Archive for July, 2005


Beware the Straw Men

July 31, 2005

Here’s the scoop: A blogger presents his views on Christians and the idea of Hell. In that presentation, he says this about Christians,

“(they have) their signs that insinuate that God is so unloving and unmerciful that He will consign billions of people there for an infinite time because of their finite sins after He made the world in such a way that they mostly cannot realistically be expected to fulfill His supposed requirements for escaping that place where it is “hotter”…not cool…peace…”

Now this is what is called in Rhetoric a ‘Straw Man’. The Straw Man fallacy is committed when a person simply ignores someone’s actual position and substitutes a distorted, exaggerated or misrepresented version of that position. This is so easy to do with Christian doctrine, because some nut somewhere believes or teaches just about anything you can imagine. In this case, the writer above supposes that all Christians, or the majority, believe that hell was created by God for people who cannot realistically live up to his expectations. Therefore, since this is inconsistent with the idea of a Loving God, it cannot be true. Therefore, hell cannot be true. This is called a straw man.

But that view of Hell is not the predominant position of Protestant Christianity and never has been. That may be the view of a few snake-handling preachers in the backwoods, but I have traveled to many parts of our fair land and have only once heard this view taught. Let’s put this straw man to the test with a real argument.

The Bible never teaches that God created Hell. Nor does it teach that God consigns people there arbitrarily or capriciously. Hell is simply existence without God. Separation from God. God created a world where man could live without sin and have perfect communion with God. Even after sinning, Mankind could still seek after God and desire to know Him. Because sin has the effect of confusing the spirit, God sent many people to tell us about Him. Then He came Himself in bodily form (Jesus) to show us His love. He removed the effects of sin from us and gave us full access to His Spirit living inside our spirits. We have access to God forever if we choose.

Because freedom of choice is the greatest gift God gives us…a gift He will never take back…God cannot force people to be in His Presence. To be in Heaven, in God’s Holy Presence, would be torture to anyone whose sins were not taken away. God offers to take them away, but some people don’t want that. So God gives them another choice. Our spirits were created to be eternal, like God is. He will not take that away either. So if we don’t want to be with him, we are choosing to be alone…forever. That is what Hell is. The burning is simply that knowledge that we could have had so much more and never will. Hell can be, and is, experienced on this earth before people die.

When those who don’t believe in God throw up arguments, make sure they aren’t erecting a Straw Man before you start to answer. You may be defending something that has no substance.


Chaos Theory Revisited

July 29, 2005

How would you like to be the commander of the Space Shuttle at the moment? You’ve just found out that your take-off experienced a similar mishap to the one that eventually killed the previous Space Shuttle crew on re-entry: ie. The foam insulation on the external fuel tank broke off and hit the spacecraft.

Here is her reaction: “We were actually quite surprised to hear that we had some large pieces of debris fall off the external tank,” Commander Eileen Collins said…”I don’t think we should fly again unless we do something to prevent this from happening again.” Here is the link for the full interview and article.

When it happened on the last flight, everyone from the Commander of the Shuttle to the NASA engineers said it was too small an event to be concerned about. They didn’t even bother to check out the condition of the heat shield while docked in space. After all, the piece of foam that broke off the first time was so small and light that a small child could pick it up with ease. Yet, by the time the shuttle came through our atmosphere at extreme speeds and built-up velocity temperature, the “non-event” of the foam insulation carried huge implications.

Right now, they are yawing the craft and taking many pics to determine the state of the heat shield. I can imagine. Score another one for Chaos Theory.

If you’re not a mathematician, and I assume most reading this are not, let me give you a bird’s eye view of this very speculative and fascinating field of study. Chaos Theory says that the more one studies an item, the more complexity is found. The more complex something is, the harder it will be to predict its future actions. This theory lead to another theory, popularly called “The Butterfly Effect”. This effect supposes that all of our weather is inconceivably complex; so much so that if a butterfly takes off from a flower and disturbs the air around it, the resulting change in air pressure and movement can set off a chain of events that may lead to a Monsoon halfway across the planet. An avante-garde film was made about chaos theory called “The Butterfly Effect” which I would recommend if Ashton Kucher had not been in it.

Chaos Theory also teaches us something about choices. We often do not see the significance of each choice we make throughout a day. We do not consider that bad choices, which we might consider to be of little or no consequence, may carry huge “butterfly effect” catastrophes with them. Perhaps you remember this children’s nursery rhyme:

For want of a nail
the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe
the horse was lost.
For want of a horse
the rider was lost.
For want of a rider
the battle was lost.
For want of a battle
the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want
of a horseshoe nail.

A horseshoe nail can cost a kingdom. As they said in World War 1: “Loose lips sink ships”.

A friend of mine worked for a company that hosted helicopter ski missions in Eastern British Columbia, with breathtaking views of virginal snowcapped peaks. During one trip up, a guide decided to take two skiers with her to a new glacier they had never traversed. All three were expert skiers and knew their stuff. But, the girl was in such a hurry to get up there, she didn’t double-check the tie-downs on the skis which were on the top deck of the chopper. During flight, one of the skis worked loose and flew into the blades. The chopper came down instantly and all four were killed.

In therapy last year, I spoke with an elderly man who had struggled for years with depression. When we entered one phase of his therapy, we got down to the core of his problems. When he was twelve, a friend of his took ten dollars from his bedroom and never paid him back. For years, he held hatred of this kid in his heart. He decided from that day forward that no one in his life was trustworthy. He also decided never to allow anyone to get close to him. Because all of us are communal beings, he suffered this tension between needing community and fearing it.

The Butterfly Effect was still working in him 57 years later.

I believe that the major limitation to any behavioral science is the absolute complexity of the heart of a person. Behaviorism believes that by careful observation and study, we can understand the motivations and actions of any human being. In fact, if the course of a person’s life can be reasonably charted, then the prescription for correction can be adequately assessed. But that’s a big “if”. I think this theory falls victim more often than not to chaos theory. People are too complex to chart. The minutia of our lives defies any attempt to explain them. How can anyone trace back depression 57 years to its humble beginnings, its beating of a butterfly’s wings? I certainly can’t, which is why I believe that we must know ourselves and know God who knows us better than we know ourselves. Only God can reveal the secret motivations of the heart. Once we see our own hearts, then and only then can we chart a course of future actions.


Darfur Probably Needs a Celebrity

July 27, 2005

Nicolas Kristof makes this chilling observation: “The genocide in Darfur would get much better press if Michael Jackson’s trial had been held there”. He takes his fellow journalists to task for not even giving as much column-space to this genocide as they did to the mass murder of Armenians prior to World War 1. Kristof is not only to be admired, he is to be lifted up as one of the only writers in this country who will not let us forget that people are still dying daily in this horror. Read his article and go to the “Save Darfur” link on this page.

He does however, give credit where credit is due…but notice who he credits with doing the best job of reporting:

“Serious newspapers have done the best job of covering Darfur, and I take my hat off to Emily Wax of The Washington Post and to several colleagues at The Times for their reporting. Time magazine gets credit for putting Darfur on its cover – but the newsweeklies should be embarrassed that better magazine coverage of Darfur has often been in Christianity Today“. (emphasis mine).


I’ll Take the Movies Every Time

July 25, 2005

George, Jerry, Elaine and Kramer are in that jail forever. Hawkeye Pierce never quite makes it home. Bart will never grow older, Archie Bunker will never change his mind or buy a new sofa, and Opie will never grow out of his jeans. These television shows have no denouement, no settled conclusion that satisfies, no weaving of the last strands of the morality play. They are not designed that way and cannot end where good stories end.

In its raw, exposed underbelly, television is for one thing: To bring you back the next time. It is the perennial serial comma, punctuated with commercials and sneak previews. We can always escape the ads by flipping through the channels, but have you noticed that every station now synchronizes their ad moments. All of them have commercials at the same time. Even the sports channels. You eventually give up and return to your original viewing and blithely accept whatever Light Beer is being hawked. Television writes their stories so you have to return next week. Or next half hour even. The stories do not end…in fact, television is seen to have failed if they draw up too many loose ends. Why would you continue watching if they did that?

