All Courses Forums Course Discussion Forums Healthy and Unhealthy Religion Week 2: "Superstition, Magic, and Sick Religion"

9 replies, 4 voices Last updated by Michael Porter 2 years, 7 months ago
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    • #4551

      Lee Whitlock
      Moderator
      @lwhitlock

      As we begin thinking about Week 2 together, please read Chapter 3, “”Superstition, Magic, and Sick Religion”, in When Religion Gets Sick. Post any thoughts you have as you read through the chapter.

    • #4563

      Rick Underwood
      Moderator
      @RickUnderwood

      I have to admit that I almost got lost in the weeds of Oates attempt to discuss various ways of thinking about how superstition and magical thinking play a part in unhealthy religion.

      What I could relate to out of my own faith journey was the need to ritualistically confess or rededicate my life to Christ.  My early experiences with preaching were of the “hellfire and damnation” type.  Fear and guilt were the immature emotions used to manipulate me and my peers for some observable outcomes.  In this case, it was the number of decisions the preacher got the congregants to make. Especially during adolescence when hormones were raging, my preacher knew the right stories to tell.  The ritualistic confessions help allay some of the fear and guilt until after Sunday lunch.  This approach to religion drove me away for some years.  Through later years in college and challenging seminary experiences, I gradually realized the bases of this struggle and the purpose it served. Gradually, I was able to be renewed in my thinking and feeling and as a result, was able to connect and stay connected to a loving God.

      I run into this kind of magical thinking in the hospital all of the time.  In brief encounters, it is difficult to make much impact.  I liked Oates closing thoughts, “Show us you care us and maybe we can decide for ourselves that God cares.” This is perhaps the greatest spiritual intervention.

      I look forward to other reflections on this long chapter.

      Rick

    • #4565

      Lee Whitlock
      Moderator
      @lwhitlock

      Rick, I actually started preaching late, so I never went through the “hell fire and damnation” period. My preaching was molded by my courses at SBTS and then being a member of Crescent Hill Baptist Church when John Claypool was pastor. Dr. Claypool had more influence on me than any other source. My favorite two small books of his are: God the Ingenious Alchemist: Transforming Tragedy Into Blessing and Tracks of a Fellow Struggler. Also I was influenced by his book that was taken from the Lyman Beecher Lectures at Yale The Preaching Event.

      I was also blessed with being able to take George Buttrick for a Homiletic course at SBTS. We had to write a final sermon for the course, and Dr. Buttrick had each student come to his house with wife or husband if there was one. The student stayed with Dr. Buttrick while the spouses went to have tea with Mrs. Buttrick. Dr. Buttrick went over our sermons line by line telling us the strengths and weaknesses of the sermon. I remember him picking out a word and quoting Mark Twain: “The difference between the <i>almost right</i> word and the <i>right</i> word is really a large matter. ’tis the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”

      I was blessed.

       

    • #4577

      Michael Porter
      Participant
      @mkporter

      Thanks Rick and Lee.  I have not read chapter three yet, but to go with your comments.  I was not a “hellfire and damnation” preacher.  It was not my personality.  When I first started preaching, I was more of a teacher until I saw a cartoon, which I have tacked to my bulletin board.  It is of a preacher standing behind a pulpit.  Above his head is a balloon showing a general leading his troops into battle.  Sitting in front of him are people with a balloon over their heads showing a wounded soldier being cared for on the battlefield.  This has shaped my preaching style and in more my personality – caring for people who are beaten up in the brokenness of this life.

      Through the years, who God is for me has become more relational rather than intellectual and didactic.  This is what I bring to people hoping they will grow relationally with God.

      I am looking forward to reading chapter three.

      Mike

    • #4581

      brandeaton
      Participant
      @brandeaton

      I found myself comparing Dr. Oates’ exposition of magic and superstition to what I have experienced personally with my youngest son.  Dr. Oates references B.F. Skinner, stating “that superstition is the accidental connection of a given reinforcing stimulus with a given response” (p. 71).  He unpacks that differently from my experience, but the principle taken from Skinner holds true in both.

      My youngest son was a wonderful high school athlete, excelling in three sports.  He was also very charming as a teenager and people responded to him with favors that produced no little jealousy among his two older siblings, particularly his older brother.  While not of Division 1 college scholarship caliber, he did receive special consideration with a Division 3 school and its baseball program.

      However, as a young adult my son found it difficult to connect actions and outcomes.  He didn’t understand how his on-field performance didn’t translate into great grades.  He left school disillusioned and drifted.  He landed decent employment, but maintained the belief that by working diligently at whatever job he was in (he had flawless performance evaluations from direct supervisors), his life would magically unfold with positive results regardless of other behaviors.  He destroyed his credit rating with unpaid bills and maxed-out credit cards, was arrested for DUI, and experienced two difficult separations from women with whom he had significant relationships.

      With counseling, he has been able to gain perspective and freedom from the magical belief that a great benevolent hand is always waiting just off stage from his actions to rescue him from the consequences–like the deus ex machina of ancient Greek comedy.  However, some of the residual consequences of earlier behavior still hamper parts of his life–particularly regarding his ability to get credit.  I understand his early problems as a religious sickness–a distortion of belief in providence into a sort of magical thinking that one is blessed even to the level of being invulnerable.

    • #4582

      Michael Porter
      Participant
      @mkporter

      I can relate to relate to the case studies presented in chapter three because I have experienced similar themes in the hospital setting.  They are helpful  in giving insight to caring for people  who express these issues.  I appreciate the connection that is made  between the psychiatric  and the sick religion elements in a person, which shows that both the Psychiatrist and the Chaplain work as a team in caring for a person.

      As I read the section about “brainwashing” and “forced indoctrination”, I began to think about sick religion as an addiction and maybe a person is drawn to it like one is drawn to alcohol or drugs.  I have cared for people who seemed to be paralyzed in making decisions without a clear direction from their religious beliefs or they stand on decisions that may not be in the best interest of the patient.  I believe religion is to keep a person connected to God who gives what is needed to live in the reality of life.  I agree that some people us it as a magical tool to have things go their way.

      I agree, “The crucial issue in all of the above suggestions … is that of interdisciplinary collaboration” where the team comes together each member with his/her own expertise, as each person is cared for where s/he is at.

      Mike

       

    • #4584

      Lee Whitlock
      Moderator
      @lwhitlock

      Michael, I worked for 3 years with alcohol and drug addicted persons at Beacon House in Louisville, and I agree that sick religion becomes an addiction. The person is drawn deeper and deeper into charts, graphs, etc. to “prove” scripture. Rather than live by faith, they choose to live by what God appears to them to believe. Oates writes, “Underneath the patient’s behavior is a world view that all behavior is determined totally by God, that there is no such thing as a chance of more than one outcome for any one situation, and that even within the variety of directions a course of evens could take, there is no such thing as the fortuitous ‘break’ of events in which accidents change the whole direction of a given history.” (51) The addict’s world view is determined by his/her drug of choice. Behavior is determined by how easily or difficult it is to get the next shot of alcohol or fix of drug.  In the beginning, the behavior is controlled by the addict, but soon the roles are reversed. The substance controls the outcome. As they say in 12-step meetings, “You end up locked up or covered up (grave).” Working with the addict at its best is an interdisciplinary relationship. The physician treats the physical side of the disease. The therapist helps with an addicts problems that have been brought on by the addiction. The 12-step groups work with the addict to show them that there is no “magic” to sobering up. It is determined by the behavior changes that are suggested in the 12-steps as a way to recovery.

    • #4585

      Lee Whitlock
      Moderator
      @lwhitlock

      Brand, thanks for sharing your story with us. As the population at Beacon House became younger (When I first went there, average age was about 50, when I left it was about 25), I saw a great deal of this magical thinking.  In high school, especially private schools, things came easily to the young men. They expected life would meet them with the same degree of success. Their behaviors didn’t change from the behaviors they had relied on in HS. There was still lots of drinking, drug abuse, and late nights. The work force was different. Bad performance didn’t get you sent to the guidance counselor; it got you sent to personnel to be escorted out of the building. Drugs especially were a problem for the younger crowd. While in HS or while employed, pills were available and money was available to purchase them. When they were out of money, the cheapest alternative was heroin. I grew to just hate that drug. It was and is so difficult to break that habit. Rather than being a magical fix to their problems, it, of course, created new ones. I love the idea that you introduced – deus ex machina. In HS and the early days of working, there was a “godly handout” – the parents or the warnings given by personnel departments; however, as the client progressed in age, s/he had to learn that they held the solution to their problems.

    • #4587

      brandeaton
      Participant
      @brandeaton

      Thank you for your response, Lee.  Your experience at Beacon House very much reflects what we experienced in our family.

    • #4588

      Michael Porter
      Participant
      @mkporter

      Thanks Lee, for your experience and insights from working with alcoholics and drug addicts.  This confirms what I have learned through the years in caring for people drawn into a sick religion.  You stated well what I have thought, “Rather than live by faith, they choose to live by what God appears to them to believe.”  This becomes their world view and reality.

      Mike

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