Saturday, June 24, 2017

SEX TEXTS - What does the Bible say? A review


Selections Annotated     

& Explained

Translation and Annotation

By Teresa J. Hornsby

Reviewed by

Geoffrey W. Sutton

I read Hornsby's text as part of my research for  A House Divided.  I found her matter-of-fact and easy-to-read analysis helpful to consider alternate perspectives than one often gets from pulpits and those less skilled at the nuances of biblical languages than is professor Hornsby.

Teresa Hornsby is Professor of Religion at Drury Unversity, Springfield, Missouri. Her biosketch indicates she is well prepared with master's degrees from Harvard and Vanderbilt in addition to her Ph.D. in New Testament Studeis from Vanderbilt. As she says on her web page, her research has focused on sexuality and gender in the Bible.

I came across Hornsby's book in a local bookstore and I am glad I did. She has organized her short work in four sections: Marriage and Family Life, Women's Sexuality, Destructive Sexuality, and Sexual Joy and Delight. Within each section are major biblical texts related to the section theme. For example, under the section on Marriage and Family Life you will find chapters on "Dating," Marriage, Divorce, and Sexual Orientation.

Examples of topics in the section on Women's Sexuality include Virginity, Prostitution, and Menstruation. The troubling passages about rape and incest are included under "Destructive Sexuality." Fortunately, Hornsby ends on a positive note with biblical texts celebrating sexuality in Genesis and Song of Songs.

Sex Texts is short and to the point. Her insights are presented clearly and encourage readers to think carefully about the meaning of the ancient texts. It is no secret that Christians are  A House Divided when it comes to matters of sexuality and morality. Hornsby's work contributes to helping people think carefully about what the Bible has to say about such important topics.

Hornsby, Teresa J. Sex Texts From the Bible: Selection Annotated & Explained. Woodstock, Vermont: Skylight Paths, 2007.

AGING WELL by Vaillant - a Book Review



By George E. Vaillant, MD

Aging well is a developmental task I hope to accomplish. I became aware of the book when a student, Kathryn  R. Ward, decided to read it for a course I was teaching. I suggested some edits and her review was subsequently published in the Journal of Psychology and Christianity.

Vaillant defines successful aging on page 15 as a: “vital reaction to change, disease, and to conflict.”
I met George Vaillant at a Positive Psychology conference hosted by the Gallup Corporation. It was clear that he and his research team have learned a lot about aging as they have followed the progress of adults in the famous Harvard Study of Adult Development. What captured by interest was the emphasis on what works--what helps people grow and develop well.

The book provides an in-depth summary of adult development from the perspective of Erickson’s developmental tasks. Using examples and empirical data, we learn of contributing factors to well-being such as play, wisdom, and religion.

Those interested in research will find measures, tables, and figures in the appendices.

As we observed in the published review, clinicians may find the summaries useful as they consider what tasks and concepts may be applicable to their own adult clients. For example, although we learn about development in the course of becoming mental health providers, we may need reminders to consider how a client's concerns may be related to the process of development.

The Harvard study team provides updates as new information and analyses become available.

To see a talk by George Vaillant on the importance of relationships to health, resilience and ageing, go to this YouTube site.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

THE RIGHTEOUS MIND by Jonathan Haidt Book Review





   Jonathan Haidt

Reviewed by

   Geoffrey W. Sutton

In The Righteous Mind, Haidt provides readers with a review of moral psychology research, which continues to be helpful in analyzing the culture wars between religious and political groups. I was introduced to the work by an exceptional undergraduate psychology major, Kayla Jordan, who is currently pursuing a doctorate in Social Psychology. Our published academic review is available online. In this review, I provide a summary and some thoughts about the usefulness of Haidt's approach.

Haidt's work is organized around three principles of morality. First, “intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second,” Drawing on the philosophy of Hume and supported by research, Haidt explains how so much of morality is governed by emotion driven, automatic thinking, rather than cool, rational thought. This is a contrast to the common emphasis on moral thinking driven by beliefs that morality is based on considerations of justice (e.g., Fawls) or the weighing of consequences (e.g., Bentham, Mill). 

Haidt's second moral principle is, “There is more to morality than harm and fairness.” In this section, Haidt introduces us to six moral foundations people rely on when providing moral justifications. His research indicates liberals tend to emphasize two concerns about harm and fairness and sometimes liberty. However, conservatives tend to have a broader base that includes an additional three moral foundations: authority, loyalty, and purity. 

It is this second principle along with the six foundations that I found so useful when studying the different Christian cultures that are divided over matters of gender and sexuality (See A House Divided). In my view, the six foundations are not just emphasized by conservative and liberal Christians but these different tribes may emphasize different aspects of the same foundation.

The third principle is that, “Morality binds and blinds.” Haidt suggests that people can switch from their typical individual survival mode to becoming groupish when activated by politics or religion. This group loyalty appears to be evident in American politics where there is a sharp divide between conservatives and liberals. And further, the divide is seen between conservative and progressive Christians.

Haidt recognizes that he has provided a descriptive approach to morality. A prescriptive approach is needed to make moral decisions and here he leans toward consequentialism. Research is ongoing and should shed more light on how well the foundations help organize the justifications people provide for right and wrong. The hope is that as people become better at recognizing different moral perspectives they may engage in more productive dialogue than the present state of talking past each other.


Haidt, J. (2012). The righteous mind: Why good people are divided by politics and religion. New 
      York, NY: Pantheon Books

Jordan, K. & Sutton, G. W. (2015). [Review of the book: The righteous mind: Why good people are divided by politics and religion by Jonathan Haidt.]. Journal of Christianity and Psychology, 34, 90-91.  Academia Link  Researchgate Link 

Sutton, G. W. (2016). A house divided: Sexuality, morality, and Christian cultures. Eugene, OR: Pickwick.  Amazon Link

Nazi Doctors Medical Killing Psychology of Genocide Review


Medical Killing and the

Psychology of Genocide

  By  Robert Jay Lifton

Reviewed by

  Geoffrey W. Sutton

1985, Basic Books, New York

Lifton peers into the lives of physicians who killed millions. He examines the beliefs and practices of Nazi culture, which provided a biomedical context for ridding Germany of disease by exterminating those targeted as responsible for such disease. In an evil irony, healers frame killing in an expanding narrative that ultimately reaches the level of genocide. In addition to records, Lifton included interviews with surviving Nazi physicians and some prisoner doctors who served as their underlings in Auschwitz.

Lifton discloses his perspective, which is that of a an American psychiatrist, a Jew, with a psychoanalytic perspective informed in part by the ideas of Otto Rank. In the Introduction, Lifton informs us of key elements of his psychological model. People seek to deal with mortality by seeking immortality in various life projects. Many also seek to deal with limitations via transcendance. He refers to Rank's notion of "immortality systems" to help gain a sense of the meaning of the Nazi's "Thousand Year Reich" in which ordiniary Germans and professionals could be bound together in an uplifting and eternal endeavor.

Lifton also shows us that in the mass killings of Jews and others, especially as seen in the death camps, the Nazis crossed a significant barrier beyond that kind of episodic violence, which targets hated people here and there to reach a systemized elimination of certain human lives based on the logical extension of a distorted biomedical theory that harnessed physicians to a gross expansion of euthanasia to the selection of multitudes of Jews for lethal "cleansing."

In Part I, Lifton explains the early Nazi medical killing program of euthanasia presented as "life unworthy of life." There were several components beginning with required sterilization then the killing of "impaired" children and adults in hospitals-- mostly mental hospitals. The practices of injection and carbon monoxide poisoning were eventually expanded to inmates at concentration and extermination camps and then to mass killings.

Part II focuses on Aushwitz. The SS doctors performed the initial selection of arriving prisoners either for the gas chambers or temporary survival. Additional selections followed as doctors "examined" prisoners' fitness when overcrowding or health conditions commanded their attention. The "unfit" were of course selected to die in this bizarre application of triage. Lifton closes this section with three chapters each devoted to a close look at three physicians. One he considers a "human being" in an SS uniform, the other, Josef Mengele, identified as "Dr. Auschwitz," and the third, Eduard Wirths a representative of the "healing-killing conflict."

The final Part III examined the psychology of genocide. Lifton explains his view of the concept "doubling." Nazi doctors form two selves to cope with death. The previous physician self is the healer, which emerges from time to time. The Auschwitz self takes on the numbing routine necessary to psychologically survive the initially shocking assignment to carry out selections of people for immediate death. Lifton addreses some additional themes related to genocide and mentions some similarities of the Nazi killings to the earlier Armenian genocide.

Overall, I found Lifton's work informative and worthy of consideration given the indepth interviews with Nazi and other physicians who survived the almost indescribable horrors. His analysis of "doubling" is interesting because he provides numerous examples of how this construct may help approach an understanding. Unfortunately, like many mental constructs there is a circularity that fails to satisfy my desire for a closer look at causation. Lifton does mention the cultural mileu and even provides historical perspectives that no doubt bolstered the German biological view of a healthy and superior race in contrast to those people viewed as a subspecies who were unworthy or even dangerous to life. It is this milieu, and an understanding of social psychology, that I think would offer a more useful explanation as we continue to confront extreme outgroup hatred.

Another perspective I would like to have seen is a more careful analysis of moral psychological perspectives. In fairness, much of moral psychology research has taken place in the last couple of decades and would thus be unavailable to Lifton. Nevertheless, contemporary readers would do well to consider the work of Jonathan Haidt (The Righteous Mind) and others to examine the scheme of justifications employed by the Nazi's in their killing narrative.

Finally, Lifton appears to have ignored the work of Zimbardo and the well-known 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment, which offers empirically supported ideas for considering the rapid shift from fellow citizen to the split roles of guardian-inmate. A quote from Zimbardo is relevant.

"How we went about testing these questions and what we found may astound you. Our planned two-week investigation into the psychology of prison life had to be ended after only six days because of what the situation was doing to the college students who participated. In only a few days, our guards became sadistic and our prisoners became depressed and showed signs of extreme stress. Please read the story of what happened and what it tells us about the nature of human nature."

What we can glean from Lifton's research is the perspective of a psychiatric physician who offers us a face-to-face encounter with some of history's most malevolent and scariest beings-- healers turned killers.

Lifton, R.J. (1985). The Nazi doctors: Medical killing and the psychology of genocide. New York: Basic Books.
Paperback, 561 pages

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Spiritually Oriented Psychotherapy for Trauma- A Review

Cover of Spiritually Oriented Psychotherapy for Trauma (medium)



Edited by

Donald F. Walker, 
Christine A. Courtois, 
Jamie D. Aten

Reviewed by

   Geoffrey W. Sutton

Publisher: American Psychological Association

This book is an excellent resource for clinicians considering the spiritual concerns of people who have experienced trauma. The treatment of trauma has a long history. As clinicians who have treated people with trauma, we have learned many techniques and become acquainted with other options such as medication and therapeutic animals. However, the spiritual dimension has been somewhat neglected until recently. This book helps fill in the gap.

The twelve chapters cover multiple topics begining with an overview of spirituality and ethical considerations in psychotherapy for trauma. Other chapters offer insights into aspects of trauma where religion or spirituality may be a major concern such as spiritual struggles, the problem of evil, and changes in God-image linked to sexual abuse.

Clinicians will also find helpful forms and checklists.

See more information in my published review, which can be downloaded.

I reviewed this book for the Journal of Psychology and Christianity. That review is available in Volume 36. A prepublication copy can be found at Geoff Sutton on Academia.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Sin of Certainty Sutton Review



     Peter Enns

Reviewed by

     Geoffrey W. Sutton

Chances are you’ve met a few people who insist their beliefs are right. They don’t hesitate to denounce others as not just wrong but as evil people--people out to ruin the country, destroy lives, and on the brink of eternal damnation.

If you followed the 2016 campaign for president of the United States, you know what I’m talking about—many people were sure their candidate was right and the other one was an evil menace. And some of those people attacked “friends” and family on social media and elsewhere.

I read Enn’s book, The Sin of Certainty in 2016. My review hasn’t been published yet but I will post some text here and give you a link to the full, unpublished version. It’s certainly a book worth reading.

The “Sin” in Peter Enns’ book is a devotion to correct beliefs rather than a devotion to God characterized by trust. Trust in a person—God—is the only way for Christians to maintain faith qua faithfulness when simple biblical quotes don’t seem to square with challenges from scientists or life events.

You will find four challenges to certainty in the last few hundred years. These “oh-oh” moments challenged thinking Christians—and still do.

1. The scientific evidence for evolution caused many to doubt the literal words in Genesis.

2. Archeologists found old texts from other cultures indicating the words attributed to Moses were not unique to him.

3. Biblical research challenged the views of religious scholars about the way the Bible was written.

4. The theological battle over American slavery raised questions about using the Bible for moral guidance when clergy preached contradictory messages.

Of course, these four issues continue into the present in one form or another. As I’ve written elsewhere, Christians are A HouseDivided.

Here’s a few quotes you might find interesting.

“Let me say again that beliefs themselves are not the problem. Working out what we believe is worthy of serious time and effort in our lives of faith. But our pursuit of having the right beliefs and locking them up in a vault are not the center of faith. Trust in God is. When holding to correct thinking becomes the center, we have shrunk faith in God to an intellectual exercise” (22).

“The long Protestant quest to get the Bible right has not led to greater and greater certainty about what the Bible means. Quite the contrary. It has led to a staggering number of different denominations and sub denominations that disagree sharply about how significant portions of the Bible should be understood. I mean, if the Bible is our source of sure knowledge about God, how do we explain all this diversity? Isn’t the Bible supposed to unify us rather than divide us?” (p. 52)

“When we are in despair or fear and God is as far away from us as the most distant star in the universe, we are at that moment ‘with’ Christ more than we know—and perhaps more than we ever have been—because when we suffer, we share in and complete Christ’s sufferings” (200).

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Link to my longer review on Academia 

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Forgiveness Therapy Anger and Hope Sutton Reviews




     Robert D. Enright &

     Richard P. Fitzgibbons,

Reviewed by

     Geoffrey W. Sutton

In the last few decades, forgiveness books and research studies have multiplied. Fortunately for clinicians, Enright and Fitzgibbons have provided a comprehensive work that is clinician focused with reviews of supportive research.

I was glad for the opportunity to review this update by one of the world’s leading forgiveness researchers. My interest in forgiveness, particularly but not exclusively Christian forgiveness, began during my work as a psychotherapist. More recently I have been involved in several research projects focused on, or inclusive, of forgiveness. My point is that the psychology of forgiveness is important to both clinicians and academics. And forgiveness is a process of value to people of many religions or none at all.

My review has been accepted for publication in an academic journal. In this post, I will provide an overview of the book and provide a link to the journal article.

Two key themes are evident in the authors’ approach to forgiveness. One is obvious in their definition of forgiveness (morality) and the second is present in many paragraphs but not so obvious (anger).

For the record, here is their definition of forgiveness (pp. 26-27).

People, on rationally determining that they have been unfairly treated, forgive when they willfully abandon resentment and related responses (to which they have a right) and endeavor to respond to the wrongdoer based on the moral principle of beneficence, which may include compassion, unconditional worth, generosity, and moral love (to which the wrongdoer, by nature of the hurtful act or acts, has no right).

The authors discuss morality in their overview chapter. They suggest forgiveness therapy is not a good fit with treatments that exclude ideas of right and wrong or justice and mercy. In contrast, forgiveness therapy is a good fit for approaches that recognize a rights-based morality.

Two primary dimensions of moral foundation theory proposed by Haidt and his colleagues are evident in the forgiveness definition. First, the injustice is founded on unfair treatment justifying the offended person’s negative thoughts and feelings. Second, the acts of the offender result in harm. Forgiveness thus becomes a moral response to give up a redress of violated rights in favor of moral love.

Now let me address the theme of anger.  Anger as the starting point for clinical work and a key feature of forgiveness therapy. They elaborate on anger as a complex state “at the center of forgiveness therapy (p. 17).” You will find the concept of anger coming up again and again in different chapters.

 Enright and Fitzgibbons organized Forgiveness Therapy into three parts for a total of 16 chapters. They provide a description of their four-phase process model in the Introduction and offer details in chapter 4.

In phase one, clients uncover their hurts and begin to deal with their emotional pain. The decision phase (phase two) follows the developmental progression. At this point, clients learn about forgiveness and distinguish forgiveness from potential barriers such as beliefs that forgiveness entails reconciliation (chapters two and three). Clinicians will find a helpful 23-item checklist indicating what forgiveness is not on page 41. Clients learn to shift their attention to their offenders in the work phase (three). Various exercises help clients feel empathy and compassion for the offender. Finally, the deepening phase (four) helps clients find meaning in the process of forgiving and consider ways forgiveness may be applied to other offenses.

The phases are covered in considerable depth and include a total of 20 therapy tasks or units ranging from 3 to 8 per phase. The concept of units is similar to a list of tasks that clients accomplish within each phase. For example, in the uncovering phase clients develop an “awareness of cognitive rehearsal of the offense.” The authors note that not all people follow the same sequence to reach forgiveness.

There are six chapters in Part II (chapters 6-11). Each chapter illustrates how forgiveness therapy may play a role in the treatment of a specific mental disorder or group of mental disorders. The authors review the criteria of common DSM-5 (2013) conditions with a focus on the features of anger or irritability in the diagnostic criteria as well as in related research.

Examples of chapter contents include: Depressive, Bipolar, Anxiety, and Addictive disorders. Additional chapters address conditions of childhood and adolescence such as Oppositional Defiant Disorder and forgiveness for couples and families.

Part III includes five chapters representing a mix of topics. Chapter 12 covers forgiveness education. Readers will find suggestions for teaching forgiveness ideas to children, youth, and adults. In addition, readers will find free online educational resources at

Chapter 13 reviews ways to assess forgiveness—including five measures developed by the authors and their colleagues. Chapters 14 and 15 offer philosophical considerations dealing with challenges to forgiveness and matters of morality and religious faith. 

The final chapter is a summary and conclusion chapter. It includes an expanded idea of hope—a word found in the book’s title. The authors encourage readers to be a part of a hopeful future by leaving a legacy of forgiveness for the betterment of humanity.

Reflections on Forgiveness Therapy

I think this books is best suited to clinicians. I think the case examples and integration with diagnoses will make the book particularly useful to new clinicians who have not explored the many ways forgiveness interventions may help treat aspects of other concerns than "just a forgiveness issue." 

I also think the book will be helpful by clergy and human service workers who frequently encounter people who feel hurt and distressed by problems that may have ocurred many years ago. Understanding how anger over past hurts can be a factor in many aspects of mental illness can open possibilities for progress.

The book is especially suited to clinicians treating Christian patients since forgiveness is an important aspect of Christian faith. It is noteworthy that forgiveness is a virtue in many faiths and cultures.

Finally, a word of caution. Despite the effectiveness of forgiveness interventions, forgiveness is not a panacea. Forgiveness is not a substitute for other and perhaps more important concerns in treatment.


American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

Enright, R.D. & Fitzgibbons, R.P. (2000). Helping clients forgive: An empirical guide for resolving anger and restoring hope. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Sutton, G. W. (in press). [Review of the book Forgiveness Therapy: An empirical guide for resolving anger and restoring hope by Robert D. Enright and Richard P. Fitzgibbons.] Journal of Psychology and Christianity. Accepted June 20, 2016.

Journal book review links             ResearchGate

Book Ad  Read about forgiveness for sexual behavior in Chapter 12 


Forgiveness Interview with Rober Enright- it is about a different book but you will get Enright's perspective on forgiveness.

Link to Forgiveness Playlist on YouTube