A polymath (Greek: πολυμαθής, polymathēs, “having learned much”; Latin: homo universalis, “universal man”) is an individual whose knowledge spans a significant number of subjects, known to draw on complex bodies of knowledge to solve specific problems.
–Wikipedia definition of “Polymath”.
This past year, I have learned a hard truth about myself. I’m not who I thought I was, and who other people may still think I am. And it hurts me to have to admit that to myself. It is painful but cathartic to admit it to you.
Around this time last year, I had a minimal existential crisis. A certain SiriusXM radio station broadcast their list of the 1000 greatest rock and roll songs of all time. Because I was on the road a lot that month, and because they kept repeating the 1000 songs, I got to listen to various sections many times. There were so many songs that I didn’t bother arguing with where they should be placed on the list–until we got to the top 150.
That’s when I had my crisis. I actually only knew a few songs here and there. At one point, I listened for an entire hour and never heard a song I knew. The critical point came when I realized that the top 150 had five songs by The Who, and none of them were “Pinball Wizard”. And, I knew none of those songs. Not one. I also knew only two of the five Rolling Stones songs, none of the Grateful Dead songs, none of the Grand Funk Railroad songs (though I called them GFR like I was their biggest fan), and only a single Jimmy Hendrix song.
In 1998, the broadcaster Tom Brokaw published one of the most significant cultural books of the 20th century. He called it “The Greatest Generation”. It told the story of a generation of men and women who survived the Great Depression and then immediately went on to fight and win in World War II. There are many things I could quote from that book, but here is one which summarizes his thesis:
“There on the beaches of Normandy I began to reflect on the wonders of these ordinary people whose lives were laced with the markings of greatness….when they returned home,they married in record numbers and gave birth to another distinctive generation, the Baby Boomers. They stayed true to their values of personal responsibility, duty, honor, and faith.”
Brokaw wrote these 464 pages to pay tribute to the bravery, sacrifice, and solid principles lived out by the survivors of that generation. There is one glaring problem with the book though. It only tells one side of the story.
And the other side of the story is dark and ominous.
In this article, I am not slamming the Greatest Generation–or anyone else. This is a retrospective on what brought America, and its institutions, to the emotional crisis we are facing today. We are identifying sexual abuse, sexual assault, leadership abuse, and significant trauma by victims in every corner. Some are asking if the Millennial generations are over-reacting or if things have gotten worse.
The primary thing I want the reader to know by the end of this study is that what we are experiencing now is hopefully the final season of healing for almost 100 years of PTSD as a nation.
Let’s begin again with Brokaw and his own words. In this video, he is remarking on people’s reaction to his book. One grown daughter of a WW2 veteran says this, “As I read your book, I realized that I never really knew or understood my father.”
I have heard this story too often in counseling. It is not just younger generations saying it; I hear it from baby boomers who grew up with parents of the Greatest Generation. Here are the most common observations of those parents:
I never really knew them
They seemed distant
They were cruel, angry, and hurtful
They seemed locked into their own world
They weren’t very affectionate.
What caused the Greatest Generation to react this way?
I contend they are not the only generation that has manifested strange and harmful behavior to their children. I believe that harmful and destructive behavior has been on display in American families for several generations. Where did this all start?
I believe it began with the 1st World War. The soldiers returning home from the war brought devastating post-traumatic stress with them. And this was never diagnosed. And if it was diagnosed, it was called something different. And then it wasn’t treated properly.
Long before the effects of this world war began to wear off, the entire nation entered into a brutal Depression. This Depression caused PTSD through hunger, danger, malnutrition, familial suicide ideation, alcohol abuse and many other reactions.
Then, before this trauma could be processed and treated, the second World War happened. The effects of this, as I will show, were even more devastating than the first war. Within a generation of the first wave of trauma-recovery, an even bigger double wave came made up of survivors of the Depression and WW2.
Before the country had any chance of recovering from the effects of WW2–which we will describe in the next article–the Korean War happened. Then, before the effects of that war had diminished, the Vietnam War took place. There are many trauma scholars who feel the Vietnam War may have been the most devastating of them all in terms of its effects on the American family.
