Tuesday, January 22, 2013

More About the Search for Truth

I want to clarify what I mean when I talk about encouraging our youth to seek for truth.  The frequent posture of Christians is to protect our kids, even after they are mature. There is an age for protection.  But as they mature, they will be exposed to the marketplace of ideas . . . hopefully . . . and no walls of protection will work.

If God is there, He resides in truth (otherwise He wouldn't be there).  So, we should not fear truth and the search thereof.  We should fear being misled, including being misled by those within the Church.  The best way to protect our youth is to educate them in how to humbly and honestly search for truth and to encourage them to explore.  The wrong way is to tell them that they "ought" to believe such and such, because that is God's will (without any supporting evidence).  Because, if they simply follow the "ought" then they are gullible and subject to manipulation and we break their intellect . . . that part which is God-given and should be whole. That's not what we want. We want smart, free, kind, youth who don't fear the unknown. All honest questions are good. Just restating what I said in a different way.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Loosing Our Religion . . . on NPR . . . and Lady Gaga

With now 33% of people under 30 saying that they have no religion affiliation  NPR did a week long series about the phenomena which they titled "Loosing Our Religion."  I listened to most of the interviews.  I found several things striking.

The first one is regarding why they are leaving. I've spoken about this many times but it appears that the main reason that the young people are leaving is that they are given few choices.  Beyond the 33% that say they have no religion, the other statistic that I quote a lot is that more than 80% of those kids raised as evangelicals, leave the church (so 50% say they have religion but no church).

It reminds me of a classic conversation I had with a mom a few years ago.  She is very involved with my old evangelical church and I had watched her son grow up in it.  Her son is now in his twenties and I see him around town.  I've tried to talk to him and he is always defensive and responds back, "I'm sorry I haven't been in church, I've been busy."

I've explained to this young man that I don't go to that church anymore either and I couldn't care less if he was going to church or not. But I did honestly care and want to know how and what he was doing ( he lost his dad just a few years ago).

I ran into this mom one day and mentioned that I had tried to talk to him.  She rolled her eyes, "He is just being rebellious right now and said he didn't want to go to church any more. He says he wants to 'just go on and find the truth,' how stupid!"

"Stupid? I thought. No, it is very, very wise and honorable . . . wanting to find the truth. It is a wonderful place for anyone to search for truth. The really regrettable place is where people settle for magic (in place of truth) or just give up searching and fill their minds with distractions so they never have to think about it again.

So if you were from another planet and looked at the church scene, you really would wonder, why in the hell does anyone stay?  Really?  Especially people under the age of 30 . . . or 40.

The Church has created this culture where, as I was talking last time, dogma is given as a substitute for seeking and knowing truth, in the same way that aspartame substitutes for sugar. But dogma is lazy, not requiring thinking.  As I've heard many people say, "the church says such and such, so I believe it . . . because it is my church."  Somewhere there is magical thinking that the church wouldn't teach certain things if they weren't true because God wouldn't allow it.  Now there are a thousand different ways (or denominations) of expressing dogma, so (continues the magical thinking) I'm at this particular church because God put me here.  The glue to really try and make this stick, beyond the "just don't think" mantra, is the "social coercion" glue.  There is tremendous pressure to just believe x,y and z . . . or you are morally bad, un-spiritual . . . or rebellious.  Additionally they also use mis-information about the proponents of the opposing sides ( "the evolutionists make up their facts, faking fossils and etc., so that they don't have a need for a god and can have orgies in their private world").

So my concern is just for those leaving, but for those choosing to stay.  The culture of the common church acts like a filter, filtering in those who don't think and those who are most vulnerable to coercion or guilt.  I'm not saying this in absolute terms, meaning that there are plenty of twenty-somethings who stay fully engaged in the Church and are thinkers and are not prone to guilt manipulation.

But I think we are loosing, not the rebellious, immoral kids (as we would like to paint the picture) but the thinking, imaginative and those with a zeal for exploration and a hunger to know . . . to know truth.  That is the sad part and it doesn't have to be this way.

Not all churches are equal.  I've been to horrible ones who pile the guilt manipulation onto the backs of the kids, saying over and over how they have grieved God with their questions (watch the movie Jesus Camp to see what I mean). Then there are good churches, that encourage thinking, exploration and never use guilt.  My present church is one of the best I've attended in this regard.  I was very pleased that when I taught a movie class a few weeks ago, the kids answered my questions correctly.  For example, I said that one of the purposes of media, after entertaining, is to ask questions.  In the end I asked, "Are there bad questions . . . that should not be asked?"  The kids quickly and unanimously answered "NO!" In my old church, I'm sure they would have said yes.

What a gift are those rare (very rare) churches that teach kids how to think and not what to think.  This "how to," is the same "how to" that could taught in any logic class taught in a department of philosophy.  For example, really getting to know the "logical fallacies" that so many fall for.

This brings me to my last point . . . Lady Gaga.  She was preforming in our area this week. The news station covered her concert and it was ironic.  She had a "tail gate" trailer where kids could seek counseling in bullying, suicide prevention and other topics . . . for free.  Several of the people in the crowd outside were obviously gay.   Lady Gaga draws them because of her message . . . they are real, they are worthy they are somebody that deserves love and respect.  But buzzing in the background, the reporter pointed out, was a propeller plane flying closely overhead pulling one of those long banners that read "You Were NOT Born This Way."  It was supposedly rented by Christian pro-family group.  I had to ask myself, where would Jesus be if He were there today?  Flying the plane . . . or in the trailer? You can guess what I think.

I didn't connect the dots as I got side tracked but other main reason people said they were loosing their religion was that they couldn't accept the Church's view of social issues and that's how I connected it to Lady Gaga.

Thursday, January 17, 2013


 No word is more abused than this one.  I was thinking a lot about "truth" this week as I listened to commentary about the anticipated confession of Lance today.  I didn't hear the interview so I'm not speaking of knowledge about what was  said or what wasn't.  But, the discussion this week wasn't about the fact of sports doping . . . but of deception.

I too find it hard to believe when I see how someone can weave such a complex fabrication.  I think it gets to the point that they must start believing their own lies.  But Lance destroyed people in the process of hiding his lie. But to some, he will get off easy. They will justify his lies by his, bigger than life, heroism. But what about the people hurt by him?  What about those he sued and defrauded of a half a million dollars? What about those who careers he ruined buy making the world believe that they were the ones lying?

Enough about Lance.  This is about truth.  I am a great believer in truth, but I must define what I mean.

Someone sent me an e-mail recently that I had "wondered from the truth" in this blog. I have no idea what they are talking about. But I strongly suspect that they weren't talking about the same notion of truth as I mean here.

I believe in absolute truth and that truth being defined simply (and a child would understand this) as that which mostly approximates reality.  If God is there, and I think He is, then he has to be truth. When I was an evangelical, "truth" really meant "doctrine."  I was a reformed Christian, meaning I followed the tenets of John Calvin.  Now I would have sworn that I followed Calvin because it was the "truth" and I was so smart (and spiritual) that I had figured it out.  But in reality, with a bit of linguistic deconstruction, what I really meant was it was the belief that was part of my personal world.  I was a Calvinist, honestly, because the guy who led me to the Lord was a Calvinist and he got me involved with a Presbyterian church.

So most  religious persons, those who tout "truth," really mean the doctrine that they have accepted, usually for social reasons.  Maybe their parents believed that way. Or, like me, they happened to intersect with Christianity at a precise theological point.

Truth is not relative.  I also haven't given up hope of knowing real truth.  But this "knowing" must come with the humility of knowing that we are fallen, our intellect is fallen and we make intellectual mistakes sometimes.  I guess I no longer have patience for those with absolute certainty.  Religious people feel that they have a moral obligation to their denomination (or major religion) to be certain (while in their heart of hearts, in the dark of the night they doubt). Those of other philosophical orientations bare the same "certainty."  The atheists, the new age people are just like the evangelicals.  And oddly, some of the most dogmatic are those who are relativists . . . all rivers flow to the same sea . . . relativists.  They are certain that there is no certainty. 

I love science.  I love being around the smart and humble scientists. Those who come to the universe (reality in other words) and ask with complete openness to learn the answers. Certainly there are scientists out there who are just as dogmatic as the evangelicals about their own theories. But those arrogant scientists are the exception.

I will let this topic rest. I want to come back and talk again about the youth that have left Christianity because their only choice was to believe dogma or  . . . leave.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A Rational Melancholia

It probably doesn't make any difference the source of any form of depression . . . but then again it certainly feels of a different flavor when it comes from the emotions as compared as from the rational brain. This time it is from the rational brain.

I have been victim of the terrible beast twice in my life. While rationality in response to real events may have been the catalyst, both times it took on an emotional life of its own.  It became visceral and circular.  The circulation was typhoon-like, twisting and turning and drawing me downward in ever tightening circles towards despair.

Depression is like the last ring in Lord of the Rings. It is powerful, beautiful, enticing . . . but quite dangerous. It must be handled with great care.

