It’s time to bring to a close the age-old debate about whether dogs or cats — and the people who prefer one to the other — are smarter.
Not because the general populace has accepted the final resolution of the issue (easy — cats, paws down), but because we have a more pressing question:
Are house cats smarter than humans?
I ask this, not because ancient Egyptians so revered the creature that they deified — and worshiped — its image through their goddess Bastet, but because of a recent quote I encountered — in my Cats a Day calendar — by author Neil Gaiman:
“I would like to see anyone, prophet, king or God, convince a thousand cats to do the same thing at the same time.”
What an apt, but vaguely depressing, observation.
Cats Aren’t Group Animals
Apt, because cats are not group animals — that’s their charm. As my husband the Norwegian Artist, who prefers the dog because she’s friendlier, albeit not smarter, than the cats, commented:
“You don’t see a troupe of cats in a circus, jumping through hoops for biscuits.
“And even when a show uses lions, there’s not a pack of them, and the trainer doesn’t nonchalantly turn his back to light up a cigarette.”
Getting two cats to do the same thing, like sit on the owner’s lap and act as if they are grateful, is difficult. Getting a thousand to stand up on their back paws and meow is, as Gaiman observes, a challenge for the Almighty.
The depressing part about Gaiman’s observation is that getting two humans, ten, a thousand, or considerably more, to do the same thing at the same time is remarkably easy, and it’s successfully accomplished on a daily basis:
Just put a TV in every home. Or set up a religious meeting in a football stadium. Or announce that some electronic device is on “sale” during a limited time period — say, between 4 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. on the day after Thanksgiving — and get out of the way when the doors open.
One TV Per Person
Quite recently, the Norwegian Artist and I were treated, as an anniversary gift, to a chef’s table at a five-star restaurant, followed by a night in one of the establishment’s suites. It was luxurious, plush (there were bathrobes!), and splendidly lavish — but incorporated within the palatial and stately decor were two large-screen TVs, one in the living room and one in the bedroom, His and Hers, perhaps, and in line with contemporary thought, there was no difference between the two.
Because, after 32 years, the Norwegian and I still like each other, we took 15 minutes to flip through all the channels before we decided, as we always do, that there’s nothing worth watching. It’s certainly not for want of choice — there’s something for everyone, that is, as long as everyone doesn’t insist upon quality, depth of thought, or insufficiency of gentle, and not so gentle, manipulation of the mind.
There are sports channels — which incorporate glitzy sets that look like news rooms — and the charade plays through as commentators analyze teams and players and the season’s potential with the same seriousness as if they were discussing world politics.
And speaking of world politics, there are talk show hosts for conservatives and liberals, pontificating as do the sports commentators, speculating on all sorts of “what-if” scenarios, some of which are quite unsettling, which, I think, is the point. Precious little effort or time is given to reporting bland, prosaic, actual, true, verifiable facts with the intent of encouraging the listener to reach his own conclusions. Good God, no — those conclusions may differ from the ones he is presently prodded to reach — one set for the conservatives, another for the liberals. Libertarians, don’t despair: as alternative news increases in popularity on the Internet, a mass media outlet will be created, and customized, for you.
Did I mention the word “pontificating” in the last paragraph? Religious fare abounds for Catholic and Protestant, high church and holy roller, prosperity doctrine and eternal damnation. Significantly missing are quiet, thoughtful presentations (given without the sing-song cadence of the proverbial preacher) that discuss deep truths with the idea — again — that the listener, when presented with certain facts, is able to synthesize those facts in his own brain, based upon his intellectual ability to reason, and reach a conclusion disparate from intention.
One last thing, touching on the intellectual ability to reason I mentioned above: it’s not really needed — not for the cheesey sitcoms replete with stereotypes, paltry dialogue, and laugh track; “real life” detective movies that are cool and dark; shopping shows obviously aimed at women (love that stereotype: women shop; men watch sports); nature, science, and history programs that waste valuable film time catching the expert walking from his car to his office; telenovelas; game shows that make The Price Is Right look profound — out of 100, 200, 800 channels there is surprisingly little of quality, but this doesn’t stop not just thousands, but millions, of people from watching.
Going Along with the Group
You cannot get 1,000 cats to sit down, in one given moment, and watch a TV show, but you can get 100 times that many humans to do so.
It’s not just TV, it’s everything: we humans have a fatal flaw of going along with the crowd, believing what we are told to believe, acting in concordance with societal standards that we, as a society, didn’t necessarily set up.
As Christians, we are called to follow God, not the latest media sensation or political darling, and this is not a part time thing, to be slipped in, in between commercials.
