The subtle power of example: Between normalcy and overreaction biases

Today we had a guest preacher. Whenever that happens its to be expected that we will hear the sermon equivalent of a stump speech. Some stump sermons are outstanding. Honed over years of delivery, if the hook and lever are workable, a gifted guest preacher and his stump sermon can be a fresh breath of air.

Today’s was better than average, and like most, was a sort of back to basics lesson about God’s presence in life, good and bad days,…like that. When it is time to make it personal for the crowd preachers start using generic examples, like, “Well Lord, my brother was ill and we prayed and prayed and we ended up burying him last month”, or “My child is off the rails in rebellion and has been for a few years, where are you God in this?” and finally “My husband ran off and won’t come back”.

The folks who read my prattling have seen me use the descriptor comfy chair as a way to describe how most people are content with their sound byte based views on things.These views never fail to bring nods all around in conversations after all. More, when a different view is articulated the person settled into the comfy chair of their shallow beliefs will deny the obvious in any form it is presented. They don’t want to sit on the wooden stool, they wanna stay in the comfy chair.

As the preacher was creating his examples its hard to fault him for the one he chose for  marriage failure. He has only heard such examples used in his lifetime. Or if he ever used or heard used an example that was Christo-politically incorrect he learned quickly that he’d best not go there. So, husband leaves wife is the crisis he chose for marriage problems. The crowd heard three examples, and none of them stood out as different in any way. Cozy…those examples. Safe. A hand made wool throw added to the comfy chair, a crackling fire and some tea. Don’t mess with me, I’m warm, comfy, and my tea is steeped just right. A military man may well shout OOLONG! so compelling the imagery.

The choices made when constructing examples are immaterial when it is about a death of a loved one or about a child lost to the world. In other words he can say man, woman, child, adult, whatever and there is no value judgement buttressed or diluted. But the choice to have a man running away from his family as the marital collapse example is not without consequence, and the results are subtle yet extremely powerful. So powerful that it leaves marriage failure as the prime issue where churches allocate time and resources 180 degrees out of phase with how the statistics would suggest the issue be addressed.

The simple alternative would be just to have the wife leaving the husband. Think about the difference in the way the whole message would be perceived after the fact had he done that. Powerful truths, saving truths, could be put asunder by the choice of an example that ruffled the feathers of the gaggle of cacklers in the pews.

Lets crank it up further.

“You have been praying that your wife can break her addiction to pornography”, he may have said but for the fact that fifty shades of shit would hit the fan.

Examples either have power, or they fail to tap into righteous power that is available.

Similarly, most have seen the videos some churches use where members offer some testimony and express gratitude to God and to the church for walking them through some problem. Has anyone ever seen one of those videos that involved a man speaking about how his wife up and left and now praise God she is back? Yes? me too. But.

They always have the man weeping in confession to how he was not loving her as she deserved. They have men who were solid husbands wallowing in self effacement to make the point that ANY wife would have left him and thankfully he is now deemed worthy again.

Regardless what the topic of sermon, most involve using some generic examples. Weekly even the most expository type preachers will toss in a campy example or two, sometimes using specific people, sometimes using generic references. When these are buried amidst especially poignant topics it grieves me to imagine that but for choosing examples with fear in mind, the impact of even the best crafted message would be lost.

Butts would rather stay in comfy chairs than have to move to the wooden stool. The stool is a real pain in the ass.


15 thoughts on “The subtle power of example: Between normalcy and overreaction biases

  1. This was a good post.

    “You have been praying that your wife can break her addiction to pornography”, he may have said but for the fact that fifty shades of shit would hit the fan.

    Hilarious, and inspired.

    If one does suggest that we ought to believe our lying eyes and torque the sermon examples into skew with female-initiated divorce, church leadership will reply that it doesn’t matter; that the example should go either way. If you retort that–if it doesn’t matter–then why not change it, they will start to take you seriously…as a serious threat, that is.

    The stool is a real pain in the ass.


  2. I echo your thought about the lack of universality in recognition of who is the gender at fault in modern neo-Victorian Christianity. Porn viewing as an epidemic among men is safe ground for preachers. The 40% of online porn subscribers that are female is somehow never broached in Christian circles. Neither is the 1.4 billion dollar (2014) romance novel industry. Most Christians would be aghast to visit their pastors house and find the latest edition of “Playboy” in the coffee table but would think nothing of a bookcase full of Harlequin’s fine product towering over that same coffee table. Men’s sexuality is dangerous and harmful. Women’s sexuality is benign and natural, no matter what form it takes.
    The takeaway: God says “make no provision for the lusts of the flesh” Not male lusts, not female lusts. Flesh lusts. That both genders have and that should not be used by one sex to exonerate themselves while beating the other sex over the head with it. I seem to recall something about a log and a speck that might be germane to this issue…

  3. Yep. The typical marriage advice starts out with “Let’s assume for the sake of example that the husband is at fault, and that he should do something to change things.”

