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#TBT: The Thing That Ate My Brothers (1988)

April 24th, 2014 1 comment
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This installment of #TBT showcases two of my biggest inspirations for my childhood writings – my brothers.  Whether it was a character named after one of them, or a story featuring an epic sibling adventure (like this one you’re about to read), my brothers somehow imprinted themselves into the stories in my imagination.  Of course, this shouldn’t be a surprise because siblings are the first friends most of us make.  They are also likely to be our closest allies and our biggest rivals.  As the eldest, I’m sure I also felt a sense of duty to protect my younger brothers.  I think this story, if read between the lines, speaks quite eloquently to sibling bonds (oh, and my secret desire to be the ‘Pro’). This one’s for my ‘baby’ brothers…

The Thing That Ate My Brothers (1988)

One day, long ago, Peter, Ben and myself were walking through the forest next to our house. Suddenly, a big, black, hairy Thing jumped out of the bushes. With one great big gulp the Thing ate both of my brothers. The Thing charged after me, but I was too fast for it.  I ran as fast as my feet would carry me. I jumped over broken pieces of wood and old car parts. It was more like a dump than a forest.  I finally made it out into the open.  There were cars buzzing up and down the street. I figured I was north of my house. I had ran all the way to the other side of the forest.  Now it was hopeless! The only thing to do was see the Wise One.  The Wise One was an old hermit who lived at the Great Swamp.  I started my long journey.  I felt like turning back, but I was afraid the Thing would try and eat me too.  I thought about my brothers. Maybe there was still hope! Maybe I could rescue my brothers! I quickened my pace.  I reached the Wise One’s house just before sundown.  I knocked on the door three times before I entered.  The old hermit greeted me with a smile.

“Ah! Melissa. Welcome,” the hermit said.

“Hello, Wise One.  I have come to seek help.” I explained the whole horrible story to him. 

“Hmmmm. Very interesting. You say this Thing is big, black and hairy? Well that can only mean one thing!”

“What?!” I yelled horrified. 

“One of my dogs has gotten into my spider-growth potion,” the Wise One said.

“Well, what can I do to get my brothers back?” I asked hopefully.

“Take this needle and stick it in his arm.”

“Well that sounds easy enough. Bye and thanks!” I said.

“Wait!  There is one more important thing,” but it was too late.  I was off to rescue my brothers. 

I walked through bushes and thorn patches. I came upon a dark cave. I could hear the Thing snoring. This was my big chance! I tiptoed in quietly.

“Wait, wait!” a voice yelled.

I turned around. It was the hermit! The Thing awoke. It jumped up and chased after me. I ran into a hole. The hermit followed me. 

“Why did you do that?” I yelled.

“You must stick the needle in a certain spot. Otherwise you may end up killing your brothers. Stick the needle as close as possible to the shoulder,” said the Wise One. 

I thanked the Wise One and dodged past him and out into the open. The Thing glared at me with his big red eyes. Without even thinking I jumped on his arm and stabbed the Thing right under his left shoulder.  It let out one last terrifying roar! It then fell on the floor and changed into a black dog, Peter and Ben. The dog sat on its haunches.

When we arrived home Mom was hysterical. 

“Where have you been?” she asked sternly.

“Oh… we just had an amazing adventure where for once I was the Pro!” 

We all laughed, except for Mom who just stood there wondering. She would never know of the terror and fright our adventure had caused. 

M. xo

P.S. For those of you who know me personally, you’ll know how completely unbelievable this story is because there’s no way I would have ever “figured I was north of my house” given how ‘navigationally-challenged’ I am. 😉

P.P.S. The ‘Pro’ was a family nickname given to the elder of my youngest brothers, Pete.

P.P.P.S. It’s interesting how impressionable the young mind is.  I see influences of some of my favourite books and movies in this story.  Stand by Me was one of the first movies I ever saw in a theatre and the idea of scary things lurking in the forest has always stuck with me.  I was a big horror fan and read a lot of Stephen King books as a kid – probably more than I should have for my age at the time.  I see a lot of influences from the horror genre in my childhood writing. Maybe all those sleepless nights I spent afraid of Gremlins under the bed were worth it after all. :)

‘Things’ that Go Bump in the Night

 

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What is the Psychology of Religion?

April 22nd, 2014 No comments
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What is the Psychology of Religion?  Let’s begin by looking at definitions of both psychology and religion. Examining their historical and contemporary contexts can allow us to better understand how psychology and religion have developed to form a symbiotic relationship (even though some may contest otherwise, but that’s another post for another day).

Psychology

The Greek capital letter psi, often used to represent the word, or study of, Psychology.Humans have been pondering questions of a psychological nature for millenia. Early writings of Buddha, Confucius, Socrates and in Hebrew Scriptures provide glimpses into the historical beginnings of psychological queries. The origins of the word psychology have roots in the Grecian words psyche, loosely translated as, ‘soul‘ or ‘spirit‘, and logos, translated as, ‘meaning’ or ‘account‘. Thus, in its earliest form, psychological musings were concerned with ‘accounting for the human spirit‘.

Psychology as a science did not emerge until the late 1800’s, when the first experiment addressing mental processes was conducted by Wilhelm Wundt. The science of psychology began to flourish and branch into many different paths and theories. Today, the broad definition of psychology as, the science of behavior and mental processes, is widely accepted. This definition serves merely as a generalization of the discipline of psychology as a whole and does not highlight the complex nature of human behavior and cognition.

Religion

RELIGIONESDeveloping a concrete and universal definition of religion is, in my opinion, an impossible task.  Simply Google ‘define religion’ and you’re guaranteed to get dozens of differing definitions.  Indeed, some scholars spend their entire careers seeking out meaningful definitions that can by relevantly applied to all that encompasses ‘religion’.

For the purpose of this post, I contemplated various definitions of religion presented by scholars over the centuries. I cannot wholly accept definitions, such as social psychologist’s Erich Fromm’s, “[a]ny system of thought and action shared by a group which gives the individual a frame of orientation and an object of devotion.” Religion is both personal and social. It is quite conceivable for a single person to hold religious beliefs that may not be connected to a group, therefore, the first part of the preceding definition does not adequately explain religion.

Carl Jung’s definition is, perhaps, more closely aligned to my understanding of the term religion:

“Religion is a peculiar attitude of the human mind […] that is a careful consideration and observation of certain dynamic factors […] of whatever name man has given to such factors as he has found in his world, powerful, dangerous, or helpful enough to be taken into careful consideration or grand, beautiful and meaningful enough to be devoutly adored and loved”.

Clearly, religion is hard to define; however in order to find merit in any scientific study of religion, and in particular facets of religious behaviour and thought, there must be some universal mechanism for measuring the multidimensional concept of religion.

Psychology+ Religion

Religion can be broadly examined through the various dimensions of religion proposed by sociologists, Charles Glock and Rodney Stark. They proposed five dimensions of religious commitment with which to study the multidimensional nature of religion. These included: the ideological dimension, the ritualistic dimension, the experiential dimension, the intellectual dimension, and the consequential dimension (Paloutzian, 1996).

These dimensions of religious commitment enable researchers with powerful tools to measure the behaviors and mental processes of people from various religious traditions. Through applying the various theories of psychology to the most rudimentary understanding of religiosity, a wealth of knowledge begins to emerge concerning religious behaviors and mental processes that span all faiths and doctrines. Despite the seemingly different beliefs found in the world’s religions, researchers can make generalized statements about the behaviors and cognitive processes that bind them all together.

As with any theoretical work, new ideas will change the shape of what is known today and will invariably lead to new paths of theory. This is especially poignant in research that encompasses any religious domain, due to the very complex nature of religion itself. Undeniably, the process of applying variables and measures to the religious domain with respect to behaviors and cognition can only serve to further enhance future knowledge of how and why religion plays a central role in humankind.

M. xo

Further Reading

Myers, D.G. (2004). Psychology: Myers in Modules (7th Ed). New York: Worth.

Paloutzian, R.F. (1996). Invitation to the Psychology of Religion (2nd Ed). Massachusetts: Allyn & Bacon.

 

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#TBT: Jack Grey’s Adventures with Dog (1986)

April 17th, 2014 No comments
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Last week, I posted on this blog my first Throwback Thursday (#TBT), but instead of posting old photos of myself, I’ve decided to share some writing from my childhood.  This next piece I wrote when I was ten years old.  It was around the time that I started getting interested in counter-cultures – even though I’m quite sure I didn’t even know what that meant at the time.

The main characters are a group of bad boys (and one Superpunk), and a pretty girl who saves the day – just because she can.  Yeah, apparently I was already thinking about reverse gender roles too.

Original draft (1986)

Original draft (1986)

Jack Grey’s Adventures with Dog (1986)

One dark eerie night, Jack Grey, Superpunk, was walking through the dark alley on Johnson Ave. 

“Hey, Buzz, what do you think you’re doing,” said Jack.

“I’m looking for grub,” replied Buzz.

“This is my territory, Buzzhead,” Jack said.

“So what?” said Buzz. “Hey Jack, look what I found.”

“What did you find, Buzzo?”

“Chocolate cake.”

“Leave it,” said Jack, “and come on.”

Jack and Buzz walked back to their fort in an old abandoned zoo on Adam St.

“Hi, George,” said Buzz.

“Whats happening my man?” George said.

Suddenly, George collapsed to the ground.  He had been shot.

“He was always faithful to us,” whined Buzz.

“Never mind him.  We got trouble.  Look who’s coming our way,” said Jack.

It was the Dog, alias Kevin George.  Jack had once said he only was afraid of the Dog.  Jack’s long black hair was flying through the air as he ran.  Jack was only 16 years old.  The Dog was 18 and strong. 

“I’ll cut that giant eagle tattoo off of you, punk,” yelled Dog. 

Buzz and Jack ran until they reached Donna Master’s house.  Donna was Jack’s girlfriend.  Donna didn’t know that Jack stole and lied.  Donna had long blonde hair, blue eyes, and rosy cheeks.  She was sweet, gentle and wasn’t a dropout like Jack and Buzz.  She also despised Dog. 

“Ding, Dong,” went the doorbell.

“Why Jack, what brings you here?”

“I’m here because Dog has a gun and shot George,” Jack said with shivers down his spine.

“Well hurry and get inside,” panicked Donna. 

“Ding, Dong,” went the doorbell again. 

“Open up.  It’s Dog.”

“No, I will not open up.  You know I hate you.  Now go away,” said Donna angrily.

“Ok!  But I’ll be back,” said Dog angrily.

“Well he shouldn’t bother you anymore,” said Donna. 

And he didn’t for a long time afterward.  

M. xo

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Why We Need to Stop the Random Acts of Kindness (RAK) Movement

April 14th, 2014 1 comment
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StopRAKMovement

Each week, at least one viral video pops up on my social news feeds showcasing a random act of kindness (RAK).  These videos tend to pull at the heartstrings and even inspire people to go out and perform their own act of kindness (which is often then uploaded for the world to see).

So, what’s got my feathers in a ruffle about the RAK movement?  It’s not that the acts themselves bother me, it’s that we even need a movement of this sort that I find curious.  Since when was kindness just a courtesy extended to fellow human beings?  Isn’t kindness a way of being, rather than just a single momentary act?  Why do we need to be reminded to be kind?

That’s not all that bothers me about this movement.  I’m also troubled by the number of RAK videos published in an attempt to garner views/likes/self-promotion.  Why does someone have to prove that they were kind?  Shouldn’t kindness be its own reward?  Often, these acts of kindness caught on video are extended to the most marginalized peoples in our communities.  That’s great!  But, why do we have to further marginalize them by using them to publicly self-gratify?

Random acts of kindness hasn’t just become a movement; it’s also become a marketing tool.  For example, just last year in 2013, Canadian airline, WestJet, released a Christmas video (complete with an appropriately branded blue-suited Santa) showing employees of the company performing a monumental random act of kindness for some of their passengers.  To date, the video has over 35 44 million views.  How’s that for some effective advertising?

Final Thought: BE KIND – each and every day.  Live and breathe kindness, so it becomes a part of your soul.  While a single random act of kindness can certainly benefit a person or a moment, BEING KIND extends beyond a single person, community, or moment.  It lasts a lifetime – your lifetime.  And a life lived in kindness is a life rewarded with kindness.

M. xo

*Post updated March 2016*

WestJet Christmas Miracle video

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#TBT: The Pea and the Swiss Cheese (1986)

April 10th, 2014 No comments
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It’s Throwback Thursday (#TBT) and I wanted to try something a little different! Instead of posting an old photo of myself, I thought I’d share some writing from my youth.  I admit, I’m a bit of a pack-rat.  Given this confession, it shouldn’t surprise anyone to find out that I have kept most of my writing over the years – even the horrible teen-angst poetry.  I’ve always believed that writing (and indeed any art form) is a journey.  So, I’m going to take this opportunity to share some of that journey with you here.  Are you ready to go w-a-a-a-a-y back? This first one is a short story I composed in grade school at the age of nine.

Original draft (1986), Age: 9 years

Original draft (1986), Age: 9 years

The Pea and the Swiss Cheese

One day a pea was sitting on the dining room floor. The pea’s name was Peter. He was bored. He had had a little excitement earlier in the day, when the human baby had tried to eat him. The baby had eaten Peter’s parents, and now he was an orphan.

Peter was ten days old. The longest any pea had lived was two weeks. Peter was going to make a vegetable record! Peter started bouncing merrily across the dining room floor.

He came across a piece of swiss cheese. The swiss cheese had been blinded from the bite of the human baby.

“Hi, my name is Peter. What’s yours?”

“My name is Swissella,” the swiss cheese replied.

At that moment, the dreaded vaccuum cleaner came charging into the dining room and sucked up the two new friends.

Peter and Swissella were never seen, or eaten, again.

M. xo

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How a Christian and an Atheist Shaped the First Moon Walk

March 31st, 2014 No comments
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I couldn’t resist blogging about this interesting bit of trivia when I accidentally stumbled upon it this morning.  Despite being too young to have been able to actually experience the excitement of human’s first walk on the moon in 1969, I’ve seen the grainy footage an untold number of times.  If you happen to be one of the few in the industrialised world who hasn’t, well, here’s your chance.

Seriously, don’t let the lack of high definition video dissuade you.  This video is EPIC!

Most of us can recite Neil Armstrong’s word’s by heart, “One small step for man; one giant leap for mankind,” but what many of us may not be aware of, are the actions of co-astronaut, Buzz Aldrin, just prior to stepping onto the surface of the moon.

In this article, originally published in 1970 by Guideposts, Aldrin describes how he performed the Christian rite of Communion on the Moon.  This clip from the 1998 HBO miniseries, From the Earth to the Moon re-imagines the circumstances.

So, why were Aldrin’s actions kept secretive for so long?  Well, it turns out that on Christmas Eve the previous year, astronauts of Apollo 8 (the first to orbit the moon) sent greetings back to Earth, and included readings from The Book of Genesis.  This ignited lawsuit threats by the founder of American Atheists, Madalyn Murray O’Hare.  Subsequently, NASA officials refused to live broadcast the Communion rite.

Years later, Aldrin discussed in his memoirthat despite the ritual being of personal significance to himself, he should have chosen something more representative of all mankind humankind.

Watch the Apollo 8 crew read from the Book of Genesis, Christmas Eve, 1968

 

M. xo

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St. Patrick’s Day: History & Myths [VIDEO]

March 17th, 2014 2 comments
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Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Every year, on March 17th, people around the world participate in a tradition of donning green clothing, parading in the streets, and partaking in eats and beverages inspired by the Emerald Isle.  Considering the pious origins of St. Paddy’s Day, the celebrations are rather bodacious.

