Posts Tagged ‘Christianity’

European Court of Human Rights (ECHR): Eweida, Chaplin, Ladele, McFarlane – Judgement Published

Tuesday, January 15th, 2013

Today (Tues 15th) at 9am GMT the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) will announce its judgement on four applications that UK law has failed to adequately protect the applicants’ right to manifest their religion, contrary to Articles 9 (freedom of religion) and 14 (prohibition of discrimination).

I’ve blogged on each of these cases: Nadia EweidaShirley ChaplinLilian LadeleGary McFarlane

The National Secular Society and Equality and Human Rights Commission have both filed intervening submissions under Rule 44 §3.

Christian Concern made this comment in an email yesterday:

“These are landmark cases and we have waited a long time to get to this point. At stake is not only the future shape of Christian involvement in community life but the protection of important personal freedoms in a diverse society.”

Christian Concern are not the only group to consider this a landmark case, as we’ve already had the BHA and NSS publish their pre-ruling releases today.

In fact, these cases are viewed as so important even the Russian Orthodox Church has offered UK Christians moral support.

There’s one thing we can be assured of when this ruling is published, irrespective of the outcome. And that is there will be a flurry of ill-informed, polemic, alarmist headlines, and articles.

As with all things legal, it is often far more complex and nuanced than it first appears and that is why I won’t be personally attempting any analysis. I know my limitations and will await the experts in such matters.

I’m planning to create a list of links here on this post to opinion pieces and analysis. I know some bloggers have already begun formulating their posts and I will ensure they’re linked to here.

So perhaps bookmark this page and check back periodically over the next few days as the ruling is read, digested, blogged, and then linked to from here.

In the meantime, I’m out and about quite a bit today, so if you come across any good links on this matter, or if you write a piece yourself, let me know in the comments.

THE JUDGMENT HAS NOW BEEN PUBLISHED

CASE OF EWEIDA AND OTHERS v. THE UNITED KINGDOM

 

Back in September I said:

The case that I have most sympathy with is Nadia Eweida, the British Airways employee who was asked to stop wearing a cross at work. To me, this may be the most clear-cut case of religious discrimination and that is because of a potential disparity between the treatment of Eweida and other employees of different faiths.

The argument in Eweida’s case is that if other faiths are permitted to wear religious paraphernalia, as they were at BA, and this does not constitute a health and safety risk, then it is wrong to discriminate against one particular expression of faith.

We have to remember that in Eweida’s case the tribunal used the argument that there was no religious discrimination as “Christians generally” do not consider wearing a cross as a religious “requirement”. We have to watch for judgements using this reasoning, as it is secular courts pontificating on theological necessities. Complex and fraught indeed.

Also individual rights and freedoms do not depend on how many people agree with your conscience or speech.

Analysis and opinion Links

UK Human Rights Blog - Strasbourg rules against UK on BA crucifix issue

Cranmer - Victory for religious symbols; defeat for the religious conscience

Turtle Bay and beyond - Christian employees in the UK: A second class category

Unconfirmed Tweet:

This would be: Lilian LadeleGary McFarlane

Here’s a link to the NSS and BHA and whilst I’m at it Ekklesia: Here, here and here. All well chuffed with the result.

New piece on Ekklesia, written by Simon Barrow and comes complete with a quote from me!

Religion Law Blog (Barrister At Law – Neil Addison) - Eweida and Others – First Views

Religion Clause - European Court of Human Rights Vindicates Britain In 3 of 4 Cases Denying Accommodation of Christian Beliefs

Head of Legal - Strasbourg judgment: Eweida and others v UK

First Things - European Court’s Judgment in UK Religious Freedom Cases: A First Read

God and Politics - Letting employees wear a cross won’t destroy your business

Oxford Human Rights Hub - Religious Rights in the Balance: Eweida and Others v UK

Law and Lawyers - Eweida and others v UK ~ a look at what is being said?

Mrs Markleham - Eweida: what it all means

UK Constitutional Law Group – Ronan McCrea: Strasbourg Judgement in Eweida and Others v United Kingdom

A Range of Reasonable Responses – Eweida & Co: the Decision

Law and Religion UK - Chaplin, Eweida, Ladele and McFarlane: the judgment

Danny Webster - Legal right and religious wrongs

Christianity and Mental Health: Have We Lost Our Faith?

Tuesday, January 15th, 2013

Continuing my recent theme of Christianity and therapy (Here, here and here) I noticed a relevant article the Christian Post entitled: Christianity and Mental Health: Have We Lost Our Faith?

Studies within the past eight years, have recorded an increase of Christians who are utilizing mental health services in lieu of religious tools to achieve mental stability and balance. Have Christians begun to jump ships on their faith for a quick fix?

[.....]

The concern of mental health in the body of Christ has become a huge topic of discussion in churches. Many churches have recognized the need and have proceeded with calls of action to address mental illness by hosting health fairs and seminars facilitated by local and national psychologists and psychiatrists.

The article goes on to cite fundamentalist concerns:

Yet, not all parishioners are sold that therapy and pills are not just another gateway for the devils entry into a Christian lifestyle.

