Choosing a Life of Hope Over a Death of Despair
Author: Chris Johnson  

On any given day, on any given social site, you will likely find trending the real or perceived oppression of some category of human being.

Whether it is the gender pay gap, Black Lives Matter, or Trump’s immigration policies, someone somewhere is claiming to fight discrimination.

There is one subset about whose suffering we rarely hear,  and would never in this day and age be caught “trending” - white males.

It was a surprising trail of links I recently found myself tumbling down when I saw first this headline, Working Class White America is ‘Dying of Despair,’ by Maggie Gallagher, and then this one,” On the Outside, Looking Out:  Our world is full of wonders, but not everyone finds a place in it,” by Kevin D. Williamson, which linked to this one: Greatest rise in heroin use was among white people, study says,and finally I stumbled across this one, The biggest threat facing middle-age men isn’t smoking or obesity. It’s loneliness, by Billy Baker.

All published in the month of March, and all referring to the struggles plaguing the group of people which should be doing the best, according to all the social justice warriors claiming to be oppressed by them: middle-aged, white males.

If you listen to feminist activists, you’ll hear that men are more likely to be hired for high level positions and better paid than female peers.

If you listen to the most radical elements tied to the Black Lives Matter movement, you’ll hear that white people are oppressive just for existing.

But if you listen to articles like the ones linked above you’ll hear this from Maggie’s piece: “Just in 1999 mortality rates of non-Hispanic, non-college whites were about 30 percent lower than mortality rates of blacks. By 2015, they were 30 percent higher. A big improvement in black health was accompanied by a surge in white deaths…

What does it mean that “deaths of despair” (defined as drug overdoses, suicides, and alcohol-related liver mortality)are epidemic among blue collar white folks? Are they facing a crisis of meaning?

Their income troubles are well known: working class white men have not had a pay raise for two generations. These stagnant wages lead many to retreat from the work force.

Marriage rates have plummeted. Out of wedlock childbearing has increased. By the 1990s a divorce gap was already emerging: More divorces among less educated Americans, and fewer among the college educated.

The unwed motherhood gap is also growing: Women with college degrees are between 400 percent and 600 percent less likely to have children out of wedlock than women without diplomas.

So marriage and family have become less reliable sources of meaning in the lives of less educated whites. Church is becoming less important too.

Mr. Williamson echoes Ms. Gallagher, “Most of us will just have jobs, things that we have to do in exchange for money, positions about which we do not necessarily have any strong feeling other than perhaps the fear of losing it.

“But the marriage and family that once was a source of security is today a source of insecurity, an unstable and uncertain thing scarcely defended by the law (it is far, far easier to walk away from a marriage than from a student loan) and held in low regard by much of society.”

While these two columnists explain the loss of meaning that men once found in work and family, Billy Baker’s editorial at the Boston Globe explains another struggle particularly  middle-aged men face (though he does it from the perspective of a happily married man and father):  they have no friends.

Using himself as an example of a common problem, Baker says this, “Yes, I have friends at work and at the gym, but those are accidents of proximity. I rarely see those people anywhere outside those environments, because when everything adds up, I have left almost no time for friends. I have structured myself into being a loser.”

Earlier in the article, Baker references the United States Surgeon General Vivek Murthy’s frequent insistence that, “the most prevalent health issue in the country is not cancer or heart disease or obesity. It is isolation.”

And, both Maggie Gallagher and Kevin Williamson note, often the method of dealing with this purposelessness and despair ends up being narcotics or alcohol, which sometimes lead to death, or even suicide.

There are several lessons we can glean from this underreported issue.

First, suffering does not belong to any color or gender. We will all face our own challenges to contentment, and we should not discount those who face other challenges than ourselves.

Second, these reports ought to bring to bear the importance of the social structures crumbling around us. As our society seeks to make parental and spousal rolls optional and interchangeable, we often hear about the struggles of single parents or same-sex “parents,” we often hear it argued that their kids can grow up to be perfectly adjusted, and that is certainly true in many cases.

But how often have you heard the question posed as to what the omitted parent is missing? As Williamson notes, “The world is wondrous and beautiful and exciting and rich, and many of us have trouble finding our place in it, in part, because it is wondrous and beautiful and exciting and rich, so much so that we have lost touch with certain older realities. One of those realities is that children need fathers. Another is that fathers need children.”

Forgetting that has left us with a generation of men who do not know their purpose or their worth, and are thus filled with despair.

Our culture, as a whole, places a much higher premium on entertainment than it does on the value of an honest day’s work, yet God calls the pleasure derived from work a gift as well, “I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God's gift to man.”  (Ecc. 3:13)

If we understand the Bible to be true, we should know what to expect when mankind tries to find contentment and joy outside of God’s gifts or by engineering them into something different – it will just lead to misery. Misery in turn will lead to loneliness and hopelessness, which will in turn lead to “deaths of despair,” just as we see happening.

Let us share the one true source of hope with a hopeless world.

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