Posts Tagged ‘Jeanne Ollhoff’

Anthropomorphizing God—And More

March 30, 2018

Anthropomorphizing God—And More.

The definition of  Anthropomorphizing, according to Webster, is “to attribute a human personality or form to things not human.”

We commonly do this when we say that “our computer is thinking”, “our dog is like our 2 year old child”, “it is trying to rain”, or the “the lake is angry today”.

I admit to using such language when I am cussing at my slow computer, loving my puppy, trying to plan a picnic, or wishing to go for a sail on Lake Michigan.

I try not to use such language when, as a researcher, psychological practitioner and scientist, I am thinking about any serious topic. For me, serious topics include things like a research article, technology, social/cultural evolution, religion, economics, politics, mental health issues, and more.

I try to be a good Christian, though I confess that my church attendance has been spotty at times. I know, sadly, that some Christians will reject the idea that I am a Christian because I am picking and choosing what I believe from the Holy Bible. 

Still, I want to be a Christian, I want to act like one, and I believe that I am one.

The beloved departed Catholic Saint, Mother Teresa, struggled mightily with her doubts about God, though her faith obviously won-out. I believe it is natural for thoughtful people to encounter this troubling existential challenge.

Well, I surely am no Mother Teresa and I can use all the help I can get with my faith.

So, it does not help me when a preacher, high in his pulpit, stupidly screams to our congregation: “I know exactly where I am going when I die, I’m going right up there!”…as he energetically stabs his finger at the church ceiling and presumably the sky above.

Did he not stop to think that when he points up, other preachers standing standing on different sections of earth would be pointing down and sideways?!

I hope and pray there is a heaven, but it is silly to try and point at it.

O.K., I get what he was trying to illustrate, but advise a more grown-up way of leading from the pulpit.

Furthermore, this is the same preacher who used to make fun of scientists, as though there were none sitting in his pews.

Also, does not help me when one of my past preachers vigorously enjoined his congregation to follow the Ten Commandments, yet he was an adulterer with one of his parishioners. Later the congregation is split in half and badly damaged as a result.

My dear sister-in-law Jeanne Ollhoff was a life-long devoted Christian. She was also a marvelous choir director, organist, parochial school teacher and parochial school principle. Jeannie was a staunch and joyful leader in God’s work and was not the least bit naive about church politics.  I once heard her say, with a smile and an wink, that “the only thing wrong with God’s churches is that there are people in there!” Jeanne was not a cynic; she was a happy, buoyant realist and a stalwart servant of God to the very end. 

When Jeanne died of cancer, those who were with her as she passed saw her smile, open her eyes and reach out her arms. When they tried to tried to hold her hands, she brushed them away. Then she was gone.

You may interpret this event anyway you wish. The Faithful by her side easily understood and tearfully rejoiced. They knew that her Faithful dream had come true.

I have tried to believe that every hair on everyone’s head is counted and known by God. I have tried to believe  that the Faithful are favored by His grace in important ways.

But, it does not help when very bad things frequently happen to devoutly Faithful people in my family, among my friends; to Faithful people everywhere and through all time.

It does not help when countless faithful millions pray for the life of their innocent young children and other Faithful loved ones; who are addicted, abused, divorced, crippled, born deformed or die anyway.

It does not help when random natural disasters indiscriminately wipe-out churches of all faiths, along with the Faithful, agnostics, atheists and anything else (animate or inanimate) in their paths.

The facts are that, along with the lawful orderliness of our world,  there is a great deal of destructive and murderous chaos. I cannot believe that God wantonly kills countless millions of Believers every year just because “it is their time to go”, they “are needed in heaven”, or that it will in some way “make the living stronger in their faith”.

The fact is that prayer may have comforted the innocent Faithful who have charged to their deaths in countless battles in God’s name, or were marched to their executions by Kings, dictators and other bad people through all of history. Perhaps their faith in a better after-life helped them to face death, but an earthy reprieve was profoundly unlikely for any of them.

I remember an old man who fought in WWII on nearly all of the embattled islands in the Pacific telling me: “Our prayers in battle didn’t matter”, we got shot, stabbed and blown-up praying all of the time. See the ending of the paragraph above.

I am asked to “believe like a child”, I did this when I really was a child and vividly saw “god” in one of my dreams. I will never forget that experience. My “god” appeared as the owner of the drug store across the street where I bought pop, candy, gum and caps for my cap guns.

No, I didn’t grow up to shoot anyone, or any living thing for that matter.

