Ruth Speaks Out

This blog is maintained by the Ruth Institute. It provides a place for our Circle of Experts to express themselves. This is where the scholars, experts, students and followers of the Ruth Institute engage in constructive dialogue about the issues surrounding the Sexual Revolution. We discuss public policy, social practices, legal doctrines and much more.


A Child of Divorce Speaks Out on the Importance of a Family

A Child of Divorce Speaks Out on the Importance of a Family

“No-fault divorce is like abortion,” says the Ruth Institute's Jennifer Johnson.
 
by Jim Graves 
 
This article was first posted April 10, 2017, at ncregister.com.

 

Jennifer Johnson is Director of the Children of Divorce Project at the Ruth Institute. She is an author, whose interests include homeschooling (she homeschooled her three children), children’s rights and family structure issues. She has worked full time with the Ruth Institute since 2010, an organization founded by Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse “dedicated to finding Christ-like solutions to the problems of family breakdown.”

Johnson’s most recently published work is “Marriage and Equality: How Natural Marriage Upholds the Ideal of Equality for Children.” She recently talked about divorce and its effect on her life.

What is your own personal experience of divorce?

I have a lot of experience with divorce, far too much to ask of any one person in my opinion. My parents divorced when I was three and went on to subsequent marriages, divorces, different children, a lot of back and forth between “two homes,” and a lot of chaos. By the time I was about 22, I had experienced three divorces: my own parents’ divorce and my dad’s two subsequent divorces. I am divorced as an adult and there is quite a bit of divorce in the rest of my family.

How did it affect you, and how have you been able to recover?

That is a whole story that I tell in my Special Report, “Marriage and Equality: How Natural Marriage Upholds the Ideal of Equality for Children”. The short version is that I did not have a family; I was the lone member of my family. The family experience that I had was shared by no other person. I include diagrams in the report to show what I mean.


That experience taught me to suppress my true thoughts and feelings about the original divorce and the remarriages. That chaotic situation taught me to ignore my own intuitions, taught me that letting my intuitions bubble to the surface of my mind was dangerous. Had I examined and revealed my intuitions about all that to my parents, it would have jeopardized my already-tenuous relationship with them. Learning to ignore my thoughts, feelings and intuitions about things that bothered me made me extremely vulnerable once I became an adult. I joined a cult at the age of 19, had an arranged marriage there, and participated and endorsed some horrific abuse and exploitation of others so that I could fit in and not be thought of as an outsider. The cult appealed to my deep need for belonging, for being a full-fledged member of a family.

Anthropologists have a concept that applies here. It is called “liminality.” Limin is Latin for the threshold of a doorway. The threshold is not one room or the other. It is the in-between place between two rooms, or between the outside of the house and the inside. Liminality is the condition of being between states or statuses. Sometimes it is referred to as being “betwixt and between.” When somebody is in a liminal state, they are no longer what they were and are not yet what they will be. The old rules no longer apply, and the new rules do not apply yet.

When my parents divorced, I ceased to exist as a full-fledged daughter in my family, because my family ceased to exist. I never again entered a full-fledged status with either of them. Their divorce and subsequent remarriages pushed me into a liminal state from which I have never emerged. Joining the cult was my attempt to exit the liminal state, to become initiated as a full-fledged member of a family, even if it was an abusive family.

There have been many studies about the effects of divorce on children. What are some of the findings?

It’s bad. It is worse than the average person wants to realize. Divorce shortens people’s lives. That alone should get people’s attention. Plus it increases the risk factors for addictions, not finishing high school, getting divorced as an adult and losing contact with grandparents. Children of divorce report feeling a lack of empathy from their churches, and don’t go to church as much as kids from intact families.

“No fault” divorce came to California in 1969, and the rest of the country soon after. How do you think divorce has affected society as a whole?

In order to talk about society, we need to talk about the mechanics behind the changes of “no-fault.” No-fault changed an important legal presumption in marriage. A presumption is a starting-point, a place where we say, “Here is where we begin, and we can make adjustments to individual circumstances from this place, but we need a beginning point so we always begin here.” Prior to no-fault, the legal presumption, the legal beginning point, was that marriage is permanent. It was viewed as a truly life-long commitment and the family courts honored this, at least in principle. Of course, there was divorce and separation prior to no-fault, but the presumption of permanence was honored by the courts. In order to get a divorce, that presumption had to be overcome by demonstrating why the marriage had failed. Such circumstances included adultery, addictions and abandonment.

No-fault changed the legal presumption. Now marriage is no longer legally presumed permanent by the family courts. The courts get involved in the minutia of family life at the behest of one spouse. One spouse has the power to harness the family court to destroy the family, like wielding a sledge hammer, and the family courts must comply. They no longer side with the family, giving preference to its legitimate claim on wholeness. They side with the person who wants to destroy the family. If the other spouse wants to keep the family together, that person has no legal remedy. The divorce will be enforced in all cases if one spouse wants it.

In this respect, no-fault divorce is like abortion. That might sound like a dramatic claim, so let me spell it out.

In both cases, the State sides with one person (the pregnant mother, the petitioner in a no-fault divorce action) to uphold or enforce the action that the person wants (the abortion, the no-fault divorce), while simultaneously providing no legal defense for the other person (the unborn child, the respondent in the divorce action). The individual who wants the action (of the abortion or to be divorced) must be “freed” from every restraint that he does not explicitly want. Even if he chose the restraint at a point in the past, if he changes his mind, then the State’s duty is to free him from it if this is what the individual wants.

In February, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput published a book called, Strangers in a Strange Land: Living the Catholic Faith in a Post-Christian World. He makes this same point when he says: “Without the restrains of some higher moral law, democracy instinctively works against natural marriage, traditional families and any other institution that creates bonds and duties among citizens. It insists on the autonomous individual as its ideal.”

Thus, as a society, we believe that the State’s duty to the individual is to annul or at least modify his familial obligations whenever he chooses in order to free him.

I’ve heard it said divorce may be a necessity when “the 3 A’s” are involved: addiction, abuse and adultery. Do you agree?

This is a complex question since it touches on a variety of issues. We can talk about it from the State’s perspective or the perspective of individual families. Taking the State’s perspective, we might ask: what is the State’s role in divorce? Should the State be involved? If so, at what point? I would say that yes, there is a role for the State, but to restore some semblance of justice in divorce we need to restore the legal presumption of permanence. I do not know how that should be done. Should we go back to some sort of fault-based system that relies on “the 3 A’s”? Should we at least eliminate the unilateral aspect of divorce and require both spouses to consent to it? I would say yes to both of those questions.