“Our faith is our connection to God. Once we break that connection, there is no faith,” says Alexis Ritvalski a mother of three from Texas. “Why do Christians feel a need to seek the advice or help of another person, when Christ should be all that we need? We don’t need psychiatrists to fix us or depression medication to relieve us. There is deliverance in the Word of God. There is breakthrough in the Word of God. There is healing in the Word of God. Every situation that we endure, there is a word for us. To seek out these other methods is to not trust God.”

Oh dear.

On aside, I wanted to make note of a strange phenomena that I have blogged about in the past, and to which nobody seems to able to offer an explanation:

I had occasion to be in a psychiatric ward not so long ago and there was a seating area for patients. I would say that there were 10-12 patients and roughly 7-8 of them were reading bibles. Now, I don’t mean the standard Gideon bibles that were in their rooms, but their own personal Bibles.

It transpired that 3/4 of the patients on that ward, at that time, were Christian.

I have asked many folk their opinion and have never received a satisfactory answer as to why the proportion of mental health patients on this unit were Christian.

A real strange one, which still perplexes me.

My protagonists have used this to assert that a person must be prone to mental illness to accept the Christian narrative. My response is:

It is either that Christianity is the religion of the mad, which I’m happy with, or Christians are for some reason more prone to mental problems. Or perhaps Christ came for the sick…..

1 Corinthians 1:27

But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.

Since writing these words I have again witnessed an unusually large proportion of Christians on a Psychiatric ward.

Obviously my observations are anecdotal and not scientifically verifiable, but I’d love to hear you thoughts.

Co-belligerent Secularists and Christians force government to reform Section 5 of the 1986 Public Order Act

Monday, January 14th, 2013

An unlikely coalition of Christians and Secularists joining together in a rare act of unity has forced the government to reform Section 5 of the Public Order Act to give more protection to free speech.

Section 5 of the 1986 Public Order Act says a person is guilty of an offence if:

(a) uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or

(b) displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting, within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby.

It was the word “Insulting” that caused the consternation, confusion and subsequent abuse of the Public Order Act. It’s a very vague and subjective term that allowed too much discretion in application.

This Act had been used against Christians on quite a few occasions, most notably in the case of Jamie Murray, owner of the Salt & Light Coffee House.

This was a truly bizarre incident in which the displaying of Scripture on a video screen prompted a police visit following a complaint. The police notified Murray that he was displaying offensive or insulting words which breached Section 5 of the Public Order Act; in other words, the Biblical texts contravened the act.

The Christian Institute have been long campaigning for the removal of the word ”insulting” from the act, together with the National Secular Society, the Peter Tatchell Foundation, and others.

website and Twitter account were set up.

Today the Christian Institute are declaring “Victory”:

The Government gave way tonight, and agreed to reform Section 5 of the Public Order Act to give more protection to free speech.

Campaign group Reform Section 5 (RS5) has been pushing for the change, which has seen many controversial arrests.

Today, in the House of Commons, Home Secretary Theresa May said the word ‘insulting’ would be removed from Section 5 of the Public Order Act, as part of the Crime and Courts Bill.

The amendment to the law was put forward by Lord Dear, a former HM Inspector of Constabulary, and when discussed in the House of Lords, peers voted by 150 to 54 in favour of the change.

The Government today announced that it would not overturn the amendment but will allow it to become law.

This is very good news for freedom of speech in this country.

Open Brethren write to the Charity Commission to stress differences with Exclusive branch

Monday, January 14th, 2013

I thought this an interesting development:

Neil Summerton, chair of Partnership, says he fears the forthcoming charity tribunal case involving the Preston Down Trust will damage the reputation of other types of brethren

The chair of a support body for the Open Brethren has written to the Charity Commission and the Public Administration Select Committee to outline the differences between his faith and the branch of the Exclusive Brethren which has been refused charitable status by the regulator.

Neil Summerton, chair of Partnership, told Third Sector he was worried that allegations about the Exclusive Brethren could damage other types of Brethren in the UK.

In June last year, the commission refused charitable status to the Preston Down Trust, a congregation of Exclusive Brethren in Devon. An appeal to the charity tribunal is due to be heard in March.

In the letter to the commission, Summerton says the Exclusive Brethren split from his own faith in 1848, and that one branch of the Exclusive Brethren, now under the leadership of an Australian accountant called Bruce Hales, “went in a decisively sectarian direction” in the 1950s.

He says this branch, which includes the Preston Down Trust, has recently renamed itself the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church, which the group says is its historical name.

There are other branches of the Exclusive Brethren in the UK, he says, that do not follow Hales and have not adopted the new name.

He says the Open Brethren congregations, of which there are about 1,000 in the UK, do not follow a central leader and do not practice the doctrine of separation followed by the Exclusive Brethren. This practice forbids followers to eat and drink with outsiders, watch television or listen to the radio, or live in semi-detached houses next to non-Brethren.

…..continue

Quote of the Day

Saturday, January 12th, 2013

God wants spiritual fruits, not religious nuts.

SOURCE

Mrs Celestina Mba, the Sabbath and the test of proportionality

Friday, January 11th, 2013

I’m not a lawyer and so feel free to put me right on the issues I raise.

At the end of last year the Employment Appeal Tribunal dismissed Mrs Celestina Mba’s appeal against an employment tribunal ruling that she was not constructively dismissed as a result of her refusal to work on Sundays.

In the original case Judge Heather Williams QC stated:

While the claimant’s belief is deeply held it is not a core component of Christian faith.

