For better or for worse: what's your religion?


While religion can be a healthy thing for people (plenty of studies show this), it also has been one of the most deadly forces on our planet, as well, contributing to wars, executions, persecutions, and other abuse by believers usually against nonbelievers.

So while religion can be a protective factor contributing to good mental health, it can also be a risk factor contributing towards dysfunctional behavior. It is not religion, per se, that is the problem, but rather how it is used to justify their behavior towards other living things and our planet. I am convinced that people who use religion to justify their hurtful thoughts and behavior towards others probably misunderstand the primary teachings of their religion, or have perverted them to their own purpose.

Religion, of course, does not mean just belief in a god, but can also refer to a belief in something else which is an organizing principle for one's thoughts, feelings, and behavior. Perhaps the biggest nondeistitc religion in our culture is capitalism and the love of money and material things. You can see people worship in our shopping malls, and car dealerships when they are pursuing the "got to have" thing that they believe will bring happiness to their lives. Other favorite things people worship are sex, drugs, alcohol, gambling, work, sports, etc.

What is your true religion? Be honest. What makes your life worthwhile?

American hypocrisy about cigarettes


It has always been interesting to me how hypocritical we can be in our society. We pride ourselves increasingly on our health care services being "evidence based" and "research based", and yet because of widely ranging societal forces we are unable to deal with problems that are not in our self interest in our nation. One grand historic example is slavery.

Currently it is our attitudes about tobacco. I have mentioned before on this blog that 30,000 Americans die every year from street drugs, 100,000 from Alcohol, and 430,000 from tobacco. Today's bumper sticker points fun at this hypocrisy.

Things are changing with Clean Indoor Act Laws being enacted in the states and cigarette smoking is no longer anywhere near as socially acceptable as it once was.

As the quote today from Abraham Lincoln indicates we perhaps worry too much about foreign terrorists and not enough about what we do to ourselves. The WMDs were not in Iraq, they are at your neighborhood convenience store marketed in a little box labled Marlboro.

Life's exceptions

The first time that I really became aware of one of life's most important rules was when I was studying Latin in high school. I noticed, after I studied for weeks the laws of declining nouns and congugating verbs, that the rule was never asked on the tests, but rather the exceptions. Once, I figured this out, I started downplaying studying the rules and spent a lot more time studying the exceptions and my grades went up. The new rule was that every rule has exceptions. It's a meta rule, or a rule about rules.

I have noticed that life is a lot like Latin. While it is important to understand the rules, it is even more important to understand that every rule has one, if not several, and maybe a lot of, exceptions. It has to do with the paradoxical nature of life, the ole Ying and Yang, as the Taoists have pointed out. And thus here's one of my favorite bumper stickers of all time.


Lemmings or critical thinkers?


The impetus to have a mind of one's own, to stand on one's own feet, to be master of one's own fate, and captain of one's own ship is the drive for autonomy and what Murry Bowen called "differentiation".

Along with this idea of "differentiation" comes the idea also of accountablility. While the Buddha and Jesus became enlightened and highly differentiated, they also were compassionate and accountable.

Americans seem ambivalent about their National Bird, the Eagle. On the one hand they admire it's strength, it's solitude, it's majesty, and yet on the other hand, especially in the face of terror, they are notably ready to give up their rights, allow injustice and discrimination, and regress to a chauvanistic parochialism which amounts to sectarian paranoid delusions. Remember the slogans from the Viet Nam days like "Better dead than Red", and "Love it or leave it", and now with Iraq we find the same level of patriotic jingoism in slogans like "Support the troops" and "Bring em on!"

It is good for our mental health, as a nation, to be reminded of our rights to freedom of speech, our appreciation of diversity, our compassion and concern for the oppressed, our ability to question authority.

Real eagles don't flock. Are we a nation of lemmings or of critical thinkers? If you believe the polls as noted in the previous article on this blog, it looks like the birds are flocking, and rather than eagles, they are behaving like turkeys.

Has the President's substance abuse interferred with his greatness?


