This is a really fun song by Muse. I don’t remember anything else from this album. Maybe I’ll listen to it today. But enjoy.
This is a really fun song by Muse. I don’t remember anything else from this album. Maybe I’ll listen to it today. But enjoy.
In Christian circles we can often come across as weird because we obsess over questions that make little to no sense to outsiders.
Here’s one: “Is it okay to be happy about accomplishments?”
To the average non-Christian the answer is: “Duh, of course it is.”
But for Christians the answer can get super complicated in a hurry.
But let Paul’s words uncomplicate it:
Gal 6:3-4 For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. (4) But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor.
Don’t admire your greatness with reference to comparison. Admire it with reference to yourself.
But here’s the thing. Many Christians might feel/think that having a sense of joy from personal accomplishment is a form of arrogance or pride or sign of too little admiration of God. But, the same Paul who said what is above said this a few short sentences later:
Gal 6:14 But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
A lot can be said about what 6:14 means (it has to do with how Paul takes pride/joy in the Christians in Galatia…whether in their acceptance of the Jewish law or their acceptance of the way of Christ…read 6:12-15 to see this), but on the surface it is plain to see that there is no contradiction between finding joy in God and what God does/has done and finding joy in what you do/have done.
So, be happy about what good you’ve done. And be happier that God has done something that goes beyond even your best deeds and does away with those you’ve done that are evil.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about how rhetoric, advertising, and imagery in general can influence our view of the world.
This got me to thinking about the nature of suggestibility and achievement as well as the relationship of false expectations to achievement.
The research on these subjects is pretty vast, so you’ll just have to look it up (I’ll probably post a bibliography in the bottom).
Anyway, suggestibility is the state of being primed to accept an idea without argument or coercion.
In one study, easily suggestible students were told that a cognitive game with no known effects on IQ would increase their intelligence and it did. Teachers typically want students be convinced of inferences through argument but of their abilities through suggestion (arguing a person in a state of self-doubt into a state of confidence is difficult). “Won’t you be able to do this if you try it?” “Imagine yourself as the kind of person who regularly does her homework. Do you like that version of yourself? Try doing your homework.”
In Christianity we are primed to resist temptation based on the believe that our personal history was interrupted, not just in at our conversion or baptism, but miraculously through the life of Jesus Christ. While there are certainly spiritual realities behind all of this, the simple idea of “considering oneself dead to sin” really does help one to resist it on the human level. Research shows time and again that consdering oneself up to a task predicts one’s ability to achieve said task.
On the other hand, having false expectations can be very unhelpful.
For instance, I think that movie montages, commercials, and the concept of diet pills have convinced people (without argument or coercion) that their weightloss and exercise problems can be solved easily and quickly.
But, as every Rocky fan learns, doing 400 pushups after watching Rocky II won’t get you in shape unless you watch the movie every day.
Here’s a problem in evangelical culture, then. The idea of a giant, “Aha!” moment conversion in which one instantly stops sinning, has deep knowledge of God, complete wisdom, and insight into evangelical taboos is a common enough notion. It’s not evident in the way that people treat new Christians usually (although, I ‘ve seen it happen and it isn’t pretty). But it is evident in the way many Christians feel inadequate, not simply because they fall short of God’s glory, but because they look at Paul or Peter’s example in Acts and think their faith must be too small or some such thing, when in fact they are in a process.
So in one case, having the image in mind of being dead to sin can make one less susceptible to temptation. But on the other, expecting the Christian life to identical to that of Jesus or Paul by instant transformation is an expectation that does not match reality.
I think that conversion probably needs to be spoken of in images more akin to what the Christian life actually is:
Anyway, imagining oneself as one truly is, a person with all the resources available to them that Paul or Peter had is not unwise or unhelpful or untrue (2 Peter 1:3-11). But such imagining must be accompanied by the same thing Paul and Peter did: daily effort. Paul’s apparently instant moral transformation was build upon a lifetime of “exercising to have a clean conscience before both God and man.(Acts 24:16)” This continual state of self-management probably explains Paul’s quick adoption of Christian moral norms. Many people have untrained moral habits upon conversion, so following Christ is a process of learning supernatural and natural virtue all at the same time!
