Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

Why Jessica Biel Is Wrong about Science and Vaccines

leave a comment »

James Hamblin writes in the Atlantic:

One morning in 1934, panicked passengers jumped from the deck of the SS Morro Castle as it sank just off the coast of New Jersey. The ocean liner had caught fire, and the passengers had rushed to grab personal flotation devices. But some improperly wrapped the life preservers around their necks. As they fell and hit the water, the torque snapped their spines.

Personal flotation devices save exponentially more lives than they cost. Of the catastrophic boating accidents that occur daily, 84 percent of people who drown were not wearing one. But etch the details of this horrific wreck sceneinto one’s mind, and a person might become a life-preserver skeptic. Our basic tendency toward short-term thinking means we judge risk based on whatever is in front of us. We draw anxiety disproportionately from wherever we happen to be focusing our attention.

The same psychology applies throughout public health. At the moment, much attention in the U.S. is being paid to vaccines—rather than the diseases they prevent. This week, the actor Jessica Biel drew fiery eyes for lobbyinglegislators in California to kill a bill that would standardize the process of exempting children from required vaccinations. Biel, perhaps best known for her leading role in 2006’s The Illusionist, expressed concern for the well-being of a friend’s child. She has responded to accusations of being “anti-vax” by contending in an Instagram post that she “believes in vaccinations,” but wants to protect personal freedom: “I believe in giving doctors and the families they treat the ability to decide what’s best for their patients.”

Like life preservers and everything else, vaccines do come with some fleeting risk of unintended adverse outcomes: mostly rashes or fevers, and in extremely rare cases, seizures. But these risks pale in comparison with those of the diseases vaccines prevent. Before the advent of vaccination, measles alone killed some 6,000 children in the United States every year.

This year has already seen more measles cases than any other since the disease was declared eliminated two decades ago. The trend stems from low rates of vaccination, which are making exemptions from vaccine requirements a flash point. California has triggered a reckoning with why exemptions exist at all—and why belief came to factor so heavily into a question of science. When is a health issue a matter of belief, and when is it simply wrong? When is it so wrong that it’s neglect?

No federal law requires vaccination. But every state mandates that in order to send a child to public school—to have that child sit in close quarters with other children all day, every day—parents must take preventive measures to ensure the child does not carry certain dangerous infections. Requirements are implicit in the legal precedent that withholding vaccination constitutes “medical neglect” of a child. Legally, for example, it’s considered neglect to let a cut on a child’s arm get infected and then refuse antibiotics. If that infection had been airborne, as with measles, declining treatment as a child gasps for air would also be textbook neglect. It has been deemed neglect in cases where infectious diseases could have been easily prevented, but weren’t.

Researchers at Ohio State recently reviewed cases across the country from 1905 to 2016 and found that a majority of the time, refusing vaccination was found to be neglect. There was a curious caveat, though. In states with “religious exemptions,” parents did not have to follow public-health mandates to vaccinate their children against measles and other diseases if the parents cited “genuine and sincere religious beliefs.” The Ohio State researchers found that in these states, vaccine refusal did not constitute neglect—or it was considered neglect only if someone’s belief was deemed insufficiently “sincere.”

Religious exemptions have slowly expanded in the United States, to the point that now, in almost every state, parents can opt out of school requirements—and leave a child open to catching and spreading lethal diseases to other children—if doing so is guided by what the state considers a sincere belief. In such cases, the same behavior is not neglect.

Exemptions have expanded to include “personal or philosophical belief” exemptions as well, which are currently offered in 17 states. When the standard is sincerity of belief, the thinking goes, it shouldn’t have to be drawn from a major religion (or even a minor one).

Accordingly, the number of people taking up belief-based exemptions has been steadily increasing, and rates of vaccination declining. The constitutionality of vaccine requirements is well established, and courts have found states are not obligated to grant religious exemptions. Nevertheless, the overall effect of such respect for the concept of personal belief has been that, gradually, vaccine requirements have become requirements in name only.

The return of measles, though, is forcing a breaking point. In 2015, a measles outbreak was traced back to a single child at Disneyland. California health officials saw that the outbreak happened not simply because of one unvaccinated child, but because only 90 percent of kindergartners in the state were fully immunized. To establish herd immunity for measles, a community needs 94 percent of people on board. . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, including the rise of rogue doctors who sell immunization exemptions.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 June 2019 at 1:40 pm

The Irrationality of Alcoholics Anonymous

leave a comment »

Gabrielle Glaser writes in the Atlantic:

J.G. is a lawyer in his early 30s. He’s a fast talker and has the lean, sinewy build of a distance runner. His choice of profession seems preordained, as he speaks in fully formed paragraphs, his thoughts organized by topic sentences. He’s also a worrier—a big one—who for years used alcohol to soothe his anxiety.

J.G. started drinking at 15, when he and a friend experimented in his parents’ liquor cabinet. He favored gin and whiskey but drank whatever he thought his parents would miss the least. He discovered beer, too, and loved the earthy, bitter taste on his tongue when he took his first cold sip.

His drinking increased through college and into law school. He could, and occasionally did, pull back, going cold turkey for weeks at a time. But nothing quieted his anxious mind like booze, and when he didn’t drink, he didn’t sleep. After four or six weeks dry, he’d be back at the liquor store.

By the time he was a practicing defense attorney, J.G. (who asked to be identified only by his initials) sometimes drank almost a liter of Jameson in a day. He often started drinking after his first morning court appearance, and he says he would have loved to drink even more, had his schedule allowed it. He defended clients who had been charged with driving while intoxicated, and he bought his own Breathalyzer to avoid landing in court on drunk-driving charges himself.

In the spring of 2012, J.G. decided to seek help. He lived in Minnesota—the Land of 10,000 Rehabs, people there like to say—and he knew what to do: check himself into a facility. He spent a month at a center where the treatment consisted of little more than attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. He tried to dedicate himself to the program even though, as an atheist, he was put off by the faith-based approach of the 12 steps, five of which mention God. Everyone there warned him that he had a chronic, progressive disease and that if he listened to the cunning internal whisper promising that he could have just one drink, he would be off on a bender.

J.G. says it was this message—that there were no small missteps, and one drink might as well be 100—that set him on a cycle of bingeing and abstinence. He went back to rehab once more and later sought help at an outpatient center. Each time he got sober, he’d spend months white-knuckling his days in court and his nights at home. Evening would fall and his heart would race as he thought ahead to another sleepless night. “So I’d have one drink,” he says, “and the first thing on my mind was: I feel better now, but I’m screwed. I’m going right back to where I was. I might as well drink as much as I possibly can for the next three days.”

