Tom Sawyer’s ADHD and other disorders

Anne Applebaum cites scenes from Mark Twain and concludes that if Tom Sawyer were alive today, we would medicate him into submission:

Try, if you can, to strip away the haze of nostalgia and sentiment through which we generally perceive Mark Twain’s world, and imagine how a boy like Tom Sawyer would be regarded today. As far as I can tell, that fight is not just “inappropriate behavior,” to use current playground terminology, but is also one of the many symptoms of “oppositional defiant disorder” (ODD), a condition that Tom manifests throughout the book.

And Tom is not merely ODD: He clearly has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) as well, judging by his inability to concentrate in school. “The harder Tom tried to fasten his mind on his book, the more his mind wandered,” Twain writes at one point. Unable to focus (“Tom’s heart ached to be free”) he starts playing with a tick. This behavior is part of a regular pattern: A few days earlier in church (where he had to sit “as far away from the open window and the seductive outside summer scenes as possible”), Tom had been unable to pay attention to the sermon and played with a pinch bug instead.

In fact, Tom manifests many disturbing behaviors. He blames his half-brother for his poor decisions, demonstrating an inability to take responsibility for his actions. He provokes his peers, often using aggression. He deliberately ignores rules and demonstrates defiance toward adults. He is frequently dishonest, at one point even pretending to be dead. Worst of all, he skips school — behavior that might, in time, lead him to be diagnosed with conduct disorder (CD), from which his friend Huck Finn clearly suffers.

I am not being entirely sarcastic here: I have reread both “Tom Sawyer” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” several times in recent years, precisely because Twain draws such fascinating portraits of children whose behavior is familiar, even if we now describe it differently. As a mother of boys, I find this weirdly reassuring: Although ADHD and ODD are often dismissed as recently “invented” disorders, they describe personality types and traits that have always existed. A certain kind of boy has always had trouble paying attention in school. A certain kind of boy has always picked fights with friends, gone smoking in the woods and floated down the river on rafts.

In previous eras, such behavior was just as problematic for adults as it is today. Poor old Aunt Polly — how many times does she “fall to crying and wringing her hands”? To cope with Tom, she seeks names for his disorder — he is “full of the Old Scratch,” meaning the devil — and searches for ways to control him (“Spare the rod and spile the child,” she tells herself).

But if the behavior or actions of the children and the parents are familiar, the society surrounding them is not. Tom Sawyer turns out fine in the end. In 19th-century Missouri, there were still many opportunities for impulsive kids who were bored and fidgety in school: The very qualities that made him so tiresome — curiosity, hyperactivity, recklessness — are precisely the ones that get him the girl, win him the treasure and make him a hero. Even Huck Finn is all right at the end of his story. Although he never learns to tolerate “sivilization,” he knows he can head out to “Indian territory,” to the empty West, where even the loose rules of Missouri life won’t have to be followed.

Nothing like that is available to children who don’t fit in today. Instead of striking out into the wilderness like Huck Finn, they get sent to psychologists and prescribed medication — if they are lucky enough to have parents who can afford that sort of thing. Every effort will rightly be made to help them pay attention, listen to the teacher, stop picking fights in the playground. Nowadays, there aren’t any other options.

via Anne Applebaum – Tom Sawyer and today’s children: Same behavior, different treatment.

Ray Bradbury on God

Ray Bradbury is not just a great science fiction writer.  He is a great writer, period.  And he is a man of some-kind-of faith:

The 89-year-old science fiction author watches Fox News Channel by day, Turner Classic Movies by night. He spends the rest of his time summoning “the monsters and angels” of his imagination for his enchanting tales.

Bradbury’s imagination has yielded classic books such as “Fahrenheit 451,” “The Martian Chronicles” and 600 short stories that predicted everything from the emergence of ATMs to live broadcasts of fugitive car chases.

Bradbury, who turns 90 this month, says he will sometimes open one of his books late at night and cry out thanks to God.

