1. Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People, page 154:
Dale Carnegie says that our backgrounds have influenced how we’ve turned out. If we had the same body, temperament, mind, environment, and experiences as Al Capone, Carnegie states, then we would have turned out just as he did. Carnegie also says that the “only reason…that you are not a rattlesnake is that your mother and father weren’t rattlesnakes.” His conclusion is that we shouldn’t look down on people who are “irritated, bigoted, [or] unreasoning”, but we should pity them, for we could have ended up just as they are, had we had their backgrounds.
This reminds me of last Sunday’s Desperate Housewives, which was about Eddie, the strangler of Fairview. The conclusion of the narrator, the late Mary Alice Young, is that monsters are created by other monsters. Eddie had a bad mother. She was a drunk, and she told Eddie throughout his life that she did not want him. She also made fun of him, telling him that the only woman he’d ever get was one who was blind or inflatable.
Add to this Eddie’s frustration with the opposite sex. He could never get a woman, and many women in his life (his mother, Gabby, Susan, Danielle Van de Camp, the girls at his school) rejected him. He didn’t just want sex, for he desired a relationship, a woman who would love him. After Bree told him that he’d some day find a woman who would say “yes” to him, he went to a prostitute on a street-corner. When she says “yes”, he gives her a bouquet of flowers, and she laughs him to scorn. And so she becomes Eddie’s first victim.
One can understand how Eddie became as he was, and I certainly have compassion and empathy for this fictional character. One of the themes of Desperate Housewives is that we should not judge other people, for we all have skeletons in our closets, and we’ve done our share of sin, sometimes with good intentions. But what are the implications of this? Should a court let Eddie off-the-hook because he had a hard life? Is there a way for us to be compassionate, without compromising our moral standards and the well-being of society?
2. Robert Heinlein, Sixth Column, page 154:
“…you are too soft and mush-headed for this job. You apparently think that the United States can win this war without anyone getting hurt—you don’t even have the guts to watch a traitor die.”
This reminds me of last night’s V, which was an excellent episode on so many levels. I’m thinking of the scene in which some of the sympathizers of the Fifth Column—the aliens who are resisting the attempts of their fellow aliens to take over the earth—have captured and tied up a man who has killed on behalf of the evil, invading aliens. His reason was that the aliens healed his daughter of paralysis, and he felt that someone needed to fight for them, since they were pacifists (in his mind). A torturer among the Fifth Column sympathizers wants to beat this guy up to get information out of him about the location of Fifth Column members, so he can help them out. Before he proceeds to torture the captive, he says, “It is now time for all decent people to leave the room!” The priest, played by Joel Gretsch, then leaves the room. Earlier, the priest told the torturer not to beat the captive up.
The torturer had no self-delusion that he was a decent man. He knew he was scum, and he wanted to use that attribute for his cause. He had resigned himself to being a scum years ago!
This quote from Heinlein also reminded me of a conservative statement that often got on my nerves, even when I supported the war in Iraq. Whenever a liberal would point out the innocent casualties and disastrous consequences of the war, a conservative would blithely blow that point off with “War is hell.” Yes, war is hell, which is why we should try to avoid it if there are other ways to deal with the problem.
3. Erhard Gerstenberger, Psalms, Part I with an Introduction to Cultic Poetry, pages 31-32:
Gerstenberger narrates that the Israelite monarchy created a feudalism through the centralization of economic and military interests, and that this feudalism “ruthlessly exploited the small landowners and the agrarian and urban proletariat”. The stratification between rich and poor continued into Israel’s post-exilic period, as Nehemiah 5:1-13 indicates. In Israel’s pre-exilic period, there were “group chiefs and ritual experts who attended the needs of the individual and the family.” They included men of God, prophets, and priests of local sanctuaries. (I see such figures in II Kings!) These “lower ranks of the prophetic and sacerdotal hierarchy assumed responsibilities in counseling persons and groups in distress.” According to Gerstenberger, they were the ones who composed the Psalms that ranted against the oppression of the poor.
I often wondered who would compose those sorts of Psalms. Would the establishment? Why would the establishment acknowledge the existence of social ills under its auspices? I’m glad that Gerstenberger attempted some answer to this question that has baffled me.
4. R. Pfeiffer, History of Classical Scholarship, page 166:
To the scientific rationalistic mind of Eratosthenes the unrealities in Homeric geography were obvious. He did not blame the poet; the fault was in the interpreters who made the fundamental mistake of identifying epic localities with certain places in the Mediterranean and supposing that Homer made it his business to teach people geography or anything else such as theology, ethics, or military tactics. Homer’s geographical passages, for instance the wanderings of Odysseus, were to be regarded as purely imaginary; the aim of the poet was there and elsewhere not to instruct but to give pleasure.