We can also consider the perspective of individual families. Perhaps somebody reading this article is experiencing one or more of those things right now. It is difficult to give blanket advice since each case is unique. Even so, I have heard many reports about couples who recovered from adultery. For addiction issues, help can be found through groups such as Al-Anon.

The good thing about the old fault-based system is that somebody was legally culpable. This person was then penalized by the courts. This deterred bad behavior. For example, if the child is not living with that person post-divorce, then this makes sense. Children should not be living with addicts or with abuse, especially when their other parent is not there to serve as a buffer.

What might you say to couples with children considering divorce when less serious issues are involved?

That triad of your family matters a great deal. It matters to your children, to all of the people around you, and to your grandchildren and the rest of your posterity. So try harder to work things out. I know you’re tired and you probably want to go find somebody else. But your kids need you there, at home. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that your situation will beat the odds for your kids. Are you willing to implicitly tell them that you don’t want to live with them for half of their remaining childhood? Because that is what you will be communicating to them if you split up. Do you want to throw away their sense of being your full-fledged child?

You will continue to have a relationship with your spouse even after the divorce, and you will have less say-so in the lives of your children than you do now. Your ex-spouse might bring undesirable people into your children’s lives, and your children will feel pressure to accept and love those people. Some spouses resort to parental alienation tactics, which means that you run the risk of losing all contact with your children for a very long time.

Please do not make the child live in “two homes.” Do not break up their daily life like that. Consider keeping the family home, letting the children live there full time, and getting a small place nearby that you share with your ex-spouse. Each of you takes turns going back and forth between the family home and the other place. If that doesn’t sound appealing to you, then please reconsider making your kids do the same. Apply the same standard to your children that you want applied to you.

What help/advice would you offer children of divorced parents to help them recover?

I don’t have any magic words here. Healing is an ongoing process. The first steps were the hardest for me:

  • to acknowledge just how damaging my parents’ divorce was to my sense of self. Their one-flesh union was supposed to be a mirror for me to see myself in a holistic way. Shattering that mirror shattered my ability to see myself and to orient myself within my family and later into society as a young adult.
  • that I was not resilient like the experts said I would be, even though I tried very hard to be.
  • that I really did love that family and miss it terribly to this day.
  • that their divorce and remarriages taught me to lie to myself about how I really felt about it all. Out of fear, and wanting to be accepted, I showed approval even though I did not approve.
  • that learning to lie to myself hamstrung me as a young adult, since by the time I was grown I was totally comfortable with ignoring and distrusting my intuitions. Without my intuitions to help me, this led me into situations that were further damaging.
  • that as an older adult I have had to learn how to trust my intuitions and it is an ongoing process, scary at times.

I recommend my reading my book for more details about all of these concepts, plus many diagrams that make it easy enough for a child to understand.


The myth of ‘economic man’: How love holds society together

by Joseph Sunde at Acton.org on February 14, 2017

Despite the predictable flurry of sugary clichés and hedonistic consumerism, Valentine’s Day is as good an opportunity as any to reflect on the nature of human love and consider how we might further it across society.

For those of us interested in the study of economics, or, if you prefer, the study of human action, what drives such action — love or otherwise —is the starting point for everything. For the Christian economist, such questions get a bit more complicated.

Although love is clearly at the center, our understanding of what that looks like is interconnected with and interdependent on the love of God, which persistently yanks our typical economist sensibilities about “prosperity,” “happiness,” and “quality of life” into transcendent territory (never mind those convenient buckets of “self-interest” and “sacrifice”). The marketplace is flooded with worldly spin-offs, as plenty of cockeyed V-Day ditties and run-of-the-mill romantic comedies are quick to demonstrate. At a time when libertine, self-centered approaches appear to be the routine winners in everything from consumerism to self-help to sex, we should be especially careful that our economic thinking doesn’t also fall prey to such distortions.

In her book Love and Economics: It Takes a Family to Raise a Village, Jennifer Roback Morse cautions against such tendencies, pointing us in the right direction and challenging us to reconsider our basic views about human needs and human potential.


Morse begins with a critique of homo economicus (economic man), the understanding of man as Supreme Calculator, capable of number-crunching his way to happiness and fulfillment on the basis of cut-and-dry cost/benefit analysis. Such a view ignores the social and spiritual side of the human person, excusing away our thoughts and affections at the mercy of of a cold, limiting, earthbound order. As Rev. Robert Sirico puts it, “Any man who was only economic man would be a lost soul. And any civilization that produced only homines economici to fill its markets, courts, legislative bodies, and other institutions would soon enough be a lost civilization.”

To demonstrate the inadequacy of the common caricature, Morse points us to human infanthood, a uniquely universal human experience in supreme dependency and irrationality. “We are not born as rational, choosing agents, able to defend ourselves and our property, able to negotiate contracts and exchanges,” she writes. “We are born as dependent babies, utterly incapable of meeting our own needs—or even of knowing what our needs are. As infants, we do not know what is good or safe. We even resist sleep in spite of being so exhausted we cannot hold our heads up. We are completely dependent on others for our very survival.”

As Morse goes on to remind us, the other side of this dependence — a nurturing family environment — is not an automatic given, and our response (or non-response) proves the economic man hypothesis to be dangerously incomplete (while also countering Rousseau’s view of the “state of nature”).

To demonstrate her case, she looks to extreme situations wherein the family has been entirely removed, focusing specifically on child abandonment and the attachment disorder that so often follows:

The classic case of attachment disorder is a child who does not care what anyone thinks of him. The disapproval of others does not deter this child from bad behavior because no other person, even someone who loves him very much, matters to the child. He responds only to physical punishment and to the suspension of privileges. The child does whatever he thinks he can get away with, no matter the cost to others. He does not monitor his own behavior, so authority figures must constantly be wary of him and watch him. He lies if he thinks it is advantageous to life. He steals if he can get away with it. He may go through the motions of offering affection, but people who live with him sense in him a kind of phoniness. He shows no regret at hurting another person, though he may offer perfunctory apologies.

