Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Afterlife In Popular Opinion

I told a story to a friend/acquaintance about a person who had done wrong but was now deceased. "Boy, his wife is going to have a few things to say to him when she sees him, huh?" came the head-nodding comment. The acquaintance is not any kind of churchgoer, as far as I can tell. I concluded that his comment is something close to the American Average.

I tried to tease out what was in this.  He sees the afterlife as a place where one primarily sees the people known here.  All truths are now laid bare. You receive an accurate judgment of your actions. But the judgment does not come from God, it comes from other humans. Perhaps God is in the background as a sort of backstop to the whole affair.

From what I read in the American Average, those who suffered, suffer no more. Their bodies are strong and healthy, their evil oppressors have no more power over them, their weaknesses are turned to beautiful strengths. But God is rather absent from this as well.  Every tear shall be dried, but by whom? Deity implied at a distance perhaps. As with Christmas and Easter, some of the essential themes are recognisable, but the major player has been removed.

Apparently God is too intense, and we prefer to look away, put on sunglasses. In that, the rest of the world is only exhibiting in exaggeration what even the best of Christians cannot help but do. It's all very CS Lewis and The Great Divorce.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Additional Cause of CAGW

In answer to the obvious question, of course I remembered the theme song. Got a few words wrong, though.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Minor Update

(Bumped because of Comments)

I am set on my heels in the evaluation of "Darn Nice People."  I have learned more than I am willing to share, but one important point:  There is a continuum of underdog rooting that eventually gets to the pathological.  Yet underdog rooting is in itself a good human quality.  It is along this axis that part of the trouble lies.

As with most other sins, this is virtue out-of-control, unchecked. I am tempted to say that in half-measure, this would be good.  But I have read enough Lewis (and Tolkien, Chesterton, Solzhenitsyn, Orwell, MacDonald) to suspect first that this is a quality that has evil in it down to the root, which only manifests as quantity increases.  Dangerous territory, of course, because that is easily said about the virtue of conservatives as well. Subtle dangers cut to the bone.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Life Begins At Conception

I don't find abortion mentioned often in HBD writing, except occasionally in the context of sex-selection or speculations about selecting for other traits at some future date.  If I had to guess, I would say that few of that crowd are strongly pro-life, simply because 1) it's never mentioned and 2) there is a slightly lesser percentage of religious people, and Catholics and Evangelicals make up most of the strong pro-lifers.

It is interesting then, that they are coming to a very Catholic position in one small part of the discussion: who you are is very much more determined at conception than the rest of the culture believes. I don't know what comes of it.  Perhaps nothing. But it's interesting.

Japan 2013 = USA 1963

I am listening to all fifty songs in the mix. I love them and want to take them all home.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Family-Friendly Church

There is much deploring going on about the unbearable lightness of the gospel in America. Well, it's what we teach the children, certainly, so if you don't attend church after age 12 or so, you will not ever hear much else.  Children's sermons are about being nice to others, seeking to do a good work for any sad or downtrodden person, or praying when you are scared.

That is hardly a terrible thing.  We teach what can be learned, what is appropriate for their age and circumstance, and what is likely to have some reality. Though I suspect that in countries where Christians are persecuted the lessons might be different.  We don't really want to teach those lessons here, because they awaken fears of trials and dangers that are not likely to come to pass anytime soon. Most experienced adults have encountered bright children with strong imaginations who were caused unnecessary pain by sharp lessons.  Those children are particularly good at accusing the church when they grow up and leave it as adults, which puts us back on our heels even more.

Yet children encounter danger in books and movies with great pleasure. (Or do they?  Troubling images stay in the mind for years.) Perhaps we are too timid.

Not only the children.  Because at least the older children remain present at most family-friendly worship services and church events, their parents don't get exposed to much that is alarming either. It is not just that the theology is streamlined - the reality of pain and suffering in this life is politely ignored as well.

Times of public prayer offsets this somewhat.  Even if the requests focus largely on the medical, the military deployments, and the job searches and marital problems (of the extended, not nuclear family), we all get to be reminded that it's not all cakes and ale.  Small groups provide this as well.

Still, I wonder what they teach in Syrian and Indonesian Christian churches these days.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Dietary Supplements

Misuse - and perhaps even use - may increase cancer risk.

Tom McAllister, a witty and brilliant neuropsychiatrist (was at Dartmouth, now head of Psychiatry at UIndiana med school) used to say that anything that was strong enough to do you any good must also be able to do you harm.  Gerald Ford used to say something similar about government.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Sippican Cottage: I Must Not Do It

I can hear the echoes.

I hope the book comes out soon.

Sippican Cottage: I Must Not Do It


I have repeatedly stated my admiration for Jonathan Haidt's work, but because I am who I am with natural suspiciousness, I usually only note this in the context of my main point of disagreement. It is unfair of me.  I find his books informative but difficult to read, but that shouldn't prevent me from praising his name in the gates.

Haidt's research shows that conservatives make moral decisions on the basis of five factors, liberals only two.  If you are conservative, you think that this is because conservatives are less simplistic, more nuanced, more philosophically aware of complex moral issues.  If you are liberal, you think this is because your two axes are the important ones, and the other three extraneous.

My objection has always been, from the first time I read his research a decade ago, that the distinction is not that absolute.  Liberals also evaluate morality along the other three lines - of purity/disgust, especially.  His original questionnaire just didn't pick that up, because of the bias he (initially) brought to that study.

Here is another example. Purity/disgust is indeed part of the liberal repertoire of moral decision.

Sunday, April 19, 2015


That is, Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders.  The teaser over at HBD chick's was "Yes, You Can Catch Insanity," so of course I had to follow that up.

It's very strange to start such an article and instantly see your town mentioned.  I looked up the McCune's and I walk past their house on some of my hikes. (Note to locals - over by Karanikas's.) What a harrowing experience to watch your child suffer and his personality disappear, and be helpless to do anything.  The boy is a year or less older than my granddaughter, who lives nearby, so their paths may cross in the future.

The article itself is also quite good.  Inflammation is one of the New Big Things that turns out to cause everything. (Junk DNA and gut bacteria are next.)  But even though the claims are usually overblown, these excitements usually do result in more things being understood and becoming treatable. People escape from misery, and life improves.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Skimming Is Better

A nephew who is many years into grad school sent this article about skimming instead of reading closely. He worried that he would feel he was cheating a bit if he only skimmed material, though he is feeling the pressure at the moment of very little time for pleasure reading.

The article's strongest point is to question whether there was ever a time that we read closely. It may be a false impression because of media. When we used to hold a book in our lap or on a table, it looked, in contrast to our click-click of today, that we were engaging in a much more sustained activity.

I'm pretty sure I wasn't.  I have skimmed most of what I have read all my life.  What I felt needed further explanation I looped back on, automatically, endlessly.  I did the same with things I read for pleasure. It has always been leap, review, leap, review, leap, leap, leap, review, leap, leap, review, review, all across page after page. Sometimes it will be leap, leap, leap for chapters at a time, with little doubling back.

I imagine there is a place for close reading.  I'm sure I've done it somewhere, sometime in my life.  Memorising lines for a play, or preparing a teaching for a Bible lesson...

Recipes.  You can get into trouble skimming recipes, and part of why I find them difficult to hold in the mind is that I apply my automatic reading style to them.

Small Group Guides

I have a longstanding dislike for small group guides for Bible studies or Christian books. They seem to leap from the overspecific What does Paul tell the Colossians God has rescued them from ? (v.13) to the overgeneral How do you think you can apply the lessons in this chapter to your life this week? in repetitive fashion.

When I saw the study guides at the bottom of a CS Lewis page, I wondered - hoped, really - that they would be better.  They are.  At least, they look much better.  I haven't tried them.

Life is good.

Hating The Outgroup

Many of you have likely seen this long essay in Slate Star Codex from last fall, I Can Tolerate Anything Except The Outgroup. It needs an editor, but his style is engaging enough that it's not a chore to read.  The content is very insightful.  That is to say, I agree with it, he says it much better, and adds both illustration and extension of what I have said myself.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Who Is Evil?

Three of us who have been in the NH mental health system for many years, at different agencies, were discussing a heartbreaking patient we had all encountered a few times each over the decades.  In particular, we were discussing his mother, who was his guardian most of his adult life.

Nick was my age, born in Hungary in 1952 or 53.  He came with his parents to America during the revolution of 1956.  His mother was Jewish, I believe his father had been as well.  She had lost most if not all of her relatives in the camps during the Holocaust.  We don't know much about his father, because he went back to Hungary after a few years here. (That may say something about the marriage.)

Nick was as severely disorganised a schizophrenic as I have ever met. He was nervous, did not understand the world around him, and evoked deep sympathy among all who treated him, even as he was assaultive, accusing, and difficult. He was tormented every day of his life by what went on in his head.  His mother told us his father was also mentally ill.  she told us that Nick had been brilliant, especially in mathematics, as a child.  This was entirely believable, but mother was the only source for this.

We went years in battle with his mother, trying to get him adequately treated, but she refused, always wanting L-tryptophan instead.  He had been tried on it repeatedly, as each new psychiatrist who treated him wanted to establish a working rapport with the woman.  It was never enough, or the right way, or complicated by other medications we were giving him, or undermined by providers who just didn't understand him. It was always some excuse why we could not ramp up on the antipsychotics and see if that would work.

She lived in town and came to see her son almost daily, and always had criticism for the nurses or doctors who treated him. They didn't see, didn't appreciate, didn't care about him as she did. I worked with Nick a half-dozen times over the years.  I hated her.  I wanted so badly to see him tried just once on adequate doses of antipsychotic medication, to see if that would relive his torment.  We went to court to have her removed as guardian and twice failed.  Courts everywhere are reluctant to remove involved family members as guardians, and this is observably true in New Hampshire. Plus, judges had great pity for her as well.  She had nothing else in all the world.  She had only her boy and their two ruined lives, and one friend she corresponded with, hundreds of miles away.

One of the other two people present felt great pity for her and thought I had always been too harsh on the woman (which is likely true in any event.)  "I used to listen to her a lot.  She just wanted to be heard."  I acknowledged that she was indeed sad and pathetic, but still saw her as straight out of M. Scott Peck's People of the Lie, a malignant narcissist who expressed her rage and pain through the only thing she had left, which was also the destruction of her son's life.  The third person sided about 60% with me that she was in some way evil , but had worked well with her and deeply sorry for her.  He is a nicer person than I.

He had eventually convinced a judge to remove her as guardian, have a public guardian appointed, and Nick finally received adequate dosing.  After so many years there was not much hope he would recover much, but he did improve quite a bit.  He was less confused by his environment, he stopped pacing and circling, and even his face grew calmer, less lined and preoccupied.  He stopped talking to voices, though he told us he still heard them sometimes. (He had been unable to even answer that question for decades.) 

She died within a year, and the friend at a distance wrote to the mental health center and the public guardian to accuse them of killing her. That may at some level be true. Nick was visiting at her house when she died, and he only visited rarely. He did not speak of it after, but remained calm, less troubled.  He was still in need of constant supervision.  He was transferred to a more appropriate placement an hour away, and died about two years after.

Pat Buchanan

I heard Patrick Buchanan on the radio, and I have read his recent writings over at Unz, where he is called Mr. Paleoconservative.” He is in favor of the recently-negotiated deal with Iran, in contrast to most conservatives. His reasoning, if I understand correctly, is that many countries and leaders are indeed fanatic, corrupt, and dishonest, including Iran.  But they are not crazy in the sense of being oblivious to their own self-interest.  Whatever they spout about, threaten, and complain, they do not actually want war with the US. We can therefore trust them, not be honest and abide by terms – they will start in breaking faith immediately – but to be predictable about protecting their own butts.

There is a great deal of sense in this, and it’s not the worst approach we could take. It stems from one of Buchanan’s core ideas – that war always costs more and gives back less than we estimated, a sentiment it is always at least partly true, even when it is not the final truth.

Here is my objection.  One of Pat’s other core ideas is that we have allied ourselves far too deeply with Israel’s interests, and his response to that is almost reflexively to go in the opposite direction.  If Israel is for it, in all probability it is bad for us, he suspects. Additionally, I think his approach is one that works great until the day it doesn’t. More than once it has led to speculation that even WWII should have been artfully avoided, in the hopes that Germany and the Soviet Union, as well as China and Japan, could even more fully offset and exterminate each other and leave us out of it. That has always struck me as a possible but unlikely alternate history.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015


Van der Leun posted this today. It hits me at my greatest area of temptation, I think.

