Friday, July 23, 2010

Remembrance and Significance

This article, from Science Daily, about the difference between adults and children and the accuracy of their memories of negative events, prompted a few thoughts in light of my post on the Gospel of John and Hurtado's essay on reflective remembrance.

From the article:
The researchers previously demonstrated that adults attach far more meaning to events than children do. But leading memory theories embraced by the legal system claim that adults remember negative events better than children and have fewer false memories about them. Brainerd and Reyna's data show these theories are not accurate.
I wonder if the inaccuracy in adults is a result of the more complicated and sophisticated understanding that adults have of negative events and their consequences. A child has a much smaller emotional matrix in which to process all the bad things that happen to them. Often, young children in abusive or negligent homes aren't even aware of how abusive and negligent their homes are. It isn't until a child begins to mature and have enough experiences with other people, and the world at large, that they can begin to understand the scope of what's happening to them.

I can think of several things in my life, bad experiences, or even lurking danger that I was too unsophisticated to truly understand. It's only now that I am older that I apprehend the significance of what happened, or could have happened.

One particular episode comes to mind. I remember being about 10 and playing by myself with my Barbies in the yard when the teenage boy across the street came over and started to play with me. He began engaging my Barbies in flirtatious, naughty behavior and I sort of played along. He stayed for a long time, and I remember him asking me some questions that I didn't quite understand. My brother eventually came out of the house and the teenager said he had to go and went back home. Obviously, there was a sense of discomfort that I must have felt, otherwise I wouldn't even remember this. Yet, it isn't until I was older that I had the ability to look back and understand what was going on and process that I might have missed a bullet that day.

The emotional significance of what could have happened, and what the emotional outcome could have been for me is something that I would never have guessed at in my 10-year-old mind. If asked what happened, I would have said that the neighbor boy came over to play Barbies with me. I wouldn't have said that the neighbor boy was a pervert who had bad designs on me. I could see how bringing in the emotion of that assessment, even if true, might color my memories and make them less accurate.

Religion is not simply a recitation of facts and rules for good living. Religion is an emotional response to what we see as the true nature of things.

I don't like the idea that the Gospel of John might not record history as history. It makes me uncomfortable because I want to be certain. I want to be confident. I want to be able to tell people that my beliefs are true. I, personally, want to know the truth.

So, I don't like the idea that John, or whoever wrote John, superimposed memories onto Jesus and presented them as His words. However, I do find myself doing that sort of thing all the time, looking back on an event and appreciating some aspect of it that I hadn't previously understood. This happens in both negative and positive ways for me.

I had this happen when dealing with my deceased father's house and finding out that he knew about the termite infestation before he ever bought the house. Finding that out shed light on several things that I couldn't have known while he was alive, and that he never actually told me.

I understand, now, why he was thinking about renting out his house in Florida once he retired and moved to Alabama. I'm convinced that was a concession to the fact that he knew he couldn't sell his house the way that it was. A termite inspection would have revealed the infestation almost immediately.

The danger in reconstructing motives for people and events in the past is that we are prone to being wrong sometimes, or stating our case too confidently.

As such, I can still love the Gospel of John, but my method of reading it has changed....and that's what I really want to get to in a future post.


Sabio Lantz said...

Being more easy to create false memories as a child makes believing in Santa and Reindeer much easier. Of course talking to Jesus and seeing Mother Mary fall into these groups too. Thus, once your faith is lost, regaining it as an adult is difficult.

I agree that as children, we may not have as strong of feelings only because we don't know the meaning of things. But as teenagers and young adults who are clamoring for mates and niches to work and have status, experiences are intense. Thus those memories are strong compared to adult years.

I traveled all over the world in my 20's and 30's. If I had worked my whole life, retired and traveled all over the world in my 60's and 70's the experiences would not be nearly as exciting and memorable! I am glad I did not wait to retire before tasting the world. I am already living on many of those young rich memories.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

At the simplest level, if the Gospel writers were trying to make an entirely put-up job, there would not be a hint of contradiction. Those would get brushed out by editors trying to make an airtight narrative.

A great weakness of evangelical tradition, especially in the Oswald Chambers style, is the idea that one can understand the Scriptures without conversing about them. Well back into Jewish tradition, we see the scriptures as designed for discussion. To learn something so you can carry it around your head and just know God from that isn't sensible. If it were that sort of book, it could have been much shorter, perhaps only a book or two. And one disciple would have been enough. The problems and contradictions are a feature, not a bug.

So you're doing your bit here.

As to remembrance, the ideas of "exactly what He said" versus "What we later understood Him to mean" are not mutually exclusive. If we give Jesus credit for any kind of insight into human memory at all, projecting out what would need to be said at the beginning, just before the crucifixion, and after the resurrection need not be such an alarming talent.

A bit of reading older authors can be clarifying, just because it pulls us out of our assumptions. I have many of the giants of the faith who I feel I can follow exactly what they are saying, and others whose understandings are opaque to me.

Sabio Lantz said...


You said:
"if the Gospel writers were trying to make an entirely put-up job, there would not be a hint of contradiction."

It is not like they all got together and wrote during a tea party. There have been scribal attempts to homogenize the gospels over the years. Also there have be crazy apologist schemes to explain away the differences.

Were they ever meant to be factual in the first place -- I doubt that was their primary function.