Open thread for episode #849: Spirituality in Healthcare

Today I want to mention a few more things about spirituality in healthcare.

I fully understand that someone’s personal cosmology can play a role in their health. Extreme or prolonged stress is unhealthy. And religious beliefs, as part of a person’s overall worldview, can contribute to stress or relieve it, depending on the individual. I have no problem with a patient in mental or medical treatment asking for spiritual support. And I take no issue with a facility providing them that support. When I interviewed Dr. Poole we discussed how he used referrals to religious practitioners for a number of patients, even though he is openly atheist. He became concerned, though, for a number of reasons, discussed on past shows and blogs, when there was a move to shift the spiritual and religious responsibilities to the medical/mental health professional directly—forcing patients to provide “spiritual histories” and opening the door for professional psychiatrists to pray with patients as part of standard practice. The problems and potential for abuse continue to be a topic of debate in professional journals and within these communities. Again, Dr. Poole was invited on to talk about how he specifically unwittingly became embroiled in one such dialog within the pages of the journal for the Royal College of Psychiatrists in the UK.

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Open thread on AETV #843: Russell and Tracie

Thanks to Greg and Chip for the reminder to discuss “The Polar Express” today. I’d like to talk a little about the film’s handling of the Problem of Evil, using Santa as analogous to god, and using the character of Billy to represent the underprivileged of the world, and one of the unbelievers. The song “When Christmas Comes to Town,” describes Billy’s short life without any visit from Santa to his poor home, ever, and contrasts that against the message of a young, well groomed girl, who sings about all her happy Christmas memories. The song is sung as a contrasting duet. Here are the lyrics:

Billy:
I’m wishing on a star, and trying to believe
That even though it’s far, he’ll find me Christmas Eve
I guess that Santa’s busy, cause he’s never come around.
I think of him when Christmas comes to town.

Girl:
The best time of the year, when everyone comes home.
With all this Christmas cheer, it’s hard to be alone.
Putting up the Christmas tree, with friends who come around.
It’s so much fun when Christmas comes to town.

Presents for the children, wrapped in red and green.

Billy:
All the things I’ve heard about, but never really seen.

Billy & Girl together:
No one will be sleeping on the night of Christmas Eve.
Hoping Santa’s on his way.

Girl:
When Santa’s sleigh bells ring.

Billy:
I listen all around.

Girl:
The herald angels sing.

Billy:
I never hear a sound.

Girl:
And all the dreams of children.

Billy:
Once lost will all be found.

Girl:
That’s all I want when Christmas comes to town.

Billy and Girl together:
That’s all I want when Christmas comes to town.

After a visit to Santa’s magical world at the North Pole, Billy becomes a believer, and upon his return home finds that Santa has visited his home and left something. However, Billy is never provided with any explanation from Santa about why Santa favors the well-off children in his town, and seems to be years behind schedule visiting the more economically challenged households.

Billy is presented as a timid, shy, and humble personality. And so there is no reason provided to think that Billy has landed on the “naughty” list. And at such a young age, it can hardly be the case that Billy could be held to account  for not believing at times in his life when belief was not even possible, due to his cognitive development (at say ages 0 – 4 or so). Where was Santa then? How is his absence explained? How is Billy responsible for those missing Santa years and visits?

I personally think the story would have been better off eliminating the character of Billy. By including that child, the film presented a glaring error in the character of Santa, and also the narrative of rewarding good children annually with gifts, all over the world. Santa appears to be guilty of discriminating due to economic disadvantage, and no viable explanation is provided. Additionally, the blame is placed up on Billy in some respects for not accepting the narrative, when his brief life experience up to this point indicates that narrative is faulty. And that, also, is never corrected nor explained. If the film is going to present the problem, and reconcile that to Santa’s goodness, it should at least attempt to supply an answer or explanation. Presenting the problem and providing no justification for Santa’s negligence leaves the viewer hanging. Why even ask, if the goal is to explain Santa is good, and then leave no satisfying answer, except that Santa seems to think it’s correct to neglect Billy for the crime of being born poor–until Billy proves he’s worthy, by believing at an older age. Alternately, the Girl appears to have every advantage and not to have been overlooked in her earlier years in a far more prosperous home. She has also been provided, by Santa, every reason to believe in him. It’s an unfair contest on every level.

Anyway, that and calls.

Open thread on AETV 837: Russell and Tracie

Today we discussed “spirituality” in healthcare. Issues like hospitals becoming more religiously affiliated, Nursing standards including praying with patients, and Religious Trauma Syndrome’s development toward becoming a recognized issue.

One surprise I had was a blindside where a Deist, Dale, called in to quote-mine something I’d posted as a comment on an unofficial fan page, causally, several months ago, while I was at home watching Russell and Don host TAE. For the record, the OP of the original thread back in April (posted by the page’s creator and main admin, who is not affiliated with TAE) was this:

Caller Dale in Knoxville, TN. Is looking forward to talking to someone about Deism. Wants to talk to Matt, but Matt’s not on. The caller thinks he’s aligned with atheism, but doesn’t realize that it’s still irrational belief.

And here is my full comment, in that same thread, where I was posting as any other viewer, not as a TAE personality in any official TAE capacity. Dale was clearly trying to say, on the air today, that I was equating Deism with Westboro Baptist Church with respect to harm caused to society, and quoted only the final line of this full comment:

Just to note the phones at TAE call into the studio–not out. So, anyone who calls in, has contacted the show to present/defend their position. If he puts forward Deism, it should be shredded for the woo it is. It wouldn’t matter to me if it were 100% harmless, I’d still shred it based on it being unreasonable. It’s indefensible and illustrates an irrational position. And the person should be laid bare for that unreasonable position if they publicly espouse it. It might not be the thing someone sees as the number 1 enemy of society (short of promoting that believing irrational things is fine–which makes the position no more tenable than the theist position in terms of “is it reasonable?”), but it promotes bad reasoning, is irrational, and should not be protected from being called out as such. Luckily there is no economic pie that stops people from lambasting irrational beliefs that are both more harmful and less harmful, at the same time. I can say that everyone who supports their irrational views as “OK” is promoting shite and doing a disservice to society–and blast the Deist and Westboro Baptist together in one fell swoop.

Again, Dale quoted only the last line, totally ignoring everything above it. He badly wished to portray me as promoting that Deism and WBC are equal in all ways. As I got him to give up more info during the call, trying to jar my memory (I post a lot online and didn’t recall this line specifically), it became clear to me that a context was sorely missing. I then began to see how the line fit into my overall philosophy of “anti-woo.”

So, I tried, painfully, to explain to Dale that one might say “Examples of physical violation to another person might include slapping someone, or even raping them,” without attempting to assert that a rape is the equivalent of a slap. I explained I was saying “woo/unreasonable beliefs run a range of social harm, from things like Deism to things like WBC, but they are all examples of irrational thinking.” And if I were hosting on his original call, I would have approached arguments toward theistic groups and Deists from the same “it’s not reasonable” position, not by assessing whether they harm society (which has zero relevance to assessing their truth values). I believe the quote above cements my assumption during the show about my context, repeatedly, and shows Dale was absolutely not acting in good faith with regard to his presentation of my statement.

In the end, what I observe here is this: Dale called TAE back in April to defend Deism. He then found the fan page and the response to his call, all of which was negative (not just my comment). He was able to recognize my name as someone shredding his call, as well, and knew he could use my identity to confront me on TAE, and try and make me look bad by calling and hitting me with a quote from several months back, out of context, that there would be almost no way I could defend on the fly. In essence, he got butt hurt that he was called “unreasonable,” and decided to try and malign me on the air by misrepresenting my position in a situation where I would have no way to confirm the claims against me in the moment I was accused. I only knew on the phone that I know my philosophy on woo, Deism, and WBC, and I knew I absolutely would not assert that Deism and WBC are “the same” in any regard but “both are unreasonable.” My term “shred” simply refers to “how I would dismantle this if I were sitting in the host’s chair during this call.” Remember this thread was while the call was on TAE live. We’re all commenting in terms of armchair quarterbacking “if I were host on this call.”

After seeing my original quote, in context, I do hold to the context and meaning of my original quote, that all woo falls under the same heading of “unreasonable”—and that surely WBC is a much more harmful brand of woo, something I also acknowledged without hesitation, on the air, and also clearly in the April post.

If Dale was not happy with my assessment of his views on TAE back in April, then he won’t be much happier with my assessment of his personal character today: One positive thing I can say about Deists, in general, in addition to “you do not do the social harm that WBC does,” is that Deists are not, as a rule, as dishonest and unable/unwilling to understand a simple context as Dale. The Deists I’ve encountered would not have behaved so dishonorably.

Atheist in need of advice: How to cope with family?

I offered to post these letters anonymously to our blog to solicit more feedback from others who might have more, or better, ideas to help this person—to make it simple, let’s call him “John.” My offer was accepted, and so I’m sharing. In brief, John suspected that his mother was being influenced by religious relatives. And the relationship between him and his mom, which had been cordial, became strained. I suggested he not go on a hunch, but address this issue with his mom directly, to just ask what had motivated the change—so they could at least have a conversation based on whatever was actually going on. This is the reply I received after he took that advice: [Read more...]

Resources for Ex-Muslim Atheists?

More and more, we receive comments, questions or requests for help or advice from ex-Muslim atheists who are living in Muslim nations, or within Muslim communities/families abroad. As someone with no experience in the Muslim community, I feel inept, and sometimes even worried, trying to offer help or support in situations that are well beyond what I might normally hear from ex-Christian atheists in letters to TAE. The following is an example, but we have received much worse.

I am wondering if TAE might have viewers who are aware of resources or familiar with Muslim situations, sufficiently to provide better advice or help than the folks at TAE might be able to supply? While this thread uses this request specifically, I would ask that anyone who knows of a resource that could be helpful to any ex-Muslim atheists, please post it here. I would like to potentially build a thread that serves this section of our community, due to the, often dangerous, situations described. Thank you, in advance for your help with this. And here is the latest letter:

I am an Iraqi Atheist. I have witness loss of friends due to suicide bombing in Iraq, and have been displaced and forced to leave Iraq for a year due to my previous beliefs.

After becoming an atheist, one of the things I decided to do is exposing religion. My main goal is that if someone saw a criticism of Islam he would spend time defending it, rather than blowing himself up and killing innocent people.

I would like to know what would be the best way to achieve such a goal? Right now I am converting articles criticizing Islam to videos and posting them to youtube. However, some of these get mass flagged.

I don’t feel I am doing enough, and don’t know what should be done next. I was thinking of creating videos like you guys where I appear talking about religion, but I will have to go back to Iraq in the next few months, which places me in danger. In addition I fear for my family.

What is your recommendation?

World History Text Mentions Islam—Florida’s Christian Right Shits Itself

So, I see the headline, “Brevard School Board wants 10-member panel to compile textbook supplement,” and as I read just a little further, I believe I smell a religious rat. I want to be objective going in, but the accusation (including the level of response) that Prentice Hall would be selling a textbook with “pro-Islamic bias,” makes me suspect. It isn’t as though they hire Imam’s as their history subject matter experts (SME) or authors. Their authors and SMEs (usually pronounced “smeez”) are qualified, educated, reputable, and generally experienced suppliers of educational content in their areas of expertise. So, I was very interested in what sort of “pro-Muslim bias” they were being accused of selling.

Of course, the entire time, I’m thinking of the Texas School Board’s push for Christian bias, and how they might react to anything about Islam in a history text that isn’t entirely negative. I read further, trying to keep an open mind, but just waiting to hear these “concerns” (which spurred a review panel, a need to produce supplementary material, and legislator complaints) in more detail—because part of me just already knows this has “Christian Right having a tantrum over something idiotic” slathered all over it. And finally, here it is. Here is more detail about one of their “big concerns”:

“One of the big concerns that we’ve heard is that it talks about the five tenants of Islam, and it doesn’t talk about the 10 Commandments, because that was something that was covered in sixth grade,” Brevard schools spokeswoman Michelle Irwin said. “So they may have a copy online of the 10 Commandments.”

So, the world history textbook, for use in U.S. schools, apparently gives a very basic description of the fundamental foundations of Islam. It tells, not sells, the students about the five tenets of Islam. And that’s a “big concern” about “pro-Islamic bias.” Here, let me paraphrase author Katherine Stewart, who once said of the Christian Right, in a lecture I attended, “If they can’t own it, they’ll break it.” In essence, if you mention Islam, Christianity must have equal time. It doesn’t matter that Christianity was already covered in an earlier grade.

The problem here is that Christianity, from a historic perspective, is relevant. But that does not mean it’s relevant all the time just as much as other inputs in every historic situation. If the U.S. becomes involved in trade or military action with, or against, nations that are theocratic, that may make understanding those nations’ perspectives more historically relevant during the study of particular times and events. If the nations covered in the content are theocratic, then there is absolutely nothing problematic about describing their political and religious principles or leanings to students. That’s what education is all about: Informing people about the inputs that impact the situations, about which they are learning. So, in some cases, the founding principles of Islam can be highly relevant, where the founding principles of Christianity, may be not as much.

But the Christian Right will not have it! You cannot talk about Islam, unless Jesus is right there, too, just as prominently, regardless of the point to be made. If information about Islam is clearly more relevant to the lesson, and information about Christianity clearly less so, that makes no difference. They must own the floor, every time, in all things, or else they have a “big concern.”

From a historic perspective, there are reasons Islamic nations have featured more prominently on the world stage in the last century, even the last few decades. Since we’re a culture saturated by Christianity—it’s far more necessary to teach U.S. children about Islam—this other religious-political environment we have been interacting with more aggressively the last few decades—than it is to teach them about the religion they’re soaked with in their day-to-day lives. Despite the fears of the Christian Right, U.S. children actually have heard quite a lot about Jesus, even without trying. They have, on the other hand, heard much less about Mohammed. Kids in the U.S. have actually heard of the 10 Commandments. There’s a movie on every Easter that tells us all about it, and monuments at some of our courthouses, and a Bible in most homes, and a church on nearly every corner with a sign telling us about Our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. And if those get past them somehow, there are the always the cross jewelry, the bumper-stickers, and the t-shirts letting us all know The Good News. And let’s not forget the block of television networks and radio stations devoted to proclaiming god’s Christian love for us all. So, the 10 Commandments—they get. Explaining five points to the students about Islam—the basic founding concepts at the very least—in a modern world history class—is not “bias” toward Islam.

Seriously—the Christian Persecution Complex is pure ridiculousness. It’s absolutely, unfathomably absurd.

Open thread on AXP #827, with guest, Rob Poole, MB BS, FRCPsych

I’ve embedded a number of links below, and I would urge you to explore them. I initially had included far more quoted material, but the post became too long, and I finally decided that links and brevity were best. However, the linked information is highly relevant. Most of the links are to summaries or small items I think you can investigate without too much time lost—so please review them if this topic interests you.

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Christianity: It’s Just About Being Nice to People?

Someone wrote to us from a “non-English speaking country,” to say that his friend asked him why he, as an atheist, objects to Christianity—since it’s only teaching people to be good to one another? The writer said he wasn’t very familiar with Christianity and asked me why it should be such a big problem for people to teach their children to be kind? What did I think about that? Here is what I replied:

 

Thank you for writing.

I encourage you to do a Google search for “Why do we need salvation?”

What Christianity teaches is not just to be a good person.

It teaches that all people are wicked. Many of the churches teach that even children are born wicked. Because of this, people need to be “saved.” If you ask “saved from what?” you will hear about some sort of punishment or torment, usually. Some sort of hell, or some sort of eternal separation from god—that is darkness and despair. According to Christians, this is what all humans deserve—sometimes even children deserve hell for being born sinful. Churches believe that human beings all deserve to die—not just that we will die, but we deserve to die. And some churches think every human deserves to be tortured for eternity—just because we are human, and that is how horrible every human being is.

I think that is a horrible lesson for children. I think people are good. Sometimes we can do bad things. But we are basically good people—most of us. We do not deserve to die. We do not deserve to be tortured or tormented forever. That is awful.

So, to show his “love,” god decided that he would send part of himself to Earth to become a human being. He was born, grew up, and preached to people for a few years. Sometimes he said nice things—like treat people nicely. And sometimes he was pretty bad—chasing people with whips and comparing one woman to a dog, because she was a different ethnicity. Sometimes he taught good things—like help people in need. And sometimes he taught irresponsible things—like do not prepare for your future, because god will take care of everything for you.

Then, after a few years, it was time to “save” everyone. And here was god’s plan: Since Jesus had not done anything bad, he was considered to be clean. In the Old Testament, the sacrificed animals had to be pure and not sick or lame. They were sacrificed to god as payment for all the wrong-doings the person had done. But god was tired of all these animals, and so he thought a really good sacrifice would be to have a perfect human being slaughtered for him. So he wanted a human sacrifice this time—not just more animals. And so he had Jesus beaten and tortured and crucified to death as a human sacrifice. Jesus had not done anything wrong—but other people had. And so god thought it was a good application of justice to kill an innocent person to pay for other people’s crimes.

So, Jesus was sacrificed to god, and god was happy with that.

Then after three days, Jesus came back from the dead to show everyone that he was more powerful than death. And when people saw it—they were happy because they believed him when he told them that they could be more powerful than death, too. All they had to do was devote their lives to Jesus and follow his rules and believe he would bring them back to life after they died. They had to follow him and be grateful that he was a human sacrifice. And they had to also admit they were worthless, evil creatures that needed to be washed cleaned in the execution blood of Jesus.

Every weekend after that, they all would meet together and drink wine and eat bread—that represented the blood and flesh of Jesus. And they would have a symbolic cannibalism snack to remind them about the bloody human sacrifice.

And this is the core teaching of Christianity.

 

The letter writer responded to say, “Thank you for taking your time and answered my question, it was pretty funny how you put it, about what Christianity is based on, hahahaha it made me laugh, and again, thank you and keep up with the show :)”

Why don’t I find Kalam Cosmology compelling?

That was the question asked by a caller that took up most of the show discussing Kalam last week. And as anyone who watched the show saw—or more likely already knew—there are 1,001 ways to approach problems or issues with this argument. But my main point of contention with Kalam was one that caller failed to understand. And it may have been my fault for not doing the best job of communicating it. During a three-way conversation with one party on a phone over a loud speaker, communication efficiency may not be at its peak.

But let me say there are a few issues that are problematic with a majority of apologetic arguments, that, to me, undermine their efficacy, and result in a situation where the premises of the argument become red herrings. I was trying to point this out, and early in the call I actually leaned over to Russell to say “Wait…he’s answering his own question.”

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