January 17, 2003

Catholic–minded Christians favor rituals and set prayers; Evangelical-minded Christians think these are insincere, that a prayer or action must come from the heart, and that set prayers and rites are dead. Samuel Johnson, good Anglican that he was, disapproved of the Presbyterian version of this attitude in his Journey to the Western Isles.

"The Naked Face" by Malcolm Gladwell in the August 5 New Yorker explores the meaning of facial expressions. They are universal and largely involuntary. A trained or naturally intuitive person can detect a liar, and much else, by facial expressions.

When I worked as a federal investigator, we were trained to pick up verbal and facial clues of liars - nothing as subtle as the article discusses, but useful anyway. To practice we had a film and transcript of Ted Kennedy explaining what he did at Chappaquiddick. We were told to look for signs that he was lying. Most of us stopped at 100.
A current researcher (who was pro-Clinton) noticed that Clinton had characteristic facial expressions. The researcher contacted Clinton’s communications director and said, “Look, Clinton’s got this way of rolling his eyes along with a certain expression, and what it means is ‘I am a bad boy.’ I don’t think it is a good thing. I could teach him how not to do that in two or three hours.” Clinton refused. In any case the expression was revelatory.

I am always getting into trouble because of my facial expressions, I don’t suffer fools gladly, and even when I keep my mouth shut, my expression must give me away, because people get angry with me after they have said something stupid. They suspect it is stupid, and see by my face that I think it is extremely stupid.
However, returning to the Catholic-Evangelical disagreement, researchers have also discovered that facial expressions can create the corresponding emotions.
A researcher asked one group to remember a distressing situation, and monitored their heart beat, etc. They showed signs of stress. He then asked another group to make a facial expression of distress without thinking of anything. They showed the same physiological signs of distress as the first group. One group held a pen tightly between their lips, which made it impossible to smile. They were shown cartoons. They were not amused. Another group held a pen in their mouths in such a way that they were forced to smile. They found the cartoons hilarious.

Pascal (I believe) advised someone who said he had trouble believing in Christianity to take holy water on entering a church, and that belief would follow. Our external actions tend to create the corresponding internal attitudes.

Catholics: You are right, actions create the emotions.

Protestants: You are right, the heart will out no matter how hard we try to conceal it.

However, if a person has decided something is right – that he should venerate God or love his wife - but for some reason doesn’t feel the emotions he ought to feel, he can perform the actions, bowing and kneeling, or kissing and bringing flowers. These actions tend to create the emotions, and are not insincere, because the will has made a decision based on the truth, and wants to bring the heart into conformity with realty. This is the definition of truth and truthfulness. So High Chuchmen are a little more right than Low Churchmen (who in any case often have their own unacknowledged rituals).
--Leon Podles

Postcript: Minute Particulae blogged about The Naked Face back in August.

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