He felt utterly defeated. And according to AA doctrine, the failure was his alone. When the 12 steps don’t work for someone like J.G., Alcoholics Anonymous says that person must be deeply flawed. The Big Book, AA’s bible, states:

Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path. Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves. There are such unfortunates. They are not at fault; they seem to have been born that way.

J.G.’s despair was only heightened by his seeming lack of options. “Every person I spoke with told me there was no other way,” he says.

The 12 steps are so deeply ingrained in the United States that many people, including doctors and therapists, believe attending meetings, earning one’s sobriety chips, and never taking another sip of alcohol is the only way to get better. Hospitals, outpatient clinics, and rehab centers use the 12 steps as the basis for treatment. But although few people seem to realize it, there are alternatives, including prescription drugs and therapies that aim to help patients learn to drink in moderation. Unlike Alcoholics Anonymous, these methods are based on modern science and have been proved, in randomized, controlled studies, to work.

For J.G., it took years of trying to “work the program,” pulling himself back onto the wagon only to fall off again, before he finally realized that Alcoholics Anonymous was not his only, or even his best, hope for recovery. But in a sense, he was lucky: many others never make that discovery at all.

The debate over the efficacy of 12-step programs has been quietly bubbling for decades among addiction specialists. But it has taken on new urgency with the passage of the Affordable Care Act, which requires all insurers and state Medicaid programs to pay for alcohol- and substance-abuse treatment, extending coverage to 32 million Americans who did not previously have it and providing a higher level of coverage for an additional 30 million.

Nowhere in the field of medicine is treatment less grounded in modern science. A 2012 report by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University compared the current state of addiction medicine to general medicine in the early 1900s, when quacks worked alongside graduates of leading medical schools. The American Medical Association estimates that out of nearly 1 million doctors in the United States, only 582 identify themselves as addiction specialists. (The Columbia report notes that there may be additional doctors who have a subspecialty in addiction.) Most treatment providers carry the credential of addiction counselor or substance-abuse counselor, for which many states require little more than a high-school diploma or a GED. Many counselors are in recovery themselves. The report stated: “The vast majority of people in need of addiction treatment do not receive anything that approximates evidence-based care.”
Alcoholics Anonymous was established in 1935, when knowledge of the brain was in its infancy. It offers a single path to recovery: lifelong abstinence from alcohol. The program instructs members to surrender their ego, accept that they are “powerless” over booze, make amends to those they’ve wronged, and pray.

Alcoholics Anonymous is famously difficult to study. By necessity, it keeps no records of who attends meetings; members come and go and are, of course, anonymous. No conclusive data exist on how well it works. In 2006, the Cochrane Collaboration, a health-care research group, reviewed studies going back to the 1960s and found that “no experimental studies unequivocally demonstrated the effectiveness of AA or [12-step] approaches for reducing alcohol dependence or problems.”

The Big Book includes an assertion first made in the second edition, which was published in 1955: that AA has worked for 75 percent of people who have gone to meetings and “really tried.” It says that 50 percent got sober right away, and another 25 percent struggled for a while but eventually recovered. According to AA, these figures are based on members’ experiences.

In his recent book, The Sober Truth: Debunking the Bad Science Behind 12-Step Programs and the Rehab Industry, Lance Dodes, a retired psychiatry professor from Harvard Medical School, looked at Alcoholics Anonymous’s retention rates along with studies on sobriety and rates of active involvement (attending meetings regularly and working the program) among AA members. Based on these data, he put AA’s actual success rate somewhere between 5 and 8 percent. That is just a rough estimate, but it’s the most precise one I’ve been able to find.

I spent three years researching a book about women and alcohol, Her Best-Kept Secret: Why Women Drink—And How They Can Regain Control, which was published in 2013. During that time, I encountered disbelief from doctors and psychiatrists every time I mentioned that the Alcoholics Anonymous success rate appears to hover in the single digits. We’ve grown so accustomed to testimonials from those who say AA saved their life that we take the program’s efficacy as an article of faith. Rarely do we hear from those for whom 12-step treatment doesn’t work. But think about it: How many celebrities can you name who bounced in and out of rehab without ever getting better? Why do we assume they failed the program, rather than that the program failed them?

When my book came out, dozens of Alcoholics Anonymous members said that because I had challenged AA’s claim of a 75 percent success rate, I would hurt or even kill people by discouraging attendance at meetings. A few insisted that I must be an “alcoholic in denial.” But most of the people I heard from were desperate to tell me about their experiences in the American treatment industry. Amy Lee Coy, the author of the memoir From Death Do I Part: How I Freed Myself From Addiction, told me about her eight trips to rehab, starting at age 13. “It’s like getting the same antibiotic for a resistant infection—eight times,” she told me. “Does that make sense?”

She and countless others had put their faith in a system they had been led to believe was effective—even though finding treatment centers’ success rates is next to impossible: facilities rarely publish their data or even track their patients after discharging them. “Many will tell you that those who complete the program have a ‘great success rate,’ meaning that most are abstaining from drugs and alcohol while enrolled there,” says Bankole Johnson, an alcohol researcher and the chair of the psychiatry department at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. “Well, no kidding.”

Alcoholics Anonymous has more than 2 million members worldwide, and the structure and support it offers have helped many people. But it is not enough for everyone. The history of AA is the story of how one approach to treatment took root before other options existed, inscribing itself on the national consciousness and crowding out dozens of newer methods that have since been shown to work better.

A meticulous analysis of treatments, published more than a decade ago in The Handbook of Alcoholism Treatment Approaches but still considered one of the most comprehensive comparisons, ranks AA 38th out of 48 methods. At the top of the list are brief interventions by a medical professional; motivational enhancement, a form of counseling that aims to help people see the need to change; and acamprosate, a drug that eases cravings. (An oft-cited 1996 study found 12-step facilitation—a form of individual therapy that aims to get the patient to attend AA meetings—as effective as cognitive behavioral therapy and motivational interviewing. But that study, called Project Match, was widely criticized for scientific failings, including the lack of a control group.)

As an organization, Alcoholics Anonymous has no real central authority—each AA meeting functions more or less autonomously—and it declines to take positions on issues beyond the scope of the 12 steps. (When I asked to speak with someone from the General Service Office, AA’s administrative headquarters, regarding AA’s stance on other treatment methods, I received an e-mail stating: “Alcoholics Anonymous neither endorses nor opposes other approaches, and we cooperate widely with the medical profession.” The office also declined to comment on whether AA’s efficacy has been proved.) But many in AA and the rehab industry insist the 12 steps are the only answer and frown on using the prescription drugs that have been shown to help people reduce their drinking.

People with alcohol problems also suffer from higher-than-normal rates of mental-health issues, and research has shown that treating depression and anxiety with medication can reduce drinking. But AA is not equipped to address these issues—it is a support group whose leaders lack professional training—and some meetings are more accepting than others of the idea that members may need therapy and/or medication in addition to the group’s help. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and it’s important.

Later in the article:

. . .
The United States already spends about $35 billion a year on alcohol- and substance-abuse treatment, yet heavy drinking causes 88,000 deaths a year—including deaths from car accidents and diseases linked to alcohol. It also costs the country hundreds of billions of dollars in expenses related to health care, criminal justice, motor-vehicle crashes, and lost workplace productivity, according to the CDC. With the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of coverage, it’s time to ask some important questions: Which treatments should we be willing to pay for? Have they been proved effective? And for whom—only those at the extreme end of the spectrum? Or also those in the vast, long-overlooked middle?

For a glimpse of how treatment works elsewhere, I traveled to Finland, a country that shares with the United States a history of prohibition (inspired by the American temperance movement, the Finns outlawed alcohol from 1919 to 1932) and a culture of heavy drinking.

Finland’s treatment model is based in large part on the work of an American neuroscientist named John David Sinclair. I met with Sinclair in Helsinki in early July. He was battling late-stage prostate cancer, and his thick white hair was cropped short in preparation for chemotherapy. Sinclair has researched alcohol’s effects on the brain since his days as an undergraduate at the University of Cincinnati, where he experimented with rats that had been given alcohol for an extended period. Sinclair expected that after several weeks without booze, the rats would lose their desire for it. Instead, when he gave them alcohol again, they went on week-long benders, drinking far more than they ever had before—more, he says, than any rat had ever been shown to drink.

Sinclair called this the alcohol-deprivation effect, and his laboratory results, which have since been confirmed by many other studies, suggested a fundamental flaw in abstinence-based treatment: going cold turkey only intensifies cravings. This discovery helped explain why relapses are common. Sinclair published his findings in a handful of journals and in the early 1970s moved to Finland, drawn by the chance to work in what he considered the best alcohol-research lab in the world, complete with special rats that had been bred to prefer alcohol to water. He spent the next decade researching alcohol and the brain.

Sinclair came to believe that people develop drinking problems through a chemical process: each time they drink, the endorphins released in the brain strengthen certain synapses. The stronger these synapses grow, the more likely the person is to think about, and eventually crave, alcohol—until almost anything can trigger a thirst for booze, and drinking becomes compulsive.

Sinclair theorized that if you could stop the endorphins from reaching their target, the brain’s opiate receptors, you could gradually weaken the synapses, and the cravings would subside. To test this hypothesis, he administered opioid antagonists—drugs that block opiate receptors—to the specially bred alcohol-loving rats. He found that if the rats took the medication each time they were given alcohol, they gradually drank less and less. He published his findings in peer-reviewed journals beginning in the 1980s.

Subsequent studies found that an opioid antagonist called naltrexone was safe and effective for humans, and Sinclair began working with clinicians in Finland. He suggested prescribing naltrexone for patients to take an hour before drinking. As their cravings subsided, they could then learn to control their consumption. Numerous clinical trials have confirmed that the method is effective, and in 2001 Sinclair published a paper in the journal Alcohol and Alcoholism reporting a 78 percent success rate in helping patients reduce their drinking to about 10 drinks a week. Some stopped drinking entirely.

I visited one of three private treatment centers, called the Contral Clinics, that Sinclair co-founded in Finland. (There’s an additional one in Spain.) In the past 18 years, more than 5,000 Finns have gone to the Contral Clinics for help with a drinking problem. Seventy-five percent of them have had success reducing their consumption to a safe level. . .

Written by LeisureGuy

10 June 2019 at 7:08 pm

The times they are a-changing: Crusading Bloggers Expose Abuse in Protestant Churches

leave a comment »

Sarah Stankorb reports in the Washington Post:

During the fall of 2017, along with the rest of the country, Jules Woodson watched the Me Too movement play out in the media. As women came forward to expose the predatory behavior they’d survived, the Colorado Springs-based flight attendant reflected on a night in 1998, when Andy Savage, the youth pastor at her local church in her hometown of The Woodlands, Tex., offered her a ride home. At some point, Woodson says, Savage passed the turn to her home and drove down a dirt road, where he reached a dead end and switched off the headlights. He unzipped his jeans and asked Woodson, then 17, to perform oral sex. A few minutes later, she says, Savage jumped from the truck, fell to his knees and told Woodson she must take what happened to the grave.

The next day, terrified and traumatized, Woodson told the church’s assistant pastor what happened; she says he asked if she’d “participated.” While Savage continued as youth pastor — even leading a True Love Waits event encouraging youth to abstain from all physical contact, not just from sex — Woodson sank into shame and a deep depression. Although she retained her faith, she eventually left the church.

Twenty years later, Woodson found Savage’s email and sent him a note with the subject line: “Do you remember?” She asked if he recalled the night he was supposed to drive her home — “and instead drove me to a deserted back road and sexually assaulted me?” She signed off with “#metoo.”

When Woodson Googled his name, along with “sex abuse in church” and “youth pastor sex abuse,” she found a blog dedicated to Christian survivor stories called the Wartburg Watch; there, she read a post about an alleged abuse coverup at a church affiliated with Savage’s current church. About a month later, Woodson submitted her own first-person account about her abuse to the Wartburg Watch and a similar Christian survivor blog called Watch Keep. When the blogs simultaneously published her story, Woodson figured that maybe a hundred people would read it — but by that afternoon, the posts had spread enough that Savage responded with a statement. On the website of the Highpoint Church in Memphis — where he worked at the time — Savage described a regretful “sexual incident with a female high school senior” 20 years prior. For his mea culpa at church that Sunday, Savage’s congregation gave him a standing ovation. Within days, Savage responded to Woodson’s email, saying, in part: “I am genuinely sorry for the pain this has caused you and I ask for your forgiveness.”

Woodson soon found herself at the center of a media storm. The hashtag #JusticeForJules bubbled up on Twitter. On a CNN commentator’s radio show, Savage described the incident as an “organic sexual moment.” The New York Times ran a news story the next week and, two months later, a video piece in which Woodson detailed her story. Eleven days after the video came out, Savage resigned from Highpoint Church, acknowledging that his “relationship” with Woodson was “not only immoral, but meets the definition of abuse of power.” The same day, Savage emailed Woodson to again apologize and to say his initial in-church statement and the church’s response were “defensive and self-serving.” (Savage did not respond to my requests for comment.)

Savage’s ouster was a direct result of Woodson’s posts on the Wartburg Watch and Watch Keep, blogs that are part of a larger constellation of “Christian watchdog” outlets. While clergy sex abuse within the Catholic Church has been in the headlines for years, it’s only more recently that abuses within Protestant churches have started to draw mainstream media attention. Much of the credit for this quickening churn goes to a circle of bloggers — dozens of armchair investigative journalists who have been outing abuse, one case and one congregation at a time, for over a decade now, bolstering their posts with court records, police reports, video clips of pastors’ sermons, and emails, often provided to them by survivors.

Most of these bloggers are women; many come from churches that teach women’s submission and deny women’s spiritual authority. “Investigative blogger women started a revolution at their kitchen tables,” says pastor Ashley Easter, who hosts the Courage Conference, a Christian, survivor-focused gathering. They have advocated “for victims of abuse from where they were, where they could find a platform — blogs and social media.”

Recently, a younger cohort of “ex-vangelicals” and online activists have joined the fold, and in late 2017 #ChurchToo started to trend on Twitter. In turn, a wave of secret-smashing tweets blossomed into reported pieces at publications like Mother Jones and the New Yorker. Yet the bloggers who built the foundation for this activist network are known mainly to church abuse survivors and reporters covering these stories. To the rest of the world, their efforts have mostly blended into the joint backgrounds of the clergy sex abuse scandal and #MeToo.

The Wartburg Watch is run by Darlene Parsons, a 65-year-old former home health nurse who goes by “Dee” online; Watch Keep was founded by Amy Smith, a 50-year-old Houston mother of four. Both sites have covered numerous stories of abuse in recent years. Posts on both blogs, for instance, helped a missionary’s wife in Dallas put pressure on her church after she said she was disciplined for requesting an annulment (her then-husband had admitted to watching child pornography and being attracted to children, according to a report Smith obtained from the missionary organization where he worked at the time). And a Pennsylvania minister resigned three months after a woman alleged on the Wartburg Watch that he’d molested and raped her 40 years before, when he was a teenager and the woman was a child. Parsons believes her post had something to do with his resignation, as the minister’s attorney reached out with a letter demanding she stop writing about the man. She was unfazed: “I knew I didn’t do anything wrong, so I wasn’t worried about it,” she told me.

Parsons, one of the first watchdog bloggers, isn’t a trained journalist — but she hawkishly covers any credible allegation of church-based abuse she finds. It’s no wonder, then, that a year ago reporters for the Houston Chronicle contacted Parsons and Smith — along with others in the watchdog blog world — for the paper’s joint investigation with the San Antonio Express-News that uncovered 700 sexual abuse victims over a 20-year span in Southern Baptist churches. Much of what Parsons and Smith had to offer had already appeared on their blogs.

Parsons runs the Wartburg Watch from the kitchen of her brick Colonial outside Raleigh, N.C. Online, she’s forceful and fearless, tagging celebrity pastors, churches and Christian publications alike; her Twitter profile photo is the Church Lady, Dana Carvey’s famously prim, purse-lipped and piously judge-y “Saturday Night Live” character. Parsons is nervous to meet a reporter in person, she admits, offering me a plate of cookies while her three rescue pugs skitter across the tile floor. It’s hard to fathom that this suburban mom of three, with her tidy cardigan and sensible bob, is the same person online haters have called “the Wartburg witch,” a “feminist heretic,” an “e-pharisee” and a “minion of Satin [sic].”

In 2006, leaders at Parsons’s former church, Providence Baptist, called in Parsons and other parents for a meeting. A seminary student and church volunteer who led a youth Bible study, Brian “Doug” Goodrich, had been found with a child in a local park. That child, it seemed, was not the only suspected victim. “We’re so sorry there were some boys who were harmed,” Parsons says she recalls the church leaders saying; she also remembers them saying they hadn’t received any prior reports of wrongdoing and that, “if you have any information, let us know. The police are involved.” The church leaders asked the parents not to talk among themselves to figure out which boys had been victims, to protect their privacy. (Parsons’s son had soccer practice during Goodrich’s Bible study and wasn’t part of the core group of boys who regularly interacted with Goodrich.)

A few weeks later, a friend and fellow congregant, Janet Wilson, told Parsons her elder son was one of the boys involved. Parsons was afraid to talk about it, since the parents had been instructed not to; besides, she trusted the matter was being well handled by law enforcement and the church.

In 2007, Goodrich was convicted on 10 charges of statutory sex offense, indecent liberties and first-degree sex exploitation, and sentenced to 13 years in prison. Wilson was understandably distressed during the investigation, and after the conviction she stopped by Parsons’s house, wracked with guilt. Wilson wished she’d done more, she told Parsons, because the church leaders had known about Goodrich before the 2006 incident. In 2005, Wilson says that she and her husband had described incidents with Goodrich to two youth pastors. Goodrich had exposed himself to a group of boys, including Wilson’s eldest son, at church camp, Wilson told Parsons, and encouraged them to reciprocate.

At the time, Wilson had been too embarrassed to tell anyone else about the flashing, or about the conversation with the youth pastors in which she and her husband reported Goodrich’s behavior. But Wilson knew her son was not the only boy hurt by Goodrich’s abuse. “My kids were okay,” she told Parsons that day, “but I feel terrible that these other boys have been harmed.” Wilson told me, “I felt guilty because the church knew about it. They didn’t feel guilty, but I did.”

Parsons was appalled — and decided to do something about it. She, Wilson and a few church friends wrote a letter to the church elders reminding them of the earlier incident. She expected the pastors would say they’d made a horrible mistake. When they didn’t, and the church instead began an internal investigation, Parsons and her group wrote another letter to the entire congregation. Fed up, Parsons and her cardiologist husband, Bill, left Providence Baptist to join another church.

(Goodrich’s lawyer did not respond to requests for comment. Brian Frost, senior pastor at Providence Baptist, confirmed that the church’s internal investigation was motivated by Parsons’s group letter, and said church policies have since changed: Now, any report or allegation of abuse by an employee or volunteer triggers a leave of duty until an investigation is completed, and all allegations of abuse must be reported to police.)

During their second week at the new church, Parsons says, she saw a man she knew to be a convicted pedophile. (His wife used to teach at her kids’ school, so news of the man’s conviction had circulated among the parents.) “I thought God was playing a joke,” she says. Two churches, two convicted sex offenders. She remembers thinking, “God, this is really not funny.”

Parsons decided to turn to the Internet. . .

Continue reading.

Before the internet, there was no way for these stories to get out save very limited word of mouth.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 June 2019 at 8:49 am

Doublethink Is Stronger Than Orwell Imagined

leave a comment »

In the Atlantic George Packer reviews The Ministry of Truth: The Biography of George Orwell’s 1984, by Dorian Lynskey:

No novel of the past century has had more influence than George Orwell’s 1984. The title, the adjectival form of the author’s last name, the vocabulary of the all-powerful Party that rules the superstate Oceania with the ideology of Ingsoc—doublethinkmemory holeunpersonthoughtcrimeNewspeakThought PoliceRoom 101Big Brother—they’ve all entered the English language as instantly recognizable signs of a nightmare future. It’s almost impossible to talk about propaganda, surveillance, authoritarian politics, or perversions of truth without dropping a reference to 1984.Throughout the Cold War, the novel found avid underground readers behind the Iron Curtain who wondered, How did he know?

