Monday, March 1, 2010

Mental Set

He who would bring back the riches of India must take the riches of India with him. Proverb

No one knew where Glen received his education, it was not of the formal sort though he had studied in two universities. He described his knowledge as coming from many sources, “I’m a scrounger” he said. But we were treated to his approach to studying the Holy Bible in his first night of the class on the book of Revelation. After I helped him by passing out a selection of his books, all free, he began with this introductory address.

“Folks, when we approach the study of this book, it is important that we examine ourselves as to the mental attitude we bring to this study. My experience has been that our ideas about what we study can be even more important than the actual content of the material. Our ideas, our attitudes, are called “mental set”. We all have a way of thinking that affects how we learn and how we interpret what we learn.

An example I read about is an experiment where two sets of teachers were told about classes of pupils they were to instruct. These classes were composed of children who were tested for aptitude and were composed of students of average ability. All the classes were composed of students of the same range of abilities. But some teachers were told that their students were of inferior intelligence and abilities, while the other teachers were told theirs were of superior, even genius level ability. After the passage of time it was found that the teachers who were told their students were inferior, gave their students low grades, while the other teachers gave their classes high marks. There was no difference in performance, but very different grades were given, based on the pre-conceived ideas in the teachers’ minds.

This experiment was even tried on random samples of laboratory rats. They were run through mazes and scored on time and how many times they made wrong turns, et cetera. The rats were of the same ability, but the scorers gave them scores based on what they believed their intelligence was. This is mental set, what we tend to bring to our studies. We are all victims of predisposed ideas, but when we come to this great book, we must try to leave them behind and study with fresh minds. It is very difficult to do. Some of the great teachers of all time fail to do it at times as I hope to show you as we study together. The enemy of learning is called What Everybody Knows. Let me illustrate this syndrome by asking you a question. What kind of a man was Ebeneezer Scrooge?”

The class, anticipating a study of Revelation, was quiet. They were a little disturbed by Glen’s approach. He knew they would be, but felt they needed a little shakeup to free their minds.

“Anyone?” Glen asked again.

A lady in the back spoke timidly, sensing it was a trick question, “Well, he was a selfish man, he never thought of anyone else but himself “. Glen walked to the blackboard and wrote “SELFISH, SELF-CENTERED”.

“Thank you, anyone else?”

A man in the front row volunteered “He was a miser, all he thought about was money”. Glen, still at the blackboard, wrote “STINGY, MONEY GRUBBER”.

“Good," he said, "we’re getting the picture." Without further prompting another person spoke, “Scrooge was cheerless, grumpy, rude”. Glen then wrote these words on the blackboard. Then he thanked them for speaking up and added his own description. “Scrooge hated Christmas, wouldn’t you all agree? Does everyone agree that these characteristics accurately portray the character of Ebeneezer Scrooge?”

There were murmured assents and nodded heads. Glen hesitated before he sprang his trap.

“There is someone who disagrees with our description though, a famous writer, Charles Dickens, the author of the story A CHRISTMAS CAROL. Let me quote him:

“A merry Christmas, Bob,” said Scrooge, with an earnestness that could not be mistaken, as he clapped him on the back. “A merrier Christmas, Bob, my good fellow, than I have given you for many a year. I’ll raise your salary, and endeavour to assist your struggling family, and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon, over a Christmas bowl of smoking bishop, Bob. Make up the fires, and buy another coal-scuttle before you dot another i, Bob Cratchit!” Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father. He became a good friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, ...

The Revelation class was concentrating on Glen’s words, some frowning, no one very happy with what he was saying. He continued, referring to his own comments on Scrooge and Christmas, - "and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge."

“I have the feeling that you feel you have been tricked, even betrayed, by having your conceptions drawn out and then contradicted by the text of the story. That is why I included my own ideas about Scrooge on the black board.”

A woman asked, “Your quotations were from the very end of the story. That’s not what Scrooge was like most of the time.”

“Yes” said Glen, “But the moral of this story is the transformation of a man’s character and personality .Yet no matter how many times my question is asked, answers almost identical to ours will be given. You may feel I betrayed you, set you up. But I want to show that what we are all told is true, what we see portrayed, concerning a story, often contradicts what the author himself has written. And this applies to the Bible, perhaps most of all.

We are conditioned to believe something, and even if it is the opposite of the text, we believe as we are conditioned to believe.” People shifted in their seats. A lady whispered to her husband “I came for a class on Revelation and I’m being lectured on psychology.”

Glen continued, “You may be saying “I came to study Revelation, but instead I am getting a class on mind control.” The lady who had made the whispered comment sat upright, blushing. Had he heard what she said? she wondered.

“Before we get into Revelation, I have one more question to pose. This time you are alerted to my methods and intentions, so you should not be caught in any trap. Here is my question:

Who am I? I was born in rural Kentucky in 1808. For a time I lived in a log cabin. I rose from my humble origins and served as president during the Civil War.”

No one spoke for a time, sensing that Glen was trying to trap them. Finally an older man spoke.”You have made an error in one of your facts, Lincoln was not born in 1808. He was born February 12, 1809!” The man settled back in satisfaction, waiting for Glen’s reply.

“Yes, sir”, said Glen, “You are absolutely correct concerning the date of Lincoln’s birth. But the man I am referring to is Jefferson Davis, not Lincoln.”

Again the man spoke up. “But you said he was president during the Civil War!”

Glen made his point with patience, “And so he was, he was president of the Confederate States of America during the War Between the States. I never said he was president of the United States.”

Glen changed his stance and spoke quietly, “Folks, there are two points I want to make and then we will begin our study of Revelation:”

He walked to the board and erased the descriptions he had written there.In their place he wrote:

As you begin your Bible study, leave your pre-conceived ideas behind you..


Similarities do not prove identities.

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