Authentic; Fearless; Not Fully Alone; Patriotism; Memes; Tithes; Julia in My Mind

1. Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People, page 208:

Another word of warning.  I know from experience that some men…will try to use the same psychology mechanically.  They will try to boost the other man’s ego, not through genuine, real appreciation, but through flattery and insincerity.  And their technique won’t work.  [N]obody wants insincerity.  Nobody wants flattery.  Let me repeat: the principles taught in this book  will work only when they come from the heart.  I am not advocating a bag of tricks.  I am talking about a new way of life.

In my blogs about this book, I’ve often presented it as a work that offers sound advice on how to manipulate people: to get them to like you so that they’ll do what you want.  And, in a sense, the book markets itself as such: it tells you that following its principles will help you to succeed in business, for example.  But, as Dale Carnegie notes in the above quote, suppose we practiced these principles while actually valuing the people we want to befriend?  Suppose we saw others as people of dignity and worth, with their own needs, problems, and struggles.  Then, we would be sincere when we practiced the principles, not merely trying to use others for our own elevation.

I think about seducing women.  There are womanizers who are adept at pretending that they care for women in order to get them into bed.  How do the women feel when they learn that they’ve been manipulated?  Probably not too good, in a lot of cases (unless they were looking for a cheap fling).  But suppose a man acted as if he cared for her, and truly did care for her?  What if her fantasy were a reality?  That would be beautiful.

Personally, I have difficulty coming across as if I sincerely value other people.  If I don’t like a person, then that comes through somehow.  Even if I point out things to that person that I admire about him or her, they comes across as insincere, even when they’re not.  But it’s better to give than to receive, I guess.  I have to do good and trust that God notices, and will bless me accordingly.

2. Robert Heinlein, Sixth Column, pages 184-185:

The Prince Royal watched with great interest as Ardmore approached him.  The man walked without fear.  And, the Prince was forced to admit, the man had a certain dignity about him, for a barbarian.

The absence of fear is something that most people admire.  Women are often attracted to confidence, even though they may also sigh at such things as sensitivity and vulnerability. 

I think of an episode in this season of Lost.  The Smoke Monster comes to a drunken Sawyer in the form of John Locke, and Sawyer picks up that something is not quite right.  “Who are you, because you sure as hell ain’t John Locke!”, Sawyer says.  The Smoke Monster asks Sawyer why he thinks that, and Sawyer responds: “Because John Locke had fear, even when he was pretending that he didn’t.”

I’d be afraid to be around Sawyer, if he could sniff the fear that I was trying to hide!  I’ve been told that all sorts of people can sniff fear: beautiful women, unruly kids, CEOs.  But, if you’re trying to hide your fear and they can sniff it anyway, is there any hope?  For me, fear is always there.  It’s just a part of me!  I feel a little better, though, when I hear about successful people who admit that they have fear, yet somehow rise above it, or cope with it. 

3. Erhard Gerstenberger, Psalms, Part I with an Introduction to Cultic Poetry, pages 52-53:

When attached to an individual complain psalm, the blessing is evidence that the suffering individual was not alone but rather in the midst of a group of worshipers while praying for recovery and well-being…

The outlawed, suffering, and depressed person easily feels persecuted by hostile crowds…The social group, which should protect its members, may become wary of him (see Psalms 4 and 55), so enemies may arise from one’s own environment (…”Suspicion of sorcery and poisoning tactics within the village runs high at times”…).  The enemies may also include hostile groups or even demonic powers…(…against the one-sided view of Birkeland, who declares every single enemy in the book of Psalms to be a foreign intruder).

I often feel alone in groups, in the sense that I don’t think that others like me.  But, even then, there’s a sense in which I don’t feel alone.  When I’m at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, I’m around people who (like me) are crazy: they have fears and resentments and worries and shyness.  Yet, we all look to a higher power to restore us to sanity.  The same goes for some churches that I’ve attended.  When I’m at a charismatic church and a woman is praising God with tears in her eyes, I feel a connection to her: like me, she’s a vulnerable soul approaching the throne of grace.

Gerstengerger’s reference to “demonic powers” stood out to me because, for a time, that’s how I read the psalms in which the Psalmist asks God to deliver him from enemies who seek to do him harm.  I read them in light of spiritual enemies—Satan, sin, the flesh, the world—since there was nobody who was literally trying to kill me. 

4. R. Pfeiffer, History of Classical Scholarship, page 249:

Although an indefatigable traveller through the whole Greek world (not beyond it) Polemo did not lack a sense of local patriotism…

My Internet connection was down yesterday afternoon, so I watched an episode from the first season of Brothers and Sisters.  Justin Walker has enlisted to go to Afghanistan shortly after 9/11, and his mother, Nora, expresses concern that he’s allowing himself to be caught up in some “nationalistic fervor” that will put his life at risk.  I somewhat appreciated Nora’s statement, for, shortly after September 11, I too was disturbed by the group-think that was pervading the atmosphere around me.

Do I love my country?  I certainly admire the men who founded it, who placed their lives on the line in a risky move to create a free and independent nation.  I like how our nation has grown over the years: we once allowed slavery and racial segregation, but we came to realize that such institutions ran counter to the principles that we proclaimed.  In a sense, we are a beacon of light for other nations, which look to us for deliverance from evil and oppression.  And we have certain freedoms here—freedom of speech, of religion, of privacy—which many other countries cannot take for granted.  Plus, we’re prosperous.

