Friday, May 12, 2017

Holy Mother’s Day: How do YOU Honor Her?

I’ve had some time to think about honoring mothers on Mother’s Day. My mother lived until she was 93. And my wife has been a mother and grandmother for some years (I'm being careful here).

I’ve written about Mother’s Day before (20142015) but this year I have been asked to talk about Ephesians 6 the week after the US Mother’s Day so I’ve been thinking about Mother’s Day from the perspective of this text about honor.

One of the interesting things about this well-known phrase, “Honor your father and your mother” is that it appears eight times in the Bible (Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 5:16; Matthew 15:4 & 19:19; Mark 7:10 & 10:19; Luke 18:20; Ephesians 6:2). Apparently, it was important to repeat this command. People over a span of centuries needed reminders. Maybe we do too.

Here are my thoughts on this ancient text codified into a cultural norm for several decades.

Words Aren’t Good Enough

Christian honor required children to use their resources to care for their parents. The lack of government social programs for the elderly meant mothers and fathers were left without assistance when they were no longer able to care for themselves. In Pauline morality, the church ought to care for widows unless they had a relative (1 Timothy 5).

In western cultures, there are social programs but nothing replaces the loving care adult children can provide to their parents. Parents vary in needs as children vary in resources, so the application of loving care will vary. Some will benefit from a visit. Other’s need a ride. Some will enjoy a time to share old stories. Others need financial support. The principle of honor is carried out in loving and caring relationships.

You May Reap What You Sow

Grace is in need of support in caring for her husband who has Alzheimer’s disease. She is elderly and busy 24/7. Fortunately, her children take turns stopping by to lend a hand. I like to think her children are honoring her and their father because these elderly parents set such a caring example during their years as parents and grandparents. This is a real story but her name is not Grace.

My point is, each of us sets an example of how to honor parents by what we do as parents and grandparents. Adult parents provide examples to their children by the way they honor their elderly parents and relatives. One can always hope that a positive parent example will inspire their own children to be loving and caring when another generation reaches old age.

Mother’s Day Ought to be Personal

If you go to church on Mother’s Day you’ve probably heard all the common sermons and advice. In the US, mothers may receive a flower or some trinket. Some church leaders fret about leaving out women who are not mothers. There’s no easy way to avoid offending women who are mothers and resent the dilution of Mother’s Day into “Women’s Day” or hurting all those women who wanted to be mothers but for various reasons are not mothers. And of course, there are people who are biological mothers but have not been nurturing and loving toward their children. People hurt in different ways. Mother’s Day is not always a happy day.

My thought—church leaders ought to encourage people to honor their own mothers and to make a special effort to honor those mothers who do not have children around to honor them. A meaningful Mother’s Day ought to be personal and relational—between mother and child or children—not between an organization and a mother or a woman.

If Possible, Avoid Materialism

I don’t like the fact that corporations have hijacked Mother’s Day and Father’s Day creating a demand by shaming poor families into showering mothers with exorbitantly priced cards, flowers, dinners, and so forth. I realize that many will not have an easy way out of this commercial trap without feeling like they are not doing enough to honor their mothers. And mothers are not immune to the culture in what they expect as a minimum of honor.

I think it better to follow the cultural norm if possible unless all parties agree to bypass excessive commercialism in favor of a more personal honor. People have different values. I’m not opposed to enjoying the good things in life. I just don’t like to see people feeling trapped by social expectations designed to drain excess family resources in support of high paid CEOs. Of course, situations are so different in terms of resources, work demands, distance, and so on. We must all use wisdom.

Whether nearby or far away, a clear and loving expression from a child to a mother on Mother's Day goes a long way to maintaining or re-creating a strong relationship.

The Mother-Child Relationship is of Critical Importance

The quality of the relationship between a mother and a child is a building block for personal and family identity and well-being. Quality relationships are the building blocks of society as well. There are many good reasons to honor one’s mother. In addition to loving and caring for her, we bless ourselves and our society. A family structure built on honor, respect, love, and care is surely a good home. And a society built on honor, respect, love, and care is surely a good place to live.

Related Posts

Friday, February 17, 2017

Insecure Love of God and Christian Morality

Christians are commanded to love God with all their being. Psychological scientists interested in religious studies have examined the idea of loving God in several ways, including measures of attachment.

Attachment researchers have long examined the relationship between parents and children. Two components of the relationship are security and closeness or their opposites- anxious insecurity and distance or avoidance. These same dimensions have been found in the relationship between religious adults and God- especially when God is viewed as a person as in Christianity.

Understanding attachment to God is one important aspect of Spiritual identity. And it is also related to morality. In this post I look at a study by Thomas Fergus and WadeRowatt at Baylor University.

Morality and scrupulosity

Some people experience extreme concerns about their sinfulness and have a strong sense of urgency to do something to rid themselves of their sin. This particular pattern of obsessions and compulsions is a form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or OCD known as scrupulosity. 

It appears that some people perform ritual behaviors to heal what they perceive as an impaired relationship with God.

Common distressing thoughts include blasphemies, impure thoughts, committing sin, and worries about going to hell.

Prayer has been specifically identified as a compulsive behavior in some persons attempting to rid themselves of intrusive and stressful thoughts. Other actions include frequent confessions, seeking assurance from clergy and other leaders, cleansing and purifying rituals, making deals with God, re-reading or repeating scripture verses.

The study sample

The investigators obtained responses from 450 adults using the internet. On average, they were age 34. Most were women (59%). Most identified themselves as Caucasian (79%). A few religious groups were represented:

 “In terms of a current religious affiliation, 20.7% of the sample self-identified as Protestant, 16.5% as Catholic, 1.6% as Jewish, 1.6% as Buddhist, 1.6% as Hindu, 0.2% as Muslim, and 14.9% as “other” religious affiliation. Approximately 41.9% of the sample reported having no current religious affiliation.”

Key finding

There was a strong relationship between high levels of anxious attachment and high levels of scrupulosity.

My Thoughts

1. The key finding makes sense. The distress experienced by people experiencing scrupulosity is an anxious condition thus we can expect religious people to experience an associated anxiety about their relationship with God.

2. The authors appear quite familiar with attachment research, including studies involving attachment to God. You have to read footnote 3 to understand the significant relationship between avoidance of God and scrupulosity. The authors note that when they controlled for religiosity, there was no significant relationship between avoidance attachment and scrupulosity. High avoidance attachment is linked to low levels of religiosity.

3. The authors appropriately acknowledge the problems of self-report measures and the sample. In my view, it would be more valuable to examine the issue in specific religious groups such as Evangelicals, Catholics, Muslims and so forth.

4. In the research and in clinical experience, scrupulosity is difficulty to treat. Mental health professionals follow treament approaches that follow guidelines for other OCD conditions. These include identifying and attempting to correct disturbing thoughts while being sensitive to a person's faith. Treatment may include limiting repetitive actions through response prevention strategies. The use of medication (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) also helps some people. See also Webmd.

Related Post

Research reference

Fergus, T. A., & Rowatt, W. C. (2014). Examining a purported association between attachment to God and scrupulosity. Psychology Of Religion And Spirituality, 6(3), 230-236. doi:10.1037/a0036345 Link to Abstract 

Read more about Moral Psychology and Christian Cultures

Friday, December 30, 2016

WELFARE CULTURE Thinking about myths

The article named above was shared by my friend, Donna Washburn. It caught my eye because several people offered comments of support.

The author, Danica Johnson, offers some insights into the US welfare system that are probably not known to many. Unfortunately, some of her comments have a slant that could prove off-putting to some as noted by another friend, Brandon Schmidly. Johnson's ideas are worth examining with a critical eye—at least by those of us who care more about understanding our world and helping people in need than we care about advocating for one political agenda or another.

1. As noted, welfare is not one program but a general term for a group of programs designed to meet the needs of people with different needs that cannot be met in other ways such as employment or relying on a family or church for support.

This is important. Criticizing welfare makes no sense. Criticizing a specific program or components of a program might make sense. And it matters what you include under the label welfare. For example, working Americans pay into social security. Collecting social security when you become too disabled or reach retirement age is not the same kind of assistance as that which comes from programs designed to help people who have never worked because they too young or because the wages they earn are not enough to cover expenses.

Also, as noted, some programs support the working poor. Try to live on minimum wage as a family of one parent and three children. It’s pretty hard to make it financially, let alone cope with the emotional stress of parenting. Not every parent can go to college and obtain a degree that leads to higher paying work.

2. The myth of laziness is a good one to mention because it is a common insult levied against people who do not work but accept government support. There is little doubt that some people get by with as little as they can in life. There are people who take advantage of others, including taxpayers. Some get caught and some don’t.

If you work or attend school, you know there are people who don’t do their fair share but seem to get by. Perhaps they are lazy- but perhaps not. But to believe that most people who get some sort of government help are lazy is ridiculous, as the author illustrates. Besides, how exactly do you define laziness? How can you tell what a person can or cannot do?

3. There is a problem with undocumented immigrants. Some place a burden on some community resources. Some are children who had no choice in coming to America. Some were victims of deceitful scams. Some work hard, do jobs many citizens do not want, and some pay taxes. As noted, by Johnson, some get emergency medical care. Americans are often the beneficiaries of their hard labor.

4. The myth of high substance dependence among those on government programs deserves a careful look. Substance abuse is a problem for many people regardless of their use of government programs. Some people receiving government support have substance use problems that make matters worse for them. But it does not mean that if they stopped using a substance they would be healthy and able to earn a living. Some might be able to work but some will be disabled for life regardless of using or not using a substance.

5. The myth of the welfare queen from Chicago is a damning image. Setting up a false image to garner support for cutting services to the poor is appalling and antichristian. Confronting people who defraud taxpayers is important to a just society. We won’t catch them all but we do need to fund fraud units. Keep in mind that some folks who cheat tax payers run corporations and serve themselves as public “nonservants” in government positions.

6. The effectiveness of welfare programs should always be a matter of concern. Some programs keep people alive. Some help the poor obtain skills that allow them to earn a living. Some help people maintain employment. Some programs probably have minimal effects or may even produce harmful effects.

It’s important to evaluate programs and make wise decisions. Let the data drive decisions rather than politics. And keep in mind that we should critically evaluate all expenditures of tax-payer money. We need watchful eyes examining military expenditures, the high cost of homeland security, people who bill us (tax-payers) via the government for health, medicine, and education. And of course, not all people who take tax-payer funds to pay rent and buy food are playing fair.

7. Even if you never need government assistance, chances are someone you care about will. Attitudes matter. What’s the point of making people feel bad about getting help? Rarely do we know all the details of a person’s life that accounts for their lack of resources.

And why not give our fellow citizens some credit for assessing the needs of those who seek help? The people in our government agencies serve all Americans. They may make mistakes like everyone else. But I’ve worked with many counselors and social workers for years and find so many try to make the right decision. They don’t like scammers any more than the rest of us. Some are burned out. Most try to do what’s right.

Some of our agency workers go out of their way to raise funds from their fellow co-workers to help a family in need—beyond the small payments they may get from government. I’ve seen government workers collect funds to purchase gasoline for patients who needed out-of-town cancer treatment. I’ve seen them collect donations to buy clothes and necessities for a family who lost all in a house fire. I’ve seen them pile up toys and clothes for poor families at Christmas time. Do you think they would part with their meager government salaries to help people who really didn’t need help?

The author of the article didn’t address religion. But I will. What does your faith teach about caring for the poor? I’ve heard Christians tell me they don’t support government programs because they want Christian programs to provide services. That might be a good idea if Christians could cooperate and meet the needs of all Americans in need. But that has never happened. Some churches do more than others. And there are Christian organizations as well.

Christian programs constantly appeal for funds. If their appeals are genuine, and I assume that they are, then tax-payer support and or wages are too low to meet the needs.

Monday, December 5, 2016

A Death at Christmas

Creating Good Memories After a Loss

I knew something was wrong when my dad came to take me out of fifth grade in the middle of the day. In the old grey ’49 Plymouth, mum was crying. Soon we were at Idlewild for my first flight back home- London, England.

For days, my aunt Joan’s home in East Finchley (North London) was a grand central station-- family coming and going. Funny old stories repeated. Newfangled Lego blocks were really cool. A visit to Aunt Lilly and Uncle Jack’s sweet shop (actually a small grocers- I focus on what’s important). Then there were trips to old friends. The lights of Oxford St and Regent St. A walk with dad by the Thames whilst mum grieved with her sisters and her dad. Good memories amidst the sorrow.

Today, 5th December, marks the anniversary of my maternal grandmother’s death and a special memory.

I’ve lived more than six decades. My wife and I have known many losses. And some of our loved ones died very close to Christmas.

I’ve learned people cope in different ways when someone’s missing from a chair.

An annual trip doesn’t happen anymore.
A Christmas card is missing.
A present bought remains unopened.
An old story lingers untold.
A photo album triggers tears.

I was only 11 when me gran died. For me it wasn’t a sad memory because my relatives were somehow able to balance their grief with a focus on the children and the joy of seeing each other again.

Life draws us forward if we let it. I’m fortunate to have grandchildren. Highly active and enthusiastic lives keep us anchored in the present and set up markers for a hopeful future—birthday parties and such.

Christian and secular cultures support the living-- drawing us toward giving, singing, laughing, hugging, celebrating. And seeing nostalgic films.

Death can’t steal Christmas when the past is sealed with a kiss.

No. It’s not all Merry Christmas.

There are times I’ve felt alone in a crowd.
Times when memories brought anger rather than sadness.
Times when those absent were more prominent than those present.
And strangely, times when death meant guilty relief.

For me, remembering a death at Christmas is like a car journey across my timeline. Heading back in time I look for those good people and places. I know the way back home. I know how to avoid the dangerous parts of town. My mental seatbelt anchors me to the present. And on my return to the present, the past recedes like an image in a rear-view mirror. Somehow, I’ve learned to look forward to the past and the future.

If you struggle with a loss at Christmas or any other family holiday, I hope you quickly find a path to happiness again. And that you share your path with others feeling the pain.


As a psychologist, I know memories are dynamic and that people present at the same event will have different memories of the event. It's important to cut people some slack rather than argue over details. Recalling and sharing memories with others can help us heal.

The Pan Am flight was fantastic- glad dad captured a moment. I recommend someone capture the moment. It makes the journey back in time much easier. Even my mother could smile in this photo.

One nice thing about old photos is seeing things you didn't see before like all the other groceries at my Uncle Jack Timms' shop (pictured below). We naturally pay attention to the people in photos. That's great-- but I also enjoy the snapshot of culture in anyone's photo-- this is in North London December, 1961.

Forgiveness is a blessing. Letting go of slights and harsh memories allows me to remember the good things about people. Forgiveness is a virtue for people of most religious faiths and those without faith. For Christians, forgiveness is a command that brings life.

Coming together as family can be very supportive when there's closeness. Fortunately, my father lined up some family members. I understand my mother's closeness to her dad and sister when I see the photo (my mother is in the middle). Many of us can do more to support family in times of loss.

The recent surge of interest in ancestry caught my interest a few years ago. I do not have an exhaustive list of connections like some do. I think the ancestry quest a fine way to soothe painful memories by somehow connecting the living with the dead in one grand family tree.

For example, I came across my grandmother's death certificate in my mothers files when looking for old photos. Somehow it helped anchor my memories in reality. A real, kind-hearted woman, lived for nearly eight decades and survived two World Wars. I could go on- you get the drift-thinking about the life and times of our relatives can be rewarding.

