Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Letter, The Rebuttal, and the Response

So The Advance printed my letter on Pastor Chris Summerville's appointment, it can be found Here.

Mr. Summerville seemingly didn't like my letter. Russell Barth sent him the letter and elicited this response:

Mr. Travis Erbacher, the founder of Langley Residents for Drug Policy Reform, was the Green Party's candidate for the Fort Langley-Aldergrove riding in BC’s last provincial election. I have visited a number of web sites that have provided me information on Mr. Erbacker’s philosophy and political views, as well as his
blog, http://erbacher.blogspot.com/ .

As regards Mr. Erbacher’s letter to the editor of the Langley Advance on Tuesday, September 01, 2009, allow me to make several remarks.

Mr. Erbacher is to be congratulated as a young man for his commitment to a more just and fair society for all in Canada.
He is entitled to hold to his anti-Conservative Party and anti-Christianity views and to express them without any censorship.
His letter to the editor reveals much bias, prejudice and lack of doing his homework or getting the facts straight.
I wonder if Mr. Erbacher would be so bold to write as critically of and prejudicially against Aboriginal worldview of “body, mind and spirit”!

As regards my own life, views and the Schizophrenia Society of Canada’s Cannabis and Psychosis Project,
I have not been a pastor of any congregation since 1995. While obtaining my doctorate, Dr. Paul Meir a psychiatrist was one of my professors. I am certified with US Psychiatric Rehabilitation as a certified psychosocial rehabilitation practitioner. Dr. Pam Forsythe, a psychiatrist, and I presented last week at the Canadian Psychiatric Association’s National Conference in St. John’s, NF at the invitation of the Association’s President, Dr. Susan Abbey.
I have been the CEO (not interim) of SSC for over a year and the Executive director of the Manitoba Schizophrenia Society for 15 years.
Yes, I am a Christian. More specifically I am a “progressive evangelical” as an imperfect follower of Christ Jesus. Progressive in that I am not aligned with the “far right” side of politics and actually find myself in agreement with several platform positions of the NDP and Green Party.
Yes, I do believe in a God of creation, call it intelligent design, etc. Over 90% of the world’s population holds to religious/spiritual beliefs.
I am not a fundamentalist as “Christian” fundamentalist groups would never allow me to be a member due to my social liberal views, nor do I wish to join such as I do not have a fundamentalist Christian agenda. I am pro-life, pro-environment, pro-poor, and pro-civil rights, etc. I believe in the medical/therapeutic use of cannabis.
Yes, I do believe in the “dark side of life” as does Steven Spielberg and George Lucas who are Buddhists. Whatever you want to call that evil force, I believe we can connect with it and it can influence our lives. When we are faced with any adversity in life I believe there are psychological and spiritual ramifications in how we journey those adversities.
Schizophrenia, as with all mental illnesses, has a strong genetic component. I hold to the stress-vulnerability model of illness and treatment (bio-psycho-social-spiritual). Schizophrenia is not demon-possession, etc.
I have never performed or tried to perform an “exorcism.”
I have not heard of or read, “A member of his evangelical group said this is ‘a wonderful opportunity’ for Christians to influence public policy.” However I believe in a democratic society where any person of any faith group may seek to influence public policy. That is the nature of democracy.
Scientific studies as regards cannabis and its relationship to psychosis and schizophrenia point to either causality or correlation. Dr. Richard Williams of the Early Psychosis Clinic in Victoria believes strongly in causality. See articles below in Evisions Journal. Yes, science is divided. (Christians aren’t the only ones!)
All political parties are “motivated” by some philosophy of life and political viewpoints. All hold to “presuppositions” that have some support in society. Thus, that’s why we have elections.
The SSC project is not anti or pro cannabis use. It is not anti or pro Conservative Party. It is not pro or anti Christianity or any faith group. It is a participatory research project in which people with lived experience of schizophrenia or psychosis and also lived experience of use of cannabis will interview other youth to determine how to address mental health promotion among that demographic as it come to substance use.
The use of the term “schizoid” is an improper, non-scientific use of the term. Schizoid personality disorder (SPD) is a personality disorder characterized by a lack of interest in social relationships, a tendency towards a solitary lifestyle, secretiveness, and emotional coldness. (Authur S. Reber- Dictionary of Psychology, Penguin p.690 1995.) My psychiatrist has not given me that diagnosis. Nor does Prime Minister Harper have that diagnosis! Mr. Erbacher engages in social prejudice and stigma in his usage of the words, “He has mental health issues” in referring to me. And associates such with those holding to creationism and a literal reading of scripture.
Families affected by mental illness have long suffered from the social prejudice within our society towards those with mental illness. The Schizophrenia Society of Canada, along with its provincial counterparts, seeks to improve the quality of life for all affected by schizophrenia and psychosis. Towards that end we welcome all regardless of their political affiliation or religious views to join us in promoting research for a cure, enhancing treatment options and eradicating society’s stigma towards those living with mental illness.


Chris Summerville, D.Min., CPRP
Chief Executive Officer/Chef de la direction
Schizophrenia Society of Canada/Société canadienne de la schizophrénie

Wow, the CEO of the Schizophrenia Society of Canada reads my blog! Anyways, here is my response to his rebuttal:

Dear Mr. Summerville,

I greatly appreciate your response to my letter, and the debate has generated some controversy.

In no way have I stated that your being a person of faith disqualifies you from a position such as this. The intent of my letter was to ask why someone who is not a doctor, and has no background in conducting scientific research was appointed to such a position.

My concern about your religion may have been misplaced. You can understand why I, as a non-christian, would not want a christian agenda financed by my tax dollars. Imagine the position you would be in if an Imam was appointed to this position and a member of his mosque said that this is a great opportunity for Islam to influence public policy. I of course can not hold you accountable for what someone associated with you has said, however you can understand why I would not want a religious agenda financed by public funds. Science and reason alone should influence public policy, and at the very least you chose your words very poorly when you stated that: "Satan will use any opportunity to attack, including mental illness". That is a very shocking statement, and it entails a lot of metaphysical baggage, and beliefs that may in fact impact the nature of your work. I am glad to hear you say this agenda is not an explicitly religious one, but those original concerns remain.

To characterize my views as anti-Conservative party and anti-Christianity are not quite accurate. In fact, if the Conservative party had fact based views on the environment and drug policy, I would probably be a member of the Conservative party. I have never once stated that people should not be allowed to freely believe whatever they wish. Obviously I don't have a problem with people of faith serving in public positions as we have Christians, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, and Atheists serving side by side. The issue arises when one espouses a statement like you did, one which suggests a literal reading of a holy book that will interfere with reason and in turn policy.

I am glad to hear you are not a fundamentalist and that you will approach this with some sense of scientific objectivity. That remains to be determined.

The charge of bias I could not be acquitted of, I have strong beliefs and I express them. I too believe you have the right to say whatever you want, and if someone were to try to suppress freedom of religion or expression you could count on me to be one of the people on the front lines fighting for those rights. Few people believe more in freedom of religion than people who have no religion. Freedom of includes freedom from, which is why this seemingly religious agenda troubles many people. (I am not the only one who takes issue, merely the first to write about it.)

I would be so bold as to criticize the Aboriginal view of "mind body and spirit". You would be unwise to challenge my boldness, Mr. Summerville. Any belief that is not grounded in evidence is equally ridiculous. However, we are talking about a pastor who literally believes in a devil that can cause mental illness, not an Aboriginal priest influencing public policy based on his unfounded beliefs in spirits or the afterlife. This is a non-sequiter and I wonder why you jumped to citing Aboriginal sprititual belief. Let us talk about the issue at hand.

However, first as a citizen who pays taxes, and second as a politically active person aiming to change Canada for the better, I have a right to clarify disturbing statements made by public people, and to ensure that my country is not being taken down a road that it should not be.

I appreciate your response. Mental illness is an issue we can all agree on, so long as we keep the discussion on the grounds of reason.

PS: My original title was "Theocracy comes to Canada". I have 2 years of university level psych and I am aware that schizoid is an unscientific term. The title was put on the letter by the editor.


Travis Erbacher

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