Fiddling and Laughing

I don’t have a strong opinion on gun control, and won’t give one in the spirit of Neil Postman. But I do have a strong opinion on abortion. Some random thoughts I’ve had lately:

  • Christians on both sides of the political aisle are fired up about gun control. Some don’t want our guns taken from us. Others want to make it harder to obtain a gun. If we, as believers in the image of God, are concerned about life, shouldn’t we be able to come to an agreement?
  • Thanks to living in Lancaster County, I’ve learned that “assault rifle” isn’t actually as James Bond-ish of a weapon as it sounds.
  • Isn’t a founding principle of the Republican Party to protect life? Isn’t a founding principle of the Democratic Party to look after the least of these?
  • While both parties fiddle, we’re approaching the 56,000,000 (56 million) mark in children “legally” slaughtered in this country.
  • In the time it took someone to enter a school and kill 20 children in Connecticut, 90 children in utero were murdered. And gun control is the issue conservatives are viewing as the last straw? It’s like they are saying, “You can take our children, but don’t take our guns.”
  • Well, the last straw also includes a media-driven, alarmist, artificial, political chess match “crisis” called the fiscal cliff.
  • Until we turn off the news and stop supporting their bloodthirsty, alarmist “coverage,” we and the media will continue to give school shooters the outlet they lust after: recognition and vilification. In other words, school shooters won’t stop because of increased gun regulations. 
  • Just like in the wildly successful and efficient disaster naively called the War on Drugs, evil people will still find ways to get their hands on guns no matter how illegal they are. This, tragically, probably also applies to abortions, too.
  • Does anyone else see the inconsistent, self-serving “logic” used by the Vice President? In between laughs, during the vice presidential debate Biden waxed long about how he agrees with the Catholic Church on their stance on abortion, but that he doesn’t want to push his beliefs on others. But recently he jumped at the chance to head a gun control committee to push his beliefs on others through executive order? Come on, Joe.
“They were laughing instead of thinking, but they did not know what they were laughing about.”
-Aldous Huxley in Brave New World
“He was trying to tell us that what afflicted the people in Brave New World was not that they were laughing instead of thinking, but that they did not know what they were laughing about and why they had stopped thinking.”
-Neil Postman in Amusing Ourselves to Death



Woe is Us: Christians are Hate-Filled Hypocrites

Christians love to hate themselves. Or at least like to think that others do. Christians think that everyone else thinks that Christians are racist, homophobic bigots! Christians are just as immoral as non-Christians! Christians also love to paint themselves in a negative light. Christians divorce at the same or higher rates than non-Christians! Young people are leaving the church in droves, never to return! The sky is falling!

Regardless of the motivations for doing so (to keep the faithful scared and the scared faithful? to fuel evangelism efforts? to increase altar calls?), it’s not right. Religious sociologist (and evangelical Christian) Bradley Wright (associate professor of sociology, University of Connecticut) tackles the most popular negative stereotypes of Christians that are passed off as common knowledge in his 2010 book, Christians are Hate-filled Hypocrites: And Other Lies You’ve been Told.

Wright systematically, intelligently, and factually debunks these common myths, ranging from the supposed immorality of Christians, the impending extinction of American Christianity, Christian demographic and intellectual makeup, Christian divorce rates, and non-Christians’ perceptions of Christians. Let me boil Wright’s thesis down for you: don’t believe everything you read in polls, don’t believe George Barna, and negative numbers about Christians need to be controlled by actual religious commitment. Wright heaps a liberal dose of (well-deserved) blame on Barna, but news media, pastors, bloggers, and sloppy researchers also share in the blame.

A common thread of Wright’s critique is that most polls are poorly constructed, poorly interpreted, and are merely alarmist nonsense. Most polls (Barna and Gallup are the worst perpetrators) are inaccurate. When controlled for church attendance (sociologists’ best way of determining how committed people are to their faith), the numbers aren’t alarming at all, and in many instances they are actually encouraging. Wright does acknowledge that some perceptions of Christians are accurate, namely in terms of race relations. Christians unfortunately do score low on racism and other prejudicial measures.

Controlled for church attendance and commitment, teenagers and young adults are not leaving the church in record numbers, and committed Christians have a very low divorce rate. Further, even with mainstream media and Barna spin, the general public does not think unfavorably of Christians. In fact, most of the negative perception of Christians has to do with the word “evangelical,” with people reacting unfavorably to that increasingly politicized term in poll questions. In a lot of ways, Wright’s book dovetails with Neil Postman’s advice in Technopoly to not believe poll numbers unless you know what questions were asked, and for what purpose.

Wright’s book isn’t perfect. It is repetitive, in that many of the conclusions can be summed up by controlling survey analysis for church attendance and committedness. There are dozens of graphs, charts, and numbers. But thankfully, Wright can write, and presents his data and arguments in an accessible, witty, convincing way. His arguments are a refreshing change to the doom and gloom so prevalent in American Christianity. His newer book, Upside: Surprising Good News about the State of Our World (2011), expands his thesis to a global scale.

The moral of the story? Don’t believe everything you read (especially if it comes from the pen of George Barna), and American Christianity isn’t as bad as you hear. The consequences of thinking pessimistically and not being informed of the true state of the church are that we spend resources in fixing problems that aren’t actual problems.

Digital junkies

Did you know:

  • You are most likely not as good of a multitasker as you think you are
  • Many people would rather clean their toilet than clean up their email inboxes
  • The average person in the Western world consumes the equivalent of 200 single-spaced pages of text per day, but only remembers about 10 percent (if that)

Check out this well-done student video for more:

No, the irony of posting this video on my blog is not lost on me. And no, it’s not a perfect video, with several assertions and statistics that need to be verified or contextualized, but it is at least excellent food for thought. After watching, turn off, tune out, unplug.

Broad, flapping American ears

“Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end, an end which it was already but too easy to arrive at; as railroads lead to Boston or New York. We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate. Either is in such a predicament as the man who was earnest to be introduced to a distinguished deaf woman, but when he was presented, and one end of her ear trumpet was put into his hand, had nothing to say. As if the main object were to talk fast and not to talk sensibly. We are eager to tunnel under the Atlantic and bring the Old World some weeks nearer to the New; but perchance the first news that will leak through into the broad, flapping American ear will be that Princess Adelaide has the whooping cough. After all, the man whose horse trots a mile in a minute does not carry the most important message; he is not an evangelist, nor does he come round eating locusts and wild honey…

“This spending of the best part of one’s life earning money in order to enjoy a questionable liberty during the least valuable part of it reminds me of the Englishman who went to India to make a fortune first, in order that he might return to England and live the life of a poet.”

-Henry David Thoreau in Walden, 1854

Just another barren thrill

“Diversion at most, through weariness and fatigue, can numb and distract anxiety. Though the bored person hungers for things to happen to him, the disheartening fact is that when they do he empties them of the very meaning he unconsciously yearns for by using them as distractions. In popular culture even the second coming would become just another barren ‘thrill’ to be watched on television till Milton Berle comes on. No distraction can cure boredom, just as the company so unceasingly pursued cannot stave off loneliness. The bored person is lonely for himself, not, as he thinks, for others. He misses the individuality, the capacity for experience from which he is debarred. No distraction can restore it. Hence he goes unrelieved and insatiable.”

-E. Van den Haag, 1957, quoted in Ken Myers’ All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes, 1989, p. 63-64

76 reasonable questions

The more I read by and about Jacques Ellul, the more I like. He was a contemporary of Marshall McLuhan and a predecessor of Neil Postman. He is as difficult to read as McLuhan, more philosophical than Postman, and more religious than either of them. He was also more of a technological determinist than either of them who was worried about the influence of technology on life, culture, and faith. I found his “76 reasonable questions” to ask about any technology to be intriguing, if not overwhelming. The vocational and moral questions are especially poignant. I retrieved this list from Dr. T. David Gordon’s website, where Gordon comments that the questions are “Interesting and helpful in their own right; if you pose them to an engineer, the result is as amusing as watching a cat chase its tail.” Be sure to check out many of the other links and papers on Gordon’s site.

What are its effects on the health of the planet and of the person?
Does it preserve or destroy biodiversity?
Does it preserve or reduce ecosystem integrity?
What are its effects on the land?
What are its effects on wildlife?
How much, and what kind of waste does it generate?
Does it incorporate the principles of ecological design?
Does it break the bond of renewal between humans and nature?
Does it preserve or reduce cultural diversity?
What is the totality of its effects, its “ecology”?

Does it serve community?
Does it empower community members?
How does it affect our perception of our needs?
Is it consistent with the creation of a communal, human economy?
What are its effects on relationships?
Does it undermine conviviality?
Does it undermine traditional forms of community?
How does it affect our way of seeing and experiencing the world?
Does it foster a diversity of forms of knowledge?
Does it build on, or contribute to, the renewal of traditional forms of knowledge?
Does it serve to commodity knowledge or relationships?
To what extent does it redefine reality?
Does it erase a sense of time and history?
What is its potential to become addictive?

What does it make?
Who does it benefit?
What is its purpose?
Where was it produced?
Where is it used?
Where must it go when it’s broken or obsolete?
How expensive is it?
Can it be repaired?
By an ordinary person?

What values does its use foster?
What is gained by its use?
What are its effects beyond its utility to the individual?
What is lost in using it?
What are its effects on the least advantaged in society?

How complicated is it?
What does it allow us to ignore?
To what extent does it distance agent from effect?
Can we assume personal, or communal responsibility for its effects?
Can its effects be directly apprehended?
What ancillary technologies does it require?
What behavior might it make possible in the future?
What other technologies might it make possible?
Does it alter our sense of time and relationships in ways conducive to nihilism?

What is its impact on craft?
Does it reduce, deaden, or enhance human creativity?
Is it the least imposing technology available for the task?
Does it replace, or does it aid human hands and human beings?
Can it be responsive to organic circumstance?
Does it depress or enhance the quality of goods?
Does it depress or enhance the meaning of work?

What aspect of the inner self does it reflect?
Does it express love?
Does it express rage?
What aspect of our past does it reflect?
Does it reflect cyclical or linear thinking?

Does it concentrate or equalize power?
Does it require, or institute a knowledge elite?
It is totalitarian?
Does it require a bureaucracy for its perpetuation?
What legal empowerments does it require?
Does it undermine traditional moral authority?
Does it require military defense?
Does it enhance, or serve military purposes?
How does it affect warfare?
Is it massifying?
Is it consistent with the creation of a global economy?
Does it empower transnational corporations?
What kind of capital does it require?

Is it ugly?
Does it cause ugliness?
What noise does it make?
What pace does it set?
How does it affect the quality of life (as distinct from the standard of living)?

Information Overload

Kevin DeYoung on the glory of plodding – a fantastic read. “What we need are fewer revolutionaries and a few more plodding visionaries. That’s my dream for the church — a multitude of faithful, risktaking plodders. The best churches are full of gospel-saturated people holding tenaciously to a vision of godly obedience and God’s glory, and pursuing that godliness and glory with relentless, often unnoticed, plodding consistency.”

The Web Shatters Focus, Rewires Brain. If you’re familiar with my previous posts on media ecology, this won’t come as a surprise. Media ecologists have been saying similar things for years. But it’s great to see some more scientific inquiry into the fact that we use our tools, but our tools also change us. (ht:challies)

Introducing Hymns to a Contemporary Congregation. I’m slightly sad that a post like this is necessary, but it is good nonetheless.

Foxy News. Doug Wilson in the Washington Post writing about the pornification of Fox News. “A number of evangelicals are up in arms about President Obama himself, and Obamacare, and Obama-other-things, and Obama-anything-else, and are warning us in dire tones about the impending slavery that is involved in all this ‘socialism.’ And–full disclosure here–I am economically pretty conservative myself, just slightly to the left of King Arthur, so I am not pointing out this part of it to differ with any of it. But what I am noticing in this discussion is a striking public tolerance for right-wing skankyness. When I am cruising around for my Internet news, I am far more likely to run into Moabite women at Fox News than anywhere else.”

Top Ten Reasons You Should Quit Facebook. I haven’t quit Facebook, but I’ve limited my information, guarded my privacy settings, and don’t use it as much.

Flip Flop Fly Ball. Some humorous and well-designed graphs for the baseball geeks.