Welcome to the Church of Humanism Blog
Here, as often as possible, church members will comment on relevant topics of the day. You are all welcome to join in on the conversation by emailing your thoughts and opinions to the email address shown below. We look forward to hearing from you.
A Happier 2021, We Hope!!
Greetings of the New Year.
I want to share with you something amazing. It’s an audio diary of 17-year-old Monaea, an African-American high school senior in Minneapolis.
She tells us – her listeners – about the emotional and practical challenges she and her schoolmates are facing today with so many recent murders of young African-Americans – including George Floyd in Minneapolis – both by police and reckless citizens with guns, as well as with the frustrations of online schooling necessitated since October by the rapid rise of Covid-19.
She speaks to us with insight, honesty, and humor. But for me, the amazing and encouraging thing about Monaea’s diary is her determination and optimism, despite all these challenges, for starting college next fall.
I discovered her audio diary last week on WNYC, but it’s now readily available as a SnapJudgment podcast and online at www.snapjudgment.org. I learned a lot, and Monaea’s voice and her story have stayed with me. Let me know what you think.
The audio diary was produced by Vice News Reports.
With my best New Year's wishes, Alyson Ben-David
Rehabs that Prey on Addicts
Recently I read a disturbing investigative report about work-based US rehab (for profit) businesses and how they are taking advantage of people struggling with drug and alcohol addiction. Some addicts enter these rehabs because family members can’t care for their loved ones; more often, addicts end up in these so-called ‘therapeutic’ addiction rehabs through the courts’ alternative sentencing programs, which sound preferable to imprisonment.
Anyway, no matter how they get enrolled, the addicts and their family and friends are prohibited from seeing or even speaking to each other, and the addicts are forbidden to have contact with the outside world, under threat of being sent to prison. The report exposes this and a trend of unfair labor and dehumanizing practices at these unlicensed facilities. People in need of treatment and health care are being forced to work long hours, sometimes grueling hard labor, for no pay. While these so-called rehab centers say they keep the pay of their participants to cover the cost of housing and treatment they are reportedly making huge financial profits off the cheap labor. I think it’s modern day slavery! Furthermore, these treatment businesses believe in using verbal abuse and punishment as therapy to overcome addiction. This unlawful money-making scheme and shameful treatment of vulnerable people is going on, unchecked, under the radar.
Research on how best to treat people who are struggling “shows that the best outcomes result from medication-based approaches, using such proven pharmaceuticals as buprenorphine, combined with individualized counseling. Although a stable, paying job can aid recovery, studies have found that work alone is not an effective treatment for addiction.”1a So why do these unlicensed, unregulated work-based programs still exist? They certainly do not administer these proven medication-based methods or provide individual counseling. This investigative report, I’m highlighting, has identified “at least 300 rehab facilities in 44 states that have required participants to work without pay. In recent years, at least 60,000 people a year attended such rehab programs.”1a They are thriving because these businesses are fueled by the current opioid crisis and by the war on drugs, which goes as far back as the Reagan administration. To reduce overcrowded prisons and government spending, our court systems across the country are forcing convicted drug and alcohol addicts to choose either work-based rehab centers or jail. These for-profit rehabs have a built-in supply-chain for their forced labor business. It is shocking to also see that some of the judges participating in this human trafficking scheme stand to gain financially as part of their participation.
I urge you to look at what is going on; share this information with your network of family and friends and with your congressional representatives and state representatives. The “treatment” methods of these rehabs isn’t evaluated and it doesn’t work. Stories told by former rehab enrollees are quite appalling. I think it is important to get this information out to as many people as possible. Someone must stand up for those that need help. I also suggest letting the reporters breaking this story know that you support what they are doing. This incredible ongoing story is being told by two investigative reporters, Amy Julia Harris and Shoshana Walter. They published their story on the Reveal website, which is part of the non-profit investigative journalism organization, the Center for Investigative Reporting. Amy and Shoshana have been pursuing this story for the last three years.
I hope you see the injustice the actions of these so-called rehab facilities are having on those struggling with drug and alcohol addiction. And I hope you will pass this information on to others. We need to shed light on it so that our courts and government stop enabling these unlawful and abusive labor practices. I welcome everyone’s feedback. Click on the comment link below to submit your comments and feedback. You can also E-mail me at
- Below are the Reveal website links to the articles written by Amy Julia Harris and Shoshana Walter. The series of articles is titled “All work. No Pay”. They contain multiple articles on this subject, including an eight episode Reveal podcast called American Rehab. This podcast traces the origin of work-based rehab treatment.
- All Work. No Pay – Page 1 https://www.revealnews.org/topic/all-work-no-pay/?0&1
- At hundreds of rehabs, recovery means work without pay By Shoshana Walter / July 7, 2020 https://www.revealnews.org/article/at-hundreds-of-rehabs-recovery-means-work-without-pay/
- All Work. No Pay – Page 2 https://www.revealnews.org/topic/all-work-no-pay/page/2/?0&1&2
- All Work. No Pay – Page 3 https://www.revealnews.org/topic/all-work-no-pay/page/3/?0&1&2&3
- All Work. No Pay – Page 4 https://www.revealnews.org/topic/all-work-no-pay/page/4/?0&1&2&3&4
How Are You Staying Informed?
There are so many crises we are all coping with these days, the coronavirus, systemic cultural racism, police brutality, climate change, economic inequality, etc. Largely, we get information about these crises from the corporate media. To me, it is exhausting to hear and read the same point of view from these corporate sources repeatedly, non-stop. I wanted another perspective, something different, to stay better informed about what is happening. So recently, in addition to the corporate media, I added other information sources that offer diverse viewpoints.
While practicing social distancing (mostly staying at home) I started listening to various podcasts that, I think, present another perspective to what we are all experiencing and what is being reported, by the typical media. Here are some that I highly recommend.
On Being, hosted by Krista Tippett: https://onbeing.org/series/podcast/
Here are 5 podcasts that I highly recommend
- Robin DiAngelo and Resmaa Menakem - In Conversation https://onbeing.org/programs/robin-diangelo-and-resmaa-menakem-in-conversation/
- Jason Reynolds - Fortifying Imagination https://onbeing.org/programs/jason-reynolds-fortifying-imagination/
- Isabel Wilkerson - This History is Long; This History Is Deep https://onbeing.org/programs/isabel-wilkerson-this-history-is-long-this-history-is-deep/
- Eula Biss - Talking About Whiteness https://onbeing.org/programs/eula-biss-talking-about-whiteness/
- Resmaa Menakem - ‘Notice the Rage; Notice the Silence’ https://onbeing.org/programs/resmaa-menakem-notice-the-rage-notice-the-silence/
Throughline, from NPR: https://www.npr.org/podcasts/510333/throughline
Here are some podcasts that I highly recommend
- The Long Hot Summer https://www.npr.org/2020/07/07/888184490/the-long-hot-summer
- Why 2020 Isn't Quite 1968 https://www.npr.org/2020/06/16/878070770/why-2020-isnt-quite-1968
- American Police https://www.npr.org/2020/06/03/869046127/american-police
I hope you find these podcasts informative and different. And, I hope they stimulate further exploration and conversation. I welcome everyone’s feedback. Also, if you’ve been listening to other podcasts that you think are also informative and insightful, I encourage you to share them with us. Click on the comment link below to submit your comments, feedback, and other podcasts. You can also E-mail me at
Our Mental Health Today
This month’s blog addresses mental health in our society and culture. Lately, I have been thinking and reading about the state of our mental health, especially during this pandemic. To learn more about this subject I have been researching why we are in the state that we are in. What I learned is that our current socio-economic society plays a significant role in making us sick for the sake of keeping our society’s economic system operational. And, for the most part this fact is ignored. I am no expert or authority on this subject. Most of this information comes from my research, readings and from my life experiences. One source I relied heavily on is the famous social psychologist Erich Fromm. His thinking and analysis have contributed enormously to this subject. I refer you to three, of what I think are, his groundbreaking books. They are The Sane Society, Escape From Freedom and The Art of Loving. In these works, Fromm addresses where we are as human beings, how we got here and how society and culture affects our mental health. Fromm’s texts, published in the mid-20th century, are highly relevant to today’s mental health crisis.
For many years we have been experiencing a significant global mental-health crisis. In his article on “Capitalism and Mental Health,” David Mathews writes: “Recent estimates by the World Health Organization suggest that more than three hundred million people suffer from depression worldwide. Furthermore, twenty-three million are said to experience symptoms of schizophrenia, while approximately eight hundred thousand individuals commit suicide each year”. (1) Our mental health industry, in partnership with the pharmaceutical industry, focus on biochemical causes of many mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, etc.
“In capitalist society, biological explanations dominate understandings of mental health, infusing professional practice and public awareness. Emblematic of this is the theory of chemical imbalances in the brain—focusing on the operation of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine—which has gripped popular and academic consciousness despite remaining largely unsupported.” (1)
Often overlooked is how our current social-economic society is severely impacting our mental health. And, how our need to grow according to the unique characteristics that make us human is being sacrificed for its continued operation. For Erich Fromm said, “everybody’s main goal in life is to become stronger, freer, more noble – essentially, the person you were meant to be.” (2) In today’s socio-economic society the goal is profit-oriented mass-production, mass-consumption, with human beings as the tool keeping it running. There is a fundamental disconnect between our basic goals, as mature and healthy human beings, versus how we live in today’s socio-economic society. Erich Fromm in The Sane Society, on pages 72-73 states,
“A healthy society furthers man’s capacity to love his fellow men, to work creatively, to develop his reason and objectivity, to have a sense of self which is based on the experience of his own production powers. An unhealthy society is one which creates mutual hostility, distrust, which transforms man into an instrument of use and exploitation for others, which deprives him of a sense of self, except inasmuch as he submits to others or becomes an automation.” (5)
This is as true today as it was when first published in 1955. To me our way of life is unhealthy, both physically and mentally. To make matters worse, our current coronavirus pandemic has increased our stress in an already stressed out population. There have been many news reports regarding this in the past several weeks. More than ever, many of us today have a heightened mistrust of each other. Health officials and governments have implemented rules that require us to practice social and physical distancing, furthering our isolation and mistrust, and exacerbating our feelings of loneliness and alienation. Some of us believe these rules are excessive and are ignoring them, thinking their rights are being violated. Also, our leaders must seriously rethink their priorities. They cannot continue to put the health and wellbeing of the economic system above the value of people’s lives. It is obvious to me that this pandemic is exposing the inhuman characteristics of our political, social, and economic system that have been present for decades.
Today, there is a strong belief that suicides are on the rise. According to Erich Fromm, looking at suicide rates can help us understand the wellbeing of a society. I refer you to Erich Fromm’s book The Sane Society. He writes on page 10,
“We find then that the countries in Europe which are among the most democratic, peaceful and prosperous ones, and the United States, the most prosperous country in the world, show the most severe symptoms of mental disturbance. … Could it be that the middle-class life of prosperity, while satisfying our material needs leaves us with a feeling of intense boredom, and that suicide and alcoholism are pathological ways of escape from this boredom?” (5)
The JAMA Psychiatry article Suicide Mortality and Coronavirus Disease 2019—A Perfect Storm? reports that “Suicide rates have been rising in the US over the last 2 decades. The latest data available (2018) show the highest age-adjusted suicide rate in the US since 1941.” (4) To compound matters, suicide rates may increase because of the current world pandemic. “There are fears that the combination of canceled public events, closed businesses, and shelter-in-place strategies will lead to a recession. Economic downturns are usually associated with higher suicide rates.” (4) I agree with Erich Fromm and I think we need to do more, learn more about the detrimental factors operating in our socio-economic system that are causing these suicides.
