TIME society

Watch a 10-Year-Old With Down Syndrome Find Out She’s Going to Be a Cheerleader

A Facebook video of the emotional moment has racked up more than 3.8 million views in a week

In a heartwarming video going viral this week, Lacey Parker, a 10-year-old girl with Down syndrome, finds out she nabbed a spot on the cheerleading team at North DeSoto Middle School in Stonewall, La.—following in the footsteps of her sisters.

The 40-second video of the youngster reading the roster on an iPad at home and shouting “I made it!” as family members embrace her has been viewed more than 3.8 million times and shared more than 50,000 times since it was uploaded to Facebook on May 1 by her mom Renee Parker.

(h/t Today.com)

TIME society

This Is What a Feminist Wedding Magazine Looks Like

Betty Clicker Photography

Catalyst's creators want to challenge industry norms

Correction appended, May 10, 2015

Brides and grooms come in all races, sizes, sexualities and ages. Unfortunately that diversity doesn’t typically translate to the glossy pages of wedding magazines — which studies have shown often depict lithe heterosexual brides in big white gowns, and rarely showcase any type of diversity.

Tired of the stereotypical couples and content (from dieting to decorating advice) found in between advertisements in traditional bridal magazines, progressive wedding planner Liz Susong and feminist wedding photographer Carly Romeo decided to join forces and create an alternative. The result is Catalyst, a feminist magazine due out in May that celebrates love but takes a critical look at weddings.

Catalyst

 

Romeo, 29, started shooting weddings in 2013 somewhat reluctantly after moving home to Richmond, Va., and realizing it was one of the only ways she could make a living as a photographer.

“I have a lot of capital ‘F ‘feelings about weddings in general, as an industry and as a social item,” says Romeo, who has an academic and activist background in feminism. “I believe that your wedding is a great day but not necessarily the best day of your entire life. I care more about people who want to have a great marriage and not a great wedding necessarily.”

And so, despite fears of isolating her potential clientele, she wrote a manifesto explaining the importance of being a feminist wedding photographer.

Susong, who had recently walked down the aisle hand-in-hand with her husband and had feminist readings at her Washington D.C., ceremony, strongly identified with the message and reached out to the Romeo.

“As all good relationships begin, we met on the internet,” Susong, 27, tells TIME.

But Susong and Romeo soon realized they weren’t the only ones who felt as if there was a progressive void in the reported $51 billion wedding industrial complex. After holding a successful “un}convention” for wedding professionals with similar ideologies in November, they decided to take their message out to those who have felt marginalized by the wedding industry.

In less than a week and a half, Susong and Romeo raised the $13,490 they needed on Kickstarter to fund printing their magazine. The duo are funded for two issues, but hope to continue if the first volume is a success. As of now, Catalyst is available online and at select bookstores.

Screen Shot 2015-04-15 at 4.47.10 PM

Apart from celebrating diverse couples and offering fun horoscopes and DIY tips, Catalyst also features articles that critique everything from diet culture to monogamy to the idea that a feminist wedding can even exist.

“We don’t have a shortage of content at all,” Romeo says. “The demand and interest has been so encouraging. It is going to keep growing.”

Correction: The original version of a photo credit in this story misstated the name of the photographer. It is Betty Clicker Photography.

TIME Innovation

Why It Might Be Time to Rethink Motherhood

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

These are today's best ideas

1. Motherhood is a cultural invention. It might be time to rethink it.

By Kathleen McCartney in the Boston Globe

2. You should want Facebook to give away your data.

By Tara E. Buck in EdTech

3. Do we have Alzheimer’s completely wrong?

By Turna Ray at Science Friday

4. On the brink of becoming Ebola-free, Liberia should embrace its survivors.

By AllAfrica

5. Can an app improve America’s crumbling infrastructure?

By Ashley Tate in NationSwell

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME society

This Hotel’s ‘Crying Rooms’ Are Perfect for When You Need a Good Sob

Specifically for stressed-out young women

A Japanese hotel is making headlines for offering “crying rooms” where women can “de-stress” by bawling their eyes out, a spokesperson tells TIME.