In some ways, I just created an online tribute to my grandmother, Louisa (New) Clayton 1884 - 1961,  of London England. Creating online tributes to our loved ones is a way to externalize losses.  And sometimes it may help others as well.

Some find solace in more explicitly religious ways to cope that are unique to their faith. For example, some think about the deceased relatives in heaven or imagine them looking down upon them. Those ideas do not help me but I am glad they help others. It's best not to assume all religious people cope in the same way.

Prayers can be helpful to people of many faiths. But be mindful that some aren't in the mood to pray.

Some like to light a candle in memory of their loved one. And some don't grieve that way.

Skipping Christmas is a book by John Grisham. But the book title represents a way to cope with loss. If feeling overwhelmed, skipping Christmas or a holiday celebration may be the right thing- there will be more. On the other hand, many benefit by investing themselves in a holiday routine. Sometimes routines can be less stressful than figuring some alternative.

Realize that family and friends may not have a clue about the way each close family member copes with a loss. It's best to avoid harsh judgment of others and focus on what we need to do to get along.

Children respond to a family loss in different ways. Some may be more affected by the response of their parents than by the loss of the loved one. Obviously it matters who died and the connection of the child. Children can be forgotten or smothered in uncomfortable ways.

Getting Help: For Oneself or a Friend

Sometimes grief become severe.

Psychologist locator:
NAMI for questions about mental health: 1-800-950-6264;
Call your physician

Focus on the Family Counseling Line 1-855-771-4357;
Christian Association for Psychological Studies (CAPS)
American Association of Christian Counselors
See if your pastor provides counseling or referrals

Emergencies: In the USA call 911

Crisis: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255
     Crisis Text to 741-741

Read more about grief

APA (American Psychological Association)
En espaƱol:


Idlewild was the common name for the NY International Airport, renamed JFK on 24 December, 1963
Legos came to Britain in 1959. The first set I saw belonged to Cousin Terry. I didn’t play with them again until my son had some.

Grey- both spellings are acceptable but gray is more common in the US and grey in the UK. Grey and other basic words messed up my spelling as a lad in the US.

Grocers- English for a convenience store with food and other items. I choose to remember the best things about a place so, chockies and chocky biskits (have a gusess)
Sweets- American candy

Me Gran- London speak for My Grandmother. I don’t know but I was raised saying "me" for my- thanks to me dad. Some other, but not all, English use "me" for "my." in informal coversation.

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Note: I no longer provide counseling, psychotherapy, or personal consultations.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Grateful People: The Psychology of Gratitude

The American Holiday of Thanksgiving is a good time to focus on gratitude. Gratitude is a common human emotion and a virtue among adherents of many religions. 

Christians are encouraged to count their blessings and offer thanks each day. 

In psychology, gratitude is a positive emotion expressed toward those who have given some gift or benefit. For people of faith, gifts ultimately come from God. 

It’s no surprise that there is a positive correlation between religiosity or spirituality and gratitude.

The Grateful Living

What’s true about grateful people compared to those who are low on gratefulness?


1.  Higher positive feelings
2.  Higher life satisfaction
3.  More vitality
4.  More optimism
5.  More generous
6.  More helpful
7.  More likely to attend religious services
8.  More likely to practice their faith
9.  Less interested in material goods
10. Less likely to judge success in terms of possessions
11. Less envious of others
12. More likely to share

Research Notes

Gratitude journals work. People who kept a weekly gratitude journal felt better about their lives, were more optimistic, reported fewer physical symptoms and exercise more than those in other groups who recorded hassles or neutral life events.

Making a gratitude list helps personal goal attainment. 

Young adults who performed daily gratitude exercises had increased alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness and energy compared to people in other research groups—people who focused on hassles or comparing themselves to others who had less.

Writing letters of gratitude increased happiness and life satisfaction and decreased depressive symptoms.

A four-week gratitude program resulted in higher life satisfaction and self-esteem compared to people in a control condition.