It was also assigned reading for several generations of American high-school students. I first encountered 1984 in 10th-grade English class. Orwell’s novel was paired with Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, whose hedonistic and pharmaceutical dystopia seemed more relevant to a California teenager in the 1970s than did the bleak sadism of Oceania. I was too young and historically ignorant to understand where 1984 came from and exactly what it was warning against. Neither the book nor its author stuck with me. In my 20s, I discovered Orwell’s essays and nonfiction books and reread them so many times that my copies started to disintegrate, but I didn’t go back to 1984. Since high school, I’d lived through another decade of the 20th century, including the calendar year of the title, and I assumed I already “knew” the book. It was too familiar to revisit.

So when I recently read the novel again, I wasn’t prepared for its power. You have to clear away what you think you know, all the terminology and iconography and cultural spin-offs, to grasp the original genius and lasting greatness of 1984. It is both a profound political essay and a shocking, heartbreaking work of art. And in the Trump erait’s a best seller.

The Ministry of Truth: The Biography of George Orwell’s 1984, by the British music critic Dorian Lynskey, makes a rich and compelling case for the novel as the summation of Orwell’s entire body of work and a master key to understanding the modern world. The book was published in 1949, when Orwell was dying of tuberculosis, but Lynskey dates its biographical sources back more than a decade to Orwell’s months in Spain as a volunteer on the republican side of the country’s civil war. His introduction to totalitarianism came in Barcelona, when agents of the Soviet Union created an elaborate lie to discredit Trotskyists in the Spanish government as fascist spies.

Left-wing journalists readily accepted the fabrication, useful as it was to the cause of communism. Orwell didn’t, exposing the lie with eyewitness testimony in journalism that preceded his classic book Homage to Catalonia—and that made him a heretic on the left. He was stoical about the boredom and discomforts of trench warfare—he was shot in the neck and barely escaped Spain with his life—but he took the erasure of truth hard. It threatened his sense of what makes us sane, and life worth living. “History stopped in 1936,” he later told his friend Arthur Koestler, who knew exactly what Orwell meant. After Spain, just about everything he wrote and read led to the creation of his final masterpiece. “History stopped,” Lynskey writes, “and Nineteen Eighty-Four began.”

The biographical story of 1984—the dying man’s race against time to finish his novel in a remote cottage on the Isle of Jura, off Scotland—will be familiar to many Orwell readers. One of Lynskey’s contributions is to destroy the notion that its terrifying vision can be attributed to, and in some way disregarded as, the death wish of a tuberculosis patient. In fact, terminal illness roused in Orwell a rage to live—he got remarried on his deathbed—just as the novel’s pessimism is relieved, until its last pages, by Winston Smith’s attachment to nature, antique objects, the smell of coffee, the sound of a proletarian woman singing, and above all his lover, Julia. 1984 is crushingly grim, but its clarity and rigor are stimulants to consciousness and resistance. According to Lynskey, “Nothing in Orwell’s life and work supports a diagnosis of despair.”

Lynskey traces the literary genesis of 1984 to the utopian fictions of the optimistic 19th century—Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward (1888); the sci-fi novels of H. G. Wells, which Orwell read as a boy—and their dystopian successors in the 20th, including the Russian Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We (1924) and Huxley’s Brave New World (1932). The most interesting pages in TheMinistry of Truth are Lynskey’s account of the novel’s afterlife. The struggle to claim 1984 began immediately upon publication, with a battle over its political meaning. Conservative American reviewers concluded that Orwell’s main target wasn’t just the Soviet Union but the left generally. Orwell, fading fast, waded in with a statement explaining that the novel was not an attack on any particular government but a satire of the totalitarian tendencies in Western society and intellectuals: “The moral to be drawn from this dangerous nightmare situation is a simple one: Don’t let it happen. It depends on you.” But every work of art escapes the artist’s control—the more popular and complex, the greater the misunderstandings.

Lynskey’s account of the reach of 1984 is revelatory. The novel has inspired movies, television shows, plays, a ballet, an opera, a David Bowie album, imitations, parodies, sequels, rebuttals, Lee Harvey Oswald, the Black Panther Party, and the John Birch Society. It has acquired something of the smothering ubiquity of Big Brother himself: 1984 is watching you. With the arrival of the year 1984, the cultural appropriations rose to a deafening level. That January an ad for the Apple Macintosh was watched by 96 million people during the Super Bowl and became a marketing legend. The Mac, represented by a female athlete, hurls a sledgehammer at a giant telescreen and explodes the shouting face of a man—oppressive technology—to the astonishment of a crowd of gray zombies. The message: “You’ll see why 1984 won’t be like ‘1984.’ ”

The argument recurs every decade or so: Orwell got it wrong. Things haven’t turned out that bad. The Soviet Union is history. Technology is liberating. But Orwell never intended his novel to be a prediction, only a warning. And it’s as a warning that 1984 keeps finding new relevance. The week of Donald Trump’s inauguration, when the president’s adviser Kellyanne Conway justified his false crowd estimate by using the phrase alternative facts, the novel returned to the best-seller lists. A theatrical adaptation was rushed to Broadway. The vocabulary of Newspeak went viral. An authoritarian president who stood the term fake news on its head, who once said, “What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening,” has given 1984 a whole new life.

What does the novel mean for us? Not Room 101 in the Ministry of Love, where Winston is interrogated and tortured until he loses everything he holds dear. We don’t live under anything like a totalitarian system. “By definition, a country in which you are free to read Nineteen Eighty-Four is not the country described in Nineteen Eighty-Four,” Lynskey acknowledges. Instead, we pass our days under the nonstop surveillance of a telescreen that we bought at the Apple Store, carry with us everywhere, and tell everything to, without any coercion by the state. The Ministry of Truth is Facebook, Google, and cable news. We have met Big Brother and he is us.

Trump’s election brought a rush of cautionary books with titles like On TyrannyFascism: A Warning, and How Fascism Works. My local bookstore set up a totalitarian-themed table and placed the new books alongside 1984. They pointed back to the 20th century—if it happened in Germany, it could happen here—and warned readers how easily democracies collapse. They were alarm bells against complacency and fatalism—“the politics of inevitability,” in the words of the historian Timothy Snyder, “a sense that the future is just more of the present, that the laws of progress are known, that there are no alternatives, and therefore nothing really to be done.” The warnings were justified, but their emphasis on the mechanisms of earlier dictatorships drew attention away from the heart of the malignancy—not the state, but the individual. The crucial issue was not that Trump might abolish democracy but that Americans had put him in a position to try. Unfreedom today is voluntary. It comes from the bottom up.