But I can’t say that we’re perfect.  There are times when we stomp on other nations in pursuit of our own self-interest (or that of elites).  Our health care system is broken, as care is too costly for a number of Americans.  Some people fall through the cracks of our economic system.  There are other countries where people can freely speak and practice their religion, and they don’t have these kinds of problems, at least not at the level that we do.  Why are we better than them?  Because we’re America, and I’m just supposed to take for granted that America is the best country in the world?

I’m not sure if I buy into the sappy patriotism that I used to embrace.  But I should probably see my country as similar to all people and institutions: it’s a mixture of good and bad.

5.  Hans Jonas, The Gnostic Religion, pages 15-16:

…after the overthrow of Babylon by the Persians the Old-Babylonian religion ceased to be a state-cult attached to the political center and bound up with its functions of rule…Both support and restriction fell away with the loss of statehood.  The release of the religion from a political function was an uprooting comparable to the territorial uprooting of Israel.  The fate of subjection and political impotence in the Persian Empire forced the Babylonian religion to stand henceforth on its spiritual content alone.  No longer connected with the institutions of a local power-system and enjoying the prestige of its authority, it was thrown back upon its inherent theological qualities, which had to be formulated as such if they were to hold their own against other religious systems which had similarly been set afloat and were now competing for the minds of men.  [T]he older cult was transformed into an abstract doctrine, the reasoned system of astrology, which simply by the appeal of its thought-content, presented in Greek form, became a powerful force in the Hellenistic world of ideas.

This reminds me of something that atheist Richard Dawkins discusses in The God Delusion: memes.  Ideas in religion that help people cope and survive remain in that religion, and are perpetuated; ideas that fail to do this die. 

On Netflix, I was watching the film for Christian apologist Lee Strobel’s The Case for FaithAlthough I was rolling my eyes through all the predictable drivel that apologists consider a “case”, I actually liked something that Lee said.  Lee referred to skeptic Bertrand Russell, who declared that anyone who sits at the bedside of a dying child will disavow the existence of a loving God.  Lee asked what an atheist would say at the bedside of a dying child.  “Oh well, that’s the way life is”?  His point was that Christianity at least offers hope.

Sure, if the child is a Christian; otherwise, Christianity says she’s going to hell—unless it believes in an age of accountability, and, even then, her parents would go to hell if they’re not Christians, which negates any notion that there will be a great reunion in heaven of people and their families.  Sure there will be, if they’re all Christians!  But I appreciated Lee’s point that an atheistic viewpoint doesn’t offer a great deal of hope.  That’s why I respect skeptics, such as Ken Pulliam, who look at life and realistically assess that religion will be with us for a very long time.  It offers us hope and the ability to cope with life, and that has assisted us in our survival up to this point.

But I do wonder if Christianity will remain the same, or if it will change.  Liberal John Shelby Spong wrote a book a while back, entitled Why Christianity Must Change or Die.  He made a good point when he referred to the intellectual challenges to Christianity, but I think he’s reaching if he holds that his non-theistic version will appeal to people and meet their needs.  Sure, rich intellectuals may like it, but I doubt it will be popular.

Yet, there are things about Christianity that turn off a lot of people.  Some of it’s connected with what the Bible says.  Some of it is not.  Will Christianity change?  And, if it ends up disavowing certain things in the Bible, will it do so while pretending to be true to the Bible? 

6. Richard Sarason, A History of the Mishnaic Law of Agriculture: A Study of Tractate Demai, page 46:

Since the produce was purchased abroad, we assume it to have been grown abroad.  It therefore is exempt from tithing…

Yet, the Israelites outside of the land of Israel tithed in some capacity.  See The Mishnah: Tithes from Ammon and Moab.

7.  Do you admire certain celebrities?  Do their talents appeal to you, or have you gained wisdom and inspiration from their life stories?  Suppose those celebrities didn’t like you.

That’s a question I’ve asked myself whenever I watch television or read an author I enjoy, but it was brought to the forefront of my mind as I watched the movie, Julie and Julia

Julia Childs was a famous television chef.  Years after Julia Childs’ heyday, Julie Powell decided to blog through Julia Childs’ recipe book.  Julie achieved success as a blogger and a writer.  She thought the world of Julia Childs, and she imagined Julia Childs speaking to her as she followed her recipes.  But, sad to say, Julia Childs did not like her.  Julia never met Julie, but she knew about her well-publicized blog, and she didn’t appreciate what Julie was doing.  She thought that Julie’s project was trivial, and Julie’s occasional four-letter word did not endear her to Julia.

In a profound scene on the movie, Julie is really heart-broken to learn that Julia Childs does not like her.  Julie believes that Julia Childs is perfect, and so the fault must be hers (Julie’s).  But her husband, Eric, tells her that the Julia in her mind is perfect.  I thought his point would be that we shouldn’t idealize people, but that’s not what he went on to say.  Rather, Eric told his wife that the Julia in her mind was the only Julia that mattered, and that, if Julia didn’t understand what Julie was doing, then that’s not something that Julie should fret about.

I’m still trying to unpack this scene, for it’s probably much deeper than I presently realize.  Julie and Julia were both alike in a lot of ways: they dealt with struggles and failure and, eventually, success.  And yet, Julia did not like Julie, for she didn’t understand what Julie was doing.  One lesson may be that we can admire people, even if they don’t like us.  We all share the common experience of humanity, and, yet, for a variety of reasons, certain people don’t click: due to differences in temperament or culture, or misunderstandings.  But what’s important is the Julia in our minds: what we admire about a person that inspires us to be better and to get through the day.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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