Category Archives: News and politics

Power leads to…?

In the US, we have just completed an election cycle where Republicans have taken back power in the House of Representatives. Behind this change is a fair amount of voter anger with the current Democratic leadership, especially from Tea Party sympathizers.

Traveling to work I heard a snippet of a speech by a person (not elected) stated that if the newly elected individual didn’t meet their expectations, they’d work to vote them out the next time.

Seems that sometimes power acquisition breeds more desire for power and less willingness to compromise. Of course, loss and failure may also breed a desire to pretend to compromise but do everything possible to avoid real flexibility.

What makes me think this is a comment my wife made about her current reading pleasure: Bonhoeffer (by Erik Metaxas). From the author’s perspective, there were a number of German civilian and military leaders who were uncomfortable with Hitler’s grandiosity and even interest in taking over other countries. However, once they were smashingly successful, most seemed to get on board and enjoy the power.

In short, they became comfortable with demanding even more power from those who couldn’t defend themselves.

Now, hear me loud and clear. I am not making an analogy between Hitler and Republicans. Nor, am I denigrating recent voting trends of voter anger. But success in the polls ought not make us more embolden to listen only to our own interests. Access to power sometimes breeds less love for the ones defeated. Our newly elected leaders have to find a way to govern (not something we’ve been doing well at for some time in this country) all of their constituents–even those who didn’t vote for them.


Filed under News and politics, Uncategorized

Pessimism and Powerlessness

What is the most dangerous threat in your life? In society at large? Is it economic stress? Job insecurity? Relational conflict? Health-care challenges? Amorality? Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan believes there is a deeper danger afoot (Thanks Darryl Lang for telling me about this op-ed!):

Inner pessimism and powerlessness. That is a dangerous combination.

Noonan says this just before the previous (and concluding line):

When the adults of a great nation feel long-term pessimism, it only makes matters worse when those in authority take actions that reveal their detachment from the concerns—even from the essential nature—of their fellow citizens. And it makes those citizens feel powerless.

She is trying to make the point that Americans are coming to terms that the country is not going to provide the next generation with a better life. Parents now hope their children will have about as good a life but they even fear that is not possible.

I’m not so interested in what she is discussing in this column (politicians and the immigration debate). But I am interested in what happens to us (how we respond to life) when our personal and collective narratives shatter.

Noonan mentions that Americans do not have pessimism in their DNA. I have seen this to be true  with most Caucasian Americans. They may be unhappy with their life but they are optimistic that things will get better. This is in opposition to those from other parts of the world who seem quite happy but not at all optimistic about a better life. We Americans generally feel empowered and independent. When we do not have the power to change our situation it drives us to re-write our understanding of self, the purpose of life, and assumptions about God.

What will we write? Will we cave to pessimism and powerlessness? Or will we develop realism and creativity in finding life in the middle of brokenness?


Filed under Christianity, Cultural Anthropology, Great Quotes, News and politics, Psychology, suffering

OP Ed piece on pornography you should read

I subscribe to a listserv that documents abuse and exploitation around the world. Recently, I received notice of an article in the National Review (by an anonymous psychologist) entitled, “Getting Serious about Pornography”. The writer documents the known impact of pornography on men (i.e., the objectification of women) and at the same time tells of her own experience of being abandoned by her husband due to his porn addiction. I include her first paragraph. Click the link above for the essay on the original website.

Imagine a drug so powerful it can destroy a family simply by distorting a man’s perception of his wife. Picture an addiction so lethal it has the potential to render an entire generation incapable of forming lasting marriages and so widespread that it produces more annual revenue ­ $97 billion worldwide in 2006 ­ than all of the leading technology companies combined. Consider a narcotic so insidious that it evades serious scientific study and legislative action for decades, thriving instead under the ever-expanding banner of the First Amendment.

According to an online statistics firm, an estimated 40 million people use this drug on a regular basis. It doesn’t come in pill form. It can’t be smoked, injected, or snorted. And yet neurological data suggest its effects on the brain are strikingly similar to those of synthetic drugs. Indeed, two authorities on the neurochemistry of addiction, Harvey Milkman and Stanley Sunderwirth, claim it is the ability of this drug to influence all three pleasure systems in the brain ­ arousal, satiation, and fantasy ­ that makes it “the pièce de résistance among the addictions.”

For more click the link above. It is well worth the effort.


