Posts Tagged psychology

Christian Mattress Merchants Reach Beyond Economic Exchange

Urban Mattress, Christian businessOver at the Acton Institute’s PowerBlog, I discuss a recent article at Christianity Today on a mattress business whose Christian owners seek to transform what many see as “one of the sleaziest industries in the world.”

From the article:

Rietema and Steve Van Diest, both former campus ministers, are bringing rest—and integrity—back to a business largely devoid of it. Four years ago, a Christian entrepreneur invited the Colorado natives to begin deploying their relational abilities in strip malls rather than on college campuses. They now co-own three Urban Mattress stores in Denver and have franchised four more. And, they argue, their current work is just as important as their former ministry….

…”I don’t have to do mental gymnastics with the product I sell,” Van Diest says. “It’s not a frivolous item. It’s not an image-conscious product. People come here after being worn down by horrible sleep, replete with aches and pain. If we can provide them with a small glimpse of grace for a third of their lives, that’s kingdom work. That matters to God.”

There is plenty to admire about Urban Mattress, but one of the most striking features in the article is the intimate nature of many of their customer interactions. Here, I argue that Christians should pay close attention. The social, moral, and spiritual implications of Christian business – nay, all business – stretch beyond philanthropy and sound business practices:

On this, Urban Mattress provides a good lesson not only on the broader implications of our economic transactions, but also on the broader potential of Christian business in general. Far too often we confine our thinking about Christian business to areas like philanthropy or “corporate evangelism.” By going further and offering this type of personal customer service, these owners show us how there can be more exchange in exchange than we allow for or recognize, whether social, psychological, or spiritual.

When we engage in the marketplace, whether as producers or consumers, there is something transcendent Read the rest of this entry »

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Life After Death: The (Secular) Evidence

Life After Death: The Evidence by Dinesh D'SouzaLet’s imagine that an atheist asks a Christian to prove the existence of God. Most Christians would typically respond by pointing to some kind of personal experience or encounter. If the atheist is especially lucky, the Christian may be able to talk about a few fulfilled prophecies or relatively unknown archeological artifacts.

However, if the atheist presses any further on the matter, most Christians would readily throw up their hands and concede with this refrain:

“I just know, ok? I know it doesn’t all add up, but I can just feel that it’s true deep down inside. That’s enough to convince me.”

Don’t get me wrong. Personal experience is important — as are fulfilled prophecies and archeological artifacts — but the problem with arguing on these premises is that such matters seem utterly silly and unconvincing to your average nonbeliever. Unfortunately, the Church is fond of gathering evidence only so far as their own needs and curiosities require.

It is this type of Christian apologetics that Dinesh D’Souza hopes to enrich in his new book, Life After Death: The Evidence.

Although most of D’Souza’s analysis is focused on proving the existence of an afterlife rather than simply the existence of God, many of his arguments could be used to support both propositions. What is clear, however, is that D’Souza’s apologetics are far from the Christian norm.

“We speak one kind of language in church,” D’Souza says, “and must learn to speak another while making our case in secular culture.”

But what kind of “language” is that?

D’Souza continues:

I want to engage atheism and reductive materialism on their own terms, and to beat them at their own game…I am not going to appeal to divine intervention or miracles, because I am making a secular argument in a secular culture…[Secularists] wonder if there is something more beyond death, and they are eager to hear an argument that meets them where they are, uses facts they can verify, and doesn’t already presume the conclusion it seeks to establish.

This is what separates D’Souza’s arguments from the rest. He approaches the likes of Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Richard Dawkins not with Bible verses or creationist appeals to God, but with Read the rest of this entry »

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The New Science of Morality: A Secular Argument for Cultural Competition

Last week, I came across an interesting talk by psychologist Jonathan Haidt called “The New Science of Morality” (via Arnold Kling).

Haidt is well known for his research on the evolution of morality through cultural and political lenses (he has authored two books on the subject), and he provides a good introduction to his views in this discussion.

You can watch the video here:

If you’re not in the mood to watch all 28 minutes, Haidt’s basic view on cultural formation is this:

I just briefly want to say, I think it’s also crucial, as long as you’re going to be a nativist and say, “oh, you know, evolution, it’s innate,” you also have to be a constructivist. I’m all in favor of reductionism, as long as it’s paired with emergentism. You’ve got to be able to go down to the low level, but then also up to the level of institutions and cultural traditions and, you know, all kinds of local factors.

Unlike this blog, Haidt believes in biological evolution, and likewise he takes a purely secular approach to discussing cultural evolution. However, his perspective is well worth considering, particularly because his conclusion points to Read the rest of this entry »

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Pay What You Wish: The Origins of Consumeristic Charity

BreadI previously wrote a post discussing Panera Bread Co.’s new pay-what-you-wish business model and its macro implications.

Here’s a brief summary of how the new store works (from USA Today):

While the store does have cashiers, they don’t collect money. They simply hand each customer a receipt that says what their food would cost at a conventional Panera. The receipt directs customers with cash to donation boxes (there are five in the store). Cashiers do accept credit cards.

Last week, the Freakonomics blog posted a new study on pay-what-you-wish pricing, which suggests that the best way to maximize profits in such models is to “combine pay-what-you-wish pricing with an appeal to charity” (quoted from Freakonomics).

