Theology/Religion
Evolutionary Psychology and the Allure of Pseudoscience

Evolutionary Psychology and the Allure of Pseudoscience

A review of ‘Survival of the Sexiest’, The Nation.

Why do religions exist? One common, if slightly anti-religious, explanatory scenario runs like this: imagine you’re a prehistoric person without any understanding of gravity, meteorology, or other concepts which explain natural phenomena. You may be led to ask the question, “why does the river move?” The only things we know of that move by themselves are humans and animals, so there must be something ‘living’ in the river. Or what causes the wind? Something living, a spirit, akin to the breath of a human. Part of what lends this explanation its appeal is…

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Vertical and Horizontal Love in 1 John

After Jim McNeely’s brilliant Romance of Grace, I wasn’t surprised to find his latest work, Grace in Community, bristling with insight and comfort. 1 John is a difficult and sometimes-neglected book, but McNeely sifts through it with responsibility, originality, and a down-to-earth approach. Below, he treats the tricky subject of “vertical” and “horizontal” love – love for God and neighbor, with his trademark honesty about the Law’s demands, leading directly to God’s grace:

Notice  John  unifies  “vertical” love  and  “horizontal”  love.  He  says,  “In  this  is  love,  not  that  we  love  God,  but  that  God  loves  us.”  He  is  talking  about  a  vertical  relationship here,  our  love  for  God.  Yet  he  goes  on  at  length  talking  about  horizontal relationships.  It  is  all  mixed  up.  When  we  have  horizontal  love,  God  is  in  it.  The  moralist  wants  to  split  these  up.  The moralist  wants  to  take the  two  laws  as  separate:  love  God,  love  your  neighbor.  John  bridges  that  gap  with  the  gospel  of  Christ  and  Him  crucified.  God  is  love,  and love  operates  in  community.  He  is  saying,  if  you  separate  these  two,  you  cannot  succeed  at  the  one  and  fail  at  the  other.  The  old  commandment to  love  presses  upon  us  the  obligation  to  love  God  and  neighbor.  You cannot  claim  success  if  you  only  do  one  or  the  other;  you  must  succeed at  both.  Jesus  loved  and  forgave  His  own  murderers  and  obeyed  His  Father  to  the  death.  Either  we  succeed  at  both  or  we  fail  at  both.  It  is  a unity  under  the  old  covenant  as  well  as  under  the  new  covenant.  The  old  covenant  presses  upon  you  the  obligation  to  do  both  and  makes  you  the  source  of  power  for  compliance.  The  new opens  the  door  to  the possibility  to  love,  and  empowers  love  through  the  grace  and  forgiveness and  mercy  which  come  to  us  through  Christ’ʹs  blood.  In  Christ,  we  do not  boast  that  we  know  and  love  God;  we  boast  that  we  cannot  know  and  love  Him,  but  He  knows and  loves  us.  We  do  not  trust  in  ourselves or  our  perfection,  but  in  Him  and  His  perfection.  His  perfection  is  that  though  we  slay  Him,  He  resurrects  to  love  us  still.  His  love  abides,  it  persists.  This  is  the  love  that  He  has  for  us,  and  it  is  the  love  that  is  at  the  heart  of  the  love  that  we  have  for  each  other.

Step Into Their World: The Parallel Universes of Alzheimer’s and Improv

Step Into Their World: The Parallel Universes of Alzheimer’s and Improv

By following the rules of improvisation, one family finds love and humor within the wilderness of dementia.

The episode “Magic Words” aired last month on This American Life and in it you’ll hear “Rainy Days and Mondys,” the story of Karen Stobbe, her husband Mondy, and her mother Virginia, who recently moved into their house because she has dementia.

Liv Ullmann on Something Better Than Violence

While we’re on the subject of social media, a highly unusual interview came across my desk this week, with Swedish actress-director Liv Ullmann, widely known for her collaborations with Ingmar Bergman. If at first it sounds like the rant of a septuagenarian, keep reading–would that we all could be so frank. It’s almost enough to make a person want to go rewatch Scenes from a Marriage (which is really saying something!):

Liv+Ullman+2012+IIFA+Awards+Day+2+1gzfVbxS37Il“What is this chatting? And then they Twitter, and I understand the Twitter can be so mean and horrible and people are killing themselves because of what they’re reading about themselves. A lot of evilness comes when you are anonymous.” It’s a false democracy, [Ullman] thinks, a veneer behind which powerful groups can slip in and assume power.

