Sherlock Holmes, Moriarty, and the Devil

In the three most recent adaptations of Sherlock Holmes (Sherlock, Elementary, and the Game of Shadows) at crucial moments Holmes is deceived by Moriarty into making a tactical error and in the mean time a song about demon forces is played.

There Are Spoilers Below

In the movie, Holmes is fooled into thinking Moriarty intended to bomb an Opera house during Don Giovanni. Upon Holmes’ arrival, the chorus of demons is played as the main character is received into Hell. 

In the American procedural, Holmes is fooled into thinking a serial killer is Moriarty (when indeed the real Moriarty’s identity remains opaque to him) and Gil Scott-Heron’s, Me and the Devil, plays:

And in BBC’s version, Sherlock rides to the court house to function as an expert witness, and Nina Simone’s Sinnerman plays in the background:

 

Now, is this all just a coincidence or does something in the source material lend to this interpretation? No, it is not a coincidence. Yes, there is one reference to Moriarty as an evil on a diabolical level:

“[He] has, to all appearance, a most brilliant career before him. But the man had hereditary tendencies of a most diabolical kind. A criminal strain ran in his blood, which, instead of being modified, was increased and rendered infinitely more dangerous by his extraordinary mental powers. Dark rumours gathered round him in the university town, and eventually he was compelled to resign his chair and to come down to London…” – Sherlock Holmes on Moriarty in The Final Problem

 

I doubt that anybody I know was interested enough in that confluence of media and Sherlock Holmes source material. I had wondered to myself, “why had they utilized that sort of theme in these modern versions of Holmes, particularly when he’s portrayed as an atheist in two of them?” Since I hadn’t read the Final Problem in a while, the answer was unknown to me. When I went back to it, there it was.

I think part of the appeal of Holmes today is that his intelligence is used in fighting evil, I hope people go back to the books and read them though. Holmes is portrayed more humanely, more philosophically, and though I love the modern adaptations, more excellently in the originals.

Cosmic Remarriage: A Sermon by Chris Borah with some Reflection

Below, you’ll find the audio to a sermon by one Chris Borah:

16 July Cosmic Remarriage by Chris Borah

It’s worth a listen. 

Here some brief festoonings and trains of thought brought up by his sermon (they may be of interest or help even if you don’t listen:

  1. Personal: I don’t ever have a cadence when I’m speaking, I try to change my cadence and pronunciation as I go to see what sound better to me. Chris apparently doesn’t do that. It’s a better option.
  2. Personal: I have a really high stress tolerance but also a really long term sense of threat detection. This makes me anxious more than is helpful or virtuous. This sermon as a good challenge to that. 
  3. Theological: And Chris never mentioned this explicitly, but he named two sides of an important issue. “Don’t be anxious” (Matthew 6:19-34). But also, Chris said that real life is lived around the table, and to have food at the table, you’ve got to sow, reap, and store into barns even though the birds don’t. And so there is an unrighteous and idolatrous way to worry over tomorrow, over your food, your both, and you life. But there is also a way to “fear always” (Proverbs 28:14) that is good. As an aside, the ESV translates that as “fear the LORD,” but the word for Lord isn’t there. The passage either means, “anxiously fears w/respect to not wanting to sin” or “anxiously fears w/respect to potential calamity of any sort,” but both in such a way that leads to getting things done. The hardened heart in Scripture is a disorder that always leads toward the worst possible outcome on the present course. Tension is the wrong word, as different kinds of anxiety exist and the Bible multiplies the species of various traits and habits. 
  4. Dendrological: Chris said that there is something more true about seeing trees as Ents and Dryads than there is to seeing them as inert statues of slowly growing wood or pre-furniture. Interestingly, the materialistic practice of those crazy scientists has found that trees and other plants do communicate. My high school English teacher speculated that this was true and hypothesized that they used electrical impulses in soil and pheromones. Both are accurate. Also see: The Hidden Life of Trees.
  5. Theological: I’m of the opinion that God created chaos and that it’s good and must be balanced with order (if you ask me to define these, expect a great deal of incoherence). A good article about Genesis’ teaching about this is Did God create chaos? Unresolved tension in Genesis 1:1-2 by Robin Routlege. This has led me to all sorts of fruitful reflections upon what it means to be human, even before the fall. For instance, negotiating chaos and order is necessary in a garden and even more necessary if you leave the garden to subdue the rest of the earth. 