Not so the movies; at least, the way movies are best produced. A movie is a tale, a blatant story with a beginning, middle and end. Though they may not answer all the questions or paint all the directions the characters head, the main point is made and caught. The exception, of course, are the sequels. But these are made either to wring more money out of the movie-going public (as in Spiderman 2 or Shrek 2) or because the book the movie was based upon was too long for one movie (eg. Lord of the Rings), or both. You might leave a theater wanting more of the story, but that is more a delicious feeling than a disappointment.

I like a well-told story. I don’t need “What About Bob 2” or “The Village 2”, because the tale gives me all I need. I escape, I think (or am entertained), I suppose and postulate and guess…but at the end I am left with my thoughts to linger through the days following. I can be bothered by the theme and have to wrestle with its implications (eg. American Beauty). I can notice the slice of life and see both pain and pleasure (eg. The Shipping News). I can marvel at how life can sometimes work out (My Life as a House) or not (The Trip to Bountiful).

But with television, there is little to marvel at. From John Ritter’s ridiculous situations on “Three’s Company” I learned how little they thought of my intelligence. From Fonzie and his motorcyle we learned the expression “Jump the Shark” where we now measure at what point this constant serialization finally gets on our nerves as we watch a show. Every Seinfeld episode is labeled “The One about the…”, as in “The One About the Soup Nazi” or “The One About the Frogger Machine”. How trivial does that feel in comparison with “A Beautiful Mind”, “The Pianist” and “We Were Soldiers”. “The Princess Bride” doesn’t need us to return next week to see how Inego Montoya continues to sharpen his swordsmanship.

I’ll take movies every time. When they’re over, they’re over. There is nothing left but the popcorn butter stains on my fingers. Those I can lick.


That’s Enough Anne

July 21, 2005

Anne Lamott, an example of a Christian Liberal and an excellent writer has gone too far. She hints that the U.S. Government may have had something to do with the attacks in Europe with the goal of eventually taking over our country. In her words,

I am able to believe, about half the time, that Bush and Rove would be capable of orchestrating a second terrorist attack on America, if and when they deem it necessary to instill martial law, which they will.

Grow up Anne. I’m not a Bush supporter or detractor, but even I think you’ve lost most of the lug-nuts on one of your wheels. Here is what one reporter thinks of her pronouncement.



July 21, 2005

See this…I’m not the only one. The human heart needs heroes. Now, when this guy starts bringing conviction by overheating the seats of his congregation with his heat-vision, then that is a misuse of his powers.


Core Lies vs. Derivative Lies

July 21, 2005

To the Reader. Definition: Lie-based thinking is an assumption of fact, gathered by a person in childhood, which is still believed by the person when they reach adulthood. In this context, it is lie-based thinking for one of three reasons: 1. It is not a complete truth (eg. believing that because Mom got angry at you she will always be angry at you). 2. It is a leap of illogic (eg. believing that because an adult molested you, it means this wicked adult chose you because they knew you also were wicked). 3. It is based on lack of experience (eg. Being ridiculed at school for big ears and assuming this means that all kids everywhere hate you…experience will eventually teach you differently).

As our counseling staff wrestles with lie-based thinking on a regular basis, we often identify two manifestations of lies: Core lies and Derivative lies. I was asked by several clients (and regular readers of this blog) to give adequate definitions of both.

A core lie is the very essence of what messes up a child’s thinking. A derivative lie is what that lie becomes in an adult. The derivative is a morphed and personalized form of the core. One example should suffice to show the nature of both. Note: This is not an actual case history. In some senses this is a common composite of many people. If you see any similarity, it is truly coincidental. Better yet, if you see any similarity, contact one of our counselors.