    Maybe it’s because counselors know that husbands just might exert themselves if prodded, but wives will almost always bow up instead.

  4. Empath, “husband left his wife” isn’t just a comfy chair, it’s the foundation of the building. To suggest “wife left her husband” as an alternative is like asking a man to look at the back of his head with unaided eyes – simply not possible. And remember, this is Teh Patriarchy at work, too. Or so I’ve been told by Xanthippe-style churchian feminists.

  5. You think women indulge in some form of female pornography? Before “Fifty Shades of Grey”, what was it then? Silly romance novels? You think that’s enough to make a woman run off and have an affair? My grandmother read those, admittedly, because she was a perverted, lonely old woman. Are younger women really that lame?

    The problem with the real pornography (the male-targeted pornography) is that it does physical and emotional damage to a man’s brain and body. It makes him less able to function properly towards his wife and towards people in general. In a certain sense, he loses his ability to love. It’s not simply some frivolous form of entertainment. It can cripple him in a severe way.

    Men and women are not the same, and I think you know this, which is why you cannot simply take a vice from the male world and find an equivalent in the female world.

  6. In any case, my theory on the high divorce rate is that men actually love women (and themselves) a little too much. We’ve made life so easy for ourselves through technology that women and men no longer need each other. I think the only reason women used to tolerate male oppression is because they were forced to do so, for survival. But now life is so easy that they have this false sense of “liberation”.

    So, once again, the rich white male creates his own problems, and then wonders why blacks, women, and the poor rebel against him as if it’s some sort of mystery. Tyranny and gluttony lead to destruction.

    Men are the righteous ruler’s of society. I won’t deny that. But they have become fat and lazy.

  7. Matthew you are out of phase. No, you cannot lift a male proclivity and simply state it is also a female one. I have not attempted to do so.

    You can find an analog. Romance novels (not sure what silly ones vs regular ones are but lets sit aside the silly ones if that makes you feel better) are deeply destructive to marriage. They do to the woman’s expectations the same that porn is said to do to a man’s ability to sexually relate to his wife.

    You are hopelessly naive in the rest. its unworthy of engagement when most likely you will look back on these days when you held these university generated beliefs as ridiculous. I suffered those misconceptions too. You will get over it or you will tilt at windmills the rest of your life.

  8. re: “out of phase” + “analog”

    The peculiarly male and peculiarly female versions of things are NOT parallel, NOT symmetric. They are symplectic i.e. braided together through partial antisymmetry.

  9. You think women indulge in some form of female pornography?

    I know it to be true, because I’ve spent time in bookstores actually looking at what women read.
    You clearly have not done so. Therefore you don’t know what you are writing about. Here’s a hint: in plenty of “romance” novels there is an overt porn scene at regular intervals. In a 200 page novel, that’s probably 4 such scenes. Don’t take my word for it, go to B&N and learn for yourself.

    Yes. Women use porn. They tend to prefer porn in textual porn over visual, that’s all.

    Before “Fifty Shades of Grey”, what was it then?

    “Twilight”, obviously, since “Fifty” is just an extended fanfic spinoff from the previous vampire crap.

    Before that? How far back do you want to go? Try Jacqueline Susann, for a start, she died in 1974 but other women emo-porn writers picked up the torch.

    So, once again, the rich white male creates his own problems, and then wonders why blacks, women, and the poor rebel against him as if it’s some sort of mystery.

    Oh, a Social Justice Warrior, my mistake for attempting logic and reason with you.

    +1 on Empath’s comment.

  10. The book, The Thorn Birds, is an example of female porn. The long story climaxes toward the end when the priest finally gets the nerve to initiate sex with the young lady he was in love with since she was a young child. I must admit that I did enjoy reading the story many years back, but female porn nevertheless.

  11. Matthew:
    “We’ve made life so easy through technology that men and women do not need each other.”

    That’s close: but more accurately, we’ve made society so narcissistic that men and women don’t believe they need each other.

    As to pornography: you are reversing cause and effect. Porn consumption is high, but that is not causing the inability to love. The inability to love is causing high porn consumption.

  12. Pingback: Random Musings and Links- #7 | Donal Graeme

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