By Kathryn Lopez, NEA Columnist
News out of Iraq alone is enough to tempt most Americans to never read the paper again. Though if you go to the celebrity pages for some kind of escape, you've been out of luck there, as well, as they've been dominated by suicide and divorce.
But then I see a woman taking to lunch a homeless man whom she in the back of an urban church. You read the stories of courage and faith under fire. To Westerners living fairly free and comfortable lives, the story of elderly Iraqi Christians refusing to convert to Islam under threat of death should keep us from looking away.
And then of course, there is the news here at home. Marriage, the bedrock of a healthy society, is a lightning rod of an issue, to say the very least. A recent report from the Heritage Foundation indicates that, since the 1960s, the marriage rate in America has dropped by about 50 percent. As W. Bradford Wilcox notes in the report, "The nation's retreat from marriage means ... that about half of the nation's children will spend some time outside an intact, married home."
Still, as everywhere, it isn't entirely bad news. The Heritage report also notes that, from 2002 to 2012, "the violent crime rate declined by 107.5 crimes per 100,000 people, or 21.7 percent." Among the explanations Heather Mac Donald points to is the system that New York implemented in 1994: "rigorous data analysis, strict accountability for local commanders, the enforcement of quality of life offenses and proactive pedestrians stops intended to avert crime before it happens."
At the same time, charities, ministries and legislative prison reform must increase the accountability and humanity of our dysfunctional penal system. When we pay for an environment where a man or woman has no sense of his own dignity -- whatever he's done -- and becomes hardened to survive, we're asking for trouble, as individuals and especially as a society.
The Heritage report also points to the drop in the abortion rate over the last decade. The year 2011 saw the lowest number of abortions since 1973, when abortion became legal. Most of us, whatever we think of the legality of abortion, know it is not a positive thing -- or Bill Clinton wouldn't have famously talked about it being "safe, legal and rare." The former president could even celebrate that despite having among the most permissive abortion laws in the world, abortion is on the decline in this country.
Here, too, we could afford to step away from the same old debates and come together to support the work of maternity homes. About a year ago, I was speaking at a fundraiser for Good Counsel homes in New York; seeing an ad on National Review Online for the event, a pro-choice writer made a donation -- because the likes of Good Counsel help scared and struggling mothers.
There's confusion over the death of James Foley, the journalist beheaded in Syria by ISIL. But we do know this: He wrote for his alumni magazine about the power of prayer. Writing about time he spent being held in prison in Libya: "I began to pray the rosary. It was what my mother and grandmother would have prayed. I said 10 Hail Marys between each Our Father. It took a long time, almost an hour to count 100 Hail Marys off on my knuckles. And it helped to keep my mind focused." He was given a treasure by his family, and he kept some faith.
A Rosary or the Lord's Prayer -- in times of trouble and in thanksgiving -- are links to higher things, destinations and ambitions beyond ourselves that have the power to make us better together. Even in the midst of terror, if we keep watering the seeds of faith, hope and love, grace abides and light can be seen. As long as we keep looking, and keep from looking away.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review Online and founding director of Catholic Voices USA. She is a contributor to the Heritage Foundation's "2014 Index of Culture and Opportunity: The Social and Economic Trends that Shape America." She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.