Conservatism Conserves What?

This is an edit of a post from October 21st, 2016
When I was in junior high I learned about conservatives and liberals.
I was really confused about the fact that liberals wanted more rules for business owners and that conservatives wanted to spend more money on war.
A couple of years later, I converted to Christianity and found several conservative political positions to line up with my emerging moral consciousness. But, I also found several of them to abhorrent.
  1. Pro-life made sense. Abortion is the most insane inversion of the order nature I could and can imagine.
  2. I thought prison sentences for most crimes made no sense.
  3. Keeping the government mostly out of the market made sense (though I was skeptical of conservative opposition to minimum wage increases and I thought tariffs made sense)
  4. I also thought that going to war all of the time seemed to be a “liberal” use of money.

My Skepticism Rose

During Bush the Younger’s presidency, I remembered thinking that the privacy intrusions of the intelligence agencies, the quickness with which we went to war with Iraq over 9/11? WMDs? oil? (how and why was that wise?) and the reticence to do anything about abortion showed that conservatives meant [based on observing their actions] neither to conserve human life in general, American lives, nor the constitution.
Now that I’ve realized how little conservatives care to conserve. I tend to think that Republicans don’t actually want to win the pro-life argument at the legal level because then they couldn’t use the platform to get elected.

The Five Stages of Conservative

Ed Feser expertly mocked the conservative way of being in the world here:
  1. Stage 1: “Mark my words: if the extreme left had its way, they’d foist X upon us! These nutjobs must be opposed at all costs.”
  2. Stage 2: “Omigosh, now even thoughtful, mainstream liberals favor X! Fortunately, it’s political suicide.”
  3. Stage 3: “X now exists in 45 out of 50 states. Fellow conservatives, we need to learn how to adjust to this grim new reality.”
  4. Stage 4: “X isn’t so bad, really, when you think about it. And you know, sometimes change is good. Consider slavery…”
  5. Stage 5: “Hey, I was always in favor of X! You must have me confused with a [paleocon, theocon, Bible thumper, etc.]. But everyone knows that mainstream conservatism has nothing to do with those nutjobs…

Stage five describes contemporary conservatives thoroughly.

Christians do this, too.

“Those other Christians are bad, please like me now.”

I think I used to do it, too. Seminary trains you to want approval from non-Christians. Several professors I know are like this.

One of them is so condescending, even to people to whom he used to be a pastor, it’s difficult to imagine that he ever called himself a Christian. Usually hating Christians is the wine of atheists. But his main point is to signal to his academic friends that he’s not like all those low IQ rednecks he used to pastor.

No “Conservative Principles”

Even when conservatives claim to be using logic rather than rhetoric to make arguments against this or that idea or candidate, the same logic is applicable against them. Heck, I’ve heard conservatives rail against the tendency of populist movements to appeal to the poor and if anybody appeals to the poor they should be ignored. But that’s precisely part of Jesus’ appeal in the ancient world. Conservatives, in their effort to get people to see them as “not like those other conservatives” will make up principles they’ve never adopted before. This reminds me of when Publius Decius Mus opined that many of conservatives deep “principled concerns” aren’t even principles:

What, specifically, is good in a political context varies with the times and with circumstance, as does how best to achieve the good in a given context. The good is not tax rates or free trade. Those aren’t even principles. In the American political context, the good is the well-being of the physical America and its people, well-being defined (in terms that reflect both Aristotle and the American Founding) as their “safety and happiness.” That’s what conservatism should be working to conserve.

Examples

Mark Rubio said that he didn’t think conservatives should look at wikileaks materials because it might happen to conservatives one day. In other words, “It’s bad for politicians to be forced into transparency.” No moral principle such as privacy was evoked, but merely interest in power. Heck, it wasn’t even a, “Do unto others…” thing.

