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Saturday, January 07, 2006

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Civil Religion, Bad Things Happening to Good People, and Accelerated Self-Referentialism 

I suddenly got interested in religious issues regarding post-traumatic stress disorder. (A few of you may know why; let's just say it has to do with something I read.) From there, I've gone off into all sorts of tangents that may not have any application whatsoever to the item that I read.

Anyway, I found this article which may be of interest. This was written by William P. Mahedy in a discussion of combat veterans, but PTSD can occur outside of the confines of war. As you will see, this article touches on a lot of issues that have been previously discussed in this blog that have nothing to do with PTSD.

Religious and moral issues arise in a variety of ways and from a multiplicity of religious backgrounds in our pluralistic culture.

Each religious perspective has something to offer and I would like to see members of different traditions address PTSD from their own vantage point. My own religious background is Christian so I write from that frame of reference....

Suggest to the veteran that he accept responsibility for only what he actually did. He must not self-impose a sentence of "first degree murder" if it was only second degree. On the other hand, if it was gratuitous killing or cold blooded assassination, then one must accept that fact and live with it....

Guilt must be changed into animating guilt. One's life must be altered, transformed. Where before the soldier was an instrument of death, the veteran must now become a bearer of life. This involves the classical notion of atonement, repentance....

Encourage the veteran to forgive all enemies--simply walk away from hatred....

Mahedy then talks about civil religion, and the distinctions between American civil religion and true Christianity:

Americans live in what has been called " a nation with the soul of a church." From our colonial beginnings, we have invested our political system with a religious aura. Our early ancestors believed they had established a "city on the hill," which would be a moral and religious beacon to the rest of the world. These early settlers described the new political experiment in terms previously reserved for the biblical people of Israel. This vision of America has survived until the present as a form of "civil religion." All nations have some sort of civil religion, but ours uniquely identifies itself with Jewish/Christian biblical faith....

The God of American civil religion is an aggressive God, who goes with the troops into combat, delivers them from evil and, above all, assures them of the rightness of their cause. The truth about combat is quite different, however. God seems malignantly absent in the caldron of madness, savagery and malice that is war. Grace, redemption, mercy, kindness, love of neighbor--the stuff of New Testament faith--are incompatible with the killing rage of combat....

Situations that cause PTSD are often so severe that they alter one's view of life. This is true of combat. Previous world views are no longer adequate after the experience. The question that most often arises is "where was God?" It is at this point that American civil religion is most harmful. The macho God who fights for us in war, becomes in a peacetime consumer society the God who is there to assure us that life should meet all our expectations. God thus becomes a kind of grantor of material success and personal fulfillment. Religion of this kind is the "happy face," "have a nice day," variety. It helps to remind the veteran or other client that this has very little to do with the Christian biblical tradition....

Just this week, there has been a lot of discussion about Pat Roberton's assertion that any Israeli prime minister who divides Israel is violating the word of God and must suffer the consequences. In other words, the reason that something bad happened to Ariel Sharon (or to Dick Clark) is because they sinned. Let me interrupt the Mahedy article to offer this quote from the book of John:

John 9:1-3 (New International Version)
New International Version (NIV)
Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society

1As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"

3"Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.

And yes, I know that some people suffer because of their sins, but some people suffer for other reasons. Let's return to Mahedy, who began talking about Job:

Job suffered terrible afflictions. His friends were convinced that his sufferings could only be the result of punishment for sins. Job insisted upon his innocence and asked God for an answer. God never gave a straight answer, but rather an experience of transcendent divine presence that stilled Job's question (Job: 38-42). Job is very useful in dealing with PTSD clients. Some clients, i.e., innocent victims of war, victims of sexual abuse and rape are, like Job, completely without guilt. Others, i.e., assassins and those who have committed atrocities, are clearly not innocent. I have found that therapy is enhanced if the client searching for religious answers understands this distinction at the very beginning of therapy.

From the Ontario Empoblog (Latest OVVA news here)

I totally agree that traumatic events, resulting in PTSD, completely reshape our image of God. Your parallel to Job is right on. The Dick Clark thing cracks me up!
I've been thinking about Job a *lot* lately.
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