Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Hating, Loving and Creative Thinking are Largely Learned (like almost everything else)

(The Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul on January 25th, 2006.)

How did it come to be that I, a half Jew, am a passionate follower of Jesus the Christ while my Jewish cousins who share much of my gene legacy, passionately do not? I resemble them in my facial features. I talk in a similar fashion as do they. We laugh at the same jokes. We all enjoy a spirited debate. We all rage at the Holocaust. We all fiercely believe in education. We are all high energy people. Most of them are smarter than I am. And certainly better looking. So, I pose to myself some knotty questions on this Catholic Feast day which celebrates the spiritual reversal of a short, bandy legged, bald headed, frenetic, enthusiastic little Jew from extreme hostility towards the crucified Galilean to an almost fanatic devotion to Him.

How come that I am a Catholic believer and my cousins are not? How do I explain to myself with any kind of honesty why I am so blessed with this Pearl of Great Price and they are not? While I fully believe in the reverential and grateful Catholic position that all Faith is an unearned Gift from God the Father, I am strangely fixated on the theological principle that God’s glorious grace builds on Nature. Of course, I am bursting with what I think is mature pride in my Church. I am convinced that the Catholic manner of life is a splendid way to live. I am delighted that I am a Catholic. Nevertheless, I have questions. Questions of nature. Questions of culture. Questions of environment. I wonder and I muse what effect these factors have on human personality and functioning?

My own studies of human behavior, both of the past and the present, shout out (at least to me) certain pre-articulate and intuitive potentials of our human “condition.” I remember the insights of a sub-human human (A. Hitler) who saw that very young human beings can be molded into brutal, dedicated followers if skillful learning manipulations are used. He understood the plasticity of the human psyche whereby “values” might be learned to fit his personal criteria.

Obviously, this insight can have a positive side, again depending upon one’s view of what positive means. We have probably all heard of the alleged Jesuit educational principle “Give me the child early enough and I will turn him into anything you wish!” Shades of J.B. Watson, the founder of American Behaviorism! And it is all about learning. School boys learn of Pavlov’s drooling dog whereby instinctive processes of survival (such as eating) become the baseline for manipulating behavior by linking an automatic response with a planned stimulus.

And certainly studies in human development testify to the incredibly quick learning that goes on in the life even of a new born infant. My sense is that such knowledge can be applied to Religious Faith whereby the child is given a reasonable life platform, upon which to build a life of morality and ethics. The research psychologist, B.F. Skinner, for all his sometimes nutty convictions, did clarify for us the now widely accepted Behavior modification system. Reward the acceptable behavior and it will increase. Withhold the reward and the unacceptable behavior will tend to decrease. A nod here, a smile there, an attentive posture, all can subtly modify behavior. We are not chimps to be manipulated but we are vulnerable to micro rewards or lack of them. With some modifications to his, sometimes complex, Modification Theory, we might use his insights in our attempts to understand and elevate human behavior.

However, it is elementary that certain human behaviors are innate and unlearned, such as breathing, eating, being sexually attracted to another, suckling at mother’s breast, pulling away from painful stimuli, raising one’s hand in defense against an approaching blow. Constitutionally, we are designed to survive which is perhaps the first law of human nature. Yet many micro behaviors are learned so as to function on a dimension beyond the biologic and the physiologic --- even if nudged along by Nature’s plan.

This is the more subtle dimension which interests me. Values, goals, purposes, love levels, sacred honor and virtue differ substantially, often from one person to another. This is the area of learning which we ponder. I personally believe that the Lord imprinted in all human “hearts” a basic sense of right and wrong, roughly analogous to the Ten Commandments. Yet, I also believe that this basic “imprint” can be almost muted by human psychological/cultural factors. Retardation of the moral sense (as well as the esthetic) is understandable in terms of a primitive and deprived environment. Kohlberg’s extensive studies decades ago illustrated this point in his work on the multi levels of moral development. Of course, in the cognitive realm, we know real cases of organically wounded children who have truly serious learning difficulties. While this statistically minimal is of concern, the larger picture investigated here is about learned behavior which could be moral or ethical or cognitive.

