A confluence of topics dealing with mental health, substance abuse, health, public health, Social Work, education, politics, the humanities, and spirituality at the micro, mezzo, and macro levels. In short, this blog is devoted to the improvment of the quality of life of human beings in the universe.
"Marx was wrong. Religion is no the opiate of the people. Opium suggests something soporific, numbing, dulling. Too often religion has been an aphrodisiac for horror, a Benzedrine for bestiality. At its best it has lifted spirits and raised spires. At its worst it has turned entire civilizations into cemetaries."
Yahoo News, using a piece from Reuters, reports on July 25, 2008, about a paid advertisement in a major Italian newspaper placed by 50 Catholic organizations to lift the Vatican's ban on birth control. Here is a snippet from the article:
More than 50 dissident Catholic groups published an unusually frank open letter to Pope Benedict on Friday saying the Church's ban on contraception has been "catastrophic" and urging him to lift it.
The letter was published as a paid half-page advertisement in Corriere della Sera, Italy's largest newspaper, on the 40th anniversary of the late Pope Paul VI's controversial encyclical "Humanae Vitae," which enshrined the ban.
While criticism of the Vatican and its views is fairly common in articles and editorials in Italian newspapers, it is unusual for a group to take out paid advertising against the pope, particularly in a large-circulation mainstream newspaper.
The letter, written in Italian, said the Church's anti-contraception policy "has had a catastrophic impact on the poor and powerless around the world, endangering women's lives and leaving millions at risk of HIV."
Of course, changing the teaching is long overdue. The church has been wrong about this teaching for decades since Humanae Vitae, the encyclical in the 60s by Paul VI, that started the controversy and dissent by the laity. Since that time the church has lost credibility and the faith of the people it professes to lead.
How about considering the standard discernment question, What Would Jesus Do? I think Jesus would fully support the use of birth control.
I have been reading Spiritual Resources In Family Therapy edited by Froma Walsh and there is an article in the book by Lorraine Wright entitled, "Spirituality, Suffering, and Beliefs: The Soul Of Healing With Families."
Lorraine describes herself as a family therapist/nurse educator who works predominantly with families experiencing illness. She says some interesting things like:
The influence of family members’ spiritual and religious beliefs on their illness experiences has been one of the most neglected areas in family work.” P. 62
I wonder why that would be? What is the fear or the constraining beliefs that therapists have that would make it nonconductive to discussing clients' spiritual beliefs as part of the therapy?
Part of the contraints probably have to do with the split between the secular and the sacred, between science and religion, between evidence based practice and the clinical arts, between the psychological helper and the ministry.
I have been trained as a psychotherapist not as a pastor and our roles are different and yet without understanding and taking into account my clients' spiritual and religious beliefs especially when they are suffering, I am not likely to be of much help.
Thankfully, there is increased interest in the health care professions in the role that spirituality and and religion play in a person's physical health and mental well being. To describe someone as "broken hearted" or as having "killed their spirit" is to describe a person who is in need of some sort of spiritual uplift. There is a difference between a physical cure and a healing of the spirit.
My friend and colleague, Ed, recently died on June 30, 2008 at age of 56 of Esophogeal cancer. I last had lunch with him on June 18,2008. Even though physically he was having difficulty his spirits, as always, were good. I am not sure what Ed's religious and spiritual beliefs were, but he loved life, he loved people, and he lived every day up to his last to the best of his ability and for this I am very grateful to Ed for inspiring me with a great example of how to die.
Paul Pearsall, the neuropsychoimmunologist, who had four near death experiences himself, said, that no therapist can hope to be of much help to someone unless the therapist understands at least three basic things about the person's world view. The therapist needs to understand how the client would answer these three questions: Why was I born? What is the purpose of my life? What happens to me when I die?
I usually don't ask clients directly these 3 questions unless they come up in our conversation but usually by the 3 interview I have some good understandings of how they might answer these questions.
"I don't know. I don't know, and I don't know" are not good enough answers and people have to be pushed sometimes to a scarier and more difficult place, but if they trust the therapist enough, they usually can come up with some sort of answer that probably means more than they would like to believe.
The purpose of a healthy spirituality is to decrease suffering as both Jesus and Buddha and other spiritual masters have taught. This is the same goal of good psychotherapy.
This is an essay I have wanted to write for some time, but have never felt confident that I had the words to accurately express my thoughts and feelings. I have looked for other authors who could state the ideas more clearly and succinctly than I can, but having found none, I have decided to take the risk and try to express the idea myself.
On this memorial day, I have a great deal of difficulty honoring and paying tribute to people who have engaged in immoral, unethical, and perhaps even criminal behavior. I am talking about soldiers who willingly and readily engaged in the killing in the immoral wars in Viet Nam and Iraq. Participating in the immoral wars of empire is not an honorable or moral activity. The defense that the soldier is “only doing their job”, and “just following orders” is the same as the German soldiers who transported the Jewish people and manned the crematoriums during the Holocaust. This defense was judged to be inadequate in the Nuremberg trials after World War II and it is not adequate for our soldiers immoral activity in a war of imperial conquest now.
There are courageous and heroic people who objected to the criminal activity and said “Hell no, I won’t go!”, and who rejected further service. I call these soldiers, “Soldiers of conscience” because they have reflected on the activities they were being ordered to participate in and judged them immoral and objectionable and at great personal sacrifice said so and refused to participate. They're people of conscience I admire, honor, and respect and yet the majority of Americans seem embarrassed by them because they force us as a nation to examine our nation’s policies and activities and we are conflicted and ashamed. It is another example of the classic case of the little boy saying to his mother, “The king has no clothes on!” and she tells her son to “Hush up!” because she fears the reprisal and retribution for his honesty.