Maybe being famous means she can’t understand why others might want to be celebrities. It’s true, she can’t fathom it – why people would set their self-worth by such a measure. “We should tell them what is really to be cared for. It’s not because you’re suddenly famous, it’s really when you’re sitting one person to another and you are listening to each other and the other person is seeing you and then you have maybe a strange thought and you say it and suddenly see some understanding in the other person. Or you go to a movie and things you didn’t have words for are there. That is the communication I prefer.”

Ullmann apologises. She’s gone off topic, she says. Her eyes are gleaming. She’s made this screamingly mean movie [an adaptation of Strindberg's 'Miss Julie', starring Jessica Chastain and Colin Farrell] to try to show people how not to behave. People ought to feel bad more than they do, she says, to try to make amends. “If you have a row with your husband and you see them lying down trying to sleep and you see they’re so scared, instead of saying: ‘You have to change or I’ll leave’, you should say: ‘I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry.’” When Jesus hung on the cross, he asked forgiveness of the brutes. There’s something that is better than violence. ‘Forgive me’, you should say, even if you have been wronged.”

The Power of Negative Thinking

The Power of Negative Thinking

The 8am service on the Sunday before Labor Day was not well attended, and the rain didn’t help. Honestly, I was only there because I am paid to be. Then came the first reading, from the prophet Jeremiah:

“I did not sit in the company of merrymakers, nor did I rejoice; under the weight of your hand I sat alone, for you had filled me with indignation.Why is my pain unceasing, my wound incurable, refusing to be healed? Truly, you are to me like a deceitful brook, like waters that fail.”

Great. Thanks Jerry. That’s super-helpful. Just what I need for a little…

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Virtual Reality and the Attempt at Limitlessness

Virtual Reality and the Attempt at Limitlessness

If you have yet to see it, The Verge has a phenomenal (and gorgeous!) article on virtual reality that is really worth your time. With Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus VR earlier this year and Sony’s attempt to bring virtual gaming to PlayStation, dubbed “Project Morpheus”, we might begin to see virtual reality making headway into the mainstream—and I have a feeling it might be a bit more sophisticated than the Virtual Boy I had growing up. In any case, Matthew Schnipper has some comments that are on point in the introduction. He writes,

The promise of virtual reality has always been enormous….

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Where Have All the Grown-Ups Gone?

Where Have All the Grown-Ups Gone?

There I was, reclining in the waiting room while my son met with his speech therapist, as I do every week. Computer on my lap—heaven forbid I sit there unoccupied—I was reading A.O. Scott’s new treatise for The Times on “The Death of Adulthood in American Culture.” I like Scott’s writing, so I ignored the instinct to roll my eyes at the prospect of yet another think-piece about stunted millennials; I had time to kill, after all. It opens with some bold claims:

Something profound has been happening in our television over the past decade, some end-stage reckoning. It is the…

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Another Week Ends: Commodified Experience, Counterproductive Shaming, Fake Asia Trips, Net Addiction, and Star Wars Minus Williams

Another Week Ends: Commodified Experience, Counterproductive Shaming, Fake Asia Trips, Net Addiction, and Star Wars Minus Williams

1. The New Yorker weighs in on “bucket lists“, ht DH:

Whence the appeal of the bucket list? To stop and think about the things one hopes to do, the person one hopes to be, is a useful and worthwhile exercise; to do so with a consciousness of one’s own unpredictable mortality can be a sobering reckoning, as theologians and philosophers recognized long before Workman Publishing got in on the act…

As popularly conceived, however, the bucket list is far from being a reckoning with the weight of love in extremis, or an ethical or moral accounting. More often, it partakes of a…

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Left Hooks in Elevators: Acting on the Anger in Our Hearts

Left Hooks in Elevators: Acting on the Anger in Our Hearts

It’s tough to admit this publicly. I’ve kicked the dog a time or two – not recently, but I have struck another living thing out of anger. I think back on that and I cringe, because it feels really dark. It can be terrifying to reflect on a time when I haven’t been able to control my anger. If I were to prioritize the sin tendencies I have in the order of how quickly I want them rooted out of me, vindictive, reactionary anger would be number one. I can’t imagine what it would be like for one of my…

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Over-Confident Men and Underestimating Women: Some Thoughts on Shame and Leadership

Over-Confident Men and Underestimating Women: Some Thoughts on Shame and Leadership

Back in May I read an article in the Atlantic Monthly that rocked me. “The Confidence Gap” addressed the gaping hole of women in top leadership positions. I read it expecting the usual issues: poor math scores, smaller salaries, always feeling behind everyone else. And certainly, this article provided plenty of those sad and disappointing assessments.