So now, from WW1 to the end of the Vietnam War, three straight generations of Americans had to cope with the effects of trauma. That is when we had hoped for a lull in the activity. But, by the time the Baby Boomers were entering adulthood, the Vietnam vets had all returned and were affecting their families with all the devastation of the other wars. The Baby Boomers experienced what is known as Secondary PTSD which can be almost as life-threatening as primary PTSD.
Before a generation passed, the nation endured two Gulf Wars, the nationwide horror of 9-11, and one of the most prolonged recessions in American history. We add a fourth generation of PTSD to the mix.
Thus, it would be proper to understand how trauma effects a person, that person’s family, and the culture which has to embrace it.
including one-time, multiple, or long-lasting repetitive events, affects everyone differently. Some individuals may clearly display criteria associated with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but many more individuals will exhibit resilient responses or brief subclinical symptoms or consequences that fall outside of diagnostic criteria. The impact of trauma can be subtle, insidious, or outright destructive. How an event affects an individual depends on many factors, including characteristics of the individual, the type and characteristics of the event(s), developmental processes, the meaning of the trauma, and sociocultural factors.
Literally hundreds of books have been written to chronicle the possible effects of trauma. But, for the sake of this article, I want to highlight some of the most common ones which have affected families in America, and therefore, America as an entire society.
Look at this list, and see if you can figure out how this may have changed the very nature of the American family.
Trauma can cause:
Emotional dysregulation. This can result in emotional outbursts, completely shut down emotional response (known as Flat Affect), shame, sadness, out-of-control anger, panic attacks, and paranoia.
Body reactions, such as autoimmune responses, weakness, proneness to injury, injuries that won’t heal, back pain, migraines, digestive problems, heart problems, sexual dysfunction, neurological disorders, etc.
General distrust toward people
Scan that list and ask yourself this question: If this trauma is not treated, how would it affect the family of the person who suffers the effects of trauma.
In the next article, we will explore the ways that trauma was perceived and dealt with by the four generations since 1914.
(This 2004 article appeared in its original form on the MTPastor blogger site I used to manage. The number of people experiencing Deconstruction has greatly increased since then. I decided it could use an overhaul).
“Tearing things apart is a powerful aspect of human nature.”
Greg and I had gone to high school together. We attended the same church and youth group. We graduated Bible College together and were ordained within a few months of each other. We genuinely liked each other.
So why did I want to punch him in the face?
I was just beginning to Deconstruct.
It was 1983 and my wife and I were at the national Congress of our Canadian denomination. The big issue being debated was whether women would be allowed to serve as pastors and elders in churches. For two years I had passionately advocated for full inclusion of women into ministry leadership positions. I had done my homework and was ready with all the theological arguments. I was ready to tear down the arguments of the Complementarians. I was even the person who brought the proposal to the committee which introduced the measure.
I had no idea Greg would make a complete ass of himself. I had no idea it would throw me into such an emotional tailspin.
He didn’t address the doctrinal issues. He didn’t appeal to historical precedent or denominational practices. He simply said: “Everyone here knows if we do this it will tear apart the church and God’s judgment will come on us all.”
With that, he was able to sway enough people to defeat the motion.
At that moment, I wrestled with whether to leave that denomination. They had already refused to ordain my wife at the same time as me the summer before. I had thought I would quit then, but she talked me out of it. When two of my close female friends from college had moved to a different denomination so they would be allowed to preach, I wondered why I was staying. Again, my wife talked me out of leaving.
When Greg used his scare tactic to convince thousands to make this decision, I actually decided to stay. But I was no longer, in my mind, part of the mainstream. I was tearing down the “good old boy, just stick with the majority” approach.
The 45 college-aged students were stunned and frightened. Some were weeping, and others were so angry they balled up their fists and held their breath. They looked around as if they were about to be the next victim in a Hallowe’en movie. “Jumpy” describes their mood. Some of them reported weeks later they had not had a good night’s sleep since that horrific weekend.
Was this a murder mystery experience? Did they just do a horror movie marathon? Or did they really experience a supernatural phenomenon?
Actually, none of those things happened. They went on a college-and-career church retreat with their church. They invited a group of seniors from a local Bible College to come and do some teaching and direction for their weekend.
“It will be fun”, they thought.
“It will be instructive”, they hoped.
“It will be the most chaotic moment of our lives”, imagined none of them.