For 10,000 Japanese Yen (or about $85 U.S. dollars) per person, these special rooms at the Mitsui Garden Hotel Yotsuya in Tokyo are stocked with tissues, “warm eye masks” and about a dozen sentimental movies, six of which are available in English and include Forrest Gump, The Intouchables, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, The Notebook, One Day and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.

A spokesperson tells TIME that the hotel started the promotion “because Japanese ladies in their 20s-40s are often said to live a life of stress.”

The whole experience—which is available until August 31—sounds like a classier version of that scene from Bridget Jones’s Diary in which Renée Zellweger lip-syncs Céline Dion’s “All by Myself” in her pajamas:

TIME Race

A Trip to the National Civil Rights Museum Made Me Aware of My Survivor’s Guilt

The Lorraine Motel, now part of the National Civil Rights Museum, in Memphis, Tenn.
Fort Worth Star-Telegram—MCT via Getty Images The Lorraine Motel, now part of the National Civil Rights Museum, in Memphis, Tenn.

xoJane.com is where women go to be their unabashed selves, and where their unabashed selves are applauded

I couldn’t help but succumb to the pain, and not just the regret for what was, but the sadness for what still is

xojane

Is it possible to experience survivor’s guilt for a travesty that took place decades before your time? I ask because I am plagued with the feeling on a regular basis.

During the weekend of Freddy Gray’s death, I embarked on a family vacation that prompted a visit to the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee. That visit made me aware of the recurring guilt I feel for being black in America and going through life complacently while millions have died just so that I can live.

My experience at the museum most certainly was not the first time I’ve dealt with such looming pain and regret for the tribulations endured by those before me. In fact, I often feel it when I’m confronted with the horrid facts of the past in which American society chose to see African-Americans as subhuman, therefore proceeding to treat them as such. Movies, autobiographies, news clips, historical documents, or simple conversations have a way of putting me in existential turmoil where I question why I get to live with this freedom when others didn’t, and still don’t.

As a black female, my life takes place pretty uneventfully. I sit at the front of a public bus nearly every day on my way to work, I am openly affectionate with my white partner in public, I get to rant about the status quo and government blunders without fear of repercussion from white listeners, and I’ve held managerial positions that have allowed me to delegate work to all races and creeds. And yet, I still can’t help but fall into feelings of despair and depression when I think of the surfeit of people who had to die just so I could enjoy these seemingly miniscule luxuries.

The National Civil Rights museum is an awe-inspiring experience that every soul should experience. It’s a walk through time during America’s gestation, where social mindsets were incidentally at their most outwardly heinous. Through a series of rooms, visitors of the museum trace the roots of African-Americans. The first room focuses on the arrival of enslaved Africans packed together like rotting fish in a tin can within The Middle Passage, before delving into our political liberation and current ongoing struggles with economic divide based on racism.

Interactive buttons are pushed to detail the individual stories of slaves who fought against the early American system. Phones can be pulled out of sockets for visitors to listen to someone’s recorded personal tales of life under Jim Crow rule. Mementos, artifacts, and documents showcase the systematic elements in place meant to dehumanize and subjugate blacks over the centuries. Clip footage shown on the walls become visual reminders of our daunting past where blacks endured public beatings and humiliation, all because they wanted the freedom to get served at local diners and restaurants.

The museum’s tour ends in the glass-encased Lorraine Motel room where Dr. Martin Luther King spent his final moments before getting shot in the face, ending his life and the hopes of a brighter future for many at the time.

Despite these heartrending relics, The National Museum of Civil Rights captures a feeling of comradery and perseverance in every room. While the trip down memory lane is a brutal one, each room ends on a note of triumph and victory.

Yet, still I couldn’t help but succumb to the pain, and not just the regret for what was, but the sadness for what still is. This was only exacerbated a day later when a television broadcasted the angry rioting faces in Baltimore at the wake of yet another innocent black man killed by authority figures.

Each person of the past who chose to fight against the system in place had it much worse than me. They were willing to lose their lives for the prospect of a better future for blacks. They succeeded in immense ways and I gratefully praise their victories.

But, what am I doing to preserve that? What are we as a society doing to compensate for their struggles? I now have the freedom to be complacent in life and do nothing except gripe about pop culture and social ills online if I want, we all do. But it’s not enough.

The National Civil Rights Museum reminded me what sparks my unquenchable desire to fight for others who don’t receive the same privileges as me. I want to pay it forward and send my condolences to the memories of the past through persistent action because otherwise, what was the point of their deaths? Why should I deserve a life of freedom when someone who was hung for speaking out didn’t get to? What good were their deaths, beatings, shamings, or exclusion of rights if black men are still being killed and incarcerated at alarming rates? Minorities are still underrepresented and their issues are still largely ignored. When authority figures get away unscathed despite having innocent blood on their hands, we as a society are obviously doing something wrong.

Baltimore, Ferguson, and all the underprivileged cities that riot in the face of racial tragedies shouldn’t be viewed as “thugs” riding the wave of anger and creating chaos. Instead, they should be seen for what they are: people who don’t know how to avenge the wrongs of the past time and again and aren’t sure of what else to do.

I understand the rioters. I get the anger. If my friend, family member, or acquaintance is murdered in my area for being black on the wrong day, I can’t guarantee that my level-headed rationale would hold up.

Even though the six officers involved in Freddie Gray’s death have been charged, we have yet to free our nation of a brutal reality in which the oppressor reminds minorities of their lack of power through violence and death. Similar to Jim Crow days, blacks are expected to accept whatever happens to us and stay in our place, and to not smash windows or throw rocks at cops in retaliation. Nevertheless the rioters want what millions of us, race aside, want: some type of retribution and an end to the pain, torture, and death that exists within the cycle of injustice that continues.

For every unarmed person of color shot by a police officer, for every minority working in terrible low-wage conditions, for every child of color growing up in impoverished areas lacking the basic resources to excel, for every school lacking the funds to provide basic education, for every starving human: I long to take a standing personal interest to fight to end these social and cultural ailments. My need to do so is for those who came before me, who fought for my rights before they could conceive of my existence. If I can’t use what I have to make a difference and continue the fight for justice for all, then I don’t see a point of enjoying a life of liberty.

Quatoyiah Murry wrote this article for xoJane.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME society

The Tenacious Woman Who Helped Deliver Mother’s Day to the U.S.

Undated picture of Anna Jarvis.
AP Undated picture of Anna Jarvis.

Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

For Anna Jarvis, a holiday devoted to moms was not sentimental fluff, but a practical exercise in patriotism

One hundred years ago last May, President Woodrow Wilson signed the first congressional resolution and presidential proclamation calling upon all citizens to honor Mother’s Day. The observance of the Mother’s Day holiday may have had an easy birth, but not an easy transition to maturity.

Anna Jarvis, who deserves credit for the holiday’s popularity and organized the first official Mother’s Day services on May 10, 1908, in her hometown of Grafton, West Virginia, and in her adopted hometown of Philadelphia, designed the celebration in honor of her own mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis. As a young girl, she was inspired by a prayer she once overhead her mother give: “I hope and pray that someone, sometime, will found a memorial mother’s day commemorating her for the matchless service she renders to humanity in every field of life,” Jarvis remembered her mother saying. Jarvis chose the second Sunday in May to mark the anniversary of her mother’s death and selected Mrs. Jarvis’ favorite flower, the white carnation, as the holiday’s official emblem.

As a single woman in her 40s, Jarvis viewed motherhood simply through the eyes of a daughter. Thus she constructed a child-centered celebration of motherhood for Mother’s Day: a “thank-offering” from sons and daughters and the nation “for the blessing of good homes.”

