Thanks to Lindsey I started reading The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America by historian Daniel J. Boorstin. It has been excellent and I have saved a few quotes from it to randomly post on the blog. It is amazing how predictive Boorstin was (the book was first published in 1962) and how much it has to say about the time we are currently living within.
Here’s one portion that struck me.
UNTIL RECENTLY we have been justified in believing Abraham Lincoln’s familiar maxim: “You may fool all the people some of the time; you can even fool some of the people all the time; but you can’t fool all of the people all the time.” This has been the foundation‑belief of American democracy. Lincoln’s appealing slogan rests on two elementary assumptions. First, that there is a clear and visible distinction between sham and reality, between the lies a demagogue would have us believe and the truths which are there all the time. Second, that the people tend to prefer reality to sham, that if offered a choice between a simple truth and a contrived image, they will prefer the truth.
Neither of these any longer fits the facts. Not because people are less intelligent or more dishonest. Rather because great unforeseen changes — the great forward strides of American civilization — have blurred the edges of reality. The pseudo‑events which flood our consciousness are neither true nor false in the old familiar senses. The very same advances which have made them possible have also made the images — ‑however planned, contrived, or distorted — more vivid, more attractive, more, impressive, and more persuasive than reality itself.
Boorstin’s thought here reminds me of some of Jean Baudrillard‘s thought in his work Simulacra and Simulation. So much of what we consider “real” events and news aren’t real at all but merely simulations of real events and news, and the saddest thing of all is that we prefer the simulation to reality.
The small group to which I and Pam belong is presently reading Richard Stearns’ modern classic “The Hole in Our Gospel“. I read this book years ago and it is wonderful how pertinent it still is. Here’s a part of the book that hit me today.
Finally, many Christians believe poverty to be the result of sinfulness and therefore see evangelism as the best, and sometimes only, medicine. They reason that if only the poor were reconciled to God through Jesus Christ and their spiritual darkness lifted, then their lives would begin to change. Poverty indeed can have profound spiritual dimensions, and reconciliation through Christ is a powerful salve in the lives of the rich or poor. But salvation of the soul, as crucial as it may be for fullness of life both in the here and now and in eternity, does not by itself put food on the table, bring water out of the ground, or save a child from malaria. Many of the world’s poorest people are Christians, and their unwavering faith in the midst of suffering has taught me much.
Perhaps the greatest mistake commonly made by those who strive to help the poor is the failure to see the assets and strengths that are always present in people and their communities no matter how poor they are. Seeing their glasses as half-full rather than half-empty can completely change our approach to helping.
SIDE NOTE – If you aren’t reading my wife’s blog you should – she doesn’t blog often but when she does it is consistently wonderful and challenging.
I am reading “Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World” by Jane McGonigal right now. It’s pretty good though I think the show Black Mirror serves as a counter-argument to most of what she is suggesting concerning games “fixing” reality. In the chapter I just finished she shared this quote from Eric Weiner (from his work “The Geography of Bliss“:
The self-help industrial complex hasn’t helped. By telling us that happiness lives inside us, it’s turned us inward just when we should be looking outward. Not to money but to other people, to community and to the kind of human bonds that so clearly are the sources of our happiness.
In my opinion there is a lot of truth in that quote.
SIDE NOTE – the photo associated with this post is from one of Tapestry’s breakfasts at various local restaurants.
Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world. This is an error of the intellect as inevitable as that error of the eye which lets us fancy that on the horizon heaven and earth meet. This explains many things, and among them the fact that everyone measures us with his own standard – generally about as long as a tailor’s tape, and we have to put up with it: as also that no one will allow us to be taller than himself – a supposition which is once for all taken for granted.
From the Advent devotional I am presently reading.
You know what a mine disaster is. In recent weeks we have had to read about one in the newspapers.
The moment even the most courageous miner has dreaded his whole life long is here. It is no use running into the walls; the silence all around him remains…. The way out for him is blocked. He knows the people up there are working feverishly to reach the miners who are buried alive. Perhaps someone will be rescued, but here in the last shaft? An agonizing period of waiting and dying is all that remains.
But suddenly a noise that sounds like tapping and breaking in the rock can be heard. Unexpectedly, voices cry out, “Where are you, help is on the way!” Then the disheartened miner picks himself up, his heart leaps, he shouts, “Here I am, come on through and help me! I’ll hold out until you come! Just come soon!” A final, desperate hammer blow to his ear, now the rescue is near, just one more step and he is free.
We have spoken of Advent itself. That is how it is with the coming of Christ: “Look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God in the Manger, p. 41, from Bonhoeffer’s Advent message in a London church December 3, 1933.
Who among us will celebrate Christmas correctly? Whoever finally lays down all power, all honor, all reputation, all vanity, all arrogance, all individualism beside the manger; whoever remains lowly and lets God alone be high; whoever looks at the child in the manger and sees the glory of God precisely in his lowliness.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God in the Manger, p. 26
I’ve mentioned before that I am reading “God Is In the Manger“ by Dietrich Bonhoeffer and “Celebrating Abundance: Devotions for Advent“ by Walter Brueggemann as part of the my Christmas preparation during Advent. I decided to start sharing some quotes from my daily readings because I am enjoying and being challenged by each book so much.
And that is the wonder of all wonders, that God loves the lowly…. God is not ashamed of the lowliness of human beings. God marches right in. He chooses people as his instruments and performs his wonders where one would least expect them. God is near to lowliness; he loves the lost, the neglected, the unseemly, the excluded, the weak and broken.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God in the Manger, p. 22.
This quote was in “Charlatan: America’s Most Dangerous Huckster, the Man Who Pursued Him, and the Age of Flimflam” which I finished today. The quote is talking about “the goat gland doctor” J.R. Brinkley but it reminded me of our present time.
It must be a terrible thing to have keep telling the world how great you are and to want so badly to achieve what is really impossible. We have much to fear from these people, but in a sense, I think, they are tragic.
The book was a pretty fascinating read on a quack doctor who is probably responsible for country music and whose influenced helped rock music spread (his border blaster radio station definitely nationalized the then regional country music, we have the Carter Family thanks to him, and was eventually replaced by the likes of Wolfman Jack and other border blaster rocks stations). He was definitely a crock but the creativity of his con jobs was quite impressive.
We have not become a secular society so much as we have become a generically religious one. Undifferentiated spiritual objects, therapies, and programs are widely marketed. Popular religion in America tends to be an amalgam of whatever presents itself. Discerning observers have noted that these new forms of spirituality are typically American; highly individualistic, self-referential, and self-indulgent, they are only feebly related to the history or tradition of any of the great world faiths.
Fleming Rutledge, The Crucifixion, p. 10.