Books


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.

An Honest, Color-Coded Library

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Via tomgauld.com

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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A Conference Week Ends: Lila, Marshmallows, the Human Condition, and Epistomological Courage

A Conference Week Ends: Lila, Marshmallows, the Human Condition, and Epistomological Courage

1. Lots of interesting news on the how-can-we-be-sure-God-exists front. We’ve had our own part of that conversation, highlighting our own favorite Atheists and the hip trend of flogging Dawkins (dibs on Flogging Dawkins as a band name!). If the patterns are to be believed, it seems that the trajectory is toward a more humble, less aggressive atheism that acknowledges its own non-rational presuppositions. And humility is good for everybody, theist and atheist alike. Gary Gutting over at the New York Times sums up his series of interviews with religious philosophers, and while the ending seems disjointed (I’m an agnostic Catholic?), the middle is helpful:

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Another Week Ends: Startup Cities, Dangerous Perfectionism, Marilynne Robinson, Self-Satisfied Commissars, Subconscious Songwriting, and Cosmopolitan Hope

Another Week Ends: Startup Cities, Dangerous Perfectionism, Marilynne Robinson, Self-Satisfied Commissars, Subconscious Songwriting, and Cosmopolitan Hope

Before we get going, the Houston Conference is almost here!! While we never turn anyone away–last minute walk-ins more than welcome–we need to know by Monday morning (10/13) if you are planning/hoping to dine with us. You can either pre-register on the site (through Tuesday at midnight), or send us an email at info@mbird.com so we can reserve you a plate. The food is going to be delicious!

1. First off, this is both incredibly fascinating and incredibly sad. Perhaps you’ve heard of The Downtown Project, a “start-up city” in Las Vegas founded and pioneered by Tony Hsieh, the guy behind…

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Hopelessly Devoted:  Romans 10:12

Hopelessly Devoted: Romans 10:12

Today’s devotional comes from the Rev. John Zahl:

For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile… the same Lord is Lord of all… (Romans 10:12, NIV)

In this passage, the Apostle Paul denies the legitimacy of a particular strain of categorization. He suggests that “there is no difference between Jew and Gentile.” He wants to get rid of something that runs rampant in each and every society, and in so doing, achieves something incredibly rare. What does he want to get rid of, and what does he hope to accomplish?

“Jew and Gentile” are racial and religious distinctions. Paul assumes that his…

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Marcel Proust on Self-Sabotaging Discipline

Marcel Proust on Self-Sabotaging Discipline

Someways into the Frenchman’s third volume, his masterful forays into the life of the mind sound a distinctly practical, as well as Lutheran, note. The sentence structure takes some getting used to (occurrence of the word ‘which’ in English language, a probably corollary of overwrought syntax, has almost halved since the time of Moncrieff’s translation, though not without a promising recent resurgence), but the sentiment is timeless. The narrator recalls trying to write more and for other good habits, but his desired behavior eluded him still-more when he tried to exercise self-control:

If only I had been able to start writing! But…

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Frederick Buechner on the Confusion of Faces

Frederick Buechner on the Confusion of Faces

A great section from Frederick Buechner’s The Hungering Dark, a book of meditations on the light that can be found in the darkness of doubt. Reminiscent of a staircase invention we’ve heard of before…

There is a silly little jingle that goes something like this:

My face I don’t mind it
For I am behind it,
It’s the people out front get the jar.

But, on the contrary, the person inside gets the jar too. You catch sight of your face in the mirror when you are brushing your teeth in the morning or combing your hair, and often…

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“My Fall My Stay”: Addiction and Low Anthropology

Some more highlights from John Z.’s remarkable Grace in Addiction:

“The only person lacking desperation is the one who does not know herself very well. Usually a few examples of typical, universal human difficulty are enough to ‘raise the bottom’ to the point where the idea of powerlessness will connect with any layperson. Let’s explore some of these…

Like Swiss cheese, people are full of holes. The Twelve Step approach is quick to draw attention to those holes, rather than try to dodge, cover, or counterbalance them. So which weaknesses tend to be present universally? The Big Book provides its own list:

