Friday, November 25, 2011

"Ungodly Discipline" on CNN

As if we needed more reasons to hate nutty Christians, they have created cults and cultish beliefs that permit or even encourage gross forms of child abuse.  This isn't the "child abuse" that some of the "New Atheists" talk about, in which children are infected with scary images of hell.  This is systematic beatings, slavery, and psychological abuse by supposed religionists.  CNN's Anderson Cooper's special, "Ungodly Discipline," seems to have been inspired by the tragic story of a girl who was killed by parents influenced by the crazyass book, To Train up a Child.

The show was on earlier today and I was semi-shocked to find that a  horribly abusive "school" is in Indiana.  (Of course nothing would shock me about Indiana after living here for three years).  The place is called Hephzibah House, and it calls itself a "school" for teenage girls.  Some of these girls are coming out about their experiences here:  I could only stomach reading a few of these stories, and they seem to report the same type of mistreatment, so I decided not to subject myself to it.

The main themes:
  • The goal of the school is to "break the will" of the girl
  • New girls are forced to have amateur pelvic exams
  • Girls who don't finish their repulsive meal will have it served to them again, cold, in addition to their next meal
  • If a girl throws up her meal, she will be forced to eat her vomit
  • Girls' communication with family is extremely limited, and all communications are monitored
  • Girls are used as slave labor for hours a day, including cleaning and renovating homes of the church's pastor and his friends
  • Beatings were frequent and random, and left bloody welts on the backside
  • Girls who failed to live up to the "standards" could be isolated from all other residents except the staff member they're "shadowing."  They even have to sleep with this staff member while on this punishment.
  • The girls have to go to the bathroom on a schedule, and yet they are forced to drink large quantities of water.  If their bladders can't obey this commandment, they are forced to wear diapers
  • Escape is impossible.  They are imprisoned by high privacy fences and watched closely.
The school and the author of the heinous book are members of the oxymoronic network of Independent Fundamentalist Baptist churches.  They believe in "spiritual spanking," but it's hard to believe any child feels more spiritual after hours of spanking.

The guy who runs this school for teenage girls also runs a "college" that offers "degrees."  Notice that most of the faculty are graduates of that same college?   Doesn't that say something about the place?  Who would send their kid to that kind of place?  What is wrong with Indiana parents?   This subculture is pervasive and just plain creepy.  They are worse than anything that's been proven to be going on in Islamist or Catholic schools, including terroristic rhetoric and pedophilia.

Well... after learning about all this I'm even more ashamed to live in Indiana.  I lived in Texas for seven years and never saw anything this creepy.  (The Branch Davidians were before my time there - and they were non-Texans)  What's even worse than these places doing what they do and people believing this nonsense is that the authorities have turned a blind eye to it.  The child protective services peeps say they would need to have a current resident make a complaint, but the current residents are not allowed to communicate with the outside except through monitored phone calls to their family and mail that the prison school redacts with black magic marker.  WTF? How can this happen in America?

A survivor of a similar church set up a website here:

Kind of makes me wonder what other horrors Christians are perpetrating on helpless children.   I'd be tempted to say "God help them," but clearly God hasn't been any help to the victims of his followers.  I hope the Anderson Cooper exposé lights a fire under the authorities here.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Winter Depression and Depression in Winter

My theory about solstice holidays is that people need to be cheered up and reminded that the long dark nights are over and the days will start getting longer.  It doesn't really matter how you couch it in theology, lights are part of the magic somehow.  Hannukah has the menorah.  Christians have Christmas lights.  The cult of Mithra believed the sun was born on December 25.  The Hindu calendar begins on the winter solsticeRomans believed the happier times in the past were when there was no winter, so they celebrated Saturnalia, when the length of the day reverses and starts getting longer.

When I showed up for college in Northern Wisconsin the RAs warned us that the winter is incredibly depressing there.  I was totally skeptical, but by my fourth year I was convinced. Besides the brittle, unforgiving cold and wind, the days were just a bit shorter in winter than they had been at home. 

