Friday, August 11, 2017

Moral Tribes by Joshua Greene - A Book Review





“The tribal differences that erupt into public controversy typically concern sex (e.g., gay marriage, gays in the military, the sex lives of public officials) and death at the margins of life (e.g., abortion, physician-assisted suicide, the use of embryonic stem cells in research). That such issues are moral issues is surely not arbitrary. Sex and death are the gas pedals and brakes of tribal growth. ... What’s less clear is why different tribes hold different views about sex, life, and death, and why some tribes are more willing than others to impose their views on outsiders (11).”
—Joshua Greene

*****
MORAL TRIBES: EMOTION, REASON, AND THE GAP BETWEEN US AND THEM by Joshua Greene, New York: Penguin Press, 2013, pp. 422. ISBN: 978-1-101-63867-5 Reviewed by Geoffrey W. Sutton, Springfield, MO

*****

I read Greene’s Moral Tribes in 2014. That book along with Haidt’s The Righteous Mind and moral controversies in politics in religion over same-sex marriage, prompted me to think of ways Christian Spirituality and Science -- especially psychological science--might find common ground. Even within the same movement or affiliated group of churches, Christians appeared to be from different tribes. Subsequently, I wrote A House Divided. Although I drew more upon moral psychology research, I have long valued the thinking of philosophers when it comes to analyzing the ideas of science.


Today, I received my copy of a journal, which published my academic review of Moral Tribes. It turns out, they had first published the review in 2015. Anyway, it is a popular read on Academia.edu and ResearchGate. And I think with good reason—not my review, but Greene’s analysis.
The quote at the top of this post is telling. So much of the sociopolitical debate in the US and other countries that permit open debates has to do with life issues—sex and death—and the relationships related to such issues in between life's ends. In fact, it is appropriate that the moral hedges of religion deal with these issues. And religions, traditional boundary makers of culture, frequently weigh-in when leaders perceive their rights are not carefully considered.


After an organized presentation of many moral psychology experiments revealing the natural separation between groups of people—the Us and Them problem—Greene takes us back to utilitarian philosophy associated with Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill. The problem of developing a meta-morality is not addressed by Greene and certainly utilitarianism has been found wanting as a universally guiding theory. But then again, attempts to find universal principles of justice and rights also come up short. And Greene’s analysis of psychological research won’t take him, or us, to the promised land of a universal morality. 

But I appreciate the book. Here’s why.

Outside academic debates, groups of people continue to beat the drums of war. At the national level, it can be scary living as we do in a nuclear age. But at local levels, group conflicts sometimes lead to death and disability and at other times lead to misery marked by broken relationships, suspicion, and distrust. We do well to seek common ground. On the one hand, we might try justice as fairness approaches. And on the other hand, we may revive utilitarian methods to discover that a common good may be weighed as of great importance to both tribes, a common goal worthy of pursuit, or a common positive effect when those in conflict agree that life is more important than forcing the other tribe to change its system of rights, values, or "goods." Righteous minds might hate compromise. But compromise in the form of peace treaties, allow people to live in ways others find do not like, provided no one comes to harm.


References

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

Sutton, G. W. (2016). A house divided: Sexuality, morality, and Christian cultures. Eugene, OR: Pickwick. ISBN: 9781498224888

A related read...

A House Divided

















Free exam copies for reviewers and professors at 
http://wipfandstock.com/a-house-divided-16213.html




Friday, July 28, 2017

Groups That Heal: A Sutton Review



HELPING GROUPS HEAL

LEADING SMALL GROUPS 
IN THE PROCESS OF 
TRANSFORMATION

By
  Jan Paul Hook 
  Joshua N. Hook
  Don E. Davis

Reviewed by

Geoffrey W. Sutton


As I was reading this book, I had an occasion to experience many of the points the authors made in a group where a speaker disclosed some troubling news. Those of us present naturally felt supportive and I had the impression, the process promoted growth and healing. I found myself reflecting on the authenticity of the book.

The authors, using the first person "I," refer to a healing cycle composed of six steps, which cover most of the chapters in the book. In each chapter, the authors include sections on psychological science and Christianity to show how their model is compatible with science and faith.



Each healing step is explained along with an example of growth experiences of fictitious group members. The authors offer several tips and strategies to help leaders deal with both basic and more complex difficulties that occur when guiding a group.

Following is a brief chapter summary, which is based on a more lengthy review submitted for publication.

The components of the healing cycle are grace, safety, vulnerability, truth, ownership, and repentance. The grace chapter (2) suggests ways of becoming more accepting toward difficult people. Safety in the group (chapter 3) refers to creating a psychological space where members are able to grow without undue anxiety.  Vulnerability (chapter 4) promotes healing by open and honest sharing. Step four is truth (chapter 5), which focuses on providing accurate feedback to group members. Ownership is the fifth step (chapter 6). The authors observe: “You can’t change what you don’t own (p.161).” The final step is repentance (chapter 7). Here the authors introduce behavioral approaches to changing habits. The final return to grace chapter deals with the important topic of ending a group or processing termination when clients leave.

My longer and more academic review has been accepted by the Journal of Psychology and Christianity.

I suggest the book would be useful in Counselor Education programs at Christian Universities and for a discussion in groups of Christian Counselors--especially those who are new to leading group therapy. The book also has ideas for people leading growth groups in churches and Christian organizations.

I close by noting again that the healing cycle has a ring of authenticity, which I experienced in the group mentioned above. I suspect that seasoned therapists will be able to agree with many of the ideas in Groups That Heal.


More Counseling Resources

Applied Statistics: Concepts for Counselors

AMAZON BOOKS
























FOR DISCUSSION IN SCHOOLS AND CHURCHES

A House Divided: 
Sexuality, Morality, and Christian Cultures


FREE EXAM COPIES


at PICKWICK


http://wipfandstock.com/a-house-divided-16204.html
























Saturday, June 24, 2017

SEX TEXTS - What does the Bible say? A review



SEX TEXTS from the BIBLE

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.

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

AGING WELL by Vaillant - a Book Review


AGING WELL:

SURPRISING GUIDEPOSTS
TO A HAPPIER LIFE


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








THE RIGHTEOUS MIND:    

WHY GOOD PEOPLE ARE DIVIDED   

BY POLITICS AND RELIGION

By 

   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.


References

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





THE NAZI DOCTORS

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.

Reference
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)



SPIRITUALLY ORIENTED PSYCHOTHERAPY   

FOR TRAUMA

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.