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    Another Week Ends: Exotic Magi, Histories of Christmas, More Elves on Shelves, Rand Reviews Children’s Movies, and More Messes of Help

    Another Week Ends: Exotic Magi, Histories of Christmas, More Elves on Shelves, Rand Reviews Children’s Movies, and More Messes of Help

    Housekeeping thing: a few copies of A Mess of Help sent out had lots of 5s in their tables of contents. Let us know if you got one of those, and we’ll send a new one.

    1. As we’re getting into the Christmas spirit, The Economist makes a surprising contribution with a survey of the Magi’s reception history. Apparently the men were likely astrologers/sages of some sort, but people found kings more appealing. In medieval times, some strange theologians talk about massive royal retinues encamped outside Bethlehem, etc. And in other strains of the tradition, they were bumbling traveler types, something in between the…

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    Gifts Beyond Reciprocity

    Gifts Beyond Reciprocity

    I may not be the only one for whom an element of Law has infiltrated the yearly ritual of gift-giving. On the giver side, I spent an undue amount of time and energy trying to find things adequately utilitarian yet also personal, valuable but not profligate, suited to the taste of various people. And on the recipient side, I feel like I’m growing progressively more choosey: partly as a function of growing older, with ever-more specific tastes, and partly as a function of the Internet (numerous sub-forums are involved in my selection of even a minor thing for myself). The…

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    Reflections on America’s Happiest City

    Reflections on America’s Happiest City

    Four and a half months ago, Charlottesville, VA was named the happiest city in America. As the happiest blogger in the happiest city, I feel like I should do some commenting.

    In the original paper for the happiness study, the researchers are careful to note that they’re measuring only “self-reported” happiness, a qualifier lost in some of the news outlets which reported it. To oversimplify things, we could view one’s self-reported level of happiness as consisting of three factors: (1) happiness itself, (2) pressures to lie on the survey, and (3) self-deception about perceived happiness. Since the survey was anonymous and Sandford,…

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    Fury at the Cross(roads): The Gospel in the Violence of History

    Fury at the Cross(roads): The Gospel in the Violence of History

    Another great contribution from Michael W. Nicholson, this reflection on the film Fury’s religious dimension first appeared on his blog, Tides of God.

    The most religious film many moviegoers will see this year will not be an inspirational story from a faith-based production company; it will be writer-director David Ayer’s WWII tank combat epic Fury. And in some ways Fury is also a more compelling narrative about redemption than many of the sermons preached from Church pulpits on any given Sunday.

    Fury is a slice-of-combat-life story that follows a few days’ action of a Sherman tank crew during the final campaign against Germany in…

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    Chris Rock Deconstructs Our Very Serious Commitments

    Chris Rock Deconstructs Our Very Serious Commitments

    Looking through Andrew Sullivan’s blog The Dish yesterday, I came across a pretty interesting two-part post on comedy. The first quoted a Chris Rock interview from Vulture, in which he talks about not playing colleges:

    Q: You recently hosted Saturday Night Live, and in the monologue, where you were talking about the opening of One World Trade, my wife and I both felt just like you: No way are we going into that building. But you look online the next morning, and some people were offended and accused you of disparaging the 9/11 victims. The political correctness that was thought to be dead is now—

    A: Oh,…

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    Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash: A Parable of Stifling Perfection

    Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash: A Parable of Stifling Perfection

    [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…

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    Another Week Ends: Life in Psychiatric Records, Faith as Ambiguous Blessing, Evangelical Women, Relentlessly Positive Millennials, Flawed In-Laws, and Friends of Sinners

    Another Week Ends: Life in Psychiatric Records, Faith as Ambiguous Blessing, Evangelical Women, Relentlessly Positive Millennials, Flawed In-Laws, and Friends of Sinners

    1. If anyone thought that medical records couldn’t be riveting and deeply touching, you’re not alone. But George Scialabba, an acclaimed thinker, writer, and book reviewer, voluntarily posted his psychiatric medical history in the current issue of The Baffler. Apart from the courage and vulnerability  such a move shows, as well as the compassion for fellow sufferers which presumably undergirds his release, Scialabba’s post offers a curious mixture of elements as a reader: self-reproach for such intimate voyeurism combined with a feeling that you’re really seeing yourself; wonder at how far short even highly accomplished people can fall far short of…

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    Mockingbird: Bringing You the Gospel (pt 40)

    photo-saved-by-Jesus.2

     

    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

    Preaching to the Choir: Hermeticism in Religious Discourse

    Preaching to the Choir: Hermeticism in Religious Discourse

    There was a time in Christianity when approval could be gotten for free, when repeating X orthodox arguments against y heretics would, no matter how pandering to existing consensus or intellectually unoriginal, garner adulation. I think back to poor Tigranes, the Armenian king who was facing attack from the Romans in the first century. A messenger warned him and was killed, so subsequent messengers brought only assurances, and they spent several weeks in a nice, Armenian echo chamber. All voices concurred and dissent punished by exile or death (back to the RC church now), and this singleness of mind, leading…

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    Tavris and Aronson on Justification

    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.

    Old Persuasive Words: Seven Common Theology Phrases That Should Be Used More Precisely

    Old Persuasive Words: Seven Common Theology Phrases That Should Be Used More Precisely

    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…

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    Another Week Ends: Misplaced Fear, Further Reflections on an Epidemic, Recovery and the Ego’s Death, Dave Eggers, Marilynne Robinson, and Clickhole

    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…

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