1. One of the many brilliant moments in the Harry Potter franchise arrived in Book 5, when Voldemort began manipulating Harry’s mind. The arch villain was no longer out there somewhere but inside Harry’s head. It was intrusive and frightening and completely true to life: on some level or another, we all have a noseless villain nosing about our heads, judging, manipulating, and condemning us.

This week’s first link investigates that voice — where does it come from, and what is it? — in a beautiful piece from Fr. Stephen Freeman, over on his Ancient Faith blog, entitled “Look Who’s Talking” (ht RS):

I was particularly struck when a researcher described this voice as the “nemesis.” For that is how it behaves. It is like a wounded animal within us, criticizing, judging, negative, destructive, never rejoicing. It offers no wisdom. It builds nothing up. It lives like the enemy within, truly a nemesis of the soul.

This nemesis is a wounded, scared, vulnerable child, unable to comfort itself, unable to reason. Its voice is a voice of pain, but it speaks destruction towards the self, and towards the world around…

It puzzles us and shakes any confidence we might have in our own faith. “How can I think such things?” we wonder. You didn’t think them. The words are the voice of something very old (and young) and unattended.

It is a place that, ironically, requires compassion. It is easy to identify such negative energy as an enemy, and nurture a kind of self-loathing. But self-loathing (of that sort), is easily nothing more than the sound of the voice you have come to loathe. It is a loathing that feeds on itself as a toxic rant rather than bringing about healing.

This, I believe, is among the reasons we hear such compassion for the souls in hell from many of the greatest spiritual fathers in the Church…the darkness that lies within the wounds of our soul differs very little from the souls in hell. Indeed, we may think of those dark places as already speaking from hell. They require compassion. It is for their sake that Christ took flesh and endured death and Hades.

2. Some college campuses are looking similarly hellish these days, rife with finger-pointing and offense-taking — all of which we’ve mentioned before. This week, in the Wall Street Journal, Jonathan Haidt (who graced us at the 2014 Mockingbird conference) pointed out that campus agitation is borne of religious impulses: a new religion, which has all the familiar traits:

When a mob at Vermont’s Middlebury College shut down a speech by social scientist Charles Murray a few weeks ago, most of us saw it as another instance of campus illiberalism. Jonathan Haidt saw something more—a ritual carried out by adherents of what he calls a “new religion,” an auto-da-fé against a heretic for a violation of orthodoxy. 

“The great majority of college students want to learn. They’re perfectly reasonable, and they’re uncomfortable with a lot of what’s going on…But on each campus there are some true believers who have reoriented their lives around the fight against evil.” 

These believers are transforming the campus from a citadel of intellectual freedom into a holy space—where white privilege has replaced original sin, the transgressions of class and race and gender are confessed not to priests but to “the community,” victim groups are worshiped like gods, and the sinned-against are supplicated with “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings.”

… “People are sick and tired of being called racist for innocent things they’ve said or done,” Mr. Haidt observes. “The response to being called a racist unfairly is never to say, ‘Gee, what did I do that led to me being called this? I should be more careful.’ The response is almost always, ‘[Expletive] you!’ ”

And there you go: one of the most fundamental tenants of religion — if not the tenant — is law. In this case, the Religion of Collegiate Do-Gooding maintains certain structures by which everyone is expected to live — one’s adherence (or lack of adherence) to these rules determines their level of goodness. As we see above, the law condemns, and when we feel condemned, we act worse.

A similarly dismal analysis of today’s youth comes to us from Stat: One reason young people don’t go into science? We don’t fail well. Sara Whitlock illuminates the shortcomings of glory road (a road of little failure and little hardship): it may seem like the safe road, but actually it is a means of creating limitations, by which, in turn, we feel judged. The “nemesis” strikes again!

3. Another one from the Wall Street Journal, The Twilight of White Christianity, discusses the evolving correlation between race and Christianity. A welcome reminder that Western civilization’s “greatness” is altogether unrelated to the Gospel, which was given for the world. 21st-century Christianity, William McGurn argues, is overwhelmingly “nonwhite—and growing more so”:

A century ago it would have been easy to conflate whiteness and Christianity. Europe and North America together then accounted for 4 out of 5 of the world’s Christians. Today Christians on these two continents are outnumbered by their coreligionists in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

By 2050, reckons the Pew Research Center, 1 of every 3 Christians will be African. These are easily available facts, but the ignorance is striking. For example, how many journalists who think of “evangelical” as “white” appreciate that the tradition of America’s black churches is also largely evangelical? …

Within the Anglican communion, for example, it’s hard not to notice that challenges to the progressive theology favored by the church’s white Englishmen and Englishwomen often come from the church’s nonwhite contingents in Africa and Asia. These new Christians are also emigrating and evangelizing, which helps explain all those Nigerian churches in Houston.

More to the point, while whiteness may once have been a fact of European Christian civilization, Christianity is subversive of the idea that a young girl shivering with AIDS in Africa is any way inferior in dignity or worth to a white American. Which may be why those most obsessed with white identity get that Christianity is a problem for them.

The good news is that the decline of white Christianity is not reflective of the decline of Christianity overall. It’s not to say, however, that the Gospel now leaves the whitefolk for dead. On the contrary, it reaches for those outside the fold with compassion and empathy, as ever and always.

4. …which brings me to the much-talked-about podcast S-Town. Over at the Atlantic, Spencer Kornhaber wrote S-Town Is a Well-Crafted Monument to Empathy. In a culture that increasingly cartoonizes rural Americans (country radio is equally as guilty as HBO), S-Town provides a more generous look at the lives of country-dwellers:

S-Town turns out to be something much savvier and stranger, though: an act of journalism and literature and humanism that, if anything, hints at the possibility of cultural reconciliation. As pure entertainment, the series delivers mightily thanks to Reed striking lucky with people and places that are as memorable as any fiction. But S-Town finds true novelty as the true-crime narrative and touristic vibe fades and Reed starts obsessing over McLemore himself. The results are a monument to one man’s life, a meditation on the tangled relationship between individuals and the settings around them, and a sensitive portrait of oft-stereotyped places like Woodstock…

Again and again, characters initially presented in caricature-like fashion by McLemore or another source get a chance to speak for themselves, and the liberal ideal of universal empathy and understanding gets applied on a granular scale…for all its terribly tragic dimensions, it was a successful ploy—one that defies McLemore’s pessimism by asserting that vastly different people can come to understand one another.

The empathy exams continue on another show which likewise started out as a murder mystery but became something more emotional in nature: James Poniewozik reviewed the season at the NYT in “Big Little Lies” and the Art of Empathy:

Who was guilty among the moms of Monterey, Calif.? She was, and she was, and she was, and she was, and she was. For being too poor, or too rich. For being overambitious, or underaccomplished. For being too hot, or not hot enough. For being too mean, or too nice. For being.

Judgment was issued by the characters and upon them.…Oh, and you were judging too, dear viewer, if you are not made of stone. Try to deny it! The tony setting and accouterments of “Big Little Lies” were custom-made to fire the judgment synapses honed by years of class-conscious dramas and Bravo reality shows.

The lavish homes with their walls of windows (actual glass houses!), the fetishized beach, the fantastic stemware: All of it was coded to suggest an environment of privileged people fit for comeuppance and punishment. …

The only force not rendering judgment in “Big Little Lies” was “Big Little Lies” itself, and the show’s empathy was its strength. Take Ms. Dern’s Renata. The show cued you early on to see her, as Madeline does, as a self-superior snob.…But as “Big Little Lies” went on, it explained Renata without excusing her.

5. A wonderful quote by Aimee Mann on NPR this week — DZ mentioned her music in last week’s roundup.

I think it is hard to be a person. It is really hard to negotiate relationships, it’s hard to negotiate loss, it’s hard to have perspective on your own problems, it’s hard to break out of the habits and dynamics of your childhood. … And people aren’t really naturally born with the skills to negotiate it. So I have a lot of compassion for people. Everyone’s struggling in some way.

6. From Cari Romm over at Science of Us, “Thinking of Your Job As a Calling Isn’t Always a Good Thing“:

According to a study recently published in the Academy of Management Journal and highlighted by Oliver Staley at Quartz, finding too much meaning in your work can leave you exhausted and burnt out. The danger in thinking of your job as more of a calling — which the authors defined as “a meaningful beckoning toward activities that are morally, socially, and personally significant, involving work that is an end in itself”— is that your passion for the work can, paradoxically, push you to leave it.

In the end, it seems, there’s no way to “call ourselves” away from that ancient curse from Gen. 3: play is play and work is work.

7. But weep no more, the EpiscoDisco is coming to a church crypt near you: The 10th annual Mockingbird conference marks the reprise of the legendary dance party. Also note: After Monday we can no longer guarantee food at the conference. Please pre-register ASAP if you’re planning on eating. Thanks! 

To hold you over, DJ JAZ’s Thump profile is finally on YouTube: