Where Does Mental Illness Come From?

Where does mental illness come from? One of the most perplexing issues for Christians is the relationship between spiritual problems and mental illness. Is lack of faith, failure to pray, for example, the reason a person becomes depressed? Because a person fails to trust God, does he or she experience “voices” that create great distress? or out of control mood swings? In fact, we find the origin of mental illness, and physical illness as well, much closer to home.

Important Study

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) joined with Kaiser Permanente Department of Preventive Medicine in Dan Diego, CA. They investigated the effect of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE). Using the medical histories of 17,000 people, researchers examined ten categories in early life. They sorted for recurrent physical abuse (beatings), contact sexual abuse, and abuse of alcohol or drugs by a household member. Investigators also flagged a household member who was clinically depressed, mentally ill, or incarcerated. They counted a member of the household who was suicidal, or a mother treated violently. They later added physical and emotional neglect. To register for a number more than one, a child had to experience more than one type of abuse. More repetitions of the same type did not count.

Where Does Mental Illness Come From?

ACE Scores and Chronic Depression
How Childhood Experiences Underlie Chronic Depression

Researchers then compared the frequency of those types of experiences with measures of later wellbeing. They noted physical health risks, for example, disease, healthcare costs, and life expectancy. Fifty years after the trauma, the study matched the person’s ACE score (0 – 4+) with their current state of wellbeing.

This chart above shows how childhood experiences underlie chronic depression. The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) scores for women (red) and men (yellow) show at the bottom, 0 through >=4 (L to R). That’s the number of types of abuse a person experienced.  The left scale shows the % of those people in our population with lifelong chronic depression. The skyrocketing prevalence of lifelong depression as the result of increasing types of early childhood trauma leaps out at us. While every person needs godly counsel, those with greater early trauma will need more specialized attention. 

Accidental Discovery

The authors stumbled on this relationship while conducting a weight loss program: “Unexpectedly, our Weight Program had a high drop-out rate, limited almost exclusively to patients successfully losing weight.” The researchers had expected the opposite! “Exploring the reasons underlying the high prevalence of patients inexplicably fleeing their own success in the Weight Program, ” they said, “ultimately led us to recognize that certain of the more intractable public health problems like obesity were also unconscious, or occasionally conscious, solutions to problems dating back to the earliest years, but hidden by time, by shame, by secrecy, and by social taboos against exploring certain areas of life experience.”

This chart pattern holds true for almost every mental and physical illness of which we are aware. Physical illnesses which fit this pattern: severe obesity, smoking and lung disease, risk for coronary heart disease and HIV. The same pattern holds for addictions: adult alcoholism, and drug addiction, including I-V drug use. But it also applies to mental disorders, such as hallucinations, attempted suicides, those with a history of lifetime depression, and use of antidepressant prescriptions. Life expectancy also declines with the rise in ACE scores.

What Can I do?

Now that we understand the source of many if not most of our disabilities, mental and physical, what can we do about them? Next week I’ll explore ways we can help ourselves and how pastors and other counselors can assist people who come to us for help.

[ From Felitti and Anda, “The Relationship of Adverse Childhood Experiences to Adult Medical disease, Psychiatric Disorders, and Sexual Behavior: Implications for Healthcare,” in The Impact of Early Life Trauma on Health and Disease: The hidden Epidemic. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010.]

Posted in Mental Illness | Comments Off on Where Does Mental Illness Come From?

Option B by Sheryl Sandberg: A Review

Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer, Facebook

I recommend Option B in the strongest terms. At least for people who have lost a loved one. Not everybody will want a book about a sudden death, grieving, learning to adjust, and finding ways to rebound. It’s not a life we choose for ourselves, but, at times, trouble finds us. That’s when this book will help.  Sheryl tells the story of her husband, David Goldberg, who, while exercising in a Gym in Mexico while they were on vacation, unexpectedly died of a heart attack.

Sandberg’s Story

Sandberg, Facebook Chief Operating Officer, tells her compelling story in a compelling way. Well-written, well-researched, with practical helps and tips for navigating the uncharted territory of a sudden loss, her book provides a much-needed resource for those who come after. I can imagine that she also benefitted from this project as a way of dealing with her and her family’s grief. Like many such projects, this one brings strength out of weakness, value for others out of helplessness for ourselves. Sandberg interweaves her personal stories and experiences with the stories of others and with much valuable research information. She documents on book end pages to keep the reader engaged.

