Episode 7: Youth Suicidality and the Church (Justin Dyer) MAY 2020
It’s not uncommon to hear popular narratives that link depression and suicide with the Church. Are those claims accurate? Dr. Justin Dyer finds the research suggests a different narrative. In this episode, professor Dyer shares his important studies about Latter-day Saint youth suicide, depression, LGBTQ members, and religiosity that can help us act in more informed and compassionate ways.
Dr. David Campbell, Packey J. Dee Professor of American Democracy at Notre Dame, in his recent lecture, ‘When God and Caesar Meet’, discussed how the large exodus from religion in today’s culture has often occurred because religion is increasingly associated with one political party.
Campbell points out this especially occurs with those in the political center and center left.
William Lane Craig rightfully points out that Catholic scholar, St. Augustine of Hippo who lived from 354-430, articulated that creation wasn’t necessarily 6000 years ago. Neither did Augustine required special creation with God “poofing” Adam into existence. This flexible conception of creation arose well before Science revealed the age of the earth and universe.
Without intervention by God, Craig argues life wouldn’t have arisen. Life simply would have been so improbable the Earth would have first been swallowed up by our dying Sun before life would have had a chance to develop.
Latter-day Saints don’t believe in creation ex nihilo. We believe in eternal matter and eternal spirits. We believe God is the father of our spirits. When men developed from their ancestors, at this point God may have given the first humans their spirits.
We simply don’t know how God was involved. We welcome findings of scientists that demonstrate what occurred. But we should all recognize there are limits to what Science can tell us. We don’t need to adopt Scientism. Instead, we should marry the best of Science and our faith.
Interestingly, Joseph, Hyrum, and Orson Hyde believed that people lived before Adam. They discussed the use of the word “replenish”. People must have predated Adam.
You may have thought it was just a couple of oddballs and a blip on the radar when some modern-day witches decided to cast a hex on Brett Kavanaugh. (I guess they didn’t use enough eye of newt in that effort since he’s now on the SCOTUS bench.) But it turns out that that wasn’t some niche effort. A new report at Marketwatch reveals that an increasing number of younger people (we’re looking at you again, millennials) are rejecting organized, traditional religion in favor of the divinations of astrologers and witches casting spells.
More than half of young adults in the U.S. believe astrology is a science. compared to less than 8% of the Chinese public. The psychic services industry — which includes astrology, aura reading, mediumship, tarot-card reading and palmistry, among other metaphysical services — grew 2% between 2011 and 2016. It is now worth $2 billion annually, according to industry analysis firm IBIS World.
Melissa Jayne, owner of Brooklyn-based “metaphysical boutique” Catland, said she has seen a major uptick in interest in the occult in the past five years, especially among New Yorkers in their 20s. The store offers workshops like “Witchcraft 101,” “Astrology 101,” and a “Spirit Seance.”
“Whether it be spell-casting, tarot, astrology, meditation and trance, or herbalism, these traditions offer tangible ways for people to enact change in their lives,” she said.
Yes, the “Catland” referenced in this article is the same one that hosted the Kavanaugh hexing and seems to be the northeastern epicenter of this movement. It’s been building for a while now, however, and it’s not limited to the Big Apple. Back in January, John covered a story describing the growing ranks of “young American women who have been drawn to witchcraft as a sign of feminism and community building.”
Sure, some of them may just be dabbling in these things as an exercise in finding a new way to express their feminist ideals and resistance to the President. But in many of the cases detailed in the report, we’re talking about people who take their witchcraft seriously. I regularly listen to a few podcasts on paranormal subjects, not politics, and the hosts tend to be almost uniformly liberal. (Some of them regularly veer off topic to bemoan how horrible the world is since the 2016 elections and, frankly, I just consider that a bonus in terms of entertainment.)
But when they talk about spells and other witch-related subjects, they’re not joking around. Some of them regularly burn sage in their homes and offices to cleanse the areas of negative influences. There’s a thriving market for books, crystals and other witch paraphernalia.
Is there some larger message here? Perhaps. When you turn away from the faith your family followed for generations and all the values it brings with it, all other paths are probably at least a bit “darker” in tone. And the fact that this trend is so much more common among the young on the left might give a few clues as to how we arrived at the situation we’re in today.
As for me, I’m not opposed to a little witchcraft… at least as long as Frank is singing it. Turn on the volume and enjoy this classic.
Many atheists think that their atheism is the product of rational thinking. They use arguments such as “I don’t believe in God, I believe in science” to explain that evidence and logic, rather than supernatural belief and dogma, underpin their thinking. But just because you believe in evidence-based, scientific research—which is subject to strict checks and procedures—doesn’t mean that your mind works in the same way.
When you ask atheists about why they became atheists (as I do for a living), they often point to eureka moments when they came to realize that religion simply doesn’t make sense.
Oddly perhaps, many religious people actually take a similar view of atheism. This comes out when theologians and other theists speculate that it must be rather sad to be an atheist, lacking (as they think atheists do) so much of the philosophical, ethical, mythical and aesthetic fulfillments that religious people have access to—stuck in a cold world of rationality only.
The science of atheism
The problem that any rational thinker needs to tackle, though, is that the science increasingly shows that atheists are no more rational than theists. Indeed, atheists are just as susceptible as the next person to “group-think” and other non-rational forms of cognition. For example, religious and nonreligious people alike can end up following charismatic individuals without questioning them. And our minds often prefer righteousness over truth, as the social psychologist Jonathan Haidt has explored.
Even atheist beliefs themselves have much less to do with rational inquiry than atheists often think. We now know, for example, that nonreligious children of religious parents cast off their beliefs for reasons that have little to do with intellectual reasoning. The latest cognitive research shows that the decisive factor is learning from what parents do rather than from what they say. So if a parent says that they’re Christian, but they’ve fallen out of the habit of doing the things they say should matter—such as praying or going to church—their kids simply don’t buy the idea that religion makes sense.
This is perfectly rational in a sense, but children aren’t processing this on a cognitive level. Throughout our evolutionary history, humans have often lacked the time to scrutinize and weigh up the evidence—needing to make quick assessments. That means that children to some extent just absorb the crucial information, which in this case is that religious belief doesn’t appear to matter in the way that parents are saying it does.
Even older children and adolescents who actually ponder the topic of religion may not be approaching it as independently as they think. Emerging research is demonstrating that atheist parents (and others) pass on their beliefs to their children in a similar way to religious parents—through sharing their culture as much as their arguments.
Some parents take the view that their children should choose their beliefs for themselves, but what they then do is pass on certain ways of thinking about religion, like the idea that religion is a matter of choice rather than divine truth. It’s not surprising that almost all of these children—95%—end up “choosing” to be atheist.
Science versus beliefs
But are atheists more likely to embrace science than religious people? Many belief systems can be more or less closely integrated with scientific knowledge. Some belief systems are openly critical of science, and think it has far too much sway over our lives, while other belief systems are hugely concerned to learn about and respond to scientific knowledge.
But this difference doesn’t neatly map onto whether you are religious or not. Some Protestant traditions, for example, see rationality or scientific thinking as central to their religious lives. Meanwhile, a new generation of postmodern atheists highlight the limits of human knowledge, and see scientific knowledge as hugely limited, problematic even, especially when it comes to existential and ethical questions. These atheists might, for example, follow thinkers like Charles Baudelaire in the view that true knowledge is only found in artistic expression.
And while many atheists do like to think of themselves as pro-science, science and technology itself can sometimes be the basis of religious thinking or beliefs, or something very much like it. For example, the rise of the transhumanist movement, which centers on the belief that humans can and should transcend their current natural state and limitations through the use of technology, is an example of how technological innovation is driving the emergence of new movements that have much in common with religiosity.
Even for those atheists skeptical of transhumanism, the role of science isn’t only about rationality—it can provide the philosophical, ethical, mythical and aesthetic fulfillments that religious beliefs do for others. The science of the biological world, for example, is much more than a topic of intellectual curiosity—for some atheists, it provides meaning and comfort in much the same way that belief in God can for theists. Psychologists show that belief in science increases in the face of stress and existential anxiety, just as religious beliefs intensify for theists in these situations.
Clearly, the idea that being atheist is down to rationality alone is starting to look distinctly irrational. But the good news for all concerned is that rationality is overrated. Human ingenuity rests on a lot more than rational thinking. As Haidt says of “the righteous mind”, we are actually “designed to ‘do’ morality”—even if we’re not doing it in the rational way we think we are. The ability to make quick decisions, follow our passions and act on intuition are also important human qualities and crucial for our success.
It is helpful that we have invented something that, unlike our minds, is rational and evidence-based: science. When we need proper evidence, science can very often provide it—as long as the topic is testable. Importantly, the scientific evidence does not tend to support the view that atheism is about rational thought and theism is about existential fulfillments. The truth is that humans are not like science—none of us get by without irrational action, nor without sources of existential meaning and comfort. Fortunately, though, nobody has to.”
Dan Peterson shares the sad story of a young man who left the Church and later took his life. Dan points out positives associated with faith.
Peterson quotes Bertrand Russell’s dreary thoughts about the pointlessness of life.
“That Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave;
that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the débris of a universe in ruins—all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand.
Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.”
The best solution to lack of faith and despair is a return to faith and hope.
Among other things, Peterson shared research by Harvard scholars and compared C.S. Lewis’ life to Freud’s. They correlated better mental health with faith and church attendance.
Latter-day Saints do well, according to Pew Research data in 2013:
Youths who regularly attend religious services, pray or meditate may get a well-being boost that sticks around into young adulthood, according to a new Harvard study that joins a body of research showing benefits from religiosity.
Senior author and epidemiologist Tyler J. VanderWeele knows most people don’t make decisions about religion based on health, but rather on beliefs, values, experiences and relationships. “However, for parents and children who already hold religious beliefs, such religious and spiritual practices could be encouraged both for their own sake as well as to promote health and well-being,” said Vanderweele, a professor in Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
The study, by VanderWeele and Harvard research scientist Ying Chen, is published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.
Among the findings, youths who attended religious services at least weekly as children and adolescents were:
About 18 percent more apt to report higher happiness between ages 23-30 than those who didn’t
29 percent more likely to be volunteers
33 percent less likely to use illegal drugs
Those who prayed or meditated at least daily as kids were, as young adults:
16 percent more likely to report higher happiness
30 percent less likely to have sex at a young age
40 percent less likely to have a sexually transmitted disease
The researchers said while adult literature indicates worship service attendance has greater impact on health, compared to meditation and prayer, for youths the benefits are equal or perhaps even slightly less.
“One possible explanation is religious attendance patterns may be shaped by parents, but prayer and meditation may reflect their own beliefs, Chen said.
Same-Sex Attraction (SSA) Support Groups within the LDS Church:
Addresses given at the North Star Conferences:
As one experiencing the challenges of Same Sex Attraction and being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Tom shares some healthy insights on how to approach individuals (Adult or youth) who are experiencing such inclinations.
Same-sex Marriage and the role of Religion By William Duncan