Commercial industries quickly recognized the marketability in Jarvis’ sentimental celebration of motherhood. Her themes became central to Mother’s Day advertising campaigns. The designation of the white carnation emblem energized the floral industry.

Jarvis, however, considered Mother’s Day her intellectual and legal property. She wished for Mother’s Day to remain a “holy day,” to remind us of our neglect of “the mother of quiet grace” who put the needs of her children before her own.

Jarvis’ attacks on the commercialization of Mother’s Day became legendary. In 1922, Jarvis endorsed an open boycott against the florists who raised the price of white carnations every May. The following year, she crashed a retail confectioner convention to protest the industry’s economic gouging of the day.

The biggest threat to Mother’s Day was another holiday: a more inclusive Parents’ Day. In 1924, New York City philanthropist Robert Spero sponsored his first Parents’ Day celebration on the second Sunday in May. His rallies earned more holiday converts and media attention as the decade progressed. “We want fathers to feel they are more than breadwinners, that when they go off to work they have some responsibility for what goes on in the home,” Spero told The New York Times in 1926.

In 1930, when New York Assemblyman Julius Berg introduced a bill in Albany to legally replace Mother’s Day with Parents’ Day on the state calendar, he was confident that New York State mothers would have no complaints about sharing their day with fathers.

But Jarvis complained, vehemently. Not only did she consider the bill a personal attack on her legal copyright protection; she saw it as a patent, “humiliating” insult to the state’s mothers. For Jarvis, a threat to Mother’s Day was an affront to motherhood and, in turn, to family harmony. Although often criticized by her more feminist contemporaries, as well as modern scholars, for her failure to acknowledge mothers who were active in the era’s social and political reform movements, Jarvis never faltered from her defense of a mother’s preeminent role within the family.

The state and national success that Spero predicted for Parents’ Day never materialized. Berg’s bill failed repeatedly in Albany. And even George Hecht, the publisher of Parents magazine who had once endorsed Parents’ Day, abandoned the movement in 1941 to chair a new national committee on Mother’s Day.

Perhaps the holiday’s lack of broad appeal mirrored the larger cultural recognition of the unequal division of child care—that when contemporary child care experts or social pundits addressed “parents,” they were still really addressing mothers. Although many Americans certainly believed that fathers deserved regard beyond that of breadwinner, most hesitated to equate the maternal and paternal roles. Ultimately, Americans opted to honor fathers in a way that did not threaten the status of mothers or marginalize their role as children’s primary care takers. As the Parents’ Day movement faded in the 1940s, the celebration of Father’s Day grew in popularity.

On a national calendar already crowded with tributes to American fathers — from Presidents’ Day to our “pilgrim fathers” on Thanksgiving — Mother’s Day is the only culturally, commercially popular holiday that explicitly celebrates women. And that explains Jarvis’ protectiveness: “When a son or daughter cannot endure the name ‘mother’ for a single day of the year it would seem there is something wrong,” she implored.

Katharine Lane Antolini is an assistant professor of history and gender studies at West Virginia Wesleyan College. She is the author of Memorializing Motherhood: Anna Jarvis and the Struggle for the Control of Mother’s Day. She wrote this for What It Means to Be American, a national conversation hosted by the Smithsonian and Zocalo Public Square.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME society

Why Education Alone Won’t End Income Inequality

coin-stacks-table
Getty Images

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

We must address the dynamics that encourage companies to extract from, rather than invest in, their employees

We live in a paradoxical time of historically high income and epic wealth inequality. Academics, politicians, business leaders and religious leaders are all concerned about it. Indeed, the extreme level of inequality we now face is often cast as a moral challenge and a threat to the ideals and values of our society. The ideal of the American Dream — the idea that through hard work and individual effort Americans can create a better life for themselves and their families — is confronted by a reality of stagnant incomes, growing numbers of working poor, evidence that economic mobility in the U.S. is elusive, and rising concern that things will be worse for future generations.

