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Who Do You Trust?

An interesting package in The Post today on trustworthiness. Phil Kennicott correctly notes the fragmentation of authority. Heck, we don't want to go back to a world in which we all gathered at 6:30 p.m. in front of a bulky, tube-crammed TV to hear this one guy named Walter Cronkite deliver the news ("And that's the way it is..."). Information today is more abundant, less constrained, more available -- though you have to be savvier as a news consumer. The market is sprawling and you have to squeeze a lot of cantaloupes before knowing which one's ripe.

Vietnam, Watergate, non-existent WMD, the Wall Street collapse -- recent history is full of moments when we learned that the best and brightest were capable of mistakes, fraudulence and malfeasance of great enormity. Distrust (and its cousins, cynicism and skepticism) isn't irrational.

But I think one of the basic strengths of the United States is that most people are honest and can be trusted to keep their end of a bargain. This is not true in every society. In daily life in America, we trust the person across the counter to give us a fair deal.

The MSM gets a lot of flak, but seems to me there are lots of newscasters who are honorable heirs to the Cronkite tradition (nice to see people giving Brian Williams and Jim Lehrer props in the Post roundup). What's different is that we want and expect more than just a news summary from a single source. The 30-minute evening newscast now seems like a tip sheet for the news, a preliminary sketch, invariably superficial, rather than as a satisfying digest of what's going on.

Google and Wikipedia are pretty good, but they're just starting points in the quest to find out what's going on. (Here's an idea: Go to a library. Check out some books.)

More things I trust:

I trust nature, resilient and resourceful as it has shown itself to be for some 4 billion years in these parts.

I trust the ocean. I trust the mountains. The rivers: Not so much.

I trust the scientific method, for being so relentlessly self-correcting, and for having the courage to view truth as provisional.

I trust the future. Could be foolish. But trust always has an element of faith. I trust the future to give us a better world. (Cross my fingers.)

By Joel Achenbach  |  July 21, 2009; 7:19 AM ET
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Next: Yellowstone To Blow?


I've lost faith in the future, pending getting around to ordering and reading "A Reef in Time"

If a fine country like Australia can't keep the Great Barrier Reef from going bust, we're in trouble.

Posted by: DaveoftheCoonties | July 21, 2009 9:18 AM | Report abuse

Welcome back!

No time to comment; I'm on my way to the library. Might even check out a book.

Posted by: kbertocci | July 21, 2009 9:20 AM | Report abuse

Urk....not a propitious first comment for the Boodle.

I admire the Mainstream Media, including the big newspapers, some of which have vastly expanded readerships thanks to the Internet (St. Pete Times and perhaps the Guardian?).

But I wonder how much influence they wield, at least among white males.

Posted by: DaveoftheCoonties | July 21, 2009 9:21 AM | Report abuse

great - now i have a "who do you love" tune cootie! thanks a lot joel!


Posted by: mortii | July 21, 2009 9:45 AM | Report abuse

Nice article in the Balto Sun today about the woman who created Wall $treet Week with Louis Rukeyser.

She thinks (and I agree) that we can no longer trust financial television. Lou's "do your homework and buy and hold for the long term" advice seems to be considered too old fashioned. Too bad... it usually works.

Posted by: -TBG- | July 21, 2009 9:48 AM | Report abuse

Oops.. forgot the link...,0,7671189.column

Posted by: -TBG- | July 21, 2009 10:01 AM | Report abuse

Some help for S'Nuke from the big guy:

Posted by: DNA_Girl | July 21, 2009 10:03 AM | Report abuse

welcome back, JA!
Good morning, Boodlers!

Good kit, reminds me of the speech by a chaplain on my first day in the USMC.

However--Trust mountains? No way, they are treacherous and have a way of zapping the unwary.

My comments on Marines in Afghanistan can be found here:


Posted by: Braguine | July 21, 2009 10:10 AM | Report abuse

Test. When I type too long the words disappear.

Posted by: Ivansmom | July 21, 2009 10:23 AM | Report abuse

Okay. A hearty welcome back to Joel. And - clearing my throat - MO!!!

Please excuse all typos. I only intermittently see text in the box, then it disappears. Technology is mysterious. I think I don't trust it.

I do trust - hmmm. Music. I trust music.

Like Joel, I trust the ocean and mountains, and I also trust land. Acreage. I suppose I sort of trust Nature, even when it tries to kill us. At least it is consistent, if never predictable.

Not to get mushy here, but I trust in the human spirit, all evidence to the contrary acknowledged. I really do. Since I believe firmly in evil, I find I have to believe in good as well. In my experience if you expect good of people, most of them deliver. This makes it easy to mark out the ones that don't. Alright, that sentence became visible long enough to double space. Did I mention that today I don't trust technology?

Posted by: Ivansmom | July 21, 2009 10:29 AM | Report abuse

Ohhh, those rivers. They make me so *angry*.

(Italics really would have helped, there).

Posted by: ScienceTim | July 21, 2009 10:29 AM | Report abuse

And, of course, there's also problems with exploding comets. Particularly those that do their gigaton destruction thing when my colleagues have the telescope time, not me. I don't get out there until early August. Dang!

Posted by: ScienceTim | July 21, 2009 10:31 AM | Report abuse

The most important way in which you can trust nature -- you can trust nature to give humanity the Big Smack-down if we get too full of ourselves. Keep that in mind.

Posted by: ScienceTim | July 21, 2009 10:32 AM | Report abuse

Morning all,
I suppose I trust nature (even the rivers) in as far as I know nature won't lie to me. Certain components of nature might be treacherous, but never guilty of treachery.

But I really trust two things unequivocally: my wife and my dog.

Posted by: Southwester | July 21, 2009 10:47 AM | Report abuse

Um...I don't wanna be a downer, but any sailor who trusts the ocean is bound sooner or later to wind up at the bottom of one. Oceans pretty much want to kill you a good bit of the time, unless you are very careful and knowledgable or very lucky (foolhardy). They are often full of large, mean creatures who want to eat you, and the medium itself will get uppity on occasion, and will try to drown you for no reason. Generally speaking immersing oneself in one any more than, say, knee-deep presents increasingly large opportunities for trouble. (See, for instance, Jaws; also, Dick, Moby; Sea, 20,000 Leagues Under; Mary Deare, Wreck of the; Tempest, The; Jonah, Book of; Nemo, Finding [of].)

Perhaps one should also mention persons of malign intent who dwell upon said ocean. (See, Caribbean, Pirates of the; Kidd or Kydd, Captain; Alabama, Maersk, and Phillips, Richard, and Snipers, SEAL.)

Likewise, I'm still a wee bit leary of Mother Nature. (See Katrina, Hurricane, Vesuvius, Mount, Krakatoa [which is still erupting, BTW].)

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | July 21, 2009 10:49 AM | Report abuse

Precisely, ScineceTim and Mudge. Nature may be unpredicatble and out to kill us, but we can trust her (it?) for that. I don't necessarily trust nature to be benevolent, just consistent.

Southwester, that is so sweet. See what I meant about trusting people?

This is disconcerting. The only way I can post at all is to avoid looking at the screen.

Posted by: Ivansmom | July 21, 2009 10:58 AM | Report abuse

Thanks for the Kratatoa report. I was wondering.

Posted by: Ivansmom | July 21, 2009 10:59 AM | Report abuse

@Ivansmom: Haven't a clue what's causing your trouble, but you could type in notepad and paste to the browser as a workaround.

Posted by: Southwester | July 21, 2009 11:02 AM | Report abuse

One marvel of the Oregon coast was that the formidable Pacific provided safe opportunities for novice surfers.

Posted by: DaveoftheCoonties | July 21, 2009 11:05 AM | Report abuse

Jupiter Smash! A new spot on the big planet looks like a recent hit. Fresh info, just out. Also at NYT.

Posted by: DaveoftheCoonties | July 21, 2009 11:07 AM | Report abuse

Hi, Mo!

Trust is an interesting word.

To me, it's not the same as belief; I can trust someone though I may or may not believe their words. Trust may be transient, as are my percetptions, thoughts and opinions. And heck, even *facts* may be a matter of opinion and perception (see: Moon landings, for example).

But I believe that someday I will pass this mortal coil, and that's a fact (ha!).

And I believe that over Time, Everything changes - that is the Nature of things.

Interestingly, there is a combination of things that to me is nearly unbreakable in the face of Universal Change - love combined with trust *and* belief. Something that transcends time and space and life itself.

I wonder, is this what they mean by Truth?

Destiny is another word I have issues with, though for some reason, it resonates with me.


Posted by: -bc- | July 21, 2009 11:13 AM | Report abuse

In 1991, while on an exploration trip deep into the Andes, one night, the earth shook and we were covered in white ash. A few miles away, Peteroa volcano began to errupt.

That was the beginning of one of the longest days in my life. Wind picked up the ash, horses had trouble seeing where they stepped. Lungs burned, condors soared above waiting for us to die.


Posted by: Braguine | July 21, 2009 11:14 AM | Report abuse

Thanks southwester, but then I would have to find notepad and figure out how to use it. The depths of my technological ignorance are pretty deepth. Besides, I like the elephant of surprise.

Posted by: Ivansmom | July 21, 2009 11:15 AM | Report abuse

God loves us so much more than we can imagine through Him that died for all, Jesus Christ.

Good morning, friends. My first sentence relates my trust. I'm with you, JA, on the future, considering the people in charge of that future. Will keep my fingers crossed too.

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Do any of you know this man? I've seen him on television a number of times, and read one of his books. Do you believe the police in the city he lives in don't know him? Evidently not. They arrested him for being in his own home. And I believe they were nasty about it. We still have problem in America.

And did anyone see the interview of Micheal Steele, chairman of the Republican Party with Wolf Blitzer? The man is delusional, Steele that is. He doesn't believe race to be a problem in America. Please. I need what he's drinking. It might cure cancer.

Ivansmom, I noticed the sentence, that you've seen evil. I think I have too, and it was frightening. I have read it in books and heard people talk about it, but up close, I was afraid, and couldn't believe it. I stood my ground, but I was shaking inside.

Mudge, Slyness, Yoki, Martooni, Scotty, and all the gang, have a great day. I'm babysitting. The g-girl is here, loud and clear. Isn't life, grand?

Posted by: cmyth4u | July 21, 2009 11:16 AM | Report abuse

I think that trust is a choice we make, a movement of the spirit, not something that just comes upon us passively. It always involves risk to some degree; the risk of betrayal, the danger of self-exposure.

How inclined we are to take that risk is perhaps a matter of temperament, but the placing of trust seems to me to be an act of will.

Posted by: Yoki | July 21, 2009 11:20 AM | Report abuse

Life is truly grand, Cassandra. Thanks for reminding us. And I couldn't agree more about the future. The next generation is very capable, from what I have seen.

Posted by: -TBG- | July 21, 2009 11:25 AM | Report abuse

An act of will? Hmmmm. Have to think about that. I suppose in the same sense as love is an act of will also (see Rollo May, "Love and Will," which I know Yoki and CqP have read).

My reluctance to agree is based upon the fact that I love certain people, and also trust certain other people pretty much without any conscious thought (or so it seems). I tend to follow the notion that "The heart wants what it wants." And now that Yoki has raised the question, I also wonder if "the heart trusts whom it trusts" in basically the same way. (I use the metaphor of the heart simply as a means of seperating it from "the brain," i.e., emotional process versus intellectual process.

Do we not "trust" based on emotion rather than analytical intellect? When you walk into a clothing store or a used car lot, surely you make a decision that you trust the sales person (or not) within about two seconds, based on nothing remotely rational?

Of course, I had this same dilemma with May's book, too.

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | July 21, 2009 11:34 AM | Report abuse

I think the most disturbing thing about this article is finding out Jackson Browne is 60 years old. Sigh.

Posted by: -TBG- | July 21, 2009 11:36 AM | Report abuse

Unfortunately my choice of profession has guaranteed that I see evil and there are some things you just can't explain any other way. I also think trust is a conscious choice, whether it is temporary or permanent, separate from or allied with belief. I also think that, because of and despite everything, life is grand.

Cassandra, I've only read about Henry Louis Gates. I find his arrest appalling but not surprising. Boston has always had a troubled history of race relations. For every few steps forward you'll find some people standing still and others moving backwards. I dated a black man for a while when I lived there. We stayed in the more upscale (tolerant) parts of town as a rule, but even in the 'eighties three was some reaction to us as a couple. He had an infectious grin and cheerful personality, and he was pretty big (used to play football) so nobody messed with us, but you could see it. He said he much preferred being in the South, where the racism was open and you could deal with it.

Posted by: Ivansmom | July 21, 2009 11:39 AM | Report abuse

Popping in oh, so briefly, to state that I *adore* Henry Louis Gates, have tried to watch all his PBS programs (regret that I haven't gotten to his books yet).

His situation makes me think that when Obama is no longer President (let's hope after *two* terms) the same thing won't happen to him. Yeah, I know -- he'll have secret service to protect him for the rest of his life (thankfully), but how about his kids?

Boston has a very long history of race and religion intolerance. it abates from time to time, and while I think it is on its face a lovely city, beyond the face and into the brain can be an exceedingly rocky journey, depending on what you look like and/or believe (or not).

Gotta go. . . .

Posted by: -ftb- | July 21, 2009 11:48 AM | Report abuse

MO!!!!!!!!!!! *again with the HUGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGing* :-)

*opening my eyes after a bit of a nap and glancing up*

My FSM... It's full of stars!!

I trust in gravity, entropy, taxes... You know, the universal constants.

Posted by: Scottynuke | July 21, 2009 11:51 AM | Report abuse

I find it cosmically ironic that McCain and the GOP were using "Running on Empty" to criticize Obama. Well, the Muse of Irony has had the last laugh on that one.

Indeed the Muse of Irony has been working her sweet little tail off for a year or so, where Republicans are concerned. That woman sure has been multi-tasking.

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | July 21, 2009 12:01 PM | Report abuse

these days, trust in the media has declined for me. my personal list includes these: gene robinson, tom friedman, anna quindlen, colbert king, daniel schorr, and of course you, mr. joel.

Posted by: butlerguy | July 21, 2009 12:26 PM | Report abuse

butlerguy! and Mo!! Howdy! All you past and sometime lurkers, and sometime regulars, chime in with a sentence or so. We can have an Occasional Poster lunch. That sounds so much nicer than Odd Poster, don't you think?

Posted by: Ivansmom | July 21, 2009 12:29 PM | Report abuse

I thought the Running on Empty was McCain's slogan... kind of having to do with not being able to count him out.

But I wasn't really paying too much attention to the Repugs anyway.

Posted by: -TBG- | July 21, 2009 12:42 PM | Report abuse

Nicer than an Imp Poster lunch anyway.

Don't trust the mountains: German rider Jens Voigt made a major face plant going down the Petit St-Bernard and was airlifted to the hospital.

Posted by: shrieking_denizen | July 21, 2009 12:45 PM | Report abuse

@Cassandra: Among the many strange things in the Gates business is that one his neighbors called the cops. Also, he was arrested after showing the cop his license and Harvard ID.

Posted by: Southwester | July 21, 2009 12:47 PM | Report abuse

@TBG: I like Repugs, but I still go back to the nicknames I used when I was seven years old: Democraps and Repooplicans.

Posted by: Southwester | July 21, 2009 12:51 PM | Report abuse

I know what you mean, Joel. Trust is a tough thing to come by these days.

Posted by: Jumper1 | July 21, 2009 12:57 PM | Report abuse

Please excuse the fact that I just cut and pasted.

Alfred Adler:
Trust only movement. Life happens at the level of events, not of words. Trust movement.

Benjamin Spock:
Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do.

Booker T. Washington:
Few things help an individual more than to place responsibility upon him, and to let him know that you trust him.

E.M. Forster:
One must be fond of people and trust them if one is not to make a mess of life.

Frank Crane:
You may be deceived if you trust too much, but you will live in torment if you don't trust enough.

Indira Gandhi:
You can't shake hands with a clenched fist.

Rita Mae Brown:
Creativity comes from trust. Trust your instincts. And never hope more than you work.

Posted by: -dbG- | July 21, 2009 1:01 PM | Report abuse

Mac users-Verizon FIOS problem solved. Not that Verizon will admit to a problem! Thank goodness for enterprising young code monkeys.

MO! Good to see you and Butler Guy.

Trust quotes from books near me:

“Trust is the expectation that arises within a community of regular, honest, and cooperative behavior, based on commonly shared norms, on the part of other members of that community.”

- F. Fukuyama, Trust: The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity, New York, NY: Free Press, 1995, p. 26

“Trust can be defined as the judgement one makes on the basis of one's past interactions with others that they will seek to act in ways that favor one's interests, rather than harm them, in circumstances that remain to be defined. Trusting judgements inevitably remain tentative, rather than certain, since they are based on a limited knowledge of others rather than a precise calculation of their interests.”

- E. Lorenz, “Trust, Contract and Economic Cooperation,” Cambridge Journal of Economics, 23, 1999, p. 305

Posted by: CollegequaParkian | July 21, 2009 1:04 PM | Report abuse

Mudge, Rollo May was responding in part to the Kierkegaardian notion of certain non-evidence based human inclinations requiring a leap of faith. Soren Kirkegaard called it a leap TO faith, but that distinction was lost in translation.

May calls this inclination an act of will, rather than leap of faith.

Love -- and trust -- both require some act of the human heart over the chasm of doubt.

Faith is to commit oneself to act based on sufficient experience -- perhaps supernatural -- to warrant belief, but without absolute proof. To have faith involves an act of will.

Love requires the same movement of a human heart toward another. Love is essentially a supernatural phenomenon; requiring a leap or will-act of some sort.

I trust Love, over the arc of a life time.

Posted by: CollegequaParkian | July 21, 2009 1:14 PM | Report abuse

Trust is what makes you a Goodfella.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | July 21, 2009 1:17 PM | Report abuse

Hi collegeparkian! Good to have you back, free from FIOS problems. At least you're not invisible.

I realized the only books near me deal with "trust" in the sense of property or money. Not very helpful to our current discussion, but a nice reminder of the mutability and mutliple meanings of words.

Posted by: Ivansmom | July 21, 2009 1:33 PM | Report abuse

I was wondering about the "who" or "whom" conundrum in the kit's title.

Posted by: -TBG- | July 21, 2009 1:35 PM | Report abuse

Yes, I got that part of it, CqP. But my problem with May (and Kierkegaard) on the questions of love and trust always struck me as conscious, rational and affirmative decision-making, whereas I was always concerned that these things came about sub- or even unconsciously, i.e., irrational (or perhaps, better, a-rationally).

For this reason I would seperate love and trust, on one hand, as being different from faith, on the other. I think faith *should* be the result of a conscious, rational and affirmative decision, as implied in the notion that faith requires a commitment, etc. That's all well and good by me. But I don't think love or trust require any conscious process whatsoever.

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | July 21, 2009 1:36 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: Jumper1 | July 21, 2009 1:40 PM | Report abuse

I think May -- and Kierkegaard-- are analyzing what happens in faith, trust, and love. Studying the process is different from behaving in the process.

All require that a movement toward something occur DESPITE evidence. We trust people now, without knowing what they might do in the future. We assume that the person will be fair, consistent, reliable, steady, rocklike, predicable....

Love as attraction, is not the same at all. Here, the evidence about dopamine in our brains' pleasure centers and the screaming scheming of DNA insisting that it will combine and go forward is very compelling. Love as initial attraction is very much a predictable action

Posted by: CollegequaParkian | July 21, 2009 1:47 PM | Report abuse

Mudge -- for many faith-ey people, the experience is about love: Love experienced in a two-way exchange between the self and God. So, not really a 'rational" act at all.

Posted by: CollegequaParkian | July 21, 2009 1:50 PM | Report abuse

*hugs to everyone*

trust - that's a great topic for me today... the particular agency that i work for has consolidated their IT services. lots of promises were made, to the users and to the technicians, that were immediately broken. nothing particulary EARTH SHATTERING i suppose but major changes. it's a train wreck. on the plus side? i have a window!!!! and i'll have plenty more time to boodle!

Posted by: mortii | July 21, 2009 1:55 PM | Report abuse

Hi, mo, butlerguy, kbertocci, CP!

The Kit title reminded me of Who Do You Trust and Johnny Carson. In my household, we used to discuss whether it should be Whom Do You Trust.

Ivansmom, my advice would be to reboot, or at least stop and restart your browser, if you haven't tried that already.

Posted by: seasea1 | July 21, 2009 1:57 PM | Report abuse

Windows are good, mo.

The best thing I saw in the Henry Louis Gates article is that his lawyer is Charles Ogletree. Oh, snap!

Posted by: seasea1 | July 21, 2009 2:00 PM | Report abuse

Back from the doctor (I lost seven pounds in six weeks! Yay!) and lunch with my favorite twin boys. They have had a haircut and are talking ("Shoe." "No, W, honey, that's a sock." "Shoe.") They have also learned NO.

I have always appreciated Scott Peck's definition of love: The will to nurture one's own or another's spiritual growth. Trust is certainly a part of that, and yes, it is a conscious decision that requires self-discipline to carry out.

Posted by: slyness | July 21, 2009 2:13 PM | Report abuse

Here's my problem, CqP: for 50 years I have never understood what this sort of thing meant: "the experience is about love: Love experienced in a two-way exchange between the self and God." I simply have never understood what those words mean, not in any meaningful sense. I don't mean this in any way disrespectfully, but I simply cannot fathom what that means. It's like you were speaking a foreign language. Those terms have no meaning for me. (I suspect it is true of many people, not just me.) I've been listening to sermons on and off for half a century, and the language being used is just plain ...what? I don't have a good word. Unintelligible?

(And you are aware I've read a pretty fair amount of philosophy and religion. But I usually get to a point where those kinds of words on a page just don't mean anythng I can understand.)

Anybody else understand what I'm trying to say? To me a statement like "God is love" or "Jesus is Lord" is like saying "mustard is a bicycle." (I'm not trying to be funny; I'm quite serious.)

As it happens, yesterday on the bus coming to work, I saw a man standing in the median on Pennsylvania Ave. with that same sign, "Jesus is Lord." I understand that this message means something to him (and that is fine). But I don't think he had any clue whatsoever that the actual words have no meaning to many people who might see it. And so I often wonder what religious people believe they are doing when they make religious statements. If they are merely self-affirming, then I understand that, and I don't need to understand what it is they are telling themselves; in fact, it's really none of my business. But if that man believes he is communicating some idea to me, then he is woefully deluded, because I'm not remotely close to receiving said message.

And I don't understand the mechanism behind this disconnect, merely that it exists.

Any thoughts?

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | July 21, 2009 2:22 PM | Report abuse

Dear Mudge,

I do not understand this myself. I am not a "Jesus is Lord" person, btw. I have some theological cover for this, as Lord can sometimes mean simply "Mister."

I have experienced -- do experience -- a great and supernatural experience of Love that I can only interpret as being that of the presence of God.

Non theist friends tell me that this experience reminds them of the experiential reaction they have to particularities of nature: thunderstorm, canyon, old forest grove, glade-hidden pond....

It is a mystery.

Posted by: CollegequaParkian | July 21, 2009 2:37 PM | Report abuse

A manatee in the Chesapeake Bay!

Posted by: -TBG- | July 21, 2009 2:41 PM | Report abuse

About the faith experience, Jung is helpful. BTW, Jung said publically in the mid to late of his life that he did simply knew that God existed.

But the two most useful thinkers about this mystic experience of God would be

Rudoph Otto and Micea Eliede

Otto argues that the non-rational in religion must be given its due importance. He calls this experience that of the numin or being numinous. Otto characterizes the numinous as the holy (i.e. God) minus its moral and rational aspects. In other words, the numinous is the ineffable core of religion. The profession within religion was forced to develop a language unto itself to describe and relate the experience of religious or spiritual feeling. In short, this reality cannot be described in terms of other experiences.

Does this underscore why it feels foreign or wacky or self-referential?

Posted by: CollegequaParkian | July 21, 2009 2:44 PM | Report abuse

Blechhhh. Misspelled ME
Mircea Eliade wrote _ The Sacred & the Profane_ (1957)

A Chessie Manatee...I am utterly charmed, TBG. Thank you for the real whimsy.

Posted by: CollegequaParkian | July 21, 2009 2:46 PM | Report abuse

Finally, Mudge, cognitive physiological neuroscience is revealing that variations in brain structures and chemical patterns can incline a person more toward the mystical experience than other human beings.

Still, a mystery.

Posted by: CollegequaParkian | July 21, 2009 2:56 PM | Report abuse

Charges dropped against Gates:

Could have happened a little faster, but still...

Posted by: Scottynuke | July 21, 2009 2:58 PM | Report abuse

@mudge: Heretic! Mustard is a tricycle!

In all seriousness, I have the same trouble, though it doesn't bother me. As a child, I went to church with my mother (my father was an atheist his entire life) and I liked singing hymns, but I never really bought into the whole God or Jesus business. I still love singing hymns, but I've never believed in the supernatural. When people say God is Love, to me it just means that within the context of belief, your god is a loving god and that love and charity are godly.

Posted by: Southwester | July 21, 2009 3:00 PM | Report abuse

Here comes mister stupid ... me.

Just back from work and love (I don't know either Mudge) this discussion.

From a person who was and will always have my trust:

"It's too easy only to blame the militarists, racists, sexists and other pushers of violence for the mess we're in. What is harder is self-examination, moving beyond caring by looking inward to ask the personal question: What more should I be doing everyday to bring about a peace and justice based world, whether across the ocean or across the living room?"

What I want is to know that those who I count on--on any basis--have my better interests at heart and take the responsibility for the group as a whole.

In the opening salvo here from Joel, he runs off a list of national failures. If one becomes an active member of the community ... an activist ... one takes on some role of determining the path for a public group large or small.

There is a certain amount of respect that must be earned by those who "swim upstream;" who take unpopular positions that still happened to be humane and reasoned; and who might get ostracized for their efforts.

As a member of society, I trust those who can take difficult positions that I respect. I also admit to taking a bit of enjoyment from sharing the awful truth that with the hard headed that when we, as a nation, do something very bad, we have ownership of that bad deed. There are no passengers here, as in cycling. You don't get a free pass at the back of the pack.

