By Pat Fagan Ph.D.
I have often wondered why 25 years of strong data has made no difference to the Congressional debate on marriage, family and religious practice. This week I was introduced to the phenomenon that explains a lot, acedia, the opposite of magnanimity or big heartedness. Acedia has no truck with data that disturbs. It seeks only pleasure.
Throughout history acedia has often accompanied prosperity. The widespread presence of acedia among Roman higher classes scared Caesar Augustus into enacting marriage laws with draconian penalties for adultery. All this to reform the family life of the elite of Rome.
Acedia was a grave concern for the ancient Greeks and Romans, and later the Christians (Gregory the Great and Aquinas). It is a listless softness that pursues a life full of pleasures, leading in turn to passivity. It has four major characteristics:
- An inordinate amount of time spent on entertainment
- Love of comfort in all things
- Constant seeking of pleasure in food, drink and sex
- Emotion overriding reason
Acedia robs people of the disposition to make the effort to achieve a desired good, a good they would like were it not for the price.
This passivity towards the good-not-pursued leads to:
- Sadness / depression
- A growing dislike of the particular good
- Anger with those who pursue that good
- Hatred of the good or of those who pursue it
Apply the above to modern America. With the richest economy in world history, we, like the Romans who scared Augustus, are giving up on marriage and have few children, judging them too costly. This fear of the effort involved is seen in a passivity regarding marriage and children, accompanied by the very same stages described by the ancients:
- An epidemic of depression. One psychiatrist said (only half mockingly) that we should add Zoloft to the water supply.
- A growing dislike of the child not pursued: child abuse and abortion are rampant.
- Anger at the good. Witness the Women’s March on Washington and Judge Kavanagh’s confirmation farce.
- Finally, hatred, as in the case of abortion. Neither love nor hate at their core are emotions but actions. To kill an unborn child is to hate it.
What has this to do with data and social sciences?
Those who have reached the acedian stages of dislike, anger or hatred have no interest in good research (the truth) and can even hate it.
Given all this, what is the role of the social sciences? For those who want to pursue the good, the social sciences can show the quickest route there. For the young and for those with an inquiring mind about human nature, the social sciences illustrate natural law.
But the clarity of the social sciences disturbs those in the throes of acedia. Hence, many professors do not teach students how to learn from the data.
This also applies to Congress and the media.
But for those looking to understand social realities, the data of the social sciences are a source of wonder and insight.
For the good of the child, the future of the world.
About the author
Dr. Pat Fagan has been a grade school teacher, a clinical therapist specializing in child, family and marital therapy. During his career he as been Executive Director of the Free Congress Foundation, a member of the staff of Senator Dan Coats of Indiana, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Family and Social Policy at HHS under President George Herbert Bush, the Senior Fellow on Family and Culture at the Heritage Foundation, then as founder and director of the Marriage and Religion Research Institute at Family Research Council. Fagan now directs MARRI at The Catholic University of America. He is also the publisher and editor of Marripedia.org. He has authored over thirty synthesis papers and has commissioned dozens of original research projects in marriage, family, child development and religious practice. He and his wife Theresa have eight children and twelve grandchildren.