Fourteen years later after yo-yo-ing in mood and weight and energy, I was diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder.  I participated in a study of the prototype of the light visor that is now standard treatment for SAD and jet lag.

I remember when they fitted me with my test visor.  The light seemed rather dull to me, and I thought "oh crap, I got the placebo!"  I went along with the protocol because they promised me proven treatment afterward for free.  By the end of a week my mood had totally changed.  To someone who doesn't have SAD this probably doesn't make sense, but the only thing that explains it for me is that it was winter on the outside but summer on the inside.  I never knew that other people didn't feel the same way.  Of course, in normal Spring the change is gradual, but it's very definitely a different feeling from winter for me.

I have since bought a light box, a desk lamp for work, and a visor for home and  travel.  But over the years there have been a few really, really deep depressions that weren't related to the change of seasons.  I just don't bounce back from grief very well, apparently.  The first really bad one was after 9/11.  I became homesick for the East Coast and it just didn't lift.  I had started on Prozac in grad school because my schedule was so crazy I couldn't follow might routine with lights.  In June of 2002 I finally went to a shrink because I'd expected my mood to lift by then and it kept getting worse.  That's when I was switched to Effexor.  I felt better in a little over a week and by the end of the second week I wondered why I'd been so sad.  The next time was the loss of my beloved dog in January of 2005.  That time the grief just hung on and wouldn't lift for the whole year, but it did lift the following Spring.  In December of 2007 my job was eliminated and I felt really betrayed because I'd worked my ass off there.  I asked my doctor about changing my dose of Effexor because winter was the WORST time for me to have a devastating loss like that.  She increased it, and I also went to therapy.  By the Summer I was feeling a lot better.

Science comes through again!

Now, considering my history with depression, and my family history of schizophrenia, you can imagine how pissed off I get when believers assert that atheism causes misery.  The corollary, of course, is that their religion protects them from depression.

It's just not true, but it does appear to be:

In fact, of Protestants who do not attend church at least weekly, mainline Protestants are more likely than evangelicals to say they are very happy...

David Myers, a psychology professor at Hope College and author of The Pursuit of Happiness, said people who attend church regularly tend to be happier partly because church provides social support.

"Humans have a need to belong, to be connected in close, caring relationships, and North America's 350,000 congregations are a significant venue for social support," Myers said. "If something bad happens, like a devastating sickness, you stand a good chance of getting love-bombed by your faith community if you are an active member of it."

Around here that "social support" is an almost obsessive level of participation.  One of my friends has "meetings" several times a week and goes to weekend retreats and week-long classes.  Another basically has no social life at all outside of his church and family.  One of my co-workers is married to a pastor, and she leads youth group meetings, takes the girls on "Chrysalis" weekends, and of course plays church league softball.  The love-bombing in the evangelical church is a powerful tool not just for "happiness" but also for creating an unhealthy dependence on the church.  The more wrapped up they are in the church, the more devastating the loss would be if they quit.

When something dire happens to someone in this type of church, they do indeed have a network of social support, but it has to be something dire not a mental illness or a depression.  Like, if your relative is in a helicopter en route from her accident scene to the hospital, an alert goes out and everyone drops everything to pray for her safe arrival.  I can just imagine pagers and Facebook pages going berserk over these things.  And then the person arrives safely, and everyone texts and posts and calls everyone else to say how great God is that he heard their prayers.

I never have the heart to ask them whether their pastors admonish them for not praying hard enough at the funerals of those who God doesn't choose to save.  They are my friends, after all, and they have the good manners not to tell me that they're praying for me, so I return the favor.

One day last year a coworker said she'd met the head of the local atheist group and "she seemed really happy," as if that was some kind of total impossibility.  She didn't know I was an atheist, so I piped up and said that I have been a lot happier since being an atheist because I don't have to worry about some higher power reading my mind and passing judgment on every little thing I do.  Not to mention, it's very comforting to know that when my life is over it's over.  No boring Heaven.  No boring Hell.

