05/30/14

What Would You Like to Change?

On a retreat once, a woman said she believed God wanted the group to pray for a healing of my right arm. I was born with a birth defect to my right arm. And while I do believe that all things were possible for those who believe, I wasn’t holding out much hope that the prayer would end with me having a restored right arm. But she was sincere and seemed empathetic, so I agreed for the people there to gather around me and pray for my healing.

When the prayers were done, I described the ways I believed God had shaped my through the birth defect. I said that if God offered me the opportunity to have a life where I grew up without the birth defect, but couldn’t guarantee everything else would be the same, I would refuse. Someone commented that it seemed God had already healed me.

Here and there I’ve heard other people give similar testimonies. Once at a conference, I heard a woman say she was grateful she was an alcoholic, because that was how she came to God. Recently I posed the “if God offered you an opportunity” question to someone who is in the midst of some very stressful times. She also said that if God couldn’t guarantee everything else in her life would be same, she would refuse a life change as well.

I don’t see this as Stoic. Rather, I see it as redemptive. God works through the circumstances of our lives for good (Romans 8:28). But are there things in your life that you can change and should change? Anything? And how would you go about it?

Tim Chester has written an incredibly helpful guide to do just that: You Can Change: God’s Transforming Power for Our Sinful Behavior and Negative Emotions. Chester said his book alone cannot change someone. But it tries to connect the truth about God with our Monday-morning struggles. “This book points to Jesus and explains how faith in Jesus leads to change.”

He designed the book to be read as you work on a particular concern—your change project. Each chapter has the form of a question that you ask in your change project, with further questions at the end of each chapter to go deeper if you want. So what would you like to change? Why would you like to change? What stops you from changing? Are you ready for a lifetime of daily changing? These are all questions that Chester will ask you as you read his book. There is also additional material on the publisher’s (Inter-Varsity Press) website.

The last chapter cautioned that while sometimes people are dramatically changed, with one area of struggle disappearing almost overnight, that kind of change is rare. Most change is a slow battle. Insight and understanding into the lies and desires behind the sin doesn’t mean the problem is solved. Now you know where the fight is taking place and you know the truth you need to embrace. “But the struggle to believe that truth continues.”

What do you think stops people from making the changes they know they need to make?

 

05/28/14

If God Spoke to You, Would You Tell Your Psychiatrist?

As a young Christian, I remember being anxious as an agency treatment team meeting approached. A young woman I counseled reported strange things began happening to her soon after she started to read a Bible. Although her experiences seemed to have a spiritual aspect, they were also borderline delusional. And I had suggested that she read her Bible.

The thought crossed my mind to not say anything at the treatment team meeting. But I reported the woman’s experiences and my suggestion that she read her Bible. I said I did not think she was becoming psychotic, gave my opinion why, and held my breath. After a slight pause, the psychiatrist said to let him know if her condition deteriorated. The woman continued to read the Bible; the strange experiences stopped; and she eventually went to YWAM (Youth With a Mission) for a short time.

Beginning with Sigmund Freud, psychiatrists have been less religious than the general population; and sometimes even anti-religious. Freud himself was a life-long atheist and critic of religion. He said religion was a “universal obsessional neurosis.”

In 1928 Freud published a short paper entitled: “A Religious Experience.” There he psychoanalyzed an American physician who had attempted to convert him. The American doctor wrote of a time when he himself questioned whether or not God existed, and heard an internal voice say: “ I should consider the step I was about to take.” This was a religious turning point for the doctor. He said knew then that Jesus was his only hope; and that the Bible was God’s Word.

Freud wrote that he was glad the experience enabled the man to retain his faith, but that God had never allowed him to hear an inner voice. He commented that if God did not hurry, it would not be Freud’s fault if he remained “an infidel Jew.”

The American doctor wrote back that being a Jew was not an obstacle to true faith. Prayers were being “earnestly addressed” that Freud be granted faith to believe. He begged Freud to give thought to the matter of life and death. After describing this exchange in his paper, Freud said: “I am still awaiting the outcome of this intercession.”