“I sit there and cry because I haven’t done any of this,” he told Sam Weller, his biographer and friend. “It’s a God-given thing, and I’m so grateful, so, so grateful. The best description of my career as a writer is, ‘At play in the fields of the Lord.’ ”

Bradbury’s stories are filled with references to God and faith, but he’s rarely talked at length about his religious beliefs, until now.

He describes himself as a “delicatessen religionist.” He’s inspired by Eastern and Western religions.

The center of his faith, though, is love. Everything — the reason he decided to write his first short story at 12; his 56-year marriage to his muse and late wife, Maggie; his friendships with everyone from Walt Disney to Alfred Hitchcock — is based on love.

Bradbury is in love with love.

Once, when he saw Walt Disney, architect of the Magic Kingdom, Christmas shopping in Los Angeles, Bradbury approached him and said: “Mr. Disney, my name is Ray Bradbury and I love you.”

Bradbury’s favorite book in the Bible is the Gospel of John, which is filled with references to love.

“At the center of religion is love,” Bradbury says from his home, which is painted dandelion yellow in honor of his favorite book, “Dandelion Wine.”

“I love you and I forgive you. I am like you and you are like me. I love all people. I love the world. I love creating. … Everything in our life should be based on love.”

Bradbury’s voice booms with enthusiasm over the phone. He now uses a wheelchair. His hearing has deteriorated. But he talks like an excitable kid with an old man’s voice. (Each Christmas, Bradbury asked his wife to give him toys in place of any other gifts.)

Weller, author of “Listen to The Echoes: The Ray Bradbury Interviews,” says Bradbury ends many conversations with “God bless.” Weller’s book devotes an entire chapter to Bradbury’s faith.

“I once asked him if he prayed, and he said, ‘Joy is the grace we say to God,’ ” Weller says.

Bradbury was raised as a Baptist in Waukegan, Illinois, by his father, a utility lineman, and his mother, a housewife. Both were infrequent churchgoers.

His family moved to Los Angeles during the Great Depression to look for work. When he turned 14, Bradbury began visiting Catholic churches, synagogues and charismatic churches on his own to figure out his faith.

Bradbury has been called a Unitarian, but he rejects that term. He dislikes labels of any kind.

“I’m a Zen Buddhist if I would describe myself,” he says. “I don’t think about what I do. I do it. That’s Buddhism. I jump off the cliff and build my wings on the way down.”

via Sci-fi legend Ray Bradbury on God, ‘monsters and angels’ – CNN.com.

But. . .but. . .Ray. . . Zen Buddhists don’t really believe in God.  And love is surely the kind of attachment that Buddhists believe we must detach ourselves from.  I know Thomas Merton formulated a kind of Christian Zen.  Your worldview sounds (and from your writings has always sounded) specifically Christian.  The story goes on to say how often you write about Jesus.  Keep going in that direction.  (Let’s pray for him, as well as for Anne Rice.)

Lutheran conversion testimonies

Some may consider that phrase a contradiction in terms.  But a new book contains the stories of various people who converted to Christianity as proclaimed in Lutheranism.  It’s called Wittenberg Confessions: Testimonies of Converts to Confessional Lutheranism, by Jim Pierce, Edited by Elaine Gavin.  I mention it in particular because it includes accounts from some of the readers and commentators on this blog, such as author Jim Pierce (former atheist and just about everything else you could name) and Kelly Klages.  (If there are any others of you who contributed to this book, make yourself known!  If you aren’t in the book but have a similar “testimony,” feel free to tell about it in a comment on this post.)

You can buy  the book, from the wonderfully-named new publisher Blue Pomegranate Press, by clicking here.

Ayn Rand and the virtue of evil

Joe Carter tries to think what he ever saw in Ayn Rand, who despised Christianity and held that the only virtue is selfishness. He cites a new biography that details how bad she was, though at least consistent with her assumptions:

She announced that the world was divided between a small minority of Supermen who are productive and “the naked, twisted, mindless figure of the human Incompetent” who, like the Leninists, try to feed off them. He is “mud to be ground underfoot, fuel to be burned.” It is evil to show kindness to these “lice”: The “only virtue” is “selfishness.”She meant it.

Her diaries from that time, while she worked as a receptionist and an extra, lay out the Nietzschean mentality that underpins all her later writings. The newspapers were filled for months with stories about serial killer called William Hickman, who kidnapped a 12-year-old girl called Marion Parker from her junior high school, raped her, and dismembered her body, which he sent mockingly to the police in pieces. Rand wrote great stretches of praise for him, saying he represented “the amazing picture of a man with no regard whatsoever for all that a society holds sacred, and with a consciousness all his own. A man who really stands alone, in action and in soul. … Other people do not exist for him, and he does not see why they should.” She called him “a brilliant, unusual, exceptional boy,” shimmering with “immense, explicit egotism.” Rand had only one regret: “A strong man can eventually trample society under its feet. That boy [Hickman] was not strong enough.”

via Two biographies of Ayn Rand. – By Johann Hari – Slate Magazine.

Like Nietzsche, Rand held Christianity in contempt for its teachings about love, which encourages the weakness of compassion that allows the weak to survive, as opposed to helping them die out as they are supposed to.

A lot of conservatives, though, like her.  Why?

More thoughts on Anne Rice

Thanks for the good discussion on the weekend’s post about Anne Rice rejecting Christianity, while still saying that she believes in Christ. The comments include more quotations from her about what she means by that, as well as thought-provoking insights from all sides. I was heartened that she has apparently agreed to consider Rod Rosenbladt’s presentation “The Gospel for Those Broken by the Church” [see the sidebar on this blog for New Reformation Press].

I definitely think she is broken by the Church, in this sense. But in another sense I’m realizing that the Church, in the sense of actual churches, are not the ones defining Christianity in people’s minds. Instead, the phenomenon of the “parachurch”–all of the ministries and organizations and activities outside of local congregations–has taken on that role.

Anne Rice is a Roman Catholic. To take up her specific reasons for repudiating Christianity, Catholics are a major part of the base of the Democratic party, so they are hardly anti-Democrat. Catholics are pro-science to the point of accepting evolution. They are pro-life now to the point of pacifism. Yes, the Catholic Church teaches that homosexuality is a moral “disorder,” but many priests are gay. Feminism is rampant in many women’s religious orders. Yes, the Church rejects artificial birth control, but hardly any Catholics in the USA at least follow that.

The stances she is rejecting characterize conservative Protestants, but she has never been one of those. And actual conservative Protestant churches don’t always obsess about these issues on Sunday mornings. But their ecumenical cultural and political activism the rest of the week does. Yet THAT is what defines Christianity today.

The other irony is that she could find plenty of mainline liberal denominations that agree with her stances completely! The ELCA, for example. And yet she never even considers those as an alternative. That shows her integrity, recognizing that liberal Christianity has nothing to offer even to a liberal! (Why do you think that is?)

Anne Rice

Anne Rice, the author of literate vampire novels who embraced Christianity, now says that she is no longer a Christian:

I quit being a Christian. I’m out. In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life. In the name of Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen.

“In the name of Christ”? In her books about Him, she affirms His deity and His redemptive acts. Does she no longer believe those things? How would her disagreements with other Christians on these issues mean that Christ is no longer God and Savior? And certainly many Christians are gay, feminist, Democrats, humanists, scientists, and use birth control (she is or was a Roman Catholic), though with differences from the secularists, who are most definitely not pro-life!

I actually had a touching correspondence with her when she “came out” as a Christian. I wrote about that and reviewed her book Christ the Lord. She responded, saying that I understood what she was trying to say exactly. So my heart hurts to hear that she is repudiating her faith.

What would you say to her?

HT: Webmonk


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