Edward De Bono tells of an ugly money-lender who once offered to cancel a merchant’s big debt in return for the merchant’s beautiful daughter. When the merchant balked, the money-lender proposed a gambling scheme, and the merchant had to agree to it because he could not repay the loan.

The money-lender said he would put a black pebble and a white one into an empty money bag, and the girl would have to reach in and take one out. If she picked the black pebble, she would become the money-lender’s wife and her father’s debt would be canceled. If she took the white one, she would stay with her father and the debt would still be canceled. But the girl noticed that the lender, in picking up the pebbles along the pebble-strewn path where they were bargaining, slyly put two black ones in the bag.

The negative thinker would see such a situation as hopeless. He would say there was no way out, and resign himself to his fate.

This is a time of year when many people find themselves in depressing straits. It’s a dull period generally on the calendar, with recreational opportunities at a minimum. The weather in many areas is cold and dreary, and spring seems a long way off. Some great hopes we had for the new year may already have been dashed. The political and economic situation is anything but encouraging. In short, much of our environment may appear to be part of a conspiracy of discouragement.

Thanks to that incurable optimist Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, much has been said about the power of positive thinking. But negative thinking also has power, a dangerous kind of power. We might better term it the menace of negative thinking.

Negative thinking can affect us physically. It can be debilitating. Stresses in mind do somehow influence the organs and organisms in the body so that bodily health is adversely affected. Negative thinking can really make us sick.

We can also be affected psychologically and socially by negative thinking. We can get downcast, frustrated, pessimistic, and mentally fatigued. This leaves us useless for effort that requires good use of the mind, and irritable and withdrawn in relationships with others.

Worst of all is what can happen spiritually when we get into the grip of negative thinking. One of the devil’s favorite tricks is to wear a Christian down to the point where is feels defeated in his devotional life and in his life of service for God.

What is meant by negative thinking? How much is legitimate and how much can we take? Can it be avoided? Overcome?

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Negative thinking operates from the assumption that individually or collectively or both, the future is hopeless, or at least that there is no point in trying any more. Sometimes negative thinkers contend that they are simply being realists, but there is a distinction. It is one thing to acknowledge problems and discouragement. It is quite another to throw up one’s hands in despair, and become a fatalist. One can be a realist without being a pessimist. Negative thinking is a cop-out, a surrender that leaves others to solve the tough problems.

But there are always some who will not surrender: no matter how desperate things are, they will work to make them better. Every situation eventually has a resolution, one way or another. So what the negative thinker does is to invite someone else to determine the outcome. It’s particularly sad when the negative thinker is a professing Christian, because his withdrawal may leave the situation to non-Christian or anti-Christian forces.

Thank God for those who persevere. Edison was such a man. It is said that he failed to get results from about 10,000 experiments with a storage battery. Yet he refused to admit total failure. “I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work,” he said. His perseverance led to numerous life-enriching inventions, including the incandescent lamp, which Edison developed only after he had gone through thousands of dollars’ worth of fruitless experiments.

That is the kind of spirit we sorely need in a February that appears to offer more than the usual grimness. It is the spirit expressed vividly by the people who brought mankind through World War II: “The impossible just takes a little longer.”

The Bible is very positive. “Ask and it will be given to you,” Jesus said. “Knock and the door will be opened to you.” Paul declared that God “always leads us in triumphal procession” (New International Version), that “I can do everything through him who gives me strength,” and that “my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”

Coming back to the maiden in distress, with whom De Bono begins his stimulating and fascinating book New Think, we find her drawing a pebble out of the bag. Without looking at it she lets it drop to the path, where it is lost among all the others. “Oh, how clumsy of me,” she says. “But never mind—if you look into the bag you will be able to tell which pebble I took by the color of the one that is left.” The remaining pebble is black, of course, and the money-lender dares not admit his dishonesty.

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This ingenious stroke De Bono uses to illustrate the advantages of “lateral thinking” over conventional thinking, which is too quick to conclude that there is no way out of a problem. The Christian must also weigh every situation in terms of its moral demands. But in subjecting ourselves to God’s laws we are availing ourselves of his incomparable power and wisdom as well.

Dollars For Democracy

Among the many lessons of Watergate is the extent to which the need for campaign contributions virtually forces candidates for office to pay undue heed to special interests. It is not wrong to call one’s special interest to the attention of the government. What is harmful is when comparatively well-organized groups such as labor unions, industrial giants, or farmers are able, because of large and concentrated campaign donations, to get favors while unorganized groups such as consumers, middle-income taxpayers, or commuters are not.

As Christians placed by God in a representative democracy, we share responsibility for promoting good government. One small step is provided by law on the federal income-tax return. Each taxpayer can designate $1 of his federal tax to be diverted into a 1976 Presidential Election Campaign Fund. All he need do is check the box on line eight of page one of that famous form 1040 or 1040A. It does not increase his payment to the IRS at all.

The money so designated goes into a common fund to be distributed to the major and any minor parties in 1976 according to a predetermined formula. While this means that the taxpayer gives, indirectly, to parties he may not like, it also means that those who are elected can be more concerned—in deed as well as word—with the common interest, since they will not have been allowed to accept contributions from special interests.

Spartanism—On Whose Terms?

The tremendous rise in prosperity of the highly developed nations since World War II resulted in part from the availability of plentiful, cheap oil. This availability has also made them very dependent on the favor of their foreign suppliers. West Germany, for example, depended on oil for only 21 per cent of its energy supply in 1960, but now that figure has risen to 55 per cent, and almost all its oil comes from Arab lands.

Now the Arab oil embargo, ostensibly designed to compel consumer nations to support their cause against Israel, has been followed by huge price increases—fourfold or more so far, with promise of still higher prices to come. Viewing others’ misfortune as their opportunity, non-Arab oil-exporting states, including Iran, Venezuela, Nigeria, Indonesia, and Canada, have joined the cartel to exact ever higher prices. Some underdeveloped countries—India, for example—face the prospect of wiping out their foreign-exchange reserves in order to pay for their modest but essential energy needs. Hardworking countries like Japan that have achieved a measure of prosperity through tremendous effort may soon see their favorable trade balances turned into an economic disaster.

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Having taught the industrial nations to depend on them, the oil exporters now seem convinced that they can dictate to them. In effect the oil-rich Arabs and “honorary Arabs” (the non-Arab oil-producing states) are telling the industrial nations to adopt a Spartan style of life and do it quickly, with no grumbling.

Perhaps a more Spartan life-style would be good for the affluent, soft-living industrial states. But dictating to others simply because one has cornered the market on a vital commodity is a risky business. Particularly if they are Spartans.

Striking Back

January was the month for revenge in sports. In boxing, Muhammad Ali decisioned Joe Frazier in what was billed as “the world’s greatest return match,” three years after the first fight, won by Frazier. In basketball, UCLA got back at Notre Dame, trouncing “Our Lady” for having snapped its eighty-eight-game victory streak the week before.

The two big events stirred up some adrenalin among sports fans after a rather ho-hum football season. Despite all the head-knocking that is a part of the action on the gridiron, the year produced very few exciting contests. The pro picture would have been notably dull had it not been for O. J. Simpson’s rushing record of 2,003 yards. No wonder Secretariat did so well in the voting for best male athlete of the year.

With the coming of spring training in baseball, we are reminded that America’s traditional favorite pastime, though one of the least violent sports, often turns out to be the most interesting. Baseball may not be as physically demanding as other sports, but it still has a lot going for it. These are days when Christians need to contribute an extra share of effort in holding down social hostility. Baseball helps.

Louis Cassels

Journalism lost a pioneer with the death last month of Louis Cassels, United Press International correspondent and religious columnist. He was a reporter of superb ability, one whom UPI editors called upon for very tough stories like Little Rock and Kent State. But Lou deserves to be remembered primarily for the role he played in reintroducing to North American newspapers interpretative coverage of religious affairs. He and George Cornell of Associated Press broke ground in the fifties by inaugurating weekly columns that talked about matters of faith.

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Cassels wrote several books, which, like his news reports, boiled down complex principles. His theological views unfortunately reflected something less than an evangelical position on the Bible. He battled courageously, however, for fundamental truths such as the reality of the Resurrection and the transcendence of God. He grew up a Southern Baptist and subsequently became an Episcopalian, but he communicated to all varieties of Christians. Five years ago he told a convention of the Protestant Church-Owned Publishers Association that modern men are “sick and tired of being told what they can’t believe. They want to know what, if anything, they can believe. They feel they’ve been cast long enough in the role of captive audience for theologians engaged in a reckless competition to see who can administer the rudest shock to the faithful.” He further told the publishers, “If you persist in handing out stones when people ask for bread, they’ll finally quit coming to the bakery.”

Those who knew Cassels were aware that he lived what he wrote. He was personable, gracious, and always helpful. His Christian spirit was well illustrated in a gesture not long before his death, a column on freedom of speech that defended Carl McIntire, who over the years had attacked Cassels unmercifully and sought to get him fired.

On Daring To Be Different

Many of us dismiss the world’s great evils with a passive shrug. After all, what can one person do? How can the individual buck a powerful system? Perhaps it was possible in a simpler era, but not in the modern world.

But the life of Alexander Solzhenitsyn refutes the idea that one human being cannot effectively challenge a massive evil force. And the Christian above all others should believe in individual potential, knowing that the Spirit-led person is energized by the omnipotent God.

Solzhenitsyn is the greatest living Russian novelist. But The Gulag Archipelago, his latest book, is history, not fiction, and it is his most courageous work to date. He documents the atrocities of Soviet labor camps between 1918 and 1956. In a Russian edition published in Paris, the book runs to 606 pages. It is being translated into English by Harper & Row.

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The book is perhaps the most embarrassing barrage to hit the Kremlin since it first came under Communist control. So far the Soviet bosses seem stymied. And there is apparently more to come. The Gulag Archipelago (“Gulag” is the acronym for the agency that incarcerated political prisoners, while the “archipelago” refers to prison camp “islands”) is said to be only the first two sections of a seven-part work dealing with Soviet terror.

This is an example of what one person can do.

From The Pulpit To The Board Room

During the 1960s, many clerics and ecclesiastical bureaucrats turned their attention from the pulpit to the political platform. Now many of them are moving on to the corporation board room, it seems. A number of churches and church agencies are planning an all-out push this spring to influence several major corporations currently doing business in certain areas where the churches disapprove of the way things are run—especially in South Africa and Portugal’s overseas territories.

Some churches and their subsidiary boards already held big investments in companies involved. The United Presbyterian Church, for instance, owns about 44,000 shares of Exxon with a book value of about $4 million, and two boards of the United Church of Christ own 65,500 shares of Newmont Mining, book value approximately $1.8 million. One agency, the United Church of Christ’s Center for Social Action, has acquired three token shares in each of two of the target companies, thereby gaining the right to attend and vote at stockholders’ meetings. The Church Project on United States Investments in Southern Africa intends to use the leverage provided by stock ownership to persuade the companies involved to do as the Project thinks right (see News, February 1 issue, page 41).

Certainly it is legitimate for stockholders—especially major ones—to try to influence the companies of which they are part owner to do business in a particular way. There may be some question whether shareholders who have only token holdings have the moral right to enlist media and other outside pressure to manipulate companies—and through them the other shareholders’ interests. There is also the question whether the initiative taken by the various churches in these highly selective cases really represents the convictions of their constituencies. Is it necessarily less moral for American oil companies to do business in Portuguese Guinea than for American wheat dealers to do business with the Soviet Union? We are all long since familiar with what Sir Arnold Lunn called “selective indignation.” Such indignation is aimed against the oppressors only of those whom Jacques Ellul calls the “interesting poor”—e.g., against the Europeans who dominate South Africa’s black majority, but not against the Arabs who have killed a substantial portion of the black population of the Sudan.

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One might also ask whether churches in fact ought to be major stockholders in commercial enterprises. Perhaps companies should try to turn the tables by packing session and vestry meetings. That way we would get not only more spiritual principle in the conduct of business affairs but also more efficiency in church management. It may be an interesting spring.

Rapping With Humanists

A while back (September 28 issue) we commented on “Humanist Manifesto II,” which views religion and particularly Christianity as outmoded relics of the irrational and superstitious. In response to the reactions, the January/February issue of the Humanist airs the matter further.