Elsewhere, on the Tweeter, Rick Wilson (a goober in love with family values rhetoric) asked Ann Coulter (who never claims to be polite) personal sex questions of a deeply disturbing nature.

In the National Review, Kevin Williamson exuberantly rhapsodized about how people who live in flyover communities deserve to die for no other reason except a “conservative” form of social darwinism which implies that politicians have no obligations toward the well being of their voters. No mention, of course, that it was bad trade deals supported by conservatives which sent their jobs overseas.

I’m Not Conservative

I’m not conservative by any respectably accepted definition. Conservatives, at least public pundits, are not interested in conserving principles, traditions, people, the economy, or the rule of law. They’re more interested in being the irenic but losing opposition to any of the forces bent on dissolving Western Civilization. The idea that sacrificing your view of the truth in response to social pressure is noble is unacceptable to me.

Six cool tricks for sounding smart

People are always telling me, “Geoff, you’re such a smart guy.”

Lot’s of people think I’m a smart guy. It’s an empty compliment, but I enjoy it. Sherlock Holmes was the same way:

“I shall never do that,” I [Watson] answered; “you have brought detection as near an exact science as it ever will be brought in this world.” My companion flushed up with pleasure at my words, and the earnest way in which I uttered them. I had already observed that he was as sensitive to flattery on the score of his art as any girl could be of her beauty.

But the main reason to be smart, of course, is that it makes it easier to help people because they trust you. If you’re actually competent, then you’re smart persona is a net benefit to society.

How to do it:

I use these six steps to trick people into thinking I’m smart:

  1. First, pick a constellation of useful skills you can use to make money by helping others: lock smithing, cooking, computer programming, small engine repair, etc.
  2. Pick a few subjects interesting to you that seem important for understanding the world. A list might look like this: American History, Logic, Evolutionary Psychology, Exercise Science, and Economics.
  3. Read the most important books you can find about them and consult living experts to test your knowledge. Twitter, blogs, and email make this possible.
  4. Then, start bringing up the most important facts in conversation and discussing the ideas and difficulties in those fields with interested people.
  5. Use the most powerful ideas to improve your life, craft your destiny, and assist those around you.
  6. Finally, learn another language. I made the mistake of learning ancient languages. Learn modern ones first.

Once you do this, people will think you’re brilliant. Smile. You’ve got them fooled. All you did was read a bunch of books.

Winning: Fighting to Win in Ender’s Game and Life

On the value of winning

I think winning is a dirty word to some people. I used to think that way, but it’s simply not true. Competition in itself is not evil. Losing teaches lessons that can turn into positive experiences just as much as winning can. Similarly, winning a debate, a legal case, or writing an award-winning book can even be victories in the public consciousness of truth, goodness, and beauty.[1]

Christianity and Winning

I think that Christians should fight to win (see Proverbs 24:1-11). And I don’t mean simply using violence. I’m nearly a pacifist.[2] I fear that Christians frequently believe that effort and strategy are opposed to grace. They also believe that victory and winning are not valid goals.

I wanted to win all the next fights: Ender’s Game

One of the most poignant passages in all of literature about winning is in Ender’s Game. For context, bullies surround a younger bore to torment him when there was no surveillance to keep him safe. He was smaller than his assailants, but he destroyed the gang leader with frightening efficiency. Afterward, a military officer questions the boy in front of his parents to determine why he fought so ferociously:

“We’re willing to consider extenuating circumstances,” the officer said.

“But I must tell you it doesn’t look good. Kicking him in the groin, kicking him repeatedly in the face and body when he was down— it sounds like you really enjoyed it.”

“I didn’t,” Ender whispered.

“Then why did you do it?”

“He had his gang there,” Ender said.

“So? This excuses anything?”

“No.”

“Tell me why you kept on kicking him. You had already won.”

Knocking him down won the first fight. I wanted to win all the next ones, too. So they’d leave me alone.”

 

Orson Scott (2010-04-01). Ender’s Game (The Ender Quartet series Book 1) (p. 14). Tom Doherty Associates. Kindle Edition.