I was privileged to interview the articulate William F. Buckley on my own Television show many years ago. He spoke of the stimulating and elevated dinner conversation that “happened” each night in his home. This climate so stimulated him that somewhere around the age of five, he wrote an angry letter to King George of England demanding that the English repay the United States war debts from World War I. This differs significantly from my own early experience where the usual table silence was occasionally broken by something like “pass da salt”. Can I speculate that the confidence of Bill Buckley as compared with my own shyness and tentativeness might, in part, be traced to environment? Did we both learn from our surroundings—even if we didn’t know we were learning verbal behavior? Did we imitate what was “vibed” to us from our special world?

I have listened to recordings of my father’s voice, noted his vocal modulation, his phrasing, pronunciation and pitch, then listened to recordings of my own voice and found a startling similarity. Did I not learn my speech patterns which were neither inborn nor unlearned? I did not come to this world as a complete, factory tested package. I learned almost everything of my early life from environment!

In South Africa I lived for years under an iniquitous system called Apartheid. It was a truism there that little children, aged 3 or 4 would play joyously with each other even if one were Zulu and the other White (or European) with no awareness of skin differences. By the time they became 7 or 8, their behavior changed. No longer un-self conscious pals but now Baas (Boss) and servant. Their mode of social interaction drastically changed. Why? How? What happened in those intervening years to make such a profound and drastic change in a human relationship?

The children learned, even without knowing they were learning, that their Society disapproved of their intimacy. There were pervasive, racial norms which were verbal, non-verbal and demanding. People learned to behave in a clearly un-Christian manner because of the enormous power held by society to approve or disapprove.

Isn’t this true, in some way, of language, mores, cultures? For example, in the United States kids learn to love playing baseball, the national sport which is regarded in South Africa as quaint and tacky. In Johannesburg and Capetown we play a sport of good manners and sophistication. It is called cricket and played leisurely in spotlessly white trousers while spectators sip hot tea under shady trees. That is what the South African environment teaches and citizens learn.

A priest client of mine was told by a Religious person when he was in the 6th grade that he could never be a priest. He was too stupid, she said. He could never pass the exams and handle the intricacies of the clerical life. On top of a dysfunctional family background, he carried this punishing inner voice within him for years as he struggled with the belief that “others” viewed him as inadequate, impotent and ineffectual. Since Authority (his environment) told him, he learned to view himself thusly. This self destructive learned self image hampered him all his life even though he did become a priest and subsequently earn two Masters’ degrees which he personally discounted as just due to hard work and good luck. In fact, he was not “born that way”, i.e. to disesteem himself. He was unknowingly taught to be “that way”.

My friend and psychiatrist colleague, Dr. Arnie Zucker, delights in singing into the ears of his one year old grandsons some traditional Jewish ditties which generally carry the following theme. “Aren’t you glad you are a circumcised little Jewish boy and that you weren’t born a goy?” He clearly understands, as do I approvingly, that little human beings are taught from the earliest moments of life how they will live. With constant approvals like this, these little boys will grow up to be clearly defined in their Jewish identities. This is not being defined by hormones and genes.

Sexual orientation is a factor of great relevance here. Persons who suffer from SSA (Same Sex Attraction) sometimes, in (what I believe is) an ultimately ineffectual attempt to relieve their undoubted suffering, will insist that they were “born that way”, i.e. homosexual. Often parents, in their own attempt for guilt relief, will insist that there must be some sort of biologic basis for their children’s homosexuality. To believe that a parent might have unconsciously contributed to such an unhappy orientation would be an enormously heavy burden to carry. The deduction from the “being born that way” belief is that the Lord Himself clearly ordained that some of His children should have a sexual life with persons of the same sex. There would then be no guilt. No social shame. All would be paradisiacal. Ironically, Lobbyists for such a view battle fiercely, using learning theory to achieve their goal of glorifying a false identity. Such a false identity would demand the following stance. The clear teachings of Scripture would have to be denied as would the teachings of the Judeo-Christian world along with the sad lessons of homosexual history.

