Posted in Photography, Psychology, Writing

Has Religion Lost its Way?

During these trying times of politics, terrorism, and Trump, the world has become a scary and unpredictable place. The religions and belief systems typically used to promote peace, community, and the betterment of the individual are now being used as a form of social control. Using religion to promote fear, ignorance, and exclusion is based on rule books or bibles written thousands of years ago. While the stories and techniques may differ, I believe that all religions are virtually the same in their end goal —the betterment of the individual and their life.

Christianity, the most practiced religion, has Jesus Christ as the central figure. The son of God, sent to die for us and save our sins, is symbolized by a cross. In Christianity, people who follow the religion exist to worship God and Jesus Christ and must guide their life by the Holy Bible and the Ten Commandments. When acts, thoughts, or deeds go against the lessons and orders given in the Bible and Ten Commandments are not followed, it is considered a violation or sin. To get into heaven after death instead of hell, people must live by the teachings of the Holy Bible. Forgiveness is at the core of Christianity.

Anabaptism includes traditional Christian religions such as the Amish, Mennonite, and Hutterite among others known for their simple lifestyles void of modern technologies or conveniences. The Amish are the most extreme. They refuse to use cars, power lines, or power tools to assist in their farming and daily living. Mennonite and Hutterite, however, are more accepting of modern conveniences. They use some modern technology such as phones and cars but must still live a simple life.

To maintain the simple lifestyle associated with Anabaptism, strict rules and harsh consequences are doled out. Shunning, for example, forces a member (and sometimes their whole family) to have no contact with their community or extended family. They can no longer attend any community events, family functions, or their church. So, by not following rules that are hundreds of years old, dissenters live in complete isolation and are essentially mentally tortured in an effort to maintain social control and order.

Islam, the second largest religion, is concentrated in the Middle East including Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, and Egypt. Followers of the Islamic religion, called Muslims, believe in one god known as Allah. Like Christianity, Muslims believe in Jesus Christ and live by the laws outlined in two holy books: the Qur’an and the Sunnah. Like Jesus Christ, Islam’s founder and the prophet is Muhammad who was sent from God. Allah (God) is a powerful and strict judge who will be merciful toward followers depending on the sufficiency of their life’s good works and religious devotion. The teaching of the Islamic religion says that giving up one’s life for Allah is a sure way of entering heaven. And when one goes against Allah, they should be punished.

Hinduism is the oldest and third largest religion in the Southern Asia including India and Nepal. Unlike Islam and Christianity, Hinduism has no single founder, no single scripture, and no commonly agreed set of teachings. There are many gods that take different forms, which is why they believe in reincarnation. Hindus have different beliefs or laws. One law is Karma, which says the actions and the way you live your life will be returned to you in your current life or in a future one. Dharma is another law that helps to maintain society. It encourages people to be more moral or gives them the opportunity to act virtuously.  So, a Hindu’s goal is to become free from the law of Karma by using Dharma.

Buddhism is a spiritual religion that is mostly located in Southeast and Western Asia including Thailand, China, Japan, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Malaysia. Buddhists don’t believe in figure heads or deities. They believe that nothing is fixed or permanent, and that change is always possible. The goal of Buddhism is to reach a state of enlightenment or nirvana through the development of morality, meditation, and wisdom. The founder and teacher of Buddhism is the Gautama Buddha, who achieved a long state of happiness or enlightenment. Just like Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism, Buddhism is a collection of guided disciplines, values, and directives that a person may want to live by.

New Age is a wide variety of different beliefs, practices, and therapies found in North America, but mainly in the USA. The goal of New Age beliefs and practices is to develop an altered consciousness and one’s own divinity while trying to reach a higher consciousness within themselves. Popular elements of New Age include alchemy, alternative psychotherapy techniques, aromatherapy, astrology, channeling, crystal work, divination, color healing, magic, mediums, psychic powers of every kind, reincarnation, and past life regression, Tarot card readings, Yoga, and many other unique movements and zany practices. To society, these techniques are better known as self-help methods and alternative therapies. But like the already mentioned religions, New Age promotes a sense of betterment within the individual.