This challenge is broadly recognized, but agreement on solutions is hard to find — with one big exception: education. That the route to a good job must pass through higher education is almost universally embraced. Political leaders from both parties as well as a host of academics, foundations and others promote postsecondary education as a silver bullet for ending poverty and inequality. How to achieve or pay for ever greater numbers of post-secondary degrees is a matter of sharp debate, but the idea that improved education is somehow the solution to poverty, economic disenfranchisement and inequality seems to have broad purchase. Alas, it almost surely — on its own — will not work.

First, let’s try this thought experiment. Imagine that every poor person suddenly has successfully completed a rigorous course of study and has earned a bachelor’s degree. Do we then no longer need child care workers, home health aides, landscape workers, security guards, food servers, office cleaners and retail sales associates? Or will companies employing workers in these occupations suddenly decide that, since these workers now have bachelor’s degrees, they should be paid more than $11 or $12 per hour? Will these corporations now decide that these workers should have regular or at least predictable schedules and a predictable income? Or that they are due at least a modest amount of paid sick leave and the opportunity to save for retirement?

It seems unlikely that either the demand for these workers or their wages and working conditions will change as their education levels increase. Indeed that has been the experience to date. The truth is that we have more bachelors’ degreed workers than ever. Some economists find there is an excess of college graduates who are competing for jobs that don’t require a degree. The New York Federal Reserve found that 46 percent of recent college graduates, and 35 percent of college graduates overall, are employed in jobs that do not need a college degree.

In addition, while the rate of growth of jobs that require post-secondary skills is high, it is still the case that most jobs do not requires post-secondary credentials at all—of any type. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in 2012 only about one-third of jobs required any post-secondary credential. And while the rate of growth for jobs requiring post-secondary credentials is faster, America will still create more jobs in the next decade that don’t require anything beyond a high school diploma. No one can deny that it’s heart-warming to see an individual come from difficult circumstances, get an education and achieve economic security. But we should not imagine that inspiring story for an individual provides a solution for the masses.

Next, let’s look at what keeps people from succeeding in education right now. One of the leading indicators that children and young adults will do poorly in school is their economic status: poverty correlates with poor education attainment. In particular, for young adults in post-secondary school, Public Agenda found that the main reason these students leave college without completing is the need to work and make money. In fact, the students who leave college report that, even if they had free tuition, they would still need to work to support themselves and would be unlikely to go back to school. This leaves us with a bit of a catch-22: to escape poverty one should get an education; but poverty is likely to prevent a person from succeeding in education.

Education is a wonderful thing, but it is not costless and it is not a silver bullet to address poverty. One factor glaringly absent from all the celebratory discussions of education is the changing condition of work. The reason it remains a good idea for most individuals to at least try to get a college degree is not because today’s jobs require college level skills. Rather, it’s because employment options available to people without a college degree are terrifyingly awful. And in a country that purports to value work, we ought to consider why we are so unwilling to pay for it. We should ask ourselves why the people who care for our children and elderly parents or grandparents, the people who prepare and serve us food, the people who clean our homes and secure our office buildings — why do all of these people deserve poverty-level wages?

It is undeniable that investing in education is a good thing. But if we want the masses to get “good jobs” so they can support themselves through their work — and not just the lucky few who can get ahead of their peers through education — then we need to look much more carefully at the nature of work and the kind of opportunity a job offers. Businesses have choices about the ways they structure work just as surely as individuals have choices about pursuing education. Our society is unlikely to address the inequality we face by encouraging an arms race among people desperate to gain access to shrinking opportunities for decent work. We must address the dynamics that encourage companies to extract from, rather than invest in, their employees. We need to raise our expectations of the rewards of work and improve the quality of opportunities available to people willing to work hard. If we want people to climb the economic ladder through education, then we need to ensure that ladder rests on a stable foundation of work that pays enough to live on.

Maureen Conway is the Executive Director of the Aspen Institute Economic Opportunities Program.

