Category Archives: Science

BOOK REVIEW: “Jitterbug Perfume”

By Contributor Gwenyfar Rohler

Tom Robbins’ “Jitterbug Perfume” might be a surprising book to see reviewed on the faith and values website. But I think it is quite appropriate.

His 1984 opus about immortality – or ultimately mortality – follows two

Jitterbug Perfume

Jitterbug Perfume (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

people who decide not to die and their friend Pan, the goat god.

The book’s central question is: What is it about death that we find so terrifying?

There was the wonderful joke circulating several years ago about the Pope traveling in an armored car. The joke was if he was scared to die – what did that say to the rest of us?

Robbins’ readers are familiar with his lyric use of word play that comes alive on the page. Through Alobar and Kudra seeking immortality, Robbins does ask questions about what real immortality is?

Is it avoiding death? Or is it making a lasting contribution to society for which you will be remembered ever after?

Alobar and Kudra have found the secret to avoiding death through a series of breathing exercises, diet and bathing rituals- all of which sound a lot like yoga. “Jitterbug Perfume” explores many of the questions westerners have about eastern philosophy and its realistic applications while weaving in healthy doses of comparative mythology.

In the book, deities survive only as long as people believe in them, so after several thousand years, when Pan’s following has faded, people can’t see him anymore. They can only smell him. Or to adapt from General Douglas MacArthur, another person concerned with the questions of immortality or mortality – “Old Gods never die; they just fade away.”

As with many books from this period of Robbins’ writing, lust and embracing our visceral desires plays a big role in not only the character’s lives but their ultimate successes or failures in their quest. The presence of Pan, a deity who encouraged and enjoyed such celebrations himself, as a main character in this book also leads to comparisons about how modern Protestants interpret not only deity, but also the expected code of behavior by that deity and its followers.

Robbins is an unabashed hedonist in both his writing and his lifestyle. In “Jitterbug Perfume,” that shines through with a beautiful and delicate passion. Many of his books celebrate mythologies and cosmologies different than the monotheistic world he and many of his readers grew up in. He time travels across the page to visit places he would like to see and many of us never imagined were possible.

What is the life of an old Greek God like in late 20th century New Orleans? It’s not a question that keeps many people up at night, but it’s a fascinating one to answer.

For an affirming, delightful and entirely sideways look at this planet through the last 1,000 years, pick up a copy of “Jitterbug Perfume.”

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COMMENTARY: Environmental myopia and fear and loathing in the bedroom

By Blogger David Scott
Politics + Religion

In reaction to the Religion News Service article “Poll shows Christianity good for the poor, bad for sex,” I want to comment on the quote: “In six of the 16 areas, sizable numbers of Americans said Christianity had little or no impact, including the environment, business ethics, civility and substance abuse. Americans were roughly split, at about one-third each, on Christianity’s impact on racism.”

While I find this statement disturbing, I don’t find it surprising. As a life-long environmental activist, I have observed, with great frustration, how apathetic and slow the institutionalized church is towards creation care.

Though there are some evangelical groups starting to catch onto the importance of creation care, why haven’t churches been quicker to embrace environmentalism as a religious issue?

Many Christians accept the misguided assumption that “if the natural world is destroyed, it is God’s plan, and who are we to disagree?” This myopic view is not only selfish but also dangerous. This explains why so many American Christians are global warming deniers.

In his highly respected book, “The Nature of Prejudice,” Gordon Allport presents the belief that regular churchgoers are made up of two basic categories of members: those who are sincerely concerned about their own spiritual growth and self-improvement and another group who go to church to present a positive image for the public to observe. As it relates to racism or prejudice of any kind, the latter category often displayed prejudice, while the first category was more tolerant. Unfortunately, the “show Christians” are often more public and create the image of the faith as a whole, for me at least.

And finally, the finding that Christianity has a negative impact on sexuality only seems reasonable to me. A faith that is so often based on fear and guilt can’t help but instill these same feelings into the sexual mindsets of its adherents. When fear, self-loathing and guilt enter the bedroom, pleasure and spontaneity flee out the back door. Sex becomes an obligation and not a joy.