“The settled happiness and security which we all desire,  God withholds from us by the very nature of the world: but joy, pleasure, and merriment He has scattered broadcast. We are never safe, but we have plenty of fun, and some ecstasy. It is not hard to see why. The security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in this world and oppose an obstacle to our return to God: a few moments of happy love, a landscape, a symphony, a merry meeting with friends, a bathe or a football match, have no such tendency. Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.” ― C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

Tuesday, April 14, 2015


I have concluded that I am trying to understand two, and perhaps three separate phenomenon about Nice People, which causes it all to be muddled.  I will regroup and try again.  In the meantime, a few things occurred to me today.

Jumping off from terri's Southern Ladies, who sorta fit my description but don't quite, I went looking for some other equivalent.  The southern ladies who drop racist explosions in the cloakroom might think of themselves as nice people and thus are similar.  Yet I think if one told them they weren't being nice they would acknowledge that, however many excuses and ignorant rationales they put forward. They would agree these were insulting things to say about black people - just deserved.  My Nice People do not understand what you are saying when you challenge them. They are so focused on who they are being nice to and defending that they do not even see that this constitutes and attack on someone else.

One analogy that occurred to me is those folks who are always concerned with What Is Going On In The Schools, and finding covert satanic influences or softening the kiddies up for impending dictatorship. These days it's the belief that Common Core is not merely misguided education, but some active attempt to inculcated dangerous values in children.  They start with some very real complaints and concerns, but lead you into this constricted maze of reasoning soon enough. Some go so far as to forbid CS Lewis and Tolkien because of MAGIC!!! and put forth Medieval rather than biblical theology in support of this.  As no one is really much of a fundamentalist anymore, not even the cults, this oversensitivity is something of a positional good of more-Bible-believing-than-thou. (The link describes PC as a positional good, but I think it applies to fundies quite nicely. Useful concept.) At some point you start shaking your head and say "Do you realise you are not just calling these other people wrong and thoughtless, but satanic and evil?  Do you really think that?" And the answer is not an embarrassed evasion but an oblivious one: Satan uses many methods, children are especially vulnerable, this world is headed toward catastrophe...

You just can't get them to the point of what terrible things they are saying about others, and do they mean that?

My Nice People are more like that.  There is a competitive niceness that drove them into ministry or social work.

I may sort all this out in the next few weeks.  Maybe not.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Punching Up, Punching Down

Garry Trudeau, who I have criticised roundly before, has a recent piece in the Atlantic about Charlie Hebdo magazine's staff being killed in France.  He comes pretty close to saying that they deserved it, because they were punching down against disadvantaged Muslims - and cites the general sympathy of most Muslims in France against Charlie Hebdo as evidence that they must obviously have gone too far.

There are lots of takedowns of this essay, and it will be more fun for you to discover your own.  One clever comment from the site Why Evolution Is True was noted specifically in a friend's email:
Again, the inanity of trying to arrange the world into a neat hierarchy of “privilege” or “power”, with all criticism directed “up”, is breathtaking to me. I hate to go all Goodwin (sic: Godwin) here, but there was a time when the Nazis were just powerless, downtrodden, brownshirts. Had we lived then, would the prescription have been to spare them from ridicule for the vile things they preached, because, hey, they are oppressed by Versailles, they are “powerless”? Are we only allowed to criticize dangerous, vile, and violent ideas AFTER they attain the power they clearly announce that they seek, only AFTER they are a existential threat to the rest of us? That makes no sense whatsoever.
Trudeau may have been punching up when he was a young college cartoonist and Nixon was still president - though the Democrats did take over Congress in 1958 and have seldom relinquished it, so they can't be really considered "down" - but certainly within a few years he was just punching across.  There was, and is, a liberal elite and a conservative elite, with underlings who fight their cultural battles. Who? Whom? applies in many directions.

Reading Trudeau, I think there is some of the definition of who is "down" that is just installed in our psyches and we respond to it, even when it makes no sense.  Don't hit a girl can quickly become Don't pick on a girl. It just seems wrong. Criticising a black person just feels like punching down. Yet when the examples being considered are Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, that's just silly.  It's impossible to punch down on the POTUS and his SOS.  Yet I feel it. It seems mean and low. Decent people just don't do that. It's crazy, but I understand it.