How We Interpret Tragedy Negatively

Sharing one of the most helpful analyses of our misperception of disasters which befall us, Sandberg early on draws on psychologist Martin Seligman. For decades Seligman studied how we deal with setbacks. Our greatest misperceptions, he says, which hinder our recovery, begin with P: Personalization enables us to conclude that we are at fault; Pervasiveness leads us to believe that a disastrous event will impact every area of our life; Permanence tells us that the results of our tragedy will last forever. “The loop in your head,” she says. “repeats, ‘It’s my fault this is awful. My whole life is awful. And it’s always going to be awful’” (16).

What Do I Say?

People often want to know, “What do I say to someone who’s lost a loved-one?” “When you’re faced with tragedy,” Sandberg answers, with a quote from writer Tim Lawrence, “you usually find that you’re no longer supported by people—you’re surrounded by platitudes. So what do we offer instead of ‘everything happens for a reason’?” Laurence suggests, “the most powerful thing you can do is acknowledge. To literally say the words: I acknowledge your pain. I’m here with you” (43).

Finding yourself surrounded by platitudes recalls biblical Job with his friends, as I describe in my Tragedy Transformed: How Job’s Recovery Can Provide Hope For Yours (2015). Feeling with the bereaved offers the best avenue of approach. Ordinarily, we feel helpless, so, to extricate ourselves from our awkwardness, we often blurt out what’s unhelpful, if not hurtful. Instead, be patient, listen, feel, hug.

Option B

Two weeks after Dave’s death, Sheryl prepared for a father-child activity. “I want Dave,” Sheryl cried. “Option A is not available,” her friend replied, then offered to help her make the best of Option B.

I found Sandberg’s Option B a pleasure to read. I confess to reading a lot of books on suffering and tragedy. But for someone who looks for hope in the bleakness of grief, they will find Sandberg a sturdy guide on which to lean.

[Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant, New York: Knopf, 2017. Picture: commons.wickimedia.org no copyright infringement intended. Other resources on Tragedy: https://www.gordongrose.com/responses-to-tragedy/ https://www.gordongrose.com/responses-to-tragedy -ii/ See also Marlys Johnson, survivor to husband’s death from cancer: renew purpose.com

Posted in Death and Dying, Hope for the Hurting, Recovery | 1 Comment

Depression Can Lead to Addiction

Depressed man


Depression can lead to addiction. To escape his dislike of his life, taxi driver Joe used vodka binges. Those led, however, to a plan to end his life. Like the weeds that grow in our yard, demanding our constant attention to remove them, emotional weeds can grow in our lives. The weed of addiction may begin with something as simple as a desire. But desire can lead to an inclination, to repetition, to relief, and/or distraction. From there, the road leads to pleasure: “I drink because I like it!” Before we know it, like Joe, we’re hooked, another word for addiction. That slow development of addiction, as I wrote previously (https://www.gordongrose.com/signal-addiction/), can lead a church member to drop out.

Many people find alcohol relieves depression.  Among those who experience depression, in fact, alcohol is the most common addiction. In the general population, the risk is 15%: for every 100 people, at some time in their lives, 15 become alcoholic. For those with depression, according to Christian psychiatrist Donald Hall, that risk almost doubles.

Effect On Our Brain

Alcohol, then, both results from and creates a down mood.  As alcohol, along with unrelieved stress, injures brain cells, it increases the possibility of depression. When depressed, people act with poor judgment, behave impulsively, and abuse alcohol (Donald Hall, Breaking Through Depression, 137).

When, as a result of a friend’s phone call,  Joe came to Dr. Hall, Joe admitted his past poor decisions. After they discussed ways of making better life choices, they also discussed Joe’s attempts to escape his confused feelings through drinking. The counseling and self-examination led to better ways to help Joe cope.  Antidepressants prescribed by Dr. Hall, helped Joe think more clearly. His group of recovering alcoholics gave Joe support and relieved his feelings of loneliness. Using every tool he found, Joe broke the addiction cycle as well as his dark moods. For resources to help with what professionals call Dual Diagnosis (e.g., depression and addiction),                                                                                    go to: https://www.dualdiagnosis.org/depression-and-addiction/

Drug addict


My Experience

With one drinking man who sought my help, I found a lack of assertiveness. A “nice guy,” he found it difficult to stand up for himself. Like the time the boss unexpectedly asked him to work overtime. That night he went on a binge, but felt baffled as to why. Through our work, he discovered that when life turned  against him, he felt depressed. He no longer felt mystified by his binges. I helped him trace back to the trigger, the specific insult to his ego he hadn’t dealt with: his need to speak up for himself to his boss. Along with insight, in which we help connect past experiences with present events, we worked on teaching him assertiveness.

