Archive for the ‘Mental Health’ Category

Valerie Tarico on Mother Teresa’s Fetishization of Suffering / Dean Hansen Responds

May 1, 2013

Easter "Celebration" in the Philippines

by Valerie Tarico

Passive acceptance or even glorification of suffering can be adaptive when people have no choice. As the much loved Serenity Prayer says, “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.” This attitude of embracing the inevitable is built into not only Christianity but also other religions, especially Buddhism. But passive acceptance ofavoidable suffering is another thing altogether, which is why the prayer continues, “. . . the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.”

By even her own words, Mother Teresa’s view of suffering made no distinction between avoidable and unavoidable suffering, and instead cultivated passive acceptance of both. As she put it, “There is something beautiful in seeing the poor accept their lot, to suffer it like Christ’s Passion. The world gains much from their suffering.”

Read the entire article here.

Dean Hansen responds: 

Suffering is inevitable. But its inevitability does not convince me of its religious virtue, any more than a house fire convinces me we need more arsonists. But it does point to the Church’s blatant opportunism in regards to a handy convenient use policy.

People “lick” their wounds because wounds hurt, and because pain can be as intolerable as the bad metaphors that are often asked to carry the weight of human experience. There are more healing properties in a gob of spit than in a bucket of religious platitudes. The most agonizing injuries we endure are often unresponsive to the well-meaning cures and metaphysical vagaries inflicted on us by those who haven’t endured them themselves but who are sure, nonetheless, that they have the solution for our dilemma. If God wants scars, he must want wounds. If he wants wounds, he must enjoy inflicting injury. If the injuries don’t heal properly, it’s because people are more than casually reticent about the efficacy of appealing to the same source for a cure that either bestowed or was indifferent to the injury. What I will do with the wounds in my life is ask why a God who claims to love us unconditionally needs to test our capacity for suffering as an adjunct for bestowing an unearned grace that ostensibly accepts us as we are, wounds and all.

The Church constantly intones that, “Pope Benedict XVI, John Paul II, Mother Teresa, St. Francis, John of the Cross, Theresa of Lisieux, Teresa of Avila, and many others are models of Christianity.”  And rather ghastly models at that, judging by the state of the church and the sclerotic heritage it has left in its wake. Compare Christ’s words, “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Mother Teresa spent her entire life living in the slums of Calcutta, working 18-20 hours a day for 70+ years in filthy surroundings in the hope of being an acceptable vessel for Christ’s “love,” and felt abandoned, forsaken, and bereft of faith in the end. Theresa of Lisieux was a neurotic personality who suffered from scrupulosity, a psychological disorder characterized by pathological guilt about moral or religious issues. Scrupulosity is personally distressing, objectively dysfunctional, and often accompanied by significant impairment in social functioning. It is typically conceptualized as a moral or religious form of obsessive-compulsive disorder.  She scourged herself and fasted repeatedly as a result.

Saint Francis of Assisi engaged in severe self-inflicted penances which included vigils, fasts, frequent self-flagellations and the use of a hair shirt to increase his discomfort with the loathsome flesh.  Thomas More, Catherine of Siena, and Ignatius of Loyola all engaged in similar acts of sadomasochism  for the favor of their lord’s “easy” yoke.  St. Teresa of Avila undertook severe mortification once it was suggested by friends that her supernatural ecstasies were of diabolical origin. (Certainly her cures were.) The seers of Fatima wore tight cords around their waists and abstained from drinking water on hot days. The Virgin Mary reportedly told them that God was pleased with their sacrifices and bodily penances. John Paul II, who himself was known to practice flagellation and other penitential practices like sleeping on a floor and fasting before important events, wrote an entire Apostolic Letter on the topic of suffering, specifically the salvific meaning of suffering: Salvifici Doloris. It is considered a major contribution to the theology of pain and suffering!  And finally we have Vitamin B16—Joe “the Rat” Ratzinger who proclaims that, “pain, the very product of evil and sin, is used by God to negate evil and sin. By freely suffering the pains that went with his passion and death on the cross, Jesus fully reveals his love.”

Yep.  That sounds like love with a generous dose of abundant living all right. Freedom is slavery.  Ignorance is Strength. War is Peace. Suffering is Joy.

