Sunday, January 27, 2013

A Person is a Dog is a Disorder, ALWAYS. Except When…

A [Very] Brief Overview of Personhood
Personhood: This is a topic that a graduate-level counseling class took a rocky ride to discover that without some sort of moral compass, there is no definitition. It was peculiar to see a sheep trying on a wolf’s clothing instead of the opposite, but no one could answer the question Dr. Corsini gave, “What makes a person?” It has bothered me since I left the class last week, and it should you too.

Is a human being a person? If so, what characteristics determine a human being? Is it the presence of cognitive functioning or reasoning? Is it an ability to determine right and wrong? It is the fact we can realize and ponder our existence? I would answer yes to all of these but then the ubiquitous scientists in the COUN 507 class would likely say, “Not necessarily.” Determining who or what entity is a person is important for our pleasing of God and for the law and order of society. For example, in Lynchburg, VA it is perfectly legal to have a domesticated animal living outdoors under a shelter and given food, water, and medical care, but without being given anything else (e.g. a dog bed, attention, or training). It would be illegal anywhere in the United States to treat a human child in the same way. 

Abortion is the subject that is currently in the hot seat regarding the issue of Personhood. If a nation like America can say that murdering is illegal and those committing such acts should be punished, then shouldn’t we define what a person is? God forbid congress passes a law that contradicts the Constitution—because that never happens, right? 

For most Christians, there is no doubt that life begins with a thought of God. This website contains great arguments about what God likely says about being a person. It discusses the beginning, definition, and sanctity of human life. In Psalm 139: 13-15, the great former King David alludes to the fact that God knew him before his mother knew him, even--that he was knit in his mother's womb. The scientists would ask rather hauntingly, "Are you saying that a person a person when an amoeba-like thing comes together with an egg-like thing and they fuse together their coils of protein material just hours after conception?" The Christians would likely answer, "Exactly!" But there are other questions scientists could ask that would stump Christians' answers. This article poses many thought-provoking questions about the zygote as a human being. I recommend it if you want to expand your knowledge of the biological debate.

Even though some Pro-choicers even believe that a zygote is the beginning of a human life, they still don't want to be told what they may or may not do with their bodies. So, if we conclude that abortion is premeditated murder it is yet irrelevant because the laws that govern society permit it. Let us not forget that not all things that are permissible are profitable, but how far is society going to push the envelope (1 Corinthians 10: 23)? Let me give you an idea of how far we've come and the lines we've already crossed.

In 1972, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder (DSM) IV, determined that sexual orientation disturbance (homosexuality) was a disorder. In 1973, it was no longer a disorder but instead a normal variant of human behavior. (Information on this debate in the 1970's is here.) In the soon-to-come (for years, now, by the way—similar to many preachers' preaching of Christ’s coming—VERY soon…) DSM V will lack some personality disorders. Paranoid, Schizoid, Histrionic, and Borderline Personality Disorders will be cut for different reasons. Granted, science in all fields is improving every day, however, politicians who listen to lobbyists are not, and they have a big impact on which empirical results get put into practice.

From Personhood, Digression, and To Counseling
The most seemingly obvious way to relate Personhood to counseling is in a situation in which a Christian who is a counselor and has a client considering abortion or even a client who has had a miscarriage. For the former, we as counselors should be able to teach the clients the consequences of each action. Ultimately it would be ethical to have the client, not the counselor, rule out abortion as an option. One of our jobs as counselors is to empower our clients to make their own decisions--hopefully ones that are profitable. Some of you reading this may think, "Well, I'm planning to be a Christian-specific counselor and all I have to do is tell them about God's distaste for murder, as it says in the Ten Commandments." You are wrong. Christian counselors should have the highest ethical code in whatever they do, and part of that ethical code requires us to be competent. We need to know the discourse of the position we hold. If all truth is God's truth, then I strongly believe that empirically-based science points directly to God. Let us not be afraid to use our God-given brain plus the Bible to help people make tough decisions, such as whether to keep an unborn baby or not. Part of that knowledge is explaining to the client that the newly-formed zygote is a person--a small human being with inalienable rights. Regarding the woman who has gone through a miscarriage, counselors of all types must understand that there is a period of mourning of a person--not just a clump of cells.

The Other, Other Point?
Personhood is not an easy topic to discuss and it's SO easy to go off on a tangent. It's important to know how the topic of Personhood, psychology, and competent counseling are connected, and I hope I have given a glimpse of how it could be. I feel as the world is going mad and I wonder how much further science and politics will reject metaphysics as a form of truth or fact. I do not feel as though the American police should be like Saudi Arabia and punish those who sin, but I do feel as though Christians who feel called to enter the political world should use their gifts and passions for changing laws and keep morality in society. I feel as though those who are gifted in science and philosophy should study hard and figure out ways to make people healthier and society better. I give my word as a future psychologist that I will try to improve my field of work and find ways to prove that the principles that God wants us to live by are logically sound, provable, and relevant to society.

There are many directions one could take when discussing Personhood, but if it's not the Christians but non-Christians that we are trying to convince of our beliefs, we must use their language to enlighten them on the way, the truth, and the life.

Post-script and Liability [of Hurt Feelings] Notice
Please note if that although my writing voice is a bit on the biting side, I have not intended to judge actions--only character. I do not attempt to make assumptions as to why a person does something; I ask. I have friends who have had abortions and I have friends who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, and have personality disorders. I love them all the same because Jesus loved them and me first. All I know is that they are people and I've learned that people generally and genuinely want to help other people and are basically good. They need Jesus the same as everyone else, but I believe that no one chooses God first; He chose us first and then we responded (John 6:44). We can't drag people to God and expect them to stay. Everyone has their own philosophy but this is the philosophy I stand by until corrected.

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  1. Good thoughts Amy!! No doubt that each and every person is loved and cherished by Jesus Christ and that's exactly how He expects His followers to respond as well. Of course, that's easier said then done unfortunately. I love how Jesus is described in John 1:14 "...who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." May we be a reflection of Him in this area everyday.

  2. Amy, thank you for taking the time to go into such great detail concerning the topic of personhood! The topic of personhood can be hard to digest at times. Thank you for providing great support and adding articles as well as websites from various angles. I really appreciated you taking the time to communicate the importance of empowering our clients as counselors. I completely agree with you that even if we may title ourselves Christian counselors, we need to accept our clients where they are; rather than rebuking them for previous choices or decisions they may have made. I also valued your statement “Christian counselors should have the highest ethical code in whatever they do, and part of that ethical code requires us to be competent”. At times we often forget that we belong to a professional code of ethics as well as a Bible centered code of ethics. Remembering that Jesus himself met people where they were, and showed them unconditional love and grace, we as Christian counselors need to abide by the same standards.


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