Nel's New Day

February 17, 2019

A Wall to Protect People from Religion?

If we used the same standards for religious figures that Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) tries to use for undocumented immigrants, the United States would build a wall between the country and all churches. Another former archbishop and cardinal has been defrocked for sexual abuse with no chance for appeal, Theodore McCarrick has been found guilty of “sins against the Sixth Commandment with minors and with adults, with the aggravating factor of the abuse of power” and “solicitation” during confession. A study completed in 2002 found almost 11,000 cases of sexual abuse by almost 5,000 priests. Far more have emerged in the past 17 years, including the uncovering of over 300 priests in just one state who abused over 1,000 children.

Catholics aren’t alone in sexual abuse by their leaders: at least 380 Southern Baptist church leaders and volunteers have faced charges of sexual misconduct against over 700 victims in the past 20 years—more in Texas than any other state. The church urged many of the victims to forgive the offenders and for becoming pregnant. Sometimes churches shunned the victims. Some sexual abusers returned to their churches to preach. Southern Baptist Convention officials shielded the predators and refused any reforms.

The above are just two examples of denominations in which people are sexual abused by their religious leaders. The stories go into the tens of millions, unlike DDT’s concerns about undocumented immigrants.

The Roman Catholic diocese has exonerated the male white students from Covington (KY) who appeared to invade the Indigenous Peoples March in Washington, D.C. after they attended an anti-choice March for Life. The bishop claimed that their students were being threatened can called their behavior “laudatory.” The opinion was based on online video and interviews with 43 students and 13 adult chaperones. No one from the Indigenous Peoples group was interviewed. All of them are quite pleased with themselves.

Wyoming has failed to repeal the death penalty, and state Sen. Lynn Hutchings (R-Cheyenne) is grateful because Jesus also got the death penalty. Without his execution, he could not have absolved the sins of mankind. Therefore, retaining the death penalty is vital. I’m a bit confused about her logic. Does she compare all executed people to Jesus? Self-identified on her FB as “your only true Conservative, Christian, Pro-Life Candidate,” she also made this argument for her homophobia while speaking to students from Cheyenne Central High School’s Gay-Straight Alliance:

“If my sexual orientation was to have sex with all of the men in there and I had sex with all of the women in there and then they brought their children and I had sex with all of them and then brought their dogs in and I had sex with them, should I be protected for my sexual orientation?”

Frustrated by two Muslim women in the newly-elected House, Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY) has accused her of being anti-Semitic because she pointed out that Israel gets its power with the U.S. government because of its donations to legislators. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) is right in her claim, but she left out the money that anti-Semitic evangelicals donate to conservative legislators while lobbying them to support Israelis and destroy Palestinians. It all comes from the Christian belief that Christ must convert the Jews after he returns to Israel before the great millennium, the golden age, can begin. Thus their obsession with strengthening Israel for Jesus’s return. Eighty percent of evangelicals viewed Israel’s new state in 1948 as a vital piece of the Second Coming, and 52 percent say they support Israel because of its role in the End Times. VP Mike Pence is one of these people.

The Center for Religion and Civil Culture at the University of Southern California divides evangelical Christians into five different sects since DDT developed power:

Trump-vangelicals:  Primarily white with a few Latinx or black pastors; DDT’s base who want access to political power with the belief that God picked DDT to “make America great again.”

Neo-fundamentalists: DDT supporters who try to keep some Christian values and separate themselves from DDT’s “moral failings.”

iVangelicals: Conservative but pretend to be non-partisan; ministering in big churches to mostly white, financially well-off suburbanites.

Kingdom Christians: Separate from evangelicals but with similar beliefs; keep to smaller, urban churches, sometimes rented spaces.

Peace and justice evangelicals: The left-wing with origins in the 1973 “Chicago Declaration of Social Concern,” urging evangelicals away from prosperity gospel and toward the gospel of Jesus Christ.

A study published in the journal Neuropsychologia shows that religious fundamentalism comes from a functional impairment in the brain’s prefrontal cortex. Damage results in diminished cognitive flexibility and openness—a loss of curiosity, creativity, and open-mindedness. Religious beliefs, socially transmitted mental representations of supernatural events and entities assumed to be real, differ from empirical beliefs based on the appearance of the world and updated with new evidence and new theories. People with lesions in the prefrontal cortex rate radical political statements as more moderate than people without the damage possibly caused by brain trauma, psychological disorder, drug or alcohol addiction, or genetic profile. Although brain damage can lead to religious fundamentalism, the reverse can be true: extreme religious indoctrination can harm the development or functioning of the prefrontal brain areas.

Conservatism is connected with religious beliefs because they are not updated with new evidence or scientific explanations. Fixed, rigid beliefs promote predictability and rules of evidence in the person’s tribe. Religious fundamentalism discourages progressive thinking about religion and social issues—anything that challenges their beliefs. People can become aggressive toward others who are perceived because they don’t share their anti-science and supernatural beliefs.

Although brain damage can lead to religious fundamentalism, the reverse can be true: extreme religious indoctrination can harm the development or functioning of the prefrontal brain areas. Dr. Marlene Winell, daughter of Pentecostal missionaries and a human development consultant, addresses the problem of Religious Trauma Syndrome (RTS) in her counseling and in her book Leaving the Fold: A Guide for Former Fundamentalists and Others Leaving their Religion. She explains that emotional and mental treatment by authoritarian religious groups causes RTS from teachings such as eternal damnation, religious punishment and guilt, and neglect when people are denied information and opportunities. Indoctrination leads to fear and anxiety, and some people suffer from nightmares and panic attacks throughout their lives. The syndrome can also cause depression, cognitive problems, and difficulty in social functioning because the core message of fundamentalist Christianity is that people are wrong and deserve to die.

To control people, fundamentalists tell them that they are weak and dependent, keeping them from making decisions because they must follow the Christian leaders. Leaving can be almost impossible because of religious shunning if people don’t conform.  Departure from a church requires a complete change of one’s self of reality and belief systems. Traumas other than RTS are built into society because of an understanding about the horrors of domestic abuse and war-related PTSD. A person needed counseling because of issues related to RTS are sent back to religion.

One of the goals for fundamentalist Christians is to block marriage equality, and seven Kansas GOP legislators are using the concept of religion to accomplish their mission. Their proposed bill would eliminate all rights for sexual minorities because being LGBTQ is “a religion that does not fulfill any compelling state interest.” They maintain that secular humanism was recognized as a religion in the 1961 unanimous Supreme Court decision when the decision merely determined that the U.S. Constitution prohibits government prohibits a religious test for public office. The legislators’ proof is that the LGBTQ community is organized and has “a daily code by which members may guide their daily lives” along with its religious symbols, i.e., a rainbow-colored flag, and the creed of “love is love”—a shibboleth to oppress those outside their denomination.

Perhaps we need a wall to protect people.

March 18, 2018

Brain Damage in Conservatives

In Texas, a newspaper published in Olton, population about 2,000, erased the name of John Gambill in an obituary for his mother-in-law, mother to Barry Giles. The couple, together for 31 years, submitted the obituary to Giles’ hometown paper with the statement that “those left to cherish her memory include her son, Barry Giles and his husband, John Gambill of Dallas.” The newspaper publisher, Philip Hamilton, claimed that he omitted Gambill’s name “because I wanted to.” Later Hamilton said that publishing anything contrary to the “Word of God” is “false.” Other area newspapers, including the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, did publish Gambill’s name in its version of Light’s obituary. [Photo: John Gambill (left), Brenda Light, and Barry Giles on vacation together.]

Alabama County Sheriff Todd Entrekin used over $750,000 of funds to feed inmates to buy a beach house for himself—and it was legal. State law lets sheriffs keep “excess” inmate-feeding funds for their personal use. Entrekin’s state ethics forms show that he made “more than $250,000” in each of the last three years. Entrekin’s annual salary is $94,000, but he and his wife own several properties worth over $1.7 million. He claims that it’s just good “business.” A federal judge put another state sheriff, Greg Bartlett, in jail for inadequate meals, including paper-thin bologna and cold grits, but he made only $212,000 over three years. Forty-nine sheriffs have not complied with a legal request to public records regarding the amount of jail food money that they pocketed.

Funds for feeding state inmates is $2 per day. In 2003, ICE gave the Entrekin’s county $8 million to expand the jail facilities so that they could house lots more federal detainees. Entrekin is sheriff in the same county where Roy Moore, then assistant district attorney, spent his time trying to connect with young teenage girls. The man who pocketed $750,000 to feed inmates strongly endorsed Moore in his recent failed candidacy for U.S. Senate but tried to backpedal by looking for “proof” of Moore’s crime. Entrekin leads regular “Run, Hide, Fight” sessions at the James Memorial Baptist Church in Gadsden.

Hamilton is an example of religious fundamentalism in the South where Christians who praise family values take advantage of others whenever possible. As the federal government denies religious freedom to anyone except evangelicals, science is investigating the reason for this radical approach toward religion. According to a study published in the journal Neuropsychologia, religious fundamentalism comes, in part, from an impairment in the prefrontal cortex that diminishes cognitive flexibility and openness important for creativity and curiosity. A functioning prefrontal cortex is important for “cognitive flexibility,” the brain’s ability to shift thought from one concept to another and have simultaneous thinking about different issues. These abilities are vital in adapting to new environment.

Religious beliefs, connected to supernatural events and entities, differ from empiricism, a theory that knowledge evolves from sensory perception and is updated with new evidence. Religion, on the other hand, stays fixed and rigid no matter what people learn with the result of predictability and adherence to a group’s rules.

The scientists define fundamentalism as a cognitive approach that “embodies adherence to a set of firm religious beliefs advocating unassailable truths about human existence.“ With a strong commitment to their close community, fundamentalists tend to reject any other beliefs in combination with climate denial and violence, supporting conviction over deliberation. Religious fundamentalism, emphasizing tradition in writings and rituals, opposes progress in thinking about religion and social issues that questions of challenges their ideology. Religious fundamentalists are aggressive toward anyone who does not follow their beliefs and toward science because it threatens their personal life order.

Researchers in the study used data from Vietnam War veterans, some of whom had brain damage believed to have a connection to functions related to religious fundamentalism. CT scans were used to compare 119 vets with brain trauma to 30 vets with no damage, and these 149 vets were given a survey to assess religious fundamentalism. Almost one-third of them did not specific a particular religion.

Brain imaging research has identified two regions associated with cognitive flexibility in the prefrontal cortex: the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC) and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC). The current study analyzed people with lesions in both the prefrontal cortex regions to find correlations between the brain damage and the responses to the survey on religious fundamentalism. It found a correlation between this brain damage and the lack of cognitive flexibility. Those subjects scored high on measures of religious fundamentalism.

The findings suggest that damage in the prefrontal cortex from any reason—brain trauma, psychological disorder, drug or alcohol addiction, or genetics—makes people susceptible to religious fundamentalism. Radical indoctrination can also hurt the functioning of the prefrontal regions that blocks cognitive flexibility and openness. Researchers conclude that these factors account for about 20 percent of differences in fundamentalism scores, leaving their findings open to search for additional causes, possibly from genetics or social influence.

Research into fundamentalist and conservative thinking hasn’t been confined to the prefrontal cortex. Other studies concentrate on the amygdala, the area of emotions including fear. Psychologists discovered that they could turn a person more conservative, at least short-term, by making them afraid. Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) focused his campaign on fear—crime, immigrants, economic disaster, terrorism, corruption, anything that would get people to vote for him. Once elected, he continued to make them afraid for the future if he isn’t in charge.

The progressive mind thinks of problems as solvable; conservatives encourage people to feel helpless and threatened. Those who concentrate their news consumption from conservative sources have found a great deal to fear from Republican warnings with the assurance that the GOP will magically solve all their problems if we turn our lives over to them in the same approach as religious fundamentalism.

Conservatives’ brains are already configured to feel more fear: research shows that they have a much bigger right amygdala that processes fear-based information in 71.6 percent of the cases. While progressives are more likely to use science in making decisions, conservatives tend to turn to religion in making choices. These ideas are not new, but the fact that they are based on the physical characteristics of the brain explains the difficulty of people changing.

Fear is a big part of campaigning for conservative candidates, especially fear of losing the right to control everyone with their religion. The night before his election for U.S. representative from Pennsylvania, Rick Saccone said:

“I’ve talked to so many of these on the left…. Many of them have a hatred for our country. … I’ll tell you some more — my wife and I saw it again today: They have a hatred for God. It’s amazing. You see it when I’m talking to them. It’s disturbing to me.”

And religious fundamentalists believe the Democrats want to take their religion away from them. Ironically, Christian evangelicals want to take away religion away from everyone else who disagrees with their beliefs, all part of their rigid brain that doesn’t allow for diversity. And it’s sad—Philip Hamilton thinks he has the right to declare what adults can have consensual relationships, and John McEntkin thinks he has the right to starve prisoners if it buys him an expensive beach house. All because of their brain configuration.

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