We really show very little understanding of the whole reality, but just cherry pick as need be. Take the treatment of Bill Ayers. He and Cronkite were both against the war in Vietnam. As a matter of fact, so was I. Who do you trust? McNamara? Guys who supported McNamara? Bill Ayers?

Oh, no, he was and still must be a terrorist. Basic T-shirt level logic.

Posted by: russianthistle | July 21, 2009 3:13 PM | Report abuse

@SWer... same with me. Although in my church the congregation did not sing the hymns. But I love to go to Protestant church just for that reason.

I remember thinking when I was a kid, "ahhh... these people don't really believe this, right? They just tell it all to the kids for some reason, but the grownups have it all figured out to be false and just PRETEND to believe it so they can gather here together. That's gotta be it."

Posted by: -TBG- | July 21, 2009 3:19 PM | Report abuse

I have always been astounded at how some people understand, and others do not, about God. As CqP (so glad to have you back!) says, it is truly a mystery. In my experience, what is necessary is a driven need to know and be known to God. If you don't have the need, then it won't ever make sense.

This is not to say that any human being knows or understands God; that is impossible, at least in this life. I was eighteen when I reached the point that I shouted out that I couldn't take it any more and asked God to come. And God came, immediately, in the form of the greatest peace I have ever known. It was not an experience that I can talk rationally about, but it was as real as the lamp on my desk that illuminates me as I type.

The Apostle Paul was right when he wrote about the stupendous gifts: "But the harvest of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, fidelity, gentleness, and self-control." (Gal. 5:22)

I have always wondered why I was one of the lucky ones. I wish everybody were so fortunate.

Posted by: slyness | July 21, 2009 3:20 PM | Report abuse

That Gates story is disturbing, were I to be arrested/suspected of breaking into my own home I do believe I would be rather upset - as would many. Quite difficult not to cast the Boston Police actions in a negative way.

Glad we did not have that type of vigilant neighbourhood watch the day my husband locked himself out of the house and had to climb up onto the flat roof over the garage and through a bedroom window - in his robe. I do not recall why I was already outside - perhaps gardening - but I do remember laughing - a lot.

I trust that life will change, some will adapt, some may not - wondering what will happen in the next day, month, years intrigues me.

Posted by: dmd3 | July 21, 2009 3:26 PM | Report abuse

That Gates story is disturbing, were I to be arrested/suspected of breaking into my own home I do believe I would be rather upset - as would many. Quite difficult not to cast the Boston Police actions in a negative way.

Glad we did not have that type of vigilant neighbourhood watch the day my husband locked himself out of the house and had to climb up onto the flat roof over the garage and through a bedroom window - in his robe. I do not recall why I was already outside - perhaps gardening - but I do remember laughing - a lot.

I trust that life will change, some will adapt, some may not - wondering what will happen in the next day, month, years intrigues me.

Posted by: dmd3 | July 21, 2009 3:26 PM | Report abuse

That Gates story is disturbing, were I to be arrested/suspected of breaking into my own home I do believe I would be rather upset - as would many. Quite difficult not to cast the Boston Police actions in a negative way.

Glad we did not have that type of vigilant neighbourhood watch the day my husband locked himself out of the house and had to climb up onto the flat roof over the garage and through a bedroom window - in his robe. I do not recall why I was already outside - perhaps gardening - but I do remember laughing - a lot.

I trust that life will change, some will adapt, some may not - wondering what will happen in the next day, month, years intrigues me.

Posted by: dmd3 | July 21, 2009 3:26 PM | Report abuse

I'll take a stab at this, since "God is Love" makes sense to me.

Love binds people together, Mudge, you agree? What else drives you to care about what another person wants or does? What drives you to want to raise kids? What makes you moved to tears (or smiles) at a scene of beauty?

If we look at love as a connective power, then think about how huge the universe is, and how it still somehow operates as a whole, as far as we know by the law of physics, which allows life to be possible, and that when you die, others will laugh, cry and love for you, as they did before you--

And then say you presume this universe is a creation that allows love, the (all too brief) harmony of individual wills, the emergence of hope out of chaos...

Then it is obvious that God is love-- the maker of all types of love; the connector of energy and matter; the connection between our dreams and reality, the agent, vessel, and spark behind our ability to feel love at all.

It's not just that God loves us, yadda yadda. It's more profound than that. He is the convenant of our being, and that convenant is founded on love.

Of course, we all fail to love, do evil, yadda yadda.

But if somebody starts with God is love in all its forms, human, nonhuman and beyond, there's hope that person won't use God to justify bigotry.

Too bad it sounds like "mustard is a bicycle" to you.

Think of it as mustard being the calorie and zest on a hot dog that powers the fincky eater of a cyclist that powers the bicycle. Literally, that bicycle needs mustard, then. Among other stuff.

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | July 21, 2009 3:26 PM | Report abuse

By the way, the word that translates as "love" is agape-- not romantic love, but brotherly love, fellow feeling towards mankind; it also gets translated as "charity."

But none of those translations, to my mind, quite captures the essence of it, since as we all know too well, "fellow love" in action is often just tolerance, and that's not what is meant.

So yes, "mustard" is being used to describe a bicycle, without explaining that it used to describe the color of the bicycle.

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | July 21, 2009 3:34 PM | Report abuse

In part I am trying to (seriously) discuss a point of theology, but I'm also trying to talk about a piece (actually two pieces) of communications theory, somewhat absent the theological context.

The first part of the commtheory is simply the one about the man with the sign, or indeed, any religious speaker (could be of any religion) who is speaking a message with what he believes is meaningful content. One major aspect of any communications is the notion that both the speaker and the listener are using common terms that are mutually intelligible. When a person says "bicycle," both he and I understand what the word "bicycle" means. (Or if I don't, I can ask. But he and I both assume from the git-go we are on the same page and know what a biycle is.)

I understand perfectly what the word "lord" means and can give you half a dozen definitions, lord of the manor Lord Fauntleroy, the religious use of the term stemming from the Hebrew adonai, ad nauseum. I know who Jesus is. I even know the meaning of "is," to quote Bill Clinton. But put the three words together, "Jesus is Lord," and I have no idea what it means. I understand fundamantall that it means Jesus is "the Lord," and I can explain what that means as a definitional and theological postulate. I just simply don't know what it means -- rather, I don't understand what it is the speaker thinks he is telling me. Does he believe he is communicating outwardly something he thinks I may understand (at the level he wants me to understand it)? Or is he merely "witnessing," in some form, and his act of expression is simply enough, and whether he succeeds in completing the feedback loop implied in a "communication" is irrelevant to him? Is some sort of response expected from me? In fact, is the speaker himself in any meaninful sense even aware of an audience? Is he in fact even communicating (in the sense of willfully projecting a thought or idea to another human being)? I have no idea (and I believe that asking him this question would not prompt a meaningful response).

But this is what fascinates me: the disconnect. If he believes he is communicating a meaningful thought, is he aware that he is failing? (At least to people like me.) Does he understand that if he wants to enage someone in meaningful gialogue, that he is speaking, effectively, pure gibberish?

Yes, some portions of religious communication are "code"; I understand that. But this is also something that fascinates me: why code? People speak in code when they *don't* want to be widely understood by "outsiders" (those not privy to the code. Given that, why do so many religious speakers speak in code when their goal is to evangelize (communicate with the very same "outsiders" their code prohibits from understanding)?

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | July 21, 2009 3:35 PM | Report abuse

I'm not sure where that idea about the meaning of "agape" comes from. In a Greek household, the word "agape" means love, not charity. "S'agapo" means "I love you." Agape-mou means "my love" and it's what parents call their children (and each other).

When I tell my husband "S'agapo" it's no different from anyone here saying "I love you" to his or her spouse.

Yes, "agape" is different from "eros" but we have that distinction, too, in our language... not just the word "love" but the context.

Posted by: -TBG- | July 21, 2009 3:45 PM | Report abuse

Trust, to me, is the most fundamental paradox of human existence.

Without trust all meaningful human interactions would grind to a halt. I think that the ability to really establish trust with another person is, in many ways, indistinguishable from love. Both represent a ceding of control.

And yet, this ceding of control, which can sometimes seem so virtuous, can also lead to Very Bad Things. For hateful demagoguery and the most heinous forms of exploitation can be traced back to misplaced trust. Blind faith is what drives suicide bombers, and has justified some of the greatest horrors of history.

Yet, without it lies paranoia and cold isolation.

So all I know about trust is that is always involves risk. Which gets back to that paradox bit.

Trust is neither a virtue nor a flaw. Like many intrinsic characteristics of being human, it is a trade-off. Yes, it is good to trust others, but you also need to trust yourself.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | July 21, 2009 3:46 PM | Report abuse

Sorry for the triple post, my computer was having a glitchy moment.

Mudge I fully understand your confusion about Jesus is Lord, not that different from my confusion as a child trying to understand the concept of the Holy Trinity - it is a tenant of the Catholic faith (some protestant as well?) that if you believe you really need to trust that concept is true.

For Mo, never underestimate the power of a good hug (not that you would).

Posted by: dmd3 | July 21, 2009 3:47 PM | Report abuse

No, don't get hung up on mustard, Wilbrod. I just used it as a nonsensical word. Yes, I understand "agape," and all the other various definitions and kinds of love. I had all those college courses, too, so I know the vocabulary.

But no, I don't understand a phrase like "love binds people together." Or rather, I *do* understand it--but I don't agree with it as a blanket statement. Sometimes it binds them together, and sometimes it separates them. I don't find that "love binds people together" to be a very useful statement. If I do agree with it, so what? OK, it binds them together in some way. And then what?

As it happens, I'm a big fan of William James' "The Varieties of Religious Experience." And I am familiar with the awe of some event, such as a beautiful sunset or whatever the religious experience of awe, etc., might be. I just don't especially associate the word "love" with it. That strikes me as an artificially applied idea layered on top of some other kind of emotion, for political (read: religious) ends. I fully understand awe of the cosmos, of the creation. I really do. I just cannot apply the word "love" to it. The cosmos does not love *me* (platonically, as agape, or whatever). Whether I love it unrequitedly is pretty much irrelevant to anything and everything. I might, or I might not love it. So what? And even suppose the cosmos, all creation itself, and I happen to love each other mutually: so what? what does that mean?

Yes, it may indeed be sad that much religious speech sounds to me like "mustard is a bicycle." But I have to raise the question, is it the religious speech that is flawed, or is it the listener (me, in this case). And is that question even important? Whether it is the speaker or the listener who has the "problem" (I'm trying to avoid saying "is at fault), doesn't suggest rather strongly that the speech itself is deeply flawed if some portion of the listeneres can't understand it? Doesn't it at least suggest this should be investigated and examined?

This is what I find fascinating: that religious speakers are not "heard" by some listeners at a fundamental level. Whose to blame I cannot say. But I suspect it is the speech that is flawed, not the listener. (But of course, as a listener, I acknowledge being biased.)

(Hate to run at this point, but gotta shut down my computer and head for the bus.)

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | July 21, 2009 3:53 PM | Report abuse

My mother took my sisters and me to church as little girls. We wore the little dresses with the bows and ties, and patent leather shoes with the frilly socks. Our hair was fixed, as we say, and we thought the world was ours. It didn't matter that we had to walk so far to get to that church, we were together and we thought we looked pretty. And so did mother.

Later in life, I left the church because the harmones kicked in and many of my friends didn't believe and had no idea of church. And neither did I. After all those years of going, I didn't have a clue. Oh, but one day, God touched me in the deepest part of my heart. A heart that had been broken and abused, and His light took residence there, warming me, and giving me a peace I never knew. I had some knowledge of Christ, but not a clear understanding. When I returned to church through Bible study, my understanding became clear, and not only that, I realized that Christ loved me when I did not love Him, and I wept. And still weep when I think about how great is that love. All you have to do is call Him, with a true heart, and He will answer. He answered me while sitting over a old typewriter trying to figure out what to say, and I will always cherish that day and the change He brought about in me.

I'm writing this, and no one has a gun at my head, nor have I been drinking, and not on drugs. If you have something better or know something better than God and Christ, name it. I dare you.

Posted by: cmyth4u | July 21, 2009 3:55 PM | Report abuse

Thomas Jefferson? No. Haiku

Some gave all their hearts
To God and having given
His heart was bigger

Posted by: Jumper1 | July 21, 2009 4:08 PM | Report abuse

Yes, Cassandra. That's the feeling of love that I mean.

Maybe it's something that has to be experienced to be understood, and then once understood, it is enough to say it, not explain it.

"I love my wife." You wanna go in all details and detail everything you love (or not) for this assertion to be accepted?

And to your question about "Jesus is Lord."

I think the guy is expressing his faith and feeling, rather than asserting a theological position.

Just because you don't understand that feeling, doesn't mean he has to communicate it in a thesis or anything else.

He probably knows from your expression if you understood or not.

Also, jargon develops among people who must deal with the same obscure objects and concepts frequently.

I would not consider this, in most cases, conscious "in-group" code meant to exclude non-believers who lack those concepts. It's just how our brains work. That's why slang, jargon, and proverbs evolve.

People need words for their feelings. If church hands them some for stuff they never felt before, they'll use it, especially if others about them understand it.

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | July 21, 2009 4:20 PM | Report abuse

Whenever 'Mudge gets back, I think he'll agree this is another communication conundrum: flag-burning.

For some (such as myself), a flag is a symbol, and manipulating it (e.g. flying it upside down) conveys meaning, and the act of manipualation is therefore speech. Burning a flag is particularly high-emotional-volume speech for sure, but political speech certainly, and therefore protected.

For others, a flag is somehow interwoven into the very fabric of our civilzation and should therefore be inviolate. At least, that's as far as I can attempt to understand them. *shrug*

Posted by: Scottynuke | July 21, 2009 4:22 PM | Report abuse

(Again, please attribute any SCC moments to pharmaceutical use for my danged back)

Posted by: Scottynuke | July 21, 2009 4:26 PM | Report abuse

I understand that feeling of love, too. And I even feel it when I read about, for example, Slyness' experience she wrote at 3:20. Because I love Slyness and it brings me happiness and warmth to know she feels true and good and whole.

I get that feeling when I'm with my kids, my husband, my sisters and their kids; when I'm surrounded by the people I love.

I just don't get the feeling from God. I appreciate that others do get this feeling and I respect their feelings and their beliefs.

But I'm not missing anything, because like CqueP says, I can get that feeling from other places--mainly because I let myself.

I think that's the key, too. Let yourself be loved and feel love. Let yourself trust. Let yourself give. Let yourself love. It works wonders.

Posted by: -TBG- | July 21, 2009 4:29 PM | Report abuse

New Kit!

Posted by: Yoki | July 21, 2009 4:33 PM | Report abuse

Jumping in, but just for a moment to say...

Mudge, I get your thought process there. Yeah, the guy with the placard knows you don't understand. Not real sure he cares on an individual basis; I think he tells himself that a fair number of people he runs across every day know what he's saying, he's just reminding them. He also probably holds out hope that his presence, his behavior, will cause someone to have an ephiphany.

But no, I wouldn't say the speech itself is deeply flawed because not all can understand. And yes, it's no one's *fault*. I think the trip-up is focusing on the universal language aspect...but it's not the language that you're not understanding. It's more along the lines of being deaf, or an orphan, or gay, or any other variety of states of being. You can read a million books about it, learn all you can, know the definition of every word in the books and be able to edit every sentence. But unless you are actually a member of that group, you can't truly *know*.

On top of all of this, I like and respect you more for giving this topic such research and contemplation, especially in light of you not being a member of that group. Definitely, cool beans.

Have a happy night all.

Posted by: LostInThought | July 21, 2009 4:46 PM | Report abuse

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