Scandals and Appearance of Evil

Okay, not too much to do with autism in today’s post…or so it appears. Dr. Lovaas was the principle researcher that created both the Feminine Boys Project and ABA at UCLA. ABA, or Applied Behavioral Analysis, is a popular autism treatment that isn’t exactly appreciated by many of the autistics that went through it, based on the focus of ABA (particularly the flavor created by Lovaas) on indistinguishability of an autistic child from his non-autistic peers (that’s considered success). When Lovaas worked with the Feminine Boys Project, he shared the same goal – to make the “feminine boy” indistinguishable from his heterosexual, non-feminine peers. Similar methods are used in both – behavior that is desired is rewarded, while behavior that is not desired is given disapproval. So, non-feminine mannerisms are rewarded for the anti-gay therapy, while non-autistic mannerism are rewarded for the anti-autism therapy. In both cases, this is damaging to the child’s mental health when they are forced to deny who they are.

Now, I have to give a disclaimer here, because people will read more into my words than I write: I’m not saying all therapy is bad. But I am saying therapy that is aimed at making autistic children look like non-autistic children is bad. There’s a distinction – very important, and it should be very obvious – between therapies aimed at making someone appear non-autistic and therapies aimed at giving someone the tools to navigate the world. You don’t have to make a gay person act straight for the gay person to have a successful life (and trying to make them appear straight is harmful). Likewise, the same applies to autistic people.

As an aside, the research linked above claimed that the victim of this treatment (the research subject, a 4 year old boy who later committed suicide, due in large part to this “treatment”), Lovaas and Rekers referred to the boy as “compulsive and ‘rigid’ in the extent he insisted on being a girl and in his refusal of all contact with masculine-like activities.” (I won’t comment on why they used the phrase “masculine-like activities” instead of simply “masculine activities” – perhaps an unintentional freudian slip?) Interestingly, when Lovaas describes “undesirable” autistic traits, (no, I’m not saying autism is all wonderful – just that I may disagree significantly with people like Lovaas on what the non-wonderful parts are!) he uses similar wordings with lots of phrases such as non-appropriate, rigid, etc.

This week, Rhode Island (USA) legalized same-sex marriage. In other words, the State did the logical thing: they let atheists, Muslims, and Jews marry – why should the State be bound by what some Christian sects think is religiously proper for marriage? Of course you’re probably asking, “How did you get from ABA to gay marriage? This is a stretch, even for you, Joel!” Just wait. There is a connection.

Obviously, the Catholic hierarchy disagrees with Rhode Island (as do the leadership of many other religions and denominations). Bishop Tobin, in a pastoral letter, told Rhode Island followers about his disagreement. It’s pretty offensive on several levels. For instance, the phrase “same-sex attraction” is used in the letter, not as you might expect “gay” or even “homosexual.” Same-sex attraction is a code-word for a belief that people experiencing this attraction need not act on it, and that they can live happy, heterosexual lives – it’s a belief that gays don’t exist, only people with “same sex attraction” and others who wrongly act on that attraction. In fact, the letter asks for prayers for families impacted by same-sex attraction, particularly for parents (another view of this crowd is that same-sex attraction is an immature sexual development during teenage years).

Don’t believe me? Read a same-sex-attracted individual talk about his same-sex attraction and why that’s different than being gay or homosexual. Among other things, he says:

I’m not very sensitive about the word “gay”, but some of us in the Gay Catholic business prefer the phrase “same-sex attraction,” or SSA. I find it more accurate than “gay” or “queer” or any of the others, just because it suggests that homosexuality is something I have rather than something I am. That’s the way I think of it. So the idea of gay culture, gay rights, gay marriage, gay anything really, is foreign to me. You might as well talk about gluten-intolerance culture, or musician’s rights.

Or, read about the definition uses, which provides this pseudo-warning (albeit one not based at all in research): “Whether or not sexual orientation (in the sense of an underlying same-sex, opposite-sex, dual-sex, or other spontaneous attraction) exists, and whether or not it can be changed is a matter of some controversy.” On this anti-gay website, which includes other sections like “How to resolve Same Sex Attraction”, their FAQ page says:

Some same-sex attracted people do have memories of early experiences of sexual abuse, reactions to breakdowns in family relationships, exclusion from same-sex peer groups, or early exposure to pornography. Others are not used to thinking about predisposing circumstances and have no idea how their homosexual orientation developed, just as most heterosexuals have no idea how they became heterosexual. There are many paths that could lead to homosexual attractions, each relatively minor in the overall picture, but in the aggregate very important to those individuals whom they affect.

But, beyond the de-gaying code words, the Bishop goes on to talk about how you may be causing “scandal” by attending a gay wedding. Scandal isn’t necessarily what you might think (the common definition would make the catholic hierarchy excellent at understanding the word scandal). Instead it refers to an act which, in and of itself, is not intrinsically evil, but someone less mature than you (isn’t that nice?) might see as encouraging or allowing sin. Thus, someone who sees you seemingly approving of or allowing sin may think you, the mature believer that you are, believe it okay. And because you believe it okay, now they will sin and not be perfect. Or something like that.

That’s the reason for the focus on outward sin instead of inward sin. Even Jesus was criticized for this idea of scandal – see Luke 7:33-35. Meanwhile, Jesus focused on inward sin. For example, in Luke 16:14-15, you can read:

The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight.”

Okay, enough Bible verses here. I’m not trying to preach to anyone or convince anyone of the Bible, Jesus, or my theology. But it’s relevant in the sense that the very idea of scandal would have condemned Jesus just as much as anyone attending a gay wedding – and it isn’t apparently what concerned Jesus most, at least according to a book the Catholic Hierarchy accepts.

In the pastoral letter, Bishop Tobin says,

Our respect and pastoral care, however, does not mean that we are free to endorse or ignore immoral or destructive behavior, whenever or however it occurs. Indeed, as St. Paul urges us, we are required to “speak the truth in love.” (Eph 4:15)

This is the essence of the issue. In the conservative Church I used to attend, rather than referring to this as scandal (endorsing or ignoring immoral or destructive behavior), it was referred to as “giving the appearance of evil.” That was taken not necessarily from Eph 4:15 (although that verse certainly was used), but also from 1 Thessalonians 5:22, which was poorly translated in some translation, namely the King James Version, to say “Abstain from the appearance of evil.” Most other translations used instead something along the lines of “abstain from all evil” (NRSV), but that didn’t stop some from believing that avoiding the “appearance of evil” was almost more important than actually not doing evil. This was used to justify all sorts of craziness, such as throwing away secular music (“Nothing wrong with it, but someone might think you don’t just listen to praise music all day and then think they can listen to it when it’s not okay for them!”), not being in the same car as someone of the opposite sex (you might not be one of those sex-starved Christian guys who will rape the nice Christian girl in the ankle-to-chin covering, but someone might think you are), or other craziness (I’ve seen more than a few children’s ministries who are more concerned that someone might accuse them of child molestation, and thus they take all sorts of precautions to avoid being accused but don’t spend nearly as much time actually making sure kids are safe).

And this appearance of evil thing is exactly what gets us back to Dr. Lovaas and both his Feminine Boys Project and his UCLA Young Autism Project. It’s not about appearance. It’s about being true to who you are. Whether you are gay or autistic (or both). It’s not so much about gays not getting married as it is about gays acting as if they aren’t gay. A wedding puts it too much “in-your-face” for the Bishop, thus it’s important to protest it somehow. I’m sure telling the couple they look lovely or that you are happy for them would be an even bigger sin than attending. You have to apply good, old behaviorism: make sure the joyful couple knows you disapprove of their actions. That’s apparently called love by some.

Yes, everyone needs to learn how to work in the world, including autistic people. But true success doesn’t come from avoiding appearances of autism, homosexuality, or (gasp!) attending gay weddings! As for me, I’ll avoid the appearance of avoiding the appearance of evil any chance I get, particularly should any gay friends or family get married.

The Catholic War on Women – How it Affects Autistic Women

There’s been a subtle battle in the USA over the role of religion in health care.  The question at the heart of the battle can be paraphrased as, “Does a religious institution running a hospital need to provide women’s services that it finds religiously offensive?”

It’s been a battle in part because people are surprised to find out that their hospital is managed by a Christian (typically Catholic) group.  For instance, I was surprised to find out that my nearby hospital, which used to be Lutheran, is actually now owned by an organization that requires the hospital to adhere to Catholic principles.  My next closest hospital, likewise, is owned by a different organization that requires the hospital to adhere to Catholic principles.