Both gratitude and forgiveness were linked to well-being in a sample of people receiving psychotherapy.

Women appear to gain more from gratitude than men do. Compared to women, men were less likely to feel and express gratitude. Men were more critical when evaluating gratitude and overall benefited less than women did.

Women who were breast cancer patients benefited from gratitude when they were open to others.

Gratitude promotes high-quality relationships.

Happy Thanksgiving!


Algoe, S.B. & Stanton, A.L. (2012). Gratitude when it is needed most: Social functions of gratitude in women with metastatic breast cancer. Emotion, 12, 163-168. DOI: 10.1037/a0024024

Emmons, R. A., & Crumpler, C. A. (2000). Gratitude as a human strength: Appraising the evidence. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 19, 56-69.

Emmons, R. A., & Kneezel, T. T.(2005). Giving thanks: Spiritual and religious correlates of gratitude. Journal of Psychology and Christianity, 24, 140-148. 

Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: Experimental studies of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 377-389.

Froh, J. J., Bono, G., & Emmons, R. A. (2010). Being grateful is beyond good manners: Gratitude and motivation to contribute to society among early adolescents. Motivation and Emotion, 34, 144-157.
Froh, J., Sefick, W. J., & Emmons, R. A. (2008). Counting blessings in early adolescents: An experimental study of gratitude and subjective well-being.  Journal of School  Psychology, 46, 213-233.

Kashdan, T.B., Mishra, A., Breen, W. E., & Froh, J.J. (2009). Gender differences in gratitude: Examining appraisals, narratives, the willingness to express emotions, and changes in psychological needs. Journal of Personality, 77, 691-730. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-6494.2009.00562.x

McCullough, M. E., Emmons, R. A., & Tsang, J. (2002). The grateful disposition: A conceptual and empirical topography. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 82-112-127. 
Rash, J.A., Matsuba, M.K., & Prkachin, K.M. (2011). Gratitude and well-being: Who benefits the most from a gratitude intervention? Applied psychology: Health and well-being, 3, 350-369. DOI: 10.1111/j.1758-0854.2011.01058.x

Toepfer, S.M., Cichy, K., & Peters, P. (2012). Letters of gratitude: Further evidence for author benefits. Journal of Happiness Studies, 13, 187-201. DOI: 10.1007/s10902-011-9257-7

Toussaint, L. & Friedman, P. (2009). Forgiveness, gratitude, and well-geing: The mediating role of affect and beliefs. Journal of Happiness Studies, 10, 635-654. DOI: 10.1007/s10902-008-9111-8

Tsang, J., Ashleigh, S., & Carlisle, R.D. (2012). An experimental test of the relationship between religion and gratitude. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, 4, 40-55.  DOI: 10.1037/a0025632

This is an update of a 2013 post


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Saturday, November 12, 2016

Calls for Reconciliation and Unity: Just Emotional Nonsense?

Two big splits happened in Western nations this year. The British voted to exit the EU and Americans fought or endured a presidential campaign punctuated by harsh words and allegations of crimes, treason, and immorality.

I've heard calls for reconciliation and unity. Sometimes the calls make sense. Sometimes they almost seem insulting. And at other times the encouragement to reconcile or unify is ridiculous.

The only way to make sense of these calls is to get beyond the glibness. I'm talking about the kind of glibness that fits on a bumper sticker like "Missouri values." What values do you claim--that's what I want to know.

RECONCILIATION- Should we get together and trust each other?

It is nice to seek reconciliation. It's a feel good word. I noticed earlier this year that Pope Francis met with Lutherans - in case you haven't heard, the 500th anniversary of the big split comes up next year. The "Reformation" was indeed a major split--but that's another story.

Reconciliation presupposes there was a good relationship that ruptured. Now both parties wish to try and work together again. So, it makes sense for the UK to reconcile with the EU to find ways to work together--perhaps trade and defense.