Here we find a peculiar integration of economic man and noble savage, a child “untouched by corrupting adult influences” who seeks only to meet his own temporal human needs, regardless of the social costs. As Morse summarizes, to avoid a society filled with such disorder, we must ground ourselves in something far more powerful and grounded and transcendent than self-centered individualism. “The desperate condition of the abandoned child shows us that we have, all along, been counting on something to hold society together, something more than the mutual interests of autonomous individuals,” she writes. “We have taken that something else for granted, and hence, overlooked it, even though it has been under our noses all along. That missing element is none other than love.”

Thus, before we get too deep into all the important Hayekian questions about knowledge and decision-making, proceeding to dichotomize between a centralized governmental Mother Brain and “better,” “morerational” individualistic mini-brains, we should pause and remember that without love properly defined and vigorously pursued, human holes will surely remain.

Love and Economics, Jennifer Roback Morse Whatever form of magical super-rationalism we humans might be able to concoct, whether through governments or markets or otherwise, without the love of God and the corresponding building blocks of relationship and family and community, our stomachs will continue to growl and the social stew will continue to fester. Without transcendent obedience and a willingness to sacrifice our own convenience and temporal, transactional notions about prosperity, happiness, and human fulfillment, society at large will slowly yield to false caricatures about human needs and the corresponding solutions.

“Love is from God,” writes the Apostle John, “and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.” This is what we should strive for: to be born of God and to know God, from the way we respond to a baby’s first breath to the way we cultivate our families and communities to the way we conduct ourselves in our daily work across the economic order.

This Valentine’s Day, let us remember that love is much more than the sentimentality and self-gratification that consumes our culture. Love is what holds society together, and that means fewer self-centered sonnets to faux self-empowerment, and more covenantal worship and service across society. Whether as spouses or parents, neighbors or strangers, we remain children of the King, created in the image of a God who so loved that he gave.


Retreat offers hope and healing for survivors of family breakdown

by Leslie Fain

First posted on Catholic World Report December 29, 2016

Catholic News Service photo

When we think of the “least of these,” whom Jesus exhorted us to defend and aid, several groups easily come to mind: the poor, the unborn, the disabled. One often overlooked group is adult children of family breakdown. The non-profit Ruth Institute is striving to help that group with a new Healing Retreat for Family Breakdown, launched recently in Louisiana.

“There is a wealth of social science data that people can turn to to see what happens to individuals as a result of family breakdown,” said Jennifer Johnson, associate director of the Ruth Institute. “Let’s take one—divorce. We know that children of divorce are more likely to grow up and experience their own divorce as adults, [compared to] kids raised with their own married mother and father. We know that kids of divorce suffer academically in a variety of ways, they lose contact with grandparents, they feel a lack of compassion from their churches. We know that divorced men have a higher rate of suicide than men who’ve never been divorced.”


“Divorce impacts the Church because children of divorce are more likely to be non-religious when they grow up,” Johnson continued. “Family breakdown is expensive for society, since intact families reduce the risks for so many negative outcomes, for both the children and the adults.”

The Healing Family Breakdown Retreat is a half-day program featuring presentations by Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse, founder of the Ruth Institute, and Johnson, as well as small-group breakout sessions, meditations, and prayers. It debuted in the Diocese of Lake Charles in October to a full house, which included several priests and religious. Thanks to the success of this retreat, the Ruth Institute will offer a second retreat in the diocese in February.

The Healing Family Breakdown Retreat focuses on those who have suffered from various forms of family breakdown, including divorce, growing up with a single parent or cohabitating parents, and third-party reproduction, among others. Participants are encouraged to look at family breakdown from the child’s perspective. The goal, according to remarks made by Morse at the retreat, is to create a “lasting and Christ-like movement to end the agony and injustice of family breakdown.”

Father D.B. Thompson, a priest for the Diocese of Lake Charles and retreat attendee, said outside of this program or private counseling, he has not encountered any services, groups, or retreats for children of divorce, adult or otherwise. He said this was unfortunate, as children tend to be the most impacted group in a divorce.

“Divorce creates a wound in a child’s heart, even an adult child’s heart, because it breaks apart a foundation for that child,” said Thompson, himself an adult child of divorce. As a Catholic priest, he said, he believes ministering to adult children of divorce is important because Christ wants to bring healing to every heart.

Johnson said the pain of family breakdown can be misunderstood by those who haven’t experienced it. “I have reason to believe that many people think silence equals approval,” said Johnson, who herself experienced family breakdown as a child.

“When kids grow up outside an intact family, and they don’t speak out about it, people around them seem to think that the kids’ silence means that they approve of it. I’ve found that speaking about my dismembered natal family has been extraordinarily difficult as it creates a double bind.”

Johnson said she didn’t want to hurt her parents, “so I remained silent as a self-protective mechanism, even though I really needed the freedom to speak to them about how hard it was to live as I did.”

As a result, one challenge Johnson and Morse had in creating the retreat was to pre-emptively tackle any defensive reactions some of those participating might have.

“Much of our legal system and culture is set up to promote a view of freedom that is at odds with family obligations,” said Johnson. “When somebody has been tempted to embrace that view of freedom, and has built their life around it, they can feel defensive when they hear that their ‘freedom’ has negatively impacted other people, in particular their children. At the Ruth Institute we call this ‘the guilty conscience problem,’ since it blocks people from understanding what is happening, from making amends, and from moving on to promoting a more just view of freedom.”

“We don’t want people to feel defensive, and so we make it clear that it’s not entirely the individual’s fault,” Johnson added. “The legal system, culture, and prior family experiences play a role. ‘No man is an island,’ and this adage certainly applies to our issue. Speaking for myself, I am a child of divorce—multiple divorces, in fact—and am also divorced as an adult. It is true that I am culpable to a certain extent, perhaps even a large extent, but it’s also true that the deck was stacked against me, so to speak. I made many mistakes, but in some respects I was doing the best I could with what I had. I’m sure this is true in many, many cases. Nobody needs to feel defensive, but they do need to be willing to see their own role in what happened.”

Johnson said the Ruth Institute is patterning their movement after the pro-life movement. She points out that some of the strongest advocates for life are those women who have had abortions but who now regret it and warn others of the consequences of abortion. Along the same lines, Johnson said the goal of their organization is to educate those who have been affected by the Sexual Revolution so they can find healing and repent of any part they had to play in family breakdown. Then those who have experienced the pain of family breakdown can also help others find healing.

Three phrases were shared with retreat attendees at the beginning of the event: “I am sorry this happened to you”; “You are not alone”; and “This is not all your fault.”

Andrew Casteel, who is discerning a vocation to the priesthood and is an adult child of divorce, said those phrases were the most important things he took away from the retreat. “It’s like an opening conversation we can have with our family,” he said.

Johnson said focusing on the three phrases also helps retreatants to look at their situations more objectively, and less defensively.

Felicia Borel, who works for Our Lady Queen of Heaven Church in Lake Charles, said the retreat helped her see how growing up in a home where there was divorce and remarriage shaped her future. Family breakdown in her childhood led to single parenting, divorce, and remarriage, as well as combining families in her adult life, she said. Family breakdown in childhood “affected choices I made, and that, in turn, affected how I parented my children,” she said. “So, without being able to go back and change the past, how do I help my adult children make better choices?”

Borel said the retreat helped her to understand challenges in her adult children’s lives. “It helped me put things in perspective as far as how I parented them and what’s happening now. It’s easier to begin to work on a relationship with a little bit more knowledge,” she said. “It’s given me a new perspective on how I can approach healing a relationship with an adult child. Knowing the things my adult child is going through, I can see I’ve participated.”

Keep reading.

 



Press Release: 'Go to Confession' Campaign

 

For immediate release:

“Families don’t just ‘break down.’ Marriages don’t just ‘fall apart.’ Somebody sins! So, go to Confession!” –Ruth Institute President, Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse

Ruth Institute launches ‘Go to Confession’ Campaign

(March 14, 2017, Lake Charles, LA) During this season of Lent, The Ruth Institute has launched an online and billboard campaign encouraging people of all faiths to make things right with God. “Families don’t just ‘break down.’ Marriages don’t just ‘fall apart.’ Somebody sins!” Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse stated in announcing the campaign. “That is why have launched a series of billboards and social media messages urging people to go to confession!”


Even in cases where one person has the major responsibility for fracturing the family, all family members can benefit from going to confession. “The injured parties may need help with bitterness, anger, emotional paralysis and many other issues. The grace of confession can help them,” Dr. Morse explained. “And of course, it goes without saying: if you have injured your family through addiction, abuse, adultery or desertion, go to confession. Jesus is waiting for you in the confessional and wants to forgive you. If you can’t tell him, in the person of the priest, that you are sorry, how are you ever going to be able to face your ex-spouse or your children?”

“Our ‘Go to Confession’ campaign reminds people that God is merciful and He will forgive us. What better time than during Lent?” Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse, founder and president of the Ruth Institute said.

The Institute launched a billboard campaign in Lake Charles, LA, with messages: “Jesus is waiting for you,” “Sin makes you stupid,” featuring St. Thomas Aquinas (who loosely said that), and “Party’s over. Go to confession,” with an image of Mardi Gras debris. “Lake Charles is in the heart of Cajun Country, the Catholic buckle on the Bible belt. If we can’t publicly urge people to go to confession here, where can we? And the world desperately needs this encouragement.”

Dr. Morse added. “Guilty consciences make it harder for us to move forward and to resolve the issues caused by our sins, or the bitterness we’ve held onto from the sins of others.” Find the Ruth Institute’s ‘Go to Confession’ images on their website here, here and here.

The Ruth Institute is a global non-profit organization dedicated to finding Christ-like solutions to the problems of family breakdown. Founded by world renowned author, speaker and academic, Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse, the Ruth Institute has accumulated decades of research to support individuals and families harmed by divorce, the hook-up culture, and other forms of family breakdown.

Reply to this email if you’d like to interview Dr. Morse further about this unique and beneficial ‘Go to Confession’ campaign.




Finding Mr. (or Mrs.) Right

This article was first published at Fathers for Good on November 23, 2016.

New book outlines Catholic plan for marriage

If the “101 Tips” of this handy little book could be summed up in a few words, they would be: Know thyself. The wisdom of Socrates holds true today, though the modern dating scene may cause him to add: Know the other person, too.

Authors Jennifer Roback Morse and Betsy Kerekes, of the Ruth Institute, have culled a wealth of social science, psychology, common sense and personal insights in 101 Tips for Marrying the Right Person (Ave Maria Press). The book serves as a sort of prequel to their 2013 release, 101 Tips for a Happier Marriage. But it would be simplistic to assume that if you read their latest book on dating you won’t need the earlier one on marriage. We all need help in getting our relationships right.


The authors are clear from the start: “Basically, the young adult Catholic dating scene is horrific.” A brief chat with young Catholics will confirm this statement. There are no rules, even the chaste and faithful are afraid to commit, and parents, parishes and priests – three strong forces for matchmaking in the past – have pretty much left young people to find their own way. Thus, this book is not only for the young Catholic searching for love, it is also for older folks who want to have some ready answers and advice for the young ones in their lives. It would also make a nice Christmas gift for those of dating age.

You can read these 122 pages in one night, skipping around the different topics. Tip No. 8 caught my eye: “Pray for your future spouse.” This is exactly what my future wife’s grade school teacher in the Philippines (a nun) told her class of girls one day. My wife followed the advice and sensed that she was not called to marry a man from her country, and thus was not at all afraid when the opportunity came for her to get a master’s degree in the United States. You never know where God will lead if you give him your heart in prayer.

Under the chapter “Best Practices,” there are these little gems: “Be friends first” and “Ladies: Let him be a man. Gentlemen: Be a man!” Under “Potential Pitfalls,” you will find warnings not to “think you can change him or her into the perfect image of your future spouse,” or “waste your time on someone who won’t commit to you.”

Here are more tips, randomly flipping the pages: “Keep your head. Guard your heart.” “Don’t expect a fairy-tale romance.” “Don’t expect love at first sight.”

There is a helpful section on the common practice of cohabiting that includes research and common sense on why couples should avoid it, and a practical guide on wedding planning if the relationship gets to that point.

This is an excellent, extremely readable book that a dating couple could easily read together, having a few laughs as well as some serious discussions. Fathers could also use this little volume to start a conversation with their son or daughter on some topics they probably should discuss before the kids leave home.

Find out more at Ave Maria Press. You can also read a Fathers for Good interview with Jennifer Roback Morse on her previous book on a happier marriage.


