Monthly Archives: March 2012

Men of Our Era and Shopping Malls


Special thanks to my brother for pointing this passage out from the book Rage Against God by Peter Hitchens.

In their utter reverence for oaths, men of [Sir Thomas] More’s era were in my view as superior to us as the builder of Chartres Cathedral were to the builders of shopping malls. Our ancestors’ undisturbed faith gave them a far closer, healthier relation to the truth – and so to beauty – than we have.  Without a belief in God and the soul, where is the oath? Without the oath, where is the obligation or the pressure to fulfill it? Where is the law that even kings must obey? Where is Magna Carte, Habeas Corpus or the Bill of Rights, all of which arose out of attempts to rule by lawless tyranny? Where is the lifelong fidelity of husband and wife? Where is the safety of the innocent child growing in the womb? Where, in the end, is the safety of any of us from those currently bigger and stronger than we are?

Truth, Inculcated Falsehood

This excerpt is from The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William Shirer, an American historian.  If you haven’t read his book, you should, especially if you use Nazism as an historic prop to any of your arguments.  The author benefitted from actually living in Nazi Germany as a foreign correspondent and relayed some of the historic events of the time from a first person viewpoint—something you don’t expect in a book on an historical subject.

In this excerpt, Shirer talks about the effects of propaganda in that society which has an eerie correlation to the current climate in the U.S. as undocumented opinions from journalists and pundits become the parroted remarks of social streams, feeds and blogs. The repeated inculcation of misinformation becomes “truth” which can be dangerous when leveraged in the mechanisms of our country (public school, higher education, crowd wisdom, news outlets coupled with a populace that doesn’t read or think critically) to engineer a desired outcome, good or bad.

Do not skim:

I myself was to experience how easily one is taken in by a lying and censored press and radio in a totalitarian state.  Though unlike most Germans, I had daily access to foreign newspapers especially those of London, Paris and Zurich, which arrived the day after publication, and though I listened regularly to the BBC and other foreign broadcasts, my job necessitated the spending of many hours a day in combing the German press, checking the German radio, conferring with Nazi officials and going to party meetings. It was surprising and sometimes consternating to find that notwithstanding the opportunities I had to learn the facts and despite one’s inherent distrust of what one learned from Nazi sources a steady diet over the years of falsifications and distortions made a certain impression on one’s mind and often misled it. No one who has not lived for years in a totalitarian land can possibly conceive how difficult it is to escape the dread consequences of a regime’s calculated and incessant propaganda.

Often in a German home or office or sometimes in a casual conversation with a stranger in a restaurant, a beer hall, a café, I would meet with the most outlandish assertions from seemingly educated and intelligent persons. It was obvious that they were parroting some piece of nonsense they had heard on the radio or read in the newspaper. Sometimes one was tempted to say as much, but on such occasions one was met with such a stare of incredulity, such a shock of silence as if one bad blasphemed the Almighty, that one realized how useless it was even to try to make contact with a mind which had become warped and for whom the facts of life had become what Hitler and Goebbels, with their cynical disregard for truth said they were.

As Peter Hitchens (brother and opponent of the late Christopher Hitchens) stated, “Is there any point in public debate in a society where hardly anyone has been taught how to think, while millions have been taught what to think?”

Sweet about the soul

My wife reads her Bible every morning, assiduously studying it with colored pencils and supplemental material.

I eat cereal and drink coffee.

I suppose she could be getting ready for work outside the home so that we could have additional income. Or that she could find a career that would give her some public interface to our image conscious society. Our home could be filled with consumer goods and people like me who are pragmatic, scientific, self-actualized, driven, opinionated, informed and full of useless information.

That is, until the storms of life come.

Thereupon most of us might trust in the resources we’ve amassed: education, home-equity, mutual funds, retirement accounts, credit cards, health insurance, technology, organic food, shopping, alcohol, hobbies, the Internet, associates, information, video games, escapism, celebrities or any one of the infinite number of idolatries available to us in our modern age of irreligion.

But some storms can’t be weathered that way; there is security and then there is REAL security.

If I were to tell my wife, “I just won a billion dollars in the national lottery!” She’d be excited—no doubt. But it wouldn’t change her at all. She’d be up the next morning just like every other, reading and marking up her Bible.

Conversely, if I were to call home and say, “I’m quitting my job right now! I don’t know where our next check is coming from!” her response would be “So will you be driving by the store on your way home? We’re out of bread…”

Whereas I may know a thing or two about the Bible, my wife, well, knows the Author.


Our signal-to-noise ratio

A tech blogger made the announcement that he was doing something unorthodox, heretical and anathema: he was going to turn off his electronic gear, computers, internet connection and mobile devices to read a book—a real book, one made of paper and ink. In making this proclamation he made reference to an idea I’d been coining in my mind for years—that is, a reference to an overall increase in signal-to-noise ratio.

For those without engineering degrees, signal to noise ratio, or SNR, is a measurement of the energy of a signal relative to the environment in which it is received. A simple example is a busy cocktail party in which a friend is shouting something to you from across the room but you can’t make it out from the clamor. Your friend’s voice is the signal which is attenuated as it travels across the room. The overall din of conversation at the party presents as a summation of noise the signal must overpower in order to be heard. Other sounds from surrounding directions may pose as interference to your friend’s message too.  SNR is the ratio of your friend’s voice (signal) as heard at your ear over the combination of things that hinder you from hearing it (noise).

Increasing SNR is the goal of many engineering domains (communication systems in particular) and can be done using a number of techniques:

  • Increase signal. Tell your friend to speak louder.
  • Decrease noise. Tell everyone else to shut up.
  • Lower transmission loss. Move closer to your friend.
  • Spatial filtering. Cup you hand to your ear.
  • Spectral filtering.  Tune your hearing aid to the frequency of your friend’s voice.
  • Correlation. Use non-verbal cues and gestures to ascertain what your friend said in context.
  • Redundancy. Have your friend repeat his statement over and over until you get the entire message put together.

Things only get complicated if the cocktail party is being held in a marble cathedral which presents another form of noise called echo. But enough of this! What does this have to do with life, the universe and everything?  Does this train have a stop?


The noise of our daily life –the news, radio, television, internet, social networks, media, addictions, sin, idolatry, fear, self talk— all drown out the small faint signal of God’s voice, the one speaking to us over the din of the “cocktail party”.  The season of Lent is designed to increase SNR: we move closer to the one that is speaking to us while silencing those things that contribute environmental noise. As Jesus spent 40 days in the desert to fast and meditate, so Christians spend the forty days starting on Ash Wednesday in preparation and in expectation of Easter, the day celebrating the Resurrection.

So, this Lent, increase your SNR.