Man behind ‘near-death experience’ ponders the afterlife

Raymond Moody, the man who coined the term "near-death experience". RNS photo

By PIET LEVY
c. 2012 Religion News Service
Reprinted with permission

(RNS) Raymond Moody has spent nearly 40 years looking forward, trying to understand what happens when people die. That pursuit led to the publication of “Life After Life” in 1975, a seminal collection that actually coined the term “near-death experience.”

But in his new memoir, “Paranormal: My Life in Pursuit of the Afterlife,” the 67-year-old Moody instead looks back, reflecting on his fascination with death, the effect of his life’s work, and trying to figure out what it’s all meant.

One key revelation: despite his frustrations with some religious and New Age interpretations of his work, and the fact that he does not practice a religion, the psychologist and philosopher who grew up the son of an agnostic surgeon says he has “woken up to God.”

“From the very beginning (of my afterlife studies) I was hearing people with experiences, some of whom had not been religious and some of whom were, and whatever they had been before, afterward there seemed to be a sort of commonality, which is the understanding that yes, there is a God,” Moody said.

The Georgia-born Moody became obsessed with the afterlife not out of religious conviction, but as a philosophy student at the University of Virginia.

“I was reading Plato’s ‘The Republic’ at age 18 and I can’t account fully the electricity that had for me,” he said. The story of Ur, a warrior thought dead who awoke and described going to another world, impressed him deeply.

“I felt the question of the afterlife was the black hole of the personal universe: something for which substantial proof of existence had been offered but which had not yet been explored in the proper way by scientists and philosophers,” Moody writes in “Paranormal.” His fascination only deepened after befriending a psychiatrist at the university, George Ritchie, who had his own near-death experience, and even felt that his experience had given him at times a “direct line with God.”

Ritchie’s was the first of many near death stories Moody heard. He found some commonalities: an out-of-body experience, the sensation of traveling through a tunnel, communicating with dead relatives, encountering a bright light (thought by some to be Jesus, God or an angel), and when they came back, a sense that there was truth in all the great faiths.

In “Paranormal,” Moody writes that “Life After Life” was so successful — it sold more than 10 million copies — in part because it didn’t entertain a religious bias. “People no longer had to keep it in the closet or worry about people thinking they were crazy,” Moody said. “It gave us legitimate consolation.”

It also ignited an ongoing crusade among some religious people and New Agers who felt “Life After Life” was proof that an afterlife existed and wanted his public endorsement for their beliefs — something Moody has refused to do. In spite of all the stories he’s heard and research he’s done, he doesn’t see his body of work as definitive scientific evidence that life after death truly exists.

“Religion has co-opted his field of study, and they built fences around near-death experiences he doesn’t think should exist,” said Paul Perry, Moody’s friend and “Paranormal” co-author. “The same is true of New Agers. … It’s frustrating for Raymond to deal with who he considers fanatics.”

Nevertheless, Moody said he understands why people would take comfort in his research, and why they would associate his findings with God or their religious beliefs. Moody himself frequently speaks to religious and New Age groups.

“Raymond will speak at any place he is asked to speak. It’s part of how he makes his living,” Perry said. “There’s no place for a guy to get the word out other than New Age functions and religious functions. Science doesn’t totally recognize near-death studies. … But generally when he talks at New Age functions and churches, he’s right up front about how he feels about religion and New Age philosophy, and he’s going to tell people what he thinks.”

The events around “Life After Life” occur about halfway through “Paranormal.” Moody’s memoirs also touch on his other interests of studies, like using hypnotherapy to revisit past lives, and constructing a chamber dubbed a “psychomanteum” at his home in Alabama, where patients have used crystal gazing in a bid to communicate with deceased loved ones.

These sorts of eccentric studies no doubt invite scrutiny — Moody reveals in the book that his own father had him committed to a mental hospital after Moody shared stories of his psychomanteum. He also details his own near-death experience in “Paranormal” when he attempted suicide in 1991; Moody was suffering from an undiagnosed thyroid condition at the time which, he said, affected his mental state.