“In Christ, we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others,” Paul says in Romans 12:5. It is telling that within Christianity, we are considered individuals who join together in one whole — the body of Christ — to worship our Father and do His work. One body, made up of individuals.
But within the world of men, we are called “the masses.”
Seriously, house cats aren’t smarter than humans. Seriously. Let’s act as if we believed this.
Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity where I encourage people to recognize their value as individuals, not worker bees and drones who teem busily about while they make honey, er . . . money, for somebody else.
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Nowadays, dystopia is the rage. Books like The Hunger Games, Divergent, and The Maze Runner seem written for the sole purpose of being turned into movies, with a concerted effort to engage today’s youth into the idea that life, and the future, are hopeless.
A highly promoted genre, dystopian fare addresses a (theoretically, set far-in-the-future) society characterized by overcrowding, human misery, totalitarian control, and a general feeling of despair.
Humanity has been reduced to squalor — everyone dresses drab — and adults my age are represented as broken down, dejected, and worn out, unable to accomplish much more than getting the gruel on the table.
It’s up to some young person — about the age of the audience the movies and books target — to stand up, out of all the millions and millions of mass humanity, and be brave. A key aspect in Divergent is that the main character, Beatrice, cannot be controlled (like the rest of the population) because she is one of those rare people who thinks for themselves — a divergent.
“All people have the capacity to think for themselves,” my son, of the age, but not the mindset, to have his world view shaped by mass media, observed. “The premise is ridiculous, but if you say it enough times, people will start to believe it.”
And then I began to think about two things:
1) Why is there such intense focus on dystopian themes, especially aimed toward the younger generation?
2) When I was part of that younger generation, what kind of movies and TV shows were aimed toward me?
Well, that’s easy — too many afternoons of Gilligan’s Island and I Dream of Jeannie wasted time that could have been spent better by reading a book, taking a walk, or talking to the family dog. My husband, the Norwegian Artist, is amazed, in a flabbergasted sort of way, at my memory for TV characters, the actors who played them, and the theme songs to their shows.
A central message during my youth and young adulthood was the inevitability, and acceptability, of divorce — and don’t hammer me; like everyone in the country today, I have loved ones and friends intimately acquainted with divorce. This is an interesting point, incidentally: in the 6th grade, the “new girl” in the class was from a divorced family — joining only one other such situationally-placed person in a class of 29 other children. We were fascinated by her, as if she were some sort of alien, and asked, “What’s it like — having your parents divorced?”
Nowadays, it is the child with the original model of parents who is the alien — a major societal change effected in just a little more than a generation. Divorce is normal; it’s expected; and it’s considered inevitable, so much so that many young people question whether it’s worth getting married, since everybody gets divorced anyway.
Shaping Young, and Older, Minds
People did not always think this way, but as my Son and Heir observed, if you say something enough, it begins to be accepted as truth.
The mass media of my youth — during the 70s and 80s — focused on divorce, and TV shows like The Brady Bunch, The Partridge Family, and One Day at a Time “explored” the concept of this phenomenon, until it no longer seemed like a phenomenon. Everybody was doing it because, eventually, everybody was, and while it is good to have the stigma removed, it’s not so good to accept, and embrace, a bad solution as the only, and best, option.
While Mike and Carol Brady showed me the relative ease with which a family blends, cop shows and detective movies shaped my opinion of the police, and well into my motherhood I told my children, “You can trust a police officer, because they always do right.”
How did I know this so confidently? I had never met an actual police officer, but my opinions were shaped by Sheriff Taylor of Mayberry R.F.D., Officers Malloy and Reed of One Adam 12, and Starsky and Hutch. Much of what I learned about life, and relationships, and reality — in my formative, youthful years — I learned from TV and movies.
And TV and movies, as we all know, are supposed to be make believe. But do the people making them believe this?
Out in Plain Sight
So now, the world of make believe is showing us the future, one in which people are divided into set, determined groups and controlled, heavy handedly, by a corrupt, totalitarian government. It strikes too close to the truth, and while some would say,
“Don’t be a conspiracy theorist! If this were really the intention of evil parties, they sure wouldn’t show it on a great big movie screen!”
Why not? Ultimately, the result of the message is a sense of hopelessness, a feeling that it’s all inevitable anyway, and there’s nothing anybody can do about it. It’s along the lines of those who believe in the End Times as set forth by the Left Behind movies and books — it’s all going to come to a rotten end before it gets good again, anyway, so why bother?
Such is the message of mass media, pointed straight at the masses, and if you, like me, feel offended at being lumped into a group of easily controlled, mindless automatons, then do something about it, and leave the group. As a Christian, I belong to a different group — a flock of sheep, actually — and rather than allow myself to be controlled, dictated to, and ultimately destroyed by wolves, I’ll focus my time, attention, thoughts, money, and life on the Good Shepherd, who laid his life down for me, as opposed to trying to grasp it in his jaws.
