Spooky

October 31st, 2011

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Try singing The National Anthem and stopping abruptly at “through the perilous night.” It doesn’t work. We feel there’s more. It’s due to musical structure—what we feel in songs, stories, sex, seasons, and stages of life. It’s eerily everywhere, which is a reason to enjoy Halloween. C.S. Lewis said we would benefit from evoking a hint of wildness into a universe that is in danger of being a little too self-explanatory.

There is a psychological structure governing our lives—equilibrium-tension-resolution. “From sexual arousal to orgasm, from nerves before an interview to the relief of a job offer,” equilibrium-tension-resolution is the underlying structure of life according to Jeremy Begbie, a professor of theology and the arts at Duke Divinity School. Begbie says we hear this pattern in “Beethoven and Bach, Rachmaninoff and the Grateful Dead.”1

This pattern is why it doesn’t feel right to stop at “through the perilous night.” “Things cannot be left hanging,” he writes. The perilous night’s tension demands resolution—not a simple “back to the beginning.” Resolving the tension is actually two steps—return and culmination. The structure of life is four movements—beginning-tension-return-culmination. It’s universal, felt in songs, stories, seasons, sex, and stages of life.

For instance, we navigate by four directions—north, south, east, and west. We arrange the year by four seasons—winter, spring, summer, and fall. There are four basic elements—earth, wind, fire, and water. We define life by four stages—infancy, childhood, adulthood, and elder years. Joseph M. Marshall III, a Lakota Native American and author of The Power of Four, writes that the Lakotas arrange their lives around four ideals.2 Four is intuitive and instinctive everywhere. It’s spooky.

Four accounts for innovation, writes Mark Gottfredsom. In a 2005 Harvard Business Review article, Gottfredsom notes how In-N-Out Burger restaurants feature only four colors: red, white, yellow, and gray; four cash registers; and just four items on the menu: burgers, shakes, fries, and sodas. He says the secret is four. “Four is in In-N-Out’s Burger’s innovative fulcrum—the right point at which the number of products strikes the right balance between customer satisfaction and operating complexity.”3

Four is also the frame through which we make decisions, writes Wall Street Journal columnist Jonah Lehrer.4 Human reason is “severely limited,” he writes, yet retailers assume buyers are rational and can cope with a plenitude of choices. We can’t. Scientists are discovering we can only consciously process about four bits of information at any given moment. People who have the right four and go with their gut make much better decisions than those who try to juggle all sorts of information. The more we consider the power of four, the spookier it becomes.

Four seems to be one of many markers, or what Boston University professor Peter L. Berger calls “signals of transcendence.” These are human experiences that are instinctive yet assume and require a reality that lies beyond us.5 For hundreds of years, the reality beyond was understood as the gospel, the four-chapter story of creation-fall-redemption-restoration. That’s why four isn’t a coincidence. It is a signal of creation, or design, reminding us we live in an enchanted world with all sorts of spooky things.

In his scholarly book, The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature, C.S. Lewis recounts how medieval thought assigned supernatural beings—ghosts and ghouls and goblins—to a “place of residence between air and Earth.” Lewis felt they were “marginal fugitive creatures” that shouldn’t necessarily spook us but rather help us see a spooky world. Ghosts and goblins evoke a “welcome hint of wildness and uncertainty into a universe that is in danger of being a little too self-explanatory.”6

Lewis was warning about the modern world that trivialized the transcendent. Max Weber, arguably the foremost social theorist of the 20th century, wrote, “The fate of our times is characterized by rationalization and intellectualization and, above all, by the ‘disenchantment of the world’.”7 By disenchantment, Weber meant the modern world has been “denuded of its mystical.” It had become dis-enchanted. The modern world had cast a spell, leaving us with secularists who see Halloween as silly, occultists who take it too seriously, and Christians who often shun it altogether.

Lewis’ tonic was the old spell—fairy tales and fantasy literature that point to a structure we hear in stories and songs and everywhere else. In his 1941 sermon, “The Weight of Glory,” Lewis asked the congregation, “Do you think I am trying to weave a spell? Perhaps I am; but remember your fairy tales. Spells are used for breaking enchantments as well as for inducing them. And you and I have need of the strongest spell that can be found to wake us from the evil enchantment of worldliness which has been laid upon us for nearly a hundred years.”7

Edmund Burke said the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. The only thing necessary for the evil enchantment of worldliness to triumph is for the good enchantment of Halloween to be hollowed out. If four is a signal of something spooky, and the right four ideas help people make better decisions, all the more reason to enjoy Halloween in the right way.

______________________
1 Jeremy Begbie, Resounding Truth: Christian Wisdom in the World of Music (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), p. 30.
2 Joseph M. Marshall, The Power of Four: Leadership lessons of Crazy Horse (New York: Sterling, 2009), p. 18.
3 Mark Gottfredsom, “Innovation vs. Complexity: What is Too Much of a Good Thing?” Harvard Business Review, November 2005.
4 Jonah Lehrer, “Attention, Shoppers: Go With Your Gut,” Wall Street Journal, October 1, 2011.
5 Peter L. Berger, A Rumor of Angels (New York, NY: Doubleday/Anchor Books, 1990), pp. 59-65.
6 C.S. Lewis, The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1964), p. 122.
7 From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, trans. and ed. by H. H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills, New York: Oxford University Press, 1946), p. 155.
8 C.S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory,” in The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses (New York, NY: Harper Collins, 1949/2001), pp. 30-31.

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7 Responses to “Spooky”

  1. David Naugle says:

    Hi Mike:
    I am writing this from the Kilns (on sabbatical this fall), and I couldn’t help but appreciate, not only he article, but the Lewis references. Spooky!
    DN

  2. Mike Metzger says:

    David:

    Please note that we who are stuck on this side of the pond and also Lewis fans are envious!

  3. John Seel says:

    Excellent and timely commentary. Thank you. This addendum from philosopher Peter Kreeft on four basic questions:

    Four Basic Questions

    Medicine
    1. Observation – observation of the symptoms (bad effects)
    2. Diagnosis – diagnosis of the disease that causes the symptoms (bad causes)
    3. Prognosis – prognosis of the cure (good effects)
    4. Prescription – prescription for the treatment that causes the cure (good causes)

    Buddhism
    1. Suffering
    2. Desire
    3. Removal of Desire
    4. Ego-reduction or eight-fold path

    Freudianism
    1. Neurosis and psychosis
    2. Conflict between id (animal desire) and superego (social norms)
    3. Homeostasis or a compromise between id and superego
    4. Psychoanalysis

    Marxism
    1. Class Conflict
    2. Capitalism
    3. Classless Communist Society
    4. Worldwide Proletarian Revolution

    Platonism
    1. Vice
    2. Ignorance
    3. Virtue
    4. Wisdom via Socratic Method

    Christianity
    1. Garden
    2. Serpent
    3. Cross
    4. Resurrection

    “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)

  4. Trent McEntyre says:

    Great post Mike and nice reply John:
    Here’s my 4

    1. Golden era of college football
    2. Nokia Weed-eater bowl
    3. BCS
    4. Playoff system

    Trent – Atlanta, GA

  5. Russ Schlecht says:

    Outstanding.

  6. kyle vitasek says:

    Trent is the man! Living fully in the tension of was, is, now, and not yet, but almost resolved!

    I’ve been looking for a reasoned argument as to why Christians need not be so squeamish about celebrating Halloween. Thanks for giving me a weapon for the arsenal to de-nude arguments for avoiding the “pagan”.

    Kyle

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