The Real Alternative

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Excellent video about Neurotheology

I’ve panned Dr. Andrew Newberg in the past for making seemingly simplistic claims. But it’s very possible I was wrong to do so. Either that, or his thinking and scientific humility has developed dramatically. This video reveals an Andrew Newberg that I really didn’t know existed. As Yoda might have said, “Pleasantly surprised, I was…”

But seriously. This video is a must for anyone interested in the interface of spirituality, religious practices, and the brain. Follow the link in the above tweet and scroll down the page to watch.

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With all the recent bad news, I thought this might be an appropriate counterbalance

I wonder how many violent or suicidal individuals would have turned out differently had their parents read and followed the advice in the above tweet.


Mental Illness vs Terrorists – What’s Usually Left Unsaid

I normally don’t post mainstream stories because Earthpages is an alternative news source. We can switch on CNN and see the most visible stories any time of the day. But today I want to talk about something that has been nagging me for a while. And looking through the headlines, I thought I would say a few words about the concept of mental illness vs. that of terrorism.

“He wasn’t a terrorist, he was mentally ill” we’re now hearing. So… people belonging to terrorist organizations are not mentally ill?

What’s the difference between these two concepts?

The difference is that mental illness, the concept of mental illness that is, almost always targets the individual. The discussion on terrorism and heinous regimes like Nazism or Stalinism usually focuses on the group.

So what? you might say.

The point, as I see it, is that the idea of mental illness almost always overlooks the larger social and spiritual issues that contribute to someone behaving as if they have some particular medical illness.

To take a hypothetical example, consider organized crime wives who sit in church all day with a visible frown on their faces. Maybe they also see a psychiatrist and take antidepressants. Are these individuals mentally ill? Or does the fact that they’re all wrapped up in a system of violence, lies and, let’s not forget, cheating decent, qualified people out of work—might this not contribute to their angst?

Sure, these people can give to the charities of their choice to make themselves feel a bit better. But this is only a band-aid solution. They’re still complicit in swindling good, honest people out of their livelihoods (what has been called a white martyrdom). Not to mention killing anyone else who stands in the way (what has been called a red martyrdom).

As long as these people maintain a good cover and manage their connections to skirt the justice system, they’re not seen as mentally ill. In fact, some of these people are regarded as societal exemplars and treated accordingly. And let’s face it, organized crime isn’t just about the Hell’s Angels. White collar and clerical organized crime and corruption is just as prevalent. But we don’t hear about it so much because of what I’ve said in first line of this paragraph. So basically we have elements of the so-called upper classes bullying aspects of the so-called lower classes.

However, the lone individual who deviates from current social norms, even if she or he harms no one, is quickly given a label and viewed as mentally – that is, medically – ill. And all the “friends” of the so-called mentally person ill group together in organizations to support one another. In essence, society trumps the individual.

As one of my student friends once said, true individuals are often persecuted, and I would add, while groups can get away with murder.

The picture is far more complicated than what is outlined here. And it should be stressed that I’m not judging. But I think it’s time we peeled back the glossy veneer and started seeing our world as it really is. Ignorance is not always bliss. More often than not, it’s just ignorance. And that can do real harm.

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Two Very Different Takes On Psychiatry

When I first found the website Mad in America I was quite enthused. I’d done my doctorate in psychology and religion. And one of the papers I wrote for a methodology course had to do with deconstructing different beliefs about the human self from a cross cultural perspective.

This involved stepping back and assessing the ideas of “truth,” a particular “personality disorder” as defined by the APA and the notion of “mysticism.” There seemed to be some overlap among psychology, society and mysticism. And I was keenly interested in exploring those sometimes contentious connections.

In doing so I never romanticized the plight of those who psychologically suffer. I know that these people really do have a tough and often confusing time. The question is why. And also, whether our culture and its classification and treatments are making this suffering better or worse.

Both of the following tweets address these questions but the slant is quite different for each.

Today, Mad in America seems like an overly biased web site in that it’s usually emphatically negative about psychiatry. I don’t think that’s balanced.