As the Presidential debates are being discussed and the issues of "character" and "strong leadership" are bandied about, it perhaps is time again to reflect on the fact that President Bush has a long history of alcohol and drug abuse. He has one conviction on his record for DWI, and military physicals that he failed to show up for when he was in the National Guard. Vice President Cheney also has a history of alcohol abuse with 2 convictions for DWI on his record.

People with a history of substance abuse have made great contributions to our society. Carl Jung said that every addict was a creative genius gone awry. However, as a behavioral health professional, I always wonder about people with the substance abuse history, like President Bush's, who never get any treatment, and never get into any self help recovery program like AA.

These folks are often known in AA circles as "dry drunks". "Dry drunks" may have become abstinent, but they never have dealt with their underlying coping mechanisms or interpersonal skills in such a way as to have improved their overall functioning.

As I watch the President's facial grimaces during the debate last Thursday night, and listen to his "certainty" about his indefensible beliefs, I worry that the rigidity of his thinking, his compulsive perseverative beliefs that do not seem to allow for new information or reflection on experience, and his mockery of his clearly intellectually superior challenger, are symptoms of the dry drunk syndrome which make the President's beliefs, emotional management, and the interactions with his advisors dysfunctional.

Sir Walter Scott's aphorism is right on the money. It is hard to reason with chemicals and it is hard to function under the influence of chemicals. The deterioration in brain functioning over time, and consequent delay in emotional and social development does not bode well for leadership and later life success in one's chosen profession or way of life.

1984 is here


When Vice President Cheney says that if John Kerrey gets elected President it is more likely that the U.S. will be struck by terrorists, what is he doing? How does such communication affect his audiences?

It is interesting from a social psychological point of view to watch Bush/Cheney whip up fears in the electorate, thinking that this will lead to their re-election. How many Americans are influenced with this kind of strategy?

What this country could benefit from is a huge class in Media Literacy because the electorate is being played like an orchestra in a concert hall.

I would love to see a poll which distinguishes the educational level and the emotional maturity of the people being polled. If such a poll could be done, I would guess that you, gentle reader, could guess who I think the better educated, more emotionally mature, more mentally healthy will be voting for in November?

The worst thing that can happen to a democracy is to have it ruled by fear. Fear must be managed in constructive and healthy ways, and one of the best coping mechanisms for fear is to use our brains.

Shame on any politician who panders to people's fears. It is not in our National interest.

Knowing what you don't know


Another way of stating the idea behind today's bumper sticker might be "Ignorance is bliss."

Another way of stating the idea that the doubter is wise is "Flip Flopper!"

People who think they know everything and offer the people the certitude of their belief are very dangerous. It worked for Hitler. It worked for Stalin. It is working for Bush.

Socrates said that the hallmark of wisdom is knowing what you don't know. There doesn't appear to be much wisdom in Washington right now or in the middle east either.

Good mental health is being aware of one's own limitations and creating what are called "good boundaries". Not being aware of one's own limitations, and not creating good boundaries, leads to dysfunction, and if you are the leader of a group of people, problems for the people who blindly follow.

Don't drink and drive while doing your math homework


Having had two children killed in a drunk driving crash, Brigid was 5, and Ryan was 8, in 1993, this is a painful and serious subject for me, and ordinarily not something I find much humor in, but this bumper sticker did make me laugh. As I thought about its message further, it dawned on me that drinking doesn't really mix well with any activity other than maybe a glass of wine with a good Italian dinner, or a beer while watching the ball game. Drinking to the point of intoxication, though, mixes with nothing that I can think of. What can you do drunk that you can't do better sober?

Oh, I know, people say that alcohol "loosens me up" so that they feel more conversational, or it gives them "courage" when they feel self conscious, or have low confidence in a task they have to do, but that is nonsense. If you are sober and talking to someone who is "loosened up" with alcohol it can become very wearing after a few minutes.

At any rate, it certainly is imperative that you not drink and drive, and I don't think it works very well to drink and derive either.