John Bunyan on self-reporting

Pilgrims_progress_lg I bought John Bunyan's complete works in a Second hand bookshop a couple of years ago. Two 2 chunky 19th century volume. And have started reading a little of his classic Pilgrim's Progress on Sunday afternoons. Its indulgent of me but 200 years ago the book you would have been most likely to find in a British household after the Bible would have been Pilgrims progress. And it would have been brought out to be read out loud on the Sabbath because you weren't allowed to do a lot else on that day. And as far as improving reading went Pilgrim's Progress isn't at all bad – Bunyan being one of the finest stylists in the English language. Pilgrim's Progress is the story of Christian who being warned to escape eternal damnation sets off to walk his way to the Celestial City avoiding all sorts of dangers and distractions. On the way he meets lots of other travellers and their conversations are set as a series of debates – its not as dull as it sounds! This is a classic text which used to have a huge influence on the national imagination.  Robinson Crusoe was another.

What interested me was a debate with a character called Talkative about how to tell the signs of God being at work in a human heart. Talkative thinks the signs are a huge protestations about morality and "great knowledge of gospel mysteries". Christian refutes him by saying all of this could be pretense even self deceit.  He argues that the best sign is the individual's recognition of their own shortcomings and the perceived need for a divine saviour. But ultimately he concludes the individual cannot know if his profession or experience are genuine. Only others can judge from a change in behaviour and the relationship between the beliefs that he holds and the life that he leads.

This scepticism about the reliability of self reporting is back on the agenda again in the research world. At last month's ESOMAR conference John Kearon and Mark Earls presented a paper on Me to We research which targets the weakness in so much research which depends on the individual's point of view being self validating and self evidently true because that is what they believe to be true. When simple observation of behaviour may show that the self perception is plain wrong. And research samples may because of the laboratory conditions not say or behave in ways that predict what the rest of the population will do. Even if they have been drawn from that population.You can find the paper in the Scriptorium documents area of Cloud of Knowing.

I conclude this rather lateral post with a youtube video of Pete Rollins who has just brought out a book called The Orthodox Heretic (and other impossible tales). In which he points out that professing a belief is not of itself sufficient evidence that one has it! It dramatises neatly a mantra I have tried to follow this year. Its very simple. "I might be wrong.. "

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