This is exactly the same line of argument used by an appeal tribunal in the case of British Airways worker Nadia Eweida:

Christians generally do not consider wearing a cross as a religious requirement.

In the dismissal of the appeal Mr Justice Langstaff…..

……stressed the importance of reading the Tribunal’s decision as a whole, and while acknowledging that this part of the decision [Sunday was not a core component of the Christian faith] was not well expressed, concluded that the Tribunal was not seeking to making a qualitative determination on the content of matters of faith. Rather, as the context and the cases cited made clear, the Tribunal was making a quantitative assessment as to the number of Christians who might be affected by the PCP. As many Christians are prepared to work on Sundays, it was appropriate for the Tribunal to consider this in weighing the extent of the discriminatory impact of the PCP as part of a proper assessment of proportionality, and thus there was no error of law. [48]

SOURCE

The problem with this approach is that the court is making a decision based on what is, or is not, a core component of Christianity.

At what point can a judge declare with some certainty that something is a religious requirement? Is it when more than 50% of religious adherents claim it to be so? Or is it when a religious text declares it as so? To what sources do we refer to corroborate such assertions?

Do individual rights and freedoms really depend on how many people agree with my conscience or speech?

Let’s face it, it’s an absolute quagmire for courts to pontificate on theological necessities, and yet I don’t see they have any choice with the current climate of Christian litigation.

It’s such a double-edged sword, as on the one hand, I don’t see Jesus advocating legal action against Caesar should he infringe the rights of his followers. But on the other hand, I can sympathise with the climate of fear of state encroachment on religious liberties.

Goodness knows what the solution is, but in the meantime, many folk are eagerly anticipating the European Court of Human Rights ruling on four complaints that UK law has failed to adequately protect the applicants’ right to manifest their religion, contrary to Articles 9 (freedom of religion) and 14 (prohibition of discrimination).

I’ve blogged on each of these cases: Nadia EweidaShirley ChaplinLilian LadeleGary McFarlane.

The ruling is due next week Tuesday 15th January.

UPDATE: Danny Webster has put together some thoughts on the upcoming ruling.

Is the Internet really atheism’s greatest tool?

Thursday, January 10th, 2013

Guest post by Edmund Standing:

In July 2011, Campus Crusade for Christ International apologist Josh McDowell warned that the Internet poses a great threat to Christianity because:

The Internet has given atheists, agnostics, skeptics, the people who like to destroy everything that you and I believe, the almost equal access to your kids as your youth pastor and you have.

Meanwhile, from the atheist side, we find claims such as this:

Want proof that religion is dying? Look no further than the dominance of atheists on the Internet. We fucking own this place, and it’s only matter of time before we mock faith into non-existence.

So, is the Internet really leading to an explosion of atheism and will it really sound the death knell for Christianity?

Perhaps such questions can only be adequately answered in the future, given how relatively young the Internet still is, and given the extent to which the West still dominates the Internet, in terms both of users and content. However, I’m unconvinced that the bold claims about atheism taking over thanks to the Internet ring true.

The Internet is an incredibly fast moving and relatively ephemeral ‘place’. Social networking and video websites are amongst the most used sites on the Internet and both are based largely around superficial trends and fads that come – and more importantly go – at a speed unknown a few generations ago. Twitter, for example, is one of the leading social media websites, where topics and ideas fly around at great speed, rising for a short while as ‘trending’ topics, only to quickly disappear and be replaced by some new fascination. On the Internet, news, ideas, videos, and pictures quickly go ‘viral’, but very few hang around for long. Last year saw the explosion of the ‘KONY 2012′ viral video campaign (which was endorsed by various celebrities). Its popularity led President Obama to make comments about the campaign, yet now, in 2013, it has long since ceased to be a ‘trending topic‘. Then there were the supposed Mayan prophecies of the world ending in 2012, which caused a buzz online and have now – unsurprisingly – disappeared from view. A look at Google’s top searches of 2012 likewise reveals the extent of the superficiality of popular Internet usage.

Just as the Internet moves at a very fast pace, so does the ‘real world’. A few years ago, the world seemed to be going Da Vinci Code mad. People everywhere were talking about Jesus and his supposed relationship with Mary Magdalene. Articles appeared in the press, documentaries appeared on TV, and a feature film was released. But nowadays, who’s talking about any of that? A few years after that, it seemed atheism was everywhere, with a series of books being published (such as The God Delusion and God is not great) that propelled atheism into the media spotlight and led to the claim that this was a ‘new atheism’. The media hype around ‘new atheism’ has now died down, if not died out.

Neither books nor Internet content now seem able to truly hold the attention of the masses for very long, and while the ‘new atheism’ phenomenon has arguably led to atheism having a higher profile online, much of it is of a very superficial nature. Internet atheism seems to be predominantly a trend led by young Internet users, many of whom are not so much philosophical atheists but rather nihilistic youngsters looking for a new avenue for rebellion and a new target for their love of ‘trolling’ and the spreading of Internet ‘memes’. A certain type of Internet atheist seems to love pictures featuring supposedly ‘clever’ put-downs of religion, offering deliberately reductionist explanations of the (Abrahamic) religious worldview, the claim that the Bible contains nothing but ‘fairy tales‘, weak jokes about the Resurrection being nothing more than the story of a ‘Jewish Zombie‘, and claims that religious believers are ‘stupid‘ and that religion is a ‘mental illness‘. This kind of ‘jargonising‘ offers nothing of worth to serious discussions of religion.

Leaving this kind of trivial material aside, it is of course the case that atheists have made very good use of the Internet, in terms of the vast amount of atheist and sceptical material that is now available to the curious searcher. However, one cannot help wondering what percentage of Internet users are willing to give up what spare time they have to trawling through large websites filled with long articles seeking to debunk faith. Religion may appear a minority interest in the dazzling new electronic world, but then atheism is too. There may be plenty who will be swayed to discard their faith having come across Internet atheist material, but it is arguably the case that such people were probably only nominally religious to begin with. The main demographic in the online atheist ‘convert’ community seems to be people who were brought up in some sort of fundamentalism and have now rejected that narrow faith in favour of an equally narrow and passionate atheism (or anti-theism). Such people are already very engaged in some sense with religion or religious ideas and will largely have specifically sought out atheist materials as a result. In order for atheism to truly triumph in the Internet context, it would have to grip a large proportion of people who have not actively sought it out. I’m unconvinced this is actually happening.

Arguably, if anything is triumphing on the Internet (aside from the kind of ephemeral online trends cited earlier) it is actually a kind of irrationalism which, far from being based on serious consideration of issues traditionally at the heart of philosophical discussion (the meaning of life, the existence or otherwise of God, ethics, and so on) leans instead towards conspiracy theories and a kind of ‘scepticism’ that is far from that advocated by atheists. Jonathan Kay, author of a recent book on conspiracism, has argued that the growth in Internet conspiracy theory materials has led to ‘nothing less than a rift in the fabric of consensual American reality’. Interestingly, when recounting his experiences of interviewing conspiracy believers, Kay argues that ‘they wouldn’t be doing this if they had some satisfying worldview that gave them the kind of intellectual and emotional stability they were looking for in their life’. Perhaps it is here that the Internet may actually lead to a revival of interest in Christianity. If Internet users start to desire something real, something that makes sense beyond the shifting electronic sands of the Web, something that anchors reality and truth in an age of speed and confusion, and something that brings rest from the chaotic nature of modern life, it may well be that beliefs that offer a connection between the past, the present, and the future will take on a new appeal. Atheism, in comparison, will never offer a satisfying worldview that provides the kind of intellectual and emotional stability so many crave.

Will the Internet really destroy Christianity?

I wouldn’t count on it!

A Christian Perspective On Attention, Awareness And Mindfulness

Thursday, January 10th, 2013

Back in July I explored the issue: Is Mindfulness based on Buddhist meditation compatible with Christianity? This produced some good discussion and interestingly is a post that continues to be fairly well read and so is obviously a question some Christians explore online.

In view of this, I requested permission from the ever excellent Mind and Soul website (Twitter) to cross-post the following written by Shaun Lambert:

A Christian Perspective On Attention, Awareness And Mindfulness

Today, as a parent, you might be praying for your child’s ability to concentrate as they take another exam. On Boxing Day 2004 Tilly Smith, a 10-year-old British girl, saved 100 tourists on a Thai beach because she noticed that the waves were receding. She remembered her geography lessons and told her mum that the beach was about to be struck by a tsunami. I wonder why she paid attention in that particular lesson with her geography teacher, Andrew Kearney?

Two thousand years ago a centurion paid attention to the present moment, and as he saw how Jesus died he said, ‘Surely this man was the Son of God!’ (Mark 15:39). At the birth of Jesus, there were a host of unimportant people who watched, waited and paid attention, as well as some important ones: the shepherds, the magi, Simeon and Anna, and Mary who pondered and treasured all these things (‘pondered’ and ‘treasured’ are words about attention and awareness).

How about you?

Being able to sustain one’s attention is generally considered to be a good thing. I guess we might think of it as an element in concentration. Whatever we are involved in we need to be able to sustain our attention. In the Christian world, when we listen to a sermon it is an exercise in sustaining our attention. As our minds wander during the sermon it is an opportunity to practise switching our attention back to what the preacher is saying. We may catch ourselves telling an elaborate story in our head about something completely unconnected to the sermon, ruminating in a way that takes our attention away for many minutes.Within the Bible there is an implicit theology of attention and awareness. Jesus goes off very early in the morning to a solitary place to pray, which is an act of sustained attention (Mark 1:35). Peter and the disciples hunt him down and interrupt him, trying to distract him with what the crowd wants. Jesus switches his (and their) attention back to what really matters and says, ‘Let us go somewhere else – to the nearby villages – so that I can preach there also. That is why I have come’ (Mark 1:38).Peter and the others were swept away by the stream of thoughts and feelings prompted by the crowds, perhaps thoughts of greatness and success. Jesus wasn’t swept away by these elaborative and ruminative secondary processes that we all have and identify with. Paul teaches us that we need to catch our afflictive thoughts and feelings early: ‘In your anger do not sin’ (Ephesians 4:26). Paul also talks about how we are stuck in automatic behaviours of sin, ‘I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do’ (Romans 7:15).

Jesus doesn’t avoid the painful reality that awaits him in Jerusalem. Three times in Mark’s Gospel he tells the disciples about how he must suffer many things, including rejection and death (Mark 8:31, Mark 9:31, Mark 10:33-34). The disciples are guilty of experiential avoidance, and cannot face that reality, with Peter even rebuking Jesus for talking about his death (Mark 8:32). Jesus accepts what they cannot accept – reality. Jesus asks us to enter into a process of investigative awareness of what is going on in our hearts and minds: ‘Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?’ (Matthew 7:3). There is an ever-changing flow of thoughts and feelings within us; ‘For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts’ (Mark 7:21).

Watchfulness

Diadochus of Photike, a fifth-century bishop who helped develop the idea of watchfulness within Christian tradition, talks about the same investigative awareness with God, where we are called to ‘track’ the ‘footprints of the Invisible One.’ Jesus asks us to discriminate between the things of God and the things of men (Mark 8:33). These moments, or states of awareness, are not automatic or automatically sustainable. Peter’s acknowledgement of Jesus as the Christ is followed by his lack of understanding about why Jesus had to die upon a cross (Mark 8:29-33).

Part of the self-regulation of attention is the ability to switch our attention. Even when we are trying to sustain our attention, our minds will wander, and so we will have to switch our attention back to whatever it is we are concentrating on or attending to. So whether it is school, college, home, work, relationships or the process of Christlike transformation, we all need to be able to regulate our attention, sustain it and switch it back and forth. What it also means is not getting caught up in ruminative and elaborative patterns of thought that take our attention away from our object of focus. We all know how a train of thought can suddenly take us miles away from where we want to be. My wife very quickly spots when I am with her in body but not in spirit, as the saying goes. Children also notice this, and might hold your face in their hands and turn it towards them in order to be sure of your full attention.

At a theoretical level, these skills could be categorised as ‘metacognitive’ – that is, knowledge about and regulation of one’s learning processes. These terms – sustained attention, switching attention, self-regulation of attention, being in the present moment, elaborative and secondary processes, rumination, experiential avoidance, acceptance, intentional investigative awareness – are all terms and insights from the world of cognitive psychology. As Christians I think we can agree that they are good and God-given capacities within our minds that we should want to encourage and cultivate.

Mindfulness

They are also the first part of a proposed operational definition of mindfulness from a team of researchers.  Mindfulness as a mode of awareness that is a universal human capacity needs to be distinguished from the meditative, or mindful awareness practices, that evoke it.

Bishop et al. (2004) propose a two-component model of mindfulness: ‘The first component involves the self-regulation of attention so that it is maintained on immediate experience, thereby allowing for increased recognition of mental events in the present moment.’[iii] Those of you familiar with mindfulness definitions will recognise the echoes of present-moment awareness, and paying attention to the streams of thoughts, feelings, ruminations, etc. within our minds.

The second component of their proposed operational definition involves adopting ‘a particular orientation towards one’s experiences in the present moment,’ which we will come back to.[iv] To continue our look at the self-regulation of attention, Bishop et al. (2004) point out the link to mindfulness. Mindfulness brings awareness ‘to current experience.’[v] What is required to maintain such an awareness are ‘skills in sustained attention.’[vi]

One of the main meditative, or mindful awareness, practices is attending to your breath. This is a reality-focused, neutral practice that anyone can do. It is not religious or spiritual. Attending to your breath develops your skills of sustained attention so that ‘thoughts, feelings, and sensations can be detected as they arise in the stream of consciousness.’[vii] In mindful awareness practice the practitioner needs to ‘bring attention back to the breath once a thought, feeling or sensation has been acknowledged.’[viii] This develops skills in switching attention which in turn makes our ability to be attentive more flexible.

There is another benefit to this self-regulation of attention. The mindful person avoids elaborative and ruminative secondary processes in their mind. Rather than ‘getting caught up in ruminative, elaborative thought streams about one’s experience and its origins, implications, and associations, mindfulness involves a direct experience of events in the mind and body.’[ix] Bishop et al. (2004) conclude that the notion of mindfulness as a metacognitive process is implied in their operational definition because it involves monitoring and control.[x]

The monitoring element is important and involves a certain orientation to experience , including curiosity and acceptance. Acceptance is defined as ‘being experientially open to the reality of the present moment.’[xi] Acceptance is often misunderstood as passivity, but it is about ‘allowing’ current thoughts, feelings and sensations (Hayes, Strosahl, & Wilson)’.[xii] Acceptance can helpfully be seen as the opposite of thought-suppression or experiential avoidance; it is facing the reality of the thoughts, feelings and sensations we have.

As the authors argue ‘most forms of psychopathology involve, in some way or another, the intolerance of aspects of private experience, as well as patterns of experiential avoidance in an attempt to escape private experience’ (see Hayes et al., 1996, for evidence supporting this view.)[xiii] A more skilful response to situations that provoke these more difficult feelings and thoughts can be cultivated through mindfulness.[xiv] With this orientation of curiosity and acceptance towards one’s experience, a further clarification of the definition of mindfulness can be put forth, as a ‘process of investigative awareness that involves observing the ever-changing flow of private experience.’[xv]

This is an intentional effort because the client is:

instructed to make an effort to notice each object in the stream of consciousness (e.g., a feeling), to discriminate between different elements of experience (e.g., an emotional ‘feeling’ sensation from a physical ‘touch’ sensation) and observe how one experience gives rise to another (e.g., a feeling evoking a judgmental thought and then the judgemental thought heightening the unpleasantness of the feeling).[xvi]

This is worth quoting in full because it points out how much of this is acute observation of what actually goes on in our minds, usually out of our awareness and automatically. Jesus commands us to practise this intentional investigative awareness – for example, when he says, ‘You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye’ (Matthew 7:5).

This monitoring of the stream of consciousness is likely to correlate to increased emotional awareness and psychological mindedness.[xvii] Within this monitoring is the insight that we are not our thoughts and feelings, that these are passing events and not a direct readout of reality or necessarily inherent aspects of the self.[xviii] From a Christian perspective, we would not want to lose sight of personal responsibility, but even Paul says, ‘In your anger do not sin’ (Ephesians 4:26), suggesting that anger as it first appears is a passing event and not a sin; it is what we do with it (how we elaborate on it) that can become sinful.

In summary, there are a number of things that can be said in this look at the first part of this proposed operational definition (Bishop et al., 2004)’s article. This is what they say:

we see mindfulness as a process of regulating attention in order to bring a quality of non-elaborative awareness to current experience and a quality of relating to one’s experience within an orientation of curiosity, experiential openness, and acceptance. We further see mindfulness as a process of gaining insight into the nature of one’s mind and the adoption of a de-centred perspective (Safran & Segal, 1990) on thoughts and feelings so that they can be experienced in terms of their subjectivity (versus their necessary validity) and transient nature (versus their permanence).[xix]

They also summarise mindfulness as ‘a mode of awareness that is evoked when attention is regulated in the manner described.’[xx] They argue that this mode, or psychological process, is only evoked and maintained whilst attention is being regulated in the manner they describe, with the open orientation to experience.[xxi]

An important hypothesis they put forward is that this ‘mode of awareness is not limited to meditation.’[xxii] Once the skills are learned, attention can be regulated to invoke mindfulness in many different situations.[xxiii] They speculate that psychotherapy itself may enable the capacity to evoke and utilise mindfulness.[xxiv]

A universal human capacity

If you approach mindfulness from this angle of regulated attention then there is a very strong case for mindfulness as a universal human capacity, a mode of awareness accessible to all. Its presence in many different religious traditions would suggest that it is a universal human capacity, and that there are different mindful awareness practices that can evoke it. If you look at the regulated attention practised by artists, poets,  carpenters, you can build an even stronger case for this hypothesis.

This is something I will come back to in a future article as well as the point they make further on in the article that there are a number of other constructs ‘that may be within the same general domain as mindfulness.’[xxv] Another aspect to come back to are the qualities associated with mindfulness such as compassion, nonreactivity etc., which Bishop et al. (2004) argue are ‘outcomes of having learned mindfulness skills … and are not implicit in the construct.’[xxvi]

As Christians, we need to ask difficult questions of mindfulness, but what we also have to approach it with a 360-degree focus. It is a universal human capacity. There is a Christian theology of mindfulness, and there are Christian mindful awareness practices (Lectio Divina, the Jesus Prayer, meditation, stillness, contemplation). We need to develop new forms of mindful awareness practices that include our body, our breath, the ordinary weave of life around us. I haven’t even touched significantly on the relational aspects of mindfulness as developed by practitioners such as Daniel J Siegel (The Mindful Brain, The Mindful Therapist) which should greatly interest us.

Jesus commands watchfulness and mindfulness: ‘What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’ (Jesus of Nazareth, Mark 13:37)
Some time around A.D. 700 a Latin Gospel book now known as The Lindisfarne Gospels was made by Eadfrith, Bishop of Lindisfarne, probably over a ten-year period. Taking Jesus’ command seriously, it was a work of sustained attention, a meditation of slow making. It is one of the wonders of the world. Such is the power of the Word and the Spirit working together with our awareness and attention. Christian mindFULLness is awareness of the presence of God at work within our own God-given capacities for attention and awareness.

Shaun Lambert,

[i] Diadochus of Photike, Following the Footsteps of the Invisible: The Complete Works of Diadochus of Photike, Introduction, Translation and Notes by Cliff Ermatinger. Liturgical Press: Collegeville, Minnesota (2010), p.69.
[ii] Bishop, S.R. et al. ‘Mindfulness: A Proposed Operational Definition’ (2004). Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 11 (230-241).
[iii] Ibid, p. 232.
[iv] Ibid, p.232.
[v] Ibid, p.232.
[vi] Ibid, p.232.
[vii] Ibid, p.232.
[viii] Ibid, p.232.
[ix] Teasdale, J.D., Segal, Z.V., Williams J.M.G., & Mark, G. (1995). How does cognitive therapy prevent depressive relapse and why should attentional control (mindfulness) training help? Behavior Research and Therapy, 33, 25-39, quoted in Bishop, S.R. et al. ‘Mindfulness: A Proposed Operational Definition’ (2004). Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 11 (232).
[x] Bishop, S.R. et al. ‘Mindfulness: A Proposed Operational Definition’ (2004). Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 11 p.233.
[xi] Roemer, L., & Orsillo, S.M. (2002), quoted in Bishop, S.R. et al. ‘Mindfulness: A Proposed Operational Definition’ (2004). Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 11 (233).
[xii] Quoted in Bishop, S.R. et al. ‘Mindfulness: A Proposed Operational Definition’ (2004). Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 11 (233).
[xiii] Hayes, S.C., Wilson, K.G., Gifford, E.V., Follette, V.M. & Strosahl, K. (1996).’ Experiential avoidance and behavioural disorders: A functional dimensional approach to diagnosis and treatment’. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 64(6), 1152-1168. Quoted in Bishop, S.R. et al. ‘Mindfulness: A Proposed Operational Definition’ (2004). Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 11 (237).
[xiv] Bishop, S.R. et al. ‘Mindfulness: A Proposed Operational Definition’ (2004). Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 11 (235).
[xv] Ibid, p.234.
[xvi] Ibid, p. 234.
[xvii] Ibid, p.234.
[xviii] Ibid, p.234.
[xix] Ibid, p.234.
[xx] Ibid, p.234.
[xxi] Ibid, p.234.
[xxii] Ibid, p.234.
[xxiii] Ibid, p.235.
[xxiv] Ibid, p.235.
[xxv] Ibid, p.235.
[xxvi] Ibid, p.235.

Largest UK Christian Forum – Premier Community – Closes This Friday

Wednesday, January 9th, 2013

It’s just been announced that Premier Community, the largest online UK Christian forum, is to close rather abruptly this Friday:

Dear Premier Community Member,

I am writing to inform you that from 5pm on Friday 11th January the Premier Community site will be permanently closed.

As the new media landscape continues to change Premier needs to respond to trends in how people interact online. In this context we have concluded that stand alone community sites are no-longer the most effective method of engaging our audiences or connecting people. There are also significant resources needed to maintain and administer the site and these resources could be focused in other areas of growth.

We appreciate that many people continue to find value and support in the groups, forums and relationships they have developed and that this decision will be very disappointing to some. Premier is very much committed to engagement with social media and during 2013 we will be redeveloping many of our main websites to include more social and visitor interaction. We will also continue to develop and grow our presences on the main social platforms including Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/thisispremier) and Twitter (https://twitter.com/premierradio).

After 5pm on Friday any content that you have uploaded to the site will become unavailable and you will no longer be able to contact other users. Therefore if you wish to take copies of e.g. blogs or exchange contact details with other members you wish to stay in touch with, you have until that time to do it.

If you have concerns about how this change might affect you please contact us on socialmediaadmin@premier.org.uk

Yours sincerely,

The Premier Community Team

It’s fair to say the forum could be something of a bear-pit and was very loosely moderated, but still, even though my involvement waned over recent times, I feel a little sad and nostalgic.

The forum in general probably didn’t present Christians in the best light, but I do feel for some folk who practically lived out their lives on there.

Anyway, this is the time for any intrepid brave warrior to set up a forum.

Know Thyself: Should everyone be in therapy?

Wednesday, January 9th, 2013

The answer to the question “Should everyone be in therapy” is answered with a resounding ‘yes’ in an article on QIdeas.

The authors base the answer on the premise of ‘knowing thyself‘ and the biblical concept of ‘self-examination’:

For centuries, self-examination was crucial for spiritual transformation. But, as David Benner convincingly argues in his Care of Souls, a post-Enlightenment church became mired in intellectual debates, losing its focus on soul care and spiritual direction. It was during this time the church abdicated its transformative role, trusting psychologists with the care once entrusted to priests, pastors and spiritual directors. And for the past 100 years, while a debate has raged on about the proper relationship between secular psychology and the church, it’s clear the original motive—know thyself— stands behind it all and remains crucial for the church’s mission. For the person best able to love God and neighbor is the person who knows the motives of her heart and is freed to live self-sacrificially.

The authors argue that as knowing thyself and knowing God are intimately connected, therapy should be curam animarum—the care of souls. They lament the ‘quick fix’ behavioral solution-based processes of modern therapy, but then posit this surprising twist:

But at the same time, I’m not convinced Christian therapists do this as well as secular therapists at times. Let me explain. Many settle for what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace,” a quick fix approach which stands in stark contrast to the “costly grace” of searching and knowing ourselves, through exploring our stories and examining our motives. This kind of care is, indeed, much more rare. Christian counseling which is reduced to mere Bible memorization, or repentance or a behavioral regimen misses the point. It is all law, and no grace—particularly costly grace. It is all behavior with no real, deep examination of one’s self. And so we often find among secular therapists the kind of “depth psychology” which takes seriously how deep the rabbit hole of human brokenness and sin go.

The authors conclude that we should all engage in counselling and judging by the link they give; specifically, Christian Counselling.

Now it must be borne in mind that QIdeas is based in the US and interestingly over on the Guardian today, Mark Vernon, writing in response to the ‘Spiritual but not religious mental illness study‘ comments:

This raises another question, though. Do religious organisations in the UK today take enough notice of the insights of psychology and, conversely, do schools of therapy treat spirituality seriously? As the Cambridge psychologist and priest Fraser Watts explored in a recent talk, American therapists, for example, seem to be far happier talking about their clients’ spiritual concerns than their British counterparts.

This is a vital question and one I explored via the book Spirituality and Psychiatry which was kindly sent to me by the Royal College of Psychiatrists:

Here are the opening words from the Foreward:

During my presidency I became more and more convinced of the importance of promoting mental health and well being, alongside the treatment of mental illness. But I see mental health as the responsibility of everyone, not just health and mental health professionals. The social care, criminal justice and education sectors and faith-0based organisations should all be involved in asserting the centrality of mental health in society, in contributing to the prevention of mental illness and in supporting individuals with mental disorders.

Sheila Hollins – Former President, Royal College of Psychiatrists

This to me is the crux, namely, the church must be at the forefront of supporting those with mental health issues, in partnership with other professionals.

Historically, much of the psychiatric care was provided within a religious context. There are shrines noted for their miraculous healing of folk with mental illness, the most famous of which is the shrine of St Dymphna, the Patron Saint of mental and nervous disorders. Priory’s also cared for the mentall ill.

The modern era has seen the development of psychiatry as a distinct discipline, which has sadly been characterised by an exclusion of spirituality and religiosity within mental healthcare.

The souring of relations between religion and psychiatry has been severe. Freud asserted that belief in God was delusional and that all religion was mass neurosis. Reductionism came to dominate in the mid 20th Century and consequently humans viewed as nothing more than cerebral, with behaviour as Pavlovian / Skinnerian conditioning.

There has been almost no teaching on spirituality in the context of mental heath in UK medical schools, or at post-graduate level in the training of psychiatrists, consequently, students and practitioners have had little or no training in how to enquire about an individual’s spirituality or religious faith. The word ‘religion’ has not featured in the indices of most psychiatric textbooks.

Christians have viewed psychiatry as in conflict with traditional religious values and many have associated psychiatry / psychology with atheism and antagonistic to religion in general, and perhaps with good reason, given the above.

However, encouraging attitude changes are taking place within psychiatry, concerning the importance of spirituality as a dimension of mental healthcare. This has been prompted in part by ‘service users’ asserting that spirituality is a vital dimension of their experiences that they wish to be able to discuss freely without being labelled in pathological terms. Surveys have indicated that up to half of patients turn to their religious and spiritual beliefs to help them get through a crisis, but they do not feel comfortable talking about such things with a psychiatrist.

Research in the area of mental illness and religious belief developed during the 1990′s from almost nothing to an accepted area of inquiry with research funding. Religion has been found to provide a protective factor from – and in – mental illness. Religion can also have negative effects, however, in general the beneficial effects considerably outweigh the adverse.

In 1991, the Patron of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the Prince of Wales, urged an approach to mental healthcare that encompassed body, mind and spirit, and in 1997 the Archbishop of Canterbury addressed the annual meting.

The notion of linking spirituality with psychiatry developed largely in the 21st century and was preceded In 1999 with the formation of  the Spirituality and Psychiatry Special Interest group (SIG).  The SIG currently has a membership of some 1300 psychiatrists out of a College membership of 13000.

The Spirituality and Psychiatry book was originally conceived by the SIG and they have produced a ‘milestone’ leaflet entitled: Spirituality and Mental Health.

This is what the SIG say about themselves:

The Special Interest Group was founded in 1999 to provide a forum for psychiatrists to explore the influence of the major religions, which shape the cultural values and aspirations of psychiatrist and patient alike. The spiritual aspirations of persons not identifying with any one particular faith are held to be of no less importance, as well as the viewpoint of those who hold that spirituality is independent of religion. The meetings are designed to enable colleagues to investigate and share without fear of censure the relevance of spirituality to clinical practice. The Special Interest Group aims to contribute a framework of ideas of general interest to the College, stimulating discussion and promoting an integrative approach to mental healthcare. For patients, there is the need to help the service user feel supported in being able to bring spiritual concerns to the fore.

In contrast with the general population, only a minority of psychiatrists in Britain hold religious beliefs: 73% of psychiatrists reported no religious affiliation compared with 38% of their patients. Only 39% of female and 19% of male psychiatrists believe in God. However, 92% of psychiatrists in Britain believe that religion and mental illness are connected and that religious issues should be addressed in treatment; 42% considered that religiousness could lead to mental illness.

There is a need to overcome common prejudices within psychiatry such as ‘religion is usually harmful for patients’ and ‘religion is for the weak, vacillating and dependent’.

Overall, spirituality is increasingly being included as a component of psychiatric treatment, furthermore, a variety of faith-based organisations are providing care for folks with mental health problems.

The first chapter of the Spirituality and Psychiatry concludes with this:

Psychiatrists and other mental health professionals need to be bilingual, ‘fluent in….the language of psychiatry and psychology….and the language of spirituality that focuses on issues of meaning, hope, value, connectedness and transcendence’. It is probably fair to say that we have, for too long, neglected one of these languages to our own detriment and the detriment of our patients. That there is now renewed interest in learning the language of spirituality is very encouraging, but like all languages this one needs practice. Just as the language of psychiatry needs to be employed at every stage of assessment, diagnosis and treatment, as well as in all good research and training in mental healthcare, so the language of spirituality needs to permeate our relationships with our patients, colleagues and our whole understanding of the field of psychiatry.

I would advocate as forcefully, that Christians need to ‘learn the language’ of psychology and psychiatry in order that our churches may partner with mental healthcare providers. Faith-based organisations need to be part of the interdisciplinary and interprofessional team providing care to the vulnerable members of our community suffering from mental illness.

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