Like other holidays, St. Patrick’s Day began as a religious holiday to celebrate the patron Saint of Ireland.  Over the years, it has been embraced as a cultural holiday, celebrated by the religious and the non-religious alike – and much like other holidays, myths reign supreme.

You know that colour we associate with today?  Yeah, turns out we should all be wearing blue.  And what about the famous shamrock, considered by many as the symbol of Ireland?  It, too, has an interesting history of becoming part of popular culture.  Originally, identified with Saint Patrick who used the plant as a way to demonstrate the Holy Trinity, it later became a national symbol when adopted by an Irish militia group.

Yep, much like other holidays, fact and myth get all jumbled up until the holiday of yesteryear has transformed into something different, perhaps more audacious… or maybe not.  At any rate, before you head out to happy hour featuring green-tinted beer, brush up on your St. Paddy’s Day history with these short, fun, and informative videos.

M. xo

P.S. For a glimpse at what drunk people think St. Patrick’s Day is all about, check out this satirical report.

St. Patrick’s Day | Bet You Didn’t Know (2:23)

St. Patrick’s Day Myths; John Kosich WKBW-TV (1:58)

The History of Saint Patrick – a Short Story (3:15)

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The Lev Tahor Controversy in Canada

March 13th, 2014 No comments
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I couldn’t let an opportunity pass to comment on yet another religious controversy making headlines in my home country.  If you’ve been paying attention to the news out of Canada lately, then you may have heard about a small ultra-Orthodox Jewish group, Lev Tahor, creating quite the controversy here in the Great White North.  Now, Canada tends to be known for its multiculturalism, and as a champion of individual rights and freedoms, including religious freedom.  Although admirable, at times this tolerance creates a firestorm of controversy.

Late last year, media stories began percolating about a group of ultra-Orthodox Jews living in a secluded and tight-knit community in Quebec.  They were clashing with the province over the education of their children, and fled to Ontario in order to privately educate their children (read about issues surrounding private and public education in my post on Creationism in Canada).  What began as an increasingly common story, religious rights versus the public education system, has turned into a media frenzy with accusations circulating of child endangerment, suspicious charitable donations, and religious discrimination.

I won’t bother rehashing all the details that have been steadfastly published in the media.  You can do that for yourself, here, here, and here.  You should also consider watching two investigative reports available on YouTube, one by Global’s 16×9, and the other by CBC’s Fifth Estate.  Both provide some interesting insight into this group, particularly during the interview segments.  Regardless of how sensationally the information has been portrayed in the media, it’s pretty clear that something isn’t quite right.  So, should Lev Tahor be considered a legitimate religious group simply trying to live in accordance with their beliefs, or are they a dangerous cult?

In all honesty, I don’t know.  I hesitate to label minority religious groups, fringe religious groups, or new religious groups as a cult, because the word is far too often misused and abused.  That said, after researching Lev Tahor, something is terrible amiss with the leaders of this group.

It’s no secret that I champion religious tolerance and freedom; however, it’s important to clarify that there are exceptions.  For example, religious rights should never trump basic human rights.  If there is even the suspicion that Lev Tahor children are not being properly cared for, then a full investigation is warranted.  Lev Tahor claims they have nothing to hide, then open your doors and let social service workers have unfettered access to your way of life.

There are also questions surrounding how Lev Tahor generates income, particularly when so few members work outside the community.  According to community leaders, generous donors help sustain the community.  It was reported that at least one charity run by Lev Tahor had their charitable status revoked.  As a taxpayer, I’d like to ensure that tax exemptions are indeed being given to real charities. Further, it was reported that some Lev Tahor members receive thousands of dollars in child tax benefits.  This causes me concern too.  Child tax benefits are intended to ensure that children are being adequately taken care of, but clearly there are numerous accusations that suggest otherwise.  This must be investigated fully.

I don’t wish to see Lev Tahor members persecuted, but there are too many unanswered questions that need to be addressed.  I hope that officials and the media can do so in a responsible and unbiased manner, so that religious freedoms and basic human rights are appropriately balanced and equally championed.  Anything less would be ‘un-Canadian’.

Do you have thoughts or questions about this story?  I’d like to hear from you!

M. xo

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Nature-Connectedness: The Greening of Behaviour, Well-Being and Christian Imperatives: Part 3

February 24th, 2014 No comments
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Read Part One and Two

Getting Back to Nature – A Christian Imperative

“And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion … over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth” (Genesis 1:26)

“And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31)

In perhaps one of the most significant articles in religion and ecology discourse, Lynn White Jr. (1967) in his article, The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis, discussed the impact of Westernized Christian tradition on the proliferation of the misuse of science and technology that ultimately led to perpetuating a polarity between humankind and nature. Acknowledging that people remarkably and often unintentionally impact the natural world (p. 1203), he suggested that a historical overview of the advent of the ecological crisis was warranted. White discussed the rise of Western industrialization, leading to modern science and technology as harbingers of doom for nature (p. 1204). In a critical examination, White admonished the Western Christian tradition for spreading ideological narratives from the Biblical account of the story of Creation that called for a fundamental reign of humankind over nature (p. 1205-1206). He suggested that solutions to the ecological crisis should be one of a religious nature because its origins were based in religion. Further due to the influence of the Christian tradition on science and technology, he believed that further remedies of this nature could not aid in a resolution because they were ultimately based on religious ideology (p. 1206-1207), therefore a religious response could be the only proper course of action.

White’s arguments provide a sound base for what roles, if any, religion and science should impart in the continued efforts toward ecological salvation. Clearly, this argument lays the blame squarely at the foot of the Western Christian tradition and as such has incited much response from the community. Responses have ranged from outright denial to acknowledgment of partial culpability; however, there appears to be a growing trend of redefining the terms and understanding of dominion or stewardship as suggested in the Genesis account. Indicative of this sentiment have been many messages and appeals from leaders of the Roman Catholic Church, particularly Pope John Paul II.

 

Christian Perspectives

In a 1990 address celebrating World Day of Peace, Pope John Paul II discussed an emerging adversary to world peace – the present day ecological crisis (Message of His Holiness, Intro., par. 1). Pointing to the same passages in the book of Genesis that White used in his argument, in which Adam and Eve were granted dominion over the Earth (Gen 1:28), he expanded the interpretation to suggest that dominion was granted on condition that it was carried out with love and care. He further suggested that it is through sinful acts of rebellion against the Creator’s instructions that have led to the present day environmental devastation (Sec. I, par. 2).

The Pope’s message also discussed the negative impacts of consumerism, irresponsible use of science and technology, a complacent disregard for life, and the lack of education encompassing an environmental ethic. These, he theorized, are all factors that have contributed to ecological devastation affecting every life on the planet. The solution he put forth called for a united world of peoples who step into their place as proper stewards of creation (Sec. II – Sec.V).

His Holiness also exalted the benefits of the human-nature relationship, “[o]ur very contact with nature has a deep restorative power; contemplation of its magnificence imparts peace and serenity” (Sec. IV, par. 8). In closing his address, Pope John Paul II alluded to a kinship with nature by urging people to keep, “[…] alive a sense of ‘fraternity’ with all those good and beautiful things which Almighty God has created,” (Sec. V, par. 5).

Clearly, one of this generation’s most influential leaders of the Christian tradition felt a deep urgency over the state of matters concerning the environment. In addition, he appears to have intuitively connected with notions of the beneficial effect of nature on not only one’s physical well-being, but also one’s spiritual well-being. His ecotheological contemplations lay forth a path in which Christians can breathe new life into the Biblical account of Creation, including a new standard of humankind’s call to stewardship of the earth.

Renowned ecotheologian and Catholic priest, Thomas Berry, has written much on the subject of the relationship between humans and nature. He suggested that, “[w]e have indeed become strange beings so completely are we at odds with the planet that brought us into being” (Meadow Across the Creek, 2000, par. 9). Discussing the upbringing of children in industrialized nations, he posited that a learned alienation from nature imparts indifference concerning the effects of future economic aspirations that exploit the environment (par. 9).

One response Berry (2003) offered to reconnect humankind with the earth was to usher in an age which he dubbed ecozoic. In this new era, Berry believed that people will and must come to appreciate not only the intrinsic value of all life forms (pg. 569), but also their role as a supreme manifestation and celebratory agent of the universe (pg. 565). Endowed with the ability of self-awareness and heightened intelligence, humankind is tasked with responsibility of stewardship (p. 565) in such a way that honours the symbiosis of all species and the earth itself (pg. 568).

Berry’s reflections suggest a deep spiritual connection and rational understanding about people in relation to the environment. He discussed the inharmonious consequences of human actions on the balance of nature and how this reflected a tragic implementation of the gifts and burdens of intelligence and self-awareness (p. 565-567). Despite the culpability of people on the present state of the natural environment, he acknowledged that future pursuits must still maintain the interests of humans, but also maintain the health of the planet (p. 566-567). Through initiating responsible ecological and economical governance Berry suggested, “[…] that the well-being of each [is] fulfilled in the well-being of the whole” (p. 570). It is in recognizing that the “[…] universe is a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects,” (p. 570) that the greater potential of humankind may be actualized.

Berry’s profound spiritual reflections show a remarkable integration of the views of his traditional faith, but also those stemming from an understanding of a universal consciousness. It is through the integration of multi-faceted frameworks of spirituality and scientific practice that a new era of environmental ethic can arise to influence humanity in shifting their current relationship with the earth.

 

Toward an Integrated Environmental Ethic

The aforementioned research and philosophical discourse highlights a need for an integrated framework to be adopted in order to appropriately respond to the environmental crisis. Lynn White Jr. made the argument that the most adequate responses must be ones rooted in religion; however, scientific knowledge must also be included in the solution. Religion may offer a motivation toward ecological salvation, but science can assuredly offer important tools and methods that will be invaluable toward implementing responses and measuring successes thereafter.

Science and religion have historically been polarized in such discussions; however, both can provide immense benefits. As has been demonstrated, theologians and ecological thinkers often begin by asking important questions that should, and must, be investigated with the rigor of the scientific discipline. One of humanity’s greatest assets is the ability to ponder profound existential issues, and then follow through with logical methods of inquiry. How then, can humankind use these powerful forces to advance a responsible ecological age, while still advancing the human potential in all its pursuits?

Throughout this paper the concept of interdependency has been explored in relation to people and nature. This same concept can be examined in the context of this issue between religion and science, both of which are inherently human concepts of viewing the world. Striving to integrate these concepts can only serve to benefit broadening humanity’s understanding of these important issues.

As noted, much of the research undertaken has stemmed from ecospiritual ideas. These thinkers expressed concern for the alienation of humans from a fundamental part of their being – nature. Clearly, the scientific community has become more interested in these ideas as evidenced from the growing body of research concerning people and the environment. Similarly, science is both validating these claims through a methodological approach and providing important tools in which to understand the causal links between people and nature. Thomas Berry (2003) advocated this integral framework where science, technology and religions forge a new ecozoic era and universe story.

Religion and ecology literature is replete with discussions on whether anthropocentrism or biocentrism is the problem and/or solution to the unfolding crisis. The examination in this paper suggests that anthropocentrism and biocentrism may not be mutually exclusive ideas in the search for an appropriate response. The research indicates that humans receive enormous benefits from being connected or having a kinship with nature. Human needs and interests are fulfilled when the needs of the environment are also fulfilled. This speaks for an anthropocentric ideal in which human behaviour and utilization of the planet’s resources are based on what is in the best interest of humanity.

Interestingly, this adapted anthropocentric notion may also have elements of biocentrism. Human interests are fulfilled through having a deep interest in maintaining a healthy environment and forging a deep connection to nature. Additionally, as the aforementioned research suggests, pro-environmental behaviour may also increase identification with the environment, thus resulting in a greater appreciation for the inherent worth of the environment. This would suggest that claims of anthropocentrism, argued to be inherent in religious traditions such as Christianity, would not necessarily negate an appropriate response to the environment.

Similarly, the concept of stewardship in the Christian ideology can be integrated into a robust environmental ethic. Historically, there may be evidence to suggest that the dominion argument had precedence over stewardship in humanity’s relations to nature; however, religious traditions evolve and adapt in accordance with the acquisition of knowledge and shifting societal ethics. Clearly, as evidenced by the messages from Pope John Paul II and Thomas Berry presented in this paper, a shift in ideological territory is taking place. Christians are heralding a renewed response to their relationship with the environment; perhaps in part due to the growing scientific evidence that highlights humanity’s culpability in the destruction of God’s Creation and in addition to empirical inquiries into the value of nature for people. Reinterpretation of Biblical passages allows for the integration of this knowledge into an appropriate and decidedly Christian response. Part of this response may include the atonement for past sins perpetrated on God’s Creation. Additionally, Christians can seek guidance and a new ethic based on revisiting their sacred text for renewed revelation.

In light of the research and philosophical discourse above, stewardship can provide a bridge for which Christians may develop a deeper connection to nature. If the research holds true, a deeper kinship with the environment will result in an increase in positive actions toward the environment which ultimately will fulfill God’s mandate to care for the land He created. Befittingly, these actions and connections will likely increase the well-being of the Christian community which could be interpreted as divine reward for fulfilling divine providence.

Essentially, science and religion are working in parallel toward the same prospect. One institution doing so based on divine mandates and influenced by modern knowledge; the other based on contemporary methodologies and influenced by spiritual reflections. Clearly, this suggests that cooperative efforts toward ecological sustainability are already underway. The future challenge will be maintaining this synergy, while valuing the insights each paradigm can offer toward the effort.

M. xo

References

Bible, The King James or Authorized Version of the Holy Bible.

Berry, T.  (2000). The Meadow Across the Creek.  In The Great Work.  Retrieved from http://www.thomasberry.org/Essays/MeadowAcrossCreek.html.

Berry, T. (2003). The universe story: its religious significance. In R.S. Gottlieb (Ed.), Liberating faith: religious voices for justice, peace, and ecological wisdom (565-572). Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

John Paul II.  Message of His Holiness Pope John Paul II for the Celebration of the World Day of Peace. 1 Jan. 1990. Retrieved from http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/messages/peace/documents/hf_jp-ii_mes_19891208_xxiii-world-day-for-peace_en.html.

White Jr., L. (1967). The historical roots of our ecologic crisis. Science, 155 (3767), 1203-1207.

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Nature-Connectedness: The Greening of Behaviour, Well-Being and Christian Imperatives: Part 2

February 18th, 2014 No comments
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Missed Part One?  Read it here.

Translating the Nature-Connectedness Hypothesis into Theoretical Frameworks

The groundwork of any psychological research involves the study of various facets of human nature and behaviour. There are numerous branches of psychology that focus on specific frames of reference to focus investigations, such as social, physiological, forensic, personality, etc. The emerging sub-discipline of ecopsychology (also related to environmental psychology and conservation psychology), “[…] proceeds from the assumption that at its deepest level the psyche remains sympathetically bonded to the Earth that mothered us into existence” (Roszak, 1995, p. 5). Clearly, this focus of empirical research sounds remarkably similar to the aforementioned hypothetical musings of Wilson, Naess, Louv and Jung. Although these ideas are not new, scientific inquiry is a refreshing course of action that may provide stronger evidence for the validity of these philosophical claims.

It is important to point out that while psychological inquiry does make use of scientific empirical techniques that the essence of this study is inherently speculative (p. 14). The mysterious nature of the mind makes even the soundest theory difficult to prove conclusively. Additionally, no two people are exactly alike; therefore, psychology can most often speak in terms of generalities and correlations. Despite the seemingly inconclusive quality of this research, it is still extremely valuable in assisting to understand the motivations and behaviours of people. This can be a powerful tool in influencing policies and actions of social institutions.

 

Toward Environmental Well-Being

Some research inquiries assist to further understand human motivation toward positive environmental action. P. Wesley Schultz (2000) conducted research on the role of empathy with nature on concern for the environment. Drawing on previous research that suggested that an individual’s value system could determine the extent of environmental concern, Schultz constructed a research design to measure three factors of value-based environmental concern.

The first, egoistic concerns, suggested that people will have greater concern for environmental issues that affect them personally. Altruistic concerns proposed that concern is derived from the degree to which environmental crises affects others, including individuals, communities, nations, and/or humankind. The last concern, biospheric, assumed that interest in the environment is propelled by a deep value for all living organisms (p. 392).

Schulz did not believe that these concerns worked independently; however, he suggested that the degree to which an individual felt interdependency with self, others or all living organisms could propose motivating foundations with regard to environmental concern (p. 393-394). Further, he posited that individuals could have differing motivations for their concern about the same issue (p. 392). For instance, individuals protesting the destruction of a local forest may be engaged in the environmental cause because the forest represents a personal place of leisure (egoistic). It could also provide important community recreational and aesthetic attributes (altruistic), and it may also be a place of great bio-diversity worthy of protecting for its own sake (biospheric). Egoistic and altruistic concerns may be easier to activate as they appear to direct concern toward more localized and personal areas of interest, while biospheric concerns could propel wider reaching implications of global concern, such as issues surrounding carbon emissions.

Drawing on past research on inducing empathy to increase helping behaviour, Schultz assigned two groups of participants into either an objective condition or perspective-taking condition. Participants were shown a series of images depicting people engaged in outdoor recreational activities, animals in nature, and animals being harmed in the natural environment. Following, participants completed a questionnaire designed to measure environmental attitudes and the three proposed value-based factors (p. 398-399). The results indicated that when shown images of animals being harmed, biospheric concerns were activated in the perspective-taking condition significantly higher than those in the objective condition (p. 400), suggesting that empathy toward nature seems to increase concern for it, thus potentially highlighting an important element in which to engage individuals in environmental issues. The link between connecting to nature and pro-environmental behaviour will be discussed further in subsequent sections.

In his discussion, Schultz pointed out that more psychological research is needed to understand motivations and behaviours with regard to people and the environment, especially in light of the growing ecological crisis facing the world. He acknowledged that much of the research is disjointed – drawing from models within the field of social psychology – and that there has yet to be a comprehensive and organized theory to understand ecological behaviours (p. 401). He suggested, “[…] that any activity that reduces an individual’s perceived separation between self and nature will lead to an increase in that individual’s biospheric concern” (p. 403).

As Schultz aptly demonstrates, psychology is making strides toward narrowing the gap between philosophical ideas concerning nature-relatedness and the scientific understanding of this phenomenon.

A 2004 paper documented investigative research, influenced by the work of famed ecologist Aldo Leopold. Using the Connectedness to Nature Scale (CNS), the research sought to test Leopold’s assumptions that people need to feel a kinship with nature in order to respond to environmental crises as if their own welfare was at stake (Mayer & Frantz, p. 504-505). In addition, parts of this study were designed to test Wilson’s biophilia hypothesis using established measures of previously conducted social psychological inquiry derived from theories of the need to belong to groups (p. 509). The results of this work demonstrated that the CNS is a reliable and valid measure that supports Leopold’s postulations.

Overall, the researchers concluded that people do need to feel connected to nature in order to protect it; however, the researchers also noted that a cause-effect relationship cannot be cited because of issues of bi-directionality (p. 512). In essence, does a deep affiliation with nature lead to environmental behaviour or does environmental behaviour lead to a deeper affiliation with nature? These are important elements for future research to investigate in order to provide even more robust theories that can be adopted by social institutions seeking to integrate methodological frameworks into responsible environmental directives.

The authors also noted that some people can and do engage in self-destructive behaviour, either consciously or subconsciously, and therefore increasing connection to nature may have little impact on positive environmental behaviour (p. 512). For example, this insight demonstrates that knowledge, such as the negative environmental impact of burning fossil fuels, may be difficult to manifest into positive change, particularly due to cognitive processes that override the integration of this logic. Immediate gratification and short-term benefits may supersede the long-term gains derived from an ecologically superior course of action. For instance using public transit may be more environmentally friendly; however, using one’s own vehicle may provide greater comfort and decreased travel time. Clearly, individuals’ actions toward the environment are mitigated by numerous factors, suggesting further research is warranted.

Research published in 2011 in the Journal of Environmental Psychology examined how commitment could impact environmental behaviours. The authors postulated that dedication to nature could lead to pro-environmental behaviour (Davis, Le & Coy, p. 257). Drawing from work on interdependency theory and other such commitment models, the research sought to draw conclusions on the relation of an individual’s dedication to the environment and one’s willingness to sacrifice to sustain it.

Overall, the study demonstrated that commitment to the environment does lead to positive environmental behaviour, especially when instances of experience in nature are fulfilling. Additionally, individuals’ sense of purposefulness in their actions toward the environment also tended to increase commitment and positive ecological behaviour. The authors cautioned that results are correlational only; suggesting that one cannot ascertain whether commitment affects behaviour or behaviour affects commitment (p. 263). Of positive note in this study, is the attempt to bring together fragmented frameworks of inquiry into a combined analysis.

 

Toward Individual Well-Being

The aforementioned studies demonstrate just a small sample of the robust investigations being conducted into the motivations of human behaviour toward ecological well-being. If, as has been put forth, there is an interdependent relationship between people and nature, what can this research reveal about the influences on individual well-being when engaged in ecologically positive practices?

Paul Stevens (2010), in an article published in Perspectives in Public Health, presented a comprehensive overview of research in the area of individual well-being resulting from interaction with the natural environment. He documented research that demonstrated most individuals display a preference for natural environments, which are posited to produce relaxation, focus, and emotional engagement. Additionally, ecotherapy models have advocated that feeling disconnected from the environment could result in various maladaptive psychological symptoms such as anxiety and depression, which is mitigated through increased contact with the natural world (p. 267). This appears intuitive when considering that people often recharge their bodies and minds through breaks from the hectic technological world by getting back to nature through hiking, camping, or exotic vacations on tropical beaches. People seem to instinctively know that nature has a restorative quality that nourishes the body and soul.

Perhaps more intriguing is research indicating a decrease in biological ageing with subsequent increases in the availability of green space in areas where people live (p. 268). Clearly, there is a causal connection; however, it’s difficult to ascertain the cause-effect relationship. Perhaps, individuals who have more natural settings nearby are likely to get out and enjoy those spaces more frequently – resulting in increased exercise, a healthier body and a healthier mind.

Stevens concluded his overview by stating, “[e]nvironmentalism has never just been about the loss of habitats and other species becoming extinct – it is fundamentally linked to all aspects of who we are, individually and collectively. Well-being requires a healthy environment, local and global, to ‘be well’ in” (p. 268).

Shifting ecological arguments from focusing solely on other species and future generations, to the present state of human well-being, may induce social institutions to radically alter paradigms. Acknowledging the importance of a healthy environment for a healthy individual may increase environmental protection regulations, similar to other health regulations surrounding tobacco and alcohol control or food safety. There’s legislation designed to mitigate psychological and emotional harm to an individual in the form of various anti-discrimination laws and guarantees of certain rights and freedoms; therefore it’s not difficult to imagine legislation that lessens harm to individuals resulting from lack of access to a clean and healthy environment. It appears that as a collective the global community sees the various facets of well-being as important to foster and protect; therefore, protecting the environment which provides so many benefits for humans appears intrinsic to these pursuits.

Specific research undertaken at Carleton University has focused on the correlation between happiness and nature-relatedness. This research utilized the Nature-Relatedness Scale (NR) to measure identification with nature, as coined by Arne Naess and discussed previously in this paper. Thought to be an enduring and stable aspect of an individual, NR reflects differences in the degree of connectedness to the natural environment (Nisbet, Zelenski & Murphy, 2011, p. 304).

The results of three studies conducted demonstrated a positive association between NR and various facets of well-being (including positive affect, purposefulness, and personal growth). Additionally, the research suggested that NR could help mitigate negative emotions and mood or affective conditions. Further, it was shown that students enrolled in environmental courses tended to show higher states of well-being versus students not enrolled in these courses, even when highly stressful academic demands were included (p. 316). This investigation showed that these results were similar regardless of age or occupation of the participants (p. 317), suggesting that they could be generalized to the larger population.

Similar to previous research discussed, there are notable limitations that should be highlighted. This study showed a correlational link between NR and well-being. Additionally, concerns of the complexity of what role NR may play in not only well-being, but pro-environmental engagement were cited (p. 318). Despite these limitations, this research provides strong support for the psychological benefits of humans relating to the natural environment.

The aforementioned ecopsychological pursuits demonstrate that there is an important link between people and nature that certainly requires continued investigation. A failure to advance this inquiry would seemingly result in the loss of opportunity to increase the well-being of not only the earth, but also its various inhabitants – including humankind. It appears intuitive that this research should and must continue, and that influential social institutions must support and even adapt these ideas into a framework that assuredly can only benefit their communities.

One of these institutions, particularly influential in the Western hemisphere, should take interest in this research as a means in which to engage in dialogue and effect a new environmental age of awareness. Religious institutions heralding a Christian perspective will find these insights not only offer adaptive methods to shepherd an age of environmental integrity, but will also offer devotees a path to greater well-being. In addition, a greater spiritual fulfillment may be sought through penance of historical actions that have been suggested as the root cause of the alienation of humankind from nature which may have led to the present day ecological crisis.

***Read Nature-Connectedness, Part 3***

M. xo

References

Davis, J. L., Le, B., & Coy, A. E. (2011). Building a model of commitment to the natural environment to predict ecological behaviour and willingness to sacrifice. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 31, 257-265.

Mayer, F. S. & Frantz, C. M. (2004). The connectedness to nature scale: a measure of individuals’ feeling in community with nature. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 24, 503-515.

Nisbet, E. K., Zelenski, J. M. & Murphy, S. A. (2011). Happiness is in our nature: Exploring nature relatedness as a contributor to subjective well-being. Journal of Happiness Studies, 12, 303-322.

Roszak, T. (1995). Where psyche meets gaia.  In T. Roszak, M.E. Gomes & A.D. Kanner (Eds.), Ecopsychology: Restoring the earth, healing the mind (pp. 1-17). San Francisco, CA: Sierra Club Books.

Schultz, P.W. (2000). Empathizing with nature: the effects of perspective taking on concern for environmental issues. Journal of Social Issues, 56 (3), 391-406.

Stevens, P. (2010). Embedment in the environment: a new paradigm for well-being? Perspectives in Public Health, 130 (6), 265-269.

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