In the US, families and friends have taken opposite sides in a tough political campaign. Some of the rhetoric is appalling--bound to hurt someone. Reconciliation can make sense provided there's no risk of harm. I clearly mean no physical harm. But I also mean no ongoing emotional abuse too.

What's crucial in reconciliation efforts is trust. Trust is built one small action at a time. A promise kept. A commitment honored. You can't work with someone who says one thing and does another.

You can't trust someone who has the power to carry out threats of harm. Reconciliation with an abuser is ridiculous. Why should anyone take such a risk?

Equally absurd is asking people to reconcile who haven't ever had a relationship. There's nothing to build on. Nothing to repair. Calls for reconciliation sound like self-righteous self-promotion when there's no relationship to repair.

Reconciliation requires trust.

UNITY- Should we be united? All in?

We are all humans. We are all Americans. We are all (enter ethnic group). We are all Christians. Whatever!

Humans have always been divided over something. Calls for unity can make sense when there's a superordinate need. Indeed it happens. Massive storms, earthquakes, and disasters bring out the best in many people within and outside a national boundary. People are united in a common cause. Peoples' lives are saved.

Americans, like many people of many nations, can be united in the quest to achieve common goals. We value education, strong families, security, and so on. But the rub comes when the details are put before us and someone has to pay the bill.

Calls for unity only make sense when people share a common value or cause. Calls for unity are dangerous if a powerful majority squashes minority opinions.

Calls for unity can serve to cover crime and deceit.

Calls for unity can be an excuse to silence opposing voices.

Unity is not always the best policy.

Consensus can result in harm to a family, business, church or nation when wise dissenters are ignored.


What makes sense to me are calls for decency and respect.

Let's disagree with ideas, policies, and plans in an effort to make a country or the world a better place for its inhabitants.

Let us reason together. Let us be persuaded by reason and evidence.

Let us not destroy another's humanity to win a debate or argument.

Let us check facts before insisting an opinion is true.

Let us listen to what other's say before denouncing their views.

Let us confront harm and wrongdoing forcefully.

And let us grant others the freedom to disagree without compelling agreement.

And let us apologize when anger disrupted relationships and served no righteous purpose. To be sure, when we've hurt co-workers and friends in arguments, let us show good faith through kindness, affirming comments, and cooperation where values are not compromised.

RELIGIOUS FIGHTS- A special call to the religious.

Some religious folks have a knack for claiming God is on their side.

A famous leader will lead in prayer or claim God spoke thus and so. If a group of people disagrees with this self-appointed grandee then they are branded as sinners, godless, heretics, blind and worse.

Religious folks can perpetuate conflict when they assert divine knowledge and use their social power to pit one group against another within their own faith group or between groups.

Of course, that's why I wrote A House Divided-- I've seen a worsening in the harshness of rhetoric dividing religious cultures. And often in the US, the divisions involve politics -- as if the church did not have enough issues to resolve!

Because most Americans are Christians and the most vocal commentators on culture call themselves evangelicals, the call for decency and respect ought to begin with evangelical leaders. I'm calling for it but I'm not a leader so maybe some of us nonleaders can challenge the leaders to transform their rhetoric.

But I'm not asking for evangelicals or any other group to give up their ideas about what is best for Americans. Nor would I want Christians to give up a strongly held conviction for the sake of unity.

I am asking Christians to disagree in a respectful manner most of the time. And to apologize when emotions interfere with decent discourse. We'll not be saints. And we need not be pushovers. We will get angry but let us be quick to apologize, strengthen self-control, and find ways to cooperate.

And let us not forget to love our neighbors.

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Tuesday, November 8, 2016

How do you measure mysticism?

Mysticism and the M(Mysticism) -Scale Factors

Scholars disagree on how to define mysticism, which makes it difficult to have a meaningful discussion. There is a growing consensus that an experience of unity is a common experience.

There is a tendency among philosophers to discuss mysticism as an experience of a reality that is not known by the usual sources of evidence such as our senses or even introspection. For a more detailed definition with an explanation of terms see the Stanford Encyclopedia entry for mysticism. Following is their somewhat tighter definition of mysticism.