Top 10 Tips for Marrying the Right Person

by Marcia Segelstein

This article was first published at NCRegister.com on October 20, 2016.

One of the first sermons I heard at the Catholic parish where I would eventually be received into the Church was on the subject of marriage. The priest spoke about the relationship between a husband and wife as being indissoluble. Like siblings or parents and children, he told us, spouses formed a different, but equally permanent, bond with each other. It was as though a light bulb went on for me. “Of course,” I thought. “That makes perfect sense!” It was, simply put, the Catholic definition of marriage.

So while I firmly believe that commitment is the most critical ingredient for a marriage as it’s meant to be, choosing the right partner is pretty important, too.

Jennifer Roback Morse and her colleague at the Ruth Institute, Betsy Kerekes, have just released a new book called 101 Tips for Marrying the Right Person: Helping Singles Find Each other, Contemplate Marriage, and Say I Do. It’s an easy read chock full of great advice.

I’ve narrowed their tips down to my top ten favorites, in some cases combining a few.


1) Pray. Pray for encouragement, guidance, and consolation. Pray that you find your future spouse. Pray for him or her. And, as Morse and Kerekes put it, “If you have no prayer life, get one. Right away. For real. You think life is tough now, searching for the right person? Wait until you have to put up with each other – and kids.”

2) Be friends first. My husband started out as my best friend, so I can attest to the wisdom of this advice. It is, as the book says, “an excellent, no-pressure way of getting to know each other without stress or expectations.” It’s also a great way to avoid the pitfalls of the hook-up culture, where physical intimacy comes first, and emotional intimacy not so much.

3) Keep your expectations real. Fight the inclination to expect fairy-tale romance or love at first sight. Or, as Morse and Kerekes write, “This is real life. Your Prince (or Princess) Charming will not magically appear as you sing to the wildlife in the forest.” Nor will your perfect soul mate magically bump into you at Starbucks. You might find your future spouse there. But there’s no such thing as a perfect soul mate.

4) Don’t waste your time. It’s OK to want commitment. If the person you’ve been dating for months doesn’t exclusively want to be with you, ask yourself if he or she is worth it.

5) Try to imagine the future. Specifically, try to imagine the person you’re dating as the parent of your children. Ask yourself if you can picture him or her as a role model for them. “If not,” say Morse and Kerekes, “move on.”

6) Picture introducing your potential future spouse to friends and family. Would you be proud? Or would you find yourself embarrassed or ashamed of some aspect of his or her character? If so, some reevaluating is in order.

7) Take parents into consideration. Or, as the book suggests, “Evaluate your significant other’s relationship with his or her parents as well as your relationship with your own parents.” Most people have some unresolved issues with their parents. Try to determine if you’re ready to live with the consequences of your loved one’s, and take a hard look at your own.

8) Stay chaste. Sexual activity releases hormones that cause feelings of bonding, especially in women. Your ability to think clearly and rationally about what may be the most important decision of your life will be clouded by a hormonal fog otherwise.

9) Don’t live together. Study after study has shown that cohabitating before marriage is not a good idea. The authors put it bluntly: “Ignore the hype from popular culture: couples who live together prior to marriage are more likely to divorce than those who don’t.”

10) When the time comes, focus on the marriage, not the wedding. Keep Bridezilla in check and take this advice from Morse and Kerekes: “Take a deep breath, relax and go with the flow. This one day, though extremely important, is not as important as the rest of your lives.”




'Healing Family Breakdown' retreat set

by Crystal Stevenson / American Press

This article was first published October 21, 2016, at AmericanPress.com.

How to heal after the breakdown of one’s family unit will be the topic of the San Diego-based Ruth Institute’s inaugural Louisiana event.

The “Healing Family Breakdown” retreat will be 9 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 22, at Our Lady Queen of Heaven’s family center, 3939 Kingston St.

The retreat will include short talks, guided meditation and small group discussions, said Ruth Institute founder and retreat organizer Jennifer Roback Morse.

“Pretty much every family is affected by it in some way or another, if not your immediate family then in the extended family,” Morse said. “We realized based on our scientific research that there is an enormous amount of pain associated with it. Just looking around the culture you can see that people are suffering, but they don’t know what to do about it.”


Morse describes the forms of a family breakdown as adults divorced against their will — such as in cases of adultery or desertion; children who experience the divorce of their parents; children born to unmarried parents; and fostered, adopted or donor-conceived people who don’t know their biological parents.

“A lot of times people feel it’s their fault and there’s something wrong with them, but really we have a lot of structural problems causing this,” she said. “So we wanted to put together something that would help people deal with it in their own lives and also have a bigger picture of why it’s so troubling, and that’s what the retreat is designed to do.”

Morse said the retreat will focus on the child’s perspective.

“Our philosophy is that every child is entitled to a relationship with both of their parents unless some unavoidable tragedy takes place to prevent that, and of course that does happen,” she said.

“From the child’s perspective, anything that involves them not being in a day-to-day relationship with both parents, that’s a breakdown. If you look at it from a child’s perspective, sometimes the family is broken down even before it starts.”

Too many families are suffering alone and in silence, Morse said.

“It’s possible to have some healing. The feelings you have of maybe longing for the missing parent or longing for the relationship to somehow be restored, that’s a perfectly valid feeling,” she said.

“It might not happen; you might not be able to control whether it happens or not. But we want people to feel affirmed that at least it’s OK to have that desire.”

Morse said the conference is open to people ages 15 and older. Cost is $30 per person and $50 per family; attendance is free for members of the clergy. To register, visit www.olqh.org.



101 Tips for a Happier Marriage

This book is great - simple, achievable hints for a better relationship.

by Tamara El-Rahi

This article was first published August 16, 2016, at Mercatornet.com.

It’s not often that couples are in unhappy relationships because of big things like star-crossed fates or the fact that their families are feuding. More often than not, it’s the small things that come between two people – and isn’t that a shame?

Sometimes I observe a couple and wish they knew certain simple things that would really enhance their relationship. Which is why I am a big fan of the book 101 Tips for a Happier Marriage by Jennifer Roback Morse and Betsy Kerekes: because it’s literally 101 little and achievable things that make a big difference if implemented in a couple’s day-to-day life.

