Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Capitalism and Advertizing

Laissez-faire capitalism can be founded on various beliefs.

It may be based on a view of humanity as basically rational. In that view, humans will pay more for something which meats their needs and wants better, and the mass of humans purchasing on that basis will result in a kind of democratic price setting. If this is the basis, it is faulty due to the fact that humans are immensely affective and can therefore be affected in non-rational ways.

It may be believed that humans are not rational, but that the various ways in which they are non-rational will even out when they are taken in mass. The problem here, again, has to do with advertizing: advertizements are produced in order to get people to buy the product and, thus, to be willing to pay more for it. If advertizements did not affect people generally to buy the product, then advertizements would not exist.

There is therefore an affective component to purchases. Thus when we purchase, we do not purchase purely rationally. Instead, in buying an item, a person is buying the product itself as well as the values and such associated with the product via the advertizing, but what they leave the store with is just the product (and some good feelings).

It may be that it is believed that the advertizing will even out between competitors. That is, that the advertizing for one product will not be significantly better than advertizing for its competitor product. Nevertheless, the competition is often largely in the realm of advertizing, rather than product quality, since at some point the difference in quality becomes nearly, if not entirely, indistinguishable, and since better advertizing can be easier and cheaper than better quality.

So, the questions:
Is there a better way of handling this stuff?
If not, what would be requisite to making this work better?

Any regulation by the government requires that the government be rational. This might, possibly, be more likely than individuals doing so. It would require an understanding of the costs involved, as well as what factors into the quality of the product, and it would require this understanding for basically every kind of product. The problem we would have is that people would vote companies out of business out of a lack of this understanding--basically: the risks of regulation are higher, probably too high, and what is requisite to making it work is beyond what can be expected within anything resembling the current system.

It might be possible to regulate some areas, but not others. Entertainment, for instance, seems perfect for laissez-faire capitalism, since the affective is part of the product anyway. I suspect that employment is another area, since employers do need employees. The only question there is whether it would come out in such a way that employees could survive (of times to try, now, the age of advertizing by being ethical and giving to charities, would probably be among the best times to do so). Sporting goods would be an edge case, insofar as most people don't know how to judge the quality of a helmet, but the design on the helmet may be part of the product.

What arises from this kind of thinking is an answer to the second question: what would be requisite to making laissez-faire capitalism work better? That people, generally, be able to understand what goes into the products they buy. This is part of what is supposed to be going into reviews of products. It might also be wise to teach kids advertizing (and, while we're at it, statistics) in schools for the sake of giving them the capacity to reverse-engineer what is going on in advertizements, and thus make it more necessary for there to be content (and verifiability) to the advertizements. This analysis will give people distance from the affects of advertizing, thus protecting them from merely affective purchases (at least, insofar as the affect comes from the advertizing).

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Pretty Church

"For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles," 1 Corinthians 1:22-23

I have been to churches which managed to appeal to both Jews and Greeks by this standard, yet preached Christ as a mere example, not as savior.

The Church needs to preach Christ crucified. Christ who died for our sins, who died to save us and redeem us. Christ apart from whom we would be lost in the world, apart from God. Christ by whom alone we can have fellowship with God. Christ who has died so that the hideousness of our sinful selves need no longer separate us from God or humans.

But we give the world signs: good music, beautiful pictures--as the world judges, but to us it is ugly insofar as it lacks the beauty of Christ crucified.

And we give the world wisdom, we preach the proverbs as mere wisdom for humans to live. Things to do, ways to be: law. There is wisdom enough in the world. The world does not need the Bible to know this kind of wisdom. The Bible is not "Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth." It is, rather, God's self-revelation to us that we might be saved and joined in relationship with him. It is for our salvation and sanctification. It is for God's glory.

Human beings are hungry to hear of Christ crucified. So long as we tell them things to do, or give them spiritual highs, or show them the quality of our handiwork, we hide God behind our human skill and wisdom. We give them what they already have.

We have got to extend the hope of the Gospel, that Christ died so that our sins need no longer bind us, and so we need no longer be bound in our sins. We may, because we have Christ's righteousness--because it is about Jesus's finished work on the cross, not our incomplete, inadequate work on earth--we may live free of our unrighteousness which Jesus Christ took and died for so that we might live both now and forever.

And how shall we do this? How have we not been doing this?! They are hungry people. Like we were. Like we are. I write this because I am hungry for it! I am now keenly aware of the lack, and thus hungry for it, and thus eager to feed others so that I may express the excellency of the Gospel. How can we keep silent when we have this treasure?

Yet God's grace exceeds beyond making us eager to do what we ought. We have failed--I have failed. Christ died even for this. Christ died so that we could speak of him, and so that we might not be ashamed of him--because it is not about us. It is not even about our telling of the Gospel. It is about Christ, and our lives are now made to be about Christ. It is not really up to us to do this. Christ will be known. You will not, finally, fail. God will give you grace, and words, to speak. Apart from him we can say nothing--at least, nothing helpful. It is God who calls--through men. We are blessed to participate in God's work. And we are being formed still, to be ready to tell others of Christ's death for us. Are you not ready? Rely on the Spirit to make you ready, through discipleship, reading Scripture, prayer, and communion. Christ died even for our failure to glorify him now. He died for all our sins. May God make us burn with a passion for the Gospel too great to contain.

Expositional Preaching: A Grace to Preachers

The Gospel frees us to live in Christ, not in our own strength. Therefore preachers should be able to preach by the grace of God. This could easily be left as an amorphous reliance on God in sermon preparation, but I think that it can be made concrete in expositional preaching.

Consider: a preacher may rely on himself as he crafts his sermon. He may work out his own structure and his own topic for what he says, and find texts from Scripture on his own. He may choose his own tone, his own words, his own conclusion. Or a preacher may rely on God, by taking a text and preaching its structure, which is the structure of the Word of God and so God's structure. He may preach the topic of that text, the tone of that text, the keywords and phrases of that text, and the conclusion of that text. He may look and see what God has already given him to preach. "Here is what God says" the preacher may then say, "I will tell my congregation about it." He then locates the text in the way God's word is organized around the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and then preaches what this text says, as it says it, to the end for which it says it.

This is why I am amazed by how little expositional preaching I find, as I look for a church. expositional preaching is, to me, the obviously best way to preach from Scripture, as well as the easiest. God has already done the work. Why try to reinvent the wheel? Why not preach off of what God--who is way better at this stuff than any of us--has already done? Why make things harder for yourself than you have to, especially when it is likely to have worse results?

There are various possibilities as to why preachers don't preach this way. Perhaps some don't preach this way out of ignorance: it may just never have occurred to them that they can, and no one has told them. Some may have worse reasons. Expositional preaching requires that the preacher submit himself to the word of God, and that requires humility. We are proud and want to do things for ourselves, but you know what? Christ died so that it is no longer about what we do, but what Christ has already done. You don't need to run around making your very own pretty sermon. God has already given his message, you don't need to make one up for him, or try to find some secret message. Maybe there is fear. Of what? That it will be boring? Because it is a new way of preaching? God's word is not boring--the Gospel of Christ is the most exciting story in the world, the one all other good stories image, the one we are all hungry for. It is new, though. But of all kinds of preaching to try for the first time, expositional preaching is the best to mess up. Pick a book; work through it. Even if it is the crappiest sermon you have ever preached, God's word lies behind it. God still speaks, and he speaks even in our weakness, even in if the weakness is in the area of preaching.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

What I Want in a Church

1. Preach Christ and him crucified. If Christ's death for me is unimportant to the sermon, it is a bad sermon. Premiss: the whole of Scripture forms a unity at the center of which is Christ's death and resurrection. Conclusion: If you are preaching Scripture, you are preaching something organized around Christ's death and resurrection. It should sound like it. You can give a great talk using cool screens/music/gimmicks/etc., (Jews demand signs) and using Scripture like a book of wisdom (Greeks demand wisdom), but that's not what I come to hear (we preach Christ and him crucified).
 Christ's death means that it is not about what we do, but about what Christ has already done on our behalf.
 Christ's death frees us to live righteously. You know those commands? They are fulfilled in Christ, and in Christ we are freed to walk in them. Yes, it's hard, but if we understand them right, and trust God, we will want to struggle for it. (This is the essential one for me)

2. Preach what the text says, not what you think about what the text says. Yes, you might not know exactly what the text is trying to communicate, but at least make it possible for me to see how you got what you are saying from the words on the page.

3. Don't ignore the context. And by context I don't just mean the verses in the general vicinity. I will probably notice if there is stuff being ignored which is in the chapters around the text at hand. Pay attention to the general flow of the book too. Basically: preach the part like it is a part of a greater whole.

4. Keep your tone aligned with the text. I actually think this is a repeat of 2., but it bears saying separately. If we are trying to give people what someone said, we try not to change the tone of the message (right?) so, same when the person is God. Especially since I am betting he knew what he was doing when he used that tone.

5. Be able and willing to suffer. Weep with those who weep. Don't be mono-emotive, that is, allow for the display of the whole spectrum of human emotion. This is the one thing on this list that can look like a taste issue. It is not (the churches I avoid for this reason are usually described by members as being full of members who are joyful or excited about Jesus or something). Mourning is a declaration of the value of the human person, echoing Christ's redemption of humanity and motivated by a hope in the resurrection of the dead. I tend to take the unwillingness to mourn or suffer as a sign that the fear of death remains and has not been displaced by hope in the promise that Christ is making all things new, that death and suffering will not get the last word. I will admit that my sensitivity to this issue may be a matter of temperament, but the issue itself is important.

6. I'm a credobaptist, so I'm looking for a credobaptist church (credobaptist: doesn't baptize babies, usually dunks).

And... that is it for points a church must at least get close on before I consider attending regularly. I doubt a church that gets the first three will miss the fifth one, but it is there. Inessentials (which I pessimistically don't expect to need to look at):

7. Have deep, dense theology in your music. I want the gospel getting stuck in my head.

8. Don't let the music be too loud, or the lights too bright. This is mostly just a quirk of my biology, but those stress me out. The fastest way to make me mad is to make me listen to a bad, loud preacher.

9. Screens are not a plus. they stir up brain activity in a way that can cause trouble for light-sensitive epileptics (my fiancee) and those with sensory processing disorders (autism, etc.,).

10. 5-point Calvinism is a plus, since otherwise people say things that I don't hear the way they mean them (sovereignty, for one).

Conclusion: I fully expect to end up in a small baptist church where the average age is in the fifties or so. I am also quite alright with that.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

The Bodily Person

I am my body.

I am not just my body.

My crankiness due to lack of sleep, for instance: it is still my crankiness, even though I can point to its biological causes. My crankiness is in my body, so to speak, but it is still a feature of my person that I am cranky.

It is possible to say to oneself, "I did not get enough sleep, I must beware of my crankiness." Consider: "be angry, but do not sin." I may, in my person, experience human emotions, yet I may act contrary to them (emotions are not the only motivators).

This is to subordinate the emotions to the "I" who chooses. The emotions are still to be considered a part of me, but not the whole. This is the subordination of the part of a person to the whole of the person.

The emotions are, therefore, linked to the biological. Nevertheless, even when we know the biological causes of our emotions, we do not necessarily disregard our emotions. That is to say, even when we consider the emotions fully explained by biology, we do not on that account disregard or silence them. Though we may disregard our emotions when we regard the causes as not warranting them.

All this goes to show that the mere fact that something has biological causes does not simply on that account absolve the subject of responsibility for them, nor does it entail that those things are not part of the person.

A human person interacts with other human persons and with the environment only through their bodies. My body is how I interact with what is not me.

Could a person, or part of a person, exist apart from being expressed?
Is there anything more to a person than the expression of personhood?

Surely, my motives are not fully expressed, yet they are fully a part of my person. Is a person truly without anger simply because the anger is not expressed? But anger has a physical component to it, and even apart from that we know that anger can be said to fester and build. The anger exists, that is to say: it will show itself. This answers the first question in the negative.

To the second I would like to say that there is more to a person than their expression, that there is something it is like to be conscious, to be a person, which I know (only) firsthand. But let us refine the question some more.

Can there be an expression which appears as the expression of a person, without there being a person?

We would not know. At the very least, we could not hold that such an illusion occurred both regularly and naturally, lest we lose confidence in the personhood of other humans. If such an illusion could be expected, then it would no longer be an illusion--we would not read those things as an expression of personhood.

What I am puzzling over here is the mind-body problem: how is the conscious subject related to his physical body? This is different from, though related to and frequently identified with, the question as to whether we have non-physical souls or not. Many, if not most, answers to the mind-body problem identify the mind with the soul, but that is to beg other questions which I do not intend to address here just yet (viz., what is the mind? What is the soul? How are they related?). What I have expressed above are reasons for being suspicious of mind-body dualism. They do not invalidate soul-body dualism, so long as the soul and the mind are not identified with one another. It is possible for soul-body dualism to be true and the mind to have aspects which cannot be accounted for without reference to each, yet the mind not be a third thing (for that reason, I will need to address the questions in the above parenthesis eventually).