Wednesday, August 25, 2010

On Obama, Islam, and Right Wing Rage

Mystified. Plain mystified. That is the only way I can describe my take on the political scene in the US these days. I have seen the country polarized before. I recall Vietnam days. Folks were polarized then. Much of it was generational. As a teenager in the late 60's and early 70's, I felt a million miles distant from my dad. What to do about the problem? My mom told me that Dad thought the problems would all go away if I was forced to get a haircut. As if the cause of the polarization in our country about the war, about civil rights, about worldview could be boiled down to hair.

That's the nature of extreme polarization. It comes down to simple solutions. The notion is one that spells out solutions to complicated problems as simple and easily implemented. Another thought associated with extreme polarization is demonization. Make a devil of those who disagree. This is common among fundamentalists. Fundamentalism thrives on the view of "us vs. them."

Hence the polarization. Currently it is fueled by the "rage in the right." We see it most clearly in the belief, supposedly held by a third of Republicans, that Obama is a Muslim. Never mind that he has a long public history as a member of a Christian denomination. Never mind that he has publicly stated that he is a Christian. Never mind his escalation of the war in Afghanistan-- a war that is clearly about killing Muslims. A war that kills both the radical and the innocent. So here I am, mystified by the crazy rhetoric.

This rage, and these accusations, demonstrate several characteristics of the fundamentalist mindset. First, there is an appeal to emotion over facts. Second, there is a xenophobia run completely amok. Finally, we can see the demonization that fuels it all. When you consider how all of this adds to the entire notion of "them vs. us" and contributes to the sense of being a righteous, picked-on remnant of the brave and true, it is easy to see how the right wing rage makes common cause with its fundamentalist cousins.

And the rest of us? Those not in the "Holy Club?" I think we watch it all and continue to be mystified. How did it all get this way?

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Breaking a CHild's Will?

It has been a very long time since I have had a post on this blog. I don't completely know why. I can't say, either, that I am turning over a new leaf and will be back to making regular posts. Still, this one seems to be calling for expression, so here it is.

As I have described before, on this forum and elsewhere, I am of the opinion that Christian fundamentalism tends toward family violence. I have written about the relationship between fundamentalism and intimate partner violence (spousal abuse). In fact, I have conducted a statistical study of the phenomenon. I have also written concerning fundamentalism and child abuse. What I want to discuss here is a common notion that many evangelicals and fundamentalists take as a credo when it comes to raising children: A child's will must be broken.

The notion here is that children are willful and that that willfulness is sin and tends toward more sin. It must be removed. A child's willfulness is overcome by requiring that a child ABSOLUTELY comply with the wishes of the parent. In short, the parent must win all showdowns. When I was a fundamentalist, I was also told to "tell em' once." I was to tell my kids what to do one time. If their willfulness came into play and they refused to obey, I was to "break their wills."

Breaking their wills meant much more than just delivering consequences for misbehavior. It meant that my children had to do exactly what I said. Say my child misbehaved in some way. It was not considered enough to warn my child of the consequences of misbehavior and, if he continued to misbehave, deliver the consequences and get on with life.

In contrast to facing the consequences and then defusing the situation by moving on, the situation had to be revisited until my child did EXACTLY as told. If it took 40 spankings (so I was told), so be it. The important thing is that the will is broken.

Bad choice! You see, all my children will ever have (they are now adults and it is all they still have) is their wills. How can they learn to stand strong in life when they have been cowered into submitting to everything someone else demands? I'm not saying there should be no consequences for misbehavior (no physical violence, of course), but a child's will should never be forced. S/he must understand that s/he has a choice. S/he can obey or accept the consequences. When a child is forced to bend to the will of another, the element of choice is taken away. With no choice, there can be no real moral growth. All that remains is a pathological brainwashing, perpetrated by an irresistible power.

What is worse, it is not forgotten. It all returns sooner or later. All of the anger, brokenness and fear.

So, the point of all this is simple, my friend. Don't attempt to break, or demolish the will of a child. In the end, the child will suffer and you will be the one who knows true brokenness.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Is Vermont Destined to "Turn Evangelical" After All?

I came across an interesting little report in the Baptist Press written by Terry Dorsett, Director of the Green Mountain Baptist Association. Mr. Dorsett first went to Vermont as sort of a "missionary" to the heathen, or at least the unenlightened. He's a Southern Baptist. Very evangelical and all of that. He reports no SBC presence in Vermont until 1963. In the past 8 years, the number of congregations has grown from 17 to 37. In 1999, there were less than 600 Southern Baptist worshippers. In 2008? Nearly 1900.