The different chapters offer a handful of hints that come under various topics, such as “Adjust Your Attitude,” “Get It Done Without Drama” and “Appreciate Your Spouse.” I can’t list all of my favourite tips as there are just so many good ones, but here are a few that stood out to me, as well as my thoughts on them:

Tip #5 – Enjoy the warm fuzzy feelings, but don’t feel cheated if they go away. Feelings are fleeting. “I like the way I feel with this person” is not enough to sustain a marriage for a lifetime.

A common mistake that people make is assuming that the way they feel in a moment is all that matters - but feelings change from day to day. I can’t tell you how frustrating it was to catch some episodes of the latest US season of The Bachelorette; seeing her base her decisions so much on the way someone made her feel over their other qualities. My feelings towards people can change when I’m hungry, for goodness’ sake! Feelings are good of course, but love more than anything needs to be an act of the will.


Tip #10 – Take responsibility for your own happiness. Your spouse does not really have the power to make you happy or miserable. You have a choice about how to react to what your spouse succeeds or fails to do.

This is something that many people struggle with – I sure have! I think that after the joy of falling in love, people expect that it’s their spouse’s job to always keep them that euphoric. Talk about pressure! No-one is perfect, so expecting your spouse to be will just leave you disappointed. Owning your happiness (or seeking it in God, for those who are religious) is so important for your relationship satisfaction.

Tip #35 – Practice giving to your spouse. “I’m getting up to get a cup of coffee. Can I get something for you?”

I love this one! No-one is happy with contributing 50-50; or counting how many good deeds they do in comparison to their spouse. Happiness comes from “100-100” – both giving their all and thinking of the other first; instead of focusing on what they’re getting: which too often becomes a focus on what they’re not getting! I know I always feel cherished when my husband brings me a snack or a drink when he went to get one for himself.

Tip #37 – Always speak well of your spouse, both in private and in public. Badmouthing your spouse to others makes you look either disloyal or foolish, or both. Say nothing if you can’t think of anything positive to say.

I’m sure you’ve experienced it – socialising with a couple as one lists the other’s bad habits in a passive-aggressive manner, as you awkwardly try to laugh it off or change the subject. Or catching up with a friend to hear her complain endlessly about her husband – not in a constructive way where she’s looking for advice, but rather in a “men are so stupid” way. Let’s be honest: these scenarios are pretty cringe-worthy. Unity is so important for a couple’s relationship to be strong! If you have something critical to say, it should be dealt with behind closed doors, and then you should move on instead of hanging onto resentments. Not to mention that the way one speaks and thinks of their spouse is how they end up relating to them – hence best to keep it positive!

97 more great tips like this to be found in the book! And for those who aren’t yet espoused, 101 Tips for Marrying the Right Person is due out this October.

 

 


Darwinism, Contraception, and the Decline of Manhood

By Ryan MacPherson, a Ruth Institute Circle of Experts member

Book Review: The Decline of Males, Lionel Tiger (New York: Golden Books, 1999)
This article was first published at hausvater.org.

Why would a confessional Lutheran (who recognizes that God created humanity male and female, instituted marriage, and designed the one-flesh union for procreation) want to read a book written by an evolutionist who claims that Darwin’s theory of sexual selection is the key to interpreting the breakdown of the American family? If the evolutionist is Dr. Lionel Tiger, a Rutgers University anthropologist, and the book is The Decline of Males, then the answer is simple: his insightful analysis offers lessons that transcend the gap between Darwinian assumptions, which fundamentally contradict Scripture, and the confessional Lutheran worldview, which proclaims that God “impressed upon [human] nature” a “divine ordinance” for marital procreation (Apol. XIII (XI), 7, 12).

Tiger differs from many scholars. He identifies the root of America’s culture war over “family values,” with its recurring “battle of the sexes,” not in politics, not in religion, not in any particular ideology, but rather in biology. He argues that male and female bodies, and the social behaviors that typically go with them, have evolved over millions of years to perfect a mammalian reproductive cycle in which offspring are preserved by males who care for pregnant and lactating females. The introduction of modern contraception in the 1960s, however, radically altered the human social environment. Biology—slow to evolve—is struggling to catch up. The result is social chaos, involving an escalation of single motherhood and absent fatherhood. A confessional Lutheran would want to correct Tiger’s evolutionary presuppositions with the doctrine that God the Creator designed human nature in such a way that “a husband should labor to support his wife and children … that a wife should bear children and care for them.” (AC XXVI, 10) The interesting thing is that many of Tiger’s conclusions would still stand. Following is the story he tells, drawn from anthropology, sociology, and psychology.


Prior to the 1960s, when the hormonal birth control pill became available, men and women had equal awareness of whether a sexual encounter was likely to result in pregnancy. Men, therefore, were more willing to accept responsibility for their pre-marital misbehavior, as evidenced by the high percentage of pregnant brides a century ago (30% to 50%). Today, by contrast, fewer women are pregnant on their wedding day, but many more remain unmarried as single mothers. “It is impossible,” writes Tiger, “to overestimate the impact of the contraceptive pill on human arrangements.” By shifting responsibility away from men and women (condoms and diaphragms) and toward women alone (pills and IUDs), modern contraceptive technology has empowered women to control their own destinies while also leaving women more vulnerable and isolated by deflating “a man’s sense of power … sense of function … sense of responsibility.” (35) Tiger suggests that this explains why the push for legalized abortion increased after the pill became available: when the pill failed, and an unmarried woman found herself pregnant, she could count no longer on a “shotgun wedding” as a safety net, and so she felt desperate for another way out.

By severing sexual intimacy from procreative potential, and procreative potential from male responsibility, the same pill that made women less dependent upon men also made them more dependent upon themselves, and ultimately upon the state. “If liberation means the absence of unavoidable irrefutable obligations,” explains Tiger, “women’s liberation has backfired. It is men who have been liberated.” (184) As women became less trusting of men and more reliant on themselves, higher education and gainful employment shifted, among women, from being luxuries to necessities. It became a greater stigma for a woman to be unemployed than unmarried. “Housewife,” formerly a badge of honor, was now a label of embarrassment. Women discovered, in a new culture of absent fatherhood and devalued motherhood, that “paid work enjoys high moral and social status even if it involves a woman’s taking care of someone else’s child ... and even if she has to pay yet another person to take care for hers.” (68) Men, meanwhile, shirked their responsibilities to the women they impregnated and the children born to them, leaving a void that social welfare sought to fill. Thus, monogamy gave way to “bureaugamy,” the marriage of a single woman and her child to the state’s welfare bureaucracy (21).

