life-long Yankees fan I had never had any trouble understanding that concept, especially during the late nineties, where World Championships were like Christmas… they happened every year.  It was a “right ordering” of the universe that had never really been challenged: some teams are usually up, some teams are usually down, and no matter how good the Boston Red Sox ever get, they will always play second fiddle to the greatest sports franchise in world history (Manchester United be damned).

So you can imagine my… my… what’s the word… “shock” and “surprise” just seem too soft to describe the experience of having one’s entire universe re-ordered… abject horror when, in 2004 the Boston Red Sox overcame a three game deficit—something NO TEAM had ever done in either baseball or basketball—to win the American League Championship Series (ALCS) against my beloved Bronx Bombers.

Fenway_CrowdBut it didn’t make sense to me…. in years past it seemed as though that the Lord Almighty always intervened to ensure that His favorite team on the planet would end up …

August 10th, 2010

Beerbelly-flashHere’s some visual amusement — to make you laugh or cry.

Check out this map, from the good folks at Sociological Images. The red parts of the map are locations where there are more bars than grocery stores. The yellow parts of the map are where grocery stores outnumber bars.

Hmmmm.

After nearly three years at the University of Iowa, this map seems about accurate: Midwestern college towns must have bars outnumbering grocery stores by a margin of 10 to 1. Indeed, it’s fitting that this research comes out of the University of Wisconsin:

beerbelly-mapAccording to my totally unscientific online research, La Crosse, Wisconsin is home to more than 360 bars and holds the Guinness Book of World Records for the most bars per capita and most bars on one street. In Medford, Wisconsin, apparently there’s one bar for every 455 people.

And I see a little cluster around what might be my current hometown in Pittsburgh. Indeed, given how hard it is to buy alcohol outside of a bar in Pennsylvania, I’d expect to see the whole state light up red.

While you might think that places with more grocery stores than bars would be more virtuous, …

August 9th, 2010

KS_EatPrayAustinI had exactly seven days left in Austin and I had not yet eaten the second greatest burger in Texas according to Texas Monthly Magazine.  Why I thought I would have room in my stomach for the second greatest burger in Texas I do not know… the last few weeks had been a gastrointestinal marathon of good-bye lunches, dinners, and breakfasts with the good parishioners of St. Austin Parish.  Not that I was an unwilling participant in all of restaurant hopping, mind you.

One of my favorite Paulist preachers here in Washington, DC used to be the rector of our parish in Rome.  One of the reasons I like his preaching so much is that he usually has great stories to tell, especially on the topic of saints; he almost always comes up with some interesting aspect of the saint’s life that’s not usually found in the official listing.  But it is obvious where his heart is because many of his homilies start out with the phrase, “There is this church in Rome…”  I only bring that up here because I can imagine a time in the future in which I repeatedly fall into the trap of starting most …

August 6th, 2010

lalupe-pilgrimage-flashWe’ve all heard that life is a great pilgrimage.  But a pilgrimage to what?  The pastor of a church here in Austin has in his email signature line “Working to beat hell”.  That’s what I hope my pilgrimage is.  To heaven.  To God.  To Infinite Love.  Sometimes we have to make specific journeys to find this more deeply, though.

I’ve been lucky to find some great friends and to find love in these communities but there is something different about feeling the love of family.  It’s a different connection; a blood connection; a connection that is part of you.  I know a lot of people probably don’t feel this all the time and I am one of them.  Family relationships can be complicated and messy sometimes.

I have a huge extended family with 14 aunts and uncles and countless cousins and everyone in everyone else’s business.  They aren’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination but I love them dearly.  I’ve always felt on the outside of them but have always really ached for their approval and affection.

Whenever we go back to El Paso to visit La Lupe and the fam I always feel like it is a pilgrimage.  …

August 5th, 2010

help-flashIn the last year, at least six Cornell University students have committed suicide, with the most recent death in March. Back in the late 1990s, there was a similar wave of suicides, giving the university a reputation as a “suicide school.” While that’s a little bit unfair–yes, it’s cold and dark and dreary in Ithaca during the winters–Cornell has developed an admirably open and proactive mental health approach to its problem.

Suicides are awful — and suicides among young, bright students with so much potential? It’s that much more heart-wrenching. Yet somehow, news of these deaths has sparked excellent conversations about recognizing depression in teens.

Amid these recent tragedies, Cornell president David Skorton wrote a beautiful letter to his community, reminding them:

If you learn anything at Cornell, please learn to ask for help. It is a sign of wisdom and strength.

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, there are about 7 suicides for every 100,000 college students each year. As a college professor, I try to be open and available to my students if they want to talk about personal problems-and in my classes, we discuss the encouraging social change toward open discussion of …

July 29th, 2010

Over the past few weeks, I have been on a culinary tear through the “Cheap Eats” Capital of the world: Austin, Texas .  You see, on the east Coast, cupcakes are NOT served out of a trailer.  On the east Coast, our idea of barbecue involves defrosting hot dogs in a microwave. On the East Coast, a breakfast taco is simply when you eat leftovers from Chili’s the following morning.  So I have been spending these last days in Austin frantically visiting all of my favorite places… Amy’s Ice Cream, Torchy’s Tacos, Taco Deli, Iron Works… you name it.  Someday I’m going to write a book about my experiences over these past few weeks: I’m going to call it “Eat, Pray, Austin.”

