I have a cell phone with a jazzy ringtone. It’s been ringing a lot recently, and I’ve become very attuned to its sound, especially the first three or four notes. Too attuned, actually. In noisy environments with any kind of musical tones present, there are likely to be a few faint notes that simulate some of the notes of my ringtone, and then I instinctively reach for my phone, only to find that it was a false alarm. This can happen with almost any kind of music except rap (no actual notes, I guess?). It doesn’t have to be formal music, either. The other day some of the random grunts, whistles, and rattlings of the loud air conditioning system at Appleton’s Avenue Mall made me reach for my cell phone several times while I was sitting in a “quiet” place.
Worried about my sanity, I walked into the Lindsay Do-It-Yourself Free Mental Health Prevention Clinic (a free service that is fully covered by my health insurance) and gave myself the surprise diagnosis: Phantom Ringtones. I’m not necessarily crazy, but suffer from the tendency to find or even imagine familiar notes in all sorts of settings, causing me to think that I’m hearing a familiar tune when it is really something else. Wow, I’m suffering from Phantom Ringtone Disorder. The doc, a somewhat shady character, said he’s not sure he remembers what the cure is, but if I upgraded from the free service to his very expensive weekly therapy sessions, it would come back to him.
Phantom Ringtone Disorder, the ability to falsely recognize your own ringtone from faint noises around you, often occurs when we are not close to the source and aren’t really paying attention. If we were closer and listening carefully, we might have less trouble distinguishing background music or the whinings of machines from the ringtones we use.
Phantom Ringtone Disorder can affect both sides of religious discussions. For example, in discussing the scriptures, it’s easy for us Latter-day Saints to see a few words that resonate with LDS themes and think the verse is “playing our song.” And it’s easy for Latter-day Saints to get excited about some discovery or legend from Peru or Canada or elsewhere and find parallels to the Book of Mormon, when the timing and location may make it not highly relevant to anything in the Book of Mormon. Sometimes a few of our faith promoting rumors, discoveries, or even experiences might really be Phantom Ringtones, in a sense.
It’s also easy to see symptoms of Phantom Ringtone Disorder in the responses of some of our critics or even friends as we discuss and debate scriptures and religious history. To those steeped in popular traditions about the nature of salvation, no matter how clear a verse of scripture seems to us about our need to obey or keep the commandments as our response to faith in Christ, those notes become morphed into the ringtones of “salvation by faith only,” “obedience = false gospel,” etc. Even repeated statements from Christ such as “If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments” (Matt. 19:17) become morphed 180 degrees into “he was just showing how futile and wrong it is to think that we can keep the commandments.” But then our responses must be just about as frustrating on other topics.
How do we get past this? Getting closer to the source, and asking what something really means rather than “how does it agree with what I already think?” Examining our assumptions in approaching a problem – or even just recognizing that we are bringing assumptions and biases to the table. Easier said than done, of course. The solution isn’t easy (expensive weekly therapy at the Lindsay Mental Health Prevention Clinic might help), but for now I’d at least like to point out the problem.
Our most familiar music can be so ingrained in our minds that we find our music everywhere we look, when in fact, quite a different tune may be playing. It’s related to the problem of tapping out music that’s in your head – it’s hard to understand why others are such idiots that they can’t recognize our tune from the tapping. Tap — tap —tap, tap Tap tap, tap Tap tap; – “No, it’s the theme from Starwars, you idiot! Am I the only intelligent one around here??”