All this may sound too much like a “just so” story—clever, but without substantial evidence to support it. Here is where Tiger’s synthesis of the social sciences and natural sciences becomes more intriguing.

First, a lesson from primatology. Consider Austin, a dominant male monkey on a Caribbean island with nine female monkeys. As is typical for his species, he chooses to mate repeatedly with his favorite females—in this case, three of the nine. When researchers inject two of those three with Depo-Provera, a contraceptive, Austin loses interest and seeks two replacements from among the other monkeys. When the Depo-Provera wears off after three months, he returns to them. When researchers put all nine females on contraception, Austin begins “to rape, masturbate, and behave in a turbulent and confused manner.” (39) Depo-Provera chemically mimics pregnancy; since a female cannot become pregnant while currently pregnant, a female who is “chemically pregnant” on Depo-Provera has significant “protection” from actually becoming pregnant. As Austin’s harem demonstrates, this protection comes not only from the drug’s physiological effects, but also from it social effects. Chemically pregnant females do not exude the same pheromones as fertile females, and hence not only their own libido but also the interest that males exhibit toward them declines.

Similarly, women on the pill fall out of synch with off-pill women, whose pheromones lead the menstrual cycles of, say, women in a college dormitory to synchronize with the alpha female. In other words, “the pill affects how women relate to other women in a visceral way.” (42) Hormonal contraception also impacts women’s perceptions of men: women off the pill can distinguish responsible, gainfully employed, physically fit men from social “losers” by the smell of their clothes; women on the pill fail this same pheromonal evaluation. Such data confirm that Lutheran pastors had good reason to be concerned that, once the pill became commonplace, “Relationships between men and women would never again be the same.” (Lutheran Synod Quarterly, 1981*)

As Tiger progresses from the natural sciences to the social sciences, he does not champion “traditional family values” in the manner typical of reactionary conservatism. Rather, he argues compellingly for the success of single motherhood as a strategic adaptation to a radically impoverished human social environment. Women, whether single, married, or divorced, whether with or without children, are faring surprisingly well (though married women fare best). Women’s real wages increased in the closing decades of the twentieth century, while they declined for men. Women make up the majority of college students (55% in America; 60% in Canada) and are earning an increasing share of post-graduate degrees. Women are starting successful small businesses—often in or close to home, as they creatively integrate work with family life, a task that men have not mastered so well.

Rather than pointing a finger of blame at single women for being irresponsible, or for milking the welfare system, Tiger applauds their success at beating the odds. He also analyzes social transformations that have reshaped the odds in their favor. Specifically, a double-standard has emerged, under the guises of affirmative action and political correctness, in which all-female colleges retain praise but an all-male academy or golf club receives a court order to integrate. Rambunctious boys, whom an evolutionary anthropologist would identify as well-adapted for catching prey on the savannah, are now expected to cooperate quietly in feminized group learning classrooms, or else be diagnosed with ADHD and drugged with Ritalin. The same “troublesome” boys who fare poorly in school excel on the athletic field and demonstrate mental acuity by memorizing the stats of their favorite sports teams. Their biology is that of a male hunter-gatherer, but their social environment increasingly rewards feminine behavioral patterns they cannot readily produce.

Tiger thus objects both to the male chauvinism against which mid- to late-twentieth-century feminists reacted and also to the androgynous ideal that has largely replaced it. Emphasizing that men and women are biologically different, and by nature interdependent, Tiger worries about the “new world” in which men and women are expected to be the same, as interchangeable individuals rather than interdependent pairs. “Both men and women must play separately by the same rules rather than together by different ones.” (137)

But why separately? “It is almost easier to sever the most fundamental of human connections [marriage] than to install a Coke sign in a landmark part of town.” (115) No-fault divorce transforms even married mothers into single mothers, pseudo-empowering women to go it alone and men to leave them alone. Only 18% of single mothers receive child support from the father. Nearly 50% of Manhattan residents and 70% of central Oslo residents live alone. “The family effectively becomes almost a subset of society rather than the central system of society itself.” (107) Even families that remain intact outsource what historically have been the family’s most efficient achievements: childcare, cooking, cleaning, and laundry. Half of American meals are eaten outside of home, and many of those eaten at home are “carry out” from elsewhere. The same two-income social structure that enables such tasks to be hired out also prevents spouses from having time to do them for themselves. Of course, this also means that husband and wife, parent and child are not doing such tasks for or with one another.

Men, meanwhile, recognize their lost ability to provide gainfully for a woman and their children. Some give up trying. Others labor in dissatisfying jobs, which they acquire only after tough competition against other men and women in an environment where affirmative action preferences female applicants. “The most challenging test to industrial communities,” projects Tiger, “will be to provide acceptable and gratifying occupations for young males and the adults they become.” (190) The decline of males has been especially sharp among African Americans, among whom 40% to 50% of young men are unemployed, and 7% of men spend part of their lives in jail. But the challenge is much broader. “How many men of any race or ethnic group can confidently assume they will, like their fathers, be able to support a spouse and several children in a seemly manner on their own check?” (170)

At the root of this all is a biological imperative: “Who will raise the children?” In Tiger’s evolution-assumed analysis, “it is best to begin with the mammalian fact that small children should be raised by their mothers. This is Mother Nature’s plan.” (260) Still, he does not suggest that people should be trapped by their genetic coding; rather, he urges that choices should be made in conformity with biological reality: if many mothers decide to remain at home with their children … this should be treated as an adult choice by empowered people, not a distasteful primordial legacy.” (263) He also wants women to feel free to remain unmarried and childless, pursuing independent lifestyles if they prefer. However, he argues that such independence should be truly independent, not bolstered by affirmative action—particularly now that 55% of college students are women anyway.

But whether women work, or stay at home to raise their children, or creatively develop a combination of both, is not Tiger’s principal concern. He simply suggests that children are best raised by their parents, and young children by their mothers, and thus he raises a red flag about a society that so causally has adopted the post-family normalcy of a single woman laboring (often by caring for other people’s children) in order to finance childcare for her own children. “No zookeeper would have Monkey Mother A take care of Monkey Mother B’s baby and vice versa,” but current welfare policy encourages precisely this arrangement for humans (264). Why not instead provide welfare payments for stay-at-home single mothers?