With the other tools such as those Dr. Hall provided Joe, pastors and other concerned Christian friends can offer a way out when we help someone find an accepting support group, e.g., Alcoholics Anonymous (https://www.aa.org), and/or Christian fellowship, e.g., Celebrate Recovery (https://www.celebraterecovery.com). 

[Pictures: Depression: Public Domain; Destitue man: Flickr.com. No attempt to violate copyright is intended. Hall, Donald, MD,  Breaking Through Depression: A Biblical and Medical Approach to Emotional Wholeness, Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2009.]

Posted in Mental Illness, Recovery | 2 Comments

A Signal Of Addiction

Avoiding guilt and shame

A Reason to Drop Out?

A church dropout may be a signal of addiction. In my first pastorate, one of my laymen stopped attending worship. Because we’d had conflict, I passed it off as unhappiness with me. As a result of my assumption, I failed to follow up. My passivity not only cost the congregation a member with his immediate family, it also rewarded me with some guilt. By the time I learned he had been using alcohol, he had dropped out for good. Any effort to reach out at that point would have, I believed, only alienated him and his family more. I had already demonstrated my lack of concern.

Reasons to Follow Up on Dropouts 

One reason I should not have assumed, but followed up, is my responsibility as a pastor. Because searching for lost sheep is part of the responsibility of a good shepherd, I needed to check out my assumptions. Out of concern for my parishioner’s welfare, therefore, as soon as I detected a potential dropout pattern, I should have investigated. But at the time, someone who drops out can signal addiction. Not only pastors and religious leaders, but  friends and family also need to suspect a signal of addiction. When a friends or family member drops from social gatherings, it may be time to mobilize to help our loved one or friend. A change in pattern can signal that someone we care about has begun to lose their way in life.

What’s The First Signal of Addiction?

When someone decides to use alcohol or other drugs, often one of the first things to go is church attendance. When, like Jonah, we’re running from God’s voice, who wants to hear about God? If  we’re keeping secrets from others and ourselves, who wants to be reminded of the power of sin? When we’re deeply unhappy, who wants to face seemingly cheerful people? “How’re you doing?” we’re asked. “Fine!” we lie.

Much like a sheep can be lost due to a broken leg, someone on drugs has a physical problem. Remember that an addicted person is physiologically “hooked.” His or her body now craves the substance.

Caring Enough to Confront

The addicted person still needs to take responsibility for their behavior. It’s important, however, to remember they have altered their body chemistry. As a result, in some ways, they can’t help themselves. They may need a specialist in interventions to mobilize family and friends.  The coach supports and helps the caring family confront the addicted. The interventionist will also have an out available, a space at a treatment facility and a plane ticket waiting for an immediate, “Yes, I’ll go!”

Do you have a friend or loved one with an addiction? What have you done to help them? What will you do? Do you have and addiction? What will you do to help yourself?

[ For Reasons to enter Recovery, see https://www.psycom.net/addiction-recovery-reasons-to-recover-in-2018/. For another story of Recovery read my blogs:  https://www.gordongrose.com/sarah-hepolas-alcohol-recovery-story-i-blackout/; https://www.gordongrose.com/sarah-hepolas-alcohol-recovery-story-ii-recovery/; https://www.gordongrose.com/sarah-hepolas-alcohol-recovery-iii-lessons/ Image: Public Domain]

Posted in Recovery | 3 Comments

Recovering From Spiritual Depression

Recovering From Spiritual Burnout

Our Frayed Spiritual Nerve

Spiritual Depression

Some may be surprised to learn that spiritual leaders experience spiritual depression, or what we call “burnout.” After a period of faithful leadership, for example, these pastors and other leaders report they “hit a brick wall.” What causes such a failure in persistence, not to mention exhibiting a poor example for the people they lead? Bill Gaultiere of The Soul Shepherding Institute recently published some statistics to help answer these and other questions: “Why aren’t these pastors overflowing with the love, joy and peace of the Lord in their lives, families and ministries? What is the cause of their emotional problems and moral failures?” A major factor, he finds, is overwhelming ministry stress:

  • 75% of pastors surveyed report feeling “extremely stressed” or “highly stressed.”
  • 90% work between 55 to 75 hours per week
  • 90% report feeling fatigued and worn out every week
  • 91% report having experienced some form of burnout in ministry
  • 18% report they feel “fried to a crisp right now”

What is Spiritual Depression?

Spiritual depression refers to depression related to a person’s relationship with God. Although any believer may experience spiritual depression, as we see in the above statistics, spiritual leaders are also susceptible. Spiritual leaders need a spiritual way to recover. How the Lord helps Elijah recover from his depression (I Kings 19) shows how God treated His servant in depression. The account also serves as a model for how we also might help someone in spiritual depression or in any depression.

Immediately after he faces down Jezebel’s pagan priests, calls down fire on a water-soaked altar in a miracle display of the Lord’s power, Elijah executes Queen Jezebel’s false priests (I Kings 18). Jezebel’s oath of revenge, however, is swift; Elijah immediately  must flee for his life. Jezebel’s oath to hunt him down and execute him in retaliation forces his flight 50 miles from Mt. Carmel to Jezreel. Talk about stress!

On the Lam

Elijah then spends the night on the lam from Jezebel’s oath– his death sentence. From Jezreel he flees to Beersheba, another 80 miles south– as the crow flies. “No better that my dead ancestors,” Elijah says: he also wants to die. Now we can understand from Dr. Donald Hall why Elijah wants to die (See my previous blog at https://www.gordongrose.com/brain-depression/). The price on his head, in addition to physical exhaustion from his escape, elevates his stress to the max. Cortisol overload! Though understandable, Elijah’s ability to think straight suffers. So does his relationship with God.

The Lord as Model Counselor

Fortunately for Elijah and for all of us, our God demonstrates the utmost compassion. How the Lord helps Elijah recover from his depression (I Kings 19), serves as a model for healing depression, including spiritual depression.

Physical Sustenance

The Lord urges Elijah to eat. After running the 130-mile length of Palestine, from Mt. Carmel to Beersheba, Elijah is not only exhausted, but hungry. A skilled pastor, loving family member, or caring friend will also help a depressed person take steps similar to those the Lord helped Elijah take. Our first lesson: Ensure the depressed person is eating and sleeping normally. After he sees to Elijah’s physical needs, the Lord takes some specific steps to help him address his plight.

Open Questions

After The Lord attends to Elijah’s physical needs, he twice asks the gentle question: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (vv. 9, 13)  Beyond the obvious prompting of Elijah to talk, the Lord’s focus is on how Elijah came to be in this present place. Elijah’s response reveals how he also came to be in his present state. He feels desperate, full of self-pity. Elijah talks, the Lord listens.  A depressed person needs someone to listen. A good friend listens a lot, especially at the beginning. A good friend also helps the depressed person reveal how the immediate problem developed.

Elijah goes over and over the same story of how bad he has it (vv. 10, 14). Before he will heed the Lord’s (or anyone else’s) advice, Elijah has to hear how he sounds–to himself. Our depressed friend may need to hear themselves talk as well. Notice the lack of guilt and shame in the Lord’s questions. “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (vv. 9, 13) the Lord asks. Each response provides the Lord an opportunity to reassure his servant.

Gentle Reassurance

Too often we rush to reassure someone in depression too quickly, without making realistic connection with their lives. As he counsels Elijah, however, the Lord demonstrates extreme patience. Only after hearing Elijah out, does the Lord provide reassurance that is believable for Elijah. Those qualities might well also guide us as we listen to our friend or family member discuss their depression.

  1. After the first “pity me!” (v. 10) the Lord reassures Elijah of his presence. God exists not in the wind, earthquake, or fire, but in the “still small voice.”  Even in depression, loneliness, and self-pity, God is still with us.
  1. After the second “Pity me!” (v. 14), the Lord reassures Elijah of others’ support: Hazael, Jehu, and Elisha. Oh, and did I mention “7000 in Israel–all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal?” (v. 18) People under extreme stress need our support.
  1. Then, He reassures Elijah that he has  important work to do: anoint those three others to carry on the work he began. Depression clouds our perspective: we are still important to God and to other people.

What We Learn From Elijah

Through Elijah’s encounter with the Lord at his greatest moment of despair, we learn that God’s spiritual leaders are also subject to depression. We also learn that God cares about his servants, enough to ask good questions, to listen, and to provide for our physical as well as spiritual needs. We also learn that we have more support than we realize. Just take the time to find it. Finally, we learn that our lives are important to the Lord. He has important work for us to do.

How have you experienced the despair of spiritual depression? Where was God in your experience? How did you resolve your dilemma?

[Resources: https://www.soulshepherding.org/pastors-under-stress/ Photo: deviant art.com No copyright infringement intended]

Posted in Mental Illness, Recovery | Comments Off on Recovering From Spiritual Depression

What Happens To Our Brain In Depression?

Do I want to live?

Depressed Teen

A Teen Brain in Depression

What happens to our brain in depression? Pastor Johnson’s teen daughter became so depressed he brought her to Christian psychiatrist Donald Hall. Her softball teammates had “betrayed” her, she believed for example, an ex-boyfriend was “stalking” her, and, overwhelmed, she collapsed with thoughts of suicide.

In Breaking Through Depression, Hall puts his finger on brain changes in depression: “Like water cascading down a series of ledges,” he writes, “the chemicals that come with stress move to deeper and deeper levels of the brain on the way to depression. What starts as worries related to normal life challenges can lead to unhealthy levels of stress hormones and to brain cell injury. As large groups of cells become injured, chemical imbalances develop in the mood-control regions of the brain.”  Suicidal thoughts alert us to refer our loved ones, friends and ourselves for a medical evaluation.

Five years after beginning treatment with Dr. Hall, Pastor Johnson’s daughter no longer thinks about suicide. In fact, she is beginning a family of her own.

John’s “Burned Out” Brain

“Something chemical was going on,” John said, “adrenaline or something… it was out of my control.” Although chronically depressed, after he recovered from feeling “burned out” this time, he reported his sensation just prior to his depressive episode to Dr. Donald Hall. John’s body had signaled a need for help. John described the physical sensation of too much stress to Dr. Hall.

Under stress our brain changes. With normal levels of stress, for example, we perform well: nail a job interview, pass a test, weather a conflict. When stress persists over longer periods, however, high levels of the hormone cortisol begin to affect us. Headaches, ulcers, and neck pain can indicate that we live with too much stress. With raised levels of cortisol in our blood and in the fluid which surrounds our brain, our brain’s system of messaging breaks down. Some delicate brain cell branches break off; others die. As a result, some areas of our brain cannot communicate with other areas. That, in turn, reduces the amount of serotonin, a hormone which promotes a sense of well-being. Losing serotonin increases our risk of depression.

The Dangerous Cascade

Dr. Hall describes how the dangerous cascade works in which cortisol can create problems for our brain cells: cell branches break – that reduces serotonin – that blocks cell growth – cells die. These changes can also create changes in our personality: we feel agitated, excited (manic, over the top), enraged, depressed, and experience suicidal thoughts. Unlike most people, when John felt “something chemical going on,” he recognized a clue to brain cell injury and depression.

If you experience changes in your mood (feelings), actions, or thoughts (e.g., of death or dying), it may be time to consult your doctor, counselor, or psychiatrist. If you have consulted any of these professionals, what have you discovered? Have you or someone you know ever thought about or attempted suicide? What was the outcome?

More from Dr. Hall next week. See Breaking Through Depression: A Biblical and Medical Approach to Emotional Wholeness. Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2009, pp. 36, 38-40. For more information on suicide prevention, see https://www.gordongrose.com/preventing-suicide/. Photo: pxhere.com. No copyright infringement is intended.

Posted in Mental Illness | Tagged , | Comments Off on What Happens To Our Brain In Depression?

Remember Sandra Parks

Gun violence victim Sandra Parks“Mom, I’m shot!”–Sandra Parks

Remember Sandra Parks. One of the more recent tragic episodes in gun violence highlights inner-city crime with this heart-breaking story. Just this past week, for example,  sitting in her home in Milwaukie, Wisconsin, a stray bullet took Sandra’s life.  As a 6th grader Sandra penned an essay in a city-wide school competition. The annual contest honors the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Beside her tragic death, what makes Sandra noteworthy: She received 3rd place for her essay on gun violence!

Remember Sandra Parks for the tragic irony of her death. In an effort to keep the memory of Dr. King alive, Sandra challenged her generation to uphold his goal: we shall overcome. Sandra wanted to see faith and hope for a better tomorrow. But, she admitted, she fails to see it. Instead, she sees “examples of chaos almost every day” and “little children” who become victims of “senseless gun violence.”

Two Truths

Remember Sandra Parks for her two truths:

1. We must care about each other. We can do this, she says, through empathy, reducing nasty comments, and loving ourselves and those around us.

