Taj Mohammad, a resident of an Afghan refugee camp, where he lives with his wife and eight children, says his six-year-old daughter Naghma is collateral for a loan.
If, as seems likely, Mr. Mohammad cannot repay his debt to a fellow camp resident a year from now, his daughter, a smiling, slender child with a tiny gold stud in her nose, will be forced to leave her family’s home forever — to be married to the lender’s 17-year-old son. …
Because Naghma, whose name means melody, was not chosen by the groom, she will most likely be treated more like a family servant than a spouse — and at worst as a captive slave. Her presence may help the groom attract a more desirable second wife because the family, although poor, will have someone working for it, insulating the chosen wife from some of the hardest tasks.
Taj Mohammad and his wife do not want their daughter to leave them.
“We call her ‘Peshaka,’ ” he said, using the Pashto word for kitten. “She is a very lovely girl. Everybody in our family loves her, and even if she fights with her older brothers, we don’t say anything, we give her all possible happiness.”
He added: “I believe that when she goes to that house, she will die soon. She will not receive all the love she receives from us, and I am afraid she will lose her life. A 6-year-old girl doesn’t know about having a mother-in-law, a father-in-law, or having a husband or being a wife.”
Perhaps Naghma can stay with her own family after all: The day the Times published the story, a group led by an American lawyer offered to pay Taj Mohammad’s debt. That’s wonderful — a story of rescue and redemption, a Disney movie in the making. I’m genuinely happy for Naghma. But, as one Times commenter pointed out,
When Westerners intervene with money to buy slaves, all it does is create a new industry — the taking of slaves specifically to be redeemed with Western donations. This is why some governments forbid or refuse to pay ransoms for hostages or captured soldiers. Once outside money enters the picture, the game is on. Like most readers. I am disgusted, horrified and saddened by this story, but what monster will we create by interfering?
I don’t have the answers either. Religion plays a villainous role in this cultural clusterfuck, but that’s nothing new.
Let’s just affirm that Naghma got another chance at a decent life; surely, that’s worth a muted celebration. One down, millions of Muslim girls to go.
Does more education lead to less religion?
Freakonomics author Stephen Dubner says yes, and he bases that on a study by Daniel Hungerman, an economist at Notre Dame who studies religious faith. Hungerman, using an exclusively Canadian data set, concluded that
…higher levels of education lead to lower levels of religious participation later in life. An additional year of education leads to a 4-percentage-point decline in the likelihood that an individual identifies with any religious tradition; the estimates suggest that increases in schooling can explain most of the large rise in non-affiliation in Canada in recent decades.
Of course, this is not at all the same as saying that the religious are less intelligent. For those who care to wade into that minefield, there’s Prof. Helmuth Nyborg’s 2008 study. Nyborg correlated religiosity and IQ, and found that
…atheists scored an average of 1.95 IQ points higher than agnostics, 3.82 points higher than liberal persuasions, and 5.89 IQ points higher than dogmatic persuasions.
In a separate research project that involved IQ levels of almost 7,000 U.S. adolescents, Nyborg and a fellow academic, Prof. Richard Lynn, concluded that atheists scored six IQ points higher than non-atheists. They also found that at the international level, the nations with the biggest populations of atheists are the ones that scored highest for overall intelligence.
[image via pkpolitics]
In my lifetime, people of faith will probably always be allowed more manifestations of loopiness than non-believers.
If, as a secular American, I go around licking fenceposts every afternoon, and occasionally smash my forehead into one, it probably won’t be long until a kindly police officer takes me on a ride to the nearest mental hospital.
But if I claim that my behavior is my small congregation’s way of honoring Jesus’s sacrifice — a form of penitence that allows us to spiritually travel “nearer, my God, to thee” — chances are excellent that I will be left alone. I might even draw a bit of quiet admiration for my sefless devotional sacrifice.
That said, there seems to be an increasing awareness that not all forms of religiosity are healthy. “Religious Trauma Syndrome” (RTS) is a pathology that’s no longer easily dismissed; and even Time magazine, which can hardly be accused of being hostile to religion, now wishes to temper its zeal in spreading the notion that faith is necessarily a force for good.
Can Your Child Be Too Religious? Time asks — and with some equivocating, the answer the magazine gives is a clear yes.
Religion can be a source of comfort that improves well-being. But some kinds of religiosity could be a sign of deeper mental health issues. …
Your child’s devotion may be a great thing, but there are some kids whose religious observances require a deeper look. For these children, an overzealous practice of their family faith — or even another faith — may be a sign of an underlying mental health issue or a coping mechanism for dealing with unaddressed trauma or stress. …
Some children suffer from scrupulosity, a form of OCD that involves a feeling of guilt and shame. Sufferers obsessively worry that they have committed blasphemy, been impure or otherwise sinned. They tend to focus on certain rules or rituals rather than the whole of their faith. They worry that God will never forgive them. And this can signal the onset of depression or anxiety, says John Duffy, a Chicago area clinical psychologist specializing in adolescents. “Kids who have made ‘mistakes’ with sex or drug use,” he says, “may have trouble forgiving themselves.”
Seems self-evident, but it’s nice to see the psychological downsides of faith acknowledged in a mainstream publication.
Such fastidiousness to religious practices may not seem so harmful, but extreme behavior such as delusions or hallucinations may be a sign of serious mental illness. Seeing and hearing things that are not there can be symptoms of manic-depressive, bipolar disorder, or early onset schizophrenia. But parents may be less attuned to such unhealthy behavior when it occurs under the guise of faith.
Whole story here.
[image via aclj.org]
“I kept believing God would intervene and there would be a conversion [of Bradshaw senior],” she said. “But I think that was wishful thinking.”
She found out just how perceptive an observation that was when, about two years ago, she came home
…to find candles flickering in her living room, with slips of paper under each that read: “make her stay” or “make her love me.”
A year later, in summer 2012, [her husband] was seen lighting paper on the grill, chanting and spreading ashes around the back yard.
Unbeknownst to Cheryl, Ray Bradshaw had progressed from trying to keep her to trying to kill her — with voodoo.
Prosecutors said Bradshaw … hired a purported African voodoo priest he met online and paid that person $500 to cast a spell that would kill McLaughlin, ensuring that she didn’t divorce him and seek alimony.
I know it’s hard to believe, but the spell didn’t work. So Bradshaw turned to a more conventional method of disposal (I use ‘conventional’ in a Tony Soprano kind of way):
When the magic spells failed, prosecutors said, Bradshaw, 64, approached his 16-year-old nephew, bought a gun and offered to pay him $2,500 to kill McLaughlin.
Yay, rationality! However,
The nephew instead told his mother, who alerted police.
The bloodthirsty husband was arrested, and he eventually pleaded guilty to one felony count of solicitation of murder. That’s right, one felony count — I’ll bet that attempted murder-by-voodoo is nowhere to be found in the U.S. penal code. Such an oversight.
Yesterday, Ray Bradshaw was sentenced to four years in prison, where I suppose he might resume his efforts to kill his estranged wife by sending black-magic cooties her way. I’ll let you know how that goes.
I’m of two minds when it comes to the existence of a mental affliction that some psychiatrists and psychologists, like Marlene Winell and Valerie Tarico, have been banging the drum about. It’s called religious trauma syndrome (RTS).
RTS is a set of symptoms and characteristics that tend to go together and which are related to harmful experiences with religion. They are the result of two things: immersion in a controlling religion and the secondary impact of leaving a religious group.
On one level, it seems like just another made-up pathology. The latest version of the U.S. psychiatrists’ manual, the DSM5, is rife with questionable disorders and syndromes. A whole gaggle of shrinks (and the pharmaceutical companies who love them) are never shy about dreaming up new ones.
Then again, it doesn’t seem at all far-fetched that many children who grow up under an authoritarian belief system that threatens them with a horrible snuffing if they engage in bad behavior (“The wages of sin is death,” Romans 6:23) are eventually going to have problems, perhaps many years later. So, notwithstanding my skepticism about the ever-growing thicket of mental disorders, I’m fairly open-minded about RTS.
Winell is well aware of the naysayers’ reservations, and she’s ready with a counter-argument.
Saying that someone is trying to pathologize authoritarian religion is like saying someone pathologized eating disorders by naming them. Before that, they were healthy? No, before that we weren’t noticing. People were suffering, thought they were alone, and blamed themselves. Professionals had no awareness or training. This is the situation of RTS today. Authoritarian religion is already pathological, and leaving a high-control group can be traumatic. People are already suffering. They need to be recognized and helped.
She understands, too, that many people are surprised by the idea of RTS,
because in our culture it is generally assumed that religion is benign or good for you. …
But in reality, religious teachings and practices sometimes cause serious mental health damage. The public is somewhat familiar with sexual and physical abuse in a religious context. … Bible-based religious groups that emphasize patriarchal authority in family structure and use harsh parenting methods can be destructive.
But the problem isn’t just physical and sexual abuse. Emotional and mental treatment in authoritarian religious groups also can be damaging because of 1) toxic teachings like eternal damnation or original sin 2) religious practices or mindset, such as punishment, black-and-white thinking, or sexual guilt, and 3) neglect that prevents a person from having the information or opportunities to develop normally.
To be clear, much as it would please some atheists, neither Winell nor Tarico is saying that belief in God is itself evidence of a mental disorder. They are talking about specific unhealthy family and social environments that are created by strict religious edicts and the unbending, dogmatic enforcement thereof.
Religion causes trauma when it is highly controlling and prevents people from thinking for themselves and trusting their own feelings. Groups that demand obedience and conformity produce fear, not love and growth. With constant judgment of self and others, people become alienated from themselves, each other, and the world.
[image via wisegeek]
P.S. I edited this post a day after it was published, to correct the source of the quotes. Several quotes attributed to Tarico were in fact Winell’s. My apologies for the error. — T.F.
If you have a serious drinking problem, you turn to AA, right? But what if you’re an agnostic or an atheist? Can you still climb those famous Twelve Steps if you don’t believe in God?
Six of the steps have strong religious connotations, to say the least:
2) (We) came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
3) Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
5) Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
6) Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
7) Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
8) Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
Quite the litany. Turn our will and lives over; admit the nature of our wrongs; remove our shortcomings and defects of character; pray for God’s will for us.
Sounds like a sect to me. A pretty brainwashy sect, at that.
So would you rather ruin your liver or your brain? Some choice.
[image via Roger Fields]
Vikram Gandhi is an American of Indian descent. He grew up in New Jersey.
As an experiment, the young filmmaker wanted to see if he could credibly transform himself into a guru. He grew his hair and beard to conform to the expected guru look, tried as best he could to embody a spiritually enlightened mystic, practiced a thick Indian accent, and then “came to America.”
In no time at all, he had acquired an ardent following. Luckily for us, Gandhi had a camera crew in his wake the whole time. Watch what transpired.
The movie Kumaré: The True Story of a False Prophet is now available for streaming on Vudu, Amazon Instant Video, and iTunes (it’s currently just 99 cents on iTunes, for the high-def version no less). You can see the official trailer here.
If you prefer sitting back and watching the (ahem) less successful societal contributions by people of faith, get some popcorn and prepare to be dazzled by the YouTube channel of Conversation With A. Every month or so, the people behind Conversation With A upload an eye-opening new video that’s very much along the lines of Moral Compass — a collection of news stories about, as we say, “faith’s epic fails.”
Here’s their latest. Enjoy!
[Hat tip: Hemant Mehta]