Filed under counseling, marriage, News and politics, pornography, Psychology, Sex, sexual addiction

Mental Retardation passe?

Did you see the news stories about Rahm Emanuel’s use of the word, “retarded” as a slur against his political opponents? It has spawned a number of conversations about the term mental retardation. Some are arguing for the removal of this term in legal and medical arenas. It is too closely connected to the abusive use of the word. Others, probably a small minority, even suggest not using the word retarded in other contexts unrelated to intellectual capacity (e.g., retarded growth, retarding energy consumption).

I’m not much of a fan of this latter idea. I remember when a DC official was castigated for using the term “niggardly” (having absolutely nothing to do with race) just because it sounded like the other “n” word. However, maybe we do need another term. Some are suggesting, “intellectual disabilities” “neurodevelopmental disorder” as options.

I’m for terms that are very descriptive and less pejorative. However, I will also say that stigma and the use of terms to harm will not change as the human heart that does such activity has not changed.

What do you think?


Filed under APA, News and politics, Psychology

The uniqueness of the United States?

Have you caught any of the public (media) controversies about whether President Obama really likes the U.S.? You have sound bytes of Americans saying that Obama doesn’t even like the country and even the former Vice President Cheney making a similar accusation. It is not a new controversy. Certainly, the comments of his then pastor didn’t help him…The bruhaha about wearing a flag pin…and Michelle Obama’s comments about her first time feeling proud about the U.S.

Without debating Obama’s feelings about the country, I’d like to consider the issue of our uniqueness. Is there something special or unique about the US that places us in a special category different from the rest of the world? Is it okay to even ask this question or does it automatically indicate a disrespect for our forefathers, for democracy, for the Christian roots of the country?Is it tantamount to saying that God has not had his hand on this country in some special ways?

Stating that we are not unique may be one of the remaining heresies of our time.

But, should it be a heresy to suggest that in the eyes of God and others, we aren’t so different. This does not mean that we wouldn’t choose every time to still live in this country. This is not to suggest that we have blessings that few others have.  This is not to say that God isn’t carrying out his purposes via our country either.

But are we special? We have flawed individuals making up a flawed government who are seeking both personal good and, yes, the good of others (for the most part). Isn’t that true of other governments as well? Maybe not all governments seek this, but certainly many do.

Is America great? But could it be better? Yes. And so, being willing to criticize, even publicly, this country is one of the evidences of its greatness. Even further, being willing to criticize and demand better care for all is a sign of our greatness.

Seems the debate is not really about our pride in the US but in demanding no honest criticism. Sounds like the, “I can criticize my family all I want, but I’ll never admit to you that they have any flaws” mindset.

So, are we special and unique? Is it so bad to admit our flaws? Our failures? To even note that other countries have done a better job at certain things? What do you think? If your family emigrated to Canada instead, would you really be less of an individual? Would you be jealous of Americans?


Filed under Christianity, News and politics

On political and marital fights

Recently presented on the matter of marital conflict. On the way home I had a vigorous (and fun!) political debate with a colleague. I came to the realization that there are many similarities between both conflicts. Conflict is almost always about power with the particular issues (or the content of the conflict) a very distant second. We take positions because we see the dangerousness of the other person’s position or direction (and our loss of power). For example, if we follow our spouse’s financial behaviors, we’ll end up in the poor house. If we allow Obama to make decisions, he’ll ruin America. And just like in marital conflicts, we ascribe intent–he WANTS to destroy us all.

What I notice is that while we barely admit our own failings, we love to play out the failings of our opponent/spouse. Obama is taking advantage of a financial crisis to get some of his interests cared for (which of course fails to acknowledge that Bush got the Patriot Act because of a crisis). We could easily say the same in reverse.

My colleague and I most definitely agree on some things–that most politicians are narcissists, that they are more interested in winning than cooperating for the greater good. Truth be told, marital conflict has some similarities. Being heard, getting the other to acknowledge our points may be more important to us than finding a common bond.

It should surprise us that these similarities exist. Since Eden, we’ve been fighting for position and power.

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Filed under christian counseling, conflicts, marriage, News and politics, Relationships

Sebarenzi on reconciliation

Am just finishing up Joseph Sebarenzi’s God Sleeps in Rwanda: A Journey of Transformation (Atria Books, 2009). Joseph, A Tutsi, tells his story from childhood experiences of Hutu-Tutsi violence and state-sponsored discrimination to the 1994 massacre (he was out of the country then) and meteoric rise to power where he became the speaker of the parliament and then was pushed out by the Rwandan dictator.

I’m not sure if his story is accurate (about how Kagame tried to have him killed, but I found his views on reconciliation (and the lack thereof thus far) very helpful:

Ever since the genocide, I have asked myself how the nation could heal. How could we live together again in peace? …

Reconciliation brings enemies together to confront the painful and ugly past, and to collectively devise a bright future. It brings together communities in conflict to tell the truth about all past human rights violations and to create a society where they can live in peace with one another….

Reconciliation is in many ways the hardest option, because it requires effort, humility, and patience–whereas revenge is quick and easy. Reconciliation is complicated. it cannot be reduced to retributive justice…nor to forgiveness…. Reconciliation…includes several components: acknowledgment, apology, restorative justice, empathy, reparation, and forgiveness–and several accompanying measures, namely democracy coupled with consensus, peace education, and international assistance.   pp 214-215

The author goes on to describe what he means by each of these components (and some of the weaknesses in Rwanda). He subscribes to a rather Christian view of this process. It is not merely Hutu groveling to Tutsi but both listening to each other.

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Filed under Christianity, conflicts, Forgiveness, News and politics, Repentance, Rwanda

Apologies revisited and moral outrage

The matter of Michael Vick and his return to the NFL cannot be escaped–especially when you live in Philadelphia Eagle territory. Seems the media cannot get enough of him: Can he be forgiven? Is he truly sorry? Has he paid his debt? Should he get a second chance?

I care little about these matters but would like to make two observations.

1. On apologies (again). I’ve written here numerous times regarding the good and the bad about the art of apology and what one reveals about the person making said apology (use the search engine above to find them). But let me highlight one thing about Vick’s recent comments regarding his awakening to the evils of dogfighting. The following appeared in a recent USA Today,

During his interview with Brown, Vick summed up why many sports figures lie through their teeth when caught red-handed in personal or criminal scandals. They’re — what else? — terrified of losing their multimillion-dollar salaries and endorsements. “I was scared. I knew my career was in jeopardy. I knew I had an endorsement with Nike — and I knew it was going to be a big letdown. I felt the guilt and I knew I was guilty, and I knew what I had done. And, not knowing at the time that, you know, actually telling the truth may have been better than, you know, not being honest. And it backfired on me.”

Notice his answer reflects the same root problem that got him into the problem behavior–SELF. His reason for truth telling is because it would have been better for him. “What is best for me” thinking is one of humanity’s main problems.

2. Moral Outrage. Is anyone else surprised at the level of public outrage about Vick? He is not an elected official charged with leading us? He is not anything but a professional football player. Why is there so much outrage about the evils of dogfighting and so little outrage for other evils (abortion, porn use, child abuse, poverty, obesity, etc.)? Here I think NT Wright is instructive. In his book, Evil and the Justice of God(IVP, 2006), Wright suggests that most of the western world (a) ignores evil unless it hits us personally, (b) is surprised when it does, and (c) responds in “immature and dangerous ways as a result.” (p. 24). To point c he says,

Having decreed that almost all sexual activity is good and right and commendable, we are all the more shrill about the one remaining taboo, pedophilia. It’s as though all the moral indignation which ought to be spread more evenly and thoughtfully across many spheres of activity has all been funneled on to this one crime.” (p. 27)

Well, maybe we should add animal cruelty to the list of greatest evils.

He goes on to remind us,

Lashing out at something you simply know by intuition is wrong may be better than tolerating it. But it is hardly the way to build a stable moral society.” (p. 27)

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Filed under Abuse, News and politics

Are you a genetic fatalist?

Definition of a genetic fatalist: If I have genetic markers for _____, then I will have _____ problem.

Maybe this doesn’t happen to you but I find that when I have conversations about a wide variety of counseling related issues, they end up hitting upon the genetic question? Whether we are discussing anxiety, depression, alcoholism, sexual identity or similar concerns, I can count on being asked,

“Do you think it is genetic?”

The questioner seems to think that if the answer is “Yes,” then the individual in question has no responsibility for the situation–or no control over what is taking place. “If my alcoholism is genetic then it wasn’t my fault.” “If my son’s sexual identity confusion is genetic then he can’t do anything about it.”

Here’s what I want to say to most of these questions:

1. Probably but we don’t really know. There are lots of researchers trying to discover genetic markers and how our genes express themselves. Some we understand really well (like eye and hair color) and others we understand less well.

