How to mark the 10th anniversary of 9/11

We are days away from the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and the media coverage is swelling each day.

I didn’t think that I would want to read tons of remembrances, analyses and essays. After all, what is left to say? But I can’t stop reading the stuff.

New York magazine’s “Encyclopedia of 9/11” — available on-line — is particularly good.

The religion world is, of course, quite focused on the anniversary. On my desk at the moment I have Christianity Today (“The Gospel at Ground Zero: The horrors of 9/11 were not unlike those of Good Friday”) and Guideposts (“9/11 Survivors: Journeys of Faith”).

I’m also looking at a new book — “Life is Too Short: Stories of Transformation and Renewal After 9/11″ — by Wendy Stark Healy, former communications director for Lutheran Disaster Response of New York.

On Sunday, I contributed a profile of Dr. Mahjabeen Hassan, a Westchester plastic surgeon and a Muslim who has spent the last decade talking to people and groups about Islam.

What else? The AP’s fine religion writer Rachel Zoll interviewed Cardinal Egan about his experiences on 9/11. The article has gotten a lot of play. You can read it here.

Tomorrow night (Sept. 8), the Upper Room, a group of progressive Catholics from the New Rochelle area, will hold an “evening of prayer” from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the Province Center Chapel, 1338 North Ave. in New Ro.

On Sunday, Archbishop Dolan will celebrate a Memorial Mass at 9 a.m. at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. He will then celebrate Mass at St. Peter’s Church, across from Ground Zero, at 12:30 p.m.

Also on Sunday, there will be an interfaith memorial service at Lyon Park in Port Chester at 4 p.m. It’s at Putnam Avenue and King Street.

Also on Sunday, Unity Made Visible, a 7-year-old interfaith group based in Bedford Hills, will hold a program of “music and uplifting messages.” It will be from 4 to 5:30 at Fox Lane H.S. Coordinator Paul Storfer said: “For too long, we have witnessed 9/11 being used as a rallying cry for those who preach divisiveness and intolerance. On the upcoming 10th anniversary of this tragedy, we at Unity Made Visible want to take this day back and turn it into an opportunity for unity, compassion, education, and understanding.”

It’s hard to understand why Mayor Bloomberg chose to exclude clergy-led prayers from the main commemoration on Sunday morning. Apparently, there will be spiritual readings and moments of silence. But why not include a priest, minister and rabbi — and maybe an imam?

One observer, Charles Haynes, a senior scholar at the First Amendment Center who researches religious liberty, told AP that Bloomberg may have wanted to avoid the question of inviting a Muslim representative.

While some national voices have spoken out against Bloomberg’s decision, New York’s religious leaders haven’t had much to say. In fact, Archbishop Dolan told NY1 that he spoke with Bloomberg about it and was okay with the way things are going.

Get ready to hear a lot about Muslim ‘radicalization’

You may have heard that Long Island’s always-outspoken Congressman Peter King plans to soon hold hearings on Muslim “radicalization” in the U.S.

King became the new chair of the House Committee on Homeland Security after Republicans took control of the House on Jan. 1.

His plan to hold hearings is being widely denounced — although is supported by House Speaker John Boehner. King himself  is hyping all the media attention under the “King in the News” section of his website.

The hearings will receive enormous attention, no doubt.

It’s worth pointing out that a sociology prof at the University of North Carolina has just released a study called Muslim-American Terrorism Since 9/11: An Accounting.

Charles Kurzman writes that since 9/11, 161 Muslim Americans have been “terrorism suspects or perpetrators.”

The number of suspects dropped from 47 in 2009 to 20 in 2010 (with five carrying out plots), he writes.

Kurzman concludes that the media attention given to Muslim suspects creates “the impression — perhaps unintentionally — that Muslim-American terrorism is more prevalent than it really is.”

He is identified as a specialist on Islamic movements whose new book is “The Missing Martyrs: Why There Are So Few Muslim Terrorists.”

