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White Horse Inn: Conversational Theology

Improving Your Observation Skills

We live in a world of screens that compete for our attention. Though it’s easy to be attracted to the things competing for our attention on our phone, television, or computer screen, it takes a little more work to really notice things that are going on all around us. The same can be said for the way we approach the Bible. We often have a superficial understanding of a given passage because we rarely take the time to really observe what the text is saying. On this program Michael Horton discusses this issue with Jim Gilmore, author of Look: A Practical Guide to Improving Your Observation Skills.


“If we consider reflection, I think at one level, the difference between, let’s say, watching a video and reading a book is you seldom stop the film to say I’m going to think about this scene right now. You’ll do that with a book but there’s even a further step away as to not have anything that’s in between and observing your surroundings. I think we’re losing our sense of reflection.

“We’re losing a sense of quietness. Sometimes you put those ear buds on because it’s noisy, so you’d rather listen to your own music than the street noise, not a bad decision. So part of it is a call not just for more reflection but for more quietness. I think what’s happening with social media particularly is just making the world increasingly noisy, noisy being the lowest form of intelligence that exists. It’s not even data or information. It’s just this random stream of just blah, blah, blah. It all to me sounds like what the adult sounds like to the kids on Peanuts. It’s the getaway from that world.”

Jim Gilmore


“Therapeutic Culture”

The move to the therapeutic in society has been induced by several cultural developments. The intense psychologization of men’s attitudes and feelings as the primary subconscious level of “who we are,” the altering definitions of justice as primarily the accommodation of society to remove all barriers from self-expression and empowering fulfillment of the self, and the movement to the individual subject as the arbiter of that freedom to happiness apart from external structures and forces. The good life of justice, freedom, happiness have been internalized to such a degree that boredom and the external forces which upset that interior life are now seen as the greatest of evils. Justice has been re-defined in the last century as the removal of external barriers and the material empowerment of the individual towards the good life perceived to be desirable.

Men’s attitudes and feelings have come to arbitrate justice and goodness in the late modern society. Safety and security have been held out as the primary good of Western culture above what previous generations saw as essential to promoting the good life, namely liberty, self-reliance, and responsibility. Conventional ideals of moral responsibility have gradually become subordinated to state interpreted therapeutic ideals. “Modern culture is unique in having given birth to such elaborately argued anti-religions, all aiming to confirm us in our devastating illusions of individuality and freedom,” writes Philip Rieff in his magisterial, The Triumph of the Therapeutic.

Jacques Ellul argued in the mid-century that whenever a culture’s ethical outlook could not keep a pace with its technological developments, propaganda was the fated result – the subconscious alteration of men’s attitudes and feelings through technological means of domination. Modern cultural production has moved into the business and technique of manipulating a sense of well­being under what Jürgen Habermas has called a “therapeutocracy.”

(Timothy W. Massaro, “Therapeutic Culture,” WHI [blog], October 05, 2015)