I have considered asking my few atheist friends here if they'd be willing to start up a group that could fill that social support niche.  We could also do some charitable activities, which the churches here have a monopoly on.  We would never be able to raise enough money for our own homeless shelter but we could find something helpful to do.  The Universalist-Unitarian "church" has filled that role for some atheists around here but I consider them the opposite of atheism.  They believe all religions are equally good rather than my view that all religions are equally bogus.

Anywho.... depression is caused by genes, winter, grief, and loneliness.  It's not caused by disbelief unless believers shun non-believers and refuse to offer them the same kind of friendship and support they offer each other.  I suspect they also shun people within their church who belie the fantasy that belief confers happiness.  It may address some existential fears, but it doesn't cure clinical depression.

The Pew Report finds a few patterns but what they fail to note is the commonality amongst the happiest people: a feeling of control over their lives.  People who have more money are happier than people with less, but that money doesn't translate to goodies and luxuries; it translates to having the power to influence the events of our lives.  Rich people can travel to visit distant relatives, pay for expensive treatments for themselves and their pets, live in a home that they haven't had to compromise on, etc.  Likewise, the lack of a difference between retirees and employed people reflects the fact that both choose to be in that status.  The unemployed are less happy, because unemployment is not a lifestyle choice, at least for people with phones.  Presumably, the Pew survey wasn't able to reach people who willingly choose to live in a cardboard box under a bridge.

So the second part of the happy religionist formula is that religion gives people a feeling of having more control over their lives.  They have assured their afterlife will be happy by saying the right things and forcing themselves to believe the right things (or by choosing a church whose beliefs match their own so that they can feel righteous and "safe").  They have the power of prayer to affect outcomes, and when God in his "infinite wisdom" decides to do the opposite, they rationalize away the disappointment.  Those that can't manage to rationalize away the hurt just leave.  They either find a church with better love-bombing, lower standards, or a more realistic approach. Or they go away completely.

This is the source of the "angry atheist" myth.  "You're just angry with God (for not doing what you told him to do)" is one of the Christian mantras.  It's an accusation, really.  "You didn't rationalize as well as you should have, or else you'd still be coming to church" is what they really mean.  It's projection of course.  They work very hard at swallowing disappointment and betrayal themselves, so they think you were just less successful at it.  I have known people who left their church out of anger or disappointment, and then "got saved" and returned.  These people perpetuate the myth.  They just don't want to admit that there are angry Christians, so they call them atheists.

So... we're potentially more isolated, and we feel more powerless to change events.  Those things could exasperate a depression compared to a Christian, but we're not angry at a non-existent being and we're not worried about going to hell for feeling sad.  All humans are equally prone to clinical depression or any other problem, and lacking a fairy tale or love-bombing community, we do have a bit of a struggle, it seems.  But... I have come through the tough times without prayer and without wishing there were a supernatural force that could solve all my problems if only I said the right words.  Some churches have "counseling" that might be helpful, but so do health plans.

Having come through it and now being on the other side of depression, I can say that admitting that I need help to get over it is the "first step," but also not an admission that I need magic.  Religion doesn't offer magic, just the illusion of magic.  Strip away the fairy tale and whatever good they do comes from people caring about other people.  That's why they're losing their hold on society.  Atheists can be just as caring as church-goers, and now that we're more open, we can find each other more easily and find (and offer) that support even if we live in Fundytown.

 I hope you have a happy, or at least non-depressed, Thanksgiving, my American atheist pals. 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Book Review: Forged by Bart Ehrman

On my travels I read Forged: Writing in the Name of God, why the Bible's Authors are not who we think they are, by Bart Ehrman.   According to the reviews on amazon, none of the information in it is new, but it was new to me.  I knew in a general sense that the Bible had been codified hundreds of years after Christ's death, and that there was controversy over what to put in, but I didn't realize the extent of the bogus material floating around during the first few centuries.