In this issue Paul Beatty, minister of a Unitarian Church in Indianapolis, describes himself as “an agnostic leaning toward atheism.” “Man,” he says, “must take his destiny in his own hands.” “My primary commitment is to the humanistic frame of reference that sees man as the only value center that we know about.” If Beatty’s views are typical among Unitarian clergymen, is there any reason why the Unitarians should not close their churches promptly and get out of the religion business? It is difficult to respect an agnostic/atheist who uses “churches” theoretically committed to a belief in God as a parade ground for his disbelief.

Sidney Hook, emeritus professor of philosophy of New York University, asks, “If a man ‘thinks’ he is the Messiah—a human experience—does his thinking make it so? If a man or woman ‘thinks’ that he or she has heard God’s voice, does it mean that God has really spoken?” Hook says that with John Dewey he sees humanism as “a religion whose practitioners bow down neither to God nor man and in which human beings grow to their full rational potential, not by kneeling, but by thinking, acting and learning from experience.” But, one might respond, if Sidney Hook “thinks” that God has not spoken, does it mean that God has really not spoken? No; millions of people can testify to having heard His voice. Hook is quite correct in asserting that God is inaudible to him, of course, and for a reason he cannot see.

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Paul Kurtz, the editor of the Humanist, writes: “Thus in answer to the question, can one believe in God and still be a humanist, we need to ask of the believer: What do you mean by ‘God’? If it is still a transcendent divine being or reality who created man and influences and controls his destiny, then the answer is ‘No’.…”

Yes, Mr. Kurtz, that is indeed what we mean by “God.” We acknowledge and worship the very kind of God you dismiss—a transcendent divine being who created man and controls his destiny—and we urge all men everywhere to behold this God, who became flesh and dwelt among us in Jesus Christ!

Lifting Up The Son

When the devout Pharisee Nicodemus came to Jesus with his questions, Jesus did not only tell him, “You must be born again” (John 3:7). He also alluded to the unique rank of the Son of man, descended from heaven (v. 13), and to his ministry: he must be lifted up, as Moses lifted up the brazen serpent in the wilderness (v. 14). The reference to “lifting up” may have seemed ambiguous to Nicodemus—it could be understood simply in the sense of “exhibiting, displaying.” Jesus used the same expression during the week before his crucifixion: “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself” (John 12:32). The evangelist explains that he was referring to the way in which he would die. At an earlier point in his ministry, he had warned those who objected to his calling himself the bread of heaven, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44), and now he speaks of himself at his crucifixion, “drawing all men.”

A public execution was a spectacle that drew a crowd, and there was one at Jesus’ crucifixion—but for the most part it was composed of his enemies, of mockers, and of the merely curious. Few of them were drawn there by the Father in the sense of John 6:44. Apparently there is an inherently fascinating power in the death of Christ, for the portrayal of his crucifixion has never lacked spectators. The Passion has provided the theme for many major musical compositions, some of them by complete unbelievers. The most recent example is the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar. It is almost as though those who are not persuaded that he is the Saviour, who cannot accept that he rose again, lives today, and will return to judge the earth, resist the Resurrection, but somehow need to keep reminding themselves of his death, as though to reassure themselves that he is really gone and will never come back to trouble them.

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Peter Abelard (1079–1142), one of the most problematic of the medieval theologians, spoke of the crucifixion and death of Christ as the perfect revelation of God’s love, a revelation that makes it impossible for us to go on denying that he loves us and fearing to entrust ourselves to his hands. Indeed, the suffering and death of Christ are a perfect revelation of God’s long-suffering love, and, contemplating them, no one should remain hostile or distrustful toward God. But in fact countless thousands do: they are drawn to the place where Jesus is lifted up, to the Cross, but they are drawn only to stare, to scoff, or to be entertained.

In the ancient Greek tragedy Hippolytus, the hero’s “tragic flaw,” which set the whole terrible tragedy in motion, is often described as “tardiness of nature,” a hesitancy to recognize ordinary human love and respond to it. If we can speak of “tragedy” in a Christian context, then there is no greater tragedy than the spectacle of crowds being drawn to the Cross, but too tardy in spirit, too cold, or too blasé, to believe.

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