Having said that, Mad In America does play a role in alerting us to some of the abuses in psychiatry and the pitfalls of an uncritical acceptance of the psychiatric worldview. But again, I don’t think it tells the whole story. Life is complicated. And people do suffer and some are suicidal or violent. The latter two, especially, often need intervention not only for themselves but to safeguard the human rights of others.

This video, on the other hand, grew on me as I went through it. At first, I expected just another mouthpiece for the latest gee whiz stories about psychiatry which, in my opinion, are often deeply and unconsciously influenced by cultural assumptions and recent trends.

But that’s not what this video is about. I urge anyone interested to watch it. I think we’d be much better off as a species if more psychiatrists displayed this blend of optimism, an appreciation of history and, above all, scientific humility.

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Meds vs. Meditation – A Simple Answer Just Won’t Do

Today’s tweet links to a story that has some merit but also limitations. The conflict outlined here reminds me of related disagreements between Freudians and Jungians or, perhaps, artsy-literary folk and clinical psychologists.

After studying psychology, sociology and philosophy at the undergraduate level, philosophy and comparative religion for my masters, and then psychology and religious studies for my doctorate, I’ve formed my own opinions on the matter. But they’re not fixed nor dogmatic. I think each person’s unique answer to this conflict depends on

I suppose the last item could overlap with the first and second on the list. But for me, not all spirituality necessarily comes from or is on the same side as God. So the term “spirituality” itself demands some elaboration. This is not the place to do that. I discuss this idea throughout Entries relating to numinosity would be a good place to start if anyone wants to learn more.

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Author Karen Armstrong talks about religion and violence

I was impressed with the lead-in to this video (follow link in above tweet). The anchor seemed a bit more on the ball than some media anchors, who stumble on their words as if they’ve just heard of some distant country, leader or idea.

Karen Armstrong is well-known within Religious Studies. Anyone who’s taken a graduate course in that area, maybe even undergrads, would know her name. It seems she’s a slightly better author than speaker. But still, what matters is her words, not so much the delivery. And she rightly points out that conflict is caused by a variety of factors—religion only being one of those.

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Sorry UFO conspiracy theorists… this one doesn’t wash


Image captured on  July 14… and guess what..? transmission not working again.

Before we paid extra dollars to get unlimited internet bandwidth (telecommunications prices are unduly expensive in Canada) I watched the ISS live feed* often. There’s a forum there where you can talk to others watching the world spin, which can be a fun and educational way to pass the time. A cheap trip to space too, if you have half an imagination!

Ironically, I watch the feed less now that we have unlimited internet. But I still have been checking it out in short bursts over the past 5 weeks. And it seems that the feed’s reliability has suffered dramatically—UFO or not.

So, to those conspiracy theorists who say that the ISS feed was intentionally cut because of a UFO sighting: I think that’s rubbish. Most of the time it seems that the astronauts on board the ISS are so busy that they haven’t a clue if the feed is working or not. And they regularly cut transmission if they need to route power for something going on within the ISS. Remember, they don’t have a wall outlet for practically limitless power, like we do.

Okay, but did NASA (on Earth) cut the feed? Always possible but again, as I say, over the past 5 weeks the feed hasn’t been working most of the times that I’ve visited. And it’s not due to a spotty internet connection because we’re now using a fast and reliable provider. So those who say NASA cut the feed should look at the statistics. If 50% of the time the thing’s not working, it’s spurious to say that another outage (when there happens to be a UFO in sight) was intentional.

The conspiracy theorists also seem to assume that rows of individuals at the NASA control center are keenly watching the ISS feed, like in the old Apollo days. But whenever I’ve seen a shot of the NASA control room on Earth, it looks like there’s a person, maybe two, sort of passing the time in a largely abandoned, half darkened room, maybe eating some potato chips… hardly sitting there just waiting to hit the CUT button for any UFO footage.— MC

* There are actually two feeds that enthusiasts flip back and forth between. Here’s the second one:


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