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy,” Jesus says in John 10:10. “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
I don’t know about you, but much of what I see on mass media — TV, movies, magazines, newspapers, churned out and poorly written books — doesn’t leave me with a sense of abundance in my life, but hopelessness. Why follow that?
Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity where I try to separate the truth of life from the lies of man, many of which are well woven into the fiber of our individual cultures.
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Some unknown, unnamed, presumably existent person, long ago, said that we should never talk about sex, religion, and politics. Aside from this eliminating pretty much everything interesting worth discussing — including the weather since, with the growing mantra of “Global Change,” the weather is now political (and religious, actually) — this pithy little saying isn’t followed by anyone.
If it were, I wouldn’t know more details than I ever wanted to know about same sex . . . sex.
But I am blitzed by news about sex — hetero, homo, and trans — and who’s having it, when, where, and how, complete with photos. So are young children, in sex education classes.
I get politics in my movies, fed to me by pallid dialogue and watery plots, and religion — do I ever get religion! Scientism, atheism, vampires, zombies, a fascination for dystopia, spiritual awareness, the power of now and the purpose of then, holistic energy, the universal cosmic consciousness, tapping into my inner child at a business seminar — religion (we call it “spirituality” now) surrounds and abounds.
The No God Zone
The only thing, or Person, we’re not allowed to discuss is God — who, to me, sort of embodies the concept of religion and spirituality.
But no, we’re told — God is a private thing. We need to keep Him that way. Our belief in God is highly personal and should never spill out into the public arena, unless, of course, it’s a photo op of the president emerging from church.
While I agree, wholeheartedly, that one’s belief in God is highly personal (as is one’s sexual activity, incidentally), God simply cannot be relegated to a small, closed room — like a closet; or worse, stuffed between the pages of a hymnal and left until next week. Those who believe in Him are not a minority on this planet, and part of believing is following His teaching — whether that teaching is in the New Testament, the Old Testament, or the Koran.
If we are reading the material that we believe He has provided for us and trying to apply it to our life, the word “God” is going to slip out at some point, and if not God, then something He said — so why does He factor so little in our daily conversation, corporate media, and individual lives?
“These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts,” Deuteronomy 6:6-7 says.
“Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”
Talk about them. Not just in the synagogue, not just at church.
Talk About God
“Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children, and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God,” Paul puts the words into action in Ephesians 5:1-2, the same chapter where he encourages, “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.”
Now while that latter may seem strange behavior in the employee break room, it’s not so odd when you think of it as letting our “conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” (Colossians 4:6)
What do we think of the immigration issue? Abortion? Genetic modification of foods and its consequential denouement, trans-humanism? Sexuality? Genderism? The Palestine/Israeli conflict? Missing planes from Malasia?
There’s not a single item on the news that we approach — or can approach — without doing so from our belief system, and if our belief system includes God, then He’s going to factor into our conversation somehow, hopefully, beyond, “Jesus Saves!” or “It’s a God Thing, you know.”
We Apply What We Read, Hear, and Think
If we have just recently read, and are meditating upon Matthew 5:7 — “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy,” we may stop and question international policy decisions.
Luke 6:38 — “A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you,” may make us wonder, how does this teaching align with a society that encourages, and rewards, usury?
“No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit,” (Luke 6:43) gives perspective on speakers and leaders, and their ability — or inability — to impart the truth.
Of course, if we don’t know what’s in the book that tells us about God, and who He is, and what He says, then we won’t be impacted in our daily lives by what’s written there. We will repeat, or rephrase, what we hear and absorb most, and if that is from TV, newspapers, radio, magazines, movies, and video games, then it’s probably not going to reflect anything about God, because the corporate media does not effusively include Him within the conversation.
Corporate media chatter is replete with politics, sex, and 21st century spirituality, but not God.
“Talking about God in this personal way is not politically correct, but it is of interest to the silent majority of which I am determined to no longer belong,” a reader commented on a recent article of mine, Grasping the Goodness of God, the teaser to which was published in a newspaper.
That’s the problem with God — He’s not politically correct. But neither then should we be, because political correction — the control of our speech and thought by a silent elite — does not lead to speech, but to silence; not to dialogue, but to acquiescence; not to knowledge, but to convention.
It’s time to invite God back into the conversation.
Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity where I write about believing in God as an ordinary person, and incorporating Him into an ordinary life.
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Although it’s been years since I’ve been in a regular church situation, I can still conjure up the feelings of dread I felt at “prayer time,” sitting around a circle (we’re told it’s “intimate”) and sharing details about our lives. The worst part was when we all bowed our heads and prayed for one another, for several reasons:
1) People mumble. They’re looking down at their knees in the first place, and when they mutter low, fast, and fuzzy, even those with the best hearing (not me) can’t hear.
2) We’re all expected to participate. If there are eight people, and eight prayer requests, it is an unwritten rule that we each take one. The problem is, some people take two. Or, by the time we summon the courage to speak (not everyone thrives upon group attention), 5 out of 8 of the prayer requests have been taken care of, and we can’t remember the other three.
Or, because people mumble, we’re not sure if the request we’re praying for has already been addressed.
Worst of all is when there’s only one request left — ours — and one person who hasn’t prayed yet — us.
3) It’s awkward. Prolonged, uncomfortable silences ensue between prayers, because no one wants to start speaking accidentally and simultaneously run in with another person.
“Should I speak? Is it quiet? Or is someone else starting to pray?” It’s back to those mumblers again (Point 1) — some of whom could be one minute into a prayer before we even realize they’ve been talking. Probably because they don’t thrive upon group attention (Point 2).
4) It’s Shallow. The very social awkwardness of it all (Point 3), coupled with people’s understandable desire to not share, or pray, deeply private elements of their lives with a group of people who, if they are not strangers, do not consist entirely of extremely close confidantes, lends itself to superficiality.
This superficiality is underscored by the prayers themselves, many of which incorporate words like, “Lord,” “Jesus,” “God,” and “Father” as punctuation: “We come before you, Lord, humbly, Lord, to beseech Thee, God, for Thy mercy, Father, in this situation.”
Because we can’t get down to bare-naked, deep essentials, we are limited in what we say, and most corporate prayers could be completed, without the word-commas, in one short sentence: “God. John and Mary want to draw closer together,” or “Father. Anne is hurt and needs healing.” Neither John nor Anne would appreciate a prayer along the lines of, “God — John no longer has feelings of love for his wife, and he finds himself avoiding her company,” or, “Anne’s severe gastrointestinal problems are embarrassing, and they are keeping her from going out socially.”
“But we are told to pray for one another!” one objects.
“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective,” James tells us in 5:16. (That last sentence is especially telling. One doesn’t have to be a church leader or celebrity Christian to qualify for the “righteous man,” part, and indeed, many an ordinary person fits the qualifications better.)
However, there is nothing in this verse that implies a corporate church setting, in the same way that the oft-repeated Hebrews 10:25 (“Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing,”) is not limited — and indeed should NOT be limited to — a weekly church service, complete with interlocking chairs and professional worship team.
If we were truly meeting together, regularly and genuinely (read: informally, as part of our daily life), then we would be praying for one another regularly and genuinely. If we knew John or Anne closely and dearly, so much so that we ache when they ache and laugh when they laugh, we would pray about John and his wife, or Anne and her literal release from release, but privately — to our Father alone — and not aloud.
Our Corporate Culture
The very nature of the words, “corporate prayer,” expresses its limitations: it is a group activity, and not just any group activity — in the peculiarly businesslike cultures where the term “corporate” is so freely used (“corporate worship,” “corporate Bible study”), there is such a focus upon “proper group dynamics” that we forgo the benefits associated with a community of believers. Indeed, the word “community” has been overused to the point that it no longer means anything beyond a corporate group activity.
While there is nothing wrong with praying as a group — and indeed, done in a manner more creative, and thoughtful, than what most of us endure now it can be beneficial — the problem comes when people associate prayer — all prayer — with the big group activity kind.
Prayer Is a Conversation, Not an “Activity”
Recently, I was asked to write a prayer that other people could read and use in their private prayer life. I chose to write on loneliness, and the editor reading the prayer commented,
“This sounds more like a conversation.”
Indeed it was — because that’s what prayer is — and I had serious misgivings about publishing it, simply because it was so rawly, nakedly, vulnerably personal: without thinking, I wrote as I would pray, intimately, to my Father, and when I read it over I thought,
“No human being should see the inner thoughts of another.”
This is true, and this is why, in a corporate setting, we don’t express our true thoughts, fears, needs, and failures — because the Father alone is worthy of our soul’s secrets:
“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corner to be seen by men . . . But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.
“Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:5-6)
True, intimate prayer is a conversation between a believer and his Father, and when our only association with prayer is the group kind, we miss out on the real thing.
Pray, in a group — even a circle — if you want, but don’t stop there. Be like Mary, of Martha and Mary fame (Luke 10:38-42), and choose the better thing, because it won’t be taken away from you.
Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where you can’t read me for long to realize that I’m not particularly excited about what passes for Christianity these days: group activities, supervised by leaders, no questions allowed.
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