At first, I thought that Eratosthenes was trying to argue as some Christians do when they are confronted with “errors” in the Bible: “The Bible’s not a history or science book, but its intention is to teach us how to live, and to bring us closer to God.” But Eratosthenes doesn’t believe that Homer intended to teach people about theology and ethics, so that impression of mine goes out the window! He seems to contend that Homer is just great literature. That’s how some people today treat the Bible: “Why worry about whether it’s factually accurate or inaccurate? It has good stories!” The stories definitely draw me to the Bible. They have since I was a child who read Bible story books, listened to Bible story tapes, and watched Superbook. But I also see the Bible as a guide on how to live and become closer to God.
5. R.P.C. Hanson, Allegory and Event, page 342:
Words of our Lord apparently suggesting a Second Coming to take place very soon [Origen] explains away: ‘Henceforth ye shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power’ (Matt. 26:64) does not in his view imply a return of Christ in the near future, for in the first place Christ’s disciples saw him ‘sitting at the right hand of power’ when they saw him risen from the dead, and in the second place an immense period of time is only a day in God’s sight anyway.
I’ve wondered how church fathers dealt with passages in which Jesus appears to say that his second coming is near. Well, now I know how one church father dealt with them! I don’t find his first argument about Matthew 26:64 all that convincing, for Jesus was talking in that verse to the Jewish leaders, not his disciples. But N.T. Wright and many preterists have contended that the Jewish leaders did see Jesus sit on the right hand of power, with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. That event confirmed to them that Jesus had authority and judgment, or so the argument runs. I don’t know. Rabbinic Judaism didn’t conclude that from this event! Neither did Josephus. I doubt that conclusion was in the minds of the Jews experiencing it.
6. Richard Sarason, A History of the Mishnaic Law of Agriculture: A Study of Tractate Demai, page 20:
Each formal unit must be analyzed on its own terms, and not forced to conform to an a priori literary theory of the document. My work therefore strives to be rigorously inductive.
I like that. I’d prefer to read a writing that has a thesis and proceeds from there, since it’s easier on me, the reader. But an inductive approach is probably better because it allows the texts to speak for themselves, rather than hammering them into a neat thesis. I once voiced that opinion to a DePauw Honor Scholar class, to laughter: “I think reality’s too complex to reduce to a thesis.” At the same time, it’s okay (in my opinion) to ask a question, and to look for answers. That can produce a neat paper. But there are all sorts of approaches.
7. Ken Pulliam had some good posts last week: Did Paul Hallucinate on the Road to Damascus?–Part One and Did Paul Hallucinate on the Road to Damascus?–Part Two. His conclusion was that Saul of Tarsus and the people with him may have seen a solar flare, and that Saul hallucinated the voice of Jesus, as a result of his inner conflict over the message of Christianity and his persecution of Christians (his kicking of the goads, to refer to Acts 26:14). Ken referred to psychological studies to argue that such was within the realm of possibility. Ken also had a post before that, Are Religious Experiences Evidence for God?, where he refers to studies indicating that the inner peace that comes from religious exercises (i.e., prayer, meditation) has a natural explanation, meaning we don’t have to attribute it to the supernatural.
I thought of Ken’s posts as I watched My Name Is Bill W. yesterday, and I also recalled the CBS movie that was on Sunday night, When Love Is Not Enough: The Lois Wilson Story. Bill Wilson was the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, and his wife, Lois, started Al-Anon, which helps the families of alcoholics. In both movies, the character of Bill Wilson talks about seeing a light in his hospital room and feeling a sense of peace washing all over him. Whereas, before that event, he continually promised to stop drinking and ended up breaking his promise, that event placed him on a solid ground of sobriety. He still needed to build on that ground, however. He couldn’t rely on an out-of-the-ordinary experience in his past, for he had to take the necessary action to keep sober: reach out to other alcoholics, rely on a higher power, take a moral inventory, let go of resentment, make restitution, etc.
In My Name Is Bill W., Bill is explaining his Saul of Tarsus experience to his doctor, William Silkworth, who wrote the “Doctor’s Opinion” in the Big Book. Silkworth says that he cannot account for Bill’s experience from a scientific perspective, but at least Bill is in a better place than he was yesterday.
Nowadays, there are scientists who contend that they can account for such an experience from a scientific perspective. Perhaps so. But, in my humble opinion, Bill was still in a better place than he was before his “flashing light” experience, as was the apostle Paul.