What do I mean by “fight to win”? I mean that you should look at your struggles and temptations as something to overcome if they do not kill you. If you struggle with addiction, for instance, half measures and focusing on your “weakness” as something through which Christ can show is strength is not appropriate.[3] If you’re addicted, have a terrible debt, need a promotion to feed your family, or whatever it is, I recommend fighting to win. The “nuke it from orbit” method of problem solving just makes sense, especially if you struggle with melancholy and a tendency to give up at any sign of resistance or difficulty. So, here’s what I mean by fight to win:

  1. Take extreme measures (eat nothing but beans, oatmeal, and boiled chicken until you’re out of debt, work 80 hours a week until you have an emergency fund, throw away your computer to stop looking at porn, exercise every day until your doctor says you’re not dying anymore, etc).
  2. Assume that nobody but God will help you (If you’re wise, you’re wise for yourself).
  3. Ask for advice from people who have been there and know how to win. Make sure you ask what they did, not what they think sounds wise.[4]
  4. Don’t quit until you win.

What do you do to win? Or am I wrong, is it evil to care about winning?

References

[1] I remember learning, probably from Moltmann, that a victorious mindset was fundamentally non-Christian because it didn’t focus enough on the cross. While I agree that a Christianity that does not look to the cross as God’s grace and take up the cross in self-denial is mistaken, I think Christians can have a great deal of victory this side of death. It’s just not victory for when we die or when Christ comes back.

[2] If you’re not a pacifist and you’re fighting to protect your family you had better try to win…if you’re a pacifist don’t be a sissy and give up on your principles when you actually get to test them out. Or you had better fight to protect your family because some principles are silly.

[3] Paul’s weakness, through which Christ shows perfect strength is not sin or a lack of drive. In 1 Corinthians 15:10, Paul observes that he works harder than the other apostles.

[4] Some people give advice based on what they think sounds good rather than on what they did. My wife and I have talked about this before, older successful Christians feel obligated to give pious sounding advice rather than actual advice to people who are struggling or who have hard questions like, “How do I find my calling?” You’ll hear things like, “Just rely on God” from somebody who actually switched careers like seven times until they found one that they excelled at and made them money.  Or “how can I find somebody to marry me?” This question is often answered with, “Just wait on the Lord to put somebody in your path.” Nobody says anything like, “Hit the gym, make more money, dress well, learn to be funny, and ask people on dates.”

Effort Habit: Keep the Faculty of Effort Alive in You

William James on the Effort Habit

One of my favorite selections from James’ psychology text book is about developing an effort habit:

Keep the faculty of effort alive in you by a little gratuitous exercise every day. That is, be systematically ascetic or heroic in little unnecessary points, do every day or two something for no other reason than that you would rather not do it, so that when the hour of dire need draws nigh, it may find you not unnerved and untrained to stand the test. Asceticism of this sort is like the insurance which a man pays on his house and goods. The tax does him no good at the time, and possibly may never bring him a return. But if the fire does come, his having paid it will be his salvation from ruin. So it is with the man who has daily inured himself with habits of concentrated attention, energetic volition, and self-denial in unnecessary things. He will stand like a tower when everything rocks around him, and when his softer fellow-mortals are winnowed like chaff in the blast. – William James, The Principals of Psychology, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1983), 130.

That little paragraph has been very helpful to me. James makes the excellent point that exercising yourself in self-denial until it becomes a habit for you to handle discomfort is an an incredible down payment on handling trials. I agree. Self-mastery of this sort is practically a super power.

Your Bad Habits are a Hell on Earth

He also notes later that “the physiological study of mental conditions is thus the most powerful ally in hortatory ethics. The hell to be endured hereafter, of which theology tells, is no worse than the hell we make for ourselves in this world by habitually fashioning our characters in the wrong way. Could the young but realize how soon they will become mere walking bundles of habits, they would give more heed to themselves while in the plastic state (James, 130).”

In the Christian conception hell is an experience in life and post-mortem. Even if you reject the existence of God and of eternal judgment, you cannot reject the existence of hell if you’ve seen the state people get into because of their own awful habits.