Sadly, little is being done to help treatment centers deal with an expected increase in mental health disorders. As reported in The Washington Post, “While Congress recently authorized $100 billion in emergency funds for hospitals and medical providers, very little will go to mental health and addiction service providers because they mainly receive funding through Medicaid. … In a joint letter … leaders in mental health and substance abuse treatment pleaded for the Trump administration’s help. The letter — signed by the American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the National Alliance on Mental Illness and 12 other organizations — asked federal officials to save community mental health centers facing financial collapse.” (3) Now is not the time to ignore the state of our mental health.
Our way of life is making us lonelier, more isolated, less real, and sicker. Erich Fromm in Escape From Freedom published on pages 200, 201, 205, 206, states,
“A great number of our decisions are not our own but are suggested to us from the outside; … one is struck by the extent to which people are mistaken in taking as “their” decision what in effect is submission to convention, duty or simple pressure. It almost seems that “original” decisions is a comparatively rare phenomenon in a society which supposedly makes individual decisions the cornerstone of its existence. … This substitution of pseudo acts for original acts of thinking, feeling, and willing, leads eventually to the replacement of the original self by a pseudo self. … the loss of the self and its substitution by a pseudo self leaves the individual in an intense state of insecurity. … In order to overcome the panic resulting from such a loss of identity, he is compelled to conform, to seek his identity by continuous approval and recognition by others.” (6)
I do not have specific suggestions for how we can rise above these harmful living conditions we are all experiencing. Among the many issues facing us, I know the level of income and racial inequality is out of control and it must be addressed. I also know there are many progressive politicians and activists tackling this very aspect of our socio-economic system. I do not think, however, that there are many focusing on the negative impact our so-called modern way of life is having on our core human nature. Dave Matthews in his article on Capitalism and Mental Health states: “The intimate relationship between mental health and social conditions has largely been obscured, with societal causes interpreted within a bio-medical framework and shrouded with scientific terminology. … the social, political, and economic organization of society must be recognized as a significant contributor to people’s mental health, with certain social structures being more advantageous to the emergence of mental well-being than others.” (1)
How can anyone be expected to break out of their current mental state and become healthier, and grow? That just doesn’t happen -- especially when we are all dealing with heightened levels of stress, depression, trauma, and conformity. Erich Fromm describes us in this degraded state in The Art of Loving on pages 16-17 as follows:
“Man becomes a “nine-to-fiver” he is part of the labor force, or the bureaucratic force of clerks and mangers. He has little initiative, his tasks are prescribed by the organization of the work; … They all perform tasks prescribed by the whole structure of the organization, at a prescribed speed, and a prescribed manner. Even the feelings are prescribed: cheerfulness, tolerance, reliability, ambition and an ability to get along with everyone without friction. Fun is routinized in similar, although not quite as drastic ways. Books are selected by the book clubs, movies by the film and theater owners and the advertising slogans paid for by them; … How should man caught in this net of routine not forget that he is a man, a unique individual, one who is given only this chance of living, with hopes and disappointments, with sorrow and fear, with the longing for love and the dread of the nothing and of separateness.” (7)
Capitalism and its current social and cultural order are strangling us! And despite our current pandemic situation, we must find a way to break through this malaise and focus on becoming healthier. We must learn to trust each other; question whether we are true to our genuine selves; break the bonds of manipulation that serve the socio-economic system that is out of control; and learn to work together toward the common good.
I hope the above sheds some light on our current socio-economic state and the harm it is causing everyone. At the very least I hope it sparks more conversation. I welcome everyone’s feedback. Click on the comment link below to submit your comments and feedback. You can also E-mail me at
- Capitalism and Mental Health by David Matthews January 1, 2019. https://monthlyreview.org/2019/01/01/capitalism-and-mental-health/
- Erich Fromm and Humanistic Psychoanalysis by Exploring your mind November 27, 2017. https://exploringyourmind.com/erich-fromm-humanistic-psychoanalysis/
- The coronavirus pandemic is pushing America into a mental health crisis by William Wan May 4, 2020. https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2020/05/04/mental-health-coronavirus/
- “Suicide Mortality and Coronavirus Disease 2019—A Perfect Storm?” by Mark A. Reger, PhD; Ian H. Stanley, MS; Thomas E. Joiner, PhD, JAMA Psychiatry, April 10, 2020. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapsychiatry/fullarticle/2764584
- The Sane Society, by Erich Fromm, published by Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1955
- Escape From Freedom, by Erich Fromm, published by Farrar & Rinehart, 1941
- The Art of Loving, by Erich Fromm, published by Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1956
Let’s Not Ignore the Climate Crisis
Recently the Trump administration weakened regulations that release mercury and other toxic metals from oil and coal-fired power plants. This was reported in The New York Times on April 17th. Here is the full article https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/16/climate/epa-mercury-coal.html.
While we are all practicing social distancing and staying safe, I want to remind everyone that we still need to pay attention to the climate crisis, even though it’s been relegated to the back pages of all news reporting. We may think it’s not an immediate threat, and unlike the coronavirus, climate issues aren’t overwhelming our health systems. However, serious climate changes are still affecting everyone in more subtle ways, and it is just as deadly. The climate crisis has and will continue to adversely impact us through:
- Devastating weather events (more hurricanes, tornados, typhoons),
- Melting ice caps causing sea level rise (major seacoast cities with larger populations will be impacted),
- Shortages of food and water (disruption with supply chain, contaminated water), and
- Diseases caused by pollutants in the air (more cancer diagnoses).
In my April blog I mentioned that our earth is warming at an alarming rate. I also spoke about the devastating fires impacting every inhabitant on earth. This month, I want to recommend some environmental information websites, that can help us to stay informed and learn how to become more active in the fight to save our earth. I know we are all consumed with the immediate coronavirus danger. However, we can’t ignore that another more dangerous and devastating threat is on the horizon. It’s urgent that we stay focused on this growing crisis because governments and fossil-fuel companies are disregarding the serious negative impact their actions will have on our environment.
Some of the websites I visit regularly for information are:
- Food & Water Watch - https://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/
- Environmental Integrity Project - https://environmentalintegrity.org/
- Environmental Energy Law Program - https://eelp.law.harvard.edu/
- 350 - https://350.org/
Food & Water Watch addresses concerns about how the environment impacts our drinking water and food supply. Their website calls attention to several specific areas, such as the proliferation and impact of factory farms, corporate control over elections and policy, how corporate-backed schemes are falsifying and confusing data about GMOs, fracking and trade deals. Food and Water Watch is currently addressing two immediate issues during this pandemic and they want us to add our names in support of:
- Putting a wide moratorium on water shutoffs now during the coronavirus, and
- For a Factory Reform Act that will make us less vulnerable to future pandemics. See https://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/news/covid-19-pandemic-shows-banning-factory-farms-more-important-ever
I strongly urge you check this out and add your name in support of these issues.
The Environmental Integrity Project has, in collaboration with the United Church of Christ, produced a report regarding the 2018 top 100 plants responsible for 39% of toxic air emissions within populated areas within the United States. (See https://environmentalintegrity.org/news/100-super-polluters-across-the-country/.) Included in this report is a dynamic map of the offending companies and their locations. I urge you to read this report. It is very eye opening.
The Environmental Energy Law Program website has an EPA mission tracker. Within this website page it states, “The Trump EPA is undermining the agency’s capacity to develop, implement, and enforce effective programs that reduce pollution and serve vital public needs. These efforts will leave behind a regime that delivers fewer reductions in harmful pollutants and an agency that lacks the institutional tools to protect public health and the environment.” This EPA mission tracker follows adverse changes being made in four key areas:
- Public health,
- Accountability, and
- Enforcement and Compliance.
I urge you to review the tracker and the underlying EPA polices (or lack thereof) that will hurt our environment and make us less safe. The EPA mission tracker is at: https://eelp.law.harvard.edu/epa-mission-tracker/.
And finally, the 350.org website is a good source for information on how we can build a better and safer future. To have a better world to live in, for ourselves and for our future generations, we must all find a way to stay informed and become active in the fight against the destructive forces doing harm to our environment and its inhabitants.
As always, I welcome everyone’s feedback. E-mail me at