Thursday, September 29, 2011

Exit Stage Right: Why Religious Conservatives Fear the Future

The Millennial Momentum by authors Mike D. Hais and Morley Winograd

Huffington Post

by Brenda Peterson 9.28.2011

This week, the New York Times ran an op-ed "Why the Anti-Christ Matters in Politics" Is the venerable "gray lady," at last waking up to the very real and troubling consequences of End Times and Rapture beliefs in American politics? During the Bush years, and now as we enter another election cycle, this damaging philosophy again darkens the agenda. It is subtly driving issues -- from foreign rights (Middle East Wars and Israel) to environmental concerns (gut the E.P.A and deny climate change) to education (evolution vs. creationism).

The simplistic answer -- "We, the righteous, are outta here!" -- doesn't help those of us who will be left behind to face our very real problems: finding jobs, educating our kids, reckoning with climate change, terrorism, and finding enough clean water, food, and energy to survive. End Times and AntiChrist paranoia only increases our escapism and anxiety; it doesn't demand the calm foresight we need to imagine other futures than Exit Stage Left -- or should I say, Right?

Many of us who have long been tracking the Religious Right find it anything but rapturous. Here is a dogma based in fear and the ultimate judgment: If you're not with us, you're doomed to being Left Behind to suffer years of Tribulations: plagues, world financial markets crashing, environmental destruction, holy wars, and an Anti-Christ who is popular and evil; he supposedly rules over a One World system that doesn't look very white, evangelical or even American. That's why during his election, so many Internet sites were abuzz with the question: "Is Obama the Anti-Christ?"

In the same way that the illustrations in my Southern Baptist Sunday School lessons painted Jesus as blue eyed and fair-haired and not like an olive-skinned, dark-eyed Jewish nomadic mystic -- the president of our United States doesn't look at all like the pale men who for decades occupied the equally White House. Obama is so obviously not a savior or fiery True Believer; he is a practical and professorial presence. He is more like the meek who might inherit the earth. Flawed and struggling, like the rest of us.

Look now at the Republican candidates -- white, mostly men, mostly conservative Christians, and mostly mouthing the Far Right agenda. The one woman is fiercely anti-Feminist. She's just one of Adam's ribs. It's a blast from the past, not the future.

It's not our real, whole world that is threatened by End Times -- it's the long reign of the Far Right. When the Religious Right looks into the current and future American mirror, they don't see themselves much reflected there. Instead, they see themselves edged out by ethnically diverse, non-denominational faithful, and practically idealistic and bipartisan voters who are claiming their future power. To paraphrase Oprah's words: "most of the country looks like me."

This is borne out by demographic statistics from the last census. In their research on the Millennial Generation (those born between 1982 and 2003), professors Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais explain that at 95 million, "the Millennial Generation is the largest in American history. It is also the most ethnically and religiously diverse."

They cite fascinating statistics: Forty percent of Millennials are non-white. Only 68% are Christian (down from 80 percent) and fewer than half (43%) are Protestant. More diverse themselves, the Millennial are more tolerant of other's diversity -- whether it's religious or cultural. They are collaborative, service and community oriented; they dislike dogma or extreme polarities. Seventy-two percent of Millennial describe themselves as "more spiritual than religious." They are much more interested in practical solutions than holy wars. And they're young enough to believe they still have a future.

All of this does not bode well for the one note samba of the Religious Right. As the next generations dance into their power, their rapture is more about connection than judgment, more community than exclusion, more about sharing the stage than exiting a so-called sinful world. For the young who are just now inheriting the earth, there is the fact that they just got here -- no hurry to leave.

The Religious right, like the poor in spirit, will always be with us. But their reign of terror and blame and meanness is almost over. As the young mature into their own power and vision, the old might consider dropping their immature, polarizing dogmas -- and get along with the rest of us. If the Religious Right and their short-term solutions want to leave this Earth and save only themselves --- let them. That would be some kind of rapture. Then the rest of us could really get to work in saving this world.~

Brenda Peterson is the author of 16 books including the recent memoir I Want To Be Left Behind: Finding Rapture Here on Earth, which The Christian Science Monitor named as among "The Top Ten Best Non-Fiction Books of 2010." 

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Alice G. Walton
Alice G. Walton, Contributor
9/21/2011 @ 11:39AM |75,867 views

Eat, Smoke, Meditate: Why Your Brain Cares How You Cope

Image via Wikipedia
Most people do what they have to do to get through the day. Though this may sound dire, let’s face it, it’s the human condition. Given the number of people who are depressed or anxious, it’s not surprising that big pharma is doing as well as it is. But for millennia before we turned to government-approved drugs, humans devised clever ways of coping: Taking a walk, eating psychedelic mushrooms, breathing deeply, snorting things, praying, running, smoking, and meditating are just some of the inventive ways humans have found to deal with the unhappy rovings of their minds.
But which methods actually work?
Most people would agree that a lot of our unhappiness comes from the mind’s annoying chatter, which includes obsessions, worries, drifts from this stress to that stress, and our compulsive and exhausting need to anticipate the future. Not surprisingly, the goal of most adults is to get the mind to shut up, calm down, and chill out. For this reason, we turn to our diverse array of feel-good tools (cigarettes, deep breathing, and what have you). Some are healthier and more effective than others, and researchers are finally understanding why certain methods break the cycle and others exacerbate it.
Last year, a Harvard study confirmed that there’s a clear connection between mind wandering and unhappiness. Not only did  the study find that if you’re awake, your mind is wandering almost half the time, it also found that this wandering is linked to a less happy state. (You can actually use the iPhone appused in the study to track your own happiness.) This is not surprising, since when your mind is wandering, it’s not generally to the sweet things in your life: More likely, it’s to thoughts like why your electric bill was so high, why your boss was rude to you today, or why your ex-husband is being so difficult.
Another study found that mind wandering is linked to activation of network of brain cells called the default mode network (DMN), which is active not when we’re doing high-level processing, but when we’re drifting about in “self-referential” thoughts (read: when our brain is flitting from one life-worry to the next).
Meditation is an interesting method for increasing one’s sense of happiness because not only has it stood the test of time, but it’s also been tested quite extensively in the lab. Part of the effect of mindfulness meditation is to quiet the mind by acknowledging non-judgmentally and then relinquishing (rather than obsessing about) unhappy or stress-inducing thoughts.
New research by Judson Brewer, MD, PhD and his group at Yale University has found that experienced meditators not only report less mind wandering during meditation, but actually have markedly decreased activity in their DMN. Earlier research had shown that meditators have less activity in regions governing thoughts about the self, like the medial prefrontal cortex: Brewer says that what’s likely going on in experienced meditators is that these “‘me’ centers of the brain are being deactivated.
They also found that when the brain’s “me” centers were being activated, meditators also co-activated areas important in self-monitoring and cognitive control, which may indicate that they are on the constant lookout for “me” thoughts or mind-wandering – and when their minds do wander, they bring them back to the present moment. Even better, meditators not only did this during meditation, but when not being told to do anything in particular. This suggests that they may have formed a new default mode: one that is more present-centered (and less “me”-centered), no matter what they are doing.
“This is really cool,” Brewer says.” As far as we know, nobody has seen this type of connectivity pattern before. These networks have previously been shown to be anti-correlated.”
So is being happy all about shifting our tendency away from focus on ourselves? Research in other areas, like neurotheology (literally the neurology of religion), suggests that there may be something to this. Andy Newberg, MDat the University of Pennsylvania has found that both in meditating monksand in praying nuns, areas of the brain important in concentration and attention were activated, while areas that govern how a person relates to the external world were deactivated. These findings may suggest that for people who practice meditation or prayer, the focus becomes less on the self as a distinct entity from the external world, and more on connection between the two.  This reflects the idea discussed earlier where shifting attention from inside to outside is at least part of what quells unhappiness.
What about using other tools like cigarettes, food, or alcohol, as a method for finding pleasure and calming the mind? Don’t these things take a person outside of him or herself, and move the focus from the inner world of stressful thoughts to something outside, or “other”? Looking forward to the next hit of caffeine, nicotine, or coke might seem like a valid method of moving attention from the inside to the outside, but if you look closer, it actually intensifies the unpleasantness.
Brewer uses the example of smoking to illustrate why addiction fuels negative thoughts rather than abates them. In addition to the pleasurable associations, smoking actually creates a negative feedback loop, where you are linking stress and craving with the oh-so-good act of smoking. So whenever you experience a negative emotion, craving returns and intensifies over time, so that you are actually even less happy than before. A cigarette may quiet the mind temporarily – during the act of smoking – but in between cigarettes is where things get bad, because craving creeps in. Though we’re using craving as the example, unhappiness, self-referential thoughts, or everyday worries can all be substituted in.
Substituting a carrot stick or other behavior for your actual craving (or other form of unhappiness) is a typical method of treatment, but it doesn’t often work, says Brewer, because the feedback loop is still there. Addressing the process itself with other methods (like meditation), which allow you to ride out the craving/unhappiness by attending to it and accepting it, and then letting it go, has been more successful, because it actually breaks the cycle rather than masks it.
So if you’re dealing with unhappiness of any kind, whether it’s every day worries, or more severe depression or anxiety, the method you choose for coping matters. Finding one that solves the problem – breaking the cycle, rather than masking it – is crucial.
What type of coping method do you use?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Back in Print ~ My E-Books

Now available as an e-book via Kindle at this link:

Dear Friends and Readers,

It's been a big learning curve, but the e-book versions of two of my out of print novels are now available on I'm going to blog about this fascinating process to help other authors, readers, and my students. So stay tuned for those forthcoming posts! I'm also going to create a free gift for those who subscribe to my blog. More on that very soon.

I've priced the books at $6.99 and enabled lending, so please check them out. This is one of the most exciting times to be a writer. Enjoy!

And here's the link to Animal Heart