Sunday, August 23, 2009

I.Q. Test? Really?

Yesterday, I went to the Sweet Corn Blues Festival in uptown Normal with my wife and my two sons. We make this trek annually, and generally enjoy a great family experience. This year was enjoyable too, except for some shenanigans taking place a short distance from the stage (more about that later), and some people who felt it was necessary to distribute what turned out to be some very dishonest literature.

I became aware of the literature while standing in line to get some food from one of the local vendors, when a young woman approached my 11 year old, and asked him to "read this to see how smart you are" while handing him the following card:

I looked it over and quickly realized it wasn't an I.Q. test at all, but an optical illusion using words. If you look closely at the phrase within each triangle, you'll see that one of the words is repeated. Spotting the repeated word wasn't obvious to my son and I on the first pass because a.) we weren't really expecting to be fooled since we were led to believe we were taking an I.Q. test, and b.) our brain tends to group letters and words together when we read them, making it easy to overlook repeated words, especially when they're organized to make it easier to overlook them, as was clearly the case with this card.

A classic example of this grouping phenomenon is illustrated in the following paragraph:

Aoccdrnig to rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

So of course I was curious about what I might find on the other side, since the first side was clearly misleading. When I flipped it over, this is what I found:

It starts by explaining what may or may not have been noticed in the triangles on the front, but then goes to the heart of what this card is really about when it says "Here is another intelligence test". It didn't take long to realize that the initial stuff was just a primer for what turned into a bait and switch scheme. The front side had nothing to do with intelligence, and unsurprisingly, the back side didn't either. What you encounter instead is what I heard one patron on the street refer to as "trolling for Jesus".

I had to laugh out loud when I read the part explaining how to answer the following "intelligence test" questions with a Yes or No as if those were the only possible answers to the questions. I decided to answer them, as the card requested "OUT LOUD", but not within the constraint required by the card. Here are the questions along with my answers:

Question 1: Is there a God?

Answer: Maybe, maybe not. Nobody really knows for sure. This is a question that has intrigued humankind since the dawn of man's ability to ponder such things, and the answer remains as elusive today as it ever has been. Anyone claiming to know for sure is either delusional, or lying.

Question 2: Does God care about right and wrong?

Answer: The question makes no sense without an affirmative answer to question 1. Since that question is unanswerable, this one has no answer either.

Question 3: Are God's standards the same as ours?

Answer: See answer to question 2.

Question 4: Will God punish sin?

Answer: See answer to questions 3.

Question 5: Is there a Hell?

Answer: Maybe, maybe not. Like question 1, it's unanswerable. If I had to speculate, I'd say it's probably a place conjured up to instill fear in non-believers and believers alike as a way to control their behaviors. Since its existence cannot be verified through the methods we use to gain knowledge, I would say that no opinion on the subject carries any more weight than any other. There are no authoritative opinions on the concept of Hell.

Question 6: Do you avoid Hell by living a good life?

Answer: Following a now recognizable pattern of a supposed "I.Q. Test", we again encounter an unanswerable question built upon prior unanswerable assumptions. The only way to answer this question is to refer to the answer from question 5.

Of course, following all the questions on the back of the card are a list of the "correct" answers. The message being that yes there is a God and a Hell, and no, you can't avoid Hell by being a good person. Never mind that this message contradicts the notion of a loving God and savior who was sent to Earth to die for every persons sins. Especially when that's the message the card ultimately wants to deliver, but then, logic and good intent is not what this card is about. It starts by misrepresenting itself as being about how smart you are, then delivers a message that seems to contradict the very foundation of what Christianity is supposed to be built upon. But it doesn't end there.

Following what is clearly a gullibility test rather than an I.Q. test, it states that "you can't afford to be wrong". But what never seems to occur to its authors is what might happen to those who mislead others while trying to get them to believe something. Claiming to know things you can't possibly know is called lying. Seems as though Living Waters Publications needs to heed their own advice and "Read the Bible daily and obey what you read".

But enough about the card. As ridiculous as it was, there was something even worse going on in one of the vendor slots on the side of the street. This particular one was located right across the street from where we were getting our food, and probably the source for the card handed to my 11 year old.

This slot was set up with a man on a small platform holding a microphone, and out in front of him was another microphone sitting on a stand, which was for patrons to talk into while conversing with the man. I heard the man talking while we were initially getting food, but didn't really pay much attention to him since we were hungry, and I generally ignore people with microphones at large gatherings. Anyway, after we sat down to eat, I decided to run back to get a refill on my drink. The line was long, so I had time to listen in on what was happening on the other side of the street.

The man on the platform was asking the crowd if there was anyone who honestly believed they were a good person. This caught my attention since it seemed to be related to the bogus card my son had received. A few people raised their hands and one young gentleman was asked to step up to the second microphone. When he did, he was asked if he considered himself a good person. The young man answered yes, he was a good person. The man on the platform then asked him if he had ever in his life told a lie, even a small one. The young man answered yes, that he had. The man on the platform then asked him "what does that make you?"

I knew right then what was coming. The obvious implication being that if you've lied, then you must be a liar. That's what the man on the platform was fishing for anyway, but the man at the microphone wasn't cooperating, at least not at first. He responded with the only reasonable answer to the question, his answer, "it makes me human".

His answer was dead on, of course, but the man on the platform was having none of it. He wanted an admission from the young man that he was a liar, and he wasn't going to quit until he got it. He persisted, and it wasn't long before the young man gave in, and finally admitted "yes, I'm a liar".

And this is where the hard sell came in, where the man on the platform got to point out that "see, you're not a good person after all". I knew what would follow, because I've seen this kind of street manipulation before from a guy named Ray Comfort. What follows is a litany of fear mongering where the victim is convinced that they're Hell bound. It's a disgusting thing to watch, because it's all about slight of hand manipulation.

I found it too painful to watch as this poor young man was being manipulated like that, so I left the area and returned to my family. And as we were leaving the festival, I couldn't help but wonder how many other vulnerable people were going to be taken advantage of by this street charlatan. I hope this isn't a sign of what the Cornfest is turning into, because if it is, they can kiss my future dollars goodbye.