Monday, October 20, 2014

Thank God for Wise Teachers (and Workaholics)

Dr. Wayne E. Oates was probably the wisest teacher I ever sat under—and since I was a full time student for 22 years, from 1944 to 1966, I had a lot of teachers.
Oates was born into a poor South Carolina family in 1917, and he passed away 15 years ago tomorrow, on Oct. 21, 1999. Abandoned by his father in infancy, young Wayne was brought up by his grandmother and sister while his mother supported them by working in a cotton mill.
At the age of fourteen he was one of a small number of impoverished boys selected to serve as a page in the U.S. House of Representatives. Stimulated by that experience, he became the first of his family to go to college.
Oates went on to earn a doctor’s degree in the psychology of religion and then taught at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) from 1947 to 1974 and at the University of Louisville Medical School after that.
When I was in his pastoral counseling class at SBTS, I made an appointment to talk with Dr. Oates about a troublesome matter in the church I was serving as pastor. After listening carefully to my explanation of the problem, he leaned toward me and said, “Brother Seat, there are some situations we just can’t change. All we can do is learn from them.”
Wise words!
Several years later, in 1971, Dr. Oates wrote a book titled “Confessions of a Workaholic.” He begins, “Workaholism is a word which I have invented. It is not in your dictionary.”
But now “workaholic” is in most dictionaries. In a brief article about his death, the New York Times reported that Oates’s 1971 book resulted in “workaholic” being added “to the American lexicon; the Oxford English Dictionary credits him with inventing it.”
At the age of 66, Dr. Oates wrote an autobiographical book titled “The Struggle to Be Free.” The first chapter is about his boyhood and the struggle to be free of poverty.

Next he writes about the struggle to be free from a feeling of inferiority. “Poverty,” he contends, “leaves you with wounds to your self-esteem” (p. 29).
“To Be Free from the Slavery of Overcommitment” is the title of the seventh chapter, and there Dr. Oates tells how he wrote the book about workaholism because of his own struggle with an overcommitment to work.”
He came to realize that part of the reason for that was due to the poverty he had experienced as a boy. He writes, “I do not think that economics determines our destiny. I do think that economics shapes our thoughts and decisions far more than the pious people of the earth know or are willing to admit” (p. 136).
Throughout his lifetime, Dr. Oates wrote 57 books—far more than he probably would have written if he had not been a workaholic. (In some cases we can thank God for workaholics!)
Those books have been greatly beneficial not only to his many students and to other teachers in the field of counseling, but also to many people in the general public who have been able to learn from the wisdom shared in his books.
Please join me in thanking God for wise teachers—and even for workaholics like Dr. Oates.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Was Freud a Fraud?

