1. Over at The Pacific Standard, Kathryn Joyce provides a remarkably thorough look at “The Rise of Biblical Counseling”. It’s a crash course in both the history of conflicted Christian attitudes toward psychotherapy, and, unintentionally perhaps, how those attitudes are perceived by secular elites (i.e. with disdain and/or condescension). She surveys a field which runs the gamut from hardliners who would chalk nearly all mental illness up to sinful behavior (and do untold damage in the process) and more moderate, medication-endorsing voices who have the gall to insist that there may be a spiritual and–gasp!–moral component to certain afflictions, or at least, that we ignore such factors at our own peril. Needless to say, it’s a mixed bag. On the one hand, the ‘secular’ allergy to any/all moral judgments when it comes to personal problems seems more than a little naive, while the ‘biblical’ proclivity for pronouncing them, even when done out of obvious compassion, suggests a view of confession and absolution as existing primarily for one’s therapeutic benefit, which ironically paints God as little more than a heavenly psychotherapist (or the counselor as God).

Sadly, most of the fallout she profiles fits into all-too-familiar categories of inflated anthropology, where suffering (or a lack of blessing/sanctification) is linked to insufficient faith or spiritual commitment in the sufferer. Indeed, Ms. Joyce hits the nail on the head in the conclusion, when she asks “How can you stress the moral agency of man, rejecting the determinism of Freud, and yet adhere to the predestination of Calvin?” How indeed. A non-religious psychologist may not have as clear a basis for ‘preaching assurance’ to their patient, but the dynamic of interpersonal non-judgement they embrace strikes me as closer to ‘biblical’ than its alternative–the best of all possible worlds being that rare breed known as the ‘religious psychologist’ (they do exist and if you can find one, they’re electric!). But that may be overly generous/harsh, as Lord knows every school of therapy has fallout of its own. You be the, er, judge, ht RW:

God-Help-the-Girl-poster“If you pay attention to the debates that secular folks are having about mental illness, they have a very hard time defining it, too,” [Heath Lambert, executive director of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, and one of the more moderate voices quoted] notes. “Every time a new edition of the DSM comes out, they tweak the definition a little bit.” This is a point made by many biblical counselors: If our notions of what should and shouldn’t be considered mental illness are constantly shifting, then how can people have such faith in the professionals who define it? “The debate about mental illness isn’t just between smart secular people who understand problems and religious people who want to assign some sort of spiritual [root] to everything,” Lambert says. Lambert also stresses that biblical counseling, like any other sort of therapy, succeeds on the merits of its practitioners. “Any counseling method can fail,” he says. Asked about accounts of women being blamed for their own sexual victimization, Lambert expresses disgust…

In practice, despite its rejection of secular psychology, biblical counseling draws both on psychoanalysis, with its focus on getting to the root of problems, and on behaviorism, with its stress on correcting habits. A constant refrain in biblical counseling is the command for counselees to “put off” bad and sinful thoughts, and to “put on” biblical, God-pleasing thoughts instead…

For many mild cases of depression, biblical counseling is undoubtedly also beneficial… But biblical counseling becomes far more dubious when it disregards evidence of traits that are beyond a person’s control…

[Biblical Counseling originator Jay] Adams rightly believed that “there was a role for the church to play,” [Baylor professor Mark] Stanford says, but wrongly believed it required discounting nearly all psychology and psychiatry. In practice, according to Stanford, when churches began once again to address mental illness, the mindset that came to prevail among biblical counselors was that the mentally ill were simply “insufficient believers.” This had calamitous effects on severely troubled patients.

Given the many variables here, I suppose we can take comfort in the ‘Dodo Bird verdict’ that Joyce mentions–that the very act of submitting to treatment is often just as important as the kind of treatment itself, i.e. that ‘help is help’, extreme exceptions notwithstanding. Then again, perhaps we’re simply trying to reconcile two very different things: pastoral care (which is horizontal in nature) and the sacramental ministry of the church (which is vertical). I’m reminded of something Nadia Bolz Weber said in our interview with her:

There are many things I could change in the liturgy [of my church] and people would get over it. If I got rid of the Confession and Absolution, they’d run me out of town. These are people who are ready to speak the truth about themselves and hear about who God is in the face of that every week.

You know, there’s so much pretending in the rest of our lives. People have to pretend. They have to pretend their marriage is better than it is. They have to pretend they’re not smarter than their boss. They have to pretend that they know everything about being a new mom. Or whatever. There’s so much pretending demanded of us, I just feel like the church should be one place during the week where you don’t have to. People are carrying around so much crap all the time, on some psychic, spiritual, emotional level. Why should they have to carry in church too? That should be the place where they can drop it for a second.


2. Speaking of the need to be absolved of bonafide transgression, there’s the iCloud disaster that happened this past week, in which nude photographs of female celebrities such as Jennifer Lawrence were hacked and distributed online. The incident has ignited ethical debates left, right and center, and for good reason–our collective relationship with celebrity could use a bit more scrutiny, not to mention the both-and demands we place on the Internet re: privacy, to say nothing about the largely unspoken power of pornography. Jessica Valenti’s take for The Atlantic struck me as useful one, morally speaking:

There’s a reason why the public tends to revel in hacked or stolen nude pictures. It’s because they were taken without consent. Because the women in them (and it’s almost always women who are humiliated this way) did not want those shots to be shared. If Jennifer Lawrence was to pose naked on the cover of Playboy, for example, I’m sure it would be a best-selling issue. But it wouldn’t have the same scandalous, viral appeal as private images stolen from her phone. Because she shared nude images consensually, then people wouldn’t get to revel in her humiliation. And that’s really the point, isn’t it? To take a female celebrity down a notch?

As much as I sympathize with her point about ‘humiliation’ (it’s certainly the shameful end result here), I also wonder if it’s a bit of a stretch. Perhaps women have different reasons for ‘reveling’, but speaking as a man, the ‘nude’ is what drives the clicks, not the ‘stolen’. Meaning, the issue isn’t so much schadenfreude or disrespect of female celebrities or women in general as an extremely fervent desire to see them without their clothes on, which overrides any/all other considerations. Their fame, whether we like it or not, is not un-related to their sexual allure, after all. Which isn’t an excuse–far from it!–it’s simply a way of saying that sex tends to trump ideology, as The Panopticon so memorably reminds us. Maybe in a society that no longer views lust as a moral category (at least ‘the twitter moral majority’ doesn’t, to borrow Bill Simmons’ phrase), we have to find another one to explain our outrage.

3. On a more encouraging note re: the human race, this article about volunteer pallbearers in Cleveland is powerful, ht SC.

4. God Help The Girl hits theaters today! And the initial reviews are positive. Given the limited release, it’ll probably be a few weeks until we’re able to offer a full review, but the close to The AV Club’s review (they also have an interview with director/writer/Belle and Sebastian head honcho Stuart Murdoch) only increased anticipation:

Nonetheless, despite—or, perhaps, because of—its flaws, God Help The Girl manages to channel the freeform filmmaking of an era when young, adventurous movies were still commonplace. Its mixed tones—jokey cutesiness, Old Testament-free Christianity, depressed realism—suggest a filmmaker trying to fit as much experience as possible into a movie, all the while trying to have fun with the medium.

5. Also in music, Dangerous Minds uncovered a recording of a nine-year-old Sly Stone singing gospel with his family, and it’s awesome (below). Elsewhere, our friend Ellis Brazeal offered a powerful reflection on the death and resurrection of Slim Shady. Finally, Bowie fans may be overwhelmed by the untold treasures of the Pushing Ahead of the Dame website, which thoughtfully chronicles his output, song by song. I certainly have been.

6. Relevant Magazine collected “Five Times The Onion Was Right about Christian Culture” and the examples they cite are predictably hilarious. Certainly this one from last week should be added to the tally. Also in the humor department (sort of), the Reddit thread on “What is the most George Costanza-esque reason you’ve broken up with someone?” may make you laugh and cry simultaneously. My favorite would have to be this one, ht BJ:

This was many, many years ago (probably ’92 or so). I was out shopping with a girl and we stopped in at the Gap. She picked out a skirt or some pants or whatever, and when she went up to pay for them, the woman at the register asked her if she needed a pair of matching socks. My girlfriend happily said “Yes”, and I thought that totally unacceptable, that she could be so quickly and easily swayed to make yet another purchase. It was SHOCKING to me. We broke up two days later.

7. In TV, Deadline reports that Showtime is in talks to develop Mary Karr’s wonderful memoirs into a series! The bad news? Mary-Louise Parker is rumored to be attached as the star. I’m not sure I could handle it if Liars Club got Weeds-ified…, ht JZ.


– A Mormon missionary reflects on being a failure at his job, ht BJ..
– For those who are caught up in the US Open (go, Federer, go!), USA Today ran a compassion-inducing article on American tennis player Mardy Fish and his struggle with incapacitating anxiety, ht CW.
– In light of the death of James Foley, David Brooks muses on The Body and The Spirit.
– Our friend Dusty Brown’s short film The Nobodies (starring Mbird faves, Tony Hale, Jim Gaffigan and Ellie Kemper, among others) hit the web recently, and I’m sure you’ll agree it’s something we need to get behind, pronto: