A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma...
[Mild spoilers follow.] As a writer, I’ve found, you’re always searching for material. A friend’s talking to you about a bad breakup, years of religious doubt and self-recrimination for doubting, a car wreck, DUI, or lost job. Suddenly, once an insight seems to hit you – or even a situation with a certain intellectual appeal – the ideas become all, and their textures, contexts, and the unfortunate people living in them become pared back, leaving you with what feels like the beginnings of a great article, essay, even poem. The real world fades away, and all you’re left with, all you…
Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
-Psalm 139, verses 7-10
We’ve posted at length on Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson’s Mistakes Were Made (but not by me), a book which brilliantly details the far-reaching consequences of self-justification and cuts toward the heart of the human condition.
Perpetrators are motivated to reduce their moral culpability; victims are motivated to maximize their moral blamelessness. Depending on which side of the wall we are on, we systematically distort our memories and account of the event to produce the maximum consonance between what happened and how we see ourselves… The relatively small number of people who cannot or will not reduce dissonance this way pay a large psychological price in guilt, anguish, anxiety, nightmares, and sleepless nights. The pain of living with horrors they have committed, but cannot morally accept, would be searing, which is why most people will reach for any justification available to assuage the dissonance.
The unendurability of such a price generally leads people to rationalize one way or another to conform events to a pre-existing picture we have of ourselves. Such dissonance can be eased by delusion, “moral acceptance” – basically, anything goes – but the Christian message enters into that dissonance, formulates it. “I do not do what I want to do, but I do the very thing I hate”; “simul iustus et peccator, saint and sinner at once”. Christians are so often described as self-righteous not least because our religion’s self-helpy, aspirational form may encourage us to distort things still-more to maximize consonance between “what happened” and our newly-inflated picture of ourselves, between the ideal of linear sanctification and the empirical evidence of recidivism. The only message which can speak effectively to the all-pervasive problem of justification is the assurance that what happened has been forgiven and is now of no consequence, and how we see ourselves was delusory to begin with.
In honor of our upcoming merger with Buzzfeed (just kidding), there are a few very commonly used, but imprecisely defined, Christian words which could stand some rethinking in how we use them.
Redemption – Often you hear questions like, “Can ____ be redeemed?” or ask questions like, “How will God redeem that job, that relationship, that bad decision? Will God redeem the suffering caused by Kim Jong-Un?” Or, at one dinner, “Can competition be redeemed?” The word means something like paying a price to buy back someone who is a slave or indebted, clearing their debt from one’s own store. A…
Another Week Ends: Misplaced Fear, Further Reflections on an Epidemic, Recovery and the Ego’s Death, Dave Eggers, Marilynne Robinson, and Clickhole
1. It’s a little too easy, but Barry Ritholtz over at Bloomberg helpfully reminds us that Ebola is no threat to the personal health of 99.99% of Americans, which goes into a broader point:
We fear the awesome predatory perfection of the great white shark, and have made the Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week,” “the longest-running cable television programming event in history.” This seems somewhat disproportionate, given that 10 people a year die from shark attacks — out of more than 7 billion people. If you want to fear a living creature, than logic suggests it’s the mosquito — they kill more human…
I was encouraged last week to see an article on cultural engagement get some commentary. At Christianity Today, Alissa Wilkinson’s article on “Lazy Cultural Engagement” was dead-on, providing a more personal/vocational take and bringing in the helpful and germane framework of content and form. At ThinkChristian, Josh Larson’s commentary was also helpful, if a little divergent from our take:
In a broad sense, I agree with what both of these folks have to say. Certainly, as McDavid suggests, Christians are needed as critics outside of our Christian subculture. (I’m grateful to have other outlets where I can do that.) And Wilkinson’s call to…
From Lutheran Satire, the funniest apophatic Trinity intro I’ve seen in a while:
It’s hard now to sort through too much Christian media without hearing moving and grandiloquent talk about “cultural engagement.” It’s the trendy thing now, and it seems like the Christian para-academic establishment prepped the ground for an overdue reaction against the isolationism and confrontationalism of now-octogenarian culture warriors. But the talk often seems inversely proportional to the engagement itself. One framework: affirm the good, critique/subvert the bad, discuss redemptive possibilities. (We here tend to omit the latter two.) Talk about talking about culture, and the Evangelical Church is your best conversation partner; talk about a spectacular Game of Thrones battle…