In the absence of any serious scientific data supporting biologic basis for homosexuality, the available voluminous correlation studies become significant. One notable example is the factor of Defensive Detachment with male homosexuals. This means that a very young male perceives (possibly inaccurately) rejection from his father figure who is physically distant or abusive, undemonstrative, unloving in action in words, and uninterested. The young one feels rejected or uncomfortable and pre-empts parental (or surrogate) rejections by detaching himself from his father and he does the rejecting before he is rejected!!!! He has learned to defend himself from a (perceived) projected painful experience. But for the rest of his life he will be seeking healing as he searches, even unconsciously, for the love of his father. I know that this is only one of the many learning factors associated with the drab parameters of the “gay” life. In my own clinical work over 30 years, such “detachment” has been, not exclusively, but very frequently operational. In the research studies it is paramount.

However, this one piece of data can be invaluable for young fathers who might not understand the urgency of showing affection to their very young sons. (Obviously, we have concern for female children but who have a somewhat different psychic structure).

Granting the constitutional fund of libido which is obviously innate (and planned so by the Creator/ Designer), we can learn how to direct and channel the enormous power of sex into the Great Plan. It is intellectually (not emotionally) simple, as Pope Benedict XVI pointed out in his Encyclical on Love, that sexual love belongs only to the union of a man and a woman in a monogamous committed relationship called “marriage.” The sexual “freedom” so cherished by modern liberals, leads to “bad” eros and broken hearts. A bad environment teaches how to ruin one’s life. Conversely, one can learn to love as a responsible adult presuming a healthy personal environment. We have seen such love flourish within the Courage movement” almost endlessly.

Of course, there is always a sexual drive from the human physical constitution which is ever tempting, ever conflicting and so interestingly called the “id” by Freud. Fortunately, one learns that, with the help of God, one can live with integrity and virtue and we can put the lid on the id!!!

Research Science tells us that the human being’s learning potential is unimaginable, so vast is its depth. It would be a pity if we give up too soon on the troubled or limited human being through our own indolence or ignorance. “Bad” learning can often and surprisingly be unlearned with real promise of re-learning the helpful and the good. Young parents would be far ahead of the game if they would apply principles of learning (not necessarily from books) to babies!! We remember that little children are imitators of the heroes of their lives, principally their parents. Certainly, there are several inborn obvious factors as noted above but there are treasures in the child which may never be surfaced, unless knowledgeable and clearly identified people are present. And childhood years are crucial. This is more than learning soccer or ballet. This is learning how to be a healthy person. Is this Nature or Nurture? Who really knows? Both are present. But we cannot ignore the Environment and its effect on loving and hating and thinking creatively.

Nor can we ignore the environmental matrix as the ground for the great Gift of Faith. How did I get my Faith? Certainly, from the Lord but with the help of believing and simple Catholics. Perhaps, my Jewish cousins would be saying the Rosary today and Marching for Life if they had had the social advantages I had. The Catholic Church prods us to recall that, after all, Grace builds on Nature. While God’s grace clearly abounds, we are expected to do our part. In this Great Mystery of searching for God, we are all teachers as well as learners. May the loving and merciful be God be with us!!!!

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

On Being Offended by Public Religious Devotion

Is it possible that, one day in the not too distant future, I, as a senior citizen, might be socked with a misdemeanor just for reading my Prayer book (required daily prayer for priests) on a bus? My fears stem from the following. Not only did Justice Hugo Black insist, many years ago, that absolutely nothing of government money can, in any way, be used to support any religious behavior but, with presently surfacing legal insights, I, also, might be violating someone’s alleged constitutional right not to be offended. Could my reading an official Catholic and quasi-public prayer on a bus which is supported significantly by government money, become cause for an ACLU protest? Could I be arrested because I might “offend” a fellow passenger with my very visible personal “devotion” in addition to, allegedly, violating our cherished separation of State and Church? One notes the word “Church” is accurately used, if one understands history and law. But there is no separation between State and religion. The distinction is significant and substantive. My “arrest” would arise from an inaccurate understanding of constitutional law.

However, is there any reality to my vague discomfort that someday I might be forbidden to wear a clerical collar in the public Square? Or that religious Sisters could be arrested for appearing in their religious Habits? Is my historical awareness (and dis-ease) of the early 20th century Mexican situation inappropriate?

Is it paranoid to imagine that someday in a wild, wide eyed Crusade reminiscent of the Salem witch hunts, Crosses would be declared unlawful if visible from public streets? Is it utterly absurd to worry that I might be forbidden someday to proclaim my deepest Faith beliefs by which I run my life? Even from my own pulpit? That some small town merchant in western Canada was fined for not supporting certain homosexual causes or that an Anglican pastor in England was threatened with the loss of his parish should he continue to preach politically incorrect homilies, might be dismissed as isolated cases of nuttiness were it not for relatively concrete data indicating a well organized secularist movement (if small in number) and one which gives me great concern.

Why my discomfort about the threat to remove the motto, “In God we trust,” on our currency which has meant so much to me ever since I could read? Might we lose it? Might the Courts and Legislatures vote that prayers invoking the protection and guidance of God be forbidden? Could all religious symbols be removed from public buildings? If I am a chaplain in the Armed Forces, will I be forbidden to wear a Cross on my uniform lapel? Will I be instructed to disguise my status as a priest and will I be designated as some kind of secular “morale officer” to run bingo games? Will it be forbidden to me to celebrate Holy Mass for young Catholic soldiers in a tent purchased by taxpayers’ money? Will crosses be removed from the tombstones at Arlington cemetery? Will our maintenance (even if limited) of the Omaha beach cemetery shrine be neglected because so many crosses mark the graves of thousands of brave American dead who fought for our freedom and way of life? The deduction of such conclusions from certain questionable premises might well lead to the implementation of what I consider the ungodly, the un-American and the toxic! It is possible!

To counter the knee-jerk response of some of my good but na├»ve friends who suggest, even kindly, that I am on the verge of “going bananas”, I offer some reasons for my discomfort. First, the relatively recent Supreme Court decision on the sodomy laws of Texas. When Justice Scalia wrote that the Majority decision well might usher in a whole series of moral breakdowns, including so-called Gay Marriage, one of his well intentioned (Justice) colleagues opined that such a fear was utterly unfounded, particularly the issue of same sex marriage which was considered totally impossible

In less than one year, the drums began to beat for marriage of same sex partners, not merely some kind of civil recognition but specifically for marriage. Of course, no one thought that such legitimization would be acceptable to this Nation. Suddenly, it is front and center. And now, to oppose or even question the prudence of legalizing, as marriage, homosexual lifestyles (considered by a majority of Americans to be destructive and immoral) is to invite such vitriol rarely even whispered in this country. There is little room for calm, adult dialogue. The notion of hearing the other guy out seems to be vanishing. As an example, we have seen the brutal shouting down of Ann Coulter who was invited to give a traditional and now controversial point of view in an American University. The intolerant treatment was unbelievable in a society presumed to be open to an exchange of ideas.