You must develop good, challenging, creative habits in for your mind, body, spirit, career, and relationships and you’ve got to do it little by little every day. And if you don’t want to, imagine for a moment the hell you’ll be in if you let yourself continue down the path of your worst possible self.

Develop Christian Habits

In the present age we American Christians have become soft. Too much comfort, entertainment, easy to prepare food, and soft chairs should have given up more time to read Scripture, contemplate God, improve our skills, perfect our bodies, and care for our neighbors. William James has a lot to say to the religious today: keep the effort habit alive. Being a Christian does not excuse us from self-denial, it demands it of us!

A Parting Quote

As we become permanent drunkards by so many separate drinks, so we become saints in the moral, and authorities and experts in the scientific and practical spheres, by so many separate acts and hours of work. Let no youth have any anxiety about the upshot of his education…If he keep faithfully busy each hour of the working day, he may safely leave the result to itself. He can with perfect certainty count of waking up some fine morning, to find himself one of the competent ones of his generation in whatever pursuit he may have singled out ( James, 131).”

Virtue Lists in the New Testament

Virtue Lists?

In the Bible there are several famous virtue lists. A virtue list is exactly what is sounds like, a list of positive traits in sequence as a description of the good life.

As a part of Scripture, the New Testament virtue lists are easy to overlook and if you misunderstand God’s grace, they can seem overly moralistic.

Here are some examples:

  1. 2 Peter 1:5-7
  2. Galatians 5:22-23
  3. James 3:17-18

Helpful Theses:

I have some theses that might help us interpret the virtue lists in the New Testament.

  1. The virtue lists are meant to be over-interpreted
    There is a time and a place for lengthy ethical argument, and in several places the New Testament engages in this (with respect to items of ritual usually in Hebrews, Romans, Galatians, and 1 Corinthians).But usually, in the New Testament, general ethical principles are usually assumed rather than explained. This makes sense because the people to whom the New Testament was written would have been taught Christian ethics at length in other settings. The letters were meant to convince the audiences of particular ideas or at least to revive consciousness amongst the churches of the love the apostles had for them. Because the lists are examples of rhetoric and not dialectic (in Aristotle’s parlance), they are almost certainly meant to be “hooked-in” to more direct teaching about Christian character which happened orally. In other words: the virtue lists are meant to be over-interpreted, insofar as a minimal possible meaning is not sufficient for lists appearing in such a context.
  1. There are limits to this over interpretation or, look for part of the “why” this virtue appeared around the place it appeared.
    The virtue lists are limited in meaning by the context in which they appear and the apparent milieu of the author/original audience of the letter. But that doesn’t mean that the individual words are limited to one technical meaning.
  1. The lists are hooks for hanging Biblical festoons
    In early Christianity, there was a great deal of oral tradition at work. Think about it. There were Old Testament quotations, Jesus stories, Jesus sayings, apostolic sayings, second temple rabbinic sayings and so-on. If it is true that this was the case (it is) and that the teaching efforts of early Christian leaders were as in-depth as Acts 20:7-9 indicates, then it would appear that all of the above Biblical background is intentionally being called to mind with virtue lists of this sort. We cannot always know, with certainty, which stories, Proverbs, or extended themes are being called to mind. But the more familiar we are with the Old Testament, the Deuterocanonical books (they’re in the Old Testament if you’re not Protestant), and the four gospels, then the more the lists can do their duty by calling to mind moral exemplars and failures in the Bible.
  1. Mediterranean moralists matter
    Similarly, the background of some words in these lists is best found in the works of Aristotle, Plato, Seneca, Cicero, Quintilian, and so-on. Such ancient moralists and rhetoricians often explained the virtues in exacting detail in terms of individual psychological states and social ramifications. While the apostles or their churches may not have been thinking explicitly in such terms, they were part of the culture that these writers were trying to describe and that these authors influenced.
  1. Such lists are hooks for contemporary application
    Finally, these lists are meant to be explained and recalled not only in terms of the fullness of their meaning, but in terms of their contemporary application. If somebody memorized the fruit of the Spirit, they would almost certainly have thought of that list in terms of the character of Jesus, the teachings of Jesus about love, the importance of being peaceable amongst brothers, and the cruciality of self-denial. But they also would have thought of the list in terms of how to behave today and tomorrow and how to plan ahead to have such character traits.