2. We have to have purpose which she saw as education, the means to making the world a better place. “We will become the next President, law enforcement officers, teachers, doctors, lawyers, and law makers.” Therefore, she concludes “it is our responsibility as future leaders.”

“I miss her a lot,” says her mother. “I can’t go anywhere without crying.

Cold Facts

How did this happen? we wonder. How could it? One man was charged with several counts. But cold facts don’t matter. What counts is remembering Sandra’s young life and her effort to make a difference in reducing gun violence.

Sandra deserves our attention and our memory, even our grief, both for herself and as representative of the many young people whose lives are lost each year to gun violence. A Go-Fund-Me account exists to help the family with funeral expenses.

How To Remember Sandra Parks

  1. Read Sandra’s 6th grade essay: “Our Truth”
  2. Pray for Sandra’s mother and family for God to comfort
  3. Donate to Sandra’s Go-Fund-Me Account.

Sandra Park's Essay

Sandra Parks’ Essay

[Source: https://www.foxnews.com/us/teen-who-wrote-award-winning-essay-on-gun-violence-was-shot-and-killed-by-stray-bullet]

Posted in Death and Dying, The Sufferer | Comments Off on Remember Sandra Parks

Terror In God’s Name II

Stern explains why terrorists kill in God's name

Review Continued: Terror In The Name Of God: Why Religious Militants Kill, Jessica Stern, NY: Harper Collins ECCO, 2003. For the first installment of this review, see https://www.gordongrose.com/why-terrorists-kill-gods-name/

Why Do Terrorists Kill in God’s Name?

Michael Bray, pastor of the Reformed Lutheran Church near his home in Bowie, MD, explains why terrorists kill in God’s name. Stern asked Bray if Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount doesn’t supersede teaching on violent retribution in the Old Testament. “Christians tend to be opposed to violence,” Bray acknowledged. “Some oppose capital punishment,” he continued. “But there is nothing in the Scripture to support this view. Violence is amoral—its moral content is determined on the purpose of the violent act…There has been a progression of understanding, but there is still judgment of sin. The grace of God was manifested in his sending His Son to earth. But God did not change His standards.” (p. 162)

Bray seems to say he is God’s instrument to judge sin. I would then challenge Bray with St. Paul’s Old Testament quotation, “Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord, I will repay.” (See Romans 12:17-21) But, as with any cultist, he likely will have another rationalization.

Organizational Structures

At one extreme some terrorist groups lack organization. Here, the leader inspires lone-wolf attacks. At the other end of the spectrum stands Al Qaeda. “The Ultimate Organization,” Stern calls them. With their Networks, Franchises, and Freelancers (Chapter Nine), they show great recruitment, training, and deployment. Stern, however, expresses one regret. “It’s too bad that the terrorists’ revelations, including about the organization’s vast businesses holdings, its detailed planning of operations, its emplacements of sleepers, and its attempts to acquire weapons of mass destruction, didn’t receive more attention.” (p. 237) We continue to ignore Al Qaeda at our peril.

Common Motivation

In her final chapter on why tourists kill in God’s name, Stern provides her summary conclusions and policy recommendations. “As a result of my interviews,” she says, “I have come to see that apocalyptic violence intended to ‘cleanse’ the world of ‘impurities’ can create a transcendent state. All the terrorist groups examined in this book believe—or at least started out believing—that they are creating a more perfect world…purifying [it]…of injustice, cruelty, and all that is inhuman…all of them describe themselves as responding to a spiritual calling, and many report a kind of spiritual high or addiction related to its fulfillment.” (p. 281)

Muslim Vulnerability

Stern singles out the Muslim world as particularly vulnerable to terrorism. She mentions the United States’ support for Israel. Also, Middle Eastern regimes successfully suppress terrorism within their borders. But they ignore terrorist organizations as they shift focus outside, to more vulnerable targets. Egypt successfully shut down Egyptian Islamic Jihad, for example, members of which are exceptionally well-trained. But the group then shifted its target from its “near enemy” to its “far enemy”—the United States and the West. (p. 286)

Muslim militants, humiliated by the “axis of envy,” the result of our economic and military might, globalization, and the New World Order, also respond to our hypocrisy, perceived and real, in our dealings with Middle Eastern nations. Also, allowing failed states, such as Afghanistan and several Latin American countries, to continue, creates a safe haven “for a variety of terrorist groups.” (p. 294)

Terrorism: Ancient As Well as Modern

Terrorism is as ancient as it is modern. National policies lead one tribe or nation to conquer another to enslave their neighbors. The ancient story of Job, in addition to natural disasters, identifies two unprovoked attacks on Job’s holdings and murder of his servants, requiring of him a lengthy road to recovery. (See my Tragedy Transformed: How Job’s Recovery Can Provide Hope for Yours, 2015The violence which befall terrorists’ victims creates tragedy in personal, family and national life now as it did then.

For anyone interested to learn how terrorists today think, organize, and how they can be thwarted, read Jessica Stern’s Terror In The Name of God.

Posted in Friend of Job, Religon | Comments Off on Terror In God’s Name II

Why Terrorists Kill In God’s Name

Review: Terror In The Name Of God: Why Religious Militants Kill, Jessica Stern, NY: Harper Collins ECCO, 2003. Photo: Flickr.com

Why Do Terrorists Kill in God’s Name?

Although published over 15 years ago, Stern’s work on why terrorists kill in God’s name provides a unique window into the motivation and organization of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim militants. They all believe that their killing of their enemies (in their minds, God’s enemies) rids the world of evil. Stern’s method: empathize with the terrorist during interviews but short of sympathy toward their cause.

Stern taught “Terrorism” at Harvard University from 1999-2015. She conducted first-hand research into the motivations and the organizational patterns of terrorist networks. That research resulted in this book. She has since published other important works on this subject of compelling interest. Currently she teaches at the Fredrick S. Pardee School for Global Studies at Boston University.

Why Do Terrorists Kill? – Grievances

Terrorists derive justification for killing in God’s name from a number of grievances.  Leaders exploit feelings of alienation and humiliation, for example, to create their warriors. Demographic shifts, the selective reading of history, and territorial disputes (e.g., Kashmir) also contribute. What do terrorists achieve? They receive material, emotional, and spiritual benefits, she reports. When a small group of warriors gives money or take up arms, others in the group benefit from this payment of a “tax.”

Ramzi bin al-Shibh, a mastermind of the September 11 attacks, explains this idea of “tax.” “It is imperative to pay a price for Heaven, for the commodity of Allah is dear, very dear. It is not acquired through rest, but [rather] blood and torn-off limbs must be the price.” He reminds Muslims that the moral “obligation of Jihad” is as important as prayer and the giving of alms. He also warns Muslims that “painful and harsh” punishment awaits those who neglect to pay their “taxes” by failure to wage jihad. (p. 4)

Reward and Threat

Leaders motivate followers through the promise of heavenly reward or the threat of heavenly retribution. “All the terrorists discussed in Part 1,” says Stern, “claim to be motivated by religious principles, but most pursue a mixture of spiritual and political goals.” (p. 6)  The Covenant, the Sword, and the Arm of the Lord (Christian) and the Jewish Underground seek eternal, spiritual goals or aim to bring in the Endtimes predicted in Scripture. Others, like Hamas, seek political power to control Israel.  Some indigenous Indonesians created intense religious violence in their aim to take control of their region’s natural resources.

Part 2 explores how leaders run successful holy war operations. Inspirational leaders motivate lone-wolf avengers.  Some groups organize loosely, while others, like Al Qaeda, are highly organized and disciplined. Leaders inspire leaderless-resistance individuals to take individual action, without communicating their plans to others. Terrorist ideologies and personal grievances motivate lone-wolf avengers, such as those who kill abortion doctors in the name of Pro-Life. Using euphemisms, they call these “defensive actions” against “baby butcheries,” i.e., killing doctors, their staff, and bombing abortion clinics.

Next Week: Part 2: How Terrorists Organize, continued.



Posted in Friend of Job, Religon | Comments Off on Why Terrorists Kill In God’s Name

Does The World Make Sense? II

Does world make sense?Given our experience with unjustified suffering, does the world make sense? Can we find a rational explanation for our suffering, or must we live with despair? Moral philosopher Susan Neiman raises the question we all struggle with. The Book of Job, she finds, maintains all three assertions put forth by Epicurus. (See previous blog) Epicurus asked,”If God is omnipotent and benevolent, how does Evil exist?”

Searching For An Answer

Job’s friends move from a position of compassion in Chapter 2 to argument to stating their opinions in Chapters 4-5. But they begin attacking Job in Chapter 15. Because God is omnipotent and benevolent, they insist, Job’s suffering derives from his sin. Although they sacrifice understanding Job’s experience, their world is rational. Neiman notes the similarity between Eliphaz’s reply to Job and the Epilogue. “When disaster strikes [God] will rescue you…”, Eliphaz promised. “You will see your family multiply, your children flourish like grass. You will die at the height of your powers and be gathered liken ripe grain.”

How does The Lord Answer?

If the Friends can’t provide Job an answer, what about the Voice from the Whirlwind? God speaks from a tornado in Chapters 38-41. Is this an effort to get Job to shut up!? He is only mortal, after all. What right does he have to question God? Neiman prefers a different slant: “If grave justice (sic) occurs, is there no order/meaning/ reason in the world? Then God’s answer can be read as saying…You want order, I’ll show you order. ” (italics hers)

Neiman understands that the first part of God’s answer (on Creation/animal life, Chapters 38-39) may well satisfy Job. But then she asks about the elaborate description of chaos monsters in Chapters 40-41. God’s creation includes the chaotic? But, Neiman asserts, “Job is not simply asking for evidence of order in the world, he is asking for evidence of moral order.” This, in fact, God denies Job. Perhaps Job (and all of us) must live in a world with unjust suffering and with uncertainty about moral order. The animal flees to escape, or succumbs as food for the predator. Only humans bother about moral order.

Does The World Make Sense?

Although Neiman does not say it, perhaps this is part of what makes us human. We have self-consciousness, the ability to reflect, and to communicate abstract, complex thoughts. In theological terms, what makes us human is our relationship with God: we are created in His image, the creature who names the animals, i.e., has dominion over them. Neiman calls attention to the Lord’s assertion that Job has rightly spoken, as against the Friends–three times. But she also questions the meaning of the Lord’s question to Job, “Am I wrong because you are right?”

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)

This question Neiman answers by discussing Immanuel Kant’s essay, “On the Impossibility of All Future Attempts at Theodicy.” According to Kant, towering thinker over all of philosophy, the friends represent “pure reason,” free of experience. The Voice from the Whirlwind provides a clear-eyed view of reality. It is Job, then, who represents the need to bring the two together. She concludes, “On this reading, God himself asserts the need for human moral vigilance, and action: ‘Am I wrong because you are right?'” Neiman concludes her lengthy essay with these words: “Viewing Job’s claim as the claim that reality should become reasonable is one way of seeing how both God, and Job, could speak the truth; the one a truth about the way the world is; the other a truth about the way it should be. It is this that we call moral clarity, when we have the good sense or good fortune to achieve it.”

Shortcomings to Neiman’s Analysis

We owe Susan Neiman a debt of gratitude for her philosophical writings and for this essay on Job, “Does the world make sense?” Her thinking represents the best philosophy, and perhaps Judaism, can provide in an attempt to “solve” our problem of evil. That this problem is universal is reflected in not only the formulation of Epicurus in Greek life, but also in Indian Buddhism, and, of course in Hebrew thought. But Neiman’s analysis has some flaws.

  1.  Neiman in this essay quotes only very limited thoughts from Eliphaz. Chapters 4-5 contain a steady stream of advice, personal experience, cursing of the wicked, observation, promises, assertion and commands. Eliphaz also represents only the first speaker of the three. Neiman is perceptive to note the similarity between one of Eliphaz’s thoughts and the Epilogue, but only one of Job’s Friends’ many thoughts.
  2. Neiman entertains what she calls “a Jewish tradition that denies God’s omnipotence.” For example in her concluding statement, she says, “Abandoning traditional claims of divine omnipotence will be problematic for many, but that many be what facing reality requires.” In the end, then, Neiman also eliminates one of the three basic assertions of the Problem of Evil. This weakens her tribute to the Book of Job for not doing so. Neither the Friends nor Job question God’s omnipotence. God, it seems, created a world of chaos as well as order for Job and for all of us to deal with.
  3. A third critique involves Neiman’s disregard for the religious dimension of the book. Job serves God with scrupulous righteousness only to experience loss of nearly everything. Job’s quarrel with God permeates the book. It is not to be avoided, or interpreted as simply representing something else (e.g., reality). This God is a Person, with a name (the Lord) who hears, responds to, and who challenges Job’s perspective. What helps Job survive is that this God of awesome majesty speaks with him to answer him, and provides him a unique perspective on questions we all ask.                                                                                                                                                            [Source: Does The World Make Sense? A Philosophical Reading of the Book of Job http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2014/09/03/4080571.htm]
Posted in Friend of Job, The Sufferer | Comments Off on Does The World Make Sense? II