In fact, Dorsett reports that the SBC is one of the fastest growing evangelical churches in Vermont. The E Free, Assemblies of God, and Christian and Missionary Alliance are also on top of the game. In fact, one Alliance congregation sports an average attendance of 1,ooo+ every Sunday. All of this in the state that Gallup dubbed "the least religious state in America."

Even Dorsett admits that Vermonters don't find religion particularly important in their lives. Remember, this is the place that allowed the first same-sex unions. That is a battle that Mr. Dorsett seems particularly distressed to be losing. He writes how he has personally seen several homosexuals in Vermont find freedom from that detestable sin.

One has to wonder if he has read Mel White's Stranger at the Gate: To Be Gay and Christian in America . Many gay folks "fought that battle" with "sin" as Dorsett would call it. They fought it valiantly. In the end, however, they decided that they loved Jesus but that the Church-- always accusing and condemning-- had little to do with him.

He wraps up his "Baptist orgy" with a prediction of eventual victory for evangelical forces in Vermont. After all, he promises, "we offer them the only Hope that can change their lives." What unabashed evangelical claptrap and hubris! To think that ONLY evangelicals have hope to offer and not Catholics, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Lutherans, United Church of Ch...... Oh brother! Get real!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Seems South African Reformed Church Still Can't Decide About Apartheid

In 1982 the World Alliance of Reformed Churches suspended the Dutch Reformed Church of South Africa (NHKA) from the global alliance for its biblical and theological support of apartheid. Of course, come might ask why it took until 1982 for that action to occur, but that is beside the point here. Now, NHKA has applied for readmission to the WARC and they have been denied.

The WARC committee dealing with such matters has stated that first NHKA must deny apartheid "fully and completely." It seems, referring to the report of the WARC visiting team, that there are "deep division[s] in the church about moving beyond apartheid."

Some NHKA theologians have expressed frustration that the church will not officially identify apartheid as "unevangelical" and "evil." The topic was on the agenda of the NHKA 2007 General Synod for discussion, but it was too much of a hot potato to make it to the floor.

Now, we could be quick to condemn all of this. We surely could. And maybe rightly so. But, is it much different than the disenfranchisement of gay folks or folks who seem to come from the theological "left field" that cannot get a hearing in our churches? Perhaps NHKA is afraid of the skeletons of racism that still festers in its ranks. Perhaps we are xenophobic and homophobic. One thing is certain. You can't heal hate and fear by sweeping them under the carpet. They are only healed by bringing them out in the light of day.

Why did it take the WARC ( a body to which my denomination belongs) until 1982 to censor a member communion for hate? Is right, right, only when it is popular and politically correct and expedient?

Monday, June 22, 2009

PCUSA Still Trying to Find a Way to Gain Acceptance for Gay Clergy

As a long time member of the denominational church scene, I have observed two trends that are true-- at least in the world(s) I move (have moved) in. These trends are as follows:
  1. Clergy are generally more theologically progressive than the laity (I speak as one of the club-- the progressive clergy club).
  2. Church judicatories (i.e. general assemblies, synods, presbyteries, and church boards/sessions) follow a declining line of "liberal thought and practice"-- generally in the order listed.
All of this brings me to the third attempt in the last 12 years to see the PSUSA's position concerning "fidelity and chastity," a position that explicitly bars gay clergy, or at least gay clergy engaging in homosexual practice, from ordination and ordained ministry.

The move to rescind the church directive passed the PCUSA General Assembly, but required a vote of at least 87 of its 173 presbyteries to become policy. The move garnered only 69 presbyterial votes.

Terry Schlossberg of the conservative Presbyterian Coalition hailed the vote as a victory for Mom, apple pie, and God Almighty. He states: "It is well past time to acknowledge that the church today, as through history, knows her mind on this matter, and that is the mind of Christ."

But, hold on Terry! I'm not so sure. Twenty-eight presbyteries changed their vote from "no" to "yes" since the 2001 vote, while only 2 presbyteries seem to have caught the "mind of Christ on this one," going from "yes" to "no" (strangely including San Francisco Presbytery).

So, what will happen in the continuing saga of the PCUSA and gay clergy? Stalemate? Will all the anti gay folks just leave (they are hemorrhaging members)? Will the "pro gay folks get fed up and leave?" Or will they all find some common ground? Time will tell.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Why Big Folks Have Trouble Remembering Stuff About Being Little Folks (But Why it Still Causes Them Problems)

What do you recall about your childhood? I don’t remember much about mine. Snatches of this, hints of that. I am fifty-two. My sister is a year and a half older. When we talk about “those magical childhood days,” we often find that we remember them quite differently (including who was Mom’s favorite). Who’s right? Seems to me that I am. She always pulls the “age card.” “You’re too young to remember.” It can really make me angry. Problem is, she is probably right—at least in some cases. Childhood memory is a bit of a mystery, or maybe I should say, forgetting of childhood events is the real mystery.

There is a name for this forgetting phenomenon. It is usually termed childhood amnesia. It appears to be a robust effect that is well established [J.M. Fitzgerald, A Developmental Account of Early Childhood Amnesia. The Journal of Genetic Psychology, 152(2)]. It appears that the period of childhood amnesia extends from birth to age three or four—sometimes its can even extend to age 6 or 7. Referring to that time period at a later age, children and adults do show the “snatches” of memory that I have experienced, but they seem to take all of the “snatches” and “snippets” and form a “conglomerate memory” blending many things together and embellishing and subtracting from actual events— as adults present at the time of the original event occurrence can attest.

Newcombe et al [Remembering Early Childhood: How Much, How, and Why or (Why Not). Current Directions in Psychological Science, 9(2)] affirm that the phenomenon of Childhood amnesia is real, but that people continue to be able to recall parts of their lives from age two to five, however in much less detail and accuracy than from later periods. Implicit memories may be present, even if explicit ones are not. As we shall see, this may have some relevance for emotional content of memory, even if facts are sketchy. Lastly, Newcombe et al conclude that the autobiographical content of early memories may be missing. I would add that, even if they seem to be present, they might not be veridical.

Now, in the midst of this, I must hasten to say that research has continued to strengthen the case for a reasonably robust memory in toddlers. It seems to persist for days or weeks. So, that being the case, and taking, say age five as the “memory pick up point,” we are left with a mystery attested to by Eacott [Memory for the Events of Early Childhood. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 8(2)]. There have been many answers proposed from many theoretical perspectives to explain the “great forgetting.” Nevertheless, as of yet, no truly satisfactory consensus has been reached. One might say it is a mystery.

At any rate, I have been pondering a few real (shall we say “cult??”) classics from the late 60’s and early 70’s, namely Berne’s, Games People Play, Harris’, I’m OK- You’re OK, and Steiner’s, Scripts People Live. As I’m sure the fifty-ish+ crowd will recall, these are all classics of transactional analysis. Harris offered the most “pop view.” The others were more serious attempts. Of course, TA didn’t just “die out” in 1972 or so (just search the web!). It has long ago outgrown its moniker as a “pop psychology”—see for example TA for Today: A New Introduction to Transactional Analysis by Stewart and Joines, 1987, Lifespace Publishing. I think TA offers some useful insights here.
The basic notion is that we all have an inner Parent, Child, and Adult. The Parent sounds and does just like our parents. And it offers the same injunctions—don’t’s, but of course we are offered plenty of do’s as well. The Parent includes other parenting figures as well. Of course the Parent isn’t necessarily BAD. If that were the case, there would be little hope of socialization, and we might all be a bunch of criminals. However, the Parent can offer up a hefty dose of guilt and pain and leave us feeling not “good enough.” The Adult in each of us takes in the data from our world, the data from the Parent, and the data from our either quilt ridden or more free wheeling Child and tries to make sense of the world—deciding which data is correct and which is unhelpful or simply wrong.

As Steiner points out, we use all of this and, either in early childhood, or at least by early adolescence, form a script for our lives. It may be one that tells us we are successful. It may be the script of “The Lonely Loser.” It may be a helpful script, or a harmful one; the point is that we will ever try to live it out, because it helps us make sense of our world (unless there is a conscious effort to change it and a bunch of work to do so—TA teaches that we can always change our script).

We also choose some basic life position, such as “I’m OK and You’re OK.” Harris, borrowing Adler’s notion of a universal inferiority complex feels that, no matter how “good” our parenting, we all emerge from early childhood with a life position of “I’m NOT OK and You’re OK.” I believe that Berne and Steiner might argue that one. The gist of it all, however, is that we have “an inner voice” that we may not identify as the Parent or the Child, a position, perhaps I’m NOT OK, and a life script with a beginning, middle and ending, written long ago to make sense out of life. It is doubtful that we recognize these things unless they are pointed out to us and we think about them.

Cowan and Davidson in Salient Childhood Memories [Journal of Genetic Psychology (145) First Half] point out that when adults are asked to produce their earliest memory, the memories tend to be largely unhappy ones. Not all researchers have found this effect, however the study appears to be well done and carefully analyzed. Acklin et al [Predicting Depression Using Earliest Childhood Memories. Journal of Personality Assessment (53(1)], report that adults recounting earliest memories involving deprivation, loss of control, poor human interactions—just plain negative stuff—were more likely to be depressed as adults.
You may wonder why a writer about fundamentalism is interested in all of this. As a child I attended a Child Evangelism Fellowship Bible Club. It was full of five to nine- year olds. Every week, we sang songs, did crafts, all kinds of fun stuff. Then they got out the heavy guns. We were sinners and God had a place for sinners. We were all going to hell. If we didn’t know what that was, well they made sure they told us. What impact does it have on a six- year old to be told that s/he is so bad s/he is worthy of hell? A five- year old? If fundamentalist big people told this to five and six- year olds, do you think they did any less with four- year olds? You see, now we are somewhere in that zone of childhood amnesia. At this age the Adult within the child does not have the cognitive capacity to sort through the input they are receiving.

I think of the writings of James Dobson in the 1970’s and 80’s (before he toned it down a bit for his newspaper column). I recall Larry Christensen’s, The Christian Family, published in the early 1970’s—the child raising bible when I was a fundamentalist. I well remember their advice about spanking and “breaking the will of the child.” In fact, I often reflect on all of the hierarchal authoritarian parenting/family schemes set forth by fundamentalist Christians and all of the books on Child rearing in fundamentalist/evangelical bookstores, and I am concerned. I remember being a Jesus Freak in the early 1970’s (as part of the Jesus Movement) and seeing two and three- year olds spanked. I recall one father who, as part of the ritual, even made his two- year old bring him the paddle. When the boy was two, every night, the parents would tell him a bedtime story about “going to hell.” Finally, one night, the child came “unglued” and began screaming that he didn’t want to go to hell. His dad said, “The good news, Bobby, is that you don’t have to, if you accept Jesus.” The church was all-abuzz! “Bobby got saved that night!” It became a real model and point of celebration for the church. What a clever and loving father and mother! After all, the boy was saved and only two- years old!

The TA folks say that the basic life position and script are pretty well written by five, six, seven or so. The childhood amnesia folks tell us that we can’t recall why we wrote it. The personality researchers remind us that we hang on to the “bad memories”—even if we don’t have them quite right and they cause us problems later—depression, anxiety, and (from a TA perspective) a likelihood of defeatist scripts. And the fundamentalist “child development experts?” Well, they help ensure our kids will write dysfunctional scripts through “hellfire,” beatings, and confused love. There must be a better way.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

My Friend Got Upset

Have a good (correct that, GREAT) old friend.  We go back to the days of Jesus Freakdom, Christian communes, and being "dyed-in-the-wool" Charismaniacs.  We sort of parted theological company about 30 years ago.  Don't get me wrong.  His theology hasn't been exactly "static."  Nope.  He has shifted around a bit.  If we were both level 8 literalists "back in the day,"  he's probably a 5.67 now.  We ARE still great friends.  Only problem, and this rarely comes out, is that I now cruse at about a level 2.17.  That means I'm about 38% lower on the absolutism scale than my friend.  As I said, it rarely comes out, but....

Read the last post.  When I called him and told him that I was doing a statistical study of fundamentalism and domestic violence and that involved classifying denominations as evangelical/fundamentalist or mainline/liberal, it really seemed to irritate my old buddy.  I was rather surprised.  I guess fundamentalism is a rather "dirty" word, and nobody in the "evangelical camp" much wants to own it.  Yet, the web site of the National Association of Evangelicals reads like an updated version of the 1909 "name-maker" and "movement-maker," The Fundamentals.

Sad thing about it all is that statistical studies usually can't address individual cases (they cannot implicate any particular member of any particular church).  If a movement such as evangelicalism/fundamentalism is certain that the fruit it has to offer is good and can only better others, why worry about a scientific investigation of the situation?  After all, Barna Group has been using stats to "dig up dirt" on liberals for years.  If the research is fair, honest, and scientific and ethical, I say, study what you will, and let the chips fall where they may.  The only thing we all really MUST fear is ignorance.