Depression is beautiful in the way it is part of the human experience. If the death of a mother brought no grief (acute depression) to the child, or vice versa, then that would be indeed be ugly.So, I don't see depression as the enemy, but a voice.  In the gentle and beautiful whispers of that voice, it tells me that I am alive.  I'm not a stone because I feel and can hurt.  That is a good thing.  Only the inanimate feels no hurt or sadness. But the voice can lie too and tell you that there is no hope . . . anywhere.  It takes great skill to know when to turn the voice off.

I've been feeling this depression for a few months. It is rational in the sense that I know what the source is, compared to so many of my patients who say, "I'm damned depressed and I have no clue as to why."  That is an emotional and possibly endogenous place.

I've spoken of this many times but as I'm getting older, I'm feeling a sense of perpetual loss.  I see no gains on the horizon.  Maybe it is at this juncture that you must make this transition from hope in this life--you know that some day you have some great accomplishment or some great profession or some great talent or some great lover or some great something--and focus on the life to come and the intrinsic hope that lays there.

I awaken each morning knowing I'm a day older.  I'm closer to all my children being far away, loosing my mother, loosing my dear aunt and only God knows who else.  Each day I'm loosing more of physique and my freedom from physical pain.

Many, if not most, people combat their feelings of grief with an emotional opium.  This opium usually comes in the way of distractions.  Football games on TV.  Sitcoms. Great books. Dance lessons. Trips to Europe or worst of all, pretense that Jesus makes us all well . . . and religiously inanimate.

I can't even have this conversation with evangelicals because they are so self-deluded into thinking that depression or even a brief sad feeling is in-congruent with being spiritual. So they seal their sad thoughts in concrete and toss them into the sea and with each toss they become a bit more inanimate.

I have no desire to "transcend" this dark life into a opium of denial through proper meditations and mental gymnastics.  You know, the power of positive thinking.

I can't have this conversation with Denise for two reasons. For one, she was shipwrecked with my when my depression brought us both down . . . twice. Secondly, her way of coping is the Hallmark way. That seems to work well for her, but not for me.  She asks me, "Who are you to be sad with the world is starving and you have food on the table?"  My sorry offends her . . . and scares her.  I find myself apologizing over and over if I say I'm sad.  But I am sorry for disrupting her happiness (as thin as I think it is).

Praise God (I say this with sincerity and not blasphemously) that Jesus was damned depressed at times.  Man, how he could weep. I bet he felt grief like none of us ever have.  Jesus is the friend of those who feel and he doesn't even know the inanimate because it is so foreign to our design.

So, I have to find a way to allow my sadness of loss manifest in a healthy way but to thwarted its transformation into the downward spiral.  Do I fix my eyes on the world to come?  Do I practice my Solomon approach, enjoying the moment of the taste of a ripe banana, the smell of the musty sea outside my office door, the dance of pinks across the glaciers up on the mountain.  Hey, I think it was upon those very glaciers when my sadness started last August.  Even after training hard, the whole climbing team had to wait on me before we pushed to the summit. I felt so old. But I think the answer  lies there, somewhere in the moment of those joys.  I was able to hold my children at Christmas and many can't hold theirs.  I must treasure those things, somehow.  

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Again, In the Praise of the Artists

I just returned from seeing the film Les Miserables. I had read the book. I had seen the previous (non musical) movie. Yet, with that said, I will have to say (and without being melodramatic) it is the best movie I've seen in my life.  I am overwhelmed with the artistry.  It was the coming together of a brilliantly written story (Thanks Mr. Hugo), incredible acting, tremendous music, beautiful orchestra and unbelievable visual effects.

I was so overwhelmed by the talent, you have to walk away knowing that there is more to us than a random collection of elements. We are humans, creative and personal from a personal God.

But beyond that, and it is really hard to put into words, it is a profound exploration of the spectrum of human emotions.  When you leave an experience like this . . . you feel incredibly human.  A human created in God's image but subject to a deep an profound fall.  You look at human suffering throughout history and taste the injustices.  But injustices make no sense without the God-given concept of justice.

What a beautiful experience.

A Couple More Dots . . . and they don't connect either.

Dot Three. This dot has to do with Christian child rearing. I've talked about this many times.  What provoked this idea this week was the fact that a lady whom I wrote about before (but I won't mention her name here because last time her husband was able to find me and send me personal messages) was on "Katie" this week.  She had an adoptive son (the adoption wasn't complete) whom died from salt poisoning.    I was drawn to her case because an old college roommate of mine, and someone who I was very involved with in an evangelical group, is one of her pastors and has fought for her in the media.

This same pastor/friend of mine and I had a falling out a few years ago when he was selling "God-inspired" supplements that cure all known diseases including cancer.  It was part of a MLM scheme. I became furious when he told one of our old college friends that she should stop her chemotherapy for breast cancer and buy his supplements because that is what God would want.  But that's another story.

So I wrote about this lady and her case. She has been sentenced to life in prison for murder for supposedly force feeding her son salt as a punishment, which killed him.  After watching the piece on Katie, I felt a wave of guilt as I was quite hard on her.  I said in my first post that, a) I know she loved her son, b) this wasn't murder at all BUT, c) I thought they were stupid in the way they practiced evangelical child-rearing.  I regret such a strong statement.  I am clearly on her side but with reservations.  Of course there was a travesty of justice that a mother would be sentenced to life for murder when, at most, the child's death was accidental.

But here is where I have my doubts.  I spent 25 years deeply in the pit of evangelicalism and I raised five children within that pit. Thankfully, I was coming to my senses about a lot of things well before I walked away from evangelicalism and before my kids were seriously damanged. In the beginning I was a totally conformist parent. But as I started to buck the evangelical (James Dobson, Bill Gothard) norms, I was highly criticized. I've mentioned this before but some of my harshest critics now have grown children who are a complete mess. I'm talking about addicted to Oxycontin, prison time, multiple marriages, alcoholism and etc.   I am quite proud of how my kids turned out.  Four are in graduate school and the other, the artist, is a musician and house painter.  None of them have substance abuse problems, divorces, suicide attempts, alcoholism or anything close. So, surely, by God's grace, we did something right.

Now back to my point.  In the story about the mom (the mom who had an old friend of mine as a spiritual adviser) I smell the same evangelical sub-culture that I had been part of.  She admits that for punishment that she put hot peppers in her son's mouth and the day he died, she had given him a salty seasoning to drink as punishment.  This was the culture I was in.  Now she also claims that she didn't give him enough of the salty drink to kill him, but that he had eaten salt on his own.

 We were taught to beat our kids with wooden spoons. I think this was a Bill Gothard idea. Supposedly  the hollowness of the spoon would inflict a lot of pain, but the spoon would break just before you did serious damage (such as deep bruises that would show up at the pediatrician's office and force him to call the authorities).  I had friends on the mission field that also punished their kids with hot sauce in the mouth.

But I want to move beyond the technical aspects to the philosophical.  I want to try and make sense of the why.

In our old way of thinking, and in harmony with the point of this blog, we were deeply dualists.  We saw everything in life as either from God . . . or the devil.  So, all behavior of children had to come from one of those places.  We were taught that it was actually demons that where trying to take over our children. So, to rid them of the demonic influence we had to take punishment very, very seriously.  With that mind set you can see that the beating of the children was out of love (love + stupidity) in the same way that witches were burned because of the fear they would ruin a whole village.

But when you look at child rearing from a non-dualistic point of view, where behaviors can be explained as a consequence of learning and genetics as well as prior experiences, rather than demons and angels, you can take a rational approach rather than having to beat the hell (literally the "hell") out of the child.  There is also more patience.  In my early parent days,we thought that if we did one thing wrong, the child would be "spoiled" forever and their soul in hell would be our fault.  That is an unbearable pressure to do something . . . anything.

My wife and I are having a conflict over my Saint Bernard.  I regret getting him, even though I love him to death. But my wife hates him and sees him as evil and certainly not a saint.  She is mad at him because he sheds hair.  She is mad at him because he climbs on the couch and our bed. But most of all she is mad at him because he chewed up some really important books.

We see him differently.  She sees it as a moral problem. He thinks that her name for him is "Bad boy!"  I see it as a behavior problem that we must correct (except for the hair shedding) but that is isn't a moral problem. I see it the normal conflict of an animal dwelling among humans. So, I find it frustrating at times but I don't blame him and it doesn't make me hate him as I see things from his perspective.  He sees us sitting on the couch and the floor is hard. He likes to climb up to be close to us and etc.

So this is the child rearing attitude that I think is the problem (don't take me wrong. My wife didn't see our kids the way she sees our dog). So, this is why one passage in the whole of the Bible "Spare the rod and spoil the child" has created a whole industry about punishment for children.  Okay, enough for a day.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Dots that Don't Connect

Dot one. This will sound a little like Jeff's "Saturday Ramblings," in Imonk.  The point is, I miss writing.  One of the greatest joys I've ever known is intensive writing.  I use to write articles from medical journals.  I wrote a couple of insignificant books but had dreams (and starts) of many that I hoped would be more significant ones.