So why am I describing these different religions? To make a point that, no matter what the figure head or founder is, these religions are striving towards a similar goal of betterment and prescribing to a higher (sometimes unknown) power. I believe that religions are just coping strategies that people use in times of difficulty, death, hardship, and when struggling with a lack of guidance. By putting all religion on equal footing, it allows commonalities to come to light.

Religion allows people to deal with the issues of life, society, death, and struggle. When people are in desperate need, they seek answers through religion. A good example of this is when people are facing death or a loved one are attempting to deal with their loss. They end up praying to a higher power even if they aren’t religious. Religion and spiritual beliefs also provide people with an escape from reality to establish comfort and relief. This is seen with prison inmates, who claim to have found Jesus. Inhumane living conditions can negatively impact one’s mind and body, so religion offers a mental escape just like reading, learning, or inane tasks.

Religion and spiritual beliefs have also been used as a method of control or locus of external control. By believing a higher power has control over your actions, destiny and eternal life have become a scapegoat for actions that result in negative actions. This is seen when people claim to act as God’s messenger.

What often results from trying to live religiously is that instead of trying to live to your best potential, religious groups try to oppress and establish some type of social control. This appears to be a common issue when groups of Christian terrorists, extremists, or believers, kill and protest because it says to do so in the bible and they want to please God. This often results in the oppression of immigrants, women, and LGBTQ.

I am not claiming that all violence is due to religious ideals, but these views of religion, places of worship, and leaders tend to skew peoples’ views of our current society by opposing change that needs to occur. If you look at protesters, there seems to be a common thread: people against LGTBQ, immigration, abortion and any sort of discrimination frequently have religious tendencies advertised on their protest signage.

“Religion is the sign of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people”. Quoted by Karl Marx, who is known as the father of Communism, Marx believes that during trying times of depression, religion can serve as a distraction. This quote, I believe, is still quite relevant, but religion has become less about love, forgiveness, reaching enlightenment, and living to be your true self. Today, it is more about following traditions, orders, and laws, even if that is through oppression and discrimination.

One example of such discrimination is with the conflicts in the Middle East. There has been much controversy over the Muslims and Islamic religion. Uttering words like “ISIS” or “Muslims” seems to be the equivalent of saying the Dark Lord’s name from Harry Potter (Voldemort). These words promote fear, and with that, paranoia. Associating all Muslims are terrorists is a joke.

Stereotyping all Muslims and people who wear hijabs or turbans, and denying Syrian refugees and immigrants from having an opportunity to live a normal life, is disgraceful. This can also be said for LGBTQ community, where protesting against love and acceptance of LGBTQ members, one the perception of being sinful is horrible, and should not be tolerated. If religions like Christianity are all about love and forgiveness, then why are same sex couples, who want to be married, live a normal life and have a family, considered sinful? This is where I believe religion comes into play. Through all this hatred, it appears that religious groups have lost their way as they try to establish social control.

This dictatorship of social control by religious groups needs to stop. I hope that, by putting all religions, spiritual beliefs, and belief systems on equal grounds, it can lessen stereotypes, fear, and religious social control, while promoting a sense of equality and an openness to different ideas and people. Whether they are Muslim, LGBTQ, black, white, or those with purple polka dots, acceptance and openness is key for the survival during these difficult times.

For this weeks featured photo, I have posted a photo of unique donuts. Each donut has its own special characteristics (whether it be sugared, glazed or feature different flavors like bubblegum). The bottom line is that they are all the same — they are donuts. This I believe is a metaphor for religion, that when it comes down to it, they are all the same — each religion has similar goals — self-improvement, guidance, and enlightenment.

Posted in Psychology, Writing

If it Quacks Like a Duck, and Looks Like a Duck, its a Placebo.

Our society tries to seek out natural treatments and alternative medicines because we think of them as safer and just as effective (if not more effective) than the manufactured versions, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Many of them don’t work at all. And even worse, some of them can cause illness, serious side effects, or even death. This is the myth, and the associated problems, Bill Nye takes on in his show “Bill Nye Saves the World.” The first episode entitled “Tune your Quack-o-meter”, examines natural cures, alternative medicine, and the placebo effect.

Purveyors of natural treatments often twist science in puzzling ways to make their ideas sound effective and magical. One magical medicine man featured in the episode claimed sound can heal cancer and other diseases. He claimed that, if you could match the specific vibration of the affected cells, sound could be more effective than modern medicines. Another healer claimed crystals, chakras, and chants could do the same. Unfortunately, these things do nothing except make hundreds of dollars disappear — money that could, and likely should, be used for medicine that has been tested and scientifically proven.

Alternative medicines are untested and unregulated. There is no empirical proof, but people still use them despite being dangerous and ineffective. Alternative medicine is “any of a range of medical therapies that are not regarded as orthodox by the medical profession, such as herbalism, homeopathy, and acupuncture.”

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Bill Nye Saves the world Season 1, episode 2. checklist for false alternative medicine in determining its authenticity

I believe that these “natural healing” methods lead to bigger issues. People are scammed out of hundreds of dollars. They lose valuable time that be used on scientifically-proven medications. They can interfere with medications they are taking, come with confounding side effects, and even lead to death. Even then, people claim they still work. This is due to the illusory placebo effect.

The placebo effect is the belief that a medicine or treatment works despite having no active ingredients. Natural and therapeutic tools  like dollar store crystals and sound are what I would label as an illusory placebo effect. This is where someone believes there has been an improvement due to the treatment when, in fact,  there hasn’t been any improvement whatsoever. This is enhanced when marketing agencies use terms like “a new study claims… ” or “scientists say…”. Here, the claims are subjective, biased, or completely false.

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Bill Nye Saves the world Season 1, episode 2. Explaining the Placebo Effect. 

With that being said, I believe there is a difference between a treatment and a tool. A tool in medicine or well-being is something that can assist alongside proper treatment. For example, crystals, sound vibrations, or different forms of therapy can help by making someone feel better and given them peace of mind, but they should never be labeled as a treatment. It is irresponsible and harmful to those needing treatment, their families, and the general public. This is no different than Peter Pan saying fairies only exist when people believe in them. Am I comparing these natural remedies to mythical creatures? Yes, yes I am.

“Although some might think this show is a waste of Netflix space, Bill Nye Saves the World” adds science and reasoning to controversial topics and brings them into the public eye. Alternative or natural treatments should not be seen as cures or even as a substitute for pharmaceutical medication or treatment. I do believe that, just like any other form of therapy, they can be used along side doctor recommended medicine.

Bill Nye saves the world series, although some might question the target audience or that say that this show is a waste of Netflix space, this show brings science and reason of controversial topics like homeopathic medicines into the public eye. Alternative or natural treatments should not be seen as cures or even as a substitute for pharmaceutical medication or treatment. I do believe that just like any other form of therapy like crystals, yoga, and sound therapy are tools in treatment along side doctor recommended medicine, but not as a solo remedy for such aliments as cancer. So, once again Bill Nye has saved the world.

Posted in Photography, Psychology, Writing

Could Brain Damage Cause Brilliance?

The New York Times features an article about using cognitive brain manipulation to explore mental disabilities such as autism. This article leads to future possibilities that could have a huge impact on how mental disorders are studied. This article begins by the author discovering new skills, such as impressive drawing, through the application of electrodes of certain brain regions. The electrode experiment led to further investigation into the ability to manipulate human cognition past their mental capacity and provide insight into how the human brain functions. One example of this type of manipulation of brain areas is the research into autism.

Allen Snyder developed a theory while studying autism called the Savant theory. Snyder theorizes that a small number of people with autism can perform super specialized mental acts. These acts can include learning new languages without any formal training or impressive drawing skill.

The unlimited mental capacity within people with autism leads to the larger question of the neurological impairment that causes autism. Could neurological impairment be the cause of such genius-like abilities? With this line of questioning, I wonder if higher brain capacity is caused by lack of brainpower.