Let’s say a young girl likes to read and spend time by herself. She likes to do this because it is part of her quiet nature. Her mother, an ex-college-athlete wants her to pursue a more active lifestyle and constantly prods her to go outside and play in the playground. She humors her mother and goes outside to play, but eventually just goes on the swing and swings for an hour thinking of stories she would like to write when she grows up. Her mother, looking out the window, sees the little girl just swinging all by herself and is worried. She is worried the girl will never learn to play with others and be on a team when she gets older. So she rushes down to the playground and scolds the little girl for playing by herself. “Do you want the other girls to think you’re unfriendly? Do you want them to hate you forever? That’s not the way to make friends.” So the little girl plays as best she can with the other girls and they all seem to enjoy one another. But that night, as she sits in bed and can’t sleep, a fear is beginning to creep over her. “Don’t the other girls like me? Maybe I won’t have any friends. Maybe I don’t have any friends. Why don’t I have any friends?” This is a core lie. It is one of the eight core lies that we all face (more about what those are in a few paragraphs). This core lie says “There is something wrong with me”. It is a shame lie.

How does that morph into an adult derivative lie? I am assuming that this little girl has chosen to hold onto this lie in the face of evidence to the contrary. Now she is a grown woman, married with three kids. She is a successful dental assistant and loves her husband and family very much. She gets involved in many clubs and organizations and seems to have an endless stream of activities around her. But at the same time, she is always tired. However, when she thinks about letting some of her responsibilities go, she finds this panic begin to form in her. So she never says no to anyone, and never drops a single group she has joined. Eventually she has a nervous breakdown and has to be hospitalized. The derivative lie says she cannot ever let anyone down.

How are the core lie and the derivative lie connected? I don’t really know. That is to say, I don’t know the mechanics exactly of how one became the other. But I can see the connection vaguely. The little girl who feared she would never have friends decided that the only way to ensure that she would have friends was to make herself invaluable to everyone. That way, some of them would count her as a friend. But when this became too much for her, everything gave way, and her house of cards (built upon a lie) came crashing down.

There are eight core lies. Each of them has thousands of possible derivatives in adulthood.

1. I will never be loved. (unlovable lie)
2. There is something wrong with me (shame lie)
3. I will never be clean or acceptable (tainted lie)
4. I am afraid and nothing can allay that fear (fear lie)
5. I don’t need anyone (independence lie)
6. Everyone will leave me or I will never fit in (abandonment lies)
7. I am powerless to change things (helpless lie)
8. There is no hope (hopeless lie)

It is rare that people think about these core lies in their adult years. That is not to say that these particular lies don’t go through the minds of people. But, it is more common for people to allow these lies to morph into more acceptable and sometimes more bizarre shapes in the adult years. Let’s take one of them and look at some variations.

“There is something wrong with me” is the second most common lie behind the Unlovable lie. It can show up any number of ways. “I am stupid”, “I will never get that promotion”, “I look fat”, “My boobs are too small”, “I need a toupee”, “My teams never win”…etc., etc. There can even be some really spiritual sounding versions: “I am content to do that menial job at the Church” (because I really couldn’t do anything important anyway), “This is just the way life goes, and I have to learn to accept it” (for me that is…everyone else sees answers to prayer).
I could go on and on, but you see the point.

Derivative lies cannot be “unthought”. You can’t outwit yourself. The derivative must be traced back to its core before the healing can begin.


Influence versus Size

July 19, 2005

According to the Denver Post newspaper, the fastest growing genre in book publishing (apart from Harry Potter, I assume) is the Christian market. Far and away, this niche market is growing to become larger than most other niche reading groups. The Post theorizes it is coinciding with the growth in the Evangelical Church.

I find that curious, since according to statistics kept by Evangelicals themselves, the Evangelical Church is not really growing! That’s correct. According to the statistics that are kept by these denominations, there is less than a 20% growth in evangelical churches since 1990. That comes out to less than 2% a year. That is less than the birth rate experienced in most of those churches.

Here is my theory: Evangelicals are becoming more militant, more willing to share their ideas with the rest of the country. In addition, there are more large evangelical churches, who carry with them more clout in terms of getting books and articles published. Look at the Post article where it lists the five best-selling Christian books. Three of the books are written by Mega-church pastors ( in fact, two of the three largest churches in the country). I think that these three books themselves account for most of the growth.