Example: Self-Control (Galatians 5:23)

  1. Paul encourages self-control to people who are confused about the nature of the Old Testament Law and its relationship to the gospel message. Ultimately, Paul says that the highest part of the Old Testament Law (love your neighbor) is a central part of gospel teaching and therefore Christians who do not obey the other Old Testament laws regarding food, ceremony, and civil jurisprudence still can be said to fulfill the law. So, Paul points out that one of the results of living in line with the gospel message (fruit of the Spirit) is self-control. Paul does this for two reasons:
    1. He really thinks that living in line with his teaching and with a group of believers will/does result in self-control.
    2. He wishes to remind them that self-control is worthy to be sought and obtained.
  2. In terms of the Old Testament and later traditions, self-control goes all the way back to the story of Cain and Abel, wherein the Lord tells Cain that he must master sin, lest it consume him. King David was both a paragon of self-control in his dealings with Saul and a failure in his dealings with Uriah and Bathsheba. Solomon, Ecclesiastes, and the later wisdom tradition all give encomiums to the self-controlled individual. Here is an example, “…greater is he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city. (Proverbs 16:23)”
  3. It goes without saying that a great deal of Stoic writing was about the importance of self-control, the only source was one’s mind and will and the only goals were personal contentment and city-state harmony. For the Christian, the ground and goal are God, but this does not mean that the Stoic reflections have nothing instructive within them. In fact, Aristotle makes self-control itself the central trait for becoming a functional person.
  4. Next, when thinking through all of these angles, start thinking through the contemporary ramifications of having no self-control (look up statistics on hours spent watching Television, calories eaten, pornography watched, and so-on). One might also think of which Old Testament persona he or she wishes to emulate in the face of these temptations. Similarly, one might imagine a community in which everybody exhibited a behavior and ask whether or not that community would be pleasing to God’s Spirit. We might even then begin to think about which circumstances to avoid in order to prevent temptation due to weak self-control and what exercises of self-denial, prayer, and confession might help us to increase in this most central of virtues.

Conclusion:

This post got a bit out of hand, but it could be helpful to somebody. I meant it to be practical, but I think I made it just academic enough to to be practical and just practical enough to be of no interest to academics.

Tips for Rhetoric from Hypnosis

When I was in highschool, I found a little red book on hypnosis in my school library. I flipped through the pages, saw a section on inducing sleep states, and read it. When I was a kid I always struggled to sleep. The method in the book, though it was meant for trained psychiatrists to utilize on patients worked swimmingly. I used to have very few good nights of sleep. After reading those few short paragraphs, I found myself having few nights of bad sleep. The change was remarkable.

Anyway, I was at a used book store Monday night and happened upon the exact same book. Out of nostalgia I bought it. I actually read it this time. It’s a neat primer on the state of hypnosis in therapy and for public performance at the time of its writing.

One of the chapter titles is “Rules of Thought.” It’s a compelling chapter and remarkably similar to William James’ remarks on hypnosis in his magnum opus Principles of Psychology. Anyway, I think of hypnosis as just individualized rhetoric for therapy purposes so I thought I would show the “rules of thought” from the chapter and give brief thoughts on how they can be used to the art and science of persuasion:1

  1. Every thought or idea causes a physical reaction.

    On the face of it this is true as our brains do things when we think. Not only so, but our thoughts often come from sensations, all of which are physical in nature. Even further, though, if you think thoughts about previous experiences, emotions associated with them will often occur. With those emotions, the associated physical symptoms will happen. I can think of specific times I have felt great anger and my heartrate increases. This is important for rhetoric for several reasons, but mostly just that our anthropology typically functions as a data based system: I give people facts, they process them, then their minds make their bodies act accordingly. Aristotle knew this didn’t work. In reality, advertising is so effective precisely because advertisers know that, whether our minds are immaterial or not, our bodies are physical and the needs and experiences of the body typically determine human action.