Marketing professor Ayelet Gneezy reached this conclusion by presenting 113,000+ theme park visitors with several pricing schemes for purchasing souvenir photos.

The four schemes, as summarized by Freakonomics, were as follows (and I quote):

  1. A flat fee of $12.95
  2. A flat fee of $12.95 with half going to charity
  3. Pay-what-you-wish
  4. Pay-what-you-wish with half going to charity

When it came to profitability, the “charity” factor provided a healthy boost in demand for photos sold under the pay-what-you-wish option.

As Gneezy explains in the abstract:

At a standard fixed price, the charitable component only slightly increased demand, as similar studies have also found. However, when participants could pay what they wanted, the same charitable component created a treatment that was substantially more profitable.

This would seem to bode well for the Panera model, even though Panera is far less explicit when it comes to the actual amount devoted to charity. Although “all profits” will go to charity, the consumer has no idea Read the rest of this entry »

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Eco-Consumerism and Moral Licensing: How to Hide Your Right Hand

Green Bags

A little subtlety would be nice.

A few months ago I wrote a post dealing with green consumerism and its side effects when it comes to priming and licensing.

In the post, I referenced a psychology study by Nina Mazar and Chen-Bo Zhong, which concluded that “mere exposure” to green products can increase altruistic behavior, but actually purchasing those products can result in the opposite.

Michael Rosenwald recently wrote an article for The Washington Post that points to very similar conclusions (“Why going green won’t make you better or save you money”). The article mentions the same Mazar/Zhong study that I cited in my previous post.

Rosenwald introduces the topic nicely:

We drink Diet Coke — with Quarter Pounders and fries at McDonald’s. We go to the gym — and ride the elevator to the second floor. We install tankless water heaters — then take longer showers. We drive SUVs to see Al Gore’s speeches on global warming.

But why do we continue to make consumer decisions that conflict with the morality/practicality of others?

As Rosenwald explains:

These behavioral riddles beg explanation, and social psychologists are offering one in new studies. The academic name for such quizzical behavior is moral licensing. It seems that we have a good/bad balance sheet in our heads that we’re probably not even aware of. For many people, doing good makes it easier — and often more likely — to do bad. It works in reverse, too: Do bad, then do good.

When I read about these effects, I can’t help but think of Jesus’ warning about giving to the needy:

Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward Read the rest of this entry »

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To Birth or Not to Birth: Does Parenting Make Us Unhappy?

parentingJennifer Senior recently wrote a fascinating piece for New York Magazine titled “All Joy and No Fun,” in which she discusses whether having children makes us happier.

Although we all probably think we have a good idea of what happiness consists of, it becomes quite elusive when we analyze it as a scientific variable.

Senior adequately recognizes this elusiveness in her article. Rather than taking a firm position from the get-go, she instead drifts from study to study, illuminating some of the more persuasive points while still playing a fair amount of devil’s advocate.

Such an approach is necessary for this topic, for as Senior notes, the majority of mainstream studies say that parenting does not actually make us happier in the long run:

Most people assume that having children will make them happier. Yet a wide variety of academic research shows that parents are not happier than their childless peers, and in many cases are less so. This finding is surprisingly consistent, showing up across a range of disciplines.

Most parents tend to doubt such findings (including me), but when you actually read the studies, it’s hard to doubt their conclusions (at least from a macro perspective). Certainly none of us are unhappy parents!

“So what, precisely, is going on here?” Senior asks. “Why is this finding duplicated over and over again despite the fact that most parents believe it to be wrong?­”

The only answers Senior is able to come up with are that either (1) “parents are deluded,” or (2) “the experience of raising children has fundamentally changed.”

I would say the second guess is probably more convincing.

As Senior explains:

Before urbanization, children were viewed as economic assets to their parents. If you had a farm, they toiled alongside you to maintain its upkeep; if you had a family business, the kids helped mind the store. But all of this dramatically changed with the moral and technological Read the rest of this entry »

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The Moral Life of Babies: Does Moral Agency Have a Starting Point?

BabyPaul Bloom has a fascinating article on the morality of babies in the New York Times Magazine, in which he provides an overview of the psychological studies he has been conducting at the Infant Cognition Center at Yale University.

The article is quite extensive, so I won’t go into too much detail, but I wanted to note that his findings definitely identify signs for significant moral capacities in babies. Whether it’s showing preference for “good guys” vs. “bad guys” or smiling/laughing at “justice” vs. “injustice,” Bloom shows that babies have at least some sort of moral aptitude.

As Bloom concludes: “Babies possess certain moral foundations — the capacity and willingness to judge the actions of others, some sense of justice, gut responses to altruism and nastiness.”

I take exception to plenty of things in Bloom’s article, particularly the Singeresque notion that babies must be “humanized” (i.e. civilized) in order to be considered moral agents or worthwhile beings. Mere self-consciousness is hardly a starting point for discussing moral agency, and such arguments usually exclude the mentally disabled and plenty of others from the realm of moral capability. However, as a whole, I think Bloom’s findings are a great starting point for bringing the Blooms, Singers, and Dawkinses of the world to a proper view of human life.

If the moral agency and moral worth of babies are thought to be components we can gauge with human instruments, it would follow that such lives can be discriminated against using our Read the rest of this entry »

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