“For my yoke is easy and my burden is light,” says Jesus. A reading of that passage should have forever dispelled the idea that you can earn your way to heaven through oppressive work and endless self sacrifice. But apparently, by the lights of the church triumphant, heaven is within reach only when you’re willing to strive against insurmountable odds until you drop dead from psychic and physical trauma and exhaustion. Saint Pio of Pietrelcina, a “saint” who received the stigmata, wrote in one of his letters:

Let us now consider what we must do to ensure that the Holy Spirit may dwell in our souls. It can all be summed up in mortification of the flesh with its vices and concupiscences, and in guarding against a selfish spirit. … The mortification must be constant and steady, not intermittent, and it must last for one’s whole life. Moreover, the perfect Christian must not be satisfied with a kind of mortification which merely appears to be severe. He must make sure that it hurts. 

So much for the imitation of Christ and the Good News of the Gospel!

The catechism  of the Catholic Church states: “The way of perfection passes by way of the Cross. There is no holiness without renunciation and spiritual battle. Spiritual progress entails the ascesis and mortification that gradually lead to living in the peace and joy of the Beatitudes.”

Pope Paul VI also stated:

The necessity of mortification of the flesh stands clearly revealed if we consider the fragility of our nature, in which, since Adam’s sin, flesh and spirit have contrasting desires. This exercise of bodily mortification—far removed from any form of stoicism— does not imply a condemnation of the flesh which the Son of God deigned to assume. On the contrary, mortification aims at the ‘liberation’ of man.

This is the Christianity that Paul condemned, and which Jesus excoriated:

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”?  These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.”  – Colossians 2:13-23

Is this ghoulish litany of sainthood supposed to impress outsiders with Catholicism’s rejection of the world and its elevated spiritual consciousness? Such a consciousness is based on nothing more than a perverse pathology of self-loathing. Origen had himself castrated in a sad and savage attempt to “purify” himself.  It didn’t work.  Augustine believed the source of evil was his genitals “Ecce unde” and ended up ditching his common law wife and her son Adeodatus to get the sexual monkey off his back. Then he spent the rest of his life in guilt and regret for abandoning her. Obviously, that too, did not work. Today if you self-mutilate to the point of causing yourself grievous bodily harm, you’re put under observation for 48 hours and pumped full of meds. That generally does work, making the rubber room unnecessary. At least you don’t have to chew your way through leather straps to greet the morning.

I have grown weary of those who say that suffering is somehow redemptive, that it carries with it a positive outcome. I do not deny that this is at times so. Those who suffer can sometimes emerge humbler, wiser, gentler. But there is nothing beneficial that comes from suffering that could have not been achieved far more effectively through a positive means. To the contrary, suffering leaves us broken and cynical, disbelieving and forlorn, miserable and depressed.  — Rabbi Shmuley Boteach

Contrary to what you may have heard, the only sort of character suffering builds is the ability to suffer—a useful ability in a world where suffering is the routine nature of life but not a virtue that makes the world a better place.  — Virginia Postrel

 

 

Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation

February 21, 2013

APA LogoThe following is an abstract of the 2013 Report of the American Psychological Association’s Task Force on Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation:

The task force conducted a systematic review of the peer-reviewed journal literature on sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) and concluded that efforts to change sexual orientation are unlikely to be successful and involve some risk of harm, contrary to the claims of SOCE practitioners and advocates.

Even though the research and clinical literature demonstrate that same-sex sexual and romantic attractions, feelings and behaviors are normal and positive variations of human sexuality, regardless of sexual orientation identity, the task force concluded that the population that undergoes SOCE tends to have strongly conservative religious views that lead them to seek to change their sexual orientation.

Thus, the appropriate application of affirmative therapeutic interventions for those who seek SOCE involves therapist acceptance, support and understanding of clients and the facilitation of clients’ active coping, social support and identity exploration and development, without imposing a specific sexual orientation identity outcome.

Read the entire report here.

You’re a Gonner, Man!

February 7, 2013
Joshua Gonnerman

Joshua Gonnerman

Pursuant to an earlier conversation about my article on Joshua Gonnerman’s celibacy, Dean Hansen writes:

The reason I was scouting YouTube for the movie “Boys in the Band” was to isolate a quote which I was reminded of while reading about Joshua Gonnerman’s effort at disposing of himself through enforced celibacy in order to reconcile himself to the demands of Catholic belief.  Near the film’s end, there is a confrontational scene between Harold (the Jewish homosexual whose birthday is being celebrated) and Michael, the host for the party who has gathered Harold’s friends together at his apartment).  The dialogue is as follows:

Harold: “Now it’s my turn.  And ready or not Michael, here goes. You’re a sad and pathetic man. You’re a homosexual and you don’t want to be. But there’s nothing you can do to change it. Not all your prayers to your God, not all the analysis you can buy in all the years you’ve got left to live.  You may very well one day be able to know a heterosexual life, if you want it desperately enough. If you pursue it with the fervor with which you annihilate. But you’ll always be homosexual as well. Always, Michael.  Always. Until the day you die.”

This in turn reminded me of something never discussed in these petty little Catholic online squabbles. Something Jesus actually said:

Harold and Michael from "The Boys in the Band"

Harold and Michael from “The Boys in the Band”

Jesus said, “I come that you may have life, and that more abundantly.”  I wonder how many people try to wrestle those words into an eternal context that robs them of any immediate meaning. If what he said is true, then the search for that abundance must begin here and now, and nowhere else. And it must begin with complete honesty. Where else could it begin? If you believe that your life truly begins when you die, beyond the senses that you associate with life, then what is the purpose of a life lived in exclusion of the principle promised in such a hopeful sounding declaration of Jesus? How can you “get” life if you don’t already have it? What’s the purpose of being born at all, if our life is a mere substitute for something we cannot partake of unless it’s beyond the grave? How can we have “abundance” if we must deny everything we are as a means of getting everything we hope to be? Why long for a harvest if there’s no seed corn? “…I come that you might have life later…some other time and some other place, that doesn’t involve you having a human personality, human needs, or human desires?”  Or,  “…I come that you might deny who you are perpetually, so that you not be disappointed to discover what you never were?”

Homosexuals who deny who and what they are for the sake of fitting in to a religiously intolerant world view that condemns their presence, are being compelled against their will to deny the abundance that was promised for them in this world by a savior whom they often learn to despise because of the actions of those who claim to know him best.  An abundance framed in love, commitment, loyalty, sharing and genuine fulfillment in the arms of true love. If we don’t model that love here, with those we’ve seen and adored, how can it be bestowed on us as a reward by someone we have not seen? And how can we adore him if he denies us what we need for a sane and fruitful life?  If that abundance doesn’t start here and now, then no future in which it’s promised can be anything but a lie.

Irresistibly Cute Gay Ortho-Catholic Graduate Student Rejects Scientific Consensus on Homosexuality, Opts for Celibacy

February 7, 2013
Joshua Gonnerman

Joshua Gonnerman

The consensus among medical professionals, all the way up to the World Health Organization, is that the so-called “conversion” therapies, which promise to “cure” homosexuality, are both ineffective and dangerous. Nevertheless, the Catholic Church has long maintained that homosexuals are “intrinsically disordered,” leaving gay parishioners a range of options that, unfortunately, do not include joyous self-affirmation. Among these are therapy, guilt, denial, sexual repression, celibacy, guilt, self-loathing, life-long confusion, self-destruction, secrecy with its attendant blackmail, and guilt.

A recent article by gay-but-celibate Catholic writer Joshua Gonnerman suggests that the Church is beginning to countenance skepticism regarding the efficacy of conversion therapies. The article—“False Hope and Gay Conversion Therapy,” First Things 2/2/13—counsels caution. While Gonnerman speaks of “positive effects” in many therapeutic cases, he also acknowledges certain “dangers:”

Too often, I have seen people who placed their hope in orientation change in this way come crashing down when they realized it wasn’t working. On a psychological level, it can lead to depression, to self-loathing, to suicidal tendencies. The message that the absence of successful change makes one a lesser Christian or some kind of failure is always present, either explicitly or implicitly.

Given orientation change’s low rate of success, and the apparently precarious status of that success, the odds of eventual failure are far, far too strong. Our response to homosexuality [orientation change] is playing with souls; surely, we should play the game that has most hope, rather than the one that seems more neat and tidy?

Gonnerman, studying for his Ph.D in historical theology at the Catholic University of America, is deeply committed to finding a path of reconciliation between his faith and his sexual orientation. No longer trusting reparative therapies, and unwilling to question the Church’s teachings, he has but one remaining option, and that is celibacy. “The path of celibacy,” he writes, “is really dependent on our struggles for Christian virtue, rather than struggles for a heterosexual functioning.”

One can only wonder why Gonnerman considers celibacy to be a surer bet than therapy. The Catholic Church itself has acknowledged that more than 50% of its priests are not celibate. Psychological consequences of dishonoring the chastity vow may include all the negatives that Gonnerman associates with “failed” orientation change: depression, self-loathing, and suicidal tendencies, especially for those who genuinely believe they were “called” to chastity.

The failure of chastity vows entails other, more far-ranging problems as well. Men and women who not only repress their sexuality but practice deceit and denial about their lapses are more likely to project their own guilt onto others. The high positive correlations between homosexuality and repressed or closeted homophobia have not gone unnoticed in recent years. A single Ted Haggard can become a scourge of gay men everywhere.

Nearly all the initial combox responses to Gonnerman’s  article were from conservative Catholics. Considering how thoroughly they chewed over what he had written, I was struck by how little knowledge any of them had of current scientific thinking about homosexuality. I refused to believe this was accidental. I left the following comment:

These discussions about conversion therapy are taking place in an echo-chamber that is hermetically sealed to exclude the consensus opinions of health and social welfare professionals on the subject of homosexuality and its discontents. I searched both the article and the comments and found not one mention of them.

Are you not aware that every major professional association of doctors, psychologists, pediatricians, and social workers in this country has unequivocally declared there to be nothing disordered about homosexuality? The World Health Organization has also made this very clear. Practitioners who ignore the consensus are usually motivated by religious teachings that have no basis in evidence.

Are you also not aware that there are millions of “out” LGBTs who do not struggle with either their orientation or their identity and who have done a complete “end-run” around all the problems that you seem to think inhere in homosexuality?

A British Medical Journal editorial almost ten years ago put it very succinctly:

“In spite of every mental health and medical association in the U.S. stating unequivocally that there is no scientific evidence that homosexuality is a disorder, many religious organizations continue to declare homosexuality or homosexual behavior as sinful and immoral. This creates spiritual crises for many people who have grown up within anti-homosexual religious families and communities.”

It seems to me that the Church is far more interested in showing that homosexuality is a disorder than it is in helping homosexuals, whose path to psychological well-being will never, in the long-run, be through either celibacy or reparative therapies. And it will not result from the ministrations of the pious folks who have caused the very problems they are trying to cure.

Don’t you see that your “cures,” together with all the horribly toxic body- and sex-hating theology that they bring with them, are the problem?

Mr Gonnerman, before your life is completely spoiled by self-denial and guilt, my advice is: look for a better way. There is one, and you will find it if you look. Believe me, I have been through all this and have come out in the sunshine. I am about to be married to my partner of 13 years, and life has never been better. I simply cannot believe I was ever confused about this. I see your confusion and just want to tell you: Don’t miss your life. It’s the only one you’ll ever have.

deviant behavior

deviant behavior

Anon wrote:

Doughlas: The world is full of credentialed misfits. The truth is same sex acts are deviant regardless of how many credentialed people claim otherwise.

I responded:

Anon, the medical and social welfare associations that I am talking about have well over a million members all told, and they represent many more millions of practitioners and researchers. I would not dismiss them lightly. These are the people you go to when you have a medical or psychological issue. If you are going only to your priest with such issues, then you are denying yourself competent and qualified care. The Church has no expertise in mental health and it cannot give accreditation or certification in medical fields. Instead, it has a set of doctrines to which it gives absolute priority over any fact-based source of understanding or treatment. The closed nature of the system poses real dangers to those who get drawn into it. This is just as true of Catholicism as it is of Scientology or the Mars Hill Church, and among those most at risk in this current political climate are homosexuals. What particularly alarms me is to see “out” gays and lesbians turning to Church teachings for guidance. This is exactly the wrong thing to do, and I would urge them to “break the spell” and break out of the closed system of Catholic thought on this subject.

David Nickol and Howard Kainz discussed whether Freud believed homosexuality to be a neurosis. I interjected:

David and Howard, why are you even concerned about what Freud thought of homosexuality? As the founder of psychoanalysis, he was a hugely important figure, but he was wrong about almost everything, and his theories were based on very limited numbers of case studies and were unfalsifiable. For the latest and greatest on homosexuality, you’ll need to look to sciences that didn’t even exist in Freud’s time, starting with neuroscience. There’s an abundance of reliable information out there. You could start with the APA. Or you could just google a few terms and be careful to avoid any so-called “studies” that emanate from religious institutions, because they are likely to be biased. Remember: religion starts with conclusions; science starts with data.