Here is an article he co-wrote for Foreign Policy called “The Islamists Are Not Coming.”

NY’s mainline Protestant leaders support proposed downtown Islamic center

It’s taken a while, but New York’s mainline Protestant leaders have issued statements about the proposed Islamic center near Ground Zero.

No great surprises here. The NY bishops of the United Methodist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Episcopal Church all gently support the project, while acknowledging the pain still felt by so many.

I’ll paste their full statements below.

United Methodist Bishop Jeremiah Park declares his support for the project, writing that “denying the fundamental right of a religious community, as long as it fulfills the same legal requirements applied to all other religious communities, by singling it out for the wrong reasons, compromises the integrity of who we are at our core.”

He also writes: “Our hearts break over the sacrifice of the dead from 9/11 and the pains and sufferings of their loved ones and our country. However, to truly honor them, to truly preserve the historic significance of the Ground Zero, and to truly triumph over the evil force of 9/11, it is necessary to stand firm on what America believes in and be willing to pay whatever the price to protect and preserve freedom and equality for all.”

ELCA Bishop Robert Rimbo doesn’t offer the same outright pledge of support, but concludes with this: “There is much pain very near the surface of our emotions with regard to the tragic events of September 11, 2001. But how will preventing this center from being constructed help us to deal with that pain? There is great fear driving our lives today. How do persons of faith respond to that fear? We commend ourselves to the reliable and merciful arms of the God of Abraham, the God whom Jesus calls Abba, the God whom Muslims and Christians in various parts of the world call Allah. This God promises a reign in which all shall be well. Our faith is bigger and stronger than all our fears.”

Italics mine. Sure sounds like he is in favor getting beyond the fear and building the place.

Finally, Episcopal Bishop Mark Sisk, as I noted last week, wrote a public letter supporting the Islamic center. It includes this: “The plan to build this center is, without doubt, an emotionally highly-charged issue. But as a nation with tolerance and religious freedom at its very foundation, we must not let our emotions lead us into the error of persecuting or condemning an entire religion for the sins of its most misguided adherents.”

Of course, Archbishop Tim Dolan has offered to be a conciliatory voice, but has stopped short of taking a position. In a recent blog post, he wrote: “Although I have no strong sentiment about what should be decided about the eventual where of the Islamic Center, I do have strong convictions about how such a discussion should be reached: civilly and charitably.  The hot-heads on either side must not dominate.”

Here are the full UMC, ELCA and Episcopal Church statements… Continue reading

Talking to 9/11 survivors about the Islamic center proposal

Anger. Pain. Frustration. Confusion.

I’m feeling all of it while talking to 9/11 survivors from these parts about the Great Mosque Controversy.

Several people I’ve reached did not want to talk about it.

Many others, to be honest, did not return my calls. Most of them, I assume, also did not want to talk about it.

But those survivors who have talked to me have very strong feelings.

Mostly against the proposed Islamic center.

Some in favor.

Several people have had no interest in separating the 19 lunatics who carried out the attacks from any or all other Muslims.

I’m more convinced than I was a few days ago that this controversy will get nastier if plans are not changed.

My article should be on LoHud/Journal News on Sunday.

Your mosque round-up

In case you’re not completely sick of hearing about THE mosque, here is an update of the latest:

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NEW YORK (AP) — Mayor Michael Bloomberg delivered an impassioned speech at an event marking the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, saying that not allowing a proposed mosque to be built near ground zero would be “compromising our commitment to fighting terror with freedom.”

“We would undercut the values and principles that so many heroes died protecting,” Bloomberg said at the dinner Tuesday in observance of Iftar, the breaking of the daily fast during Ramadan.

The mayor said he understood the “impulse to find another location for the mosque” but a compromise won’t end the debate.

“The question will then become how big should the no-mosque zone around the World Trade Center be,” Bloomberg said. “There is already a mosque four blocks away. Should it, too, be moved?”

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Meanwhile, Archbishop Dolan is calling for better manners, without taking a position on the controversy.

“We’re just a little bit apprehensive that those noble values may be a bit at risk in the way this conversation and debate about the site of the mosque is taking place,” he said.

“I sure don’t have strong feelings on where the mosque should ultimately be,” he added.

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Bishop Mark Sisk, the Episcopal Bishop of New York, released a public letter in support of the mosque. It’s a sharp piece based on his personal perspective — but oddly late to the debate:

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I am writing to tell you that I wholeheartedly join other religious and civic leaders in calling on all parties involved in the dispute over the planned lower Manhattan Islamic community center and mosque to convert a situation that has sadly become ever more divisive into, as Archbishop Timothy Dolan recently stated, “an opportunity for a civil, rational, loving, respectful discussion.”

The plan to build this center is, without doubt, an emotionally highly-charged issue. But as a nation with tolerance and religious freedom at its very foundation, we must not let our emotions lead us into the error of persecuting or condemning an entire religion for the sins of its most misguided adherents.

The worldwide Islamic community is no more inclined to violence that any other. Within it, however, a struggle is going on – between the majority who seek to follow a moderate, loving religion and the few who would transform it into an intolerant theocracy intent on persecuting anyone, Muslim or otherwise, with whom they disagree. We should all, as Christians, reach out in friendship and love to the peaceful Islamic majority and do all in our power to build and strengthen bridges between our faiths. We should also all remember that the violence and hateful behavior of the extremist are not confined to any one religion.  Over the centuries we Christians have numbered more than a few among us who have perpetrated unspeakable atrocities in Christ’s name.

I must admit that I also have a more personal connection with this issue. At the Episcopal Diocese of New York we know the leaders of this project, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and his wife Daisy Khan. We know that they are loving, gentle people, who epitomize Islamic moderation. We know that as Sufis, they are members of an Islamic sect that teaches a universal belief in man’s relationship to God that is not dissimilar from mystic elements in certain strains of Judaism and Christianity. Feisal Abdul Rauf and Daisy Khan are, without question, people to whom Christians of good will should reach out with the hand of hospitality and friendship, as they reach out to us. I understand and support their desire to build an Islamic center, intended in part to promote understanding and tolerance among different religions.

For these reasons I applaud the positions taken by Governor Patterson, Mayor Bloomberg and others and look forward to furthering the efforts to resolve this issue. I am convinced, aided and guided by the One God who is creator of all, that people of goodwill can find a solution that will strengthen, rather than divide, the human condition…

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Finally, there’s the Greek Orthodox perspective:

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NEW YORK (AP) — Supporters of a Greek Orthodox church destroyed on Sept. 11 say officials willing to speak out about a planned community center and mosque near ground zero have been silent on efforts to get the church rebuilt.

But the World Trade Center site’s owner says a deal to help rebuild St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church was offered and rejected, after years of negotiations, over money and other issues.

Though the projects are not related, supporters — including George Pataki, New York’s governor at the time of the Sept. 11 attacks — have questioned why public officials have not addressed St. Nicholas’ future while they lead a debate on whether and where the Islamic cultural center should be built.

“What about us? Why have they forgotten or abandoned their commitment to us?” asked Father Alex Karloutsos, assistant to the archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. “When I see them raising issues about the mosque and not thinking about the church that was destroyed, it does bother us.”

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(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

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UPDATE: Now we have a 21-year-old guy from Southeast accused of stabbing a Muslim cabbie in NYC.

The driver says this: “Right now the public sentiment is very serious” because of the Ground Zero mosque debate. All drivers should be more careful.”

Have you heard there are plans for a mosque near Ground Zero?

Back from vacation. A good (and sunny time) was had by all.

I’ll share my beach reading list in a day or two.

When I left, the GROUND ZERO MOSQUE controversy was a big story. Not it is a BIG STORY.

The Boston Globe and Portland Press Herald — yes, I was in Maine — had coverage every day. And it seems that every politician and interest group in the country has had something to say about whether the Islamic community center should be built.

What’s going on here? Lots of things, of course.

There seems to be a legitimate question of whether an Islamic center two blocks from Ground Zero is simply too much — symbolically — for those who lost loved ones on 9/11 or otherwise had their lives changed forever. If a survivor feels that a mosque in that location would be inappropriate, who is to tell her (or him) that they are wrong?

The “They can build it, but not there” camp seems to be growing.

At the same time, this whole debate/controversy has revealed a deep anti-Muslim antipathy that some would like to take mainstream.

Many protesters make generalizations about Muslims or Islamic practice that show that we’ve learned little about a faith followed by 1.3 billion people. A Brooklyn plumber who attended yesterday’s anti-mosque rally has been widely quoted as saying that the people behind the project are “the same people who took down the twin towers.”

The whole debate is a classic example of a truism of public relations: “If you don’t define yourself, someone else will.”

As I’ve written before, the man behind the mosque proposal — Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf — and his advisers have done a terrible job of explaining themselves.

They seem to have not realized that their plans would provoke opposition.

They’ve done and said almost nothing to explain who they are — truly moderate Muslims — and why their project would be good for New York.

It’s almost hard to believe that Rauf is currently in the Middle East, representing the U.S. State Department, as his good name gets torn apart at home. Who’s running the show?

A terrific article in today’s Washington Post outlines Rauf’s utter failure at P.R.:

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So far, debate has been framed around whether a $100 million, 15-story Muslim community center and mosque should be built two blocks from where Islamic radicals brought down the World Trade Center. But interviews with people who know Rauf suggest that the project isn’t much more than an idea and that Rauf’s most controversial trait may be his ambition.

While he portrays himself as someone who runs two influential interfaith nonprofits (his Web site says he is “regarded as one of the world’s most eloquent and erudite Muslim leaders”), neither one has a staff, and the project that has inspired outrage hasn’t even begun fundraising, said Rauf’s wife and work partner, Daisy Khan.

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I’ve interviewed Rauf several times and believe that most Americans would like him if they got to know him.

But it’s probably too late for that.

Rauf and his wife, Daisy, needed to do an hour on Oprah.

Instead, they let a bunch of politicians introduce them to America.

(AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

More perspectives on the ‘Ground Zero mosque’

I’m on vacation for two weeks after today.

Will be back around around Aug. 23.

Just returned from a press conference beneath Westchester County’s 9/11 memorial at the Kensico Dam.

Two people who lost loved ones on 9/11 came out to oppose — you guessed it — the planned Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero.

They were very emotional, as you might expect.

Liam McLaughlin, the former Yonkers City Council member who is running for state Senate, organized the presser.

I’ll also have an article on LoHud/Journal News in a few days (maybe Tuesday) about how suburban Muslims are reacting to the big Ground Zero debate.

They fear that opposition to the center is kind of morphing into general anti-Islamism. The Upper Westchester Muslim Society, which is planning to build its own Islamic Center in Ossining, is getting antsy about whether all the downtown rhetoric might move north.

One thing that’s becoming clear is that the Cordoba Initiative, the group seeking to build the downtown center, is doing a poor job of PR. Their leaders need to be out there, explaining who they are, what they’ve done and what they hope to do. They also need to get their many Christian and Jewish friends (and they have many) to speak out.

Right now, most New Yorkers probably don’t know the Cordoba Initiative from any other Muslim group.

That’s not going to cut it, it seems.

Most New Yorkers oppose downtown Islamic cultural center, poll shows

Sixty one percent of New Yorkers oppose the so-called “Ground Zero mosque,” according to a poll released today by the Siena College Research Institute in Loudonville, N.Y.

Institute Director Don Levy says: “Large majorities of all New Yorkers, every party, region and age give a thumbs-down to the Cordoba House Mosque being built near the Ground Zero site. But only just over half of all New Yorkers, even city residents say they have been following the news about the proposed mosque closely.”

By “New Yorkers,” he’s talking about people across the state, not only people in the NYC region.

Here’s the rest of Levy’s comments:

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Two of ten New Yorkers agree more with supporters that say the proposed Cultural Center would demonstrate the presence of moderate Muslims and serve as a monument to religious tolerance than with opponents that say the project is an offense to the memory of those killed in the attacks on 9/11 and that it displays unacceptable insensitivity.  Nearly four in ten agree more with the opponents and 38 percent think both sides have a legitimate case.  Over half of all New Yorkers and NYC residents either agree that the project would promote tolerance or are, at least, willing to listen.

But when it comes to a yes or no vote, more than a quarter of those that agree with the supporters, nearly half of those that see both sides and virtually all of those that question the appropriateness of the Mosque currently vote ‘No’ on the project.

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The Institute also said that 52 percent of New Yorkers would favor an immigration law like the one passed in Arizona.

Other findings on immigration, according to a release:

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Seventy percent of New York residents say that the presence of 10 to 20 million illegal immigrants poses a somewhat (30%) or very significant (40%) problem to the U.S.,  and large majorities call for comprehensive immigration reform that would include enhanced border security (79%), the creation of a process for admitting legal temporary workers (70%), and implementing a tough but fair path to legalization for those already here (65%).

Opinions, opinions on ‘Ground Zero mosque’

There are so many statements coming out on the so-called “Ground Zero mosque” — it would actually be a community center two blocks away from Ground Zero — that I figured I should share a few in one place.

After the ADL came out against the Cordoba Initiative’s plans, the American Jewish Committee’s David Harris (of Chappaqua!) gave a qualified blessing to the center. He wrote, in part:

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We hope the Cordoba Center will fulfill the lofty mission its founders have articulated. They have set the bar high, describing it as a Muslim-inspired institution similar to the 92nd Street Y. If so, it means a facility truly open to the entire community — and to a wide spectrum of ideas based on peace and coexistence.

Once up and running, it won’t be long before we know if the founders have delivered on their promise. If so, New York and America will be enriched. If not, the center should be shunned.

Presently, there are two legitimate concerns about the proposed center.

First, with a $100 million price tag, what are the exact sources of funding? The public has a right to know that the donors all subscribe to an open, inclusive and pluralistic vision of the center.

Second, do the center’s leaders reject unconditionally terrorism inspired by Islamist ideology? They must say so unequivocally. This is critical for the institution’s credibility. There is no room here for verbal acrobatics. Otherwise, the pall of suspicion around the leaders’ true attitudes toward groups like Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah will grow — spelling the center’s doom.

If these concerns can be addressed, we will join in welcoming the Cordoba Center to New York. In doing so, we would wish to reaffirm the noble values for which our country stands — the very values so detested by the perpetrators of the September 11th attacks.

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The American Center for Law & Justice, a public interest law firm with an evangelical bent that defends religious liberty, filed a suit today against the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission (which did not give landmark status to the building that would be replaced by the Islamic center).

The ACLJ says:

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The suit charges that the city violated the New York City Charter and the New York City Administrative Code.  Among the assertions made in the suit:  the city failed to properly review and consider the public comments about the project, acted hastily in voting to deny landmark status, and failed to acknowledge the significance of the site as a historic and hallowed landmark from the tragic attacks of 9-11.

“The denial of landmark status to the building was an arbitrary and capricious abuse of discretion and contrary to decades of administrative precedent,” the petition argues.

The lawsuit also notes that the building has been under consideration for landmark status long before 9-11.  And, that the designation is even more appropriate now since part of a hijacked plane from the 9-11 attacks crashed through the roof of the building.

The petition states:  “The building stands as an iconic symbol to an uninterrupted linkage of the rise of American capitalism with our current quest to preserve our freedom and democracy.  The building, therefore, should stand as part of the commemorative and educational experience of our shared political, cultural and historic heritage.”

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The liberal group People for the American Way says:

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Of course a Muslim community center should be allowed in lower Manhattan. This is not a close question.

“Our country is built upon the bedrock principle that people of all faiths and of no faith at all are equally welcome in our nation’s civic life.  No community should be told to move away because of its religion.  Arguing that Muslims are unwelcome anywhere is a threat to religious liberty everywhere.  Religious intolerance is not the American way.

“Those political leaders who have spoken out against religious intolerance should be applauded—they have taken a stand for our most essential values.  It’s deeply disappointing that so many of their colleagues chose instead to use this incident to inflame religious strife.

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In the New York Observer, longtime Westchester pol Richard Brodsky, now running for Attorney General, says that he is personally opposed to the mosque but would defend the Cordoba Initiative’s legal right to build it.

He says: “This is the scene of a horrific mass murder. It’s not just another site. The murder wasn’t an Islamic crime, but it was a crime committed in the name of Islam by people most Muslims reject. I get that. But if you are the family of a victim, there are sensitivities involved that we should all respect.”

And: “The political conversation has reduced this to stereotypes, that if you are against the mosque you are a bigot, and if you are in favor of the mosque you are terrorist. I reject that. It’s still possible to be a public official and be thoughtful.”

In the news: Scientology!

Back from furlough.

Watched some Olympics. Read many magazines. Taking my time through Democracy in America.

I’ve been playing catch-up today. One thing that caught my eye:

A real interesting story in the Wash Post today about the Church of Scientology hiring three prominent journalists to “study” how the St. Petersburg Times covers Scientology, which is based in Florida.

The St. Pete Times has written extensively about Scientology — much of it less than flattering — and the church has been quite critical of the paper.

Apparently, Scientology may not make the report public. Depends what it says, I guess.

Two of the reporters said in a statement: “We were hesitant. That’s why we insisted on being paid in full before we started our work, total editorial independence and having someone with the reputation of (investigative reporter) Steve Weinberg involved. Every entity has the right to receive fair treatment in the press.”

The Church of Scientology has received some international attention of late for sending a bunch of volunteers, including John Travolta and wife Kelly Preston, to Haiti, where they are providing a “form” of therapy to survivors.

A few months after 9/11, when Scientology’s “volunteer ministers” were quite visible at and around Ground Zero, I wrote about widespread criticism of their treatment methods. The mental health establishment has long been at odds with Scientology over a bunch of things (including Scientology’s dismissal of much of what makes up modern psychology and psychiatry).

At the time, I wrote:

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Volunteer ministers must only read a Scientology textbook and pass a short exam to be certified by the church. They are not ordained ministers.

But they have worked with Oklahoma City survivors, Kosovo refugees, earthquake victims in Kobe, Japan, and many other disaster victims around the world since Hubbard created the volunteer program in 1976.

Scientology uses technical terms to describe counseling techniques that, on the face of it, sound impossibly simple. At Ground Zero, for instance, volunteer ministers often offered “touch assists,” which involve touching injured body parts as a way to open communication between the brain and the injured area.

For someone still focused on Sept. 11, volunteer ministers may perform a “locational.” This involves having someone focus on something in the present.

“If someone keeps seeing the image of the World Trade Center falling again and again, you ask the person to look into the environment – at a clock or whatever,” said Beth Salem, 22, of Ossining, a volunteer minister. “Instead of looking into the past, they look into the now. That’s not to say they won’t think about the past again, but they’re not as stuck on it.”

For those who stay beyond initial counseling, there is the world of “dianetics,” the heart of Scientology. The goal of dianetics is to help people overcome negative experiences stored in the mind so they can reach a level of enlightenment that Scientology calls “clear.”

Scientology rejects traditional forms of mental health treatment and particularly disdains the use of medication to treat mental illness.