  2. The expected sensation tends to be realized.

    When I was a Greek student, we were told that “the fog” would occur. This is some time period wherein everything is confusing and everybody is confused. I was only in the fog until I memorized my verb endings. But many people who did this felt confused about easy to understand concepts. Why? I think they were told to expect it. I’ve taught Greek to high school students using the same college text books. I never mention “the fog” and nobody ever complains of confusion beyond their own failure to study or coming across a particularly difficult sentence. Indeed, a friend who works as a draftsman learned Greek with no fog whatsoever.

  3. Imagination is more potent than knowledge when dealing with the mind of another; or: Imagination of the audience is more potent than his knowledge…Imagination is more powerful than reason.

    Jesus used loads of images to insult the Pharisee’s way of life. If he had just said, “they do bad things.” Nobody would have remembered and the Pharisees themselves would have just ignored him. The visceral reactions to Jesus’ teachings seemed to stem from not only their obvious truth but the imagery used to grip people.

  4. Only one idea can be entertained in the mind at the same time. Corollary: Conflicting ideas cannot be held at one and the same time.

    Moving from idea to idea in a speech before people grasp what was said can be very damaging to your persuasiveness. Also, people may become nervous and uncomfortable hearing things that don’t match up with their accepted worldview. We don’t “entertain” our worldview, so much as base our lives upon it. But when people try to entertain a new idea for the purpose of possibly believing it, great anxiety can occur if it conflicts with the beliefs upon which they base their lives or imagine they base their lives. Because of this, great gentleness is necessary in a speech or conversation when helping somebody see a truth which they have yet to grasp personally. This might be why scientific consensus seems to change as a previous generation of scientists dies.

  5. An idea, once accepted, tends to remain until replaced by another idea or is forgotten. And: Once an idea has been accepted, there is opposition to replacing it with a new idea.

    This is relatively similar to what came before.

  6. An imagined condition tends to become real if persisted in long enough. Or: A mental attitude tends to reflect itself in the body structure and the physical condition.

    The Greek fog above? This is it. But it goes further. I’m not sure if you can convince people to become well of physical problems. Although, John Sorno’s book on back pain uses psychotherpeutic methods to alleviate back pain and the book has a tremendously positive reception on Amazon. I’ve had power-lifters with physical back damage recommend it to me because they said after doing what it said, they stopped having back pain. The book of Psalms does mention a similar reality as well, “Psa 16:8-9 ESV I have set the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. (9) Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure.” The Psalmist’s personal experience is feeling physically well in response to practicing God’s presence. Obviously, “mind over matter” is not always true. Perhaps it isn’t ever true. But there is an element of persuasion that involves observing people’s outer posture and attitudes in order to see if a different form of verbiage is necessary to convince them of an idea due to their positive/negative frames of mind.

  7. A suggestion once followed tends to create less and less opposition to successive suggestions. (halo effect).

    In persuasion you build ethos/credibility with people after you persuade them of something. This is just true. I’ve heard it called, though I don’t remember where, the halo effect. This is dangerous for pastors or radio hosts because your research can get sloppy in direct response to the level of trust people put in you. I suppose it can also happen with parents. Authorty carries great responsibility, especially if that authority includes, of necessity, persuasion.

 

References

1  James T McBrayer, The Key to Hypnotism Simplified. (New York: Bell Pub. Co., 1956), 113-136

Reference Group Theory and Stupid Economic Inferences

In a NYT article examining the increasing death rates among white males, it was concluded that:

Reference group theory explains why people who have more may feel that they have less. What matters is to whom you are comparing yourself. It’s not that white workers are doing worse than African-Americans or Hispanics.

In the fourth quarter of 2015, the median weekly earnings of white men aged 25 to 54 were $950, well above the same figure for black men ($703) and Hispanic men ($701). But for some whites — perhaps the ones who account for the increasing death rate — that may be beside the point. Their main reference group is their parents’ generation, and by that standard they have little to look forward to and a lot to lament.

