Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category
Very interesting (and somewhat lengthy) article on the growth and methods of “Biblical counseling,” a form of therapy that focuses heavily on the client’s sinful nature. It seems to be about as effective as you would imagine. Kathryn Joyce describes it in Pacific Standard:
In March 1979, a 24-year-old Californian named Kenneth Nally took an overdose of his antidepressant medication, Elavil, and waited to die. Unconscious, he was found by his parents and rushed to a San Fernando Valley hospital, where he had his stomach pumped. A doctor recommended to Kenneth’s parents, Walter and Maria Nally, that they commit their son to a mental institution, but Kenneth and his father balked at the idea. Instead, Kenneth accepted an invitation to stay at the home of his pastor.
For many religious families, such a development might have been a relief. But Walter and Maria were Roman Catholic, and Kenneth no longer was. While an undergraduate at the University of California-Los Angeles, Kenneth had begun to attend Grace Community Church, the largest Protestant congregation in Los Angeles. Its founder was John MacArthur, who remains a titan in American conservative Christianity—famous for prolific writings, a radio program, and a fierce commitment to Calvinism, the austere branch of Protestantism that emphasizes predestination and salvation by grace alone.
Kenneth ended up spending six days at MacArthur’s house. During that time, he read the Bible, listened to tapes of MacArthur’s sermons, and helped to take care of the MacArthur family’s children. Then he returned to his parents’ home. A week later, Kenneth and his parents got into an argument about religion, and Kenneth left for a friend’s apartment in Burbank. There, he entered a closet, put a shotgun to his head, and pulled the trigger. All he left by way of a suicide note was a piece of paper with verses of scripture written on it.
In their grief, the Nallys began looking into the sort of help Kenneth had been receiving at Grace. It was a form of Christian therapy known as biblical counseling. Developed in the 1960s, biblical counseling rejects conventional approaches to mental health and holds that the Bible is sufficient as a guide to treatment. Many of its adherents think of it as a strict but hopeful alternative to what they view as the permissive and guilt-absolving premises of psychology. In biblical counseling, most psychological distress is rooted in sin, and the path to healing lies in confession and repentance.
The Nallys learned that Kenneth’s counselors had received no training outside of Grace; one was, by profession, a fireman. They learned that Kenneth’s counselors had told him to repent of his sinful attitudes toward his family and girlfriend. They also learned, or at least came to believe, that Grace counselors had discouraged Kenneth from taking medication or going to psychiatrists, even reassuring Kenneth that those who commit suicide can still go to heaven.
On March 31, 1980—almost a year to the day after Kenneth was found dead—the Nallys filed a $1 million wrongful death lawsuit against Grace Community Church, MacArthur, and three other Grace pastors, arguing that their counseling had “exacerbated [Kenneth’s] preexisting feelings of guilt, anxiety and depression.”
Over the next nine years, . . .
An interesting question. Certainly most religions are authoritarian, with God as the ultimate authority, and then God’s authority is assumed by many clergy. Take, for example, the Mormon and Catholic religions, both which tolerate no dissent (and ignore instances as when dissenters were shown to be right, as the Mormon 1978 revision of the rules regarding blacks).
Some religions, it should be pointed out, are clearly NOT authoritarian—the Society of Friends (Quakers) is a good example. And in process theology God is not the authoritarian being most Christian churches proclaim (omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent—which leads to flat-out contradictions, as pointed out by Charles Hartshorne is his excellent little book Omnipotence and Other Theological Mistakes). In reading the Gospels, Jesus (aka God) does not seem very authoritarian at all, but things change as a religion becomes institutionalized.
Adam Lee writes at AlterNet:
Human history is a story of gradual moral enlightenment. Over the ages, we’ve become less violent, less xenophobic, more tolerant, more committed to the ideals of democracy and equality under the law. Of course, moral progress is painfully slow, with many holdouts and local reversals, and we have a very long way left to go. But it’s hard to deny that the world we live in today is less prejudiced and more peaceful than the world 500 years ago, or even just 100.Religion is a noteworthy exception to this trend of progress. Secular moral reasoning, founded on considerations of fairness and human good, allows for continual self-questioning and improvement as less-privileged groups speak out to demand justice and call our attention to evils that we’d been overlooking. In sharp contrast to this, the immutable doctrines of religion are supposed to be elevated above skepticism. Even if we know more or see farther than the clerics who once came up with them, many religious authorities tell us we should submit our wills and believe without questioning.The result is that, in most cases, moral progress has left the churches behind. Like the tide going out and leaving once-submerged rocks high and dry on the shore, the archaic doctrines of conservative religion are increasingly isolated and exposed as the immoral and vicious absurdities they are. This has led to more conflict and dissension within the ranks, as believers who grew up in the modern era see the contradictions between what they’re taught and know to be right, and inevitably come into conflict with religious authorities who are determined to enforce the old rules at any cost.
A case in point is the Mormon church’s excommunication of Kate Kelly, a lawyer and human-rights activist who founded a movement called Ordain Women. Kelly’s crime was calling for the all-male priesthood of the Mormon church to be opened to people of all genders, and doing so loudly and publicly enough to embarrass the church leaders. (Although the LDS church calls it a “priesthood,” it’s not a clerical or ministerial position; it’s a rite of initiation, like a Jewish bar mitzvah or a Catholic confirmation.)
Kelly wasn’t a firebrand atheist. She considers herself a faithful Mormon; she was married in the Salt Lake City Temple and went on an overseas mission trip as Mormonism requires. Yet she refused several orders to take her website down and stop speaking out, and just before her excommunication, she was defiant:
“I am not an apostate, unless every single person who has questions to ask out loud is an apostate,” Ms. Kelly said in a telephone interview on Sunday , just before her disciplinary council met.
While she may have meant this comment as a reductio ad absurdum, I think it hits closer to the truth than she realizes. Almost every religion, throughout the ages, has looked unfavorably on people who have inconvenient questions and who insist on asking them out loud. What Kelly has yet to grasp is that religion is a fundamentally conservative force (unlike, say, science, where those who overturn conventional wisdom are rewarded). To claim that the tenets of some existing religion are wrong is to implicitly claim that you understand the will of God better than the authorities of that religion. Naturally, the people who’ve gained status and power within the existing strictures of the church will always look with extreme disfavor on this. . .
Very interesting post at AlterNet by Valerie Tarico:
Most antiquities scholars think that the New Testament gospels are “mythologized history.” In other words, they think that around the start of the first century a controversial Jewish rabbi named Yeshua ben Yosef gathered a following and his life and teachings provided the seed that grew into Christianity.
At the same time, these scholars acknowledge that many Bible stories like the virgin birth, miracles, resurrection, and women at the tomb borrow and rework mythic themes  that were common in the Ancient Near East, much the way that screenwriters base new movies on old familiar tropes or plot elements. In this view, a “historical Jesus” became mythologized .
For over 200 years, a wide ranging array of theologians and historians—most of them Christian—analyzed ancient texts, both those that made it into the Bible and those that didn’t, in attempts to excavate the man behind the myth. Several current or recent bestsellers take this approach, distilling the scholarship for a popular audience. Familiar titles include Zealot, by Reza Aslan and How Jesus Became God, by Bart Ehrman .
But other scholars believe that the gospel stories are actually “historicized mythology.” In this view, those ancient mythic templates are themselves the kernel. They got filled in with names, places and other real world details as early sects of Jesus worship attempted to understand and defend the devotional traditions they had received.
The notion that Jesus never existed is a minority position. Of course it is! says David Fitzgerald, author of Nailed: Ten Christian Myths That Show Jesus Never Existed at All .For centuries all serious scholars of Christianity were Christians themselves, and modern secular scholars lean heavily on the groundwork that they laid in collecting, preserving, and analyzing ancient texts. Even today most secular scholars come out of a religious background, and many operate by default under historical presumptions of their former faith.