It's got a high school feel, or even younger.  If yelling at a person in school would have seemed like bullying then, it still carries a whiff of it today. It seems like Trudeau is responding in some similar fashion now. North African Muslims would have been a vulnerable minority in his town growing up.  Therefore saying bad things about them is still bullying and hate speech now, even with the recognition that they are armed and have the support of both some governments and some international organisations.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Pop Vs. Country

James has a comparison of pop and country lyrics that is both serious and fun.

I don't listen to either, really.  I don't listen to much of any music at all.  My loss, I assume. Whenever I hear country music I find it different from 40 years ago. Not very surprising.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Darn Nice People

Update: Dubbahdee and terri, neither of whom is notably liberal, both caution that something of my initial premise is wrong, or skewed. They do not see a contrast between personal Niceness and political/social meanness - and being unconscious of that - as confined to liberals or even especially liberal. At some later point I may take up definitions and explore that.  I am trying very hard not to think of Bethany's comment at all, because it looks promising and is distracting.  For the moment, I would comment that the conservatives I actually know, when they say terrible things, are usually of the blowhard variety. That carries its own type of social damage, as it clears out territory so that others elect not to speak, because they just don't want to get into it.  And yes, some of those people do very nice things for others and might fit someone's discussion of Nice People. 

But those aren't quite who I am referencing here. I don't think of them as Nice People, I think of them as Irritating People who have some good qualities.  Terri's description of some southern ladies may come closer to what I mean, but I am not sure of that either.  At present, I am just looking for strong statistical outliers that might be meaningful over a small sample.  I definitely have one in training and talent in the arts.  I know some conservatives in that group, but few. Many liberals. What that means I am refusing to entertain at present. I thought I had one in "parents did not own their own business," but the numbers aren't that high among my conservative friends either. If it holds up at 2:1 I may keep it as an indicator.  Most of my friends have more education than I do, and I'm not seeing a trend there either. I think one is going to show up around folks being attracted to more meditative and Eastern practices, but there may be some circularity in that. I keep trying out theories and running them down the list of my 80+ liberals and 100+ conservatives.  On nearly every question, I have to eliminate half my list because I simply don't know the answer to what their parents did for work or whether they had some childhood tragedy.  Jonathan Haidt uncovered some differences in moral decision-making that have held up to analysis.  I'm looking for weirder stuff than that.  We'll see.


It is easy enough to find critical analysis on conservative websites of why liberals act the way they do.  Some articles are simply wrong.  Some seem to attempt that mind-reading of others' motives I so heartily dislike. Then there are some which are extremely negative, so that any liberal reading it would be deeply offended for himself and for his friends, and reject out of hand – and yet contain considerable truth.  I can read some of those splenetic screeds yet still say I know people like that.  I know people just like that. Even more, I can read the writings and observe the behaviors of a great many public liberals and see these worst characteristics covered by only the thinnest disguises.  In that latter group, this is the majority. How do smart folks fall for this?

Yet most of the liberals I know are darn nice people. I can see the enabling of evil in what they think and what they say, and sometimes a type of evil peeks out from them as well.  But that would hardly be untrue of conservatives or libertarians also, would it? Enabling evil and evil peeking out are the human condition. 

The folks I see are helpful, they get along with others, often far better than prickly conservatives.  They are generous, they would visit you in hospital or jail, they would give a kind word when you were down*. I don’t believe for moment that their kindness is an act.  Parts of it may be self-serving, or self-deluding, or personal conflict avoidant or some other insincerity, but again – how is that different from all of us?  Are they worse, somehow?  More self-deceptive?

It goes farther than saying “they seem like nice people.”  It would be fairer to say “they seem like the nicest people.” Some liberals made death threats against the owners of a pizza shop.  But these are not those liberals.  I would be absolutely disbelieving if you heard such things had been traced to their phones – as I should be.  They wouldn’t do that.

I don’t think these are mere ironies.  I think the darn niceness is connected to the public dangerousness. I can list off a few theories I have read about that, including some of my own.  I likely will end up in one or more of those as my explanation. But for now I would like to go back to square one and just collect data.  I want to come to a personal explanation that does not just sound plausible and fits some known facts, but something I think is generally and deeply true.  It doesn’t have to be universal or airtight – people are various and slip the nets of description.  But I want to understand better.

So who are they?  My examples will be drawn heavily from social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, APRN’s, other medical and MH professionals, mental health attorneys; family members past and present; denominational ministers, Christian vocation staff, and members of Christian churches; scattered others. They are older than average, because so am I. Some of those categories are almost entirely made up of liberals, in others they are the exception.  There may be value down the road in looking at those associations and percentages, but for now I am at a more basic level. Simpler data. Some of my examples are folks who are very liberal, sometimes they are slightly more ambiguous. When I sense that some vague liberalness quotient drops to 60-40 I stop counting them for research purposes. I have 61 on my list at the moment.  I’m hoping to get to 100 people I actually know reasonably well, because I’m going to have to cut some from the list as I realise I know only 1 teeny fact about their politics.

BTW, I am assembling my list of conservatives for a similar exercise.  But at first look, there's a lot more variety there, a lot fewer common factors.

Comment away, but no theories yet.  We've got enough of those.  One initial observation is that a lot of them have talent and training in the arts, including that unfortunate tendency to regard the arts as a bit holy, more elevated.  I'm looking for stuff like that for the present.

 * Actually, I don't really know that. Maybe when I look at them they won't turn out to be actually generous, favor-doing, and kind.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Death Penalty

The subject is coming up in this region because of the Boston Marathon bombing trial of Chechen (perhaps more properly Dagestani) Dzhokhar Tsaernaev. Massachusetts is as blue as a state gets, but it pays to remember that all states are purple, after all.  There are many never-no-never anti-death-penalty citizens here, but even some of those are squishy at present. The vehemence of those who want revenge, who want him to suffer and are debating only because they think life imprisonment would make him even more miserable always surprises me.  I come at this from a different direction.

Ex-mayor of Boston Ray Flynn has been sort of rambling, but notes that he has been anti-death-penalty because of the danger of getting it wrong and executing an innocent man. He acknowledges that's not the case here.  I think Flynn's objection is the most sensible, and the only one which carries much weight with me.

I worked 20-30 years ago with dangerous sexual offenders, and still get one on my caseload from time-to-time. Because of this, I went to conferences and trainings in that specialty. The director of prison programs in RI and CT, Peter Loss, (no, I am not kidding) hammered home an idea that has stuck with me in all subsequent discussions of people's dangerousness: Once guilt is established, the safety of the community is the goal which trumps all others.  Whether the inmate is miserable or happy becomes so entirely secondary that it barely factors into our decisions. If we focus on the inmate, we lose focus on the community. If we take revenge because of our feelings today, we might relent and fell sorry for a contrite-sounding inmate 20 years later. And we might be wrong, allowing him to go to his father's funeral or some such, and expose the community to danger unnecessarily.

Because these things have happened many times.

The community's need is met by life imprisonment, but it is met more surely by execution. For those criminals who seek notoriety, the grand spectacle of an execution does feed their narcissism somewhat. No matter. Executed criminals are more quickly forgotten.  We think no one could ever forget this crime which consumes us now, but it will fade.  The details will be fuzzy soon enough.  If he lives, someone from the Globe will do an update story on him every few years, keeping his name alive. That would do as much to encourage those who share his goals as any supposed martyrdom would.

The theory that government violence gives a legitimacy to violence is interesting, but there is nothing to suggest it's true. I don't see that it demonstrably dulls us to pain, death, or evil. That appeals of a death penalty will be long and expensive is true, but not very relevant to me.  We will pay money to support him, or pay money to keep ourselves true to our own standards by enabling appeals. There is no way out there.  I don't believe length of years gives him more years to repent.  Anecdote suggests that coming up against the hard edge of execution does that better.

I prefer that we execute him.  But if not, I will think of it no more. The safety of the community is our focus.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

After James's comment under Casual Meanness, below, I looked up "therapeutic deism," a term I thought I might have read before.

