Oct 032013
 

Blasphemy Incorporated

All opinions expressed herein by the author are offered without undue depths of rancor, malice, irony, or satire; only reasonably-balanced depths are intended. I name names and offer opinions but, any errors of fact are unintentional and sincerely regretted.

Rubber Ducky Jesus Nativity

Today, I received several items in the mail, including a magazine subscription offer and a specialty mail order catalog. Both traded on themes of religion — especially Christianity. You have to believe that neither company felt any need of remorse for their marketing choices. At first I was tempted to simply discard the pieces as simple junk mail. However, considered together, they gave me cause to think about the nature of commercialism, American values, and blasphemy.

The first item was an advertisement for “sinful savings” on subscriptions to Free Inquiry magazine (oriented toward the scientific examination of religion). I have a reputation for thinking (and writing) about such controversial subjects and wasn’t surprised to be targeted by their mailing list. The envelop featured red blood splatters and the message, “Blasphemous! Look inside at your own eternal peril.” They enclosed a “Special Introductory Offer – For Blasphemers Only.” Also, “Your salvation isn’t guaranteed… but your satisfaction with Free Inquiry is!” Their come-on letter starts, “Dear Intelligent Reader, You and I are under attack by religious fanatics who want to control what we read, how we think, and what our kids are taught in school. That’s why they use words like blasphemous, godless, and sacrilegious when bright, free-thinking people ask questions that challenge their superstitious beliefs. These are words meant to inspire fear and intimidate the weak-minded into submission.”

All of this seems like outright inflammatory sensationalism used for commercial advantage. These words, in this context, are also meant to shock, inspire fear, attract gratuitous attention, and sell magazines. I actually admire the effective use of language to motivate appropriately. I admire the insights of Frank Luntz, a Republican Party Strategist and wordsmith, in how to use words and re-frame arguments to push people’s emotional buttons. I just don’t buy his double-think inventions and arguments. And, I just won’t buy what might actually be an interesting magazine when it is promoted in this way.

However, the magazine advertisement also enclosed a note from Richard Dawkins (a renowned evolutionary biologist and outspoken atheist) saying, ”If there were a God, I’m convinced He would want you to read Free Inquiry,” adding, “He would be committed to the application of reason and encourage scientific discovery and the cultivation of moral excellence. He would want us to be more concerned about living a valuable life than enforcing arbitrary rules to avoid a vindictive punishment in an afterlife.”

Richard Dawkins also pushes some emotional buttons: reason, discovery, moral excellence, valuable life, and vindictive punishment. But, did you notice how positive, reserved, and respectful he was in framing his note? “God” and “He” are appropriately capitalized as honored divinities. Dawkins appeals to cultivating moral excellence and living a valuable life. You got a problem with that? I don’t. You got a problem with exposing religious hypocrites and moral corruption? Jesus didn’t. Still, I don’t think Jesus would have subscribed to Free Inquiry. I imagine that He might have given permission to be quoted, but not felt motivated by their advertising.

My wife, Dianna, is a retired elementary school teacher and still receives catalogs from the “Oriental Trading Company.” This issue featured “fun and faith” items with the exhortation, “share the spirit.” It contained a mix of holiday spirit and (evidently by allusion), Holy Spirit” trinkets, gifts, activity packs, as well as carnival and fund-raising prizes. They obviously expected to sell profitably to those wanting to promote and commemorate religious holidays and classically-fundamentalist Christian themes. I’m sure that if they anticipated that any of their items would be easily considered blasphemous, they would not advertise, stock, and sell so many.

First, let me point out that I am a self-acknowledged cranky old curmudgeon and some of you will think that I’m being overly-critical. And, any issue, taken by itself, may be easily-excused. But, the catalog collection, taken together, represents a popular disregard of appropriateness and dignity among self-professed spiritual and faithful people.

The catalog cover features three young children, singing hymns in “angel costumes,” complete with cheap white polyester gowns, battery-operated candles, and white “feather and marabou wings.” It is not entirely clear if real African Marabou Storks are “harvested” to produce these authentic-looking wings. That would be a whole other animal conservation ethics issue. Also, I want to suggest that it would be a mistake to dress your little cherubs in polyester and then substitute authentic candles, flickering with actual fire.

The vendor evidently also dyes marabou wings red to produce similar “Cupid wings.” The ad reads: “Put on these feather and marabou wings and find true love as a matchmaking Cupid or use them for an angel costume on Halloween!” We have discovered an unholy amalgam of child-angels in heaven, Cupid, the Roman god of erotic love, and the likely improvisation of a sexy fetish costume. It doesn’t seem to matter to anyone but me. And, I’m not too fond of Halloween as a festival-for-the-dead with little beggars dressed as angels, devils, zombies, pirates, and hookers.

Speaking of little angels, my wife’s older brother died in tonsil surgery when he was seven. Her mother’s pastor explained that God called her boy to be a little angel in heaven and that a bouquet also needs buds to be pretty and complete. Her mother evidently believed this literally and repeated it often in defense of the comfort that she claimed it brought her. Nonetheless, she never escaped the obvious trauma and bitter desolation of her loss. She became an alcoholic and chain smoker and died prematurely of lung cancer. Don’t try to tell me that God harvests little angels from our families.

And, when did “Christ our Savior” start getting mixed up with a jolly old elf sliding down chimneys, evergreen trees, snow men, and other such nonsense? You can buy color-your-own Christmas nativity stockings; gingerbread, rubber ducky, and gnome nativity sets; nativity bingo and playing cards; “Happy Birthday Jesus” balloons, party hats, beach balls, kaleidoscopes, slide puzzles, novelty assortments and ornaments; “Jingle for Jesus” bell bracelets; nativity crosses (just a slight anachronism); plus “Jesus Loves You” and “Caleb the Camel” Christmas tree ornaments.

There is more. You can buy golden crown and “Jesus is My Rock” stress squeeze toys; “King of King” tattoos (hardly in the spirit of Leviticus 19:28 or Deuteronomy 14:1), favor boxes and treat bags; “Joy to the World” paddle balls; “Joyful in Jesus” candy canes, Bible verse fortune cookies, and “Testamints(tm)” breath-freshening candy; “Share His Light and Love” and “Jesus Loves You Snow Much” snowmen; “Jesus Lights the Way” flashing bouncy balls, “Bible Bucks” play money, and “Pick Jesus” guitar picks; as well as rainbow faith bears, “Our Wise Lord” owls, “Jesus is Deer to Me” reindeer and “Wild About Jesus” safari animals.

You will definitely want to proudly display your own Celtic Cross Bible cover (incorporating a pagan solar nimbus). What can I say? It appears that non-believers do not have the corner on impiety. A mix of ignorance, indifference, conceptual hybridization, and crass commercial blasphemy are popular (and big business) among religious “fun”damentalists these days.

All the time, I run across people who want to tell me that they know what the truth is — that they are in charge of explaining what (their version of) God wants everyone to believe and do. I can spot them right away; I used to be that kind of faith-and-fellowship true-believer. Now, I can’t imagine what makes them better than any other tribe of mere mortals with similar convictions. I am appalled, not persuaded, by the arrogance, presumption, and hypocrisy of their blasphemy.

Feb 132010
 

Source: “Authentic Happiness,” Martin E. P. Seligman, Ph.D., Chapter 5

Satisfaction with Life Scale

1 = Strongly disagree – 7 = Strongly agree

  • · In most ways, my life is close to my ideal.
  • · The conditions of my life are excellent.
  • · I am completely satisfied my life.
  • · So far, I have gotten the important things I want in life.
  • · If I could live my life over, I would change nothing.

30-35 Extremely satisfied, much above average
25-29 Very satisfied, above average
20-24 Somewhat satisfied, average for American adults
15-19 Slightly dissatisfied, a bit below average
10-14 Dissatisfied, clearly below average
5-9 Very dissatisfied, much below average

Emotions about the past

May include: contentment, serenity, pride, satisfaction—bitterness, anger

Determined by thoughts and assigned meaning

Freudian view: The content of thought is caused by emotion

Aaron Beck – The leading theorist of cognitive therapy: emotion is generated by cognition

The thinking/feeling connection

There is evidence for both thought driving feeling and for feeling driving thought

Dwelling in the past – does the past determine the future? (Generally no)

The more you believe that the past determines the future, the more passive you’ll be.

Charles Darwin believed that successful individuals contributed to species evolution through reproductive success.

Karl Marx believed that economic forces contributed to future developments.

Sigmund Freud believed that childhood experiences created later psychological characteristics

Effects of negative childhood events on adults

Effects of childhood on adulthood are probably overrated. The evidence is minor. Many studies did not control for genetic influences. This is the nature vs. nurture issue.

Cognitive therapy: Aaron (Tim) Beck invented cognitive therapy, a popular talk therapy for depression. It attempts to redirect negative talk about the past into positive thought about the present and future.

Venting anger: Venting has recently been considered authentic, honest, and healthy. It turns out that venting anger is not productive. Gratitude and savoring are, in fact, more healthful.

Feb 072010
 

Source: “Authentic Happiness,” Martin E. P. Seligman, Ph.D., Chapter 6

Satisfying Life Experiences

The most satisfying life experiences tend to be those involving self-respect, accomplishment and social relatedness. They notably did not include exercising power influence or acquiring material or physical gratification. Cultures that emphasize community responsibility are less likely to identify self-directed activities as producing happiness. The classic elements of the “American Dream” have a dark side: “materialism is toxic for happiness. ”

Self assessment exercise.

  1. In most ways my life is close to my ideal.
  2. The conditions of my life are excellent.
  3. I am satisfied with my life.
  4. So far I have gotten the important things I want in life.
  5. If I could live my life over, I would change almost nothing.
Flow

Flow, total involvement in a challenge, is an altered state of consciousness that produces genuine satisfaction with experiences. It is very enjoyable to be fully absorbed and engaged in such an activity. It does not arise from passivity but from active engagement with life. The specific activity is not so important as the way in which it is performed.

Interpreting life events

“Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” Abraham Lincoln

One’s interpretation of an event may differ from person to person. While some remain chronically unhappy others are capable of seeing a silver lining in the events of their lives.

Maximization and Regret

Orientation poured goals may be characterized as satisfying or maximizing. A satisfier is content to meet expectations. A maximizer tries to achieve the best result in every situation; they plan were carefully, set higher standards, but may suffer negative emotions when the results do not satisfy their expectations. They are more prone to experiencing regret, unfavorable comparison to others, and reduced life satisfaction. Maximizers also strive to keep their options open, often been less satisfied with the outcome.

Savoring

Contemporary life often promotes feelings of urgency and the desire to multi task. Conversely, the ability to slow down and savor experience adds richness, vividness, and satisfaction to life. Slowing down to “smell the roses” increases happiness.

Gratitude

Gratitude extends appreciation for positive outcomes from oneself to a wide range of other contributors. This also increases intrinsic self-esteem and perception of social support. People expressing gratitude avoid taking life events for granted; they are less prone to negative emotions, are more empathetic, and less focused on materialistic goals. They feel happier and present themselves to others as happier.

Jan 152010
 

Source: “Authentic Happiness,” Martin E. P. Seligman, Ph.D., Chapter 2

APA

Martin Seligman was elected president of the American Psychological Association (APA) for 1998.

Veterans Administration Act of 1946

The Veterans Administration Act of 1946 was created for the practical purpose of helping returning veterans of World War II. This shifted the emphasis of the field from academic research on learning, behavior, and motivation toward more practical applications. At that time, “no mental illness was treatable. For not a single disorder did any treatment work better than no treatment at all.”

NIMH

The National Institute Of Mental Health was created in 1947, and focused on the interests of its many psychiatrists, primarily psychiatric pathology. But

Learned helplessness

In 1968, Martin Seligman worked on “learned helplessness.” His findings “challenged the central axioms of my field.” He determined that learned helplessness closely resembled “unipolar depression” in both observable characteristics and brain chemistry.

Pessimists

Pessimists tend to believe that their problems are “permanent, pervasive, and personal. Pessimists are more likely to become depressed when they meet with problems. They perform more poorly at their jobs, have more health problems, and shorter lives.

Optimists

Optimist tend to believe that their problems are “surmountable, articulate to a single problem, and resulting from temporary circumstances or other people.”

