Monday, November 21, 2016

God Religious Delusions and Violence



THE GOD DELUSION   

By Richard Dawkins

Reviewed by


Geoffrey W. Sutton









I heard cries and screams coming from a group of young women down the hall from my office. When I got up to take a look, a colleague explained they were praying for a woman possessed by a demon. Over the years, I have consulted on cases of people who reported being Jesus Christ or having personal encounters with supernatural beings. Often individuals and their families were in deep despair. And we live in an age when religious people destroy in the name of their faith.

Supernatural experiences appear to impair rather than enhance well-being in some people. As a clinical psychologist, I approach reports of supernatural phenomena from a somewhat different perspective than does biologist, Richard Dawkins. I'm less concerned about a logical refutation than I am about the destructive power of faith-wielding combatants.

In The God Delusion, Dawkins leads an attack on God or gods and those believers who wreak havoc led by their sincere beliefs. The quintessential example is the 911 attacks on America. Not content to analyze and attack those who perpetuate violence in the name of religion, Dawkins seeks to show that religion itself is to blame.

My academic review was published in 2009. But as I write this post in 2016, Dawkins’ challenge remains alive. Those of us who identify as Christian won’t appreciate his manner of attack. Yet many of us have wondered about the strange beliefs and distorted logic guiding suicide bombers, genocidal violence, and unfounded religiously-motivated memes dehumanizing political candidates and those religious adherents who simply hold a different view of things.

Dawkins and his fellow atheists are unlikely to make much headway in eliminating religion. However, Dawkins’ missive remains a timely reminder that not all religious beliefs and practices are benevolent. And some are downright evil.

I find many of the points I made in my published review still relevant—likely because the evils of religion continually make headlines. Hate is alive. Media-savvy users spew invitations to violence with disregard for truth. The blood of innocents is mingled with that of religious and secular warriors.

One point I did not make before was the futility of relying on reasoning to disable destructive thoughts and concomitant behavior. I am amazed at the insidious power of destructive religious memes.

Dawkins focused on raising consciousness about the atheistic alternative to faith. He has at least succeeded in raising awareness of the destructive power of some religious beliefs–especially when belief catalyzes behavior.

Some religious leaders responded to Dawkins’ attacks with defensive maneuvers. In my view, we should be about the business of promoting peace, joy, love, forgiveness, reconciliation and other virtues. New narratives perpetuating life-affirming memes must combat destructive viruses in all media outlets and sacred places. Destructive religious memes invade vulnerable minds.

Religious leaders may be challenged to provide evidence that their faith transforms people in ways deemed virtuous in the canons of many faiths. Religious violence must be publicly condemned and disavowed. Religious leaders need to leave their seminaries and churches to reveal God at work in the redemption of humanity rather than contributing to religious divides or worse.

Reference this post in APA style

Sutton, G. W. (2016, November 21). God and religious delusions [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://suttonreviews.suttong.com/2016/11/god-religious-delusions-and-violence.html 


References (APA style)

Dawkins, R. (2006). The God delusion. New York: Houghton Mifflin.

Sutton, G. W. (2016). A House Divided: Sexuality, Morality, and Christian Cultures. Eugene, OR: Pickwick.

Sutton, G. W. (2009). [Review of the book The god delusion by R. Dawkins]. Journal of Spirituality in Mental Health, 11, 235-239.   Academia Link


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Wednesday, November 16, 2016

What Rob Bell Says about Sexuality and Christian Spirituality

SEX GOD

EXPLORING THE ENDLESS

CONNECTIONS BETWEEN

SEXUALITY AND SPIRITUALITY    

By Rob Bell

Reviewed by

Geoffrey W. Sutton





What Rob Bell Says about Sexuality and Christian Spirituality

 When I was writing A House Divided, I read Bell’s book, Sex God, as part of my quest to see what various evangelical Christians have said on the subject.

Bell, a graduate of Wheaton College and Fuller Theological Seminary, founded the evangelical Mars Hill Church in Grandville, Michigan. His bestselling books have sometimes promoted controversy within Christian cultures because of his nontraditional views on classic teachings about such doctrines as salvation. He has been associated with the emerging church movement. In my book, I cite Bell as an example of the views of progressive Christians in contrast to those of conservative Christians.

As with most of Bell’s writings, Sex God is an easy-to-read poetry-like collection of essays aimed at a general Christian audience. It is neither a sex manual nor a theological treatise but he does offer helpful insights into several ways human sexuality is connected to Christian spirituality.

Appropriate to his somewhat confusing thesis, he begins with stories illustrating the close connection between people and their creator and makes the point that honoring God is intimately connected to honoring God’s image in people-- including their sexuality.

Bell takes up the interpersonal connections following the introduction where he reminds readers that sex is often disconnected from a loving relationship as in the extreme example of purchasing sex, and not a relationship, from a sex worker. 

God’s love for humanity is at least a secondary theme popping up in this work. This theme made me wonder if Bell is out to share a message of redemption and renewal with many people who have experienced the downside of sex and distorted love.

As is common among many progressive, but not conservative, evangelicals, the relationship between a man and a woman is presented as a relationship between equals. Not surprisingly, Bell addresses the concept of submission in romantic couples. His address to women about their worth might seem a bit odd coming from a man rather than a woman but a more generous take might be that he is trying to counter the approach of many male preachers and their traditions that keep men elevated above women in marriage and the church and consider women as incomplete without a man.

It may be of some interest to contemporary Christians to read Bell’s analysis of one aspect of "godly marriage" in the Hebrew Bible (i.e., Christian Old Testament).

“The sexual bond is central to what it means to be married.
No consummation, no marriage. (p. 130).”

That’s clearly succinct but he does provide the text references to support the close connection between the sex act and the recognition of the marital bond.

 If you read other old texts, you see how women were treated as property. Even when raped, the woman has no say in her future-- she’s stuck with a rapist for life if he wants her and pays a fee to her father (see Exodus 22 and Deuteronomy 22). How can Bell be so generous with such language? Essentially, Bell believes the biblical text was progressive for its time and the treatment of women improved by the time of the New Testament.

Bell tosses in a few other bits of biblical information but I do not see a close tie-in with his theme. For example, he makes a point to remind singles of their worthy status, which is often not recognized in Christian cultures. That must be nice to know for singles but what should we make of the focus on the illustration of sexual relationships reflecting the uniting of God with humanity?

And he reminds readers that girls used to marry at ages 13 or 14 in the first century. He affirms, but does not spend much time on, abstinence until marriage. I wondered if he was thinking about the decade or so that sexual desire must be suppressed to comply with the current purity culture expectations of abstinence until couples can enjoy sex.

Overall, Bell appears to be concerned with a broad understanding of Christian sexuality as bound up with spirituality. Uniting with a mate is spiritual and it is very much like uniting with God.

Bell has spoken about same-sex marriage elsewhere (Relevant, 2013) but not in this book. That’s not surprising given the publication date (2007). Given the heterosexual examples and focus in God Sex, it is not easy to discern how he might use the same framework to write more broadly about sex and Christian spirituality. A hint is probably in a quote from a Relevant article “I am for love.”

I think this book would be appreciated mostly by young evangelicals who are not ultraconservative in their worldview. I do not think his book fits well with the views of feminists, fundamentalists, or even conservative evangelicals.

A few more observations and comments

Extending Bell's logic, cohabiting Christians might have a biblical marriage.
Women were a man's property in pre-Christian biblical texts.
Christians remain divided about a woman's role in a "Christian marriage."
The Bible offers different views about sex.
Christian writers find many ways to pair sexual activity with a spiritual meaning.
Many religions link God or gods with sex.

A few discussion questions
How are Bell's views of sex different from those of other Christian leaders?
Why do so many Christians want to connect sexual activity with a spiritual meaning?
What biblical texts affirm being single as of equal value to being married?
How helpful are Bell's comments on "progress" to deal with the old texts about rapists marrying their victims?
Do biblical metaphors work differently for men and women in relating to Jesus as a bridegroom?


Reference this post in APA style

Sutton, G. W. (2016, November 16). What Rob Bell Says about Sexuality and Christian Spirituality [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://suttonreviews.suttong.com/2016/11/what-rob-bell-says-about-sexuality-and.html


References (APA style)

Bell, R. (2007). Sex God: Exploring the Endless Connections Between Sexuality and Spirituality. New York: Harper One.

Sutton, G. W. (2016). A House Divided: Sexuality, Morality, and Christian Cultures. Eugene, OR: Pickwick.

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Sunday, November 6, 2016

Are there too many psychotherapists for our own good?

ONE NATION UNDER THERAPY

HOW THE HELPING CULTURE IS 

ERODING SELF-RELIANCE


By Christina Hoff Sommers
 & Sally Satel


Reviewed by


Geoffrey W. Sutton






I like to return to New York City on occasion to remember my arrival in the United States. On one visit after 911, we stopped in a Barnes & Noble and I came across this interesting book, “One Nation Under Therapy.”

I’ve been a psychotherapist for years. And like many clinicians, I’ve seen people with a broad range of symptom severity. Some of course struggled so much they required 24-hour care. Others were quite healthy but wanted a confidential sounding board-- nothing wrong with that.

But the authors have a point-- some in our culture are probably too dependent on outside assistance and have not learned the skills needed to independently manage the rough and tumble of daily life.

As I look back on what I wrote, I think this dependency may be true of many facets of life. For example, we are forced to see physicians to obtain routine medication and the responsibility for pain medication seems to be more and more in the hands of physicians instead of patients in pain. Naturally, physicians are concerned about their patients' well-being. But I think we've placed too much responsibility on them to be responsible for our pain.

 In fitness centers, people hire trainers to run through quite mundane routines. Nothing wrong with that. And some may benefit from the accountability. However, I value freedom and setting my own goals. I suppose people get used to different ways of obtaining fitness.

And churches employ a raft of staff to cater to the expectations of congregants. Nothing wrong with that for those who want to support the expense. I think it's more of what you get used to. Many of us get buy with encouraging words from friends, inspirational music, books, and videos.

Perhaps some become too dependent on others for well-being.

Maybe some psychotherapists do not encourage patient responsibility.

Perhaps some people are overly self-reliant and need to reach out for support.

If you are interested in these issues, I think you will find the ideas in this book worth reading. Not every person needs a psychotherapist. But then again, many who need psychotherapists cannot find one or cannot afford one.



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Here’s a link to the full review published in the Journal of Psychology and Christianity. It is a free pdf download.

Academia Link to my review:  Geoff Sutton

ResearchGate Link to my review: Geoffrey W Sutton

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