Fitzgerald is an atheist speaker and writer, popular with secular students and community groups. The internet phenom, Zeitgeist the Movie  introduced millions to some of the mythic roots of Christianity. But Zeitgeist and similar works contain known errors and oversimplifications that undermine their credibility. Fitzgerald seeks to correct that by giving young people interesting, accessible information that is grounded in accountable scholarship.
More academic arguments in support of the Jesus Myth theory can be found in the writings of Richard Carrier and Robert Price. Carrier, who has a Ph.D. in ancient history uses  the tools of his trade to show, among other things, how Christianity might have gotten off the ground without a miracle. Price, by contrast,writes  from the perspective of a theologian whose biblical scholarship ultimately formed the basis for his skepticism. It is interesting to note that some of the harshest debunkers of fringe Jesus myth theories like those from Zeitgeist or Joseph Atwill (who tries to argue that the Romans invented Jesus) are from serious Mythicists like Fitzgerald, Carrier and Price.
The arguments on both sides of this question—mythologized history or historicized mythology—fill volumes, and if anything the debate seems to be heating up rather than resolving. A growing number of scholars are openly questioning or actively arguing against Jesus’ historicity. Since many people, both Christian and not, find it surprising that this debate even exists—that credible scholars might think Jesus never existed—here are some of the key points that keep the doubts alive:
1. No first century secular evidence whatsoever exists to support the actuality of Yeshua ben Yosef. In the words of  Bart Ehrman: “What sorts of things do pagan authors from the time of Jesus have to say about him? Nothing. As odd as it may seem, there is no mention of Jesus at all by any of his pagan contemporaries. There are no birth records, no trial transcripts, no death certificates; there are no expressions of interest, no heated slanders, no passing references – nothing. In fact, if we broaden our field of concern to the years after his death – even if we include the entire first century of the Common Era – there is not so much as a solitary reference to Jesus in any non-Christian, non-Jewish source of any kind. I should stress that we do have a large number of documents from the time – the writings of poets, philosophers, historians, scientists, and government officials, for example, not to mention the large collection of surviving inscriptions on stone and private letters and legal documents on papyrus. In none of this vast array of surviving writings is Jesus’ name ever so much as mentioned.” (pp. 56-57)
2. The earliest New Testament writers seem ignorant of the details of Jesus’ life, which become more crystalized in later texts.Paul seems unaware of any virgin birth, for example. No wise men, no star in the east, no miracles. Historians have long puzzled over the “Silence of Paul” on the most basic biographical facts and teachings of Jesus. Paul fails to cite Jesus’ authority precisely when it would make his case. What’s more, he never calls the twelve apostles Jesus’ disciples; in fact, he never says Jesus HAD disciples –or a ministry, or did miracles, or gave teachings. He virtually refuses to disclose any other biographical detail, and the few cryptic hints he offers aren’t just vague, but contradict the gospels. The leaders of the early Christian movement in Jerusalem like Peter and James are supposedly Jesus’ own followers and family; but Paul dismisses them as nobodies and repeatedly opposes them for not being true Christians!
Liberal theologian Marcus Borg suggests  that people read the books of the New Testament in chronological order to see how early Christianity unfolded. “Placing the Gospels after Paul makes it clear that as written documents they are not the source of early Christianity but its product. The Gospel — the good news — of and about Jesus existed before the Gospels. They are the products of early Christian communities several decades after Jesus’ historical life and tell us how those communities saw his significance in their historical context.”
3. . . .
Still the Catholic church protects its pedophiles. Laurie Goodstein reports in the NY Times on the latest pedophile to be whisked away to safety before a criminal trial could be held:
SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic — He was a familiar figure to the skinny shoeshine boys who work along the oceanfront promenade here. Wearing black track pants and a baseball cap pulled low over his balding head, they say, he would stroll along in the late afternoon and bring one of them down to the rocky shoreline or to a deserted monument for a local Catholic hero.
The boys say he gave them money to perform sexual acts. They called him “the Italian” because he spoke Spanish with an Italian accent.
It was only after he was spirited out of the country, the boys say, his picture splashed all over the local news media, that they learned his real identity: Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, the Vatican’s ambassador to the Dominican Republic.
“He definitely seduced me with money,” said Francis Aquino Aneury, who says he was 14 when the man he met shining shoes began offering him increasingly larger sums for sexual acts. “I felt very bad. I knew it wasn’t the right thing to do, but I needed the money.”
The case is the first time that a top Vatican ambassador, or nuncio — who serves as a personal envoy of the pope — has been accused of sexual abuse of minors. It has sent shock waves through the Vatican and two predominantly Catholic countries that have only begun to grapple with clergy sexual abuse: the Dominican Republic and Poland, where Mr. Wesolowski was ordained by the Polish prelate who later became Pope John Paul II.
It has also created a test for Pope Francis, who has called child sexual abuse “such an ugly crime” and pledged to move the Roman Catholic Church into an era of “zero tolerance.” For priests and bishops who have violated children, he told reporters in May, “There are no privileges.”
Mr. Wesolowski has already faced the harshest penalty possible under the church’s canon law, short of excommunication: on June 27, he was defrocked by the Vatican, reducing him to the status of a layman. The Vatican, which as a city-state has its own judicial system, has also said it intends to try Mr. Wesolowski on criminal charges — the first time the Vatican has held a criminal trial for sexual abuse.
But far from settling the matter, the Vatican has stirred an outcry because it helped Mr. Wesolowski avoid criminal prosecution and a possible jail sentence in the Dominican Republic. Acting against its own guidelines for handling abuse cases, the church failed to inform the local authorities of the evidence against him, secretly recalled him to Rome last year before he could be investigated, and then invoked diplomatic immunity for Mr. Wesolowski so that he could not face trial in the Dominican Republic.
The Vatican’s handling of the case shows both the changes the church has made in dealing with sexual abuse, and what many critics call its failures. When it comes to removing pedophiles from the priesthood, the Vatican is moving more assertively and swiftly than before. But as Mr. Wesolowski’s case suggests, the church continues to be reluctant to report people suspected of abuse to the local authorities and allow them to face justice in secular courts.
The Vatican says that because Mr. Wesolowski was a member of its diplomatic corps and a citizen of the Holy See, the case would be handled in Rome. But even many faithful Catholics in this nation, home to the oldest Catholic cathedral in the Americas, say they are unsettled that a Vatican official could have been using children for sex, yet was not arrested and tried in their own country.
“From the pure standpoint of justice, he should be tried in the country where the acts took place because the conditions for trying him will not be the same elsewhere,” said Antonio Medina Calcaño, dean of the faculty of law and political science of the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo. “But all we can do is hope that the courts in the Vatican will treat this with the severity that it really deserves.” . . .
I doubt that the Vatican courts—always conscious of “scandal” and the Church’s reputation—will act as would the courts in the Dominican Republic. It seems to me to simply be another example of the Catholic Church protecting pedophiles, not parishioners.
Later in the article:
A Dominican bishop, Victor Masalles, visiting Rome in late June, said in a Twitter message that he was surprised to see Mr. Wesolowski “strolling the Via della Scrofa,” in the city’s picturesque ancient center. He added, “The silence of the Church has hurt the people of God.”
Very interesting article. It would have been very interesting to be in the crowds at the time. Gone now beyond recall: all those ceremonies and life experiences…
And just in time, I’d say. As the US becomes increasingly inequitable and increasingly polarized culturally, having some overall measures that can show trends—that might well be useful. Casey Cep writes in the New Yorker:
On April 10, 1901, Duncan Macdougall, a physician in Haverhill, Massachusetts, completed an experiment designed to measure the human soul, the first of six he would complete in his lifetime. Using an industrial scale designed for weighing silk, accurate to one-fifth of an ounce, Macdougall weighed a male tuberculosis patient before and immediately after he died. It took three hours and forty minutes for the man to expire, and at the moment of his death he lost three-fourths of an ounce. This, by Macdougall’s calculations, was the weight of the human soul.
According to Mary Roach’s book Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife, Macdougall didn’t publish his findings until 1907, when his research appeared in both the Journal of the American Society for Physical Research and American Medicine. In March of that year, the Times ran a story called “Soul Has Weight, Physician Thinks.” Perhaps because he wasn’t able to find additional human subjects, Macdougall performed the rest of his research on dogs, which he determined had no souls because their weights did not change after death.
Last January, John Ortberg, a senior pastor at Menlo Park Presbyterian Church, and Bradley Wright, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Connecticut, released a simpler way of measuring a soul: SoulPulse, a technology project that captures real-time data on the spirituality of Americans. SoulPulse attempts to quantify the soul, an unbodied version of what FitBit, the exercise-tracking device, has done for the body. After filling in a brief intake survey on your age, race, ethnicity, education, income, and religious affiliation, SoulPulse contacts you twice a day with questions about your physical health, spiritual disciplines, and religious experiences. Each of the surveys takes less than five minutes to complete.
Baptized in the Lutheran Church, and a believer, I enrolled in SoulPulse for two weeks. I told it how I’d slept and what I’d been doing, whether I’d had anything to drink or taken any drugs, who I was with, if I’d been praying or worshiping, how close I felt to God. There were drop-down menus, slider buttons, and actual buttons to click, but no narrative answers were accepted. Day to day, I felt like I was adding up my spiritual position. Just how joyful was I? How peaceful? How grateful? Was I more aware of God when I was commuting or when I was using a computer? I had participated in a few research studies before, but I had never felt the observer effect—in which a subject changes her behavior as a result of feeling watched—so strongly. I didn’t doubt the experiment’s guarantee of anonymity, but being asked about my spiritual disciplines made me more eager to practice them.
One busy afternoon, I wondered how long it had been since I’d prayed, and realized that it had not been since that morning. Being asked so often to look for God’s presence made me want to be more aware of it, an experience not unlike gathering for worship on a Sunday morning, when the liturgy of the church makes me aware of things seen and unseen, attentive to the known and unknown. I asked Ortberg and Wright about the observer effect, and about a deeper skepticism I have about quantifying spirituality. I am a strong believer, but I chafe at any kind of program or book series that promises rewards or guarantees sacred fruits. Spirituality, it seems to me, is a thing that can not be counted.
Ortberg, who has a doctorate in clinical psychology, listened to my concerns, and said, “On the one hand, not everything can be put in a test tube or seen with a microscope. The most important dimensions of life have to do with the spirit, and those aren’t always quantifiable. But using the best tools and methods available seems like a worthwhile thing.” He also stressed that, while SoulPulse is using new tools, it is answering old questions. Describing Brother Lawrence’s “The Practice of the Presence of God,” a seventeenth-century text that linked God’s presence to daily tasks like doing the dishes and cooking meals, Ortberg said that believers across the centuries have tried to cultivate a mindfulness of the holy. He also pointed to Frank Laubach’s “The Game With Minutes,” a book from 1953 that taught practitioners to turn their minds toward God as often as possible, at least one second of every minute of every day.
“This is trying to use technology to gauge and enhance a tremendously old practice, to be aware of, to look for the divine in everyday experience,” Ortberg said. SoulPulse is simply a technological attempt at creating something like . . .
List how many ways the sample is biased. Not sure how generalizable it will be, but it will be interesting to see the trends.
But these guys are going about it all wrong. They should do a free app that fires off questions at random times during the day, and user can set number of times a day s/he will tolerate. The various answers update an ever-growing database that is summarized in real time (accessible chart via smartphone) in charts of the overall SoulPlus readings. Real-time viewing of an aspect of the public mind. Intriguing—and fantastic marketing info.
In fact, now that I think about it, isn’t that somewhat like the sort of thing Facebook would do?