How the Bible Treats Me

The previous post had to do with how I treat the bible. Not that I could do it much harm or good, or that it needs me. It’ll stand just fine on its own, regardless what I do with it. Of more importance to my readers, impacting my trustworthiness, is, despite all my frailties and faults, whether or not the bible is able to do me any good. This post is aimed at sharing some of how the bible treats me, so readers can decide for themselves whether or not I am to be trusted.

The bible started treating me long before I had any clue that it even existed. Even prior to birth, my mother prayed for me multiple times a day. She did that so long as she had mental capacity, up until a month or so before her death, at my age 59. With me as an infant, she was singing songs based on scripture, singing hymns as she played them on the piano in our living room. She audibly prayed over and with me each night at bedtime up until I was 8 or 9 years old, when she stopped “tucking me into bed.” Our household prayed before every meal, and rarely missed a church assembly. With all those church assemblies were Sunday school classes and Wednesday night kid’s classes before Wednesday night church service. And then of course, the church services themselves. 

But at home, each night at dinner my Dad would read a passage of bible scripture, often with a “devotional commentary” to go along with it. Following those he would try to evoke conversation about them.

Let’s say from the time I was 6 years old, old enough to pay some kind of willed attention, until I was 17 years old and left home, let’s say that this dinner bible reading was repeated 300 days of the year. Sometimes the family didn’t have dinner at home together to facilitate these readings. Sometimes dinner was at church with larger groups. Sometimes dinner was shared at homes of other church members where Dad wasn’t leading the ceremonies. Sometimes the family was apart and didn’t really have “dinner together” (hunting, fishing, or ski trips, etc.). But let’s allow that 300 days a year, dinner was at home with family. One of my brother’s friends once commented that “You can set your watch to dinner at 6 PM at your house.” Each dinner Dad led the pre-dinner bible reading. So, 300 days a year times 11 years is 3,300 dinner time bible devotionals.

Now, usually, I was in a hurry to get back outside and play, or go back to whatever I had been doing when dinner interrupted. So usually I was careful not to be drawn into these bible discussions, because I thought I had better things to do. I just wanted to get that part over with, hurry up and eat, and get back to whatever else it was that I wanted to do. But every once in a while, Dad would trick me into a real discussion. I’m going to guess that out from that 3,300 devotionals, Dad may have tricked me into maybe as many as 200 real discussions. At this time, I may not consciously recall any more than half of those, maybe only 100, and for some of those, not until something in context “trips recall,” or brings it forward in my mind for conscious consideration. I’m going to share only one of them, because it is so illustrative, and because it has come back to me more than any other single story. Living in our modern culture, I think you will be readily able to see how many times this “moral of the story” would have been presented opportunities to resurface in my mind for re-application.

But before I share that story, this has all been to suggest that, by way of environmental impact, one way or another, the bible has been treating me long before I had any conscious say in the matter; perhaps even literally before I was born, with my mother playing piano and singing bible based hymns while I was still in the womb.

Now for the dinner story. I was probably about 11 or 12 years old. One night at dinner Dad read the story of “the tower of Babel.” That story goes like this:

Genesis 11:1-9 NIV

[1] Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. [2] As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. [3] They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. [4] Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” [5] But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. [6] The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. [7] Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.” [8] So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. [9] That is why it was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.

Genesis 11:1-9 NIV,

So, Dad read that story, and then, I’m sure some pre-prepared “devotional commentary” to go along with it. That would have been his standard format. When he finished reading the commentary, I spoke up to the effect that “Well that’s a dumb story.” So, he replied by asking me, “How so? What’s wrong with it?” I said something to the effect that, “If God is God, and he knows everything, he already knew they couldn’t build a tower to heaven. He already knew they were no threat. So, all he had to do was wait for them to get the tower tall enough that it fell over on them, and that would be the end of it. He didn’t need to make that point. And he knew it, or he’s not God.” (Now when I would pop off with comments like that, my saintly mother sat silently to the side, glancing pensively at my dad to see how he would deal with me, and probably fretting that my young but calllous soul might burn in hell for such obstinate resistance. But now I understand these were the very kinds of responses Dad was hoping for. These were the rare occasions when he struck gold. If I was headed straight to hell, his plan was to take my hand and lead me through the lakes of fire.) Dad replied with something like, “Hmm. Well, that’s a good thought. Let’s take another look at that and see if we can’t figure out if anything else might have been going on, you know, something that would make more sense.” So, he re-read the story and paused for a moment. He said, “Well, let’s focus on what the people were doing, and what their attitude may have been. Sound good?” I said “Sure, I guess.” And he went directly to verses 3 and 4. There, we see, [3] They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. [4] Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

Dad then commented, “Now, you see there, it talks about the people using baked bricks rather than stone, and also that they were using tar instead of mortar to hold it together.” (One of Dad’s several side ventures was a masonry company.) He continued, “So, it looks like maybe there’s something going on here with the people making an advance in technology. They’ve come up with a new way to build taller towers. Does that make sense?” I said, “Well, yeah, it looks like that might be going on.” Dad replied, “Okay, if we’re good on that, then let’s see what the peoples’ attitude seems to be.” Then he went back and read verse 4 again. He asked, “Do you see the emphasis on themselves, and making a name for themselves?” I said, “Yeah.” He replied, “Well, it looks like what’s maybe going on here is that the people have developed a new technology, and they’re getting arrogant with it. All for their new technology, they’re getting big headed and thinking that it will suffice to do anything, like they really are in charge, and it’s all on them and their capacity.” I said, “Well, yeah, maybe.”

And then I hurried up and ate and went back outside to play. End of story. Sort of.

Living through the technological explosion of the past 50-plus years, how many times do you think that “lesson” or that “moral of that story” has been environmentally re-evoked, or brought forward to my mind by circumstances and events I have encountered? It’s only a guess, but I will guess nevertheless, no fewer than 100 times. It’s nearly every time I hear about some new discovery or technology that’s proclaimed to revolutionize the world. And there have been a bunch of those in my lifetime, and even a few that seem to have come close to being accurate. But still, always, there in the back of my mind waiting to come forward is the story of The Tower of Babel. And every time I read, hear, or see a technology-based claim like that – there comes the story, one more time. “Look out.”

There’s the sole example. Just one bible story from my childhood, tucked away in my mid-brain waiting to come forward.

How the Bible Treats Me

Studies in neuroscience are revealing some very interesting things about the way we humans actually make decisions. For years we have known that bigger frontal lobe of the brain is the most “consciously cognitive” part. That’s where we do the mental “working out of things” that we are most aware of. But we’re discovering that the most aware part of the decision-making process actually arrives late to the party of decision making. We’re learning that the seat of “emotional intelligence” is down lower, in an earlier-evolved, mid-section of the brain. And we’re learning that it’s at that deeper, less-surface-aware part of the brain where our decisions are initially made. Then, once the decision has been presented to the upper, conscious part of the brain, we use that most-aware frontal lobe of the brain to back-fill the rationalization, to “consciously support” or justify whatever has been presented from the deeper, mid-brain.

Basically, our intellect, our philosophies, arguments, politics and nearly everything we consciously think about – the top brain cerebral matter – is led around by the nose of our deeper brained emotional stuff. 

That what is stored away in our deeper mid-brain is basically our “life history,” or the cumulative input from our prior transactions with our environments. This mid-brain has more to do with our emotional level of being, what me might call our “gut level” yet trained, or conditioned emotional-motivated responses. It depends on everything we have been exposed to in our history. When we recall things that have been long-since forgotten, this mid-brain is where we’re likely to be “pulling that recall up from.”

Emotions are “deeper” than cognitive, front-brain thought. Emotions give us real, physiological body changes. They’re those instincts of “fight, flight, freeze, or bust-out-laughing, or crying.” They’re the stuff that trips chill-bumps, hair standing up, pulse changes to the point of fainting or passing out. These aren’t just surface level thinking. These are things that bring changes throughout our entire physical systems.

Not all things we are exposed to in our environment transactions are equally emotive, or equally impactful at an emotional level. If they were, we would all be emotional wrecks all the time, stoked on adrenalin, sobbing pathetically, laughing hysterically – like manic depression on steroids.

Some things that are more impactful on our emotional development are the arts; music, literature, theater, poetry (for some people, not so much for me, unless it’s combined with music, as lyric). And of course, our own experiences with the people we encounter and relate with are highly impactful and training of our emotional intelligences. Being the vastly social critters that we are, these relationship experiences are probably far deeper in our emotional intelligences than the things cited above, as it is from those experiences that so much great literature, theater, and music has been born. It’s those inter-human/intra-human transactive inputs that lead to the development of art, music, theater, and literature that touches us at such emotional levels, sometimes in ways that we are top-brain, cognitively aware of. These are the times when we are “profoundly impacted” by something, and we are highly aware of it. Those inputs are what get stored for, in effect, “training” the “emotional intelligence” of the mid-brain. And that mid-brain is where our decisions start. That’s where our mind is actually “made up,” and based on whatever that mid-brain sends to the top brain, the top brain then sets about “making a sense we might be able to explain” or articulate. Our deeper mid-brain emotional aspect “sends the decision up to the frontal lobe,” and leaves it to the frontal lobe to make a sense we might be able to share – even consciously with ourselves, or self-justification or rationalization, which we might or might not want to share with others.

So, this deeper mid-brain emotional intelligence is a cumulative, prior experience-based set of learning. We don’t grow it overnight, and we can’t readily change it overnight. It is highly dependent on prior experience that touches us at the emotional levels.

I’m suggesting that mid-brain emotional intelligence can be, and whether we like or not, is programmed for better or worse. And, the most emotionally oriented environmental transactions we have do the deepest level programming of that mid-brain. This is why we are so “set in our path” by the time we are only four or five years old. It’s those emotional, human-oriented transactions of early family life (usually and mainly) that set us toward one culture or another, and its whole way of relating to the world, mainly other people.

Our deeper, earlier responding decision making, emotional intelligence, is, by default of environmental transaction, trained by prior cumulative transactive experience.

Not all literature, art, music, poetry, theater, not all of those things are equally stimulating, and even that “stimulation” is “programmed from past experience.” “What we respond to and how we respond to it” is part of that prior training, or results from that prior experience. We can be trained to respond differently, and more to some things than others. This is the process of enculturation, or absorbing the culture we’re raised in.

But humans all have the same basic “emotions” to work with. The differences start coming at what inputs are available for working with, and also, I suspect critically, how do we experience others responses to those or similar inputs. This is early, deep social learning.

Early in life, other people choose nearly all the inputs we are subjected to. We don’t have much say in whether we’re born in China or the United States. And that, all the culturally differentiated experiences between the two, have a lot to do (culture) with how we’re going to interact with, view and respond to the experience we encounter.

In my culture, it’s probably along about early adolescence that we begin having some real choice in a little of what we feed to our emotional intelligence, what we consciously choose (movies, art, games, music, etc.), which gets sent to our mid-brains for emotional storage.

Going back to the idea that all humans having the same basic emotions to work with, or to be impacted and trained: some stories, literature, music, etc. are cross-cultural. Those that are cross cultural, or most cross cultural are those that are coming closer to the basic human emotions. The more basically an input resonates, the more cross-cultural that input will be. And the more cross-culturally an input resonates, the “greater” it will be considered to be. (That may be either for better or worse – most awful or best.)

This all ties in with values, human values, in a way that I sure can’t’ explain, and don’t think science can yet explain, though it may gain that ability in the future. But this emotional training of values is also a cross cultural, basic human trait. They may be trained differently across varying cultures, but like emotions, they are the same human capacities being worked with. This has to do with “what do we emotionally learn to value for better or worse, or even AS ‘better’ or ‘worse’”? This is all a cumulative programming of our emotionally-intelligent-mid-brain – the part that makes decisions before we even realize they’ve been made, and sends them to the front-brain for us to manage at a cognitive level. This is the deeper reservoir of who we are; what we have to respond with.

All of the above combined is to suggest this, stories, storytelling, literature (and art in general) that goes deepest to the basic human emotions and impacts deepest is the literature that withstands time, translation, and cross-cultural application. And the bible contains one such collection of the world’s literature. Early in life, my parents gave me outsized exposure to that literature, and directed others in doing so (Sunday school teachers, etc.). And throughout my adult life, (minus about 5 seriously prodigal years of late adolescence), I have continued that exposure. The bible, the literature it contains, the morals of its stories, have had a profound impact in the life training of my mid-brain emotional intelligence. Those impacts are much of what is being drawn on in decision making, before the decision is even presented to my front brain for environmental working out or rationalization. The morals of the stories of biblical literature are much of what “the sub-conscious me” responds with before I am even consciously aware of it. It’s only then that my front brain gets to start trying to account for it.

Up above I mentioned that with us being the social animals we are, the human interactions we have are probably most impactful in all of this mid-brain programming. First in our immediate families, then in wider community exposure as we grow and transact. Of huge import in this is, of course, the “subcultures” or groups we are most interactive with. Several years back a lady wrote a book concerning the assumptions associated with nurture. Some people understood her (in my estimation misunderstood her) as concluding that parents don’t matter much in determining what kinds of values their kids grow up to have. But one of her key points was that parents DO matter tremendously, but not in the way we might guess. She presented the idea that the way parents matter most in nurture is not by the values they profess or consciously train for, but by the friends and associates they choose for themselves. Her contention was that kids grow into the values of the parents’ friends, not the values of the parents. Admittedly, parents are likely to choose or have friends that share their own values, so the transmission from generation to generation is usually consistent in that regard. But if the parents profess one set of values and maintain friends with other values, the kids will pick of the values of the parental friends, not those of the parents. This was all to suggest that single most important way for parents’ values to impact those of their children is by selecting friends, associates, and acquaintances who have the values they want their kids to pick up. And, this is what my parents accomplished by having themselves immersed in, and so raising me immersed in “church-community life.” This was a group of people who shared a common literature, morals-of-the-stories, and social responses to them. This church-based subcommunity is what my parents had for friends, the life and lives they were jointly living.

[Sidebar, Application to my culture: What our top brain selects to feed our deeper emotional brain – how we choose to train it – is a lifetime project. For the most part our culture has abandoned any conscious intent in those regards and settled for whatever commercialized trash is thrown at us. And the commercialized trash thrown at us has been in re$pon$e to our sloppy, emotion-neglecting choices. But they don’t get neglected. They take whatever comes their way from up top. And we’ve sent them an awful lot of trash. And we have emotional trash to prove it – lonely, hurting, isolated, fearful, suffering civilization on the filthy-rich rocks. Since about the end of WWII, with economic prosperity, television, and compulsory government schooling (abandoning or even teaching against bible-value, let alone values), unless we’ve accidentally been born into a seriously bible-d household, or gone well out of our ways for really high quality literature some other way, emotional brain food some other way, we’ve been largely consuming cultural garbage for emotional food. I’m an old guy. That WWII generation was my parents’ generation. My father has great grandchildren. That’s four generations to have gotten this badly lost. We must have had some kind of awesome foundation – goodness – and that’s what ever allowed the USA to become exceptional to any degree that it ever did. Based on this thought, The United States has a great deal of goodness to reclaim before it can ever think about being great.] 

In summary, the lifetime programming of my midbrain, the emotional part of it, is still down there, though long forgotten by the top brain. And when the top brain receives present environmentally transactive stimulus, it sends that message to the midbrain. In response to that the midbrain says, “Hey! I’ve got an app for that!” and here it comes bubbling back up to the top brain so I can consciously work it over one more time before I let it slip again. But where it slips “to” is not “away” – but back to the midbrain for future recycling.

But enough (or even too much) of this.

Next, let’s get on with seeing if we can work out a consistent theory of natural rights.

After that, we’ll see whether my emotional reservoir is sufficient to articulate a bible-based libertarian philosophy. 

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