[Trigger Warning: This article contains references to child sexual abuse, religious abuse, church discipline, and bad treatment of members of the LGBTQ community which may trigger some readers].
She revealed to her Associate Pastor’s wife she was gay and hoped to find a female life partner. Within days, she was called before a meeting of the Elders. They demanded she repent from her wickedness.
She reminded them that she had just identified/admitted to herself that she was only attracted to women. She had not had sex and had not even kissed a girl.
Yet she was told it was time to repent or face church discipline. She told them she could not in good conscience pretend to be heterosexual. Days later, they informed her that the following would happen:
She was suspended from membership pending a time when she would publicly repent.
The Elders would read the notice of her suspension from the pulpit.
All members of the congregation–including her family members–would be told if they saw her or spoke to her they could only bring up the issue of her sin. They could not be friends with her or talk casually with her.
If she repented, she would never be allowed to do children’s or teen ministry. This was to prevent her from influencing young children toward lesbianism in the future.
A mother called me one afternoon all angry and confused. She got my name from her friend, one of my counseling clients. She agreed to meet me so she could discuss how to handle a disagreement between she and her daughter.
“Mike, I went into my daughter’s room and looked through all of her drawers. When she figured out I had done this, she became livid and won’t talk to me. It seems all year we’ve had this deteriorating relationship. I don’t know how to fix it.”
“Maria, can I ask you some questions to help you work this through?”
“Why were you looking through your daughter’s private dresser?”
“Well, first, I don’t consider her dresser as her private space. I bought it, I brought it home, I own the house, I set the rules.” I let this one slip for the moment. She continued.
“But the real reason I was doing it was because her best friend Nicole’s mom called me concerned the girls were doing Ecstasy at a party last week. I wanted to find out if she was hiding drugs in her room.”
“To your knowledge, has your daughter ever used recreational drugs?”
“I smelled pot on her earlier this year, but she denied it.” I also wanted to bring up the issue of acting upon unwarranted suspicions without having dialogue first, but I left that issue to another time.
“I didn’t find any drugs, but there was some stuff that really scared me. I found condoms in the bottom drawer. I found “Fifty Shades of Grey” in there as well. It just makes me sick to think about it.”
“Do you and your husband own your house outright or do you have a mortgage?”
“I don’t know why that’s important, but yes, we have a mortgage.”
“And Maria, if the bank sent over tellers and loan officers and began ransacking your house, looking through your financial statements and searching in all your drawers, how would you react?”
“Listen Mike, I know where you’re going with this. It’s not the same thing. My house is still mine, even if I have a mortgage. I’m protected by basic rights.”
“Of course you are. But don’t you think the attitude should be the same even if the laws governing our teens does not explicitly recognize their rights to the space they call their own? Shouldn’t we afford them certain levels of respect and dignity?”
Maria didn’t know what to say to this, so I continued.
“Maria, the basic idea behind Respectful Parenting is that teens must be afforded the same level of respect we give other adults. And it teaches that they must be allowed to make mistakes and be held accountable for those mistakes without parents always jumping in to save them or head off the problems. Most of that overseer attitude is reserved for the time before children become teens. As they reach age 11 or 12, we must change the rules and recognize their rights as adults.”
This was a lot for Maria to take in. Since she had never really recognized her daughter’s adult status, she was still operating as if she was a taller more mouthy child. The daughter however was aware of this and resented it. And the daughter was correct in resenting it. It is not appropriate.
If you treat a teen as an adult, there is a greater chance they will act like an adult sooner than their peers. And if they don’t, they were never going to act that way in the first place.
As a sophomore studying theology in 1975, I read the textbook for my Pastoral Counseling class and was shocked. Though at that stage in my life I had taken no psychology courses–that would come several years later–I knew enough about the basic philosophy of psychology to suspect this textbook was not accurate.
Little did I know that book would sell millions of copies and affect the viewpoints on psychology for an entire generation. The book is called “Competent To Counsel” written by Jay Adams. The book, and Adams are the cornerstone of an entire counseling methodology called “Nouthetic” or “Biblical” Counseling.
Though the Nouthetic group (referred to now as the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors ) has many other resources they lay claim to, none is more influential than this book.
He stood in his pulpit and looked intently at the 500 people attending. Then he made his pronouncement:
“All mental illness at some level is the result of sin in a person’s life.”
He went on to explain how depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, mania, PTSD, eating disorders, OCD, and a host of other disorders were caused by combinations of unrepentant sin, lack of faith, demonic activity, curses, and lack of knowledge of the Bible.
At one point, he claimed that all schizophrenia is demonic possession and the only cure is exorcism.
At the time, he had not written any books or appeared on television. Now, he has books, television and social media outlets, invitations to speak around the globe. Though he has downplayed some of his previous views on mental illness, in several interviews he has reiterated his global stance.
From the pulpit, preachers take similar approaches to other areas of “expertise”:
Drug and alcohol treatment
Education (both grade school and college)
…on and on.
In our world, we rightfully acknowledge some people have attained levels of expertise in all these areas. Over the centuries, we have come to define the Experts by looking at their education, experience, what they teach, how accurate their assessments and proposed strategies have played out, how respected they are among their peers.
That is how we can identify an expert.
When members of the NRA spoke out against a doctor who criticized their position on gun ownership by telling him to “stay in his lane”, the medical profession hit back. What they said was extremely valid: those who are wounded by gunfire are treated by doctors and nurses. This is our lane!
Society would be foolish not to rely upon experts who are renowned and published in their fields. We would never want someone who has no expertise doing surgery, building a skyscraper, or flying an airplane.
Yet we allow preachers to make bold statements on subjects for which they have no expertise. Not only do they often disagree with the experts, but they demand congregations accept them as the Experts instead.
It was 1992. The church I attended was heavily invested in the pro-life cause. Many of its members marched in front of the only abortion clinic in our town, shaming women who entered, and calling for strict change of law to make abortions almost impossible to get. There were prayer meetings in the church to defeat the “powers of darkness” surrounding the abortion industry.
One of the members was involved in a commission to help re-write some of the state’s laws on abortion. Another member had been thrown in jail twice for marching against abortion. We had our “pro-life credentials” well established.
No one knew the reservations I had about the pro-life movement. As a counselor, I knew that dozens of women in our church had abortions in the past. Some of them were the most vehement opponents of abortion. Some of them lived shamed lives, hoping no one ever found out about them.
I had doubts the movement was from God. I had researched the pro-life movement’s political roots, and knew I could not support any of the principal players. I searched in vain for any mention of abortion in the Bible. Even the few verses which spoke about God calling someone from their mother’s womb were found in poetic writings which are hardly substantial fodder for theological positions.
In short, I had my doubts about all the marching going on.
The worst part was the work of the Holy Spirit inside of me. The Spirit of God was convicting me of my hatred and judgment toward women who made the decision to terminate their pregnancies. God would not allow me just to ignore those hateful attitudes. In prayer one day, God directed me to publicly apologize for my attitudes and to make amends. I started to prepare a teaching but God showed me it wasn’t enough.
He was my mentor. He was ordained in a conservative evangelical church. He had been meeting with me for several years as I sought to reconcile what I believed about God and the Bible with the huge discrepancies I saw in the church. It was good to bounce my frustrations off his mind. I think I would have left Evangelicalism for good if he had not helped me cope with the hypocritical practices of the church.
That’s when he dropped a bombshell. He had been attending some evening meetings at a local charismatic group. We both believe the gifts of the Holy Spirit are still given to people in the Church today. We also believe that there are proper and ridiculous ways those gifts can be practiced.
Here was his bomb. The night before, he claimed he saw gold dust appear on people’s hands during worship. Someone else said God gave them a gold filling during the prayer time which replaced their regular filling. My mentor was full of thanksgiving to God for these miracles. I asked him if he could confirm the gold dust or the gold tooth. Could he say with full assurance that it was really gold and not just some glitter or sweat from dancing in worship?
He was really angry with me for asking that question. He warned me not to criticize what might be the work of the Holy Spirit in case I was blaspheming the Holy Spirit.
At that moment, I decided I was mentally done with the Evangelical movement.
I wish I could give you the entire delineated journey of the previous 28 years up to that point. I have written about some elements of the journey in my books, articles, and blog entries. But with this essay, I want to explain to my friends and readers–and perhaps to those in my denomination looking for a reason to disqualify me–why I am not part of that tribe any more.