Thursday, December 29, 2005

Mob Violence and Fallen Nature

The good Dr. Veith is blogging about the severe beating of a black man by a mob of teenagers. His point is that people will be shocked that their neighbor boy could do such a horrible thing. There are a couple of psychological principles to point out here: One is called diffusion of responsibility, which occurs whenever there is a crowd of any sort. There is a terrible story of the murder of Kitty Genovese in 1964 that was witnessed by at least 38 of her neighbors and lasted for over half an hour, but no one called the police or tried to stop it because everyone thought someone else would. The other is called deindividuation, which is a sense of losing one's identity in a crowd. These established social psychological phenomena are sometimes used to defend people's behavior while in a group. My own take is that the "nice boy" next door is the facade and the violent mob member the reality. People are likely to obey social rules when they know that they will be identified and get in trouble if they do not. But these inhibitions drop away in a crowd, when someone thinks that their own contribution will not be noticed.
I though about this a while back when there was a beer-throwing incident at the Browns/Jaguars game. The next day there was a shot of an easily identifiable fan on the front cover of the newspaper. Imaging being that guy. You were just doing what everyone else was doing. But someone was aiming a camera in your direction. We did the following exercise in one of my classes: I handed out index cards to every student and asked them to write down what they would do if they could do anything physically possible (no flying) without getting caught or identified. Answers typically fall into the sex, violence and stealing categories. Of course this little demonstration is designed to draw out the illegal and immoral rather than the wholesome (although one of my students thought not getting caught would be a great tool for evangelizing in hostile places). The point is that we are fallen, gravely so.
This is also why I am reticent to take the "I didn't mean it" defense when someone says something cruel or hateful. Even if the Christ didn't say that "out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks" I would still be suspicious of the origin of words that were somehow generated but not willed (more often, not intended to be spoken, but certainly held and even cherished in the heart.)

Lessons? I can think of a couple:
1. Knowing about the diffusion of responsibility effect can help you fight it - when you see an accident, remember that others are NOT likely to help and may NOT have called the police, so you should do it. I'm sure the victim would rather the police be over-called than under-called.
2. In groups do periodic "I am me" checkups, especially if you are susceptible to losing yourself (do you get so mentally and emotionally involved in a movie that you forget that you are sitting in a movie theater?)
3. Don't trust your heart as far as you can kick it - when the conditions are right, the evil that has been there all along will come jumping out. Search it, squeeze it, doubt it, even ignore it, but never trust it. (By heart here I refer to intentions, affections and the will largely.)

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Working behavior of the common Male Beta

My wife got me a fish tank for Christmas that includes a full office working environment for the fish: desk and computer, executive chair, office plant, filing cabinet, trashcan. What better gift for a budding vocational psychologist? I did just realize that I have doomed my Beta to the living hell of never being able to leave the office! Actually, he is not a good representation of the quality of "satisfactoriness" (the corollary of satisfaction - the organization's satisfaction with the worker) in that he is constantly shirking his duties...hiding behind the filing cabinet or hanging out under the desk...he rarely even touches his computer.
Help me out, what would be a good scriptural symbol of work or labor? Perhaps the ant. Any others?

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

iPaq Audit

As a college student my roommate would catch me staring at my book shelf, almost as if "the answer" was to be found thereon if only I looked hard enough. This was for me what is called an Approach-Approach conflict - which is indecision based on having to select or reject among mutually desirable options. I still have this problem, but I carry it around with me in my iPaq, which I have filled with books over the years. I recently looked at what I had and was a bit startled by the bulk (no particular order):

  • 88 articles for my dissertation
  • 137 short self-help articles by the founder of the place that I work
  • Paul Vitz's Sigmund Freud's Christian Unconsious
  • Articles by Pastor Snyder on Forgiveness
  • Anselm's Cur Deus Homo
  • Paul Strawn's translation of Luther's Antinomian Theses (Don't Tell Me That!) and Luther's On Christian Freedom (How to Live a Christian Life)
  • 2 papers on Job and Theodicy
  • G. K. Chesterton's The Everlasting Man
  • 16 issues of teh Concordia Journal
  • Papal encyclical Laborem Exercens
  • 17 Internet Monk articles from the archives
  • 12 LCMS position papers
  • 10 Old Solar essays
  • 47 articles gleaned from the old Christian Counterculture ezine
  • Every Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy book
  • 15 Papers I wrote in college
  • Audio files of the Christ in All of Scripture series from Issues Etc.
  • Balzac's Droll Stories
  • Response to the Joint Declaration on Justification
  • A paper on the history of Christians in Psychology
  • Sacred Meditations by Johann Gerhard
  • A database of Quotes
  • A database of facts that I think I will eventually need
  • A paper on the history of Trent
  • The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent
  • Complete text of Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters, Out of the Silent Planet, The Grand Miracle, The Great Divorce, and all seven books of The Chronicles of Narnia (I don't know where I got these, but since I own legitimate copies of these, my conscience is clear)
  • a paper on the Religious Fundamentalism Scale - Revised
  • Pocket E-Sword with ESV, Darby, ISV, the Message, the Greek and for some reason sermons by Spurgeon
  • Audio files of my Daughter saying funny things
  • The Book of Concord (Kolb and Wingert edition) - I own the CD-ROM and converted to html for mobile edification
  • Augustine's Confessions
  • Augustine's The City of God
  • Augustine on Christian Doctrine
  • Luther's Bondage of the Will
  • Luther's Table Talk
  • Luther's Concerning Christian Liberty
  • Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, Brothers Karamazov, Notes from the Underground, and The Idiot
  • Soren Kierkegaard - collection of religious writings called Provocations
  • 14 papers from the Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary Journal Theologia
  • Various funny things that Josh S. has said in the past.

Loose Association

In Young Guns 2, after Billy the Kid shoots some guy with a roll of dimes in a shotgun he says, "Best buck eighty I ever spent." Which is the sentence that goes through my mind every time I get a venti coffee at our new drive-through Starbucks which is $1.80. Some mornings it seems true.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Oh to be a Pastor instead of a Shrink.

Sometimes I hate that I am a psychologist rather than a pastor. What happens when a client has achieved his or her stated goals, yet has a fundamentally flawed theology? You terminate treatment. This person's theology isn't likely to cause them any problems temporally - it is quite adaptive, but wrong. Wherein lies the problem? Fundamentally it is a looking inward to feelings of peace rather than objective law and objective gospel. I think I'll be reading and posting in the near future on the glory and fallenness of the emotional system.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Greatest Movie Never Made

I've been thinking that a movie version of St. Augustine's Confessions would be fantastic - a blend of the Passion of the Christ and Gladiator. Apparently, I'm not alone. Pope JPII apparently asked Gerard Depardieu to play St. Augustine in a movie. I think St. Augustine's story has the potential to be the best movie and the worst movie ever, at the same time. If the Christian movie studios got ahold of the idea it would come out as an allagory about the moral decay of the Roman empire and Augustine's moral redemption. The Biblicism would be palpable; I can only imagine the special effects incorporated into the "Take and Read" experience - glowing SuperBible anyone? It would also make Augustine's sin all about sex and nothing else. If the Catholics somehow make the movie on their own it would probably come out as overly mystical and self-agrandizing. If the "secular" studios got it, it would portray the sex and self-serving of his youth as normative and present his conversion as kind of tragedy.

The trick would be this: Have the audience experience the "lust of the eyes" with him, to not be about to look away from the circuses either. It would have to get the person to the point that they were overstimulated and disgusted at it, which would be next to impossible for a modern audience. It would have to portray Manichaeism in such a way that they were truly intruguing and appealed the the intellect. Augustine was just the kind of sinner that a modern audience could identify with (sex, pride, mild theft of fruit, esoteric spirituality). Then, how to make it clear that his conversion was the work of God, and not the result of peer pressure combined with a semi-mystical experience? We are all converted because Jesus loves us and he has a wonderful plan for our lives, what was Augustine's motivation?

Can you imagine a scene of Augustine's naked baptism after his catechumenate at which he and Ambrose spontaneously compose the Te Deum? Does the American Church even have mental categories to accomodate this?

From the article I linked comes this quote, probably the worst brief bibliography I've ever seen:

St. Augustine, an intellectual mystic and doctor of the Roman Catholic Church, was born in Algeria in 354. Although raised a Christian, he renounced his faith as a young man and explored life's carnal pleasures.
After a long spiritual conflict between the sacred and the profane, he was brought back to the faith by St. Jerome. Augustine eventually became a bishop, wrote about his spiritual struggle in The Confessions, and died in 430.
By the way, there seem to be 37 English tranlations of the Confessions. I've read the one by the Catholic nun, Maria Boulding. It was a smoother read than the two versions that are available in the public domain, namely the Outler (1955) and Pusey (1838). Haven't found a good site that compares the merits of the versions, but there are indeed plenty.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Fisher Price Nativity

After the recent discussion about the Veggie Tales Nativity I'm reluctant to bring this up... My daughter just received her first nativity scene, ala Fisher Price. The stable has a knob on top to keep the angel from falling, but all of the peices will fit on this knob, so of course my 2-year-old decided that Jesus goes up there. I guess to a small person, it's a place of honor.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Misusing Scripture

Timotheos at Balaam's Ass just posted this bit of "wisdom" from eminent ethicist Stanley Hauerwas advocating the removal of the bible from the hands of the laity.

I read this in a book on counseling techniques:

Many people assume that, because they have failed, it makes them failures. However, a distinction must be made between the deed and the doer. In a theological vein, St. Paul admonishes us, "Judge ye the sin, not the sinner." One can fail at a task (we all do every day) and still not be a failure. [Emphasis mine (Mosak & Maniacci, 1998).]

They go on to talk about how Babe Ruth was the strikeout king as well as the home run king and how it took Thomas Edison a long time to find a proper filament. The point was adequate (not altogether groundbreaking, but useful in some circumstances). Two problems here. One: the equation of sin with failure to succeed rather than transgression of law. Even sins of omission are sins because the law required activity and I was inert. Two: where is this 'quote' to be found? Perhaps the authors are working directly from the Latin...?