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Beer Goggles

Reality hasn’t changed, of course, but your perceptions have. You may be in for a rude surprise when the goggles come off.
| Jan 24, 2012 | No comments |

Some of you are probably familiar with the concept of beer goggles. After a couple or three beers, the idea goes, your environment begins to appear subtly (or not-so-subtly) different. The world takes on a rosy glow, and everything looks more appealing. If you’re a guy, the girls look prettier. If you’re a girl, the guys look handsomer. Reality hasn’t changed, of course, but your perceptions have. You may be in for a rude surprise when the goggles come off.

"Hey, Good-Lookin'!"

World of Warcraft has played around with this idea. During holidays, the developers often seed the game with unique little character accessories, including a literal set of beer goggles. They’re usually handed out by a girl gnome. “Guaranteed to make anyone look attractive!” When your character puts them on, everybody else in the game looks like a guy gnome. Everybody.

You’re probably wondering where I’m going with this. Hang with me for a moment.

Something often overlooked as we eviscerate or lionize books and their authors is that literature, like any other art form, is inherently interactive. For every author, there is an audience. For every book, there is a reader. For every high, there is a low, for every to, there is a fro…

Where was I? Oh, right…simply put, whatever emerges from a story is at least half the fault of the reader. Every story is perceived and interpreted through the lens of the reader’s life experience–their own personal “beer goggles,” if you will. This affects both the story’s reception (“I loved it!” “I hated it!” “I was overwhelmed by its mediocrity!”) and the lessons we glean from it (“It changed my life!” “No! It’s a guidebook for how not to live!” “Excuse me, I need to stockpile groceries for the Zombie Apocalypse right now!”).

"Somebody drew you a map, and you still can't find the Truth?"

I’m not saying the truth, or un-truth, of any given story is subjective, or relative to the observer. As a Christian, I believe there is objective truth, truth that exists whether or not I or anybody else agrees with it, and that truth is ultimately found in the person of Jesus Christ. God created the universe via that living Word, and His truth permeates creation, even a creation marred by sin. The truth, as Fox Mulder used to say, is Out There. There’s no escaping it. But how much of it are we seeing? To what degree is God’s truth, expressed in creation, and specifically, the truth embedded in human works of art, such as literature, perceptible to us once it passes through our beer goggles?

It can be frustrating for a writer when a reader seems to misinterpret his or her work. Where did they get that idea? That’s nothing like what I was trying to say in my book. Is the idea still true, even if I didn’t intend to weave it into my plot? Somebody saw it there, plain as day. Impossible. It must be the beer goggles talking.

Sometimes you want to just roll with it and put your own goggles into play. Oh, yes indeedy…I designed the entire book to showcase this single, awesome idea. I’m a genius! Meanwhile, not one word of the story has changed. Where’s the truth?

We’re usually unaware of the fact we’re wearing beer goggles because they’re so much a part of us they feel natural. They don’t come off easily, either. One of the most dangerous things about them is our sense that we can just set them aside whenever we wish and see the world in perfect clarity, if we put our mind to it:

“I have exchactly two faulty ashumptions, offishur. They have no effex…affex…impact on my interpolashun of thish passhage of Scrissur…Scripchur…this Bible versh here.”

“Right. Tell it to the judge, buddy.”

Beautiful...and well-connected.

Paradoxically, the beer goggles can allow us to see truth we might otherwise miss. That awkward, inconvenient truth, that “girl who looks prettier at closing time,” so to speak, might turn out to be our soul mate, if we’ll just give her a chance. One of the wonderful things about God is that he meets us where we are. He knows the goggles are glued on tight, but does that stop Him? Of course not. He uses our baggage and circumstances as conduits for communicating His truth.

Am I an Oxford professor with a taste for Norse mythology? Am I a computer programmer who reads science fiction stories over lunch and has a DVR at home loaded with Doctor Who episodes? Am I a teenager with a closet full of comic books? No problem. God can work with that. He helps us recognize important things that draw our attention to Him. Having embraced a truth within a context that’s familiar and comfortable, we’re better able to recognize and accept it in unvarnished form when He plunks it down on the table in front of us. “Hey, that’s just like what happened in (insert favorite book/movie/classic myth here), only better! And it’s real!”

The Death of Balder, by C. Eckelsberg

This is one reason I’m hesitant to flame on any work of fiction as intrinsically “anti-Christian.” If God can use the myth of Hercules to prepare Greek culture for the story of Jesus, or the myth of Balder to prepare C.S. Lewis in similar fashion, He can surely use resources from our modern popular culture to speak to our hearts. Jered Moore and A.T. Ross wrestled with this issue in recent articles here, and the discussion continues at length in the comments. It’s good reading.

And the beer goggles? Remember you’re wearing them, know your limits, and stay close to your Designated Driver.

Fred was born in Tacoma, Washington, but spent most of his formative years in California, where his parents pastored a couple of small churches. He graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1983, and spent 24 years in the Air Force as a bomber navigator, flight-test navigator, and military educator. He retired from the Air Force in 2007, and now works as a government contractor in eastern Kansas, providing computer simulation support for Army training.Fred has been married for 25 years to the girl who should have been his high school sweetheart, and has three kids, three dogs, and a mortgage. When he's not writing or reading, he enjoys running, hiking, birdwatching, stargazing, and playing around with computers.Writing has always been a big part of his life, but he kept it mostly private until a few years ago, when it occurred to him that if he was ever going to get published, he needed to get serious about it. Since then, he's written more than twenty short stories that have been published in a variety of print and online magazines, and a novel, The Muse, that debuted in November 2009 from Splashdown Books, which was a finalist for the 2010 American Christian Fiction Writers Carol Award for book of the year in the speculative genre. Speculative fiction is his first love, but he writes the occasional bit of non-fiction or poetry, just to keep things interesting.

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Galadriel
Guest

Oh, that’s great. I abosolutely love it. My paticular “beer goggles” are causing problems in class right now as we slog through modern realistic fiction. I can’t stand it. Maybe I need to borrow a different pair for fourth hour MWF.

Sherwood Smith
Guest
Sherwood Smith

What a lovely, generous post!I am discovering a similar theme in Rodger Kamenetz’s book RABBI NACHMAN OF BRATSLAV AND FRANZ KAFKA. What do an atheist German of the 20th century have to do with a deeply faithful, visionary rabbi of the late 1700s? This book is not about Christianity at all, but it does speak to how humans can catch a glimpse of God in the unlikeliest places.

Kessie Carroll
Member

Funny you say that … I struggle with my own beer goggles all the time. There are certain things that I can’t read that my hubby has no problem with. Or my friends and family can watch/read things that I can’t tolerate, and vice versa. I’ve been having to learn that just because I don’t like it doesn’t mean other people won’t.

Jude A.
Guest
Jude A.

Everyone has his or her own perception about something. So sometimes you can’t blame other for not liking what you like. What do you like the most that is perceived to be unattractive by other people?

Good introduction there. It made me read til the end!

-Jude 

Patrick J. Moore
Guest

I liked your example of the goggles from World of Warcraft: “They’re usually handed out by a girl gnome. “Guaranteed to make anyone look attractive!” When your character puts them on, everybody else in the game looks like a guy gnome. Everybody.”

Makes me wonder about the goggles that authors are wearing, as they hand out their wares believing everyone should enjoy their story as much as they do. But when we read it we are seeing through our own goggles and not theirs. The goggles mentioned above only made everyone attractive to female gnomes- not to everyone else. And everyone sees their own distorted views instead of what really is. Our perceptions are colored by the life situations we were born into, our personalities, our choices and experiences. No one sees what is really there.

One of my favorite story characters is a young witch named Tiffany Aching who stars in a few of Terry Pratchett’s books. One of her special abilities is the gift of “First Sight”. It’s the ability to see things as they really are. She usually has to make a conscious effort to do this. People have this awful habit of seeing what they expect to see or want to see. As much as I like that character and wish for that ability, I’m convinced that no person can see anything objectively through their own will power to do so. It is only by seeking Truth through the only one who sees all as it truly is, that He gives us glimpses into reality.  And I believe the day is coming when all the goggles will be removed, and all will be stunned with how blindly they lived their lives in this world.

In psychology this phenomenon especially stands out as minds naturally interpret ambiguous stimuli into things that exist in our belief systems. A child who doesn’t believe in monsters will try to identify the real cause of the shadow moving across the room- from the tree limbs being blown in the wind. Ghosts tend to be experienced by people who believe in ghosts, images of Mary tend to be seen by Catholics… and others who do not hold their beliefs will see the very same things and scratch their heads wondering which of them is crazy.
Stories tend to be like that. If the author is showing and not telling there is a lot of room for re-interpretations through the filters of the reader’s mind. I think authors need to accept this fact, and understand that once a story is published it is no longer theirs alone. It now belongs to all the minds that have taken it in and projected themselves all over it. 

Lelia Rose Foreman (@LeliaForeman)
Guest

I once met a young woman who accepted Christ as Lord after she saw a painting of Jesus being baptized in her art history class. The painting mesmerized her; she could not stop thinking about it until she gave in to God. I wanted to see this powerful painting. When she showed it to me, I hardly knew what to say. The painting was unattractive to me, one I wouldn’t spend a second looking at. But whatever the classical painter meant by the painting, whatever it has meant through the ages, and despite my dislike, his painting became a bridge to God for her.

Andrea
Guest

The only book I ever read that I felt was “anti-Christian” was Pullman’s The Golden Compass, only ’cause I’m fairly certain he meant it. And you could still get good parallels out of it.
It’s one reason why I like reading people’s analyses of stories. Sometimes they see things I didn’t, and sometimes things I ignored or didn’t like are shown to have whole new meanings. It’s nice to be able to say, “I don’t think it’s quite as good as you said, but I can see why you like it so much.”
This happens in music, too. Some years ago, the choir I was in was practicing a mostly atonal piece called “The Lamb.” I hated it. But my friend Ben pointed out how the atonal parts made the tonal parts sound more beautiful by comparison. He had a point. It’ll never be my favorite piece, but I can appreciate it. 
I still hate atonal music, but I’ve learned to enjoy cluster chords, and the works of Eric Whitacre, whose music is just this side of tonal. All because of Ben and his perspective.

TheQuietPen
Guest

Very clever analogy.  I had a long struggle over this idea with relatives who did not understand how I could enjoy any science fiction or fantasy and still be a believer.  As a young teen, I was trusting of their analysis, then more rebellious as I grew to realize that their issues had little to do with Scriptural discernment and much more to do with their “beer goggles.”  Of course, I would avoid any foolish mistakes!  
And then I met my soul mate, who happens to be a Harry Potter fan, one series that I had disdained with a vaguely holier-than-thou attitude.  God convicted me of my own sin in this regard–I had become just  like those relatives!  Even now, after skimming through some of the books and exploring the Potter-world on a late-night info-binge, I still don’t get it.  However, I respect the right of adult readers to have their own ongoing relationship with God, in which books may speak to them even though those same books mean nothing to me.

Steve Taylor
Guest
Steve Taylor

I’ve been an avid reader for near 50 years and always keep the view that I still have so much to learn. I just read this great book that gave me a lot to chew on about the many ways, whys, hows, reasons and thoughts about reading books.  I didn’t think I’d learn much but it gave me really good insights. You may already be familiar with it but here’s the link just in case.

Lit! A Christian Guide to Reading Books by Tony Reinke

http://spurgeon.wordpress.com/tony-reinke-lit-a-christian-guide-to-reading-books-1433522268/

Maria Tatham
Guest

Discussions about beer goggles usually bother me. This is because I feel that Christians grow in discernment as we do in other ways, and we’re growing toward the mutual goal of mature discernment. 

I did enjoy the discussion, Fred. As always your remarks and humor are great. At one point though, I became anxious thinking, Oh, no, what are people reading into my work? It’s almost as scary to read into other people’s words, spoken or written, as it is to read into the Bible, instead of really perceiving what is intended. I guess, my point is that probably people’s mature perceptions won’t be all that different.