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.

The 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.

Don't wait for Thanksgiving to enjoy the benefits of 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

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Happy Halloween 7 mysteries

Here I revised an old post with 7 thoughts about the psychology of some issues.

Seven Lessons from Psychological Science

1. Illusions can be explained. The brilliant demonstrations by Derren Brown reveal how easy it is to deceive us. We quickly believe supernatural activity rather than natural phenomena explain unusual events. In the 1850s, British scientist, Michael Faraday created tests to show how turning tables could be explained by human expectations rather than some spirit force. Other events like spelling prophecies with a glass on an Ouija board have been explained by psychological scientists who show how minds search for patterns and anticipate responses before other parts of  our brain become aware of our actions. To learn more, read The Illusion of Conscious Will by Daniel Wegner. You can get a summary from former paranormal researcher, Susan Blackmore. Our minds can trick us into thinking some external unseen agent made something happen because of the way our brains function.

2. Mental illness often gets a bad name. At times, the unusual behavior patterns of people accused of being a witch or possessed by a demon have been documented well enough to match known mental disorders such as a seizure disorder.

As to the witches of Salem, one psychologist, Linnda Caporael, has a theory that the phenomena were substance induced. Some symptoms of mental illness are rare so we do not see them often. Attributing hard-to-control behavior to a devil or a demon adds to the negative stereotypes that continue to create barriers for people with a mental illness.

And let's be careful not to demean or mock mental illness in clothing. Mental illness is real and not at all funny.

3. Support systems work. Facing our fears in a group setting with friends and family is a great way to lessen their debilitating effects. We don’t always need a professional psychotherapist to cope with distress. Trick or treat at parties and safe events can be one more family event.

4. Defeat fear and anxiety with incompatible responses Learning to laugh at fearful and anxiety producing stimuli is a great way to fight any fear. It doesn't always work but the principle of pairing fearful stimuli with a different response like laughter does work for some.

 5. Disgust promotes purity. The disgust response is a primal emotional response linked to moral rules about purity and holiness. People have a long history of disgust in response to blood and other bodily fluids. Some forms of sexual expression also invoke disgust. Sometimes people have a hard time coming up with reasons to explain why something is wrong. Moral psychology researchers like Jonathan Haidt call this phenomenon moral dumbfoundness

Unconsciously, people exposed to disgusting stimuli want to wash their hands. It is no surprise that some forms of sexuality were labeled dirty or filthy. Perhaps All Saints Day is an important "clean up" event following some Halloween activities.

6. The Macbeth effect is real. Like the famed Lady Macbeth who cried, “Out damned spot,” people who recalled unethical behavior unconsciously preferred handwipes to other options at the end of the study. Halloween activities that border on the unethical can link to guilt and the need to come clean. Coupled with the disgust-purity lesson we may have a good basis to celebrate November 1st, All Saints Day.

7. Death reminds us of our own mortality. The theory is known as terror management theory. Such thoughts of death promote a sense of greater connectedness to our ingroup (church, kinship, nation) and a stronger disapproval of outsiders. You can predict moral condemnation and reminders of what God hates when this response pattern is stimulated. Just thinking of the theory reminded me of hellfire sermons from childhood. Scary stuff at church for sure.

Seven Benefits of Halloween Celebrations

R. I. P.


Disgust and Morality- Learn more about the psychological foundations of Sanctity and Degradation based on research on the basic human response of disgust and the work of psychological scientist, Jonathan Haidt and colleagues.

Macbeth effect- Learn more about the need to cleanse oneself following an impure or unethical act. It's part of human nature. Here's one link. You will find more studies on moral purity in the research literature. Here's an npr story featuring psychological scientist, Spike W S Lee

Terror Management Theory - interview with leading scientist Sheldon Solomon in Scientific American. The theory explains how people react to an awareness of their own mortality.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

THE SUPREMES reign and influence elections

The U.S. Supreme Court Becomes a Divisive Issue

From "Free to share and use"

Several Christian leaders have remained committed to the Republican Party because the current presidential candidate promises to “appoint” conservative justices to the Supreme Court. The argument has effectively reframed the election for many conservative Christians who were put off by other concerns–including their lead candidate's negative attitudes expressed toward women and ethnic minorities.