But Moody said “he is too old for secrets,” and in “Paranormal,” he argues that the suicide attempt made him more honest about himself and his work.

“Without it, I would lack that dimension that is not present in many doctors, the one that goes beyond knowledge and into the realm of actually being a patient,” he writes.

“I don’t care what other people think,” Moody said of “Paranormal.” “Putting it together brought back so many memories. It was a sobering and delicious experience.”

How do we care for the elderly in compassionate and alternative ways?

By Blogger David Scott
Politics + Religion

In his recent visit to the University of North Carolina Wilmington, Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich spoke about pumping more money into brain science research for cures and

Newt Gingrich at a political conference in Orl...

Newt Gingrich at a political conference in Orlando, Florida. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

therapies for autism and Alzheimer’s disease.

But alternative therapies for dementia can cost as little as a pair of headphones, a CD and a music player.

This video looks at one type of music therapy for elderly patients with mental illnesses.

This video will make your day!

COMMENTARY: Why are conservatives stepping away from science?

By Blogger David Scott
Politics + Religion

Both my wife and I have degrees in science and put a lot of confidence in the scientific method in which conclusions are based on replicable experiments. All responsible scientists would scoff at conclusions drawn from anything less.

In the April 1 issue of “The L.A. Times,” a short article caught my eye entitled, “Conservatives have lost faith in science, new study shows.” A recent study conducted by the American Sociological Review revealed trust in science among conservatives and frequent churchgoers had plummeted since 1974. Before that time, conservatives had the highest level of trust in scientists. Another striking statistic is confidence in science had declined most among the most educated conservatives.

A Gallop poll conducted also in 2012 found just 30 percent of conservatives believe in global warming. Past surveys among conservatives have shown less than half believe in evolution.

I think because so many political conservatives in the U.S. are evangelical Christians, it is fair to assume their beliefs greatly influence this attitude toward science. My question is “Why and how can such a large segment of our population simply disregard scientific research?”

I can only speculate why intelligent and often well-informed people are eager to treat science so cavalierly and hold it in such low regard, especially considering what science has meant to the betterment of the human condition.

If I had to guess, it is this evangelical group’s willingness to take a “leap of faith,” the very requirement their religious faith requires of them. Don’t think, just believe! Do it, even if it defies reason! Don’t ask questions, just do it! Put your faith in wishful thinking in lieu of facts!

The Bible is a lot of things, but good science, it’s not. For these believers, to abdicate their ability to reason in exchange for biblical inerrancy is, at least to me, a bargain, not with an omniscient God, but with an ignorant devil.

If these people could harmlessly think their unenlightened thoughts in a vacuum, no harm done. Unfortunately, these people vote, run for office, and set national and international policy governing our lives, our future, the natural world, and our very survival. In this case, I think it’s fair to say blind faith can kill.

Vet hears God’s call in providing artificial limbs

Standing With Hope Founder, Gracie Rosenberger with SWH patient, Abraham. RNS photo courtesy of Standing With Hope

 By BOB SMIETANA
c. 2012 Religion News Service
Reprinted with permission

NASHVILLE (RNS) Allan Doyle used to have big dreams and little faith.

He’d grown up Methodist but dropped out of church after high school. A bad marriage in his early 20s ended in divorce, leaving Doyle afraid that he’s spend most of his life alone.

His main goal was to save enough money from serving in the Army to go to college and become a corporate lawyer. “I wanted to make as much money as possible,” said Doyle, 39.

But the Iraq War changed all that.

In 2003, Doyle was in Saddam Hussein’s palace in Tikrit when a stone from one of the walls fell on him, crushing his left leg. Doctors had no choice but to amputate it below the knee.

A few months later, Doyle was fitted with his first artificial leg. Along the way he rediscovered his faith and found a new calling as a prosthetist — a medical professional who fits amputees with new limbs.

This summer, he’ll spend a week in Ghana with Nashville-based Standing with Hope, a nonprofit that helps provide high quality limbs for people of the West African nation.

“I just want to help people walk again,” said Doyle.

