Thursday, October 20, 2011

Elaine, Look to the Cookie!

(please allow me to repeat myself from 9/2008)
A few years ago, the Center for Science in the Public Interest ran an article in their Nutrition Action Newsletter about the nutrional value of ... Girl Scout cookies. They covered the cookies rather thoroughly, exploring the fat, transfats, sodium, and everything else found in cookies ranging from Thin Mints to those delicious Peanut Butter Tagalongs. The CSPI does this kind of research on popular foods with every issue of the N.A. Newsletter, so they weren't 'singling out' Girl Scouts per se, they just were focusing on the cookies this time around.

Still, the results were a little disconcerting-- especially if you are one of those who can't resist the sales pitch of sweet little neighbor children, offering a smile and handing you a ledger sheet to fill in, while their moms waving joyfully from the sidewalk. I know that I'm the kind of person who can refuse junk food and sweets at the grocery store, but once the food in our house, I'm going to eat it. Girl Scouts selling cookies take away my wall of resistance. And the CSPI showed me why that was not such a good thing. (NOTE: I seem to recall that GS cookies have improved their nutritional content over time, so please don't read this as the last word on the subject.)

What was interesting-- and even more disconcerting-- was the reaction from the public over the N.A. Newsletter's research. Letters to the journal accused the CSPI of picking on sweet and innocent little girls, who were just trying to support their participation Girl Scouts, by depicting them as merchants of death. Other letters were not quite that diplomatic. Importantly, very few of the letters actually addressed the science of the report- whether or not the cookies actually did contain the nutrional contents that the CSPI said they did. Instead, they focused on how the report would reflect on the image of a cherished and admirable institution.

I think there is a lot to learn from the public reaction to the CSPI report. There are times that we react strongly to something, not because we agree or disagree with the truth of the matter, but because we are trying to protect an image that we cherish. So, for example, people who don't understand the first thing about the science of carbon dating might reject it in principle, not because they can disprove it, but because the notion that the earth might be billions of years old does not fit within their cherished image of creation.

I think the same might be true with people's devotion to Left Behind Theology. If anyone has ever read Barbara Rossing's book, The Rapture Exposed, or Bruce Metzger's Breaking the Code, they would encounter very strong and reasonable arguments against the biblical and theological premises of Left Behind Theology. The 'science' against it, so to speak, is there. Left Behind Theology is simply bad theology built on flimsy scriptural foundations. And yet, so many people assume it is the Christian perspective of the end times. Why is that?

As Jerry Seinfeld once famously said, "Elaine, Look to the cookie!"*

I think the reason that Tim LaHaye's books (those curious hybrids of fiction and supposed non-fiction) outsell Barbara Rossing's books by such a huge margin, has nothing to do with the cogency of their arguments and biblical interpretations. We cherish the idea that, if the world goes awry, we get to survive- much like the letter writers to the CSPI cherished the image of Girl Scouts. And if we have to ignore the facts in order to protect the image, so be it.

* Jerry's cookie was half vanilla and half chocolate, a happy ebony-and-ivory co-existence that led him to sermonize a bit on human community. Shortly thereafter he got an upset stomach, saying, "I think it was the cookie."

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