Freud then gave an “obvious” analytical explanation of the doctor’s religious experience. “All of this is so simple and straightforward that we cannot but ask ourselves whether by understanding this case we have thrown any light at all on the psychology of conversion in general.”

By the 1970s, internal changes began in psychiatry that largely threw over the influence of psychoanalysis on the field. Research studies began to demonstrate that religion has many psychological benefits. But psychiatrists continued to be less religious than other physicians.

In 2007, a study published in the journal Psychiatric Services found that psychiatrists were less religious than other physicians. Psychiatrists were less likely to believe in God than other physicians (65% versus 77%). And they were less likely to say they looked to God for strength, support and guidance (36% versus 49%).  See the original study here.

Not all psychiatrists, even those who don’t believe in God, would view an individual who said God spoke to them as delusional or psychotic. But there is a risk that what the person sees as a purely religious experience will be interpreted as a symptom of schizophrenia or a delusional disorder.

So should Christians who believe that God actually spoke to them tell their psychiatrist of that experience?

05/26/14

Raising the Stakes in the War on Cocaine Addiction

War on Drugs

image courtesy of iStock

A 28 year old Viennese neurologist named Sigmund Freud read about the benefits of cocaine on Bavarian soldiers. He decided to use it to treat his own problems with depression and chronic fatigue and acquired some from Merck. On April 30th 1884, Freud used cocaine for the first time. He thought it was “a magic drug.”

Cocaine turned his bad mood into cheerfulness; it even helped his indigestion.  He wrote to Martha, his fiancée: “In short, it is only now that I feel I am a doctor, since I have helped one patient and hope to help more.” Freud encouraged Martha to try cocaine, “to make her strong and give her cheeks a red color.” He warned her that when he came for a visit, she should expect “a big wild man who has cocaine in his body.”

He gave cocaine to his sisters and also to medical colleagues—both for themselves and for their patients. By July of 1884 he had written and published his first essay praising the therapeutic uses for cocaine. His hope was that he would become a pioneer in the medical uses of cocaine. But there would not be a happy ending to the story of Freud and cocaine.

These days the ongoing saga of medicine and cocaine is the quest to find a vaccine to cure those who become addicted to it.

I’ve been following the attempts to develop a vaccine for cocaine and other illicit drugs since 2009, when the National Institute of Health (NIH) reported on the work of Thomas Kosten with TA-CD. Nora Volkow, the Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), said: “The results of this study represent a promising step toward an effective medical treatment for cocaine addiction.”

But some of the participants in Phase 1 of the clinical trials reported using TEN TIMES as much cocaine when trying to override the blocking action of the cocaine vaccine. The Washington Post, reported on the Kosten’s research in January of 2010, saying: “Some of the addicts reported to researchers that they had gone broke buying cocaine from multiple dealers, hoping to find a variety that would get them high.”

A 2011 article in the New York Times highlighted the work of Kim Janda who was working on a cocaine vaccine. His laboratory, the Scripps Research Institute, has also worked on vaccines for nicotine and heroin. In June of 2011 Janda published positive results with what he called an “anti-heroin vaccine.”

New York Magazine reported in September of 2013 that Ronald Crystal, the head of genetic medicine at Weill Cornell, had success with the third version of Janda’s original cocaine vaccine. He hopes to begin human trials by the middle of 2014. A side bar indicated that vaccines were in development for alcohol, nicotine, marijuana, heroin, methamphetamine and rohypnol (the date rape drug).

But as Clint Rainy commented in his New York Magazine article, the problem with addiction is it’s not just a physical problem, it’s also psychological. “Even if you can cancel the effects of drugs, can you make us not want to take them?” Crystal thinks that shouldn’t be a problem for his compound, as it was with TA-CD, because they tweaked their compound (dAd5GNE) to have a “more robust” immune response. Crystal’s response seems to miss an important limitation to a purely physiological attempt to cure addictive “disease.” The vaccine can only inhibit the physiological response to the drug; not the psychological one.

While Kosten’s work with TA-CD has begun clinical trials with humans, the work of Janda with heroin and Crystal with cocaine has yet to be tried on humans. But it’s coming soon. One person who responded to the New York Magazine article about Crystal’s cocaine vaccine said: “This would be a dream come true for me and save my life.” He believed that with the vaccine, he wouldn’t get high. After a few months, he imagined he wouldn’t be thinking about it anymore, but would “just keep getting vaccinated to be safe.”