We are living with a new kind of regime that didn’t exist in Orwell’s time. It combines hard nationalism—the diversion of frustration and cynicism into xenophobia and hatred—with soft distraction and confusion: a blend of Orwell and Huxley, cruelty and entertainment. The state of mind that the Party enforces through terror in 1984, where truth becomes so unstable that it ceases to exist, we now induce in ourselves. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 June 2019 at 7:14 am

Measles for the 1%

leave a comment »

Lisa Miller has an interesting if somewhat depressing article in The Cut:

On an unseasonably chilly morning in May, three dozen or so plaintiff-parents, most of them from the Green Meadow Waldorf School, showed up at the Rockland County Courthouse, looking, in their draped layers and comfortable shoes, like any PTA from Park Slope or Berkeley. They were virtually vibrating with expectation and stress. For four long months, on behalf of their kids, they had been on the phone, sending off bullet-point emails, arranging meetings, coordinating calendars, and taking time off work, in an endless battle that had so far cost them hours of lost income and created child-care hassles — and made them into national pariahs besides. Today’s proceedings, they hoped, would result in a decision that might enable them to move on with their lives.

When legal arguments began, small smiles appeared on the parents’ faces. The opposition’s lawyer came off as clumsy, like an oversize actor fumbling his lines. Their lawyer, on the other hand, exuded a smooth confidence bordering on arrogance, an attitude that seemed to swell as he approached the lectern. Michael Sussman, 65 years old and educated at Harvard Law, is the most prominent civil-rights crusader in the Hudson Valley, having made his mark at 30, while working for the NAACP, when he helped to desegregate the Yonkers public schools. Now Sussman, who happened to have sent his own seven children and stepchildren to Waldorf schools, was defending his clients against the intrusion of local politicians into their personal decisions and private lives.

As he stood before the judge, Sussman’s voice rose in a slow crescendo. Recent actions by Rockland County against his clients were “infuriating,” he said; they pandered to biased constituencies and were rooted in “fundamental hysteria.” And then he roared. “Executive authority has its limits!” The parents were as still as forest animals, riveted. Their lawyer was articulating what they fervently believed: that even amid the biggest outbreak of measles in the United States since 1994 — with 200 cases in Rockland County, their own backyard — it was their right as citizens not to vaccinate their kids. This conviction had become for them a matter of conscience and principle. Most had kept their kids out of school for almost half the year rather than take them to the pediatrician for a shot.

If you live among or near certain quarters of the progressive left, among the art and fashion and tech elites who shop at farmers’ markets and worry about toxins in the air and water and believe that hiring a doula may gentle today’s medical-industrial approach to giving birth, then you have probably heard of Waldorf schools. Perhaps you have friends whose children go to one, or perhaps you’ve yearned for such a community for your own, knowing that Waldorf signals a countercultural wholesomeness, a respite from the onslaught of modern forces you’re pretty sure aren’t good for kids: the wide-open access to violence, snark, and pornography available with every Wi-Fi connection; the birthday-party goody bags stuffed with plastic crap; the stress and anxiety you see on very young children already worried about how they’ll do on the test. If you are the kind of person who sees self-interested, app-driven American capitalism as a threat to the preciousness of childhood and to a durable, intimate family life, then you are, at least conceptually, in Waldorf’s prospective audience. Waldorf parents, many of whom are themselves deluged by busyness and stress, agree that they will expose their children to no technology — none, including television, movies, and recorded music, even on long car rides — until middle school. The parents who work at Apple, Google, and Hewlett-Packard and send their kids to the Waldorf School of the Peninsula, in Menlo Park, California, endorse these limits with psychic relief — they know too well what their kids need protection from.

Waldorf pioneered this off-piste approach to raising kids, but it does not have a monopoly on the many ways liberal parents try to circumvent the institutionalized options that dominate the public-school system: “free” schools; home-school collectives; schools boasting “child-centered learning”; mountain, backcountry, or farming schools. There are about 300 Waldorf and Waldorf-inspired institutions in the U.S. (and more than 3,000 worldwide). Each offers an arts-based curriculum in which children are encouraged to play outdoors, use their imaginations, and think for themselves. In Waldorf schools, children become proficient at knitting and sewing, gardening and painting. Waldorf kids know how to juggle at young ages and to bind books by hand as teenagers. No one wastes a precious minute prepping for or taking a standardized test, because everyone on a Waldorf campus agrees that children are far more than brains to be filled, unreflectively, with meaningless facts and that real learning happens when the body — and the soul — are engaged as well.

Overwhelmingly white, affluent, and well educated, Waldorf parents identify as cultural creatives and nonconformists. Satisfied families describe their Waldorf kids as puppyish, freewheeling Pippi Longstocking types who grow up into intellectually curious, competent, self-confident people who thrive, as Sussman boasts his own children have done, at Wesleyan and Swarthmore and Oxford, working as videographers, nature illustrators, and the builders of nonprofits. Eric Utne, founder of The Utne Reader, that alternative digest for the left, sent his four sons to Waldorf schools; when he stopped running his magazine in 2000, he became a Waldorf teacher himself. Utne loves Waldorf for its “unhurried” approach to childhood. The schools represent the progressive counterargument to the vaunted “early reading” programs of public schools, which start drilling kids on vowel sounds in pre-K. According to Waldorf’s pedagogy, kids don’t read until they’re 7 or 8 years old, and because they’re not forced or rushed into it, they embrace literature with natural interest and hunger, Utne told me. He has seen third-graders devouring Plato and the fantasy series Dune.

Across the country, in every state, great numbers of these specially nurtured children remain unvaccinated. Apart from certain religious or ethnic groups particular to certain geographic regions — pockets of the ultra-Orthodox in Brooklyn and Rockland, say, or pockets of the survivalist right — Waldorf kids have some of the lowest vaccination rates in America. In California, Waldorf schools, along with home schools, have some of the lowest vaccination rates — many as low as 20 or 30 percent, and some as low as 7 percent. The Brooklyn Waldorf school has the ninth-lowest vaccination rate in Kings County, and in Manhattan, the Rudolf Steiner Waldorf school is No. 7. At the start of the school year in 2018, Green Meadow had the third-lowest vaccination rate in Rockland County after two yeshivas in Monsey. “All the Waldorf schools are horrible,” says Peter Hotez, co-director of the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development. “There are several in Texas I would not consider safe for children.”

