09 March 2007

Faith In War, Melancholy In Peace.

Two items of interest today on Opinion Journal's "Taste Page."
Andrew Carroll on foxhole faith:

Faith undoubtedly offers comfort and strength to those in need, especially troops confronting their own mortality. But this does not explain why so many soldiers go to extraordinary and potentially fatal lengths to worship a higher power. On May 25, 1952, Capt. Molt Shuler described to his wife, Helen, a church service he attended in the mountains of Korea. Despite the fact that gathering together made them vulnerable to mortar attacks, the soldiers were determined to have the ceremony and give thanks to God. With loaded rifles by their sides, they created an altar with ammo boxes and lined up their helmets on the ground as pews. (Makeshift services like these are common on the front lines of every conflict.) "Only a couple times in my life before this evening," Shuler wrote, "have I felt God's presence in such a way."

This presence becomes even more visible in the life-and-death context of war, where all that is frivolous and superficial is shorn away to reveal what is truly meaningful and lasting. Lt. Ray Stubbe, a young Navy chaplain serving in Vietnam in 1967-68, often reflected on this theme in his correspondence with friends in Wisconsin. "People benefit spiritually," he wrote in one letter, when they "face the loss of all the trivia of modern day society." After describing a litany of nightmarish hardships that his Marines had to endure, he noted: "You would be amazed at the faith expressed here. There are evidences of genuine and deep prayer life, of reading and knowing the Bible backwards and forwards, of sacrificial concern for others."

These two words, "sacrificial concern," represent the heart of the matter. Countless soldiers have demonstrated their faith by risking their lives for their comrades in arms. (Ray Stubbe himself often came close to dying when he flew by helicopter through hostile territory to minister at Marine bases in the remote mountains of Khe Sanh.) One of the most famous stories concerns the sinking of the USAT Dorchester, which was torpedoed on Feb. 3, 1943, by a German sub. The chaplains on board--Rabbi Alex Goode, the Rev. George Fox, the Rev. Clark Poling and Father John Washington--refused to get onto the lifeboats so that there would be more room for others. The last anyone saw of the chaplains was the four men, locked arm in arm, praying together as the ship went down.

This sacrificial concern, although it receives scant media attention, is evident in Afghanistan and Iraq as well. Staff Sgt. Brian Craig, who had lost and then regained his faith, handwrote a message to his father back in Texas, articulating how his newfound beliefs compelled him to act selflessly. "I think that the guys I work with know that I am different," he wrote on April 8, 2002. "I just pray that I make a difference in their lives. I pray that I am a good example of a man of Christ." It was his last letter home. Sgt. Craig, who had volunteered to seek out and destroy hidden ordnance that threatened both U.S. troops and innocent Afghans, was killed one week later when a bomb exploded in front of him.

Here's the whole thing.

And Bret Stephens on the American phenomenon on prosperity and depression walking hand in hand:
And then there is Nigeria: desperately poor, infamously corrupt, riven by violent confessional and tribal divides, and generally filthy. It clocked in with a depression rate of 0.8%, by far the lowest of all the countries surveyed.
Could it really be that Nigerians are the happiest people on earth, and Americans the most unhappy? At least the first of those suggestions seems absurd, and researchers have no shortage of explanations to account for the comparatively lower rates of depression reported in poorer countries. "It's all about what people are willing to tell us," Harvard's Ronald Kessler, who helped run the study, tells Forbes. "In Nepal, it's against the law to be mentally ill. No surprise, nobody there admits to being mentally ill." Other researchers suggest that doctors in poorer countries may be quicker to diagnose depression not as a physical malady but as a moral or spiritual one, best treated with some bracing advice to the patient about how he should lead his life.
There is also the matter of differing expectations: A New York attorney who fails to make partner at a white-shoe firm by his mid-30s may find himself "depressed." By contrast, a fruit seller in Lagos, Nigeria, who makes enough in a year to feed and clothe her family may be fairly contented. If your goal in life is shelter, food and safety, the very notion of depression may never even intrude on your psychic space. But if you've never known what it means to struggle for survival, you might more easily be emotionally crushed by the want of life's intangibles: love, purpose, meaning and so on.
Still, none of this quite accounts for the wide disparities in depression rates among countries that are already rich. Germany and Japan, for instance, have rates of 3.6% and 3.1%, respectively. About the Germans, a wag might explain their rate as a late instance of the triumph of the will, and perhaps a similar cultural ethic among the Japanese militates against admitting to depression. If so, it could mean that social values are, in effect, repressing depressed people by making them reluctant to admit to their problem. Alternatively, it could mean that those values also serve as a cure, at least in depression's milder forms, by providing a variety of social goods that may be lacking in the U.S.: a sense of community, stronger family ties, an extra four weeks of vacation.


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