An analogy that I think relays this thinking is having all your eggs in one basket. By having more brain area impairment, more time and neurons are applied to fewer brain areas as compared to multiple brain regions. The experiment to investigate this savant theory was tested by the manipulation of electrodes to shut down parts of the brain. This type of testing can also give people with normal functioning brains gives a glimpse into the reality that people with mental disabilities deal with daily.

By manipulating certain brain areas, changing the way people perform and think can provide more intense and scientific research into what causes mental disabilities.  It could also change the way we think in unexpected ways

Not only can we determine the underlying cause of mental disorders, it but can also assist in the treatment of mental disorders. This treatment and cause for mental disorders can be achieved by stimulating other areas of the brain to dispel syndromes and side effects of mental disorders by using a normal functioning brain to create autistic syndromes.

In summary, not only can brain manipulation help with treatment and prevention, it can also assist with therapy. This technique could be used as a therapy where people can learn what is it like to have a mental disability. By gaining a new perspective and appreciation for people who deal with daily mental difficulties.

This week’s featured photo is of graduation shoes, which is symbolic of this blog post, by allowing people to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. whether this is through shoes or brain manipulation.

Posted in Psychology, Writing

Philosophical Take on Creativity:

So this is my first blog post for my writing bootcamp. Enjoy!

Creativity is difficult to define. I believe that creativity is a mindset, but there are different perspectives on the influences of creativity. This blog post focuses on Julie Burstein’s view of creativity and how to enhance it.

In Julie Burstein’s Ted talk, she discusses how creativity is enhanced from experiences, challenges, limits and loss. She begins with a creative process metaphor.

Creativity comes from failures and stresses that occur from letting go of control illustrated by Raku. Raku is a Japanese style of pottery used in tea ceremonies, which involves playing with clay, temperature, and fire resulting in cherished cracks. The example of Raku is thought-provoking by providing a decent metaphorical example of creativity and control. Creativity involves letting go of control and letting stress and imperfections occur resulting in something beautiful.

Burstein’s first lesson is that creativity comes from everyday experiences. It states that creativity involves being open to new experiences and having the ability to see the unique from the everyday. By being open to new experiences often bring a different perspective and offers new inspirations for further creativity. Being open to seeing uniqueness, leads to the second and third lessons that are in creativity, which is challenges and limits.

With creativity and life, challenges arise by pushing the limits. You must be able to prevail to succeed. Often, limits are created by mental and physical disabilities which are viewed as a setback, but these challenges can help push the limits leading to something unique. The idea of challenges and limits to provoke creativity has merit but lacks luster. Burstein never mentioned or explicitly implies the idea of motivation. With motivation, it offers the intrinsic drive that allows people to push their limits.  Motivation does connect with challenges and limits, but I believe that Burstein’s idea of challenges and limits are based more on the person, and less about the creativity task. The idea of pushing limits and exceeding challenges does carry a hopeful thought that can be a great adversary by embracing your differences. The idea of embracing differences is shown by the example of a Pulitzer prize winner who has dyslexia.

The fourth lesson is that creativity can come from loss. An example of creativity from a loss would be the photography of Joel Meyerowitz. Meyerowitz tried to capture the beauty of the rubble, destruction, and sadness of 9/11 in New York City. Creativity from loss can be because of inspiration, or as a form of therapy to deal with the loss.

Burstein ends her lecture with another metaphor of Japanese pottery called Kintsugi. Kintsugi is a type of pottery where any damage is repaired with gold lacquer making a more beautiful and unique piece. Kintsugi is symbolic of experiences, challenges, limits and loss. It helps tell a story of creation and destruction that assist in creating something new. This notion of loss leads to the same notion of motivation and brings to light the idea of inspiration, which is a subjective aspect of creativity. Through loss, people reframe the situation, creating a different viewpoint that can lead a creative idea. This idea of loss to enhance creativity is just one example of how motivation plays into creativity.

Burstein’s view on creativity is philosophical, subjective and hopeful at times, it appears to only be skimming the surface of creativity.

 

References:

Burstein, J. (2017). 4 lessons in creativityTed.com. Retrieved 26 April 2017, from https://www.ted.com/talks/julie_burstein_4_lessons_in_creativity#t-1020910