1. A couple of hot-off-the-presses reasons for living. First, pre-registration for the 2012 NYC Mockingbird Conference (4/19-21) opens on Monday! Again, the theme this year is “Clear Eyes, Full Hearts: Honesty, Humility and the Grace of God” and our keynote speaker will be none other than Michael Horton, Reformation Impresario Numero Uno and all around Gospel guru. He’ll be joined by Aaron Zimmerman, myself and a host of other birds of various stripes. Keep an eye on our events page. Second, and equally important, the trailer for Wes Anderson’s new film, Moonrise Kingdom, hit the web yesterday and it’s world-class. Personal favorite line is definitely “That’s a loaded question” and while Bill Murray may be unstoppable, if anyone can steal the film from him it’s Bruce Willis (or possibly Frances McDormand). The preponderance of crosses is also exciting, and what’s not to love about the cursive?

2. Not all of the amazing reviews that appeared over the holidays in The NY Times Book Review were written by Marilynne Robinson, it turns out. Two others stood out. The first, John Horgan’s piece on Robert Trivers’ The Folly of Fools: The Logic of Deceit and Self-Deception in Human Life, hits on a number of our favorite themes, e.g. why we lie to others and ourselves, how self-justification informs more of our thinking than we’d care to admit:

Our big brains and communication skills make us master dissemblers. Even before we can speak, Trivers notes, we learn to cry insincerely to manipulate our caregivers. As adults, we engage in “confirmation bias,” which makes us seize on facts that bolster our preconceptions and overlook contradictory data. We wittingly and unwittingly inflate the qualities of ourselves and others in our religious, political or ethnic group. We denigrate those outside our in-group as well as sexual and economic rivals.

Fooling others yields obvious benefits, but why do we so often fool ourselves? Trivers provides a couple of answers. First, believing that we’re smarter, sexier and more righteous than we really are — or than others consider us to be — can help us seduce and persuade others and even improve our health, via the placebo effect, for example. And the more we believe our own lies, the more sincerely, and hence effectively, we can lie to others. “We hide reality from our conscious minds the better to hide it from onlookers,” Trivers explains. But our illusions can have devastating consequences, from the dissolution of a marriage to stock-market collapses and world wars.

3. The second comes from Molly Worthen, one of the best religion writers out there, her super insightful review of Randall Stephens and Karl Giberson’s The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age. She sees the book as an accurate depiction of the “crisis of intellectual authority” besetting American Evangelicalism at the moment, with rapid anti-academic sentiment on one side and a yearning for C.S. Lewis-like affirmation from the secular academy on the other. Anyone who’s spent time in conservative circles is familiar with the conflictedness she describes. It’s a bracing read:

At its best, evangelicals’ commitment to applying the “Christian worldview” to every dimension of life has led young people to “reflect on their deepest beliefs” in a manner that “lacks a secular counterpart,” Stephens and Giberson write. This is the crux of their book, and a point they might have developed further… For all evangelicals’ supposed disdain for secular academia, it is telling that their favorite guru is not an undereducated quack, but a thinker that “The Anointed” mentions only in passing: C. S. Lewis. American evangelicals adore Lewis because he was an Oxford don who defended the faith in a plummy English accent, thus proving that one could be a respected intellectual and a Christian too. The “parallel culture” that “The Anointed” vividly describes, then, is not a bald rejection of Enlightenment reason, but a product of evangelicals’ complex struggle to reconcile faith with the life of the mind.


4. While we’re looking at The Times, who would we be if we didn’t mention David Brooks’ recent editorial where he suggests that President Obama position himself as Martin Luther for his re-election campaign?! On a more serious (political) note, Charles Lane’s piece in The Washington Post, sharing an experience with infant death similar to Rick Santorum’s, struck me as a particularly touching moment amidst all the GOP primary shenanigans of emotional solidarity cutting across party lines.

5. Next, a follow-up to our recent rant about Tiger Parenting, Science Daily reports on the research of Michigan State professor Desiree Baolian Qin — who, like Chua, is a Chinese mother — which has found that “high-achieving Chinese students were more depressed and anxious than their white counterparts,” ht BPZ:

In a study that will appear in a forthcoming issue of the journal New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development, Qin found that Chinese immigrant parents constantly pester their children to excel — a longstanding practice in their native China. This includes comparing the child to siblings — as in, “Your sister got straight A’s and went to Harvard, why can’t you?”

In another paper, to be published in the Journal of Adolescence, Qin found that Chinese students are more depressed and have lower self-esteem and more anxiety than white students. The findings are based on survey data from nearly 500 high-achieving students at a prestigious East Coast high school.

6. Speaking of young people, Sarah Khan’s “Growing Up Is Hard To Do: Forced Into Adulthood by an Aging Parent” in The Atlantic is certainly worth a read. It dovetails rather profoundly with The Washington Post’s uncanny (yet undeniably compassionate) answer to the question “What Were College Students Like in 2011?”, ht MBH:

To completely generalize: They were social media addicts who cited Wikipedia in research papers, frequently texted their helicopter parents and peer-pressured each other to be more environmentally friendly. They volunteered, rallied, protested and walked out of class. They mixed their own alcoholic energy drinks, binge drank and self-medicated with friends’ prescriptions. They were the 99 percent (even if their parents were the 1 percent), and they were so worried about getting internships and jobs that they were willing to work for free. Hopefully, they were eager for 2012.

7. The Onion published another classic this week, “Man Who Said Yes To Life Found With Mountain Bike At Bottom Of Gorge.”

8. Life Magazine’s gallery of Snake Handlers and Faith Healers of the 1940s is incredible, ht JD.

9. Finally, leave it to Christopher Hitchens, in his final essay for Vanity Fair, to cast doubt on the historicity of the now-famous meeting between Charles Dickens and Fyodor Dostoyevsky. The essay, entitled “Charles Dickens’ Inner Child,” is an otherwise pleasant epitaph.