“We had to ask ourselves why we shouldn’t apply to our human problems this same readiness to change our point of view. We were having trouble with personal relationships, we couldn’t control our emotional natures, we were prey to misery and depression, we couldn’t make a living, we had a feeling of uselessness, we were full of fear, we were unhappy, we couldn’t seem to be of real help to other people…” (52)

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I have yet to meet the person who cannot identify with a least one of the items on that list. Who, for example, is a stranger to fear? Jesus offered a similar list in his famous Sermon on the Mount, but his list also included anger, lust, and anxiety. These are the “classics”, and they account for much of the content of the day-to-day experience of being human.

Using similar logic, AA would liken sin to sickness. R. C. Sproul voiced this sentiment when he wrote, “We are not sinners because we sin; we sin because we are sinners.” We would happily extrapolate along those same lines: “we are not alcoholics because we drink uncontrollably; we drink uncontrollably because we are alcoholics.” Have you ever thought of misdoing as a kind of illness? Like an allergy or a virus, self-centeredness cannot easily be mastered or controlled. The good news is that our negative attributes can become a bedrock upon which effective spirituality can be built. Without them, there is no hope for spiritual rejuvenation; in the place of health, there is apparently no need for recovery.

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The realization of our own weakness is so counterintuitive to human nature that the revelation can be rightly ascribed to the divine. A Christian would ascribe this work to the Holy Spirit. The old-fashioned word for it is repentance.

And so it is with the entire progression of AA’s Twelve Steps. As the ego is deflated and self-confidence is discouraged at every turn, something called “faith”, or “God-confidence” miraculously begins to take its place – although it doesn’t appear that way to the subject at first. In Step 12, AA refers to the fruit of this faith as “a spiritual awakening.”

We close this section on Step 1 with an incisive quote from the sixteenth-century English theologian Richard Hooker:

My eager protestations, made in the glory of my ghostly strength, I am ashamed of; but those crystal tears, wherewith my sin and weakness was bewailed, have procured my endless joy; my strength hath been my ruin, and my fall my stay.

Another Week Ends: Cosmopolitans, Accepting Feedback, Instagram Envy, Ideology Trumping Art, Hawaii Sucks, Muggles, and Mudbloods

Another Week Ends: Cosmopolitans, Accepting Feedback, Instagram Envy, Ideology Trumping Art, Hawaii Sucks, Muggles, and Mudbloods

1. While we try to stay away from plugging anything too exuberantly, and Lord knows TV/movie recs can make one less likely to watch, not more, still – writer/director Whit Stillman is coming out with a new show on Amazon, Cosmopolitans, which sounds like a not-so-veiled reference to his acclaimed feature debut about young WASP life in NYC. Vanity Fair this week got a preview of the pilot, and TV snobs will be heartened to know that Stillman cited Everybody Loves Raymond and Desperate Housewives as favorites. Cautiously optimistic, Stillman said that even if the show doesn’t get picked up, he’s happy to have just a pilot: “I really feel that…

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Steve Brown on the Laughter of the Forgiven

Steve Brown on the Laughter of the Forgiven

Mockingbird-favorite Steve Brown’s classic, When Being Good Isn’t Good Enough (recently revised in a new edition), calls us to enter the impasse of the overcontrolled Christian, half-looking at ourselves or at others with one eye, while the other one’s uneasily flitting back and forth to the scoreboard, seeing how things are measuring up. It admits that despite our doctrinal sophistication, our born-again spiritual credentials, our good work, and/or our pursuit of holiness, something still seems to missing. Brown says we miss laughter, the normal reaction to one’s own silliness or unexpected good fortune, because we take ourselves very seriously – especially in faith…

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Raleigh W. Hayes Snubs the General Confession

Raleigh W. Hayes Snubs the General Confession

Another look into the redemptive story of the Prodigal Son’s elder brother, Raleigh W. Hayes, and his mischievous minister father, the Episcopal minister Earley Hayes.