But if I stop to reflect, there’s a reason I have been so frantic about visiting all of my favorite Austin eateries.  That’s because I’m imagining a day in the not-too-distant future… when I’m back in my seminary in DC… a day in which I will be craving a jalapeno-and-cheese sausage… and it will be chicken again for dinner.  On that day, all I will be left with will be the eternal words of Mick Jagger: “You Can’t …

July 29th, 2010

Being Mexican-American can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people.  Err on the side of Mexican and you’re un-American.  Err on the side of American and you’re a sell-out.  It reminds me of that scene in Selena when her dad completely freaks out, “We have to be more Mexican than the Mexicans and more American than the Americans, both at the same time! It’s exhausting!”  It’s a little melodramatic but sometimes I feel the same way.  I feel like I can never satisfy either side.

There are so many ways people live out their Mexican-ity.  I have friends that are dark-skinned, have an accent when they speak English and yet don’t speak Spanish at all.  I have friends that were never taught Spanish or anything about their Mexican background but decided to take charge of it in college and learn Spanish and the culture and live as if they grew up in a Mexican household.  I know people who go by Louis when their name is really Luis.  I know people that have taken on an Aztec name in place of their name to be more true to their roots.  I find all these differences …

July 29th, 2010

gameofdeath-flashA French documentary, which aired this spring, argues that we’d do anything to win a reality television show — even kill another human being.

The film, called “The Game of Death,” features players in a fake television game shocking fellow contestants if they answer a question incorrectly. The directors of the film found some 80 contestants and auditioned them to take part in a game-show called “Zone Xtreme,” where other “contestants” (actually actors) were asked questions while strapped to an electrified chair. If the actor gave an incorrect answer, the contestant was encouraged to administer an electric shock as punishment, while the crowd roared approval.

Christophe Nick, the maker of the documentary, told the BBC that 82% of the participants shocked the actor-contestant.

“They don’t want to do it, they try to convince the authority figure that they should stop, but they don’t manage to.”

gameofdeath-inside1The idea for this show comes from the Milgram experiments from the 1960s, which demonstrated people will do horrible things if someone in a position of authority tells them to do it. Mr. Nick, the documentary’s producer, said his results outstripped even Milgram’s findings, with 4 out of 5 contestants going against …

July 27th, 2010

Ok, look at this ad quickly…

barbie ad

Looks normal right?

Yeah, these aren’t human beings, they are Barbie dolls.

Thanks to the blog Sociological Images, for highlighting the find from Sarah Barnes at Uplift, an online magazine.

Honesty is a virtue — as is beauty, arguably. But wow, are these two ideas in conflict here. What’s freaking me out (and other women) is that at first glance we don’t even notice that the women are fake. We’re that used to seeing airbrushed models that we just see this as yet another display ad for some fashion show or product.

This is problematic. While I don’t need to see rolls of fat on models either, it’s probably time to acknowledge that, in the quest for “perfection,” we’ve lost touch with reality.…

July 23rd, 2010

So I’ve taken up golf this past year in Austin.  I have mixed feelings about this development in my life.  Yes, I am enjoying the game… but I still can’t shake the feeling that this is somehow a natural progression of my priestly formation.  Priests and golf seem to be so synonymous that I wouldn’t be surprised if the bishop handed me a seven iron right after putting the oils on my hands during the ordination service.

This development in my life makes me wonder what will be coming next.  Seriously, it CAN’T really be wearing cardigans.  So many priests I know wear cardigans, but that can’t be allowed to happen.  Catholic teachings on the sanctity of life aside, I am really going to have to find some trusted friends who will agree to give me the business end of a Colt 45 if I ever start to wear cardigans.  (Okay, maybe I’m being  extreme, but I would would hope that someone would at least slap me.)

But in the area of golf, I suppose if the President of the United States has also taken to golf recently—someone who regularly plays basketball with pro players and had Jay-Z at his …

July 22nd, 2010

obesity-flashDr Jason Halford tells MedicalNewsToday

Anti-obesity drugs haven’t successfully tackled the wider issues of obesity because they’ve been focused predominantly on weight loss. Obesity is the result of many motivational factors that have evolved to encourage us to eat, not least our susceptibility to the attractions of food and the pleasures of eating energy rich foods – factors which are, of course, all too effectively exploited by food manufacturers.

He continued:

As psychological factors are critical to the development of obesity, drug companies should take them into consideration when designing new drug therapies. We’ve learned a great deal about the neurochemical systems that govern processes like the wanting and liking of food, and it’s time to exploit that knowledge to help people manage their eating behaviour.

We all know that to lose weight we’ve got to eat less and exercise more: Calories in, calories out. But we’ve still got to eat something, and that’s where things get tricky. Psychologist George Ainslie has told us for years that it’s easier to control things when you can implement bright lines: Don’t smoke even one cigarette. Don’t drink even one alcoholic beverage. This is why the Atkins diet and other “bright line” …

July 21st, 2010

lalupe-003-house-flashNot that I base all my decisions on this, but I frequently find myself wondering if my choices make me more or less “Mexican”. I think it stems from when I was 12 and my parents and I moved from El Paso to a suburb of Houston. We visited El Paso six months later for Christmas. My cousin told me I sounded weird when I spoke. I asked her why and she responded, “I dunno, you kinda sound like a white person.” Silly but it was just one of those life events that stuck with me.

As I grew up and grew into my faith more, I didn’t only wonder if my actions seemed “Mexican” but also if they seemed Catholic.

My latest dilemma has been looking to buy a house. My husband has started a job that requires him to work from home which has quickly turned our little apartment into a near-unbearable situation. A light-sleeper baby and a hubby that has to make phone calls all day is a bad combination. So, off we went to the ever-frustrating housing market.

We tried to narrow down the neighborhoods in Austin we would like to live in/are reasonably priced.

Gentrification …

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