Today we’ll look at a fairly recent model of depression: the bargaining model.
In a 2003 book edited by Peter Hammerstein, Genetic and Cultural Evolution of Cooperation, chapter 6 is an essay (I believe based on a talk) on this model, “The Bargaining Model of Depression.”
The author, Edward Hagen, proposes depression might be explained as a strategy to gain assistance and support from powerful members of a social group by members which are weaker. This is due to the difficulty that physically or socially weaker people have utilizing force, threats of force, or persuasive rhetoric to achieve their goal (96-97).
The idea then is that the depressed person is acting in a fashion that is costly both to themselves and to the group, but that the group will perceive the loss of activity and exuberance from the individual as too costly to endure and therefore provide assistance to the individual or make changes to the group on their account (100). All of this is proposed as unconscious.
One interesting observation in the paper was this:
“It is not yet apparent whether depression symptoms themselves help enable “fresh starts” (or would have in the EEA), but this is, of course, precisely the proposed function of depression. It is therefore encouraging that “fresh starts” are closely associated with the remission of depression and may even cause it. (101)”
The idea that fresh starts may cause the remission of depression counts as evidence for the model because often the fresh starts come can come as the result of help from roommates, spouses, and near-by family. Interestingly, in cases with less social contact, depression is more likely to continue without obstacle (101). Lots of other research demonstrates this to be the case.
The model isn’t entirely persuasive to me, but elsewhere Hagen has found some evidence in favor of the model. For instance, lower grip strength predicts depression.
Anyway, that’s one model for depression among many.
Virtue ethics, at its heart, is an ethical system based upon the nature of what it means to be human and what it takes for human beings to be happy and fully functioning beings.
Many people, in their pursuit of happiness, buy into more recent notions of happiness that are not based upon actual knowledge of human nature but upon knowledge of one’s personality and preferences.
Charles Taylor observed that modern ethics was purely about self-actualization without reference to human nature:
“There is a certain way of being human that is my way. I am called upon to live my life in this way, and not in imitation of anyone else’s. But this gives a new importance to being true to myself. If I am not, I miss the point of my life, I miss what being human is for me.”1
Now, this ideal has probably helped people seek happiness in the sense of paying special attention to one’s own unique circumstances, preferences, and desires. In that sense, it has served some use. But in the other sense, it has left people with little knowledge of what happiness actually is, what it means to be happy in a community, and how to be content despite the fact that such knowledge has been universally available in the past. If there is no human nature, then no tradition has potential to train me in the ways of wisdom and happiness because I am unique and unlike those who came before me and those who exist about me.
The idea that doing philosophy, studying what it means to be human, immersing oneself in traditions (religious, martial, national, scholastic, etc), and putting the hard work of attaining virtue into one’s life could lead to happiness is typically not countenanced by those who have absorbed the view Taylor describes. My guess is that we’re so easily influenced by advertisements, our friends, and visible trends around us, that believing that we’re making our own unique path without influence makes us more susceptible to influences that we don’t even choose!
So, virtue ethics, a system of thinking about happiness and right and wrong in terms of human nature, dispositions, intentions, desires, habits, community and health as well as rules and in just makes more sense than a system that basis ethics solely on consequences or universally acceptable norms.
1Charles Taylor, The Ethics of Authenticity (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1992), 29
1 Μακάριος ἀνήρ, ὃς οὐκ ἐπορεύθη ἐν βουλῇ ἀσεβῶν καὶ ἐν ὁδῷ ἁμαρτωλῶν οὐκ ἔστη καὶ ἐπὶ καθέδραν λοιμῶν οὐκ ἐκάθισεν, 2 ἀλλʼ ἢ ἐν τῷ νόμῳ κυρίου τὸ θέλημα αὐτοῦ, καὶ ἐν τῷ νόμῳ αὐτοῦ μελετήσει ἡμέρας καὶ νυκτός. 3 καὶ ἔσται ὡς τὸ ξύλον τὸ πεφυτευμένον παρὰ τὰς διεξόδους τῶν ὑδάτων, ὃ τὸν καρπὸν αὐτοῦ δώσει ἐν καιρῷ αὐτοῦ καὶ τὸ φύλλον αὐτοῦ οὐκ ἀπορρυήσεται, καὶ πάντα, ὅσα ἂν ποιῇ, κατευοδωθήσεται. 4 οὐχ οὕτως οἱ ἀσεβεῖς, οὐχ οὕτως, ἀλλʼ ἢ ὡς ὁ χνοῦς, ὃν ἐκριπτεῖ ὁ ἄνεμος ἀπὸ προσώπου τῆς γῆς. 5 διὰ τοῦτο οὐκ ἀναστήσονται ἀσεβεῖς ἐν κρίσει οὐδὲ ἁμαρτωλοὶ ἐν βουλῇ δικαίων, 6 ὅτι γινώσκει κύριος ὁδὸν δικαίων, καὶ ὁδὸς ἀσεβῶν ἀπολεῖται. 
(1:1) How happy is the man who does not go in the counsel of the godless and who does not stand in the way of the sinful, and does not sit in the seat of pestilent persons, (1:2) but rather upon the law of the Lord is his desire, and upon his law he fixes his mind day and night. (1:3) And he will be as a tree which have been planted along the springs of water, which gives its fruit in its season and its leaf does not fall away, and everything whatsoever he may do, it is made to prosper. (1:4) No so for the godless, no so, but rather they are as the powder which the wind casts away from the face of the earth. (1:5) For this reason the godless will not rise up in the judgment nor sinners in the counsel of the righteous, (1:6) because the Lord knows the way of the righteous, and the way of the godless will be destroyed.
I normally (normally, I haven’t done this in months!) include a polished translation, but I’m terrible at poetry, so there is no polish here.
A thing to remember when read translations like mine is that when I’m translating “κύριος” as “the Lord” despite its lack of an article it’s because I’m following English language conventions. The Greek word is used to translate the divine name. So it’s really a circumlocution for a personal reference to God. It might even be better to translated it into English as “YHWH.”
In (1:1) we see a reference to “pestilent persons.” In the Hebrew Old Testament, the word is “scoffers,” a particularly vicious type of sinner. The translators picked a harsh word for these types of people, but it works. “Pestilent persons…” people who spread their impiety or bad attitudes like a disease. It’s frightening and elegant. Anyway, the Psalmist is warning us in a roundabout way (happy is the man who…) to avoid the fellowship of such people. There are obvious exceptions to rules like this. Jesus spent time with sinners, even such as wanted to kill him. But the idea is in terms of influence. The average person takes on the character of their closest pals (think Jimmy Olsen and Superman). If you sit in the seat of scoffers you’re either sitting in their homes or, worse, sitting in their position to do their scoffing. When I hear Christian academics making fun of their brothers and sisters for unenlightened views (there is, of course, a place for mockery in moral instruction), I cringe as this Psalm comes to mind.
In (1:2) we have the contrast that shows how the previous section is not a call to avoid sinful people all together, but to avoid letting them be the prime influence in your life if you wish to be happy. Instead, one should meditate on the law of the Lord. In the case of the Psalm this clearly refers to the first five books of the Old Testament. For Christians this meditation includes the Old Testament but extends to and shows a preference for Jesus, his way of life, and his teachings. Paul talks about this in 2 Corinthians 3:18-4:5 and Colossians 2:1-7 & 3:1-4, Peter talks about it in 1 Peter 2:21-25, and John says it in 1 John 2:6.
In (1:3-6) the Psalmist uses an arboreal analogy to make his point. The one who meditates on God’s law will be like a healthy tree, happy for two reasons. One because it is nourished and secure and two because it bears good fruit. Similarly, the righteous person has joy from knowing/delighting in God (1:2) and being known by God (1:6), but the righteous person has also learned the ways of success from the maker of nature and humanity and can therefore live with positive results in life. That this is the opening Psalm is telling because the “two-ways” paradigm exists throughout Scripture. It goes back to Genesis and is expressed in Revelation. But there are exceptions. Many times the wicked prosper at the expense of the good and many times the good can be crushed between the gears of historical circumstance. The whole book of Psalms acknowledges these exceptions, but it starts with the general rule and encouragement to goodness: the truly good are the truly happy!