Why Do We Care About Learning Processes?

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Simple FaithBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

The process of learning affects the quality of our decisions, especially when it comes to faith decisions, and how we respond to external manipulation. While reflecting on the learning process may sound academic and perhaps boring, the learning process plays a critical role in our faith journey.

In an ideal world, we would approach important decisions as well-informed adults who understand our own weaknesses and consider carefully the options presented to us, taking our time to consult with our mentors, friends, and family and being devoid of dysfunctions, like mental illness or drug use.[1] In the postmodern world, advertisers encourage us to behave like kids, who deny that bad habits are bad and rush to make decisions based on the latest fad rather than careful reflection, discounting any advice offered by friends and family. The youth culture that dominates postmodern life offers an advertiser’s paradise.

If you believe that modern media is irrelevant to your religious life, then ask yourself a couple of questions. For example, why are most sermons about 20 minutes? and where do you go when you get upset? Twenty minute is about the amount of time remaining in a 30 minutes television show after the time devoted to advertising is subtracted out. If you go shopping when you are anxious, then consider what your grandmother might have done—50 years ago it was common to go to a chapel and pray on stressful occasions.[2] Today, if someone wanted to pray in a chapel, the door would likely be locked.

In his book, Winning the Story Wars, Jonah Sacks talks about the contribution of dark art of marketing to cultural changes that we have seen. Borrowing from the work of Joseph Campbell, Sacks describes the purpose of myth (story-telling) is to help us grow up because we yearn for maturation. But mature adults (self-responsible, free agents) threaten marketers who typically prefer us to remain adolescents where we suspended in an immature state dwelling on emotions like greed, vanity, and insecurity—the bottom rung in Abraham Maslow’s pyramid of needs.[3] In this immature state, we are encouraged to feel inadequate and incomplete where consumption of product X, Y, Z can presumably make us complete again (Sacks 2012, 85-86).

Inadequacy marketing directly assaults the spirit of most religious teaching, irrespective of theology, because most religions aid our maturation and help us to contribute to society. Hence, the phrase—the dark art of marketing—is truly dark because the advertiser works explicitly to undermine rational decision processes, stroke anxieties, and tell us stories that sell their products at the expense of undermining our own self-worth.

Through unconscious and voluminous repetition, this advertising entertains us daily like the air that we breathe and it shapes our perceptions, leaving us impatient for catchy phrases, tunes, and images. When our children say that church is boring, they simply observe that the pastor cannot offer the same catchy phrases, tunes, and images that they see on their cell phones every day. As parents, pastors, and teachers, postmodern culture outguns us on daily basis, unless we focus on the learning process and how decisions really get made.


Maslow, Abraham H. (1943). “A theory of human motivation”. Psychological Review. 50 (4): 370–96.

Plantinga, Alvin. 2000. Warranted Christian Belief. New York: Oxford University Press.

Sacks, Jonah. 2012. Winning the Story Wars: Why Those Who Tell—and Live—the Best Stories Will Rule the Future. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.


[1] Plantinga (2000, 108-134) wrote at length about the proper function of decision making and defining rationality with philosophical precision.

[2] In Hispanic films, people still consult a priest and/or visit a chapel to pray, but not in English language films. The last example of a chapel visit in film that I remember was in Home Alone (1990) starring Macaulay Culkin, Joe Pesci, and Daniel Stern.

[3] Maslow pictured a pyramid of needs in which the foundational needs were physiological, followed by safety, love and belonging, self-esteem, and self-actualization at the top of the pyramid (Sacks 2012, 130).

Why Do We Care About Learning Processes?

Also see:

A Roadmap of Simple Faith

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

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