But even if tomorrow we discover that your husband’s OCD is genetically based, what does that mean? Is he forever trapped in acting on his OCD?

2. Thinking about genes this way doesn’t really help us right now. We all have genetic markers for various cancers and diseases but not all of us contract the problems. Women may have markers for breast cancer but never have the disease. How can that be? It can be that way because disease states or mental health matters are multifactorial in their origination. There may be genetic markers as well as environmental insults as well as psychological stressors that all work together to either protect from the disease or cause it to get started.

So, are you a genetic fatalist? Do you give your deciding vote to genetic markers when considering responsibility and control regarding behavioral issues, mental health problems, personality?


Filed under christian psychology, counseling, News and politics, personality, Psychology

Grade inflation?

My latest edition of the APA Monitor on Psychology has a little stat from that might interest you. Check out the extensive information at this site. Among other things are the findings that grade inflation began to be evident in the 1960s but really took of in the 1980s and hasn’t stopped.

In the 1930s, the average GPA at American colleges and universities was about 2.35, a number that corresponds with data compiled by W. Perry in 1943. By the 1950s, the average GPA was about 2.52. GPAs took off in the 1960s with grades at private schools rising faster than public schools, lulled in the 1970s, and began to rise again in the 1980s at a rate of about 0.10 to 0.15 increase in GPA per decade. The grade inflation that began in the 1980s has yet to end.

Further, private (and more expensive) schools seem to have much higher inflation in grades that in public schools. The author suggests that the reason is likely the result of the consumer mentality of education these days–you pay a lot for a degree, you want the reward of a good grade.

The author believes that the resurgence of grade inflation in the 1980s principally was caused by the emergence of a consumer-based culture in higher education. Students are paying more for a product every year, and increasingly they want and get the reward of a good grade for their purchase. In this culture, professors are not only compelled to grade easier, but also to water down course content. Both intellectual rigor and grading standards have weakened. The evidence for this is not merely anecdotal. Students are highly disengaged from learning, are studying less than ever, and are less literate. Yet grades continue to rise. (emphasis mine)

According to the author, schools with lax selection standards and community colleges (who probably accept most everyone with a high school diploma or GED) seem to have a much lower grade inflation rate. Why? There isn’t pressure on the profs to give great grades.

Other factors involved?

1. Not denying the author’s findings but we should remember that prestigious schools (with larger rejection rates) do not have a normal distributions of students. Most are high quality. It becomes harder and harder to determine the quality of the very very good from the really good. When there is confusion there will always be pressure to get as much as you can for your work as a student.

2. The philosophy of “everyone wins” is pervasive. Every kid gets a medal for trying at their sport. Every college kid gets an A for trying. I can’t deny that this idea exists.

3. Frankly, education is something to be consumed these days. “What can I do with this” is a much more frequent question than it was when I was in grad school in the 1980s. I don’t see as many students just in it for the love of learning. Is that because of the inflation of costs? Consumption driven education (i.e., my program) is concerned about the outcome rather than building the best creative and critical thinkers. If you value outcome over thinking, you have less to separate the genius students from the competent students. Therefore competency is rewarded and grades inflate because more are able to meet the standard of “competent.”

Grade inflation at Biblical?

Absolutely. But not equally across domains. I suspect we counselors give higher grades than do theology profs. Is it because we are soft and want everyone to be happy and like us? No. We have different philosophies. Like number 3 above, theology tends to focus on critical thinking and abstract ideas. As a result, there will be more diversity of grades with the best students getting the highest grades. However, in counseling classes we focus on skills(not to say we don’t want to build and support critical thinking). We tell the students the skills we want to see and if they can exhibit those skills, they get the good grade. In many ways, we have a Pass/Fail approach to grading (or in some of our courses, does not meet expectations, meets, exceeds) with the understanding that most will meet expectations if we have been really clear about our skills focus. The grade signifies they have the skill. Maybe our philosophy indicates that the grading system of A though F doesn’t really help determine who really is the most competent. For example, I can have students get As in their academic courses but not be interpersonally competent. When you choose a counselor, do you really want to pick on the basis of their GPA or on their ability to exhibit the skill of kindness, insight, and trustworthiness?

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Filed under Biblical Seminary, christian psychology, Cultural Anthropology, News and politics, Psychology, teaching counseling