Posts Tagged “bible reading”

Bible-706658Way back in the day, when I was a college-going Christian fundamentalist, I frequently heard how the Catholic Church discouraged its adherents from reading the Bible. Since I was studying medieval history, I was well aware that the medieval Church didn’t want the Bible in the hands of non-clergy, and forbid translating it into languages the common folk might understand (i.e. anything other than the Latin of the Vulgate). The Church backed up this prohibition with force, which sometimes proved fatal, as for example to William Tyndale, who’d translated the Bible into the English vernacular.

Having been raised Catholic, though, I knew that the R.C. Church had ended this policy. In fact, the Church has translated the Bible into many languages, including the New American Bible released in 1970, a copy of which we had in our house. And after Vatican II had called for Mass to be said in the vernacular, Bibles were being read openly to parishioners in their own languages, in Catholic churches around the world.

Yet, many of the Protestant fundamentalists I spent time with persisted with the notion that the R.C. Church still didn’t want lay Catholics to read the Bible. Nothing I said about it could dissuade them. They weren’t buying it … at all.

I’ve long since left that particular crowd behind, but I still hear Protestants (especially of the fundie variety) saying pretty much the same thing. It’s a fable that just keeps being passed around among them, even though it’s no longer true. I imagine they’re all going to be disappointed by something Pope Francis just said, as reported by Vatican Radio (WebCite cached article):

Speaking to the crowds gathered in St. Peter’s Square following his weekly Angelus blessing, the Pope urged those present to give the Bible the same place in daily life as cellphones and asked: “What would happen if we turned back when we forget it, if we opened it more times a day, if we read the message of God contained in the Bible the way we read messages on our cellphones?”

The Bible, he explained, contains the Word of God, the most effective tool in fighting evil and keeping us close to God.…

“That’s why, he said, it is necessary to become familiar with the Bible: read it often, reflect upon it, assimilate it. The Bible contains the Word of God which is always topical and effective” he said.

Inviting the faithful to carry a pocket-sized Gospel all the time, the Pope concluded with the words: “don’t forget what would happen if we treated the Bible as we treat our cellphone, always with us, always close to us!”

It’s not true, of course, that the Christian Bible “is always topical.” It’s actually the collective product of its times, with its various constituent books having been written between the middle of the last millennium BCE and the middle of the 2nd century CE. Those documents are all much more relevant and timely to those who wrote, and first read, them than they are to modern people. Even so, I’m amused that Pope Francis just skewered a common anti-Catholic fundamentalist canard that’s been thrown around for ages. Make no mistake … the lie that the R.C. Church doesn’t want lay Catholics reading the Bible, is exactly that: Fundies’ way of disparaging Catholicism.

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Depression-loss of loved oneFor some reason, any discussion of mental illness tends to get caught up with religion. This was inevitable, I suppose, when Pastor Rick Warren — founder of the “Purpose-Driven” publishing empire — and his wife were interviewed a few days ago by Piers Morgan on CNN about their son’s suicide earlier this year (WebCite cached article). But the idea that religion is an effective remedy for mental illness, has been around for ages. The Christian Post reports that a majority of Christians in the US believe that their religion can cure it, and brags about this (cached):

Nearly 50 percent of American Christians believe that prayer and Bible study alone can cure mental illness, according to a recent survey by LifeWay Research.

Dr. Tim Clinton, president of the American Association of Christian Counselors, credited this response to Christians’ faith in God.

“I applaud those out there who really believe in the power of God,” Clinton told Moody Radio show host Chris Fabry on Thursday. “It’s an encouraging time. People continually look for out for God spiritually for hope, for help.”

Clinton and the CP might be proud of American Christians’ refusal to let medicine get in the way of their hyperreligiosity, but those of us who are capable of actually thinking about the problem of mental illness, know better. Any given mental illness is precisely that — an illness — which requires valid, effective, clinically-supported treatment. Praying and reading the Bible are not valid, effective, or clinically-supported — no matter how vehemently anyone may insist they are.

Despite his ardent belief in the primacy of prayer and Bible-reading as treatments for mental illness, Clinton says he’s not completely averse to medication:

One of the first steps the church must take is to avoid stigmatizing Christians taking medication for their mental illnesses, said Clinton.

At the end of the article, the CP tosses in an obligatory link to recent massacres, no doubt in order to scare up interest:

Nationally, mental illness has dominated discussions about the possible motives of the gunmen in last year’s mass shootings in an Aurora, Colorado movie theater, as well as a first-grade class in Sandy Hook, Conn., and also more recently in this week’s mass shooting in the Washington D.C. navy yard.

Unfortunately for the CP, they are wrong about the Sandy Hook killings. The shooter there was never, so far as anyone knows, diagnosed with any mental illness, and there were absolutely no drugs in his system … no illicit drugs, no alcohol, no prescription drugs (cached). So he was not on any medications. It’s true that the Sandy Hook massacre has brought up talk about mental illness, but until we find out differently (cached), it’s not reasonable to believe mental illness played any role in it.

At any rate, mental illness poses a particular problem, in that a lot of the valid medical treatments for it are, unfortunately, not all that effective. Psychotherapy and antidepressants for depression, for example, work only about 60-65% of the time. This is enough to show that they’re effective for a majority of people, but it means there’s a significant number of folks who aren’t helped, sadly, and are often left twisting in the breeze of psychiatry. This means there are people whose needs aren’t being met by valid medicine, who become prey to proselytizers, who gladly use this as a “hook” to rope them into their religion. In the realm of addiction, this is precisely how many substance-abuse treatments work, as I’ve blogged already. That it’s unethical at best to use a vulnerability like this in order to gain converts, doesn’t seem to matter to these believers. They just go ahead and do it anyway.

The solution is for psychiatry to step up to the plate and really work on new, more effective, treatments for common mental illnesses like depression. Treatments are needed which are over 80% effective, if not over 90%. Leaving things as they are — which is what’s been done for decades — is just not working. It’s time psychiatry admitted it. In the meantime, prayer and Bible-reading is just bullshit and will do nothing for these folks. If you have a mental illness, run — do not walk! — away from anyone who suggests that his/her God is all you need to get over your ailment. It’s a scam, and you need to avoid being taken in.

This is the United States, and it’s the 21st century, for fuck’s sake. It’s time to get the hell out of the “Dark Ages” already. Gimme a fucking break.

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