Better still, why not identify ways to foster greater responsibility among males, so that husbands and fathers can acquire gainful employment and fulfill responsibilities to women and children? Of course, responsibility implies interdependence, and interdependence is quite at odds with the sort ofindependence the pill promised women and men half a century ago. Could it be that such independence has prompted men to retreat from family responsibilities? Tiger thinks so, and warns that human society is regressing to a matrilineal chimpanzee lifestyle in which females mate with multiple males, none of whom maintain close ties to mother or child.

What he mistakes for evolutionary regression, Scripture identifies as original sin—the rotting away of our divinely fashioned human nature. For a full remedy to the epidemic of fatherlessness in America, one must look far beyond the social science of Lionel Tiger to the Bible’s testimony of the forgiving God who comes to earth to restore His fallen creatures. One must look to the gospel of Jesus Christ, concerning whom the prophet Malachi wrote, “He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers” (Malachi 4:6). Come quickly, Lord Jesus!

_____

*Carl E. Braaten, “Sex, Marriage, and the Clergy,” Dialog n.v. (n.d.): n.p., as quoted and discussed in Norman A. Madson, “How Should a Pastor Deal with the New Morality?” Lutheran Synod Quarterly 21, no. 3 (1981): 32-47, at 35.


Dr. Ryan C. MacPherson is the founding president of The Hausvater Project. He lives with his wife Marie and their children in Mankato, Minnesota, where he teaches American history, history of science, and bioethics at Bethany Lutheran College. For more information, visit www.ryancmacpherson.com.


It’s Time to Make Marriage Great Again By Redefining Divorce

by Jennifer Roback Morse

This article was first published July 23, 2016, at The Blaze.

Earlier this week, the Ruth Institute sent a letter of commendation and 24 white roses to Charles Chaput, the Archbishop of Philadelphia.

Our letter thanked him for “his clear teaching on marriage, family and human sexuality in the Pastoral Guidelines for Implementing Amoris Laetitia in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.”

With all the excitement of the political conventions, why would we spend our time sending flowers to an archbishop? We want to shine the spotlight on the positive things people are doing to build up society.

Figurines of a bride and a groom sit atop a wedding cake. (AP/The News & Observer, Robert Willett)

Figurines of a bride and a groom sit atop a wedding cake. (AP/The News & Observer, Robert Willett)


The archbishop’s guidelines restate the Ancient Teachings of Christianity regarding marriage, family and human sexuality. These teachings are obscured today. No less a theological heavy weight than the mayor of Philadelphia castigated the archbishop, saying the Guidelines were un-Christian!

To be fair to Mayor Jim Kenny, we have to admit that the publication of Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, has caused worldwide confusion over Catholic teaching on marriage. Yelling at the pope has become a new cottage industry among tradition-minded Catholic writers. Pulling his words into a sexually indulgent direction has become a cottage industry among progressives of all faiths. And trying to parse out what he really meant has been a full employment guarantee for everyone.

Rather than getting involved in all that, we want to call attention to people who are implementing the unbroken teaching of the Church in a vibrant manner. Focus on what we know to be true and good. Archbishop Chaput’s Guidelines provide a clear and practical statement of ancient Catholic teaching, in the spirit of genuine mercy, incorporating language from Amoris Laetitia.

I believe that these teachings are correct, good and humane. I founded the Ruth Institute for the purpose of promoting those teachings to the widest audience possible. I don’t believe these things because I am a Catholic. On the contrary. It is precisely because I came to believe in these teachings that I returned to the practice of the Catholic faith after a 12-year lapse.

Let me discuss just one issue that has caused a lot of hand-wringing in the past 2 years. Jesus told us very clearly that remarriage after divorce is not possible. If attempted, it amounts to adultery. Why? According to Jesus, Moses only permitted a man to issue a bill of divorce because of “the hardness of your hearts.” (This is the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 19, in case you were wondering.)

At that point, he could have said, “So, I’m going to eliminate this appalling male privilege and allow women to divorce their husbands, exactly like Moses allowed men to divorce their wives.” However, he did no such thing. He didn’t extend the male privilege. He eliminated it entirely. “From the beginning it was not so,” referring back to God’s original plan for creation. “I tell you, anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” One of the “hard sayings” of Jesus, no doubt. But pretty darn clear.

(And please: don’t trouble me with that so-called loophole, ok? The real innovation in modern no-fault divorce law is that it allows an adulterer to get a divorce against the wishes of the innocent party. No sane person can argue that Jesus provided that “loophole” to allow the guilty party to validly remarry.)

The Church teaches that civilly divorced and remarried Catholics cannot receive communion because she is trying to implement this teaching of Jesus. A civilly divorced and remarried person is living with, and presumably having sex with someone, while still validly married to someone else. If the first marriage is still valid, the second attempted marriage is not valid, and is in fact, adulterous. What is so hard to understand about that?

You know who really understands this concept, who intuitively “gets it?” Children of divorce. Kids look into their parents’ bedroom and see someone who doesn’t belong there. “Who is this guy in bed with my mom: my dad is supposed to be there.” Or, “who is this woman in bed with my dad? My mom is supposed to be there.”

At the Ruth Institute, we know there are situations in which married couples must separate for the safety of the family. But we also know that those cases are by far not the majority of cases. No-fault divorce says a person can get divorced for any reason or no reason, and the government will take sides with the party who wants the marriage the least. The government will permit that person to remarry, against the wishes of their spouse and children.

This is an obvious injustice that no one in our society will talk about. The children of divorce are socially invisible. In fact, I bet some of them felt like crying when they read my paragraph above quoting with approval, what might have gone through their little minds. Many of them have never heard an adult affirm their feelings that something dreadfully wrong and unjust took place in their families.

Jesus knew. Jesus was trying to keep us from hurting ourselves and each other. And the Catholic Church has been trying to implement Jesus’ teaching. You may say the Church has been imperfect in her attempts and I won’t argue with you. But I will say that no one else is even seriously trying.

Political campaigns come and go. Political parties come and go. In fact, nations themselves come and go. But the teachings of Jesus are forever. What we do about marriage and children and love reveals what and whom we truly love.

That is why we congratulate Archbishop Charles Chaput for his guidelines. We wish the Archdiocese all the very best. Make Marriage Great Again.

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