Yeah, that's what I'm talkin' about.  Its full title is Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, from Soul Searching a sociological study of the religious beliefs of young people that came out a decade ago. The central characteristics of this religion are
several moral statutes not exclusive to any of the major world religions. It is this combination of beliefs that they label Moralistic Therapeutic Deism:
  1. A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.
  2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
  3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
  4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one's life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
  5. Good people go to heaven when they die.
Well, not just youth, I'd say.  They didn't invent it out of nowhere.  We have been moving in this direction since my childhood in a Congregational Church.  Many of Garrison Keillor's characters seem to draw from this spring.  I get the sense that people who hold these views do not think this is a description of correct doctrine so much as a bare minimum that any other religious person has to reach in order to be credible. It's not very intellectually rigorous, certainly.  There's a lot of "But what if..." that hasn't been thought out here.

Still, the great majority of people in any time and place haven't put a lot of independent thought into their beliefs.  Dissenters of various stripes do a bit better in thinking, but they usually pretty quickly just fall into some other rut that happens to present itself. As it has ever been. On a FB thread from a minister friend last night was the reply "...he called people to know and follow him, to find the positive of life-of-the-vine that transforms us, not the negative of stop-doing-that-first..." This was by an adult. 

When I went back to get the exact quote just now, I found my comment there had been deleted, BTW.

There are plenty of nominations who to blame for this, but as I see it criticised in Both Lewis's and Chesterton's writing, I don't think the origins are American or recent.  I do think this is the religion that will bring down the Church in the West. It already guides even the believers. Unconfortable truths can always be headed off as hurtful.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

River River

Now that I know we have an actual geographer reading along, I reprint a fun post on geographical names from 8 years ago.  I will note that since that time I have become interested in Theo Vennemann's theories about naming in Europe.


I mentioned at work that hydronyms, particularly river-names, are among the oldest names in any location. Many American rivers have kept their Indian names, or even the name from the tribe preceding the one we encountered here. England has Brythonic (Breton) river-names everyhere, and Romania retains some Dacian river-names. That would be, uh, from the people before the people before the people before the people who are there now.

Naming does not seem to be particularly original in any culture. "Big River" and "Dark River" covers a lot of ground worldwide. Rio Grande and Mississippi sound very charming, but are just "Big River." Compare also Lake Superior. There is also the Yangtze, "Long River" - not much different; and Yukon, "Great River." Under the category of "Dark River" we have the Susquehannah, the Thames, and about a hundred others.

But this is nowhere near the worst of it. The word for river is related to the word "flow" in many languages: German Fluss, Anglos-Saxon Floss, Latin flumen. I don't want you to get the idea that river names built off this mean something charming like Flowing River. They just mean "flowing," or "flows" or "flowing water." Very concrete, our ancestors were. Most rivers that empty into the Danube just mean "flow" in various languages.
The most common name, actually is just "river." Danube, Don, Donets, Dniester, Dniepr, and Tyne from the same root that just means "river." The Rivers Avon in England - there are at least three - all mean "River River." Potomac River means "River River"

We do this today without a thought. In New England, if you are going to The Cape, there is only one, even though there are dozens. In Jersey you go to The Shore. Wherever you are, if you say "We're going to The Lake," people know what you mean.

You can find a few bright rivers, white rivers, fast rivers, fish rivers and the like, but Big, Dark, or River pretty much covers it.

Most groups just call themselves "The People," or "The Human Beings," or "The Folk."

Casual Meanness

Related to the previous post:  I think the main danger of division in the church is not gay rights, or pacifism, or socialism, the role of women, or any of the common topics of the day.  It is the casual meanness of Nice People in discussing these issues.  They are insulting and self-righteous and do not see it.  The simple exercise of reading back to oneself how these same words would sound coming back does not even occur to them.

How could it?  They are well-defended.  They think of themselves as kindly people, and comfort themselves with images of the worst examples of their opponents.  They aren't mean like them.  They aren't haters like those awful people who call themselves Christians.

The folks at Westboro Baptist are mean, the health and wealth Positive Jesus people are condescending, but they are of no real danger in the long run.  It's the Nice People, who have no awareness that they are one and the same who will someday make the church indistinguishable from "the popular opinions of the best people."

Radical (Blank) Of The Gospel

I find whenever some Christian tries to sell me an idea as an example of the Radical Grace, or Radical Generosity, or Radical Forgiveness, or Radical Anything of the Gospel, it turns out to be an idea that I think is not especially Christian at all.

It is certainly true that the Gospel is radical.  One would think, therefore, that radical this and radical that would pop up in relation to Christian ideas all the time. Theoretically, that should be true.  I find in practice it is not.  Radical has become not only a covering word, it has become a bullying word. My opinion is really Christian.  You just can't hear it because you are fainthearted and lukewarm and don't have the courage to.

Update:  Maybe "missional" should go in there too. 

Sports Radio

There are three sports stations I can catch on my morning and evening commute. I switch among them to avoid commercials.  Let me note that ESPN's Mike & Mike, a national show that should represent better talent than mere local shows, gets far less than 33% of my time.  It's the Phil Donahue, the Oprah, the Ellen DeGeneres of sports radio.  I just saw that Golic has a bet on the women's basketball tournament that requires him to dress up as a leprechaun and sing the UConn fight song if Notre Dame loses. Stop the madness.

Saturday, April 04, 2015

Slogging Through Woods on a Slushy Morning

Whose woods these are I have no clue
They're not on any map I knew
I might be found by Act of God
Or hunt of wolves before I'm through.

The snowmobiles must think it odd
To see that human boot has trod
Into the frozen stream and bog
A guide's mistake and woodsman's fraud.

I stumble cursing in the fog
And splay across a fallen log
The only other sound's the scream
Of weakened tree and rabid dog

The woods are vile, an evil dream
The miles are leaden, long they seem
With no clear way to cross the stream
With no clear way to cross the stream.

(Jump Off The Page Title)

The only reasonable name for this post is "Nigger Nose," but I didn't want the traffic that would generate.  My motto is usually any attention is good attention, but not in this case.

Rogers Ledge, way up north in NH, above the Lakes Region, above even the White Mountains and well into the Great Gulf, used to be called "Nigger Nose" in 1934, according to the USGS survey* map. Strangely, it wasn't called that four years earlier. Usually that sort of change of embarrassing name flows in the other direction.  The USGS didn't name these things, of course.  They just wrote down what the locals told them.  It never occurred to me until now that there might be dispute and disagreement about that.  Folks on the east side of a mountain might call that little hump over there one thing, folks on the west might call it another.

I am not familiar with the topography in question, nor at what angle it must be viewed to deserve the racial name, and I'm not going to try, because I'm sure it would irritate me.  I don't go northwest out of Berlin all that often anyway.  There are two of NH's 4000-footers nearby, Cabot and Waumbek, and it's nearly 3000' itself - there's a good trail to it, apparently - so it must get climbed.  Great views, they say.  I'm more interested in the name.  That far north in NH is not a place where one would expect any sort of familiarity, let alone expertise, in the matter of African-American nose shapes.  Working from photographs, I suppose, or more likely, cartoons. Or what some other guy told you. I can't find anything on the internet that references the name and whether there was any controversy about it.  Most likely, the racist name just slowly dropped out of use as decent people refused to use it. If I knew there was a good story behind it I might try and get ahold of other old maps, but I'm betting not. Just an ugly little reminder of how people used to talk quite off-handedly.

*The UNH library site for historical USGS topos of NY and New England is a quite marvelous place to get lost.  I can figure out which year my grandfather built his farm in Westford and when he put in the chicken coop by looking at the maps.  I can see where long-defunct roads one went and when they put in the secondary highways.

Thursday, April 02, 2015


I wonder why childhood memories are so much more powerful at evoking memories than ones from our young adulthood.  I had nostalgia in my 20’s for events and places 10-20 years earlier.  I now have a much longer reach into the past, 60 years of memory before the present date, but events 30 years ago don’t attract nearly as well.  If I am nostalgic for adult events at all, it is usually for situations in which my children were young.  Events without them might be recalled, and are often pleasant, but few of them grip.

Or rather, the nostalgia is different.  I find it fun to revisit road rallies, some earlier small group Bible studies, some Dungeons and Dragons, but I don’t tear up over them.  No Sehnsucht, no desire to find some old road that can take me back there. Cabbie, take me to my childhood. I don't mind the cost. Of courtship, it is the first few months that evoke those soft-edged, pink-cloud memories – yet they were not the best times.

Knowing that memory is inaccurate, and each remembering is not based on the original event, but on the last time we remembered, my guess is...

because they were remembered most often, they fit the overall narrative of our lives better.  They have been smoothed over, defanged. They are nonthreatening - and less real.