This article originally appeared in the Aspen Journal of Ideas.

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME society

These Are the Most Googled Baby Names by State

Charlotte doesn't make an appearance...yet

In light of the hype over the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge naming their newborn baby daughter Charlotte, Google has revealed the most Googled names for boys and girls by state. The maps were created using data on searches for “meaning of” and “common baby names” between March 2014 and March 2015.

The search engine says the top three most popular names for girls are Elizabeth, Olivia and Emma (in that order), while the top three for boys are Michael, James and Avery.

Google
Google
TIME society

‘It Was Never a Dress’ Campaign Will Change How You See Bathroom Signs

It's not a dress—it's a cape

We’ve all seen the woman in the triangle dress that marks women’s bathrooms. But what if that triangle silhouette isn’t really a dress?

That’s the idea of the new campaign called It Was Never a Dress, which seeks to “shift perceptions and assumptions about women,” according to its website. Instead of a bulky frock, the people behind the campaign at software developer Axosoft instead see the bathroom woman wearing pants and a cape.

The idea is getting a lot of praise on Twitter:

So next time you go to a public bathroom, take note of the superhero on the door.

TIME Culture

The Modern Day Scarlet Letter

silhouette-young-man-looking-up
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"We no longer have the kind cruel civic Christianity that The Scarlet Letter depicted, yet we still have the shaming scaffolds"

In the April 1886 issue of The Atlantic Monthly Julian Hawthorne, son of Nathaniel, reviewed his father’s The Scarlett Letter. Towards the conclusion of his stunning, 9,000+ word essay, the younger Hawthorne reflected on the moral irony of Hester Prynne’s world:

This [the scarlet A] is her punishment, the heaviest that man can afflict upon her. But, like all legal punishment, it aims much more at the protection of society than at the reformation of the culprit. Hester is to stand as a warning to others tempted as she was: if she recovers her own salvation in the process, so much the better for her; but, for better or worse, society has ceased to have any concern with her.

“We trample you down,” society says in effect to those who break its laws, “not by any means in order to save your soul,—for the welfare of that problematical adjunct to your civic personality is a matter of complete indifference to us,—but because, by some act, you have forfeited your claim to our protection, because you are a clog to our prosperity, and because the spectacle of your agony may discourage others of similar unlawful inclinations.”

But it is obvious, all the while, that the only crime which society recognizes is the crime of being found out, since a society composed of successful hypocrites would much more smoothly fulfill all social requirements than a society of such heterogeneous constituents as (human nature being what it is) necessarily enter into it now.

Likely as we are as 21st century Americans to congratulate ourselves for not behaving the way our Puritan ancestors did, things aren’t as different as you might think. Millennials may be an urbane, diverse and “tolerant” generation, but they are also caught in a vicious cultural mire of shaming, vindictiveness, and postmodern puritanical preening that rivals their 17th century ancestors.

Owing largely to the recent publication of Jon Ronson’s well-reviewed book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, some light is being shed on the cavernous world of social media “shaming,” a merciless phenomenon that is more common and more serious than many—perhaps most—believe. Of course, few people would be surprised to learn there are dark corners of the internet or that digital anonymity can bring out the worst in people. But the problem of public shaming goes beyond meanness. In its worst manifestations, shaming is a weapon wielded by volunteer morality gatekeepers to, as Julian Hawthorne put it, “trample you down.”

Ronson’s work has resulted in the publication of several frightening stories, such as what happened to Justine Sacco. Yet few commentators on this social phenomenon–including Ronson–seem willing to explore shaming’s causes or offer a serious moral worldview of public confrontation. Listening to shaming stories is important, of course, but we are not likely to overcome this vicious trend if we cannot speak in clear and objective language about it.

Julian Hawthorne’s insights into his father’s novel might be helpful in remedying our deficient understanding of contemporary public shaming. Hawthorne is on to something when he identifies the public shaming of Hester Prynne as non-redemptive and merely the removal of a “clog” from the engine of the culture. The hypocrisy of the moral authorities of Puritan Boston was not only that they were guilty of sin as well, but that they turned sinners away from the society and the hope of redemption under the pretense of holiness.

In the case of online shaming, this is even more apparent. What happens in social media is far from the reconciliatory purpose of confrontation as taught by Jesus in Matthew 16. As Ronson notes in his chilling accounts, the purpose of social media shaming seems to be to deluge an offending person(s) with enough derision and scorn that they are forced to disappear from the public eye in a kind of enforced penitence. Social media shaming is not at all meant for reconciliation or personal healing; quite the opposite, in fact—the more offense and outrage can be generated, the better. Exacerbating all this is a communication medium that rewards participants not for temperance, patience and forbearance, but for immediacy and cleverness. If outrage is the currency of social media, shaming is a blue-chip stock.

As Hawthorne writes, the impulse behind the shaming of Hester Prynne was not a desire for moral rectitude but removal of a cultural wart. If the sinner is removed from the public square, the people can resume trusting in the merits of their membership in society. This contra-benevolent desire to keep the community free of anything that disturbs a narrative of cultural holiness is remarkably descriptive of much of our culture-warring today. Consider the astonishing absolutism with which some proponents of same-sex marriage engage those who disagree with them. In many cases, the motivations are made explicit: Opinions which contradict a majoritarian view on sexuality must be exiled out of the public square. What is this, if not a Puritanical impulse to keep society “pure” and maintain the citizenry’s religious faith in it?

The Scarlet Letter’s context was, of course, a Christian-Puritan one. That is not the case in our American culture today. Instead of an assumed, civic Christianity, the country is embracing an assumed, civic secularism. Traditional religious beliefs are welcomed as long as they are not exposed to the population at large. Keeping certain beliefs isolated from the mainstream of culture–thereby maintaing a sort of doctrinally “pure” public square–is often peddled under misleading language about “separation of church and state.” What is really happening is the substitution of one culturally-ruling philosophy for another.

In other words, we still have Puritanism today, only of a secular kind.

Our progressive sensibilities have not, alas, resulted in a genuinely compassionate culture. We no longer have the kind cruel civic Christianity that The Scarlet Letter depicted, yet we still have the shaming scaffolds (they’re called social media now) and we still have ineffable moral codes that must not be trespassed. These codes may not be Levitical but they are indeed legalistic: laws about privilege, sexual autonomy, “trigger warnings,” and much, much more. Violation of these laws can and do result not only in public shame but legal prosecution.

It surely must befuddle those on the inside track of our transforming culture—just as we seem to be learning what true progress is, we rebuild the shaming scaffolds of our Puritan forefathers. Can we not have a culture that embraces the moral equivalence of all forms of sexual expression, the existential (read: non-transcendent) nature of love, and the casting off of ancient beliefs about God and the universe, while simultaneously widening the margins of civic life to include all kinds of beliefs, even those that discomfort us? Cannot we live out the promises of the Sexual Revolution while saving a place in our midst for those who opt out?

No, we cannot. The reason is simple: A broken American conscience cannot be trusted. Compassion is a class that secularism doesn’t offer. Exchanging the Puritanism of Arthur Dimmesdale for the Puritanism of Alfred Kinsey is not progress. Cultural elites may say we are becoming a better people because we break with human history on the meaning of marriage or the dignity of human life, but a glance outside suggests otherwise.

Samuel James serves as Communications Specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) of the Southern Baptist Convention. In addition to his main blog on Patheos, Samuel’s writing has also been featured on The Christian Post, World Magazine, The Gospel Coalition, Canon and Culture, Mere Orthodoxy, Real Clear Religion, Commonwealth Policy Center, Jesus Freak Hideout and other places. Samuel is a lifelong resident of Kentucky and is a member of Third Avenue Baptist Church in Louisville. A longer version of this essay first appeared at samueldjames.net.

This article originally appeared on Patheos.

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