Nikki story

Martin Seligman tells the story of an important realization triggered by his five-year-old daughter, Nikki. While weeding in his garden, he yelled at Nikki for disturbing him. She responded: “Daddy, do you remember before my fifth birthday? From when I was three until when I was five, I was a whiner. I whined every day. On my fifth birthday, I decided I wasn’t going to whine anymore. That was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. And if I can stop whining, you can stop being such a grouch.”

Jan 122010
 

Source: “Pursuing Human Strengths,” Martin Bolt, Introduction

“Choice” reflects our freedom to strive for self-determination. We all have the experience of considering options, choosing a behavior, and experiencing the consequences. The American culture is structured around the concept of freedom. We cherish the concept, nurture the capacity, and defend the right to make choices. We are more likely to sign petitions if someone has tried to coerce us into not doing so. Like Romeo and Juliet, we may become more passionate about an option that we feel is being denied to us. The concept of “reverse psychology” depends upon related principles.

Autonomy, acting with a sense of true choice, may be considered a “fundamental human need.” A sense of autonomy increases or interest in and commitment to the things we do. Conversely, restricting choice decreases our interest in an activity. Our sense of autonomy, our human freedom of choice, increases are commitment, ability to achieve, and level of satisfaction.

Jan 112010
 

Source: “Pursuing Human Strengths,” Martin Bolt, Preface

The weakness of psychology, during its short history as a science, has been its primary focus on human weaknesses rather than on human strengths. That began to change dramatically when Martin Seligman was elected president of the American Psychological Association. Seligman leveraged his research on learned helplessness and hopelessness into a new focus on learned optimism and happiness.

A primary focus of positive psychology is on human strengths, a core set of virtues. The intent is to study, measure, and understand these strengths so that they can be purposefully developed, increasing both subjective and objective psychological well-being.

Responsibility – Both researchers and individuals have a responsibility to understand the factors that influence thinking and behavior, and to use this knowledge to increase the healthful development of individuals and societies. Responsibility is vital for the development of other strengths.

Love – Hereditary nature and environmental nurture both contribute to human development. Attachment styles, developed in early life, have a powerful impact on adult relationships.

Empathy – The ability to recognize and consider the feelings of others is a vital step in psychological development. Empathy is necessary for forgiveness and altruism.

Self-control – the ability to accept delayed gratification, instead of only immediate rewards, is also vital to psychological maturity. Purposeful achievement requires a persistent cycle of goal setting, reflection, and self regulation.

Wisdom – intelligence involves a great deal more than the ability to acquire rote knowledge. Wisdom is associated with reasoning ability and the productive application of knowledge in a complex social environment.

Commitment – our goals must have meaning and reflect a satisfying purpose if we are to pursue them with persistence. But there are important differences between intrinsic and extrinsic motivators.

Happiness – positive emotions such as happiness were required for salutogenesis. It is irresponsible for psychology to focus on pathology.

Self-respect – while self-esteem serves to artificially heighten a sense of entitlement, self-respect involves a realistic valuation of one’s potential within society.

Hope – learned optimism can be an effective therapy for the hopelessness of depression. Hopefulness helps us to sustain effort through difficult times. Community support is vital for individual and collective well-being.

Friendship – individual support is also effective in promoting personal and collective well-being. Shared responsibility also helps to sustain persistent effort to achieve goals.

Nov 292009
 

Source: Integral Institute – Scholars

Lawrence E. George, MD, is a Family Medicine physician with High Country Health Care in Dillon, Colorado. He received his medical degree from Mayo Medical School at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, and is Board Certified in Family Medicine, having completed family practice residency through the University of Utah at McKay-Dee Hospital in Ogden, UT.

Source: High Country Health Care

image Dr. Lawrence E. George joined the staff of High Country Health Care in 1999. He provides care at Silverthorne Family Practice.

Dr. George is a 1981 graduate of the Mayo Medical School in Rochester, Minnesota. He completed his residency in family practice in 1984 at the University of Utah, McKay-Dee Hospital in Ogden. He received board certification through the American Board of Family Practice in 1984.

As a family practitioner, Dr. George is trained to provide comprehensive health care for the individual and family. He provides a complete spectrum of family care including pediatrics, adolescent, adult and geriatric care. He has a special interest in Sports Medicine, Integral Medicine and spirituality in the practice of medicine.