I use to come here often and carried with me one solid thought to put in text. But I am so consumed these days . . . and my consumption neglects my writing like someone being too busy to hold their lover anymore. Is it still love? When I do have time to write, I have to write so fast that my typos are so bad, worse than my usual dyslexic ramblings and are almost illegible in comprehension.

It is sad, in a way, but my consumption was deliberate. Two years ago I faced the incredibly sad day that my last child was leaving home.  I've been a father of 5 children, starting 28 years ago.  I knew nothing else. I am defined by "dad" and if I lost that, the intimate dad role, I was afraid that I too would cease to exist in the same way those "3-D" side walk caulk drawings quickly disappear under a brief spring shower.

I feared depression too . . . and maybe most of all.  I've walked through the valley of two serious depressions and I honestly don't think I could survive another.  Loosing my "fatherhood" could easily have been the last straw.  So, I fulfilled a dream of starting a headache clinic from scratch in order to consume my soul and to distract my thinking and my emotions from this season of loss.

The clinic is gaining on its two year anniversary. It has been hell. If the public was aware of the total nonsense that is required to run a clinic they would be outraged. So, my goal of finding a distraction has worked far too well.  But I'm starting to crave normalcy.

Dot two.  I've written before about Christian decision making.  This week I decided to buy a car.  It is bizarre the rapid flow of emotions entangled with this decision.  There use to be a commercial on TV where is at the check out in a grocery store and they are asked, "plastic or paper" and immediate a hundred imagines run through their mind as they try to make the correct decision.

I remember when I was an evangelical and believed that every single decision in life had a deep moral implication . . . and God-preference of which choice I should make.  It was scary trying to make the right choice.

On one side would be the self-denial, other's first, humble servant motives. On the other side, my personal desires.  It was assumed that only the altruistic motives should count . . . right?  It would quickly push us into this crazy world, like a fun house at a carnival . . . but it wasn't fun but just with all kinds of distorted mirrors.

Here is one example.

I was very, very poor when I was in graduate school.  I'm serious.  I often went a day or two without any food. I would go to public buildings (hospitals, hotels, dorms) and search the furniture for coins so I could buy a box of 19 cent Mac and Cheese.

I loved backpacking. I had saved and saved to buy some boots.  I had tennis shoes full of holes, which didn't work well on the trails.

Finally I had the $90 for the boots.  I picked them out of the REI catalog and wrote the check.  I had the check in my backpack and headed off to a Christian conference (I had forgotten to mail it).  At the conference, they had a missionary couple from Mexico speak.  They were raising money to go back.  The pressure was intense on the 500 + college students.  It was a deeply convicting message (after the missionaries spoke) about giving up our own material possessions for God's work and how God would repay us in some way.  So, I tore up my REI order and redirected the $90 to the missionary couple.

But then I noticed that our local Christian organization staff guy lived in a upper middle class house, and just bought a brand new car.  I was perplexed.  I asked one of the other leaders, "You know, as the leader guy said at the conference, that it hurts God when we spend money on our own, selfish desires.  How does the leader justifying buying a brand new car?'

That Christian group leader seemed perplexed and angered by my question.  He has the right to live in any kind of house he wants.  God has blessed him with a great house and a great car.  God loves His children and wants to bless them.

I still couldn't get my head around it. "But, we were just told that anytime we spend money on ourselves, it is selfish and hurtful to God.  Doesn't him buying a big, nice house in one of the best neighborhoods and a brand new car mean that he is spending money on himself?"

Then the leader got really made at me. "He is doing God's work. He needs a nice house to rest in for the ministry. He needs a reliable car to do God's ministry. He isn't spending it himself."

But I thought in my mind, how is that fair if I'm not allow to have hiking boots? Couldn't I hike as a part of ministry? I was still confused.  Looking back, I see so many mind-games that were played in that world . . . none of which make any sense.

So, as I worked though this idea of trading my 2000 car for a 2008 car, one with 160,000 miles for one with 52,000 miles . . . I wrestled with some of the same thoughts.  Yeah, I could get another 100,000 miles out of my car.  Yeah, there are people in Africa who will die because they don't have money for food or HIV drugs and if I didn't buy the car, I could send them the payments each month.

But, there has to be a peace that many of these day-to-day decisions are amoral. That God doesn't give a rat's ass one way or the other.  I still carry some guilt about making the trade.

I will stop here but I had about three more dots that I will leave in the pen.