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Hot or Not?

April 20, 2012

“Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”  1 Samuel 16:7

Have you heard about the “Hot or Not?” website? This website allows viewers to scan pictures of men or women and then decide whether they are “hot” (meaning, physically attractive) or “not” (meaning, physically unattractive). The viewers vote on these photos, and those votes are tabulated by the company that runs the site, and a number (1 to 10) is assigned. This number moves around a bit, of course, as more people vote. In addition, viewers are invited – for a fee? – to upload their own pictures and have them rated. Then, members of the site (and I am assuming these are paying customers) can choose whether they wish to meet other viewers. In short, it is virtual form of the collegiate ‘meat market.’ And, yes, I am amazed anyone is willing to subject himself or herself to this sort of appraisal.

I read about this website in a book entitled The Upside of Irrationality. In that book, the author explores the psychological principles operating on this website and then makes some practical observations concerning humans and their habits. It is a sad fact, as he observes, that we humans are not always attractive. Some of us, indeed, most of us, are average in our appearance, and some of us are decidedly unattractive. Only a select few can be objectively called ‘hot.’ But that is simply the obvious observation. But are those appraisals subjective or objective? And if somewhere in the middle, are they more one or the other?

This line of thinking turns particularly engrossing as it raises this question: “Do the ‘not’s’ change their perceptions of what is ‘hot,’ (so they can find a mate), or do they merely accept that the ‘not’s’ they find are the best they can do?” Let me put that another way… if someone is ugly, does he or she gradually start to believe ugly is beautiful? Or does he or she continue to hold to an external standard of beauty, recognize that he or she does not have it, and then accept that a comparatively ugly mate is the best he or she can do?

It is a fascinating question, and an uncomfortable one. We know there are ugly people, but no one wants to admit it, lest we discover that we ourselves are part of that group.

The author cites some studies concerning this topic and then states his conclusion: no, one’s objective standard of beauty does not change. Even after recognizing and coming to grips with one’s physical failings, one still recognizes beauty in others. (That seemed obvious to me. Just notice the lecherous old guys who ogle the young ladies at the mall.) But something does change, and that something is the appreciation of other attributes that may have been previously unnoticed. This, the author, suggests, is a human adaptation to a less than ideal circumstance.

It makes sense. The guy who realizes – over time – that the prettiest girls won’t give him the time of day begins to notice the less obvious but equally important qualities of a good sense of humor or a keen intellect. As he notices those matters more and more, he comes to observe that physical appearance is only one part of the equation, and the overall attractiveness of a potential mate is composed of many factors. His sense of what things matters most broadens – some might say it matures, and he explores a broader range of romantic avenues.

(Incidentally, the author discourages readers from jumping to the conclusion that the ‘hot’ people are necessarily shallow. The mere fact that they are blessed with certain physical attributes does not mean they are less broad in their appreciation of others. And that is certainly true. Beautiful people can be thoughtful, sensitive, people; and ugly people can be selfish, insensitive jerks.)

Now, I must admit, I enjoyed reading about these things, and I laughed with disbelief as I heard about the “Hot or Not” website. Still, none of it really matters to me, at least in this season of my life. I’m pretty comfortable with my personal ‘hot-ness’ or ‘not-ness.’ My wife thinks I’m hot, so that’s good enough for me. Beyond that, I don’t really care about my ‘hotness’ factor.

But my interest in this matter is piqued as I consider the local church. Is it possible that we American Christians sometimes think of local churches with a ‘hot or not’ mentality?

I will freely confess that, as the pastor of a small church, I am insecure about our church’s ‘hotness.’ Living Hope is not a large church, and we don’t have the facilities or offer the programs of larger churches. We do not have a large staff that specializes in ministering to special focus groups. Good grief, we don’t even have a youth pastor!

So, when I think about all that, I imagine someone visiting a “Finger Lakes Churches Hot or Not” website. The visitor is shown a picture of a building and a parking lot, and maybe some pictures of people worshiping in the auditorium, babies in the nursery, and a senior citizens’ luncheon. And then the visitor is asked that question: “Hot or Not?” The stats are compiled, and the website chooses a likely prospect and asks, “Would you like to visit this church?”

This line of thought exposes everything that is wrong with the “Hot or Not” mentality. We all know that a beautiful facility doesn’t make the group of people who worship there beautiful, and pictures of worshippers, babies, and seniors can be staged. The pictures tell us nothing of what matters most, whether the people who meet there love the Lord passionately and serve Him wholeheartedly.

That said, can we entirely dismiss the importance of outer appearance? Of course not. How one takes care of his body tells a great deal about his attitude concerning his body. Likewise, if we, as a local church, value stewardship over the physical properties God has entrusted to us, we will maintain them well and present them to the world in a nicely-groomed manner.

Well, these thoughts have been quick and a bit rambling, and what can I say to conclude them? I’ll just offer these few observations:

  • First, appraisal by physical attributes (in dating and in the choosing of a local church) is a reality, and looks do matter. It is unrealistic to argue that people who see should live and think as those who are blind. It is equally unreasonable to expect those looking for a local church to not notice that one church offers programs for every age-group and the other does not, or that one has a fully-developed and functioning youth group and the other does not.
  • Second, physical attributes are only one part of a person’s, and a church’s, totality. Many other attributes are present and worth considering, the most important being the relationship that individual or that worshipping body has with Almighty God. And,
  • Third, we must strive to maintain a godly attitude in our assessments of ourselves and others.

Bottom line, this topic was summed up years ago when Samuel was commissioned by God to appoint Israel’s next king. He thought he had found the Lord’s man, and the Lord corrected him, saying, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)

 

NEWS YOU CAN USE

  • My “Most Influential” Books. The  author of this short article asked himself this question: “Which books, apart from the Bible, have proved most influential upon me?” Then, in the article, he lists the top five he chose and explained briefly why he had chosen each. It might be interesting to ask yourself the same question before turning to this article. What do you think the odds are that one or more of your top five will coincide with his? Apart from that, asking this question of oneself and others is a great way to find out what really matters most to a person. Here’s the link: http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/my-most-influential-books-1. And, incidentally, if you do jot down a list of five, send it to me. I would love to hear your top five!
  • Faith and Mental Health. This blog post is not an in-depth look at the interaction between faith and mental health, but I include it here because I appreciate the author’s willingness to discuss the topic, and because I think it is an important issue that impacts the faith (or lack of faith) of many. Read the blog post at: http://therisingmuse.com/2012/04/16/faith-and-mental-health/.
  • After Death, Is There a Final Chance to Be Saved? This article is an edited transcript of the audio, and it features the thoughts of John Piper, acting as a Christian Post Guest Columnist. This article is interesting in that it raises the issue of the salvation of infants who die. If you have the time, look through the 350 comments. What do you believe? Find it at: http://www.christianpost.com/news/after-death-is-there-a-final-chance-to-be-saved-73242/.
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