As a woman, some of the information was also incredibly helpful. We do not take chances the way men do. We underestimate ourselves. Culture’s need to shape us into “good girls” does permanent damage when it comes to necessary risk taking. But the thing that bothered…

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The Preacher Addresses the Seminarians – Christian Wiman

Good news! Yesterday saw the release of Christian Wiman’s new book of poetry, Once in the West. While my copy is still in mail, I couldn’t resist sharing the opening portion of what Dwight Garner in the NY Times has already called a “major performance” and “near-masterpiece”, one that Wiman was kind enough to preview for us when he was here in 2013, “The Preacher Addresses the Seminarians”. It’s biting and uncomfortable but also extremely funny, a veritable catalog of churchy tropes, both inane and indicting. Given its tone, the ending, which you’ll have to buy the book to read, may surprise you.

 

9780374227012_p0_v2_s260x420I tell you it’s a bitch existence some Sundays
and it’s no good pretending you don’t have to pretend,

don’t have to hitch up those gluefutured nags Hope and Help
and whip the sorry chariot of yourself

toward whatever Hell your Heaven is on days like these.
I tell you it takes some hunger heaven itself won’t slake

to be so twitchingly intent on the pretty organist’s pedaling,
so lizardly alert to the curvelessness of her choir robe.

Here it comes, brothers and sisters, the confession of sins,
hominy hominy, dipstick doxology, one more churchcurdled hymn

we don’t so much sing as haunt: grounded altos, gear-grinding tenors,
three score and ten gently bewildered men lip-synching along.

You’re up, Pastor. Bring on the unthunder. Some trickle-piss tangent
to reality. Some bit of the Gospel grueling out of you.

I tell you sometimes mercy means nothing
but release from this homiletic hologram, a little fleshstep

sideways, as it were, setting passion on autopilot (as if it weren’t!)
to gaze out in peace at your peaceless parishioners:

boozeglazes and facelifts, bad mortgages, bored marriages,
making a kind of masonry in faces at once specific and generic,

and here and there that rapt famished look that leaps
from person to person, year to year, like a holy flu.

 

Anyone interested in Wiman would do well to read Matthew Sitman’s excellent new essay for The Deep Dish, “Finding the Words for Faith”, in which he dubs CW “America’s most important Christian writer.”

When Everyone Loved U2

When Everyone Loved U2

In honor of the surprise release of the new (free!) U2 record, Songs of Innocence, we bring you a reflection on the band from Andrew Barber:

Weird Al Yankovic made me a U2 fan. I’m not proud of it. But it is true.

Every now and then our local library would sell some of their less popular stuff for cheap. On a whim, my dad picked up a cassette for one dollar. You know, one of those small square things you sometimes had to wind with your finger. A single track of the orchestral score from the 1995 movie Batman Forever was…

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On TV: The Leftovers, “The Prodigal Son Returns”

On TV: The Leftovers, “The Prodigal Son Returns”

In Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun, a young man named Severian works as a torturer, and in one scene, he helps administer the torturers’ most mysterious and sacred device: the revolutionary. After having gone through it, the victim says, “I thought I saw my worst enemy, a kind of demon. And it was me…” She will spend the rest of her life – about a month – vying with the long-dormant specter of evil, newly-awakened within her, wrestling it as it slowly takes control of her body. Wolfe’s brutal justice is reminiscent of Dante: the source of her tormenting punishment is…

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Joan Rivers Fought the Law…

Joan Rivers Fought the Law…

If you’re like me (and I hope you’re not), then the name Joan Rivers meant little more to you than “that horribly plastic old woman who can’t think of anything better to do than provide red carpet snark for E!”. Which is why, as news of her passing spread last week (having occurred during a “minor elective procedure”) it seemed at best trivial and at worst ironic, especially in light of other recent celebrity comic deaths.

And then I saw this video, from April 1967…

… and I had the following thoughts:

1. Joan Rivers used to look like a human being!

2. Wow. She’s really…

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PZ’s Podcast: Does The Name Grimsby Mean Anything To You? and Everything Is Tuesday

PZ’s Podcast: Does The Name Grimsby Mean Anything To You? and Everything Is Tuesday

Episode 175: Does the Name Grimsby Do Anything to You?

Ever since 2007 I related to Eliot’s succinct line, “Old men ought to be explorers”. Not that I was exactly an old man, but the line gave me hope. Notwithstanding the end of something, there was something hopeful I could still do. I could try to understand.

Could I become the first man on the moon, like ‘Major Franklin Grimsby’ in Rod Serling’s short story? If I were, would anyone care? (“Does Anyone Know What Time It Is?” – Chicago) Well, at least I’ve tried to try. Lo, a polyptoton.

In this cast,…

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