That probably wouldn’t bother me if the hospital’s door’s said “Catholic” on them somewhere.  I’d know what I could and couldn’t expect in that hospital, and others would equally have warning.  I’m not Catholic – so I don’t want treatment that is a subset of the treatment I’d get at other hospitals, just as I wouldn’t go to a Christian Science care facility (I drive past one to get to the closest hospital).  But, no, they don’t say Catholic. They give a Saint’s name or a historical name.  For instance, I live near “Exempla Lutheran Hospital.”  One would think that hospital follows Lutheran principles, or perhaps some corporate for-profit principles of some company called Exempla.  However, you would be wrong on both counts.  Exempla is a non-profit organization owned by two groups – a Catholic charity and a non-profit community group.  However, the Catholic charity has exerted enough control to require the hospitals in the Exempla system to follow Catholic principles.

I know, this sounds like conspiracy-theory – the Pope secretly controlling the UN as part of Agenda 21 and injecting Floride into our drinking water so that he can round up all the gun owners and put them in concentration camps under Denver’s airport.  Or something.  But I’m not the only person concerned about this application of Catholic principles in a relatively hidden way.  See also their own words – Exempla’s ethical and religious directives, which they explicitly state that the non-Catholic Lutheran Medical Center will follow.  These directives include following Catholic teachings in the master Ethical and Religious Directives put out by the US Conference of Bishops.

Before I delve into this, again, this is a hospital that never says they are Catholic.  In fact, it’s a “Community Hospital” according to Exempla’s own words.  Yet it must abide by Catholic directives.  This is my biggest area of concern (my second area of concern is that some areas only have one hospital nearby, limiting the choice where someone may go to only hospitals that practice Catholic beliefs) – it’s simply false advertising.  The other nearby hospital is part of “Centura Health” – again, it looks like a pretty secular name.  Yet it, too, is Catholic and abides by Catholic principles.

What does this have to do with autistic people, other than incidentally?

Here’s a handful of group homes that are managed by Catholic charities:

So my question is: first, why the apparent desire to disassociate the organizations from the Catholic Church, just as with hospitals, by avoiding the word “Catholic” in the groups’ names and websites (with the exception of the last one listed above)?  Who would know HeartShare, for instance, is Catholic, particularly when it’s website just references them being a non-profit?  Why the need to hide?

My second question is, “What Catholic teachings are followed when operating these homes?”  I don’t have any problem with someone showing the compassion of Christ.  But I probably do have problems if sexual education is taught only in a way that fits Catholic doctrine, particularly if the resident is non-Catholic.  Do residents have the option to seek birth control?  Seek sterilization (I’m not talking forced sterilization, which I oppose strongly)?  Chose whether or not they are taken to a Catholic hospital in case of a medical need?  Are the rules around same-sex romantic relationships between residents the same as those around opposite-sex romantic relationships (in general, the answer here across all group homes, is no – there’s distinct homophobia in many group homes studied in past studies)?

Once again, I’m fine with people choosing to abide by Catholic teaching.  I’m just not fine with the ideas of deception in naming organizations (Exempla Catholic would be fine – Exempla alone is not) that are going to apply religious doctrine to my treatment, nor am I fine with people not having a choice to seek treatment that fits their own religious beliefs if those differ from those of a particular organization.  I fear most group home residents have relatively little say in this process.

For what it’s worth, here’s some things to know about Catholic hospitals, from the Bishop’s ethical and religious directives for Catholic and Catholic-affiliated hospitals:

On Directing Your Care

28. Each person or the person’s surrogate should have access to medical and moral information and counseling so as to be able to form his or her conscience. The free and informed health care decision of the person or the person’s surrogate is to be followed so long as it does not contradict Catholic principles.

On Rape

36. Compassionate and understanding care should be given to a person who is the victim of sexual assault. Health care providers should cooperate with law enforcement officials and offer the person psychological and spiritual support as well as accurate medical information. A female who has been raped should be able to defend herself against a potential conception from the sexual assault. If, after appropriate testing, there is no evidence that conception has occurred already, she may be treated with medications that would prevent ovulation, sperm capacitation, or fertilization. It is not permissible, however, to initiate or to recommend treatments that have as their purpose or direct effect the removal, destruction, or interference with the implantation of a fertilized ovum.

On Fertility Treatments

38. When the marital act of sexual intercourse is not able to attain its procreative purpose, assistance that does not separate the unitive and procreative ends of the act, and does not substitute for the marital act itself, may be used to help married couples conceive.

40. Heterologous fertilization (that is, any technique used to achieve conception by the use of gametes coming from at least one donor other than the spouses) is prohibited because it is contrary to the covenant of marriage, the unity of the spouses, and the dignity proper to parents and the child.

41. Homologous artificial fertilization (that is, any technique used to achieve conception using the gametes of the two spouses joined in marriage) is prohibited when it separates procreation from the marital act in its unitive significance (e.g., any technique used to achieve extracorporeal conception).

On Tubal Pregnancy

48. In case of extrauterine pregnancy, no intervention is morally licit which constitutes a direct abortion.

On Surgical Birth Control

53. Direct sterilization of either men or women, whether permanent or temporary, is not permitted in a Catholic health care institution. Procedures that induce sterility are permitted when their direct effect is the cure or alleviation of a present and serious pathology and a simpler treatment is not available.

On Beliefs…

I’m not saying that any of the above beliefs are wrong to hold. In some cases, I might even agree with them. But there’s a difference between having a belief forced upon me and allowing me to hold a belief. When I’m getting medical care, it’s my beliefs that matter to me, not my hospital’s.

There’s a lot of stuff in the Catholic teachings that most people would disagree with (even many Catholics), such as requiring the removal of a Fallopian Tube to preserve a mothers’ life in the case of a tubal pregnancy, rather than a simpler, less risky, and less-likely to sterilize abortive procedure.

I am not against Catholics following their religion.  I just don’t want to have to follow it too.  Nor do I want others in vulnerable situations, such as non-Catholic rape victims or autistics living in group homes to be prevented from following their own beliefs and views.

I want to see legislation that requires state and federally funded medical institutions, care homes, and disability services to disclose any religious affiliations they follow.  I also want to see state or federally funded non-religious alternatives within any geographic service area served by a state or federally funded religious institution.  People deserve the choice to follow their own religious beliefs when it comes to their medical treatment or their home living environment.  Even if they are a vulnerable rape victim or a developmentally disabled adult.

How to Pray for your Enemies

I’ll give a bit of a disclaimer for people not interested in Christian posts: I’m Christian, and this is from a Christian perspective.   I’ve seen a lot of prayer in the last few days that I don’t like.  Now I think God can use that prayer just as much as He uses mine.  He is God, after all.  But I hate to see what is intended as a communion of love between human and God become a way of expressing bitterness and resentment.

When I taught prayer to people, I always told them one key thing when praying for someone they disagree with or who they think is wrong: never pray for someone else something you wouldn’t want prayed for you.  And I think this applies to the spirit of the prayer, not just the literal words.

For example, if I had a professor who I felt treated me unfairly, it would be tempting to pray for God to smite them, or at least for God to “change their wrong attitude towards me.”  That’s not really loving my neighbor, it’s really just loving me.  Instead, I might pray that God gives them more wisdom and compassion – while asking God to check my heart and spirit to help me accept growth in my own wisdom and compassion, areas that aren’t easy for anyone to grow in.  In the end, a lot of prayers for my “enemies” end up becoming prayers for me.

Now I’m not saying that my way of praying is the only right way of praying – I don’t believe that.  I believe the point of prayer is to spend time with God, not convince Him to do things.  And I believe that as I spend time with God, He changes who I am, just with His presence.

So, when I see people publicly “praying for our nation” but really they are praying that God somehow smites and knocks sense into the heads of everyone who disagrees with them, I grieve a little.  I grieve when I see preachy prayers that basically say, “God, you gave us a chance, but the dumb, heathen, Godless voters who are going to Hell didn’t vote for freedom and righteousness.”  That’s not prayer.  That’s bitterness and resentment.

If you want to pray for our leaders, please do!  They can use wisdom and guidance.  I can’t imagine what it is like to be Obama (or, before him, Bush, or any of the others) and be faced with the responsibility of doing the right thing when people are going to die no matter what decision I make.  I’m very glad I’m not in that position.  So, yes, we should pray for them.  But prayer is not the time for the bitterness.  Nor is it a way to mask with religiosity your public denunciation of someone else.  If what you publicly “pray” would sound ugly if you were not praying, it’s ugly, even as a prayer.

What do you do if that bitterness, fear, or resentment is there?  Bring that to God too.  Above all, be honest.  We’re human, we aren’t Christ.  We don’t always think or feel the way we “should” and God knows it.  But just maybe it is a better idea to bring that before God in private, where we are receptive to His correction.  Sure, we might tell God what we want – that’s fine.  But at the end of the day, it’s God’s call, not ours.  And part of that means listening, not just commanding.  And I personally find I come out ahead when I do that part in private, since there is plenty God is working on in Joel.

A Bad Christian’s Response to the Election

In the US, we’re in the middle of electing a President.  I’m not here to tell anyone who to vote for particularly, as I suspect most people have already made up their minds.  But I do want to say something – I’m sick of the politicians trying to use Jesus to get my vote, particularly when their Jesus bears no relationship to the Jesus I know as a Christian. I know Jesus.

(this post is religious and political – so feel free to skip it if you aren’t interested in a Christian view or a political post by a US citizen)

The right-wing would have you believe that Jesus cares less about the poor and more about “job creators” (which apparently has some sort of connection to lower taxes – apparently rich people decide they don’t want to bother making money when they are taxed at the rate everyone else is…or not).  This Jesus apparently cares mostly about establishing the status quo when it comes to women, gays, religion, science, and the environment.  This Jesus likes war and death, at least when it’s not American death.  This Jesus is protectionist – America first, the rest of the world can go to hell – literally.  And this Jesus apparently is so concerned about this election that the future of America will hinge on it – a wrong move here could bring the wrath of God upon America.  Of course the wrong move would be to vote for Obama.

I know Jesus.  Mr. Right Wing Jesus, you’re no Jesus.

Jesus believed in paying taxes, and didn’t feel the need to add commentary about how taxation is wrong, stifles job growth, or is a Christian issue.  He simply said to pay Caesar what is Caesar’s, never mind that Jesus’s antagonists were trying to get Him to denounce the occupation of Israel by Romans (which one can also look at and say, “So why is it so critical in this election that the US never disagrees with the political nation of Israel?  Why has that become a requirement not for Israel’s politicians but for America’s?”).

Let’s look at how the Jesus of the Bible viewed of women.  The Book of Matthew starts with a genealogy.  This genealogy was radical – it includes women (and traces Jesus’s ancestry through his mother), something that definitely didn’t reinforce the traditional gender roles (then or now), or the “intrinsic differences between men and women.”  He started life radically.  This wasn’t the only time Christ did something that violated gender stereotypes.  And He certainly never taught anything about how only women or only men could fulfill some roles in marriage or child rearing.  And far from telling women to just ask questions at home of their husbands about religious things, He taught women, just as He taught men.  Yet, some would have us believe that homosexuality is wrong (and wrong enough to care about above all else, unlike, say, war or profiting with high interest loans to the poor) because of this idea that women and men are somehow so completely different from one another that there are things only a woman or only a man could do.  It’s expressed as “every child deserves a mother and father” as if men can’t be nurturing or women can’t be leaders, as if a single parent should have their kid taken away and adopted by a married couple since the single parent can’t raise them as well as the married couple, since the single parent lacks the other gender.  This isn’t the teaching of Christ, it’s what people have added to His teachings.

In fact, Jesus again turned against much of modern Christian teaching about gender roles, at least from churches who insist women shouldn’t be teaching men: in John, we find out that He first appeared, after rising from the dead, to a woman and told her to go and tell what happened to the men.  The resurrection of Christ is the most important theology to a Christian, and it was entrusted not to a man, but a woman.

There’s more I see that concerns me today.  I see outspoken and loud Christians talking about the sanctity of life.  Yet these same loud Christians aren’t talking about ensuring access to health care for everyone.  They aren’t talking about ending the death penalty (never mind that all life is given by God, even murderers’ lives, and never mind that just because someone received the death penalty doesn’t mean they are guilty).  Nor are those Christians concerned about the environment and the life and death consequences of bad stewardship.  After all, how will we make more money to not give to Caesar if we don’t pollute?  Nor is the pro-life stance translated into action or votes when it comes to the deaths of innocents as we fight a war on terror.  Those lives just aren’t as important to God, apparently, as American lives are – so in the name of protecting America, it’s okay to kill innocent non-American’s.  That’s pro-life.

God cares about quite a bit more than abortion.  Or even abortion and anti-gay hate (I think I would even go so far as to say God loves gays, and not just if they “turn from gayness”).  He might actually care about the people drinking polluted water.  Or the people who live next door to the suspected terrorist we bomb in Afganistan.  Or the prisoner sentenced to death row.  Or even the sick who lack good routine care because they have no insurance.

Lest anyone think I want to replace Right Wing Jesus with Left Wing Jesus, let me say this: Jesus stayed apolitical in His day.  I don’t see why that would be different today.  I’m not saying Jesus would vote for Obama.  I’m pretty sure He would have concerns that go far beyond the next four years and politicians that, for the most part, won’t fulfill their promises or intentions.  But I am sick of being told that my God is someone He is not.  I am not going to vote for someone just because some simplistic right-winger told me that is what Jesus wants.  Especially when it isn’t.

I’ll end this with a video: