Hey, Have You Heard the Latest?

Here’s another good reason to read the Bible regularly and think about it hard: It will help you avoid succumbing to pleasantly written nonsense.

Today’s example comes from that fine American magazine, The Atlantic. In this month’s number, a breezy Ben Healy tells us, in his come-hither headline, that “Gossip Is Good.” The subhead tells us that we haven’t misunderstood his meaning: “The surprising virtue of talking behind people’s backs.”

Healy acknowledges up front that gossip has a bad reputation. He quotes authorities as varied as advice columnist Ann Landers (“the faceless demon that breaks hearts and ruins careers”) and the Talmud (“the three-pronged tongue” that kills all three people involved: the teller, the listener, and the subject of the gossip). Even Christian philosopher Blaise Pascal gets invoked (“If people really knew what others said about them, there would not be four friends left in the world”).

Sounds pretty toxic and best avoided, right?

Not so fast. Healy sets these (old, outdated, outmoded) authorities aside and proceeds to shower us with Actual Truth—namely, the assured findings of social science. (That’s subversive teaching #1: It doesn’t matter what wise people have said. Focus on what social science claims instead.)

He trades, alas, in equivocation. He doesn’t define gossip as Ann Landers, the Talmud, and Blaise Pascal surely would have: injurious talk, conversation that selfishly targets another to the advantage of the gossipers.

This is the definition used in the Bible: “I am the subject of gossip for those who sit in the gate, and the drunkards make songs about me” (Ps. 69:12). “A gossip reveals secrets; therefore do not associate with a babbler” (Prov. 20:19); “They were filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips” (Rom. 1:29); and “They are not merely idle, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not say” (I Tim. 5:13).

That really sounds irredeemably evil, doesn’t it? And it’s not what Healy is talking about—except, it turns out, it is.

[For the rest, please click HERE.]

Why Is Social Media So…Disappointing?

Many posts in social media are cries not just for attention, but for sympathy—literally, for “feeling with.” I have had this good/bad experience and I want to share it, since it is so strong and meaningful to me.

Sometimes, in fact, one encounters the sad Facebook plea: “If you’re reading this, please [like/share/write something]”—presumably so the poster will know his or her feelings are validated by others.

What, then, to make of this odd and disquieting proverb from the Bible: “The heart knows its own bitterness, and no stranger shares its joy” (Proverbs 14:10)?

The brute psychological fact is that no one can truly know another’s pain. Each experience of suffering is unique and peculiar to each of us, because each of us is unique and we therefore undergo suffering in our peculiar way, according to our own personalities, framed by our particular previous experiences, and interpreted through our individual hopes and fears. Athletic injury, broken heart, childbirth, humiliation, job loss—“the heart knows its own bitterness” and others can only guess, however kindly, at “what it must be like.”

If the brute psychological fact is that no one can truly know another’s pain, the brutal psychological fact is that few want to. For sympathy is, indeed, “feeling with,” and few there be who willingly increase their pain by taking on the pain of others.

When we suffer, however, we easily forget those facts. Our suffering is so evident and so intense that it seems that it must be glaringly obvious to anyone with a heart. So why don’t other people get it? Why don’t they say the right things and do the right things? Why don’t they care—or care much, much more than they apparently do?

A recently bereaved colleague wonders why her friends don’t ask her more frequently how she’s doing (while, yes, another hates that question and can’t understand why people keep asking it—“the heart knows its own bitterness”). A friend coping with life-threatening illness posts social media updates frequently and then confides his sorrow that, after the initial outpouring of concern, few people now even “like” or otherwise respond to his posts. Don’t they care anymore? Did they ever, really?

Strangely, according to the proverb, the same dynamic happens at the opposite pole of human feeling: “no stranger shares its joy.”

[For the rest, please click HERE.]

I’d Like to Have an Argument, Please

I recently tweeted the link to an article I found interesting. One of my followers shot back, however, this furious riposte: “This is a stupid article. In fact, that whole publication has gone badly downhill under its new editor. I have no idea why you’d want to bring attention to such a worthless bit of fake news…,” et cetera, et cetera.

He took up his full tweet character count, in fact…without accomplishing anything other than registering his outrage.

It made me wonder, though: Who cares? Who should? Who could possibly benefit from reading someone popping off like that?

Some people, yes, might be deeply impressed by the mere opinion of a celebrity or authority. “Ryan Gosling hates Levi’s jeans!” Oh, okay: I won’t wear those anymore. “John Piper says that women probably shouldn’t become police officers.” Very well. I’ll remember that when I’m next pulled over by a female cop and I shall politely, but firmly, refuse to accept the ticket.

(For the record, I like Levi’s. Always have. And I have found it prudent to comply with all police officers, male or female.)

Normally, however, merely signaling one’s opinion does no one else any actual good. Worse, it seems to grant them tacit permission to engage in the same irritating pointlessness.

In fact, all this opining just makes things worse. You don’t like what someone wrote and it upset you? Shouting your reaction is infantile (mere stimulus-and-response) and, worse, destructive. “You hurt my feelings? Well, I’ll hurt yours.” And on and on the venomous circle of vengeance spins and spits, spattering everyone involved. Ugly business.

What we need instead is argument: inference from evidence to clear conclusions. Or, in a more right-brained approach, the setting-out of a compelling alternative.

[For the rest, please click HERE.]