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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Saturday, October 15, 2016

Who Needs to Forgive Donald Trump?

Angela Merkel/ Bing
I’ve seen some posts by Christians saying they’ve forgiven Donald Trump. One explained it was his Christian duty. Others said they forgave but won’t vote for him. Well, I haven’t forgiven him and here’s why I don't need to--yet.

Forgiveness is about healing the hurts.

Forgiveness is a process of healing for people who have been hurt­. It’s not about small stuff. It’s about hurt to the point that it’s hard to let go of the pain, anger, and desire for revenge.
Like most people, I’ve been hurt by things people have said and done.  Sometimes it took a while before I recognized how deeply I had been hurt and how long I had held on to that hurt before I let it go.

I know politicians have said some very offensive things to or about a lot of people. And those who have been hurt would surely feel better if they were able to forgive them for what they said or did. Let’s not make this post about Trump. Let’s just say any political, business, or church leader can say or do things that hurt others. And hurt people can struggle with forgiveness.

My reason for not forgiving Trump is that he has not hurt me. There’s nothing to forgive.

So what about apologies?

Apologies can help survivors forgive their offenders. But apologies vary in how effective they are (Sutton 2016). Sincerity is important. I’m not so sure how general and public expressions work when there’s no personal connection. If somebody wanted me to express forgiveness to them for a past hurt, then I’d like the apology to be personal and specific.

For me, no apology from Trump is needed. I see in the news he apologized. I say forgiveness is up to the people who have been personally offended by him. It’s not my place to accept or refuse his apology. I do need to exercise judgment—more on that below.

I like to see evidence of changed behavior to support an apology. To use a biblical analogy, I like to see fruit as evidence of a person’s changed character.

Forgiveness Does Not Require Public Expression

Like Jesus said of the Sabbath Day, forgiveness was made for people (see Mark 2: 27). Forgiveness repairs the inner damage caused by hurts and frees us to live with a focus on the future. If we are in a relationship with someone then it makes sense to express forgiveness as a part of reconciliation.

That brings up another point missing in some posts–reconciliation. Reconciliation is not a part of forgiveness. Forgiveness and reconciliation can work together to repair damaged relationships.

But many of us have worked with people who have hurt us. We collaborated on projects or activities before we reached the point of forgiving them. And some of us have forgiven people but wisely kept our distance–no sense being hurt again.

Forgiveness is one thing- reconciliation is another. Reconciliation requires trust.

So what about the wrongdoing of public figures?

I and my colleagues have studied clergy offenses. You’ve probably seen a few headlines about pastors who had affairs or clergy who sexually abused children.

There’s no doubt family members and friends have been deeply hurt when a clergy member or Christian leader violates people. Certainly those who have been hurt have something to forgive.
Some may wish to reconcile–especially– if they feel they can trust the person not to re-offend. But restoring a pastor to a public ministry is something else entirely. It’s not forgiveness or reconciliation but a restoration process, which is usually in the hands of a church or organizational board.

For good reason, the decision to restore a fallen leader should be something for a group of people to decide. Restoration is partly about the fallen leader but it’s also about public trust. Board members must be wise enough to ensure a leader has changed in a way that he or she can be trusted again.

What about the wrongdoing of politicians and business leaders? Should we restore them following an apology? Maybe. Maybe not. If they wish to be restored, let’s see some evidence that they can be trusted to do the job without harming people.

All are sinners. Right?

I’ve seen Christians defend heinous conduct by saying all are sinners (Falwell, 10 Oct 2016). I see reminders about not judging and not casting stones. But I (not God) say unto you, "let’s use wisdom." Surely not all sins are created equal.

Any system of justice—biblical or secular—recognizes that some wrongdoing requires a minor fine, other acts result in more severe restrictions like prison time and/or heavy fines. And in some cases, acts result in people being put to death or given a life sentence.

Sexual harassment is wrong. Sexual harassment may result in a warning, a referral for treatment, or immediate termination. Every supervisor must make judgments for the good of the workforce.

Parents and teachers have rules and children learn to live with consequences. But not all violations are the same. Wise parents and teachers judge the seriousness of an act and try to be just in their administration of consequences. And when it comes to rule violations, children are different in what rules they break, how often they break rules, and how hard they work to avoid future violations.

Parents and teachers know how to judge. Sins and sinners are not alike in all respects.

In a democracy, every citizen exercises judgment when voting. We may not cast stones but we do cast ballots. And ballots end political lives. Votes represent the judgment of the people.

All are sinners. All have done wrong. Some people demonstrate evidence of a changed life in what they say and do. And some do not.

Read more about Christianity, Morality and Culture—including the role of forgiveness in repairing the divide.

A House Divided: Sexuality, Morality, and Christian Cultures

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Forgiveness in Brief

Forgiveness is a process.

Forgiveness helps hurt people heal.

Forgiveness aids reconciliation but forgiveness is not reconciliation.

Reconciliation involves a relationship between at least two parties.

Reconciliation requires trust.

Trust is built on evidence of trustworthy behavior- not words or promises.

People can and do practice a degree of reconciliation when they work together following an offense but that does not mean one has forgiven the other.

Fallen leaders sometimes apologize and seek forgiveness. Meaningful forgiveness happens when an offended person forgive the leader.

Forgiving a fallen leader does not require reconciliation.

Forgiving a fallen leader does not require restoration to leadership. Some sincere people relapse.

Reconciling with a fallen leader does not require restoration to leadership.

Restoring fallen leaders is best left up to a responsible group concerned with the leader and those who may be vulnerable if the leader were restored. Don't put a fox in charge of a hen house.

Contrition does not mean future behavior will be different from past behavior.

Apologies do not mean future behavior will be different from past behavior.

Time to raise respectful and responsible adults...