The Proliferation of Bullshit (via Brene Brown)

The Proliferation of Bullshit

Someone who lies and someone who tells the truth are playing on opposite sides, so to speak, in the same game. Each responds to the facts as he understands them, although the response of the one is guided by the authority of the truth, while the response of the other defies that authority and refuses to meet its demands.
The bullshitter ignores these demands altogether. He does not reject the authority of the truth, as the liar does, and oppose himself to it. He pays no attention to it at all. By virtue of this, bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are.
Harry G. Frankfurt, Professor Emeritus, Yale University
(From his book, On Bullshit)
One of the biggest sources of bullshit today is the proliferation of “If you’re this then you’re automatically that” and “You’re either with us or you’re against us” politics. These are emotional lines that we hear invoked by everyone from elected officials and lobbyists to movie heroes and villains on a regular basis. They’re effective political moves; however, 95 percent of the time it’s an emotional and passionate rendering of bullshit.
Normally, we used forced choice and false dichotomies during times of significant emotional stress. Our intentions may not be to manipulate, but to force the point that we’re in a situation where neutrality is dangerous. I actually agree with this point. One of my live-by quotes is from Elie Wiesel. “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”
The problem is that these emotional pleas are often not based in facts, and they prey on our fears of not belonging or being seen as wrong or part of the problem. We need to question how the sides are defined. Are these really the only options? Is this the accurate framing for this debate or is this bullshit?
If alternatives exist outside of these forced choices (and they almost always do), then the statements are factually wrong. It’s turning an emotion-driven approach into weaponized belonging. And it always benefits the person throwing down the gauntlet and brandishing those forced, false choices.
The ability to think past either/or situations is the foundation of critical thinking, but still, it requires courage. Getting curious and asking questions happens outside our ideological bunkers. It feels easier and safer to pick a side. The argument is set up in a way that there’s only one real option. If we stay quiet we’re automatically demonized as “the other.”
The only true option is to refuse to accept the terms of the argument by challenging the framing of the debate. But make no mistake; this is opting for the wilderness. Why? Because the argument is set up to silence dissent and draw lines in the sand that squelch debate, discussion, and questions—the very processes that we know lead to effective problem solving.
Our silence, however, comes at a very high individual and collective cost. Individually, we pay with our integrity. Collectively, we pay with divisiveness, and even worse, we bypass effective problem solving. Answers that have the force of emotion behind them but are not based in fact rarely provide strategic and effective solutions to nuanced problems.
We normally don’t set up false dilemmas because we’re intentionally bullshitting; we often rely on this device when we’re working from a place of fear, acute emotion, and lack of knowledge. Unfortunately, fear, acute emotion, and lack of knowledge also provide the perfect set-up for uncivil behavior. This is why the bullshit/incivility cycle can become endless.

 

It’s also easier to stay civil when we’re combating lying than it is when we’re speaking truth to bullshit. When we’re bullshitting, we aren’t interested in the truth as a shared starting point. This makes arguing slippery, and it makes us more susceptible to mirroring the BS behavior, which is: The truth doesn’t matter, what I think matters.

Boring Christianity

No one tells you that Christianity is a 70 to 80 year grind in becoming more kind, more gentle, more giving, more joyful, more patient, more loving. You learn that God isn’t in the rocking praise band or the amped up worship experience. What you learn after college is that Holy Ground is standing patiently in a line. You learn that Holy Ground is learning to listen well to your child, wife or co-worker. Holy Ground is being a reliable and unselfish friend or family member and being a good nurse when someone is sick. Holy Ground is awkward and unlikely friendships. Holy Ground is often just showing up.

Richard Beck

The Fortunate

I have accepted the challenge of reading William Manchester’s tome “The Last Lion”, a 1000 page, three volume biography of Winston Churchill. I have found it to be fascinating and I am enjoying it very much. The first volume contains considerable information on the Victorian era and the British aristocracy in particular. As a member of the British aristocracy, Churchill’s worldview was deeply influence by the Victorian ethos.

Victorian British society was characterized by the fortunate (aristocracy) and the unfortunate (everyone else). I was struck by one particular quote describing those times.

It was, James Laver writes, “probably the last period in history when the fortunate thought they could give pleasure to others by displaying their good fortune before them.”

I would suggest that Laver was short-sighted. It seems to me that such a description may be properly applied to the fortunate of our day and age.

Nostalgia is not a (Christian) Virtue

“Nostalgia is not a Christian Virtue”  was pronounced in a recent speech by Shaun Casey to the Christian Scholars Conference at Lipscomb University. Below is the abstract for his plenary speech “Rage, Nostalgia, and the Forgetfulness of God”

The planet is awash in anger and rage while nostalgia seems to be an increasingly seductive choice for many Christians. All of these traits are related broadly to memory. What accounts for this rage? Is there a better Christian response to memory than nostalgia? And what are we to make of the theological claim that God is capable of remembering sin no more? This lecture will explore the nexus of anger, rage and nostalgia in our time and offer a theological critique of nostalgia while claiming a role for forgiveness as a form of intentional divine forgetfulness.

Dr, Casey’s speech specifically addresses Christians’ response to the rage that permeates our society, however, I would suggest that his observations regarding nostalgia are generally applicable. It is my intention to summarize his thoughts on nostalgia and hopefully relate them to personally relevant contexts.

Nostalgia has been a subject of interest to me for quite some time. The following is a quote about tradition and nostalgia I saved some time ago. Unfortunately, I am unable to attribute its source.

Nostalgia differs from tradition. Tradition encompasses a variety of received beliefs, practices, and associations that are passed down from generation to generation.   Like nostalgia, tradition seeks to bring the past forward into present experience.

However, nostalgia is primarily affective in nature. Nostalgia is wistful remembrance. The word itself comes from two Greek words which, when combined together, signify “homesickness.” One of course can be nostalgic about tradition, but the two concepts should not be equated.

Nostalgia is something in which we indulge. That’s fine, as long as we treat it like a piece of rich cheesecake. Making a steady diet of it is not good for our heart health. The most dangerous thing about nostalgia is when it assigns sentimental value to past experiences to such an extent that it virtually defines those experiences as “truth.” unknown

The past informs the present, but it also serves the present. When the present serves the past, we are stuck in nostalgia, longing for the good old days— a sure recipe for emotional and spiritual dysfunction. Pete Enns

I am curious about what I deem as a  prevalence of nostalgia in family and church contexts. Facebook  is one of the most prominent examples of nostalgic content. In fact, I would suggest that nostalgia is one of the foundations for the success of Facebook. Previously, I have not been able to identify possible reasons for the nagging concerns I felt about nostalgia until I listened to Dr. Casey. His analysis stimulated numerous questions worthy of further inquiry. My goal for this post is to share a brief summary of his remarks on nostalgia.


The response of today’s Christians to the anger and rage that permeates our society and culture is nostalgia.

Nostalgia is a begotten form of memory that, more often than not, masks darker impulses. It is the pursuit of that which never was, in an attempt to address some perceived current malady. Nostalgia needs a narrative of failure and loss to be attractive, and intellectually and psychologically effective. Something from the past has disappeared or is experiencing some existential threaten. Such circumstances are necessary to make the restoration of what was lost persuasive. All nostalgic narrative have a golden era.

The loss is often imaginary and not real. Memory manufactured or misbegotten can be as powerful as memory of real events. It is important to be able to separate the two.

Listening to Casey’s description of the nature and character of nostalgia, I immediately thought of the people of Israel and their complaint after being delivered from Egyptian bondage.

In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.” (Ex. 16)

The results of nostalgia are evident both historically and currently. They have/are shaping our culture in ways that are of great concern.  Casey’s statement that “memory manufactured or misbegotten can be as powerful as memory of real events”  is a warning that should not overlooked. Casey cites The Benedict Option with its appeal to the loss of “Traditional Christianity” as an example of a nostalgic construct. Defenses against removal of Confederate monuments framed by ideas of “Southern Pride” , “erasing history/heritage”, are nostalgic constructs. The power of these misbegotten memories are being demonstrated vividly every day. The most prominent and scariest nostalgic construct is “Make America Great Again”.

Of a particular concern for me is the prevalence of nostalgia within the context of Christianity, specifically western evangelical Christianity.  Beyond the Benedict Option, an underlying factor in many , if not most, theological and ecclesiastical conflicts is some sort of nostalgic construct. I think my own religious heritage, the Restoration Movement, which is largely influenced by nostalgic constructs historically and contemporarily. I am aware of the sweeping nature of my comments but I believe there is a plethora of anecdotal evidence to justify serious examination.

It is apparent that memory is the key factor in nostalgia. Casey points out that all memories are not created equal. Our memories may be manufactured or misbegotten, or they may well be truthful. How can we separate the two? He suggests that such an examination should begin by answering the question. “To what moral end are memories cultivated?”

It is apparent to me that I have exceeded my pay grade in this discussion. There are so many rabbit trails to pursue  that my tendency is toward paralysis but I intend to press on.


Questions to be addressed:

  • How do I know my memory is true?
  • Is there good nostalgia? or Is all nostalgia unhealthy?
  • Is nostalgia just a a form of fantasy?
  • How do I engage people who hold beliefs based on a nostalgic construct?

Desire (Rohr)

Desire

Who of us can say with total certitude that we know we’re doing God’s will? I can’t on any day of my life, and it’s very unsatisfying. That’s what it means to “bear the mystery” of the cross, to agree to find God in a clearly imperfect world. We would much sooner have certitudes, we would much sooner have order and control and know who the good guys are and who the bad guys are. Most would prefer beliefs, dogma and perfect objective morality to biblical faith any day. Certitude allows you to predict and control outcomes, and to justify rewards and punishments. That’s not all bad. The trouble is that is not the message of the cross.

Thomas Merton expressed the doubt and uncertainty we all face in this familiar prayer:

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. [1]

Take a few moments to be still and quiet, to allow your deepest desire to well up within you and come to the surface of your awareness. In the silence, connect with your longing for union and intimacy with God. Name this intention and, as you go about the day, return to this sense and statement of your desire.

 

 

True Expression of Faith

The true expression of faith is its best defense, because it transforms broken lives.

 

My experience has shown that when we welcome people from this world of anguish, brokenness and depression, and when they gradually discover that they are wanted and loved as they are and that they have a place, then we witness a real transformation — I would even say ‘resurrection.’ Their tense, angry, fearful, depressed body gradually becomes relaxed, peaceful and trusting. This shows through the expression on the face and through all their flesh. As they discover a sense of belonging, that they are part of a ‘family,’ then the will to live begins to emerge. I do not believe it is of any value to push people into doing things unless this desire to live and to grow has begun to emerge.

Jean Vanier

Paradox and Christian Purity

A pivotal paradox for us to understand is that simplicity is both a grace and a discipline. It is a grace because it is given to us by God. There is no way that we can build up our willpower or contort our natural tendencies to attain it. It is a gift to be graciously given and received. At the same time, simplicity is also a discipline because it is something we are called to do. Spiritual disciplines (prayer, meditation, etc.) do not give us simplicity, but they do put us in the place where we can receive it. Perhaps we need to learn to speak in terms of “disciplined grace.” Isn’t that the profound reality which underlies the symbiotic alliance between faith and works?

A second paradox is closely aligned with the first; Christian simplicity is both easy and difficult. It is easy in the same way in which all other Christian graces are easy once they have ingrained into the habit structure of our lives. It is difficult because there are times of struggle and effort, times when we despair and feel that the complexities of this life are about to do us in. But occasionally, in the midst of the chaos we have a sense of entering into true Christian Simplicity, knowing that it is only by the grace of God.

The third paradox has to do with the balance between the inner and outer dimensions of simplicity. As I mentioned before, living in Christian simplicity would be easier to understand and to practice if we could only reduce it to a system of external rules. However, an outer expression of true simplicity must necessarily flow from the inner resources. Without an inner simplicity, all external efforts are in vain. At the same time, we delude ourselves if we think we can possess the inner reality of simplicity without it having a profound effect upon the way we live.

The fourth paradox is particularly relevant to those who seek to follow Christ in such a materialistic world. It is the affirmation of both the goodness and the limitation of material things. To deny the goodness is to be ascetic. To deny the limitation is to be materialistic. So often the biblical teaching on provision has been taken and twisted into a doctrine of gluttonous prosperity. Incarnated into our theology are covetous goals under the guise of the promises of God. Misery arises not only when people lack provision but also when they try to make their entire lives out of provisions.

Christian simplicity does not yield to simplistic answers. It is the ability to be single-hearted and at the same time sensitive to the tough, complex issues of life. It is a strange combination and quite difficult to explain, though quite easy to recognize. There is focus without dogmatism, obedience without oversimplification, depth without pride. It means being aware of many complex issues while having only one issue at the center—obedience to Christ.

Christian simplicity is not just a faddish attempt to respond to the chaotic and materialist world in which we find ourselves; it is a call given to every Christian in every age to follow Christ.

Richard Foster

 

 

Humility

“Humility is the mother of all virtues; purity, charity and obedience. It is in being humble that our love becomes real, devoted and ardent. If you are humble nothing will touch you, neither praise nor disgrace, because you know what you are. If you are blamed you will not be discouraged. If they call you a saint you will not put yourself on a pedestal.” 

Mother Teresa’s 15 Guidelines for Cultivating Humility

1. Speak as little as possible about yourself.

2. Keep busy with your own affairs and not those of others.

3. Avoid curiosity.

4. Do not interfere in the affairs of others.

5. Accept small irritations with good humor.

6. Do not dwell on the faults of others.

7. Accept censures even if unmerited.

8. Give in to the will of others.

9. Accept insults and injuries.

10. Accept contempt, being forgotten and disregarded.

11. Be courteous and delicate even when provoked by someone.

12. Do not seek to be admired and loved.

13. Do not protect yourself behind your own dignity.

14. Give in, in discussions, even when you are right.

15. Choose always the more difficult task.

 

Death – Roger Cohen

I listened this week to an inventor, a brilliant man convinced of the proximity of human immortality, which he believes to be just a couple of medical bridges away. He’s taking dozens of pills to ensure that he reaches the first of those bridges, perhaps around 2030. I confess immortality, whose attainment is a hot theme in Silicon Valley, does not interest me.
When I think of it the image that comes to my mind is of a blazing hot day with the noonday sun beating down in perpetuity. The light is blinding. There is no escape from it, no perspective, no release.
The most beautiful times of day are dawn and dusk when shadows are long, offering contrast, refuge and form. Death is the shadow that gives shape to existence, urgency to love, brilliance to life. Limitless life is tedium without resolution.
As Ecclesiastes has it, there is a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted. I find it hard to imagine what inner peace can exist without acceptance of this cycle — the bright green of the first spring leaf, the brittle brown leaves of fall skittering down an alley in a gust of wind.

 

None of which is to urge mere acquiescence to death, whether physical or political, in this season when death merchants are on the march. On the contrary, this is a time to rage, a time to heed Dylan Thomas: “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”