As the title suggests, some of the Bible was not written by the people credited with it.  Not all, but some:  the gospels, Timothy 1&2, Peter 1&2, Corinthians 3, Acts, and the Apocalypse.  The basis for discrediting author attribution is mainly the mention of events too recent to be known to the supposed authors, and theological points that contradict Paul but are in line with later theology.

One big point is the anti-semitism of second century Christians, with the result that successive versions of the crucifixion story put more blame on the Jews and less on Pontius Pilate.  Another is the expectation of Christ's imminent return by the early believers, and of course later believers having to rework the theology of the second coming in light of Christ's failure to fulfill his prophesy of returning before his followers have died out.

Some of the most virulent anti-women stuff is in the two Timothy letters, so I was glad to see them discredited even though I don't have any plans to become a preacher.  I want to like Christ and his followers, even if I don't believe any of the supernatural stuff in the fairy tale.  Bart Ehrman redeems them quite a lot in this book.

The writing is a bit repetitive, especially in his frequent insistance that forgery was neither common nor condoned during the period the Bible was being written.  I got the impression that there's some great war going on in scholarship and he believed if he shouted often enough his side might win.  But... if you were to pick up the book and read a single chapter, it would make sense to you because some of the repetition sets the stage for his look at individual cases.

Chapter Four should really have been Chapter One, since he refers to it so often in the earlier chapters.  This is the chapter in which he debunks the alternative theories one by one: no, an ignorant Aramaic-speaking fisherman couldn't have dictated the gospel in perfect academic Greek style, no, scribes wouldn't have been able to make up stuff with the author's content yet in their own style, no, it wasn't common practice for followers of a teacher to use the teacher's name for their own work, etc.

Ehrman is a scholar who has read and studied the earliest texts in the original languages.  Apparently there are quite a few people who dedicate their lives to such study, and they argue amongst themselves quite a bit without the rest of us ever knowing who they are or what they argue about.  This book gives us a glimpse of that world and also the results of years of close study of Biblical and even non-Biblical texts.  Despite being a member of the ivory tower, Ehrman is able to write about his life's work in everyday language and he organized the book in such a way that a person could keep it on their bookshelf for future reference.

I recommend it with the caveat that a straight through cover-to-cover read could be a bit tedious and repetitive.  If you have an interest in how the Bible came to be and what it's really made of, you'll overlook the flaws and find this book fascinating, as I did.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Je suis arrivée

I was in Paris for the past few weeks.  It was partly business, partly fun.  I have never been there before so I was a classic American stupid tourist, but I did have a list of things to see in my free time and I saw them.  Just being there for so long I got a taste of the lifestyle there, and it wasn't really what I expected.

I was disappointed at how Catholic the country still is.  November 1 is a "national holiday."  And why would that be?  Because it's All Saints Day.  I considered going to Notre Dame Cathedral that day, but I decided to sleep late and relax instead.  That's what holidays are for!  And anyway, if I want to see how the French Catholics celebrate a holiday, I'd rather see how they celebrate St. Denis, the patron saint of Paris, who was beheaded.  I love Catholic art!  The beheaded saints are pictured holding their heads.  Kind of makes me wonder what the ceremony would be like. 

Where I was staying there were lots of immigrants from Africa.  They're presumed to be from "Morocco" but I rather doubt they all are.   Anywho, supposedly there is bigotry against the "Moroccans" but they have only themselves to blame.  If you invade a country and force the natives to learn your language you can hardly blame them for choosing your country to migrate to after their way of life has ceased to support them.  Their national motto, Liberté Egalité, Fraternité, is all over the place.  They should read it more often.

On the other hand, they were nice to me for the most part, despite my horrible pronunciation of French.

Now that I'm back, I'll do a few book reviews of the books I put on my Kindle for the trip.  Some interesting stuff on my kindle!