A (purportedly) super sense-perceptual or sub sense-perceptual unitive experience granting acquaintance of realities or states of affairs that are of a kind not accessible by way of sense-perception, somatosensory modalities, or standard introspection.

Many contemporary behavioral scientists trace the history of scientific inquiry into mysticism to the exploratory 1917 work, The Varieties of Religious Experience, by American Psychologist and Philosopher, William James. By thinking of mysticism as a religious experience, scientists separate the phenomena from religious beliefs and religious behavior (i.e., practices or rituals).

British philosopher Walter Terence Stace’s  study of mysticism (Mysticism and Philosophy) influenced the work of psychological scientist, Ralph W. Hood Jr., who developed a three factor Mysticism Scale (M-Scale) to measure mysticism. When generating items for the scale, Hood relied on the theory and descriptions presented by Stace.

The M-Scale

The M-Scale factors provide a look at one conceptualization of mysticism that can be measured.

1. Introvertive. An experience of unity and the lack of a sense of self. This experience is at least low on interpretations based on a specific religious context. Thus, a common reported experience of encountering a bright light may be interpreted as God by Jews and Jesus by Christians.

2. Extrovertive. An experience of oneself uniting with all the objects in the universe.

3. Interpretive. An elaboration of mystical experiences.

The 8 M-Scale Groupings

Several studies have examined the psychometric properties of the M-scale. The scale included 32-items. The items are presented in eight groups of 4-items. Following are examples for each of the eight groups.

Inner Subjectivity: “I never had an experience in which I felt as if all things were alive.”

Unity in Diversity: “I have had an experience in which I realized the oneness of myself with all things.”

Unity / Ego quality (unity as loss of a sense of self): “I have had an experience in which everything seemed to disappear from my mind until I was conscious only of a void.”

Timelessness / Spacelessness: “I have had an experience which was both timeless and spaceless”
Ineffability “I have had an experience that is impossible to communicate.”

Positive Affect: “I have experienced profound joy.”

Religious Holiness: “I have had an experience which left me with a feeling of awe.”

Noetic quality (insight, nonrational sense of truth): “I have had an experience in which a new view of reality was revealed to me.”

Mysticism Scale Research

Hood (1975) presented early research on a 3-factor model based on a set of 32-items. The content reflects the ideas of Stace mentioned above. (This article contains the list of the 32 items).

In a 2001 publication, Hood and others evaluated the M-scale in two studies with 1,379 Christians (mostly) in study one and with 188 Americans (mostly Christian) and 185 Muslims (Iranian Shi’i) in study two. The pattern of results suggested similarities for Christians and Muslims. Overall, the authors concluded that the results offered support for a common core of mystical unity. The Christians in Study two were from a variety of groups. Most were Baptist (38.8%) followed by 11.2 % each for Catholic and Methodist. An unknown group were noted as “other” (25.5 %).

Here’s how the eight groupings were linked to the three factors (See Figure 1, page 695).

Introvertive = Unity + Timelessness / Spacelessness + ineffability

Extrovertive = Unity in diversity + inner subjectivity

Interpretative = Noetic + Holiness religion + Positive affect

Additional Notes

There are other scales measuring mysticism.

Although I did not report other studies in this post, mysticism has been studied among adherents of the world's major religions as well as mystical experiences not associated with any religion.


Hood, R. W. (1975). Construction and preliminary validation of a measure of reported mystical experience. Journal for The Scientific Study of Religion, 14(1), 29-41.

Hood, R. J., Ghorbani, N., Watson, P. J., Ghramaleki, A. F., Bing, M. N., Davison, H. K., & ... Williamson, W. P. (2001). Dimensions of the Mysticism Scale: Confirming the three-factor structure in the United States and Iran. Journal for The Scientific Study of Religion, 40(4), 691-705. doi:10.1111/0021-8294.00085


I write about Psychology and Religion or Spirituality. Here's my recent book.

A House Divided