Seven years ago, when they founded Standing with Hope, Gracie and Peter Rosenberger had the same goal.

The couple met in college at Belmont University in Nashville, where Gracie was an aspiring Christian singer who hoped to someday be a missionary.

A week before Thanksgiving in 1983, Gracie, then 17, fell asleep while driving in rural Tennessee. She endured dozens of surgeries, hoping doctors could repair her shattered legs. The recovery was excruciating.

Doctors weren’t able to save her legs and both were amputated. That left her with a fearful and uncertain future, until Gracie got her first prosthetic legs. She was able to recover enough to walk and play basketball in the driveway with her two boys, and to realize her dream of becoming a singer. A highlight of her career was singing for President George W. Bush in 2004 at an event in Nashville.

She’s also visited wounded soldiers at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. Without those new legs, she said, none of that would have been possible.

“They gave me my life back,” she said. “I had no idea what I was capable of. I want to offer people the same hope that’s been offered to me.”

The Rosenbergers founded Standing with Hope in 2003 and starting working in Ghana two years later.

The nonprofit ships the parts and supplies needed to build legs to the National Prosthetics and Orthotics Center run by Ghana’s National Health Service in the capital city of Accra. Most of the parts are recycled from old prosthetic limbs that have been donated to Standing with Hope.

Technicians trained by Standing with Hope then use those recycled parts to assemble and fit the new limbs on amputees.

Jim McElhiney, a Spring Hill, Tenn.-based prosthetist who’s a longtime friend of the Rosenberger’s, helped design the training program. Initially, he was skeptical, saying the program wouldn’t work if it relied too heavily on Americans to build and fit artificial limbs.

“I didn’t want to do it at first,” he said. “Look, if I go over there for weeks once a year — how many legs can I make? The need is so much bigger than I — even if I had a team of 50 prosthetists — could handle.”

With the help of Standing with Hope, technicians at the clinic in Accra can now build custom limbs to fit amputees as well as provide follow-up care.

“We put hundreds and hundreds of legs on people but each person needs adjustment over the years. If the patient is young, they might need new legs as they grow. It is a lifelong commitment to each patient.”

Last fall, Standing with Hope started a new program they hope will expand the number of prosthetics they can provide in Ghana. Inmates at a Nashville prison now disassemble donated limbs and sort the parts for shipping to Africa.

The charity’s biggest need is for more donated limbs, said Rosenberger. At the clinic, each patient also gets a bag with cleaning supplies and tools needed to care for their new limb. The bag also includes an explanation of the charity’s Christian mission.

Peter Rosenberger, who will be making his 10th trip to Ghana this summer, said that he and other volunteers don’t push their faith. But if the patients are interested, he shared with them how faith in Jesus motivates the charity’s work.

He recalls telling one patient about how Christianity gave his wife, Gracie, hope after she lost her legs. “I told him, ‘You are literally standing on her belief,'” he said. “She trusted on that belief and every step you take you are standing on that faith.'”

Doyle said he rediscovered his faith while in the Army, and it was strengthened while he recovered from his injury in Iraq. He now attends a Southern Baptist congregation in Texas. Doyle also remarried and now is the father of four, with three young children from his second marriage and an older daughter from his first.

He graduated from University of Texas Southwestern with a degree in prosthetics and orthotics and is currently working for a prosthetist in Texas. He hopes to finish his final licensing exam in June.

During his training he worked at a Veterans Administration facility in Texas, helping other veterans who are amputees.

“It is wonderful to see a guy walking again for the first time after he was amputated, and you helped them to do that,” he said.

And his new life is better than his old dream of being a wealthy lawyer.

“I look at my injury as a blessing,” he said, “rather than a curse.”

Three cheers for Mormons and other “healthy faiths”

By Contributor Cynthia Barnett

The effect of religion on health is probably too huge a question to study easily. Certainly, one short blog can’t provide a full account of what is today being learned. But there are consistent tidbits coming out of contemporary studies that remind those of us who have a spiritual practice the importance of focusing on loving God more than all else and not making anything an idol.

Here’s one example. Many of us know Mormons are taught clear and prudent ways to live. They focus on commitment to both marriage and family stability. They neither smoke nor drink alcohol. And, they don’t use caffeine. It’s also understood they don’t use illegal drugs.

Sound too prissy for you? Listen up, anyone who wants a healthier life. A study by UCLA indicates these choices are direct contributors to improved health and longevity.

According to a Ford Motor Company newsletter on various faiths and religious practices:

1.) A UCLA study revealed that practicing Mormons live longer than most Americans, men by 11 years, and women by eight years.

2.) Utah, arguably the state with the most Mormons, ranks 50th in the nation in smoking, alcohol consumption, drunk driving, heart disease and sick days.

The studyprovides a glimpse, not only into the improvements in

Health

Health (Photo credit: 401K)

individual health, but also to the overall impact of healthcare costs and incalculable suffering and economic impact connected with drunk driving, heart disease and “sick days.”

Studies such as these, tracking the connection between health and religion, offer other interesting insights. One of those is that the benefits of a connection between spirituality and health are not unique to any particular faith practice. For me, as someone who comes out of a Judeo-Christian background, this speaks of the universality of the idea that when we focus on growing our understanding of God (no matter what we call the Divine) and turn away from material things that become idols, we can rest assured of greater well-being.

I’m not in the business of converting folks to religion, not even my own. But as a Christian Scientist whose religion also teaches avoidance of tobacco, alcohol and other harmful habits like gambling and overeating, I can’t help but be grateful for the growing body of evidence which shows that focusing on “mindfulness practices” including spirituality and religion leads to better health and better communities. It’s certainly been my experience for more than 50 years.

Prescription: Medicine of the heart

By Contributor Cynthia Barnett

What if medicine was more of a balm for the soul than a drug for the body?

What if the heart of the treatment was compassion from doctor to patient? In other words, a kind of “heart to heart.”

According to Donna Helen Crisp, this more spiritual approach is ideal, practicable and effective. As clinical assistant professor at the University of North Carolina’s School of Nursing in Chapel Hill, Crisp wrote movingly in a Dec. 9 “News and Observer” article about the need to address the compassion issue.

She observed, “True compassion replaces ‘niceness’ when physicians understand that suffering is about more than the flesh; that it also encompasses a person’s mind and spirit, hopes and dreams, sense of control and fears about what is to come.”

She added states of thought such as loneliness, hopelessness, powerlessness and loss of dignity may be “invisible yet powerful dimensions of patient suffering.”

Some years ago a friend experienced what she felt were symptoms of heart disease. Accustomed to prayer as a first response to her health challenges, she began considering her own fears or other unwholesome states of thought might be behind the physical symptoms.

A sense of guilt over a family situation surfaced. Memories of a much loved grandmother’s rebuke came to light. Apparently my friend had chosen a life that was not the one her grandmother had wished for her, and the grandmother had lamented many times, “You’re breaking my heart.”

In a flash of revelation, my friend saw she’d done nothing wrong, she’d always loved and revered her grandmother, and she was not the cause of her grandmother’s self-inflicted disappointment. In God’s eyes, they were both innocent.

All guilt was washed away with this prayer-based thought process and in its place she felt compassion for both her grandmother and herself. And, the symptoms of heart trouble disappeared as well.

“It is only with one’s heart that one can see clearly,” Crisp quotes Saint-Exupery.

Hearts touch hearts.

Thoughts change, things improve, and we are restored to wholeness.

On eve of Darwin’s birthday, states take steps to limit evolution

Portrait of Charles Darwin (1809-1882), author of "On the Origin of Species." February 12, 2009 is the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth. Image from the Religion News Service archives.

By KIMBERLY WINSTON
c. 2012 Religion News Service
Reprinted with permission

(RNS) On the eve of the 203rd anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birthday, lawmakers in at least four states are taking steps to hinder the teaching of evolution in public schools, while other bills would do the same without naming evolution outright.

One of the bills, New Hampshire’s House Bill 1148, not only singles out evolution, but would require teachers to discuss its proponents’ “political and ideological viewpoints and their position on the concept of atheism.” It is scheduled for a hearing in early February.

The author of the bill, Republican state Rep. Jerry Bergevin, has linked the teaching of evolution to the 1999 Columbine High School massacre and Hitler’s atrocities and associates it with atheism.

“I want the full portrait of evolution and the people who came up with the ideas to be presented,” Bergevin told the Concord Monitor. “It’s a worldview and it’s godless. Atheism has been tried in various societies, and they’ve been pretty criminal domestically and internationally. The Soviet Union, Cuba, the Nazis, China today: They don’t respect human rights.”

In many ways, the debate over evolution mirrors strategies adopted by opponents in the battle over abortion: If it can’t be outlawed outright, critics will at least try to make it more difficult.

Several atheist organizations have called for the withdrawal of all the bills, but are keeping an especially close eye on Bergevin’s. David Silverman, president of American Atheists, has called it “ignorant, infuriating bigotry.”

Ahead of Darwin’s birthday on Feb. 12, other current anti-evolution bills include:

— In the Indiana Senate, a bill would allow school districts to

“require the teaching of various theories concerning the origin of

life within the school corporation.” That bill has already passed a statehouseˇ

committee and was scheduled for a vote on Jan 31.ˇ

— The “Missouri Standard Science Act” would require the equal treatment of evolution and “intelligent design,” an idea that the universe was created by an unnamed “designer.” A second bill would require teachers to encourage students “to explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, develop critical thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues, including biological and chemical evolution.”

— A bill in the Oklahoma Senate would require the state’s board of education to help teachers promote “critical thinking, logical analysis, open and objective discussion of scientific theories including, but not limited to, evolution, the origin of life, global warming, and human cloning” if a local school district makes that request.

— A second bill in the New Hampshire House would require science teachers to instruct students that “proper scientific inquir(y) results from not committing to any one theory or hypothesis, no matter how firmly it appears to be established.”

— A bill in Virginia would make it illegal for state colleges to require a class that conflicts with a student’s religious views. Critics say that would enable a student to receive a biology degree, for example, without studying evolution if he or she objected to it.

— A second bill in Indiana would require the state board of education to draft rules about the teaching of ideas in science class that cannot be proven by evidence — a clear doorway for the teaching of creationism and intelligent design, critics say.

While all the bills have drawn the attention of several large atheist groups including the Center for Inquiry and the National Atheist Party, Bergevin’s bill in New Hampshire has raised the most eyebrows.

“Evolution is not just for atheists, and has been accepted as fact by many religious institutions, including the Catholic Church,” Silverman said. “It is clearly an attempt to create religious discussion in science class, and to somehow make science ‘not for believers.'”

Even if the bill were to become law, some expect it to be short-lived.

“In the unlikely event it would pass, it would quickly be struck down by the courts as unconstitutional,” said Rob Boston, a senior policy analyst at the Washington-based Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

“It is just warmed-over creationism, which the Supreme Court has already said is unconstitutional, and the government cannot require anyone to stand up and explain where they stand on a religion or a philosophy.

Meet Cynthia Barnett, our Christianity and healing contributor

As a Christian Scientist, Cynthia Barnett believes in the power of prayer to heal. That’s one of the main reasons she will be our Christianity and healing contributor.

And as a blogger for Christian Science North Carolina, Cynthia has written about the healing power of music, clashing perceptions of feminine beauty between the red carpet awards shows and the Bible and depression.

Plus, she’s a fan of posting videos to illustrate her point!

Learn a little more about Cynthia here:

Cynthia Barnett has lived in Raleigh since 1985, having moved here from Connecticut. She’s married and has three adult children and one adult step-daughter.

Her husband is a senior chemist in Air Toxics for the state of North Carolina.

Among several careers, she has worked as the director of public affairs for North Carolina State’s Chamber of Commerce, as executive director for the NC Writers’ Network and is now the officially appointed representative to the media and legislature for Christian Science in North Carolina. Her official title is Christian Science Committee on Publication for North Carolina.

Welcome, Cynthia!