Progressive Christians and other Americans have expressed concerns about Republican nominees to the Supreme Court who might overturn or restrict decisions that affect the rights of women, minorities, immigrants, and healthcare among other concerns.

Confusion and the U.S. Court

There appears to be some confusion among Americans about how justices are appointed to the Supreme Court and how the court functions. For example, notice the difference in the words of the 2016 Presidential Candidates––does the president appoint or nominate?

“I feel that the justices that I am going to appoint…”
Donald Trump 19 October, 2016

“The president nominates, and then the Senate advises and consents, or not..”
Hillary Clinton, 19 October, 2016

Clinton is right on this understanding of the president-senate process albeit other comments suggest a misunderstanding of how the court operates. President Obama has nominated a moderate to replace the seat vacated by Justice Scalia. The Senate has not acted on the nomination, which of course blocks the nomination. In this case, the senate and not the president is controlling who gets on the court.

As a matter of history, in the 19th century, the Senate did not appoint 35% of nominations for the Supreme Court.

Why Do Conservative Christians Care?

Conservatives argue that the new president will likely (appoint/nominate/name) a few justices to the Supreme Court, which will affect the laws that govern Americans. Most of the comments I have seen indicate concerns about abortion and LGBT rights.

So How Have Conservative Christian Leaders Attempted to Reframe the Election?

Franklin Graham has said he is not endorsing a candidate in the 2016 election. However, his focus on the importance of the Supreme Court is evident in this 8 October 2016 quote. Notice he uses the word “appoint.”

“…who they appoint to the Supreme Court will remake
 the fabric of our society for our children and our grandchildren,
for generations to come…”

Other conservative Christians concerned about who will end up on the court include the following:  Dr. James Dobson, Ralph Reed, Tony Perkins, Robert Jeffress (CT).

What Might We Expect?

Republican Senator John McCain recently threatened to block all nominees Clinton might put forward for the Supreme Court. That threat has repercussions for American justice. Obviously at some point in the future there would be no Supreme Court unless enough senators either give in to approve presidential nominees or the president and most senators are from the same party.

But what if the senate blocks all nominees of the opposing party present? Well, the outcome is debatable. It has been argued that the president could appoint a justice because the senate has failed to comply with its constitutional duty. But that argument has been countered (See the WP article for more).

One Possible Solution is for the president to appoint a justice following a reasonable time allowance for the Senate to act. Perhaps then the senate would challenge the constitutionality of the president’s action, which might force the Supreme Court to decide its own fate. My speculation is way beyond my understanding of the U S Constitution so ask an expert what could happen if we were to have such a crisis.

The down ballot effect is working at this point. The democrats appear likely to win both the presidency and the senate. A simple majority is required to approve a Supreme Court nomination. The vice president votes to break a tie (see Slate).

Supreme Fears

It is true that some court decisions have been decided by one vote thus, the justices’ opinions matter. Although scholars point out that justices must interpret the law and not write legislation, the written decisions do have the force of law. The bottom line is that who gets on the court matters to some groups of Americans when particular decisions can affect society.

Some of the promises and fears presented by the leading candidates are irrational given the history of the court. The Roe v. Wade decision has been in force for decades regardless of which party controlled the presidency and senate.

Similarly, rights of free speech, religious liberty, and gun ownership have endured for decades. Constitutional rights are slow to change and amending the Constitution is not easy.

By the way, consider that American women did not have a constitutional right to vote 100 years ago (19th Amendment 18 August 1920).

Some final thoughts

The election of a president and senators can influence who gets on the Supreme Court.

Voters ought to be aware of the role of both the president and the senate in Supreme Court nominees.

The beliefs and values of a Supreme Court justice matter.
Decisions are not simply about philosophical perspectives on how to interpret the law.

One justice can make a difference in a court decision.

There's a difference between morality and law.

Laws influence the moral judgments of citizens.

Moral judgments influence law making.

Moral judgments influence compliance with law.

There's a difference between moral judgments and moral behavior.

Emotions influence moral judgments, moral behavior and law.

Read more about cultural divisions related to morality and Christian cultures

A House Divided: Sexuality, Morality, and Christian Cultures

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