While there may be something to reference group theory (we feel depressed if we don’t measure up to our ideal…in this case our parents’ level of prosperity), the interesting thing is how easily the author treats people as aggregates. This is the same problem that occurs when using GDP as a measure of economic prosperity. Increased GDP may come along with massive decreases in individual wealth among 60-90% of a population. Similarly,  looking how the median earnings of white men doesn’t tell you what the modal earnings are, nor the earnings amongst the specific people who are dead or addicted to drugs.

I would observe that the “a lot to lament” comment, while likely true in the aggregate doesn’t necessarily work as a causal explanation for the increased deaths. For instance, BMI has increased in white populations, as has divorce, as have feelings of disconnectedness with their communities and political representative. Not only so, but the individuals who died may have had income significantly lower than the median income for white males in their age range. The fact of the matter is that unless you’re looking at the specific people who died or who are engaging in behaviours that contribute to likely deaths, there is simply nothing but a fuzzy correlation between median income and deaths.

I mean, the article compares the income rates of all while men (see above) to the death rates of white men with less education but with no reference to income:

The economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton reported in December that rates have been climbing since 1999 for non-Hispanic whites age 45 to 54, with the largest increase occurring among the least educated.

People think so much in terms of aggregates, that they don’t even look at the specific causes. “White people make plenty of money according to mean income…so these people must be dying early because they long for the income levels of their parents.” The article should have said, “reference group theory should be looked into as a cause for suicide, drug and alcohol abuse, and other factors leading to increased early mortality based on this apparent correlation.”

Anyway, I think that the New York times is mostly read by people who want their friends to think they’re smart.

The Critical Mindset

One of the most powerful aspects of Christianity is how it provides an ideal: the character of Jesus Christ.

This provides individuals and communities with several opportunities:

  1. The opportunity to more fully apprehend this idea.
  2. The opportunity to compare oneself to the same ideal.
  3. The opportunity to take steps toward this idea through spiritual disciplines and acts of virtue.
  4. The opportunity to help others along the path to the ideal.

The danger is the development of the critical mindset. We can easily turn the sharp instrument of logic necessary for comparing ourselves to our understanding of Christ’s virtue into an instrument for apprehending the flaws of others.

The perception of the sinfulness of other people is a powerful asset in that it can keep us safe from wolves in sheep’s clothing. On the other hand it can lead to a disdain and distrust for those we perceive to fall too short, whether Christians or not.

My biggest moral failure, aside from a general idolatrous malaise, is my tendency to see the weakest and most shameful in somebody and instantly file it away as a weakness. I can think of dozens of circumstances in life wherein a disagreement lead to somebody insulting me, which allowed me to exploit said weakness in a vindictive and very hurtful way.

Some of you may know exactly what I’m talking about either because I’ve done it to you, you’ve seen me do it, or you or somebody you know does this. It’s an ugly way to live. I typically use this particular skill as a sour grapes thing. I’ve joked before when my friends move away (they inevitably do because I live in a town that is hated by most of its residents who find themselves unable to leave due to insufficient income and expensive housing costs) that I’ll “think of everything I can’t stand about them and then I won’t miss them.” This strategy actually works. I’ve done it. I’ve also used it to justify the end of a friendship whenever somebody hurts somebody I care about. I’ll just tell my wife the list of horrible things I’ve perceived about this person and say, “Yeah, we’d be better off not having them in our lives.”

Jesus says this:

Mat 7:1-5 ESV  “Judge not, that you be not judged. (2)  For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. (3)  Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? (4)  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? (5)  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

Jesus’ brother puts it this way:

Jas 4:8-12 ESV Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. (9) Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. (10) Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. (11) Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. (12) There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?

The critical mindset has to be turned inward before one ever judges a brother. And even then, when Jesus spoke of judging, he equated it with taking “the speck out of your brother’s eye.” For Jesus, judging without self-criticism is wrong. But more importantly, judging, to be rightly done, must be for the purposes of helping a brother not hurting them or condemning them.