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The Chivas Regal False Assumption

11 Jan

chivas_image_for_wikipedia  Gotta watch those assumptions.  Reading in a recent news magazine about how one formerly pricey private college increased their admissions applicant pool intrigued me.

Struggling to attract enough incoming freshmen scared off by the $32,000+ tuition price tag, Rosemont College took the bold move to reduce tuition by 45%.  Applications soared and the quality of those choosing this Christian college increased.

Why do colleges like Rosemont and many other private institutions cost so much?   One reason has been attributed to the so-called ‘Chivas Regal effect’.  Apparently people assume that if something costs a lot, it must be worth it.  Associating a brand name with an ‘elites only can afford this‘ price tag creates a reputation.  Advertising works!  But does reality support the assumption?  Not always.  AND in some cases, as Rosemont discovered when inquiries and visits did not turn into applications, the published price tag can hurt – scholarships notwithstanding!

Apparently high-end colleges like the maneuver room to be able to ‘offer’ a tuition discount to students they court.  They can say, “Since you and your experiences would uniquely add to the Class of 2020, we are pleased to offer you scholarship assistance to make our institution more affordable.”

Rosemont College decided to do away with that tactic and settle on a tuition dollar amount that if EVERYONE paid it, the lights would stay on and the same standards of teaching and small classes would continue.

The results testify to the fallacy of the Chivas effect. More families and higher caliber students applied to Rosemont.  And this small Christian college outside of Philadelphia is not the only institution to experiment with tuition pricing and uncover a boost to enrollment.  Both colleges AND parents are finding out that it literally pays to question assumptions.

So if this common presupposition has holes, what other false assumptions might be limiting our options?  I love this kind of critical thinking and ingenuity!

 

 

 

 

Bears repeating: our presuppositions matter

28 Dec

A dear friend of mine dove into theological waters for the first time last week.  As a result, I understand more clearly her view on the veracity and usefulness of the Bible.

She belongs to the United Church of Christ.  One of their beliefs is essentially ‘no creeds’.

  • The UCC has no rigid formulation of doctrine or attachment to creeds or structures. Its overarching creed is love. UCC pastors and teachers are known for their commitment to excellence in theological preparation, interpretation of the scripture and justice advocacy.

I am not writing a post to attack this denomination, but to use what they write about themselves to illustrate several points regarding logical and clear thought.

A couple of conclusions one can draw from that paragraph:

  1. If there is no substantive content to a belief, then there is no foundation for saying something is true or false, right or wrong.
  2. If you advocate ‘love’, who is going to criticize you, especially if you are vague about what love means?  Seems attractive and safe, yes.  Nevertheless, meaningless.

Some questions I would ask:

  1. Just what DO you mean by ‘love’?  Whose definition are you using? Is ‘love’ allowing people to continue in self-destructive ways because they believe them to be right?  Is it ‘loving’ (in order to avoid saddening or offending someone) to withhold a diagnosis for a disease that is curable?
  2. If there is no doctrine, then how can one interpret the Scriptures?
  3. And on what basis can one’s interpretation of Scripture be judged ‘excellent’?

That’s a short response, having read what this denomination writes about itself at the macro level. At the micro or individual and personal level, here is what weighs on me concerning my friend.

If I am correct in presenting her viewpoint, she believes that certainty about what the Bible teaches is impossible and in fact ‘destructive’.

I passed some sleepless hours across three nights last week working out the implications of this view.  What I have been given by God, the light and faith to believe that the Bible is not only true but authoritative, is precious and incalculably beneficial to me.  Here are just a few of its gifts:

  • God’s promises are both a safe haven in scary times and a source of REAL, supernatural strength when I both feel and AM weak
  • His Word provides guidance and wisdom
  • I have assurance that I am personally known and loved by a good Father who created me and everything in the universe
  • There is a purpose to both my life and my suffering
  • I have an inheritance safely waiting for me that outweighs all suffering on this earth

So there you have it, some out-workings of presuppositions.  Beliefs really do matter.

So what is my advice to all of us?  Not only must we know what we believe, but WHY we hold those beliefs. And we must be willing to follow the ramifications and determine if we like where they lead.

Bonnes Pensées!  Happy thinking!

 

 

Understanding someone’s grounds

16 Nov

“Jesus went around doing good, healing the sick and feeding the hungry and blessing those who gave to the poor,” pointed out an advocate for social justice issues as primary.

The man in conversation with her countered from a teaching from the Sermon on the Mount: “Jesus illuminated His commitment to the Law when he taught that we should not murder! And abortion is the unlawful taking of life from the innocent!”

I overheard this discussion during an October radio conversation between two Christians explaining why they were voting differently; the first one for Hillary Clinton and the second speaker for Donald Trump. Each maintained that the party of his and her candidate best supported the teaching of Jesus.

Clearly, what we focus on (as well as what we don’t look at or see) guides our beliefs and subsequent actions.

After 90 minutes of back and forth explanations, neither person had changed his/her mind.  But for me the discussion was fruitful because I could see:

  • each person advanced sincerely-held views, supported by an accurate understanding of a portion of Scripture.

The issue, as far as I can discern, seems to point to this question:

  • What do American citizens believe the Constitution delegates to the federal government to handle?
  • Which problems/situations should fall under the purview of state, local or non-governmental groups of people and individuals?

I don’t know how to reconcile the views any other way than what our Founding Fathers left in place for us: a representative republic, undergirded by a written constitution that allows for change.  Whether you are upset or relieved with the results from 8 November, the system worked. No one is ever COMPLETELY satisfied, but that FACT is woven into the very fabric of our constitution.  Our system is not perfect, but it beats many alternatives!

Just for the record, when I reflect on Jesus’ marching orders, it appears clear that we, his followers, are commanded:

  • to make disciples among all the people groups
  • to baptize them in the name of the Triune God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit)
  • and to teach them to do all that He, Jesus commanded, including making disciples……

PS: I see this command as an outworking of the Greatest Command to ‘Love God and to Love Neighbor’.  (For we show we love God IF we obey Him.  And what greater way IS THERE to love our neighbor than to care for their eternal, forever condition?)

 

 

Presuppositions and discontent

3 Aug

Premise:

Most women at my age and stage in life have retired from full-time work

Conclusion

I should be retired from full-time work

Like most teachers who are relishing their summer sabbatical, I’ve been struggling with not wanting to go back to school in August. Turning 59 has added weight to my annual reluctance return to the classroom.

Here’s the problem:

Christians are called by God to be content in all the situations He places them. So on top of my longing for permanent summer, I recognize this grumbly attitude is sin. In essence, I’m saying to God: Your assignment for me is wrong!

As a logical gal, I’ve been working to reorder my thinking. This labor has borne fruit.

It dawned on me the other day that besides the missing first premise, I have an unspoken presupposition. Let me order my though process and fill in for you AND me what was just floating in the back of my mind:

Presupp: Retirement is both good and normal in America

Premise 1: Most workingwomen in their late 50s retire from full-time work

Premise 2: I am approaching 60

Conclusion: It would be both good and normal for me to retire NOW!

In articulating what lay behind my ‘unmet expectation’ I saw the problem!

Where did I get the idea:

  • that God’s plan for his people is to retire?
  • or that retirement is actually GOOD for me?

The point of this? Thinking through and pinning down just what grounds our feelings enables us to analyze whether what we believe is in fact TRUE.

Besides, I should know better than to indulge in that kind of discontent. God has built up a track record of meeting my needs. The most recent occasion when God came through was last winter when my husband dealt with some health issues. The verse I clung through some real suffering was Psalm 84:11:

 No good thing does the Lord withhold from those whose way is upright.

 That fact and promise allowed me to trust God’s character and plans for us when Mike was ill.

Startling, isn’t it, that until now I hadn’t transferred over God’s Word to my job as a 10-month schoolteacher.

If I am still ‘having to’ teach at age 59, then it must be because God considers it GOOD for me.

And with that, I can begin to anticipate with a lighter heart the good He has planned for this new school year.

Truth as a dodge

27 Jul

I have no husband,” she replied. Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband.  John 4:17

Woman at the well

Jesus gives her credit.  The Samaritan woman is telling the truth, partially. She is not married, but she is living with a man who is not her husband.  And Jesus calls her bluff by revealing that he knows the real situation.

Politicians are masters at this ploy.  Their words FEEL like truth because there is in fact some truth among all their discourse.

So why is this important?  The heads up to be wary of one’s interlocutor’s replies or explanations reminds me to ask some questions as I evaluate what I am hearing (or reading for that matter!)

It goes without saying for good logical Joes and Janes that in every meaningful discussion the definition of terms needs to be established and agreed upon.  I am talking about additional considerations.

Pastor John Piper has taught me, via his sermons, to listen well by assessing the following:

  • What other words could have been chosen?  By saying X, what is he NOT saying?
  • What grounds her statement?  What is behind it?  What presuppositions precede it?

It could be that what is NOT said actually carries more significance than what is out in the open.  This is especially true in a country as divided by issues, as America seems to be. With an election ahead of us, why not practice with me in evaluating at a more deep and layered level what a speaker or writer might actually be intending.  More importantly, may we be care-filled about our words.  Words matter!

What’s behind your worrying?

20 Jul

Mr Worry  If you’re anything like me, you worry or angst occasionally (or often!)

Knowing why we do or think anything is useful.

If we are practicing the art of worrying, it must be because we hold some principles to be true and valid.  What are these presuppositions that ground our habit?  If I am worrying, then it must because I believe that:

  • I control my life (or in ‘Christianspeak’ – I am lord of my life.)
  • I know what is best for me and for others.
  • I need circumstances to be a certain way for me to feel okay, content or at peace.
  • I have the skill, knowledge and resources at hand to meet my needs.
  • Worry is effective at changing people and circumstances.

Why do you get anxious?

How do you know you exist?

13 Jul

Penseur  The math whiz and philosopher, René Descartes, sought to clarify his doubt and his knowledge.  So he pushed back as far as he could to what he could know for sure.  Most people can quote part of his argument:

I think, therefore I am

As many of you know, he left out the major premise.  No ‘doubt’ that it resided in his mind, but seemed too obvious to mention.  That’s the nature of an enthymeme, an unspoken premise or conclusion.

For example:

Sally pipes up with enthusiasm: I invited our neighbors to join us this Saturday for a picnic in the park!

Sam responds sourly: Great, now we can count on it raining this Saturday!

What’s the unspoken premise?

  • It always rains when we plan a picnic in the park!

Back to Descartes and his implicit assumption supporting ‘I think, therefore I am’

It has to be: All creatures that think exist.  So the complete syllogism would look like this:

P1 – All who think are

P2 – I think

C – Therefore, I am

What brought to mind Descartes’ foundation for knowing or epistemological basis for knowledge was a different origin for the assurance of one’s existence.

While listening to a podcast, I heard an African Christian talk about what anchors him in life. He talked about community as being this source.  He explained:

  • Because the community is the primary building block of humanity, each of us derives his or her own sense of self

His enthymeme would go like this: We are, therefore I am!

And by fleshing it out with the implicit major premise, we have:

P1: If there is a communal unit, then individuals can fully have their being

P2: There is a community in which I a recognized member

C: Therefore, I exist as a full human being

Thinking about and contrasting Descartes’ individualistic enlightenment view with this African brother’s sense of himself as part of a larger group strengthened my growing view that it is not good for man or woman to be alone.  After all, the one true God is a community of 3-in-1, a Triune Happy Godhead.  And if we are made in His image, then to feel fully alive and to function with health, we need to anchor ourselves in community with other people.

I need not be intimidated by famous thinkers and learned philosophers.  The simplest of men and women often are the wisest.