Tuesday, January 19, 2010

"Everything Happens for a Reason"

NOTE:  Parts of this article may be very difficult to read, as I briefly talk about child abuse, yet I think it is a very important article for people to read.

"Everything happens for a reason."  I hear people say this sentence quite often.  Perhaps this is because I am a psychotherapist and am often talking to people about major events in their lives.  I used to say this sentence myself when I was a Christian/theist.  During difficult times, I would think of this sentence and it would bring me some peace, as I believed whatever I was going through was according to some divine plan.  I believed that no matter what bad things happened in my life, better things were ahead.  There is no doubt that for some people, this belief and sentence can be helpful.  However, this sentence is not at all helpful for everyone.  In fact, I have seen the use of this phrase be very hurtful and harmful for some people. 

Before going further, it is very important that I first point out that people who make this statement never consider that this statement is actually be hurtful and harmful to some people. In fact, I know most people's intent in saying such a thing is often to try to be helpful, so this article is in no way meant to be hurtful or blaming to others. The purpose is just to inform people of something they may not be aware of.

As a psychotherapist, I am privy to personal problems people face more often than people who do not have such a job.  Everyone has problems in there lives, though some problems are more common or "normal" than others.  Most of us had loving yet imperfect parents, have experienced the loss of love, the death of a loved one, or financial problems.  Yet for some, their problems are far outside the norm.  I have met with children and adults who have been terribly abused in physical, mental, emotional and sexual ways.  Their stories are nothing less than horror stories.  A man whose drunk parent would throw empty beer bottles at his head when he was six years old.  An older woman telling me about growing up with a parent who was a sexual sadist.  A child whose stepfather would burn him on different parts of his body for normal child misbehavior.  Their stories are stomach churning to say the least. 

In each of these stories and others, people have told me that their struggles were not only with the abuse they suffered, but hearing from others that "everything happens for a reason".  Of course this means that there was some "bigger purpose" for what happened to them.  Of course, these people struggle with this notion.  They wonder what they did to deserve what happened to them.  They wonder why they were made to suffer in hellish ways while others were not.  They struggle with the reason for what they experienced.  For many people who have been victims of abuse, which they were unable to prevent or stop, this statement creates a great deal of pain and confusion in them.

Again, this article is not a criticism of people who tell other people this sentence.  As I said, most people are not aware of how this sentence can be hurtful to others.  The purpose of this article is just to make the reader aware of something they may not be aware of, so they may think about whether to use the sentence and if so, with whom and in what circumstances.

Finally, as an Atheist, I don't believe that everything happens for a reason.  I believe people can do things for reasons and make events happen in the world for their own reasons, but besides these kinds of events, I believe things happen by chance.  To me, this is a much more sensible reason why things happen.  Good things happen to good and bad people.  Bad things happen to good and bad people.  I think viewing things in this way may help bring people peace who have experienced unspeakably terrible things in their lives.

Monday, January 4, 2010


People often ask me questions about my job.  Yet to truly answer them accurately would take more time than is possible in general conversation.  Therefore, I've written an article about what I do, my thoughts about psychotherapy, some things the work has taught me, and why I do the work I do.  If you're interested you can check it out at this website:  http://mytakeonpsychotherapy.blogspot.com/.  Feel free to post comments and/or questions.  Thanks!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Homosexuality and the Bible

I am not sure of this, but I feel somewhat safe saying that people who think homosexuality is wrong because the Bible says so, have not read much of the Bible.  Either that, or they simply pick and choose what they will follow and what they will ignore, which says a lot about their belief in the so called "literal truth" of the Bible.  What I am sure of are the numerous conversations I have had with a large number of Christians who are not aware of what else the Christian god directs people to do in the very same chapter which discusses homosexuality.

Leviticus 20:13 says, "If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable.  They must be put to death; their blood will be on their heads."

This is the verse Christians point to as proof that homosexuality is immoral.  What I find interesting is how passionate they are about the first sentence, but just ignore the second sentence as if it isn't there.  However the second sentence is quite clear.  "They must be put to death..."   Must.  There is no room for equivocation or ambiguity here.  Must.  However, do Christians follow this?  Well, very few if any in America do today, because our morality evolves, grows and changes.  It gets better with time.  Of course, things were far worse for gay people in America in the past than they are now.  In other parts of the world, some cultures are continuing the take the second sentence quite literally.  I feel safe saying that our present day morality in America is far better than the morality of the god in the Bible, who seems to possess an unquenchable thirst for human blood, from what is written in the rest of Leviticus and the rest of the Bible.  Here is more of what god says in Leviticus 20:

Leviticus 20:5 says that if a man breaks god's law, not only will he be punished, but so will his family.  Our society has come a long way from punishing children for the crimes of their parents, but apparently the Christian god has not, as he and his rules are unchanging.

Leviticus 20:9:  "If anyone curses his father and mother, he must be put to death."  Well following this sure would be a quick way to wipe out the human race.  If this is true, god sure did screw up adolescents.  I think most teenagers curse their parents at one time or another.  Teenagers who do this are pretty normal.  I'm not saying cursing your parents is right.  I'm saying it's not abnormal or atypical.

Leviticus 20:10  "If a man commits adultery with another man's wife - with the wife of his neighbor - both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death".

Here's an interesting one:  Leviticus 20:14  "If a man marries both a woman and her mother, it is wicked.  Both he and they must be burned in the fire, so that no wickedness will be among you."  Here, god isn't out for his usual rivers of human blood, but specifically wants the offenders burned alive.  Now I know the one-two punch of polygamy and possible incest must really piss god off, but burning people alive for it?  That is quite harsh by our contemporary standards of punishment.  I'm also curious why the act of burning people alive prevents "wickedness" from being among the other people, outside of a deterrant.  There are other verses in this chapter as well, talking about god's obsessive preoccupation and micromanagement of the sex lives of his children.

Leviticus 20:15  "If a man has sexual relations with an animal, he must be put to death, and you must kill the animal."  Here's another example of god not only punishing the offender, but the victim.  So if an animal is raped by some demented and apparently sexually desperate person, the animal is to be killed as well.  As if being raped isn't bad enough.  There's compassion for you. 

Leviticus 20:27 tells people to stone psychics to death.  Now I think con artists like James Van Praagh and John Edward are manipulative scum, but stoning/torturing them to death seems a little harsh.

My point here is that I don't see the Christians who treat gay people as less than human following these other rules of god, so why pick on homosexuals?

I'll finish by saying that my best friend is gay.  He has been my best friend for over fifteen years.  He is without a doubt the kindest, most caring, and compassionate person I've ever met and I feel so very lucky and honored to have him for a friend.  I believe there is no Christian god or any gods for that matter, but if such a homophobic and bigoted god did exist, I'd want nothing to do with it.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Blind Obedience and the Story of Abraham and Isaac

As I previously wrote in the article, "Thoughts on the Christian God", the actions of the Christian god throughout the Bible are very disturbing, to say the least.  This god's actions, such as commanding genocide, condoning slavery and justifying eternal torture for finite misbehavior, are absolutely abhorrent and any human caught today engaging in these same actions would at best be imprisoned for the rest of their life and have the key thrown away.  In this article, I will focus on a lesson frequently taught by this god.  This lesson is of blind obedience, which is, perhaps, best exemplified in the story of Abraham and Isaac.  Here is the story, copied by me from the NIV Bible:

Genesis 22 (New International Version)
1 Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, "Abraham!"  "Here I am," he replied. 2 Then God said, "Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about."

3 Early the next morning Abraham got up and saddled his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. 4 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 5 He said to his servants, "Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you."

6 Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, 7 Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, "Father?" "Yes, my son?" Abraham replied.  "The fire and wood are here," Isaac said, "but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?" 8 Abraham answered, "God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son." And the two of them went on together.

9 When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven, "Abraham! Abraham!" "Here I am," he replied.  12 "Do not lay a hand on the boy," he said. "Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son."

13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram [a] caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide. And to this day it is said, "On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided."

15 The angel of the LORD called to Abraham from heaven a second time 16 and said, "I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, 18 and through your offspring [b] all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me."

What kind of god would tell a parent to sacrifice/kill their own child, or any child for that matter?  What would you call a person who would command another person to murder a child?  Any person with even the slightest sense of decency, empathy, and morality would call such a commandment monsterously evil.  This is the kind of nightmare scenario one would expect to hear from a Nazi concentration camp, not a loving god.  This is not a loving act.  In fact, it is completely the opposite.

There is not a shred of logic to this event as well.  If the Christian god is all knowing, why would the god ask Abraham to do this?  Obviously, any all knowing god would know what Abraham would do beforehand.  Therefore, what would be the purpose of asking Abraham to actually do it?  Like many stories in the Bible, this one makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

The god in this story is not the only monster.  To me, Abraham is just as bad.  Would you follow the direction of anyone or anything which commanded you to kill your child or any child?  No one with any sense of goodness or morality would do such a thing.  The moral action for Abraham in this situation would have been to absolutely refuse to follow command and reject the being which was giving the command.  It should have been crystal clear to Abraham that any god who would ask him to do such a thing would have been the direct opposite of good and moral.  This is the kind of direction one would expect from a devil, not a loving god. 

I also submit that Abraham knew he was doing something wrong.  First, he told his "servants" (i.e. slaves) to not follow him and his son.  This is because his slaves would obviously have tried to stop him from killing his son.  Then he lied to his slaves by saying "we will come back to you", when he knew that only he would return.  Did god rebuke or punish him for lying?  Not at all.  Second, Abraham deceived and lied to his son by telling him that god would provide "the lamb".

Why was it also necessary for Abraham to sacrifice the ram instead of his son?  The story says this god rewarded him for the blood offering as well.  It seems absurd to me that I have to write this, but gods who command and reward animal and human blood sacrifice are not good. 

Not only are the actions of this god and Abraham in this story despicable, but so is the lesson one is to draw from this story, which is of blind obedience.  Apparently, a good follower of this god is supposed to do anything the god says, even if it is clearly evil.  A person is not supposed to think for themselves; they are to do what they are told to do without question.

This lesson is clearly wrong and dangerous and everyone alive today knows this to be true.  Our own military makes it clear that soldiers are to follow only LEGAL orders of those senior to them (see Articles 90-92 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice).  If they follow illegal orders, they are subject to criminal prosecution.  Another example of how blind obedience is completely unacceptable, is the rejection of the legal defense that a person was "only following orders" during the Nuremberg trials after World War II.

It is important for all of us to question things that seem wrong.  Doing so is how our morality as a species has progressed and evolved for the better.  This is how our society's racial and gender prejudices and discriminatory practices have changed for the better towards equality.  To question is moral, good, and right.