Monthly Archives: May 2014

Faith & Addiction

“New evidence shows that ‘God consciousness’ can keep young people off drugs and alcohol.” Byron Johnson and Maria Pagano

Can Faith Rewire an Addict’s Brain?

New evidence shows that ‘God consciousness’ can keep young people off drugs and alcohol.

Corbis

Byron Johnson and Maria Pagano, The Wall Street Journal, March 28, 2014, p. A 11

Young people who regularly attend religious services and describe themselves as religious are less likely to experiment with alcohol and drugs, a growing body of research shows. Why? It could be religious instruction, support from congregations, or conviction that using alcohol and drugs violates one’s religious beliefs.

Moreover, frequent involvement in spiritual activities seems to help in the treatment of those who do abuse alcohol and drugs. That’s the conclusion of many reports, including our longitudinal study of 195 juvenile offenders that will be released in May in Alcohol Treatment Quarterly.

Fewer and fewer adolescents today are connected to a religious organization. Young people are less affiliated than previous generations, with 25% of the millennial generation unattached to any particular faith, according to a 2010 Pew Research report.

The problem is more fundamental than missing church on Sunday. Young people in our study of juvenile offenders seem to lack purpose and are overwhelmed by feelings of not fitting in. Meantime, the legalization of marijuana in several states, the flood of prescription medications, and the availability of harder street drugs gives youth wide access to mind-altering substances.

How do we help them? As one troubled young woman in our study, whom we will call Katie to protect her identity, said: “I started to get better when I started to help out in Alcoholics Anonymous. When we help others, we get connected to a power greater than ourselves that can do for us what alcohol and drugs used to do.”

Katie’s idea, to connect those who are struggling to a “higher power,” may seem too simple. Clinicians remain divided about whether AA’s goal of helping alcoholics find a higher power to solve their problems is appropriate in treatment planning. But new research, including our own study, is beginning to lend support to Katie’s conclusion. Continue reading

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Boko Haram

“Organizations like Boko Haram [Non-Muslim Teaching Is Forbidden] do not arise in isolation.  The men who establish Islamist groups, whether in Africa…Southeast Asia…or even Europe are members of long-established Muslim communities…To understand why the jihadists are flourishing; you need to understand the dynamics within those communities.”  Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Boko Haram and the Kidnapped Schoolgirls

The Nigerian terror group reflects the general Islamist hatred of women’s rights. When will the West wake up?

Ayaan Hirsi Ali,  The Wall Street Journal, May 9, 2014, p. A 15

Since the kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls in Nigeria last month, the meaning of Boko Haram—the name used by the terrorist group that seized the girls—has

Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau, in a video released in 2012. Associated Press

Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau, in a video released in 2012. Associated Press

become more widely known. The translation from the Hausa language is usually given in English-language media as “Western Education Is Forbidden,” though “Non-Muslim Teaching Is Forbidden” might be more accurate.

But little attention has been paid to the group’s formal Arabic name: Jam’at Ahl as-Sunnah lid-da’wa wal-Jihad. That roughly translates as “The Fellowship of the People of the Tradition for Preaching and Holy War.” That’s a lot less catchy than Boko Haram but significantly more revealing about the group and its mission. Far from being an aberration among Islamist terror groups, as some observers suggest, Boko Haram in its goals and methods is in fact all too representative.

The kidnapping of the schoolgirls throws into bold relief a central part of what the jihadists are about: the oppression of women. Boko Haram sincerely believes that girls are better off enslaved than educated. The terrorists’ mission is no different from that of the Taliban assassin who shot and nearly killed 15-year-old Pakistani Malala Yousafzai—as she rode a school bus home in 2012—because she advocated girls’ education. As I know from experience, nothing is more anathema to the jihadists than equal and educated women.

How to explain this phenomenon to baffled Westerners, who these days seem more eager to smear the critics of jihadism as “Islamophobes” than to stand up for women’s most basic rights? Where are the Muslim college-student organizations denouncing Boko Haram? Where is the outrage during Friday prayers? These girls’ lives deserve more than a Twitter hashtag protest. Continue reading

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In the Beginning…

In the Beginning There Was an Atom

With respect to the big-bang theory, science and faith are not at odds.

Dr. Edwin Hubble examines the photographic plate on which a super nova was found, June 1936. Associated Press

According to a recent Associated Press poll a majority of Americans—51%—do not believe the universe began with the “big bang.”

The skepticism of half the country may seem startling, given how essential the big-bang theory is to modern cosmology, but there is a good reason for it. The big bang is at first hard to swallow. I am a physics writer, and yet I remember how perplexed I was many years ago when I heard MIT cosmologist Alan Guth describe the universe expanding within a fraction of a second from the size of an atom to “as big as a marble.” My initial thought was: How could he possibly know the size of the entire universe when it was less than a second old? Believing in the big bang seemed to require a leap of faith.

And if you feel uncomfortable with big-bang cosmology, you’re in excellent company: The greatest physicist of the 20th century, Albert Einstein, stubbornly refused to believe in it. Ironically, it was a Catholic priest who first came up with the big-bang idea in 1927. The Belgian priest Georges Lemaître, who was also an astronomer and physicist, theoretically deduced the expansion of the universe and proposed that it was launched from a “primeval atom”—the process later known as the big bang.

Continue reading

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