I have decided to believe as an adult. In order to do so I will simply not trouble myself with  details such as: Did the Red Sea really part? Did a fish and a loaf of bread really feed all of those people? Did he really walk on water, cure a blind man, cure a leper? Etc., etc., etc..

Finally, as in the title of this blog, it does not help me, when I read in my Bible and hear from the pulpit, that “we” have been created in the image of God.

It is a fact that Jesus was a human being. But the idea that we we are all created in God’s image and therefore, logically, God must look like a human being, strains credulity to my breaking-point.

I doubt that God, in the form of a human-being, is floating among the planets and stars anywhere in the universe.

This idea feels too close to secular humanism’s self-aggrandizement and narcissism: An anthropomorphism of God. I do not believe that this perspective is needed for we humans to be God’s spiritual and behavioral representatives on earth and to follow the moral/ethical precepts and Commandments sent to us through Jesus’ and his inspired disciples. I am happy to believe that God’s powers created us, but not that he looks anything like the man in my childhood dream.

I believe that the ability of humans to do science is just one of our many gifts from God. I also believe that humankind and perhaps our whole world will rise or fall based upon how we use these gifts.

It is just this simple, we can follow God’s dictates, or, there will be hell on earth until all is lost.

Science has provided strong evidence that our universe has not existed forever. The preponderance of current scientific evidence is that everything has had a beginning. So, from all we can tell at this time, there was once nothing. Then, according to science, suddenly, there occurred “A Big-Bang” and there was something!

That “something” was our world and universe, along with the laws and principles to which its matter conforms, as well as all that has unfolded ever-since.

Science also asserts that something cannot come from nothing.

As best we currently know, something did come from nothing, including everything we see and know—and everything we do not yet see and do not yet know.

We can choose to believe “creation” was just a matter of statistically improbable random events coming together in a miraculous way. Or, we can choose to believe there is a Higher Power that created the universe and everything in it.

Many, throughout all of history, have call that Higher Power: God.

I do not believe that this Higher Power is a male or a female, that is another anthropomorphism, and a sexist one at that. These distinctions are reserved for many of God’s living creations; even though a small minority of humans have become seriously confused about this matter.

In spite of all the bad things that endlessly happen to good people, faith in God statistically correlates with many good things. Some of these things are increased happiness, increased physical and psychological health, greater longevity and more. Yes, many scientists think that the strongest factor in these attractive correlations is the social support and acceptance among fellow believers that the religious often enjoy. I must agree that emotionally healthy humans tend to be social animals and social isolation is correlated with the inverse of the good things listed above.

Yet, I find it interesting that at times when I do not make it to church, I do not feel deprived. And in the dark, before I shut my eyes to sleep, I frequently say two prayers that my dear and beloved Fraternal Grandmother taught me. Then, I just feel good.

I wonder, is it simply my conditioning/learning history? Perhaps it it just that I have adopted a soothing and health sustaining delusion. Whatever it is, I can assure you that it is real in me and I will keep it.

I just feel better….

In all of this and more, I am reminded: “The Lord works in mysterious ways.”

In the final analysis, I am certain that far-more is unknown than is known about existence…and what is real and what is not.

I also believe it is important to understand that scientific thinking is not incompatible with a belief in God.

See for your self!

V. Thomas Mawhinney, Ph.D., 3/30/18


Religion and Fertility In America

November 11, 2013

Religion and Fertility In America

Perhaps nowhere are the indelible facts of the central theme of God in the founding of America’s Democratic Republic more clear and undeniable than in the stone edifices of the buildings and other structures of Washington D.C.. I thank my dear sister-in-law Jeanne Ollhoff for posthumously gifting me an edition of Newt Gingrich’s Rediscovering God in America: Reflections on the role of faith in our Nation’s History and Future (2006). I encourage you to read this powerful little book.

It is reasonable to wonder why in Europe religion has lost ground compared to in America. Francis Fukuyama describes this counter-intuitive outcome and provides a plausible explanations in his book, Trust: The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity (1995).

“The U.S. Constitution prohibits the federal government from establishing a national religion, though it does not prohibit the states from doing so. Some individual states like Massachusetts had established religions as late as the 1830’s but the principle of the separation of church and state is an old and venerable one. One would think that the establishment of a national church, as in a number of European countries, would promote a strong sense of community, since it would bind national to religious and entity and give citizens a common culture beyond the political system. In fact, something of the opposite tends to happen. In countries with established churches, where religious identity is ascribed rather than voluntary, people frequently tend toward secularism and in many cases become openly anticlerical. Countries without established churches, on the other hand, often experience a higher degree of genuine religious observance. Thus the United States with no established church and increasingly secular public life, continues to enjoy a far higher degree of religiosity that virtually all European countries with national churches. This is true by almost any measure of religious feeling; church attendance, the number of people who assert that they believe in God, or the level of private charitable donations to religious organizations” (p. 288).

The reasons for this that Fukuyama describes are that people may feel that it is an “unwanted burden” when ones religion is mandated. When people are free to choose their religious affiliation they have a genuine interest in doing that and their church affiliation feeds that interest for young and old alike. It is also likely that in a “free market” of religions, that they compete to attract and retain members. Churches with mandated membership not likely be motivated to become so competitive.

Completion is widely known to provide for a greater diversity, quality and ease of access to choices available to consumers, independent of the products involved. Why should it be any different for religious choices?

One of the reasons that America has been able to stave off this proportional youth decline that has afflicted Western Europe, and much of the rest of the developing societies in the world is that America has retained a fertility rate which is slightly above replacement levels. As you may deduce, below replacement birth rates for a socioculture spells disaster. Two of the natural correlates within developing societies are increased education (leading to later marriage and fewer children) and better medical care (leading to an increasing aged population and an increasing handicapped population). This means that proportionately there are fewer young people in the culture-sustaining population to work, invent, create wealth, pay taxes and fight wars, etc.

David Goldman (2011), How Civilizations Die: And Why Islam is Dying Too,  discusses the central influence of Judeo/Christian religion upon the relative reproductive rates and viability of America and Israel in contrast to less religious and largely atheist counties.

The Industrial world’s lowest fertility rates are encountered among the nations of Eastern Europe where atheism was the official ideology for generations. The highest fertility rates in the developed world are found in countries with a high degree of religious faith, namely the United States and Israel. And demographers have identified religion as a crucial factor in the differences among populations within countries. When faith goes, fertility vanishes, too” (Kindle Loc. 195).

Of the Islam’s overall declining fertility rate and its dire predictions for that civilization’s future, Goldman reports the following:

“In the Islamists’ own view, the encounter of Islam with the globalized world has had catastrophic effects on a religion so deeply rooted in the habits of traditional society that it cannot survive in the harsh light of modernity. The closing of the Muslim womb is a symptom of a shock to the spiritual condition of the Islamic world, a loss of faith more sudden and more devastating than the past century’s trend towards secularism in the West” (Kindle Loc. 492).

There is more to come soon.

VTM, 11/11/13

Teachers Unions Harm America’s Educational System

May 9, 2010

Teachers Unions Harm America’s Educational System

The following remarks by Dr. Tim Skinner are too important to leave in the discussion side-bar of this blog. I will therefore present them in their entirety.

Dr. Skinner’s Words:

I have recently retired after 38 years in public education. I served as a mathematics and Chemistry teacher for 20 years, 10 years as a high school and middle school principal and my last 8 years I was a superintendent of a public school. Since the early 80′s I have worked at reforming education through a variety of initiatives centered around our better understanding of how students learn. Gaining the support of individual teachers and providing them with improved pedagogy was easy. The majority of teachers in schools want to do a good job.

The biggest obstacle I faced in my career came from the teachers union, the good old AFT-NEA. They thrive on conflict and the protection of members regardless of how incompetent they may be. Maintaining the status quo, maximizing pay and minimizing teacher effort seem to be their only goals. openness and honesty on the part of administration and Board is twisted and exploited to further those goals, not to develop a cooperative and supportive school environment. I doubt real change can occur until that influence is blunted.

End of Quote

My dear late sister-in-law, Jeanne Ollhoff,  was a teacher and eventually a principle of a Lutheran school. Thirty years ago she railed against teacher’s unions because she felt that it damaged the teaching enterprise severely.

Jeanne and her fellow teachers visited each home of her students before school started in the summer. They felt that it was critical that they knew each student and their family situation and that they extended their personal hand of cooperation to each family. They also ate lunch with their students and frequently met and conferred with the parents of children who were having special problems of any kind. They remained after hours and did whatever was needed to help their students learn.

When I was a child, growing up in the 1940’s and early 50’s, I remember similar levels of dedication and committment among my public school teachers. The changes in our public schools and our teaching profession have been remarkable.

As a practicing psychologist, I have had the displeasure of trying to work with a sizable minority of incompetent teachers in schools that are systemically inflexible and ineffective things the they  do to manage student behavior problems and help other special needs students.

These, and more professionals who I know and respect, join me in agreement with Dr. Skinner’s assessment of the harmful  impact of Teacher’s Unions on American Education.

V. Thomas Mawhinney, Ph.D.    5/9/10

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