I am not sure this is a good thing. I have read all five of the books on that list, and apart from Wallis’ book, I would never read the other four again. They are pap, strictly lowest common denominator feel-good-about-yourself books that should have gone out of vogue in the late 40s. Most of them are copying Napoleon Hill to a new generation, so I’m not sure what the hubbub is all about.

I suspect that my crusade against the Christian Booksellers of America will continue until we see genuinely good books written by Christians, not just bestselling Christian books.


Superheroes Needed?

July 15, 2005

Here is an interesting article on this new “Golden Age” of comic book heroes. Alex Wainer, who teaches on Media in Palm Beach, discusses the latest round of comic book heroes to make their appearance in the CGI-fests that we call Summer Movies. Here is a sample of what he has to say:

Time-Warner, the corporation that owns DC Comics took notice of Marvel’s cinematic success and sought to revive their two heaviest hitters, Superman and Batman, as three-dimensional characters. By treating the source material seriously, i.e., by acknowledging that these characters appeal to their readers for more than their colorful outfits and fantastic strength, studios have finally found the right approach. As Gary D. Robinson put it so well in his recent Breakpoint piece, Batman Begins proved the potential for great storytelling that eluded the previous Bat-films. The upcoming Fantastic Four and next year’s Superman Returns both promise to depict their heroes with the psychological realism their comics fans have always known they had.

As most of the regular readers of the blog know, I was a comic junkie growing up. My favorites were Justice League (seeing all those heroes working together somehow just seemed the right thing), Fantastic 4, and Spiderman. Read Wainer’s article and come back for my final point.

What I enjoyed about F4 was Ben, the Thing. He was never truly happy with being a superhero, though he loved to tell the bad guys, “It’s clobberin’ Time”. His only real joy came when he was in the arms of his blind girlfriend. He was the kind of superhero that came from human stock. Spiderman (Peter Parker) was even more of the same. With his analytical angst growing faster than his webs, Parker never gets over being not liked by people. He only feels comfortable with his Aunt and Mary Jane, the two loves of his life. Peter Parker was my alter-ego. Because of my personality, I was often thrust into leadership, even as a teenager. I hated it then, and when it happens now, I still feel the Parkeresque doubts. Don’t we all?


Understanding a Mass Murderer

July 13, 2005

I’ve been thinking about Joseph Edward Duncan III today. I wonder if anyone calls him Joe? You don’t know his name? He’s the man accused of killing three family members in Idaho and kidnapping and molesting Dylan and Shasta Groene and then killing Dylan. I don’t even have to link to the story. You can find it anywhere, on any news service.

Mass Murderers are not usually my brain’s breakfast food. I can honestly say I despise them and what they do. They cause much more terror for the average person than Osama Bin Laden. But I can’t stop thinking about Joseph Edward Duncan III. Here’s why.

When he was brought to his first bail hearing, and the cameras were all focused on this demented demoniac, he did something I wasn’t ready for. He requested a certain person as a lawyer, some clean underwear and some reading material. These are banal requests, hardly notable or even recordable. But I can’t stop thinking about them.

He has killed a family, ending their existence on this planet. He has raped a young girl, scarring her for life and altering her existence. He has altered the feeling of safety that thousands in the Idaho Panhandle are used to feeling, living as far away from “dangerous” cities as they do. Yet, his face showed no sign he even noticed the effect he had on anyone. He wanted clean underwear. He wanted a certain person to help him in his “problem”.

Then I got it. I got what sin is.

Sin is selfishness. It is becoming wrapped up in our own stuff to the exclusion of others. Of course, it is easy to see that it is Joseph Edward Duncan III on a frenzied hackfest. But it is also the teacher who ignores the bruises on the 8-year old because it is too much trouble to tell someone her suspicions. It is also the office worker who uses the perpetual bad breath of a co-worker as an excuse to exclude them from after-work drinks. And it is as real as my driving by someone struggling to get the flat tire off his car because I am thinking about which fast-food restaurant I want to poison my body with.

Underwear, lawyer, a magazine. The opposite of love is not hate. It is self-absorption. Think where it could lead.

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