But it seems that developing a cocaine vaccine as an attempt to end cocaine addiction merely raises the stakes for some addicted individuals by requiring larger amounts of the drug to overcome the vaccine. A vaccine doesn’t address the psychic desire for the drug. If a vaccine is successfully developed for heroin and other opioids, their current potential for deadly use could also increase tenfold.

Do you think that drug vaccines would be a helpful or a dangerous addition to the available treatments for addiction?

05/23/14

Thinking God’s Thoughts

I recently discovered that the German mathematician, astronomer and astrologer Johannes Kepler used the phrase “thinking God’s thoughts after Him.” Referring to his work in astronomy, Kepler said: “I was merely thinking God’s thoughts after Him. Since we astronomers are priests of the highest God in regard to the book of nature, it benefits us to be thoughtful, not of the glory of our minds, but rather, above all else, of the glory of God.”

This idea can become rather Stoic at times. It has that sense in Twenty-Four Hours a Day, a book of recovery meditations for members of Alcoholics Anonymous. The December 18th meditation said that the nearer astronomers get to the ultimate composition of all things, the nearer the universe approaches a mathematical formula, which is thought. The universe itself may be the thought of the Great Thinker. Therefore, “We must try to think God’s thoughts after Him.” We must try to get guidance from the Divine Mind as to what His intention is for the world “and what part we can have in carrying out that intention.”

van-tilSince my time in seminary, I have been deeply influenced by the writings of Cornelius Van Til and his very different sense of thinking God’s thoughts after Him. Van Til said that as creatures of God, we are analogues of God. “God is the original while man is the derivative. Man’s thoughts must therefore be patterned after God’s thoughts. Man must, as we often express it, think God’s thoughts after Him.” (Essays on Christian Education)

Christianity presupposes the self-sufficient God of Scripture. God created the universe for and unto himself. “By his providence, God sustains the universe in order to realize his ultimate purpose with it.” There is purpose in the universe because God has made it so. And every purpose in the universe must be referred to God. “Without this reference to God, no purpose within the universe has meaning.” (Christian-Theistic Evidences)

If man is not autonomous, if he is in fact what Scripture says he is—a creature of God and a sinner—then he should “subordinate his reason to the Scriptures” and seek its light to interpret his experience. God’s revelation in nature as well as Scripture is always authoritarian. “The truly scientific method, the method which alone can expect to make true progress in learning, is therefore such a method as seeks simply to think God’s thoughts after him.” (The Defense of the Faith)

If theism is true, only that thought and interpretation on the part of man is true which recognizes God as the source of man and man’s interpretation. Hence we hold that in the nature of the case there is not only one true religion, but only one true interpretation of all science as well. We hold that all science that does not recognize God as the maker of the facts with which it deals and the mind with which it thinks as created by God and as properly thinking God’s thoughts after him, is false science. (Psychology of Religion)

The modern, understanding of science asks us to grant the theoretical relevancy of any hypothesis. It also asks that we test the truth of any hypothesis by experience. Lastly, the modern scientific method assumes the reality of neutral, brute, facts. But if God exists, there are no brute facts. Our study of facts must seek to know them as God wants them to be known by us. “We must then seek to think God’s thoughts after Him. To assume that there are brute facts is therefore to assume that God does not exist.” The autonomous human mind thinks of itself as acting completely independent of God. (Unpublished Manuscripts of Cornelius Van Til, Electronic edition)

So in this blog and in the other material on this website, I seek to “Think God’s Thoughts” in the sense meant by Van Til.

Do you agree that for both science and Scripture our thoughts must be patterned after God’s thoughts?

05/21/14

Is ADHD Simply a Case of the Fidgets?

At a conference, I heard Bose Ravenel (a great name) describe how the “science” behind ADHD and other childhood behavioral disorders wasn’t truly scientific. I bought and read The Diseasing of America’s Children, which he co-authored with John Rosemond. I collected additional critiques of ADHD treatment by Peter Breggin and Fred Baughman, intending to write an article for my web site. But other interests came along, and I didn’t get around to it for a few years.

As an abstinence-oriented addictions counselor, I have a built-in bias against using stimulant medication to treat behavior problems. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, most ADHD medications have “a high potential for abuse”, leading to possible psychological or physical dependence. In other words, Adderall and Ritalin have the same abuse potential as morphine or OxyContin. It didn’t make sense to me that this “treatment” for ADHD would reverse a biochemical or neurological deficit as claimed. The calming effect of stimulants had to have another explanation.

In the summer of 2012 I finally sat down and did the reading and research to first write: “ADHD: An Imbalance of Fire Over Water or A Case of the Fidgets?” Although I read several studies supporting the use of ADHD medications, I still concluded that the negatives far outweighed the positives.

I don’t think I simply found what I already “knew” to be true because of my built-in bias against stimulant medications. The research convincingly showed that stimulant medications do not really “treat” ADHD. And I think you will too after watching the presentation by Robert Whitaker in: “Medicating ADHD: Diagnosis and the Long-Term Effects of the Medications.”

Here is just one teaser mentioned in the video. William Pelham, a researcher with the Multimodal Treatment of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder Study (MTA Study), a long term study of the treatment of ADHD funded by the NIMH said: “We thought that children medicated longer would have better outcomes. That didn’t happen to be the case. There were no beneficial effects; none. In the short term [medication] will help the child behave better, in the long run it won’t. And that information should be made very clear to parents.”

Viewing ADHD as a simply a neurological disorder that is treated with medication seems to make the mistake of viewing human beings as simply “bodies run amuck” (to use Dave Powlison’s phrase). This reductionistic understanding of human nature neglects a biblical understanding that we are a “psycho-somatic unity” of soul (psyche) and body (soma).

There is nothing morally wrong in using ADHD medications. But given the problems with them, I certainly think it is unwise to use them long-term—particularly since they have the same risk of drug dependency as morphine and OxyContin.

What do you think about ADHD medications and the concerns raised here?

05/19/14

Remembering Reefer Madness

rmadness31Sometime around 1975, I went to see the film “Reefer Madness.” I was probably stoned, because that was what you did. You smoked pot and went to see the movie. But that was a long time ago. These days I’m on the other side of the movement to legalize marijuana. Being a drug and alcohol counselor for over thirty years and seeing the negative consequences of drug use and abuse can do that to you.

A few years ago I taught a Sociology of Deviant Behavior course at Grove City College, and showed the film to my class. The students didn’t express concerns; I didn’t think they would. But I heard that while some of their parents thought it was “cool” that a professor at a conservative Christian college would show the film, others weren’t pleased.

“Reefer Madness” was released as “Tell Your Children” in 1936. Financed by a small church group, it was supposed to inform parents of the dangers of smoking marijuana. During filming, the cast was asked to “hoke” it up—be campy and melodramatic. Scenes like the one pictured here where the character Ralph demands that the piano be played “Faster … Faster!” come to mind.

Soon after the film was completed, it was purchased by Dwain Esper, who renamed it “Reefer Madness” and put it on the exploitation cinema circuit. Several new movies each year would travel from town to town on the circuit. Each addressed a socially problematic behavior. Films like “Reefer Madness” and “Cocaine Fiends” would be announced in a town with huge posters that screamed, “THE MOST VITAL PICTURE OF ALL TIME” and “YOU MUST SEE IT.”

Theater lobby displays for movies warning of the dangers of drugs contained hypodermic needles, simulated reefers, and other drug paraphernalia. “Esteemed” lecturers would tell of the dangers of drugs, venereal disease, or whichever problem behavior related to the film—and then urge filmgoers to buy their educational booklets.

Amidst this onslaught of hype, the movie itself almost became an afterthought. After a brief release, “Reefer Madness” was forgotten for decades. Neither Esper nor the original filmmakers bothered to copyright the movie and it eventually fell into the public domain. Watch a version of “Reefer Madness” here on YouTube.

In 1971, Keith Stroup, the founder of NORML (National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws), bought a print of Reefer Madness for $297. He cleaned it up and started showing it at pro-pot festivals. Robert Shaye, the head of the newly formed New Line Cinema film company, saw the film and recognized its potential as a campy classic. Shaye booked the film onto the college and midnight movie circuits, where it was huge hit. That’s where I first saw it.

I was reminded of the theatre surrounding “Reefer Madness” recently when I read an article on The Huffington Post about the first hemp harvest in Colorado: “This is What the End of Hemp Prohibition Looks Like.” The farmer, Ryan Loflin, had volunteer harvesters from five different state and two different countries. They received a t-shirt and a free lunch for their efforts.

It does seem that the tide has changed, as the legalization of marijuana and hemp continues to gain political support. But it’s not necessarily heading to a better world. “Reefer Madness” was hokey and melodramatic, but it had a core of truth to it. A 2007 study found an increased risk of psychosis later in life from using cannabis. I’ve also gathered and summarized additional studies showing the negative consequences of cannabis use in “Marijuana Research Findings.” Hmmm … Maybe someone needs to make an updated, less hokey “Reefer Madness” film.

Have you seen “Reefer Madness” and do you think it may have a core of truth to it?

05/17/14

Faith That Seeks Understanding

Coming to faith in Christ presented me with an intellectual crisis. I thought this faith required me to believe without engaging my mind. Happily, this was not the case. Faith in Christ has been more like the wind of the Spirit opening a door into all that I came to understand. With God as my starting point, it has been a process of thinking God’s thoughts after Him.

My faith walk and professional counseling career ran parallel to each other for about ten years. Eventually they became entwined and I found myself in seminary for theological training. I then went on to write a dissertation on the spiritual, religious distinction of the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. Along the way I ran across the writings of Anselm of Canterbury and was struck with how his thinking was relevant to the spiritual, but not religious thinking of modern culture and Alcoholics Anonymous.

When I launched a biblical counseling and teaching ministry in 2004, Anselm Ministries seemed to be a natural name for the ministry I envisioned doing. But I soon discovered that not everyone knew about Anselm of Canterbury. Sometimes people weren’t even sure how to spell his name.

In 2013, I decided to develop and add a blog to the ongoing teaching and counseling I did through Anselm Ministries. But there was the name recognition problem of Anselm. I decided to call the new website and blog, Faith Seeking Understanding, a phrase that captures the thrust of Anselm’s thought. It also happens to be the title he initially gave to one of his most important works.

Anselm sought to find a single, philosophical proof that would demonstrate what Christians believe about God. This single proof would have to show that God truly existed as a supreme good that required nothing else; and that all other things required this supreme good for their existence and well-being. He eventually thought he was searching for something that could not be found, and attempted to put the problem out of his mind. But it was not easily dismissed.

The more he tried to dismiss it from his thoughts, the more it forced itself upon him. Then one day, “the proof of which I had despaired offered itself.” Anselm composed the proof in the form of a treatise written by someone trying to “lift his mind to the contemplation of God;” someone who “seeks to understand what he believes.” He titled it, “Faith Seeking Understanding.” At first, Anselm was reluctant to name himself as the author, but was finally convinced to do so by others. He then renamed it Proslogium, how it is known today.

What I hope to encourage in this blog is a dialogue that begins with faith and seeks to understand how that faith informs issues in the areas of addiction and recovery, counseling, and the Christian life—thinking God’s thoughts. Personally I see addiction recovery as best when it is abstinence-based and Twelve Step-centered. This spills over into counseling where I have become increasingly critical of medication-based treatment approaches for addiction and mental health problems.

There seems to be an unacknowledged presumption in these treatment approaches that addiction and mental health problems are fundamentally biological in nature. This violates a basic biblical belief in human beings as created in the image of God, as psycho-somatic beings with bodies and souls. “Treatment” for behavioral or mental health issues that emphasizes the bodily somatic side while ignoring or minimizing the psychic side will always be inadequate.

Consider this an invitation to stop back and become a regular visitor here. Let’s see where a faith that seeks understanding about addiction, counseling and attempting thinking God’s thoughts leads us.

Do you think that it is possible to truly understand the world and universe around us without faith in God?