David Nickol responded:

You are, of course, correct. The consensus about homosexuality among psychiatrists and psychologists, and the agreement of the AMA and almost all other medical associations counts for almost nothing in discussions about homosexuality here. However, studies that purport to show negative aspects of homosexuality or gay people are accepted without question.

Yan wrote:

SmokingHow can you possibly quote approvingly the BMJ statement that there is no basis in evidence for homosexuality being a disorder? What about all the evidence that made the profession almost universally conclude that it is was a disorder prior to 1973? Did this evidence disappear? Has all the evidence stopped coming in?

What both you and the BMJ statement do is conflate evidence with a conclusion based on the evidence. What has changed is the conclusion from the evidence, not the evidence itself. It is fair to observe that this conclusion is what most of the smart people think and to give it the weight due to the opinion of smart people generally. But it is also fair to observe that previously most of the smart people thought the opposite.

When you say there is no evidence, that is shorthand for saying, ‘don’t argue with me. My mind is made up.’

Apparently you have no use for Church teaching in this regard. However, it is not right to say the Church has no competence in the area of mental health. Psychology is the study of psyche, the soul. The Church has deeply concerned itself with the health of the soul for 2000 years. You should acquaint yourself with some of the treasures it has accumulated in that regard over these past 2 millennia.

To which I responded:

ComputerYan, you ask why I discount pre-1973 science about homosexuality? It’s for the same reason that I discount pre-1973 science about aeronautics, cancer, electronics, climate change, the effects of smoking, and just about everything else. Science progresses. Why look to Kepler for information about the stars when you can visit the NASA website?

And no, the evidence hasn’t stopped coming in about homosexuality or about climate change. But we do know that homosexuality is not a disorder and that anthropogenic climate change is a reality.

I maintain that the only real purpose of these bizarre, evidence-free discussions about homosexuality is bias-confirmation. You and other bloggers here are studiously avoiding the scientific consensus about homosexuality because you are committed to upholding the Church’s teachings, which, in your view, will always trump any amount of science.

What is dishonest about these discussions is that they pretend to respect science when they don’t. To maintain this pretense, they will draw support in the form of “scientific” studies that are in fact only junk science pumped out in support of foregone conclusions about homosexuality. This is not science. It is the antithesis of science.

What would it take to convince you that homosexuality is NOT a disorder? I maintain that nothing could convince you, because you’re not honestly interested in evidence.

(more…)

For Bishop Robert Vasa, Catholic Faith Trumps Medical Norms, Reason, and Science.

December 22, 2012
Bishop Robert Vasa

Bishop Robert Vasa

In February of last year, Bishop Robert Vasa, Coadjutor of the Diocese of Santa Rose in California, addressed faithful Catholics at a White Mass sponsored by the Kansas City chapter of the Catholic Medical Association. His message was about medical ethics. Catholic Internet media approved and channeled it uncritically to their readers, most of whom—judging from the comments—found it edifying.

Here is some of what Bishop Vasa said:

In those instances where faith and reason seem to be in conflict then, provided you truly know your faith, you will become convinced that it is reason and not faith which is involved in error.

In our subjectivist, relativistic age which often masquerades as an age of pure reason it is tempting to put a lot more faith in science and reason than it is to put faith in God. Yet, both are acts of faith and both are directed toward a perceived god. For much of our society that god is science or government or technology. For us there is a greater God and a greater good.

We are repeatedly challenged to decide if we are people of science or people of faith.  In truth, we must always be both. In those instances where faith and science agree there is no moral or ethical conflict. In those instances where science or the usual practice of medicine conflicts with faith, or conflicts with the moral code of our Church, we must be men and women of faith.

The Catholic Medical Association, which sponsored the mass, is very clear about its priorities. Its mission statement says, “The Catholic Medical Association [CMA] is dedicated to upholding the principles of the Catholic Faith as related to the practice of medicine…” One might have expected something more like, “The CMA is dedicated to providing superior medical care and advancing the scientific understanding of disease.”

Here is the CMA’s statement about homosexuality:

CMA supports the teachings of the Catholic Church as laid out in the revised version of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, in particular the teachings on sexuality: “… tradition has always declared that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered… Under no circumstance can they be approved.” (CCC, n.2333)”

The CMA’s position on homosexuality and its support of the so-called “reparative therapies” is diametrically at variance with that of the World Health Organization, which has stated the following:

  1. “Conversion” or “reparative” therapies and the clinics offering them should be denounced and subject to adequate sanctions.
  2. Public institutions responsible for training health professionals should include courses on human sexuality and sexual health in their curricula, with a focus on respect for diversity and the elimination of attitudes of pathologization, rejection, and hate toward non-heterosexual persons.
  3. Professional associations should disseminate documents and resolutions by national and international institutions and agencies that call for the de-psychopathologization of sexual diversity and the prevention of interventions aimed at changing sexual orientation.

Any Catholic doctor or medical institution that is guided by the values and ethics of the Catholic Medical Association should take heed. Any person who subjects him- or herself to treatment by such a doctor or institution should be wary.

Notify This! Vatican Bungles Response to Sexual Ethics Book

June 9, 2012
Sexual power is power, and more and more women have it. Apparently the struggle to wrest it back is high on the agenda of those who live on the 110 acres called the Vatican.

by Mary E. Hunt / Religion Dispatches, 6/9/12

Margaret A. Farley

If Margaret A. Farley’s fine theo-ethical work causes “grave harm to the faithful,” Catholics live very graced lives. War, poverty, ecocide, racism, colonialism, sex and gender injustices of all sorts come to mind in the “grave harm” category. But not in the wildest imagination of anyone other than a Vatican bureaucrat would Dr. Farley’s sexual ethics qualify. How fortunate we are to have a scholar of her caliber, and how appropriate that she is appreciated widely. Recent attention to her work only serves to deepen her impact and broaden her audience; 24 hours after news broke of the Vatican censure the book was propelled from an Amazon ranking of 142,982 to 16.

The June 4th Notification from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) titled “Regarding the Book Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics by Sister Margaret A. Farley, R.S.M.,” left many scandalized by the intellectually embarrassing and morally tawdry work of a group that obviously needs a permanent vacation. William Cardinal Levada and company at the CDF are simply out of their league theologically when it takes them 6 years (the book was published in 2006) to comment on an important work—and they still get it wrong.

Continue reading this essay.

Rejecting Homosexual Children Results in Disastrous Health Outcomes—An Appeal to Parents

May 28, 2012

Not infrequently, science butts heads with culture as the data scientists collect about issues of the day may conflict with cultural perceptions and deeply-held beliefs. Attitudes and perceptions about homosexuality are, not surprisingly, a source of denialism as certain overvalued ideas about sexuality are being challenged with our deeper understanding of human sexual desire. For one, homosexuality is not a choice, despite all attempts to reprogram or suppress homosexual desires, the desires do not go away. One might even hypothesize the attempts to repress or disparage such a fundamental aspect of someone’s identity might cause harm long term and result in negative health outcomes. Sure enough, this article published in the journal Pediatrics last week suggests this is in fact the case, and I believe we must begin to view the rejection of homosexuality by parents as not just as small-minded, but actively harmful, constituting child abuse that has long term implications on their childrens’ health.

Continue reading this article. 

A Reader’s Response to Andrew Sullivan’s Newsweek Article of 4/2/12, “Christianity in Crisis”

April 8, 2012

by Dean Hansen

“Now, a word to Catholics who follow the dictates of their consciences instead of the dictates of the Vatican. Congratulations, you’re Protestant.” –Florence King

Andrew,

I read your essay in Newsweek and was refreshed by its honesty. I could hardly contain my response before finishing it, however, because it also irritated me, and I wanted to explain why. You mentioned, perhaps because it connects with the long train of Catholic teaching so well, that Christianity is all about sacrifice, pain, torment and suffering. Please forgive me for asking this, but how do you hope to revive people’s interest in the church by reminding them that the reason they left should be the same reason they would want to come back if only they knew what was good for them? Let me explain to you why I’m not coming back, why your inducements at least for Catholicism strike me as hollow, and why it’s better to not be consumed beneath the weight of some ghastly magisterium while searching for truth among the ruins.

If Christ intended to talk to people in the 21st century by sending them a clear and lucid message whose appeal and meaning would remain constant through the centuries, and whose importance and singular value were of such weight that misinterpretation must be kept at a minimum, he has failed miserably. If, on the other hand, his intention was to convey a covert, paradoxical, vague, troublesome, easily misunderstood message with multiple interpretations, diverse meanings, and self-contradictory gibberish designed to keep people at each others’ throats for 2,000 years, then he has succeeded beyond the wildest expectations imaginable. Since I cannot believe that Christ is responsible for this crap, I must believe that evil exists. And since I don’t believe there is any devil, I’m also forced to conclude that we have created him very much as Christ has created us: in our own image.

Image

Grim reenactment: Three Filipinos are nailed (yes, NAILED) to crosses in a Good Friday crucifixion in Barangay Cutud, San Fernando on 4/5/12. The event attracted a crowd of around 10,000 people.

The Church constantly intones that “Pope Benedict XVI, John Paul II, Mother Teresa, St. Francis of Assisi, John of the Cross, Theresa of Lisieux, Teresa of Avila, and many others are models of Christianity.” And rather ghastly models at that, judging by the state of the church and the sclerotic heritage it has left in its wake.

Compare Christ’s words, “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” 

Mother Teresa spent 70-plus years in the slums of Calcutta, working 18-20 hours a day in the hope of becoming an acceptable vessel for Christ’s “love.” In the end, she felt abandoned and bereft of faith. Some rest for the soul.

Theresa of Lisieux was a neurotic personality who suffered from scrupulosity, a psychological disorder characterized by pathological guilt about moral or religious issues. Scrupulosity is personally distressing, objectively dysfunctional, and often accompanied by significant impairment in social functioning. It is typically conceptualized as a moral or religious form of obsessive-compulsive disorder. She scourged herself and fasted repeatedly as a result.

Image

The nails holding this man to the cross by his feet and hands are REAL. His wounds are real. (from Good Friday re-enactment of the Passion, 4/6/12, in the Philippines.)

Your own acknowledged favorite, Saint Francis of Assisi, engaged in severe self-inflicted penances that included vigils, fasts, frequent self-flagellations, and the use of a hair shirt to increase his discomfort with the loathsome flesh. One has to wonder, considering the random, David Blaine style, pick-any-card methodology of Francis’s Bibliomanic beginnings, what would have happened if the first passage he stumbled on was the death of a fruit tree, the removal of Peter’s ear, or pigs being drowned in the sea.

Thomas More, Catherine of Siena, and Ignatius of Loyola all engaged in similar acts of divinized sadomasochistic pathology for the favor of their lord’s “easy” yoke.

St. Teresa of Ávila undertook severe mortification once her friends suggested that her supernatural ecstasies were of diabolical origin. (Certainly her cures were.)

The seers of Fatima wore tight cords around their waists and abstained from drinking water on hot days. The Virgin Mary reportedly told them that God was pleased with their sacrifices and bodily penances.

John Paul II was known to practice flagellation, sometimes accompanied by other penitential practices like prolonged fasting and sleeping on the hard floor. He wrote an entire Apostolic Letter on the topic of suffering, specifically the redemptive meaning of suffering: Salvifici Doloris. It is considered a major contribution to the theology of pain and suffering (!).

And finally we have Vitamin B16—Joe (The Pope) Ratzinger who proclaims, “….that pain, the very product of evil and sin, is used by God to negate evil and sin. By freely suffering the pains that went with his passion and death on the cross, Jesus fully reveals his love.”

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The nails holding this man to the cross by his feet and hands are REAL. His wounds are real. (from Good Friday re-enactment of the Passion, 4/6/12, in the Philippines.)

Uh huh. Pain is the product of evil and sin and can be used to negate evil and sin. Talk about homeopathy run rampant! Here’s some hair of the dog that bit you, soldier. Eat up. Bon Appétit! That sounds like love garnished with a generous dollop of abundant living, all right! Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is Strength. War is Peace. Suffering is Joy. No more pillows for you, Francis. All that this suggests to me is that the voice of God becomes the voice of the devil when heard through the filter of ego. (And yes, even saints have them.) Suffering is inevitable. But its inevitability does not convince me of its religious virtue any more than a house fire convinces me we need more arsonists. But it does point to the Church’s blatant opportunism in regards to a handy convenient-use policy.

It’s certainly easy enough to mimic madness, but why would anyone seek it as a way of life?  There’s something “special, unique and mysterious” about Tourette syndrome too, but I don’t see the next generation of proto-Christians emulating mental illness by spitting out vulgarities as a path to holiness just so they can reveal to disbelievers that they are “not of this world.”  There are plenty of other-worldly people in mental institutions—or there would be if it weren’t for Ronald Reagan’s compassionate conservative cost-cutting policies in the 80s.

A reading of that passage in Matthew should have dispelled anyone’s idea that heaven can be earned by dint of oppressive work and endless self sacrifice. “… My yoke is easy and my burden is light,” says Jesus, but apparently, by the lights of the church triumphant, only when you’re willing to strive against insurmountable odds until you drop dead from psychic and physical trauma and exhaustion.

Saint Pio of Pietrelcina, a “saint” who received the stigmata, wrote in one of his letters: “Let us now consider what we must do to ensure that the Holy Spirit may dwell in our souls. It can all be summed up in mortification of the flesh with its vices and concupiscences, and in guarding against a selfish spirit … The mortification must be constant and steady, not intermittent, and it must last for one’s whole life. Moreover, the perfect Christian must not be satisfied with a kind of mortification which merely appears to be severe. He must make sure that it hurts.”  So much for the imitation of Christ and the Good News of the Gospel.

The catechism  of the Catholic Church states: “The way of perfection passes by way of the Cross. There is no holiness without renunciation and spiritual battle. Spiritual progress entails the ascesis and mortification that gradually lead to living in the peace and joy of the Beatitudes.”

Pope Paul VI also stated:

“The necessity of mortification of the flesh stands clearly revealed if we consider the fragility of our nature, in which, since Adam’s sin, flesh and spirit have contrasting desires. This exercise of bodily mortification—far removed from any form of stoicism—does not imply a condemnation of the flesh which the Son of God deigned to assume. On the contrary, mortification aims at the ‘liberation’ of man.”

This is the Christianity that Paul condemned and that Jesus excoriated. Talk about straining gnats and swallowing camels.

“When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”?  These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.”  – Colossians 2:13-23

Is this ghoulish litany of sainthood—utterly ignoring the gospels—supposed to impress outsiders with Catholicism’s rejection of the world? Or is it just an inflated sense of spiritual worth pumped up by a perverse pathology of self-loathing?

Origen had himself castrated in a sad and savage attempt to “purify” himself.  It didn’t work.

Augustine believed the source of evil was his genitals “Ecce unde” and ended up ditching his common-law wife and her son Adeodatus to get the sexual monkey off his back. Then he spent the rest of his life in guilt and regret for abandoning her. That too was a failure. Today if you self-mutilate to the point of causing yourself grievous bodily harm, you’re put under observation for 48 hours and pumped full of meds. That generally does work, at least for a while, and just thank God you’re not put in the rubber room where you have to chew your way through leather straps to greet the morning.

All this insanity is gratuitous and pointless. The ghoulish extremism and macabre self-knotting of saints and penitents is an absolute abomination that a loving God should abhor. If that’s love, Fuck love.

People dress their wounds because wounds hurt, and because pain is intolerable like the bad metaphors that are often asked to carry the weight of human experience. There are more healing properties in a gob of spit than in a bucket of religious platitudes. The most agonizing injuries we endure are often unresponsive to the well meaning cures and metaphysical vagaries inflicted on us by those who haven’t endured them themselves, but who are sure nonetheless that they have the solution for our dilemma. If God wants scars, he must want wounds. If he wants wounds, he must enjoy inflicting injury.  If the injuries don’t heal properly, it’s because people are more than casually reticent about the efficacy of appealing to the same source for a cure that either bestowed or was indifferent to the injury. What I will do with the wounds in my life is to ask why a God who claims to love us unconditionally needs to test our capacity for suffering as an adjunct for bestowing an unearned grace that ostensibly accepts us as we are, wounds and all.

The DSM-IV manual would not look kindly upon poor St. Francis today. In fact, I have absolutely no desire or longing to live like St. Francis or Augustine, Catherine of Siena, or any of the other so-called “saints” of the church.  I think the church may have confused Jimson weed with the bread of life, or manic bi-polar disorder with inspiration. I am not enamored of destitution for the sake of making some vague spiritual point about God’s love. We should help one another with a mind toward ending suffering, not elevating it to a virtue through extreme penitential sacrifice.

Happy Easter,

Dean Hansen

“Bully,” The Trailer

April 1, 2012

My Name Wasn’t Eric. It Was “Faggot.”

January 14, 2012

EricJames Borges committed suicide two days ago. He was only 19 years old. His Fundamentalist Christian parents had kicked him out after having tried and failed to “exorcize” the gayness from him. He had been mercilessly bullied in school, even in the classroom where a teacher was present. His sense of self-worth was so bruised and battered that not even an emerging support network was able to save him.