There was a time when most people could name the exact number of friends they had, not because Facebook kept track for them but because the number was small enough to actually remember each person by name. Although the number of active Facebook users in the United States is not growing as rapidly as it once did, the social networking site still claims almost 700 million active users worldwide, and the term friend has taken on a much broader meaning. The popularity of such sites, and of the Internet in general, has led some, Pope Benedict XVI among them, to warn that the Internet can lead to a “sense of solitude and disorientation.”
But a new study from the Pew Internet and American Life Project may ease these concerns. The study reports: “Americans have more close social ties than they did two years ago. And they are less socially isolated. We found that the frequent use of Facebook is associated with having more overall close ties.” In addition, Facebook users are more trusting and more politically engaged. This is good news considering that nearly half of American adults belong to some sort of social network, a 26 percent increase since 2008. And these sites are not just for college students anymore: More than half of this group are over 35. Fifty-six percent are female.
The study also found that “a deficit of overall social ties, social support, trust, and community engagement is much more likely to result from traditional factors, such as lower educational attainment.” Facebook can be a complement to real-life connections, not a replacement for them.
The Republic at War
Probably everyone knows by now that 2011 marks the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War. This year has already seen a wave of commemorations at Fort Sumter and elsewhere, along with the inevitable re-enactments of key battles. The sesquicentennial has even occasioned an iPad app. For $7.99 you can receive daily reports of the events of the war as they happened 150 years ago.
Most anniversaries receive more news attention than they deserve, but the Civil War is different. The events of 1861 were as important to the future of the republic as the events of 1776. It was by no means inevitable that the United States would do away with slavery. One prominent senator proposed enshrining it as a constitutional right in order to keep the peace. Abolitionists in the North were perhaps too eager for war, but their campaign against slavery still stands as a pre-eminent example of moral witness. There were other heroes too, many now forgotten.
In California Thomas Starr King, a Unitarian preacher, argued eloquently in favor of the Union cause as the state teetered on the edge of secession. German immigrant soldiers in St. Louis helped defeat pro-secession forces at a key moment at the start of the war. Gen. Benjamin Butler emerged as an unlikely defender of runaway slaves when hundreds of them fled to Fort Monroe in Virginia seeking asylum.
These events, masterfully recounted in Adam Goodheart’s new book, 1861: The Civil War Awakening, offer a glimpse of a patchwork nation that rallied together at a time of unprecedented division. The rest of the war would be uncommonly brutal, and some of the divisions remain to this day. Yet the road taken was the right one, and that has made all the difference.
Love One Another
The church’s stance on same-sex marriage is very well known. It has been made well known by the Vatican; and it has been made clear by many bishops in this country. The church teaches, in short, that same-sex marriage is not permissible because it promotes homosexual activity and redefines the traditional concept of marriage. There can be few Catholics, and non-Catholics, who do not know this.
What is less well known is the church’s teaching on gay and lesbian people themselves. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that gays and lesbians are to be accepted with “respect, compassion and sensitivity.” Jesus Christ asks us to love everyone, not simply those with whom we agree, not simply those in our churches and not simply those who “follow the rules.” But the church’s message on gays and lesbians is often obscured by its vocal opposition to same-sex marriage. Gays and lesbians hear about little else in church circles. And with no other group does the church speak almost exclusively the language of prohibition, rather than that of welcome.
That is why bishops who speak of love and acceptance should be praised, like Joseph M. Sullivan, a retired auxiliary bishop of Brooklyn, who wrote in the Buffalo News on June 2: “For most Catholics, there can be no statement that better summarizes an attitude of welcoming of our LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender] brothers and sisters than those of Jesus, ‘Love one another as I have loved you.’” There is nothing wrong with telling people that they are loved and lovable. And that all are, indeed, welcome.