Monday, February 19, 2007

A President's Depression

Over at MercatorNet, psychiatrist Theron Bowers compares two different looks at Abraham Lincoln's depression. The first is from CBS Television which is running 30-second public service announcements this month featuring Lincoln and other historic sufferers of depression. The segments, part of a campaign called CBS Cares, are intended to destigmatize mental illness. Bowers explains the rationale for such campaigns and why he thinks they're of minimal help:
Current dogma assumes that depression is under-treated because people are too embarrassed to ask for help. Therefore, pinning mental illness on the coattails of giants should remove the shame attached to a condition and draw sufferers into treatment....

No helpful information is contained in the CBS commercials. Tagging room-temperature heroic figures with various human ailments yields zero insight into that person or the “illness”. Would Prozac have made Poe less creepy? Would a happier Sherman have not burned down Atlanta? You won’t find the answer at CBS Cares. Our passion for diagnosing the dead is another skin-deep facet of the diversity movement.
Bowers points to what he believes is a far more informative glimpse into Lincoln's depression and how he lived with it:
Fortunately, we can have a deeper understanding of this brilliant man and his “illness”. In 2005 Joshua Wolf Shenk provided an analysis of Lincoln and depression in his book, Lincoln’s Melancholy. Shenk goes beyond the usual agenda of the troubled genius exposé. The book doesn’t settle for simply emboldening sufferers. Shenk moves the questions about Lincoln’s mood disorder from the realm of pop history and posters for Mental Health Awareness Month to the level of serious scholarship. He proclaims his ambitious goal in the subtitle of the book: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled his Greatness
In the course of his review (which is worth reading in its entirety and caused me to add the volume to my wish list), Bowers rightly criticizes the biological reductionism that so pervades popular assumptions about the nature of depression:
Shenk elevates Lincoln from modern poster child for mental health to iconoclast against the modern biological conception of depression. Psychiatry built the medical tower of mental disorders by equating emotional suffering with disease. The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) identifies distress as a hallmark of mental disorder. The focus on distress is so entrenched that many perversions such as bestiality, sado-masochism and transvestitism are no longer classified as mental disorders unless the practitioner is “distressed” over the behavior.
Emotional suffering is only evidence of a mental disorder in the way that physical pain is evidence of disease. All aspects of depression -- brief versus chronic, mild versus severe -- have labels attached in the DSM. Sadness has no more meaning than a rash. Certain cognitive habits associated with depression are also deemed unhealthy. Hopelessness and low self esteem have acquired mythological powers for explaining our social problems.

Shenk’s Lincoln restores sanity and hope to our present notions about depression. The story of Lincoln and his troubled mind doesn’t follow any script, treatment algorithm or predictable outcomes. Lincoln’s Melancholy provides both surprising answers and true inspiration.
Related: Covenant Seminary's Zack Eswine, who describes himself as one who "wrestle[s] with a melancholy temperament and bear[s] the scars of tragic circumstances," reflects on how Lincoln and C. H. Spurgeon persevered "while suffering varying degrees of gloom." (HT: Justin Taylor)

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Same-Sex Attraction

On behalf of those who have turned away from the homosexual lifestyle to follow Christ yet continue to be attracted to members of their own gender Mike Ensley asks:
[W]hat about the rest of us who deal with this issue and haven't come to our "happy ending" yet? What about those of us who continue to struggle with same-sex attraction (SSA), even after choosing to follow Christ? We're caught in a sort of identity limbo, unsure whether we can or even should hope to experience heterosexual desire, get married and start a family someday.
With candor and biblical wisdom Mike encourages fellow-strugglers to join him in taking the following steps towards the renewing of their minds and experiencing freedom:
Stop making unfair comparisons

Stop obsessing about how much you will (or won't) enjoy heterosexual sex

Quit letting your temptations dictate your identity

Do what you know you should be doing
Mike's article is valuable reading for those trying to resist same-sex attraction as well as those committed to aiding them in their pursuit of godliness. Also, much of what he says has application for all of us regardless of the nature of our personal temptations.

Thinking Christianly

In an article appearing in the UK's Youthwork Magazine John Allan muses about the wondrous capacities of our minds and points to resources for training them to think Christianly (including this blog). We can never have too many voices encouraging those involved in youth ministry to take the life of the mind seriously.

Thanks for the kind endorsement, John, and greetings to those on the other side of the Atlantic (or anywhere else, for that matter) who got here by way of his linking.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Koukl - Chopra Debate Video

Greg Koukl's debate with Deepak Chopra, which originally aired on Lee Strobel's "Faith Under Fire" (about which I commented here), is now available on Google Video. (HT: Melinda Penner)

Sunday, February 11, 2007

An Atheist Interviews Himself

Prompted by repeated questions about his atheism, David Gleeson imagines himself being interviewed by a representative theist in American Chronicle: Part I Part II Part III

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

An Unlikely Apologist for "24" and Real-Life Bauers

Emilio Karim Dabul, an Arab-American fan of "24," makes a compelling case for the show's depiction of terrorists in today's Opinion Journal. Here's a sample of his clear thinking:
Most of the terrorists represented in "24" through the years have been Arab Muslims. Why? Well, probably because most terrorists today are, in fact, Arab Muslims. As a descendant of Syrian Muslims, I am very well aware that the majority of Muslims world-wide are peaceful, hard working, and law abiding. That still does not change the fact that the greatest terrorist threat to the U.S. today comes not from the ETA, the IRA, etc., but from one group: Islamic terrorists.

And this is what makes "24" a compelling drama every week. Instead of pretending Islamic terrorists don't exist, the show presents frighteningly real worst-case scenarios perpetrated by Osama bin Laden's followers. So CAIR thinks it's over the top for the terrorists in "24" to blow up Los Angeles with a nuke? Please, if bin Laden and his crew had nukes, most of us would be way too dead to argue over such points.
The entire essay is no longer available at Opinion Journal but can be read in its entirety here.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

A Voice Crying Out in the Therapeutic Wilderness

Amidst the biological or sociological reductionism and denial of human depravity that characterize so much of the thinking coming from mental health professions, this essay by Dr. Richard Friedman in today's New York Times is a refreshing oddity. Swimming against the tide of searching for mental illness behind every conceivable instance of bad behavior, Dr. Friedman suggests that in many (if not most) cases, the cause is something that psychiatry can neither diagnose nor cure - meanness.
When have you ever heard of a therapist telling a patient that he is mean or bad? Probably never. It’s not fashionable in our therapy-friendly nation, where people who behave obnoxiously are assumed to have a treatable psychiatric problem until proven otherwise. Nothing in the human experience is beyond the power of psychiatry to diagnose or fix, it seems. But even for me, an optimist and a proponent of therapy, things have gotten a little out of hand.
Dr. Friedman later asks whether we must "turn everything we don’t like about our fellow humans into a form of psychopathology?" That's a very important question but I don't think the tendency to boil everything down to psychopathology is primarily motivated to explain away the misbehavior of our neighbor so much as it is to excuse and justify ourselves. Psychiatric and psychological theories easily become sophisticated tools which we employ to aid us in our suppression of the truth.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Demons Coming to a Theater Near You

Christianity Today reports:
Ralph Winter—producer of the X-Men and Fantastic Four films—is a well-known Christian in Hollywood, and Walden Media has scored one of the biggest box office hits in recent years with their adaptation of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, by beloved Christian author C. S. Lewis.
Now these two forces are joining for another Lewis adaptation—this time, his cherished spiritual warfare novel, The Screwtape Letters. Variety reports that Winter will produce the adaptation in association with Walden Media.

The adaptation—described as a "midbudget," mostly live-action film—is slated for release some time in 2008. The novel, first published in 1942, is written as a series of letters between two demons, the elder Screwtape and his young nephew, Wormwood, with the seasoned demon offering his young protégé advice on undermining Christian faith and spreading wickedness.

Lewis' stepson, Douglas Gresham—who supervised the production of Wardrobe—will be producing alongside Winter.
I first read about this at Gene Veith's blog and, like him, wonder how well the book can be adapted to film. Based on what Walden did with The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, I have no doubt that there will be some spectacular visual effects. But the Narnia tale is a narrative whereas The Screwtape Letters is considerably different.

In order for it to work, I think the film will have to have a lot of narration - perhaps Screwtape giving dictation while images depict young Wormwood carrying out his uncle's instructions. Part of the intrigue of the novel is that what Lewis describes is all going on in the unseen realm as we carry on our daily routines. How can a movie capture this and still hold an audience's attention? Will this be an instance of the medium obscuring the message? I hope not.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Breakfast Links (2/2)

Doug Groothuis, everyone's favorite curmudgeon, suggests some constructive alternatives to watching the Super Bowl. By the way, I'm pleased to see that he has finally caught up with other Christian ministries and is now taking reservations for the first ever Curmudgeon Cruise.

The lists the ten most misspelled (actually, misused) words in blogs (HT: Tim Challies)

Over at The Point, Catherine Claire shared this great quote from William Wilberforce on the necessity of mental effort in the Christian life:

How criminal, then, must this voluntary ignorance of Christianity and the Word of God appear in the sight of God. When God of His goodness has granted us such abundant means of instruction, how great must be the guilt, and how awful must be the punishment, of voluntary ignorance!

And why are we to expect knowledge without inquiry and success without endeavor? Bountiful as is the hand of Providence, it does not bestow its gifts to seduce us into laziness. It bestows gifts to arouse us to exertion. No one expects to attain to the heights of learning, or arts, or power, or wealth, or military glory without vigourous resolution, strenuous diligence, and steady perseverance.

Yet we expect to be Christians without labor, study, or inquiry! This is the more preposterous because Christianity, a revelation from God and not an invention of man, shows us new relations with their correspondent duties. It contains also doctrines, motives, and precepts peculiar to itself. We cannot reasonably expect to become proficient accidentally, as one might learn insensibly the maxims of worldly policy or a scheme of mere morals.

Melinda Penner pinpoints the problem with trying to reduce Christian truths to bumper sticker-sized slogans.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

A Calvinist Faces Death

Al Mohler talks with TIME Magazine about his recent health crisis and the sovereignty of God:

I want people to know this is not the experience of Al the Calvinist, but Al the Christian. I wasn't reciting Calvinist principles to myself in the hospital bed, but I was very much trusting in the sovereign God any Christian can know and trust.
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