All states require kids to prove they’ve received a full schedule of vaccinations before they enter school. But a large majority of them, 47, also offer exemptions to parents who say their religious or spiritual beliefs prohibit vaccination, granting them a kind of “conscientious objector” status. And 16 states offer a broader “philosophical” exemption to those who wish to refuse vaccines on secular but moral grounds. Objectors have typically been members of very conservative or fringe sects who believe, for example, in the healing power of prayer or, as in the case of Christian Science, the ability of the mind to resist disease. The Amish have often opposed vaccination, and certain Muslim groups, especially those originating in Nigeria, Pakistan, and Afghanistan but also the Nation of Islam, have regarded vaccination as a malevolent government conspiracy. Segments of the Dutch Reformed Church see vaccines as impeding a person’s divine destiny.

In recent years, the number of parents seeking religious and philosophical vaccine exemptions has grown, and it is increasing little by little every year. Jews, including ultra-Orthodox groups, have traditionally accepted vaccination, but as this year’s outbreak in and around New York City shows, that is changing. Fears of vaccines causing autism persist, but that is only one thread of the story. A second thread, Hotez believes, is predatory peddlers of disinformation targeting especially vulnerable communities in order to market alternative therapies. But the phenomenon is much more expansive than even that. In the 2017–18 school year, 7,044 kindergartners in Texas had nonmedical exemptions. There were 3,344 in Washington State; 3,427 in Oregon; 4,753 in Michigan; and approximately 2,000 each in New Jersey and New York. But the number of unvaccinated children in the U.S., though small, has risen significantly in the past year. According to the CDC, the percentage of unvaccinated children increased from 0.8 percent in 2016 to 1.1 percent in 2017. These three tiny decimal points represent a huge increase to about 63,555 unvaccinated kids a year. And vaccination refusal is a contagion, like the measles. People who don’t vaccinate their children tend to live among people who also don’t vaccinate their children.

How and when did liberal parents travel so far from Dr. Spock? The measles vaccine was approved in 1963, six years before Americans landed on the Moon, at a moment when technological progress was a joyride Americans took en masse. But in one generation, the kids of those Spock-raised kids have seemingly lost faith in progress and in the wisdom of the conventional wisdom, regarding every figure along that formerly congenial hierarchy — the scientists, the pharmaceutical companies, the government approvers, the politicians, even the wise and gentle pediatricians — as an object of suspicion and a plausible agent of the systemic harm that is being done, unconscionably, to kids. And in place of faith in experts, they have developed an alternative parenting culture built on anxiety about all the ills that might befall children (sickness, damage, death) and a sense that they, and only they, know how to protect the specialness, and purity, of their kids. To preserve that sanctity, parents have to begin to regard the material world — everything from movies to memes to vaccines — as contaminating. In some circles, at least, liberal American parents have evolved from emulating the Jetsons to emulating the Amish in one generation, always with the insistence that they’re doing it for the kids.

n almost every Waldorf kindergarten, the walls are pink. Not just a flat hardware-store pink but a dappled, translucent, rosy pink. Rudolf Steiner, the Austrian intellectual who started the first Waldorf school in Stuttgart in 1919, called the method of application Lasur, German for “glaze.” According to Steiner’s color theory (derived from Goethe, whom he admired), kindergarten walls ought to be comforting but not confining, so a child can feel that the boundary between indoors and outdoors is in some sense permeable. The décor in a Waldorf kindergarten is prescribed as well. It looks domestic but intentional, like Little House on the Prairie went to Stockholm on vacation. There are usually curtains, also pink or red, and a table where items from the natural world are displayed: a vase of flowers, a handful of seashells, leaves, rocks. There may be a kitchen. Housework — including sweeping, gardening, baking, and darning — is a regular part of every day.

Every toy in a Waldorf kindergarten is constructed from natural materials. The tea set, including the cups and saucers, is carved of wood, and the stuffed kitties are knitted wool. Waldorf cloth dolls, famously, wear no facial expression, so children can feel free to impose their own ideas of mood and character on their make-believe games instead of receiving cues from a mass manufacturer. A Waldorf kindergarten is also stocked with ordinary objects — blocks, scarves, bits of yarn — that children can use to build their imaginary worlds. “Anything can be anything” is what Waldorf teachers say.

“My son can knit, he can sew, he can light fires, he can forage,” says Susanne Madden, a small-business owner with a first-grader at Green Meadow. “If the zombie apocalypse were tomorrow, he will be fine, but the kid next door, who’s on his iPad all the time, he won’t. My child is not in the grind, he has no anxiety, he’s not being dragged from place to place. He’ll happily play with two sticks, two stones, and a hedge.”

Madden picked up a pamphlet advertising Green Meadow at a farmers’ market. She went to school in Ireland, and her husband is Irish, and when their child was born, they realized they wanted something more nurturing than a conventional public school. They visited Green Meadow and felt right at home. Although Waldorf schools have tried to adapt to the modern world, they retain an antiquated, mystical, European feel: With its low buildings and wooden bridges set in a grassy dell, Green Meadow looks as if its architects had been hobbits. In the early grades, kids are taught fables, myths, and fairy tales — often from the Brothers Grimm and other children’s stories popular in Steiner’s day — which they are expected to memorize. As soon as they are able, they copy the stories they’ve memorized into blank books in their best cursive writing, eventually using fountain pens, and illustrate them, so by the end of the year each child has made what amounts to an illuminated manuscript. Math is taught through games with little faceless gnome toys — like Smurfs or trolls, if they were made by hand and sold at craft fairs. Every Waldorf child learns to play a special wooden recorder, called a pentatonic flute, and, even in high school, to dance, in broad, careful motions, sometimes waving silk scarves or toy swords, according to a choreography Steiner invented called “eurythmy.” Each fall, most Waldorf communities gather to celebrate Michaelmas with a pageant that enacts the story of St. George slaying the dragon. In Waldorf performances, he merely “tames” it.

Steiner developed his belief system (which Waldorf people call “a spiritual philosophy”), known as “anthroposophy,” after having personal experiences in which he spoke with the dead and had visions in which he saw the plans of the gods. Although Waldorf schools say they’re secular and no teacher ever explicitly instructs children in the tenets of Steiner’s philosophy, this system does form the basis of Waldorf education, as the schools acknowledge: According to an FAQ on the website of the Association of Waldorf Schools in North America, “Waldorf education … has its foundations in anthroposophy.”

Of course, very few Green Meadow parents officially identify as anthroposophists. Indeed, most admit, laughing, that they can’t even pronounce the word, and while some dabble in the study groups offered by expert faculty after school, more of them say they’ve attempted to read Steiner and found him incomprehensible. But through osmosis or proximity almost all have come into contact with anthroposophy’s core belief, which they regard with varying degrees of skepticism: Reincarnation and karma are real, and each child is born to particular parents to fulfill a particular destiny.