Additionally, I note the instance of Pepsi Cola’s silent move to remove “Under God” from the pledge of Allegiance which is printed on the Company’s soda containers (lest some one be offended). I note the move in California to remove crosses along the road because they annoy an atheist motorist. I note (as quoted by Roger Hitchcock on the Limbaugh program) that a state Governor has forbidden any public prayer to end “In Jesus’ Name.” I note the innumerable school principals who forbid students from voluntary (even silent) prayer before sports events and who utterly exclude any kind of religious acknowledgement at graduations. The rationale for such oppression is that “someone” might be offended. I note the really nutty prohibition of certain colors (red and green) in public schools at Christmas time because of a possible link to Christ which again might hurt some one’s feelings. Who is the offended “some one”? Not only is he statistically minuscule but, apart from a few noisy ones, he is often shadowy and elusive. Nevertheless, whence this creeping slippery slope?

Clearly, it is a given that all Americans are guaranteed the right to freely exercise their various religions however they please. The First Amendment specifically intends to protect citizens’ religious expression from government interference. Constitutionally and historically, there is no notion of protection of government from religious forces. It is simply stated that there will be no federal or national church. There is no separation of state from religion but only separation from an official church as was the case in England which strongly affected the Framers.

By some kind of ironic legal twist, the unthinkables, noted above, somehow have become possible. In an atmosphere of “One flew over the cuckoo’s nest”, all the above (and much more) are gaining legal shape and form. Now to justify these un-American behaviors, someone has come up with the battle cry of absurdity---“The right NOT to be offended.” How far does this go? Where did all this come from?

A highly respected Constitutional lawyer, Marc Levin (called “the great” in Television and radio circles) gives a probable genesis of the tragedy in his book “Men in Black.” On Page 48, he references the l962 Supreme Court ruling of Engel v. Vitale which outlawed state-sponsored prayer in a controversial and dubious decision which was at odds with American history. Justice A. Kennedy wrote that public benedictions were unfair pressures on un-believers to maintain respectful silence and which made them feel as “outsiders.” This was called the “Coercion test.” The implications of Kennedy’s write up are enormously dangerous to religious freedom.

Meanwhile, Professor Vincent Munoz, an American Enterprise Scholar, picks this absurdity apart. He points out that the “test” secures “the right not to feel uncomfortable.”

Such discomfort will trump (in the logic of the Court) the First Amendment’s free exercise of religion. It is now beginning to apply to the right “not to be offended.” But does this apply to my feeling offended when each summer a “Gay” Parade prances down a major street in my city, holding up traffic, littering the streets, costing my city tax money to hire Police for overtime pay, when they flaunt what my own Faith holds to be immodest, when they shout obscenities about my religious leader? Apparently, this is different because they tell me that their behavior is only establishing identity while people like me are breaking the tenets of the First Amendment when we publicly pray a general and silent prayer or even mention a Deity.

In effect, where does the right not to be offended stop? Is there a limit which reasonable people can agree upon? Or who decides what is offensive? Further, what happens to the concept of Democracy which, in my understanding, is the rule of the will of majority? Is a country to be ruled by a vocal and committed tiny minority? I thought this was a discarded, pre-Christian and obsolete form of rule called Oligarchy!

Americans are rightly proud of our history and our political system, the like of which has never be seen anywhere in the history of man. It is important to remember that the Declaration of Independence (an authentic clue as to the intentions of the Founders) is not merely an historical document. It explicitly recognizes that human rights do not derive from Kings or Parliaments, government or the judiciary. It states that rights come from God. “Endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights…” Our religious practice is not alien to our political philosophy but even integral to it. It is obvious that the fears expressed above are real. They must be countered since the material of the fears is basically an attack on our founding principles. Our tradition teaches that we do not rely on government (and certainly not the courts) as the source of our rights. An elementary sophistication about the source of our rights which are unalienable quickly indicates a source higher than our selves. If such rights came, not from a higher source, but from the state, they become malleable and are therefore not unalienable. Even a dirty necked kid from the tenements like me can see that this is a prescription for tyranny against which our forefathers fought a terrible war. Marc Levin taught me this. He is clearly right. May God protect these United States!