Great Books Kansas City is a book discussion group that has been meeting monthly since 2004 “to discuss great literature that has stood the test of time.”
Last month, for only the second time, I attended Great Books KC because of my interest in the book being discussed that evening: Sigmund Freud’s “The Future of an Illusion” (1927).
That book is largely an analysis, and denunciation, of religion and faith in God.
I do not have sufficient knowledge of psychology/psychiatry to critique Freud’s psychoanalytical thought. But I do have some expertise in the field of theology and philosophy.
As I was driving downtown to the meeting, I began to wonder, “Was Freud a Fraud?” It seems that at least in some ways he was.
In his 1927 book, he makes great emphasis on science and disses religion or faith in God for being unscientific.
But as I read many of Freud’s assertions, I kept asking myself, “How does he know that?” and “How can that statement possibly be proven scientifically?”
It seems clear that much of what he wrote is theory, and many of his ideas may or may not be true. But most are not amenable to scientific proof.
Some of what Freud wrote, such as his analysis of the human id, ego and superego, has undoubtedly helped to explain significant aspects of human behavior.
But it is his analysis of religious belief that is most questionable.
For example, in Future . . . Freud avers that religious ideas are “illusions, fulfilments of the oldest, strongest and most urgent wishes of mankind” (p. 30, 1961 trans.).
That may be true, especially for some people. But is it true for all?
Later in the same book, Freud asserts that religion is “the universal obsessional neurosis of humanity” (p. 43).
Really? Can you scientifically prove that, Dr. Freud?
Freud mainly dealt with mentally ill people, and that no doubt skewed his view of religion. Many sick people have sick religious beliefs and practices.
On the other hand, many healthy people have healthy, and socially beneficial, religious ideas.
Freud didn’t consider the great prophets or social activists whose religious faith was not for their own personal comfort but rather was impetus for challenging the ills of society.
Freud didn’t consider the great intellectuals whose religious faith was not neurotic but the spur to lofty and creative thinking.
Freud didn’t consider the great missionaries who at great personal discomfort went to lands of danger, disease, and often disappointment for the sake of the Good News that they felt compelled to share.
From a different standpoint, some who do have knowledge of psychiatry have criticized Freud severely.
For example, a clinical and research psychiatrist named E. Fuller Torrey tore into Freud, or at least the use of Freudian ideas, in his 1992 book titled “Freudian Fraud: The Malignant Effect of Freud’s Theory on American Thought and Culture.”
According to Torrey, Vladimir Nabokov, the widely-known Russian-American novelist, called Freud a “Viennese quack” and deemed psychoanalysis “one of the vilest deceits practiced by people on themselves and on others.”
Nabokov (1899-1977) also contended that “the difference between the rapist and therapist is but a matter of spacing” (Torrey, pp. 200-1).
In veiled criticism of Freudian psychoanalysis, Humbert Humbert, one of Nabokov’s characters wrote about “pseudoliberation of pseudolibidoes.”
In case you don’t recognize who Humbert is, he is the protagonist in Nabokov’s best-known book “Lolita,” which, it so happens, is the book to be discussed at this month’s Great Books KC meeting.
Great Books Kansas City is open to anyone who wants to attend. The October meeting is from 7:00 to 8:00 p.m. on Friday the 31st at the Plaza Branch of the Kansas City Public Library. The last meeting of the year is Dec. 5, and the discussion will be of “Snow Country” by the Nobel Prize winning novelist Yasunari Kawabata. I am looking forward to both of these meetings.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Can We Trust Muslims?

Recently I have had some dialogue (via email) about Muslims with a Thinking Friend who is a retired Baptist pastor.
Responding to a questionable email he had forwarded to me, among several others, I wrote, “I think we (Americans and/or Christians) must be careful not to consider many if not most Muslims to be radicals. Islam should not be judged by looking at the radical Islamists any more than Christianity should be judged by looking at the KKK.”
In response, my TF wrote, “The credibility of separating radical from moderate Muslims lies in the fact that Moderate Muslims, who are the majority, do little or nothing to denounce the radical movement. Christians make no bones about denouncing the KKK, the Jim Jones radicals and others under the rubric of Christianity who deny the basic ideals set forth by Jesus.”
He went on to say, “I personally believe Islam is evil to the core based upon the nature of Allah and the teachings of the Koran. It is a religion of war and conquest rather than love and acceptance (grace).”
My response to that was to send him several recent articles about moderate Muslims speaking out clearly in opposition to ISIS and radical Islam: articles, for example, that you can read here and here.

In this same vein, Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, the World Council of Churches general secretary, recently welcomed publication of an open letter by 126 Muslim scholars to Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, leader of the self-proclaimed “Islamic State,” condemning the atrocities committed by ISIS. (Here is that link.)
In the most recent email received about this issue from my TF, he wrote about recently seeing on Fox News an interview with an anonymous Muslim who “specifically referred to the speeches of [moderate] Muslim scholars . . . as a way to deceive Americans to get in their good graces, thus working their way into business, government, education and even religion.”
That was a rather scary interview, which you can see here.
So my TF concluded, “I'm just not convinced of the good intentions of the ‘moderate’ Muslim community. [It is] all deceitful talk.”
But is it?
My TF failed to mention that the same Fox News program, to their credit, also had an interview with Qanta Ahmed (M.D.), associate professor of medicine at SUNY. She spoke out in no uncertain terms against ISIS.
Last month Dr. Ahmed wrote a piece in the Washington Post titled, “My beautiful faith is being overtaken by the beheaders I’ve studied.”
Further, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), America’s largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization, in August reiterated its condemnation of the “un-Islamic and morally repugnant” violence and religious extremism of the ISIS.
CAIR rallies against ISIS have recently been held in Tulsa (9/19) and in Houston (10/3). The leader of the former rally was quoted as saying, “ISIS not only represents the worst of humanity, but their actions are without a doubt the antithesis of Islam’s teachings.”
Of course, it is possible that Dr. Ahmed and especially CAIR are being deceptive and that we American Christians (and others) should not take seriously what they say. But that seems like a cynical and, most probably, unnecessary stance.
It is not good to be gullible. But neither is extreme suspicion and rejection of statements made in good faith a commendable position.
Even though there are, no doubt, some Muslims whom we cannot and should not trust, most Muslims in this country are probably as trustworthy as most of the people of other religions.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Pulpit Freedom Sunday

Today, Oct. 5, is being observed by some conservative Protestant pastors and churches as “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” (PFS). Since 2008, a number of preachers across the country have participated in PFS, giving partisan political endorsements in their sermons.
These pastors are willing to defy the law in order to defend their right to freedom of speech—and to promote political positions and candidates that they think are biblically correct.

Since 1954, tax-exempt religious organizations have been barred from endorsing parties or candidates. The new U.S. tax code enacted then is sometimes referred to as the Johnson Amendment, as it was first proposed by then-Senator Lyndon B. Johnson.
The Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) was founded in 1994 by Bill Bright, James Dobson, D. James Kennedy, and Donald Wildmon (not to be confused with Thinking Friend Donald Wideman), among a number of other conservative Christian leaders.
In 2012, the ADF changed its name to Alliance Defending Freedom, but both before and after the name change ADF has been a leader among Christians organizations opposing the Johnson Amendment and advocating PFS as “a strategic litigation plan.”
Through “tactical lawsuits” against the IRS, the ADF says they are seeking “to restore the right of each pastor to speak scriptural Truth from the pulpit about moral, social, and governmental issues.”
They eagerly desire for each pastor to be able to speak freely from the pulpit “without fear of losing his [sic] church’s tax-exempt status.” (These quotes are from this website.)
The ADF claims the Johnson Amendment is an unconstitutional restriction of legitimate Christian discourse and a violation of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees freedom of speech.
The same website gives the names and location of the 1,225 churches across the nation that observed PFS last year, down considerably from the 1,620 churches that participated in 2012. That decrease was partly due to a lawsuit.
In November 2012 the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) filed a lawsuit over conservative preachers openly defying those restrictions. (View that document here.)
That lawsuit was settled in July of this year. The FFRF claimed victory, as the IRS has now instituted a protocol for investigating tax-exempt churches and religious organizations involved in political activity.
This has not deterred the ADF from actively promoting PFS—and some 1,500 churches are expected to participate today.
Matt Barber, vice president of Liberty Counsel Action (LCA), spoke about PFS at the June 2014 Faith & Freedom Coalition's "Road to Majority" conference in Washington, D.C.
Thousands of pastors, Barber noted, have disobeyed the IRS law in acts of civil disobedience on Pulpit Freedom Sunday. LCA, headed by Mathew Staver, dean of Liberty University School of Law, wants the IRS to take punitive action so that they can challenge the law in courts.
Presently, all 50 states and the District of Columbia exempt churches from paying property tax. Moreover, donations to churches are tax-deductible. In stark contrast to ADF, LCA and other such groups, though, there are others who are asking if such tax exemptions are actually contrary to separation of church and state. That may well be the case.
So what is really at stake on this Pulpit Freedom Sunday is not the freedom to speak, but the freedom not to pay taxes, which may be questioned under the best of conditions. At present, if churches are willing to give up their tax exempt status, their pastors are completely freely to say what they want from their pulpits.
That is probably sufficient freedom—for today and for every Sunday.