When Steiner started his Waldorf school, vaccines for tetanus, diphtheria, and whooping cough were less than a decade away, and the mystic — watching scientific progress and the rise of industrial-era materialism with a wary eye — warned that vaccination could impede proper spiritual development and “make people lose any urge for a spiritual life.” Without the right interventions, Steiner thought, a person receiving a vaccine could sustain damage that would carry into a subsequent life.

The job of the teacher, then, is a sacred one: to guide children through the stages of childhood with wisdom and gentleness so that each child may attain the freedom, competence, and curiosity to fulfill his or her destiny. Steiner followers say children younger than 7 especially need a low-stress environment, marked by gentle, comforting domestic routines, because they are still partially connected to the spirit world. At age 7 (after they lose, in Waldorf parlance, their “milk teeth”), children come “awake,” which is why the third-grade classrooms are painted orange-yellow and why it’s the right time to teach the kids to read. Fourteen to 21 is a time of  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 June 2019 at 9:57 am

Why uncaring Christians advocate for the unborn

with 2 comments

Dave Barnhart writes on Facebook:

The unborn” are a convenient group of people to advocate for. They never make demands of you; they are morally uncomplicated, unlike the incarcerated, addicted, or the chronically poor; they don’t resent your condescension or complain that you are not politically correct; unlike widows, they don’t ask you to question patriarchy; unlike orphans, they don’t need money, education, or childcare; unlike aliens, they don’t bring all that racial, cultural, and religious baggage that you dislike; they allow you to feel good about yourself without any work at creating or maintaining relationships; and when they are born, you can forget about them, because they cease to be unborn.

You can love the unborn and advocate for them without substantially challenging your own wealth, power, or privilege, without re-imagining social structures, apologizing, or making reparations to anyone. They are, in short, the perfect people to love if you want to claim you love Jesus, but actually dislike people who breathe.

Prisoners? Immigrants? The sick? The poor? Widows? Orphans? All the groups that are specifically mentioned in the Bible? They all get thrown under the bus for the unborn.

– Dave Barnhart (original post)

Written by LeisureGuy

19 May 2019 at 7:11 am

Posted in Daily life, Law, Religion

A Sociologist of Religion on Protestants, Porn, and the “Purity Industrial Complex”

leave a comment »

Isaac Chotiner writes in the New Yorker:

In his new book, “Addicted to Lust: Pornography in the Lives of Conservative Protestants,” Samuel L. Perry draws on interviews and survey data to show how the availability of Internet porn is affecting traditional, religious Christians. Focussing on America’s Protestant majority, and specifically its pious members, Perry finds that pornography is leading to depression and unhappiness, and it’s disrupting marriages and communities. His book is not an anti-pornography jeremiad; he’s a sociologist of religion, and his work raises questions about how conservative communities are dealing with easy access to material that they find sinful.

I recently spoke by phone with Perry, who teaches at the University of Oklahoma. During our conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity, we discussed why porn use might be affecting conservative Protestants more than other conservative religious groups, the different ways that religious Americans think about masturbation within the context of marriage, and whether he has changed his views on pornography since starting his research.

How are you defining conservative Protestants?

I went back and forth on whether or not to call this group evangelicals, and I decided not to. For all intents and purposes, we’re talking primarily about evangelical Christians. My decision to avoid the term evangelical is because I don’t necessarily have the political connotations in mind that people think about when they think of white evangelicals, especially since 2016. The people who I’m really talking about are theologically conservative Protestants. People who take the Bible very seriously and take the Christian sexual ethic very seriously.

What was your biggest takeaway from the surveys you studied and your own interviews?

Pornography is becoming more widespread, more prevalent. More people are viewing it than ever, and it’s becoming more mainstream than ever. And so there’s this big debate about whether or not pornography has consequences in people’s lives: whether it can be addicting and whether it can affect us in negative ways; make you chronically impotent or make you a sex monster. What I found is that, whatever we think pornography is doing, those effects tend to be amplified when we’re talking about conservative Protestants. It seems to be uniquely harmful to conservative Protestants’ mental health, their sense of self, their own identities—certainly their intimate relationships—in ways that don’t tend to be as harmful for people who don’t have that kind of moral problem with it.

The effects of pornography aren’t just about watching images on a computer screen but what that activity means to your community. It’s what that activity means to you. And so, with conservative Protestants, you have this fascinating paradox of a group of people who hate pornography morally. They want to eradicate it from the world. And yet, statistically, they will view it slightly less often than your average American. And so you have this paradoxical situation of a group of people who collectively hate it, and yet, as individuals, they semi-regularly watch it. Especially the men. What are the consequences of that kind of incongruence in their lives?

What are the individual consequences, and what are the larger consequences for their communities?

Well, in terms of individual consequences, what we find is that, more often, there’s a connection between viewing pornography and experiencing depression. But we found it’s really only for men who are violating their own moral beliefs when they’re viewing it. In other words, it’s not necessarily that porn makes you depressed. It’s watching porn when you’ve already said that that’s an immoral thing and you don’t want to do it. That can lead to guilt and shame that makes you feel crappy about yourself, that you are immoral, that you’re violating something that’s deeply held and sacred.

And yet they watch it just a little bit less than everybody else does, which means that they are experiencing this kind of moral incongruence quite often, and it has consequences for their mental health. They have a greater likelihood of experiencing depression and depressive symptoms, like feeling bad about yourself, feeling like there’s a sadness that you can’t shake. This also has to do with the experience of feeling like you need to hide or lie about it.

Conservative Protestant women who view pornography experience this even more than men. Conservative Protestants tend to be what we would call “complementarian” in their views of gender—they believe that women have certain roles and that men have certain roles, and that they’re designed by God in different ways. And a corollary of this idea of complementarianism is that women and men believe that they have different sexual appetites, that men are more physical and more attracted to the visual. And so men and porn just kind of go together like hand in glove.

That’s not a good metaphor.

Yeah, sorry. But for women, if they are lusting over things visually—if they are looking at things like pornography and masturbating to them or getting turned on—they really feel like an extreme pervert. They experience what I would call a double shame. They are violating their own sexuality in a way that God doesn’t want. So they’re sinning, but they’re also sinning like a man. And so they feel trapped. They feel like there’s nobody they can talk to, because nobody else understands that experience. They don’t have pastors they can talk to, because most of the pastors are men, and they wouldn’t feel comfortable sharing those kinds of experiences. And so a lot of the Christian women feel like you have to deal with that temptation alone.

What are some of the larger cultural consequences?

Let me give you one more example of the individual consequences. One of the things that repeatedly came up is that pornography tends to be associated with poor relationship quality.

So you mean people who view more porn are in worse relationships? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 May 2019 at 10:03 am

%d bloggers like this: