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Finding honey in the shitstorm: personal crisis, faith, and mental health.

by author and journalist, Neil Lyndon.

Recent research has suggested that men who have some religious faith are less likely to suffer depression and less likely to commit suicide.

The researchers said they were surprised to find that religious observance is, for men, a significant predictor of having mental positivity. Moreover, people who have religious faith are not put off taking their lives simply because they think it’s immoral; it seems to be more that they find resilience in their belief and from a sense of community.

Those findings came as no surprise to me. As one who suffered frequently from depression and anxiety for decades and was sometimes perilously close to suicide, I can positively affirm that the regular religious observances of the second half of my life (praying and meditating twice a day, going to church every Sunday) have immeasurably helped to heal me of that foul curse. Moreover, my religious routines have unquestionably helped to free me from lifelong addictions to self-polluting poisons and compulsive, damaging habits. Those benefits genuinely feel miraculous. I reverently give thanks for them every day.

The story of my religious odyssey crosses many way-points that are common to my generation.

Born in 1946, I was baptised into the Church of England. My parents were not churchgoers but I became a devout little boy who sang in the church choir and – like Bertie Wooster – won Religious Knowledge prizes at school. For some years, I felt called to become a priest until around the age of 13, when a moment of blinding revelation came to me in school prayers. “I don’t believe a word of this pious twaddle,” I realised, “and I am certain that the teachers who are ritualistically doling it out don’t believe a word themselves.” That epiphany – very much like the experiences recorded by Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens – led me, like them, to atheism and Marxism. By the age of 16, I was carrying a membership card for the Young Communist League, though I never actually signed it.

Also, around that same time, while still at school, I first consulted a GP for depression and anxiety and was prescribed anti-depressants. She knew that my father was serving a long term in prison for serious crimes and she knew that my family life at home was chaotic, making it extraordinarily difficult for me to find my way through exams to university. And already, by that age, I was habitually drinking, smoking, taking daredevil risks, living in financial chaos and messing around with half a dozen girls at a time. Drugs followed automatically.

That was to be largely the story of my early 20s until – propelled out of control by LSD, marijuana, speed, drink and some touches of heroin – I crashed into a suicidal breakdown when I was 24. A carving knife in my own hand had been pointed at my heart before a friend dragged me to the local mental hospital where – thanks to the NHS – I began my first sessions of counselling and psychotherapy and started to take trycyclic antidepressants.

While making disordered efforts to heal myself – running, swimming and progressively quitting drugs – I began, to my profound perplexity, to experience undeniable, Wordsworthian intimations of the divine – in nature, in landscape and in love. As a hardened atheist, I was at a loss to come to terms with these apprehensions of a spiritual dimension beyond the materialistic and the worldly. The birth of my first child, when I was 36, introduced me to the miracle of unconditional love – that certainty that you would give your own life for another person in a heartbeat if necessary – which itself appeared to open a doorway to the divine, though I had no clue where it might take me.

In my later thirties, I lived and worked for five years in California, where spirituality flows out of the taps. Still ensnared in the toxic coils of addiction to drink, tobacco and promiscuous sex, I sought help in expensive therapy and with Alcoholics Anonymous. My counsellor was the first person I ever met to suggest that the poetic stories of the Bible might be interpreted allegorically and that the father in heaven, the virgin birth, the miracles, the resurrection could all be seen as figurative expressions, enabling us to domesticate and anthropomorphise the incomprehensible divinity of the universe. Made sense to me.

A bookshop round the corner from my office in Los Angeles was packed with spiritual texts – many of which are now on my shelves at home. They introduced me to Unitarian, Jewish, Gnostic, pantheist, Buddhist and Taoist perspectives on divinity which roughly synthesised in my mind (much in the way, I later discovered, they had synthesised in Wagner’s thoughts). These diverse scraps of understanding were nailed into place with a resounding clang when, standing in an aisle of that shop one afternoon, I opened a Bible at random and came across the words of John, who said “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.” That simple declaration rooted me to the spot in that shop and has rooted my life ever since

It then followed, in my early forties, that I found my way back to my spiritual home, the Church of England – not least because that devout little choirboy knew the Anglican liturgy in his bones. Because the CoE was and remains theologically derelict, I felt free to interpret its hymns, psalms, prayers and rituals in my own terms, rather than according to the precepts of an unchallengeable authority. No Pope; no heresy. By coincidence, I was confirmed in the CoE and declared my faith in a father in heaven (“metaphorically speaking”, as I would mutter under my breath) within days of the death of my own father on earth. No doubt Professor Dawkins would smirk knowingly and question the coincidence. My LA counsellor, however, would unreservedly have approved.

That confirmation took place 30 years ago next month. During those decades my religious adherence has grown ever stronger and my religious observances ever more regular and nourishing, despite a succession of Job-like trials in the 1990s.

In 1992, after building a comprehensive intellectual case for 20 years, I published No More Sex War: the Failures of Feminism – the world’s first critique of that ideology from an egalitarian, non-sexist point of view.

That book and its author were then subjected to more sustained philistine abuse than any work and any writer in our own time. Socially and professionally ostracised, I lost my income, my home and most of my friends – while the shitstorm also provided cover for the legalised abduction of my only child by his alcoholic mother.

During the 1990s, I also buried a baby who was afflicted with one of the world’s rarest malformations; was nearly killed in an accident of surreal horror; endured the breakdown of a cherished relationship in a tawdry triangle that could have been scripted for The Archers; and then became sole parent to a teenager who had run away from his hopelessly unfit mother.

Somebody who takes the Bible to be the literal truth might suppose that God was testing me (and who knows? as a beekeeper and a gardener, I do sometimes admit the possibility that a supernatural power may stand in a similar relationship to our world as I occupy in relation to my plants and insects). I would rather say that my religious devotions strengthened me to endure those trials.

However, my perception of divinity was never that of an intervening, providential Father Christmas figure who would sort out your mortgage and fix the holes in your roof if you uttered the correct magical spells and incantations. Instead, my daily prayers and meditations and weekly attendance at church are all devoted towards the same purpose as a musician might achieve by playing Bach every day. The reward for these exercises is to secure a perspective and a place in the universe – both as a being who is no more than a blade of grass or a bee and as one who, like all humans, shares in divinity through our great high priest, Jesus Christ.

That happy perspective does prove to be a sure defence against depression and suicidal feelings, to which I have been largely immune for almost 20 years. During those decades – when I have been entirely free of anti-depressant medicines – I created not just a new life but new life. I built a house; created a garden out of an acre of rough pasture; married a good woman and fathered two daughters whom we brought up as equal parents in the family set-up I had sought since I was in my twenties.

In my old age, I also – praise God Almighty – became free at last (Free At Last! Hallelujah!) of all addictions and all debt. Secure in marriage, family and faith, I now face my end with gratitude and in good heart.

As a state of mind and a state of being, we can probably agree that this is rather more desirable than facing your end at your own hand, sobbing uncontrollably in misery and despair, with a carving knife pointed at your heart.

 

About the author

Neil Lyndon is best known for his book No More Sex War (Sinclair-Stevenson 1992), described as “the world’s first egalitarian, progressive, non-sexist critique of feminism in its own terms”. Neil has also written articles for The Sunday Times, The Times, The Independent, the Evening Standard, the Daily Mail and The Telegraph.

 

 

 

Open post

Is our attitude to men based on substandard research?

Professor Guy Madison & Therese Söderlund

Much of our attitude towards men comes from high profile feminist and Gender Studies scholars in academia. There is a strong association between the theorizing amongst such academics and the ideologies expressed in public debate. In fact, it is often the same individuals who write op-eds, scholarly papers, and pamphlets, and engage in political activism. It is only the type of platform that varies. Much of the ideas about male privilege, quotas, “rape culture”, and the patriarchy, for example, began in academic departments. But what is the scientific quality of publications from the world of gender studies?

We were compelled to investigate the quality of gender studies publications after some alluring lectures given at Umeå University, arguing that Gender Studies (GS) outperforms the old-fashioned, bigoted, and boring positivist methods. GS, it was argued, is an alternative and superior kind of science.

This aroused our interest, so we compiled a database of all GS publications we could find in a certain time frame, written by scholars active in Sweden. This Swedish Gender Studies List (SGSL) contains 12,414 cases, and has to date been used in three studies, all published in the journal Scientometrics (Söderlund & Madison, 2015; 2017; Madison & Söderlund, 2018). As they are already reported in detail, we provide only a brief summary of selected results here.

  • The 2015 study found that the annual growth rate of GS publications was greater than for research in general. In the period 2000 to 2010, GS publications from Sweden increased ~12% per year and ~7% internationally, while other research both in Sweden and internationally grew ~3-7%.
  • GS articles are substantially more often book chapters, dissertations, and conference contributions, and less often peer-reviewed journal articles (~20% of GS and 70% on non-GS publications).
  • Overall, non-GS articles had 2-3 times more citations than GS articles, and ~90% have 3 citations or more compared to only ~28% of GS articles.
  • 50% of GS journals were not even indexed in Thomson’s Journal Citation Reports, and the bulk of the remaining journals’  had an impact factor of less than half that of the average for non-GS journals (~1.0, as compared to ~2.0).
  • The 2016 and 2018 studies were based on ~2,800 statements culled from 36 journal articles with more and less gender perspective, and found significantly higher proportions of biased and normative statements in GS articles, and lower proportions of statements about biology/genetics and individual/group differences, than in non-GS articles. Consistent with this, non-GS articles had significantly lower proportions of statements about environment/culture and societal institutions.
  • The 2018 study found that GS texts were more abstract, less empirical, and focussed to a greater extent on societal factors. The proportion of statement of fact was 82% for GS articles but 48% for non-GS articles. Correlations were mentioned as a relationship between variables in 10% of GS statements and 37% of non-GS statements, but there was no difference in the proportion of causal relations (~5% for both GS and non-SG).
  • GS articles had less mention of limitations and earlier theories, results, and research in general, and had less support for their statements in terms of arguments or references.
  • In conclusion, GS articles appear to focus on communicating examples of different experiences and viewpoints of certain groups of people, rather than comprehensive models of the real world.

It is quite unusual that scholars comment on each other’s articles in print, but our 2015 article was challenged by ten pages listing alleged errors, asserting that it “falls well short of adequate good practice”, that we “distort” the conceptual framework, are “unreflecting”, and “lack…understanding” and ”…knowledge” (Lundgren, Shildrick, & Lawrence, 2015). We were, however, unable to find any argument as to how the many but relatively minor concerns listed might, separately or taken together, challenge the main result that more gender perspective was associated with lower scientific quality. The implication was not lost upon us that only gender studies scholars can be trusted to criticize gender studies publications (Madison & Söderlund, 2016).

From an epistemological perspective it is interesting and potentially illuminating that GS scholars find it worthwhile to launch arrows that so clearly miss the mark. The data are in. We are just saying what they look like. A comment to our 2018 article was just published (Lykke, 2018), again with a long list of grievances about definitions of concepts and our lack of competence. In essence, however, both comments argue that the differences we document are expected, and are therefore not valid critique. Maybe so, but that does not refute our argument that this field could achieve a greater impact if those differences were reduced.

Surely, it stands to reason that any communication would be more useful as a source of knowledge and guide for action and change if its scientific quality were higher? Is it not obvious that such quality is associated with more, rather than less, data, reliability, validity, non-bias, self-criticism, and most other quality indicators addressed in our studies, the very same indicators that scientific journals in general apply as criteria for peer-review? (Although perhaps not all journals: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%22Grievance_Studies%22_affair).

We welcome the debate, and look forward to hear representatives of GS develop their arguments for why these criteria are undesirable for, or do not apply to, their field.

About the authors

Guy Madison is a professor of Psychology at Umeå University (since 2011) and holds a PhD from Uppsala University (2001). He has authored some 150 scientific papers, including five book chapters and about 100 peer-reviewed journal articles across diverse fields of study. His main areas of research are human timing modelling, music psychology, intelligence, personality, and individual differences, to a large extent employing an evolutionary perspective and behavioural genetic methods. He mainly teaches behavioural genetics and advanced level scientific methodology. See his publications and research projects at ResearchGate, Loop, or https://www.umu.se/en/staff/guy-madison/

Therese Söderlund has Master’s degrees in Psychology and in Worklife and Health, and Bachelor’s degrees in Swedish and English. She has been employed as a researcher and project assistant at the Department of Psychology at Umeå University since 2009.

 

References

Lundgren, S., Shildrick, M., & Lawrence, D. (2015). Rethinking bibliometric data concerning gender studies: a response to Söderlund and Madison. Scientometrics, 105, 1389-1398.

Lykke, N. (2018). Can’t bibliometric analysts do better? How quality assessment without field expertise does not work. Scientometrics, 117, 655-666.

Madison, G. & Söderlund, T. (2016). Can gender studies be studied? Reply to comments on Söderlund and Madison. Scientometrics, 108, 329-335.

Madison, G. & Söderlund, T. (2018). Comparisons of content and scientific quality indicators across populations of peer-reviewed journal articles with more or less gender perspective: Gender studies can do better. Scientometrics, 115, 1161-1183.

Söderlund, T. & Madison, G. (2015). Characteristics of gender studies publications: a bibliometric analysis based on a Swedish population database. Scientometrics, 105, 1347-1387.

Söderlund, T. & Madison, G. (2017). Objectivity and realms of explanation in academic journal articles concerning sex/gender: a comparison of Gender studies and the other social sciences. Scientometrics, 112, 1093-1109.

 

 

 

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