As a therapist, I hypothesize that a great deal of what gets diagnosed as PTSD is a case of overwhelmingly guilty consciences at what was done, or what was seen done, and what was participated in, and yet there is no socially acceptable mechanism for individual soldiers and us, as a nation, to confess our sins, acknowledge our guilt, ask for forgiveness, and repent. This spiritually cleansing strategy has been labeled by the current Republicans and conservative pundits as “cut and run”. And yet it is much more psychological and spiritually healthy to call a spade a spade, take the bull by the horns, determine the nature and degree of harm done, and attempt to rectify and repair the harm.
Our current political climate and culture is too imbued with hubris to admit mistakes, take responsibility for immoral and illegal behavior, admit wrongs done, and apologize and make amends. So the iconic images and ideas of Abu Ghraib and Guantanomo, of extraordinary rendition, of deceit in justifying a pursuit to war, makes us as a nation hide our shame by sporting yellow “support the troops” magnetic ribbons on our cars and pretend that memorial day is a day to celebrate the heroic sacrifices of the activities of soldiers who have engaged in immoral, illegal, and unethical acts in our name.
We do no service to ourselves and to them when we lie and deceive ourselves and others about the horror we have inflicted on Iraq, Viet Nam, and other people’s around the world.
As Nuremberg trials concluded, at the end of the day, the individual conscience is supreme and to excuse one’s moral choices saying “ I was serving my country” or “I was following the orders of the Commander in Chief” is no defense.
When we look at the indicators of mental health among our soldiers: the rates of PTSD and other psychiatric problems, the suicide rates, the dysfunction among military families, I have to ask myself on Memorial Day, who is kidding who? If this activity is so grand and noble why the terrible psychic sequelae?
We have allowed ourselves as a nation to follow a delusional administration, and a dysfunctional congress into engaging in a pre-emptive, immoral, and illegal war. As Michael Moore pointed out on Larry King live over 100 million Americans, about 1/3 of the voting public knew the war was wrong. Millions more around the world knew the war was wrong. The United States essentially declared war alone with many more nations being unwilling than the touted few who were willing. The Pope and other major religious leaders around the world declared the war immoral. How can this be the occasion for honor and tribute? It will only make us crazier. It is better to call sin what it is – sin, and then go from there.
I honor the prophets, like the little boy who saw that the emperor had no clothes on, and thank them for their enlightened witnessing when those in power and the “moral majority” who support them have lost their way.
This Memorial Day should be a day of reflection and repentance. Let’s stop glorifying and honoring what is morally ugly. Let’s provide opportunities for truth and reconciliation instead of military jingoism and chauvanism. What many of our soldiers need is moral cleansing, along with our leaders, and then maybe it wouldn’t be necessary for them to kill themselves and go nuts.
Here is video with Darrell Anderson who is one veteran whom I admire and honor very much. The video lasts a little over 4 minutes and is worth every second.
According to a recent Gallup poll the majority of Americans (54%) say that abortion should be legal under some circumstances. More women than men say that abortion should be legal and there is no difference in opinion between Catholics and other Americans even though the Catholic Church officially teaches that abortion is a sin.
Dr. Frank Newport summarizes the data on the recent poll in a video that lasts 2:15 minutes.
I have reported on this blog before on a troubling dynamic in our culture about the rise of religious fundamentalism in the major domains of our society.
Christoper Hedges has his book entitled, "American Fascists", and Michelle Goldberg has her book, "Kingdom Coming, the Rise of Christian Nationalism", and on May 18th, 2008, The Real News, has a report on the rise of Christian Fundamentalism in our military. The video lasts 8:30 and is well worth watching for anyone interested in the major constitutional principle of the separation of church and state.
It also is very troubling in a democracy to see religious belief become a requirement for military service. This, of course, is a real hot button in this year's presidential campaign as most candidates pander for the votes of the religious right who elected George Bush. I hope that all Americans will reflect carefully on this issue as we enter campaign season about what it means for an American Taliban to be attempting to take over our government and impose their religious beliefs on the nation and the world.
George W. Bush does not appear to be a fundamentalist Christian. He does appear to be articulating the Universalist belief that there are many roads to God and heaven.
At about 21 seconds into the clip, George says that the Iraq war "is a war between evil people that are willing to kill on a mass scale." Indeed, the United States has killed far more Iraqis than Iraqis have killed Americans. Do you suppose he sees himself as "evil people" or is this a Freudian slip?
Scott Tayler, a Co-Minister of the First Unitarian Church of Rochester, NY, gave a very interesting sermon on February, 3, 2008, entitled "The Healing Power of 'We Can't'".
Reverned Tayler talks about his Mennonite roots of nonviolence and his attempt to square this with American Exceptionalism which is the American belief that we are divinely ordained to save the world. This hubris leads to an unconscious belief that we are God. To what extent does our nationalism become idolotry? Rev. Tayler then goes on to express a concern about America's survivor guilt, our sense of compassion of being responsible for the negative consequences of what we have set in motion.
I become quite impressed with the quality of Unitarian Universalist preaching about issues that affect our lives. I highly recommend Scott's sermon to you. It lasts about 20 minutes and you can listen on line or download the sermon to an MP3 player by going to the Digg site by clinking on the link below.
Chalicefire is a new blog published by myself and some of my colleagues at Pullman Memorial Universalist Church in Albion, NY. While I am prejudiced and biased, I think it's great and encourage you to visit and read it regularly.