Connecting Directors, Ryan Thogmartin, and the Pitiful Direction of the Deathcare Niche

Sometimes I just have to shake my head in disbelief when I see some of the things that are going on in the deathcare sector. It’s really unbelievable the types that now claim to be gurus to the deathcare business and who tout themselves as being in the know about what and how funeral directors and funeral services providers should be doing with their businesses.

One such guru is Ryan Thogmartin, a self-proclaimed social media “expert” who runs Disrupt Media and publishes the online journal Connecting Directors. Actually, it’s Thogmartin who seems to be critically disrupted and the only directors he’s connecting have likely been drinking their own embalming chemicals.

Anybody want to do shots before watching Ryan Thogmartin’s Connecting Directors videos?

For one thing the deathcare industry has taken a turn towards immorality and dehumanization in recent years. I say this because the growth of the funeral services corporations making death a commodity rather than a sacred mystery is doing inestimable damage to the human psyche, culture, tradition, and anything human worth preserving. I’m speaking of the Newcomers, the Service Corporation International, the Dignity Memorials, the StoneMors of the world and their greed and gouging practices.

Even more alarming are the products they are foisting on the bereaved: direct cremation, direct burial, alkaline hydrolysis (dissolving the dead human body in a draino-like solution and sending the remains down the sewer lines); the indignities heaped on the dead and the insensitive treatment of the surviving bereaved are appalling.

I’m no friend of Facebook and feel that it is one of the greatest evils to arrive on Earth since Nazi national socialist movements or Stalinist communism. It’s an insidious agenda of mind control fostering self-destructive addiction on millions of unwary subscribers who, if they had half a brain, are sacrificing it to the anti-Christ Mark Zuckerberg and his army of censoring mind-police minions.

The Facebook Addiction

But Thogmartin sees an opportunity here and tries like hell to sell it to Guess whom? Yes! Funeral directors and funeral homes, one of the most conservative groups you’ll find today. One of the groups we would hope would have superhuman gifts of compassion, sincerity, empathy, humanity. Thogmartin is trying to sell them the idea that they need to market their services on Facebook. But I’m completely at a loss Why? they should believe anything the sloppy, uncredible, inarticulate Thogmartin has to say!

Here’s one of Thogmartin’s most recent pitches to the deathcare professionals whom he thinks he’s appealing to. Would you buy a used car from this guy?

Well, I’m not going to beat a dead horse (no pun intended). First of all, for those of us with any powers of discernment Thogmartin’s inarticulate double-talk is enough to turn us completely off. His presentation — I’m looking at his wardrobe, his set, his general appearance and personal hygiene, if I can abuse that concept when referring to Thogmartin — is simply grunge. Who on earth would want their families and clients to know that this is the man from whom your receiving your business advice?!?

Secondly, any funeral home’s business is largely local. Most established funeral homes are generations old and rely on a good reputation built over the decades and generations by providing top-shelf service. Their business comes from word of mouth, not from an idiotic platform calling itself social media, and catering to the lowest of the lowest of intellects. Sure, even the dumbest human being is looking at 100% mortality and someone’s going to have to dispose of those human remains, but seriously, when you receive that first call, it’s likely not to be from Facebook. It’s going to come from a local hospital, hospice, nursing home, or from a local family — unless of course your business is based substantially on repatriation of human remains and you do a lot of business after natural catastrophes but I can’t even say I’ve worked with such an operation in my entire career.

Moreover, most of Disrupt Media’s publications come to the subscriber as republished from other sources; most of it isn’t really of interest to the funeral director or his staff in his day-to-day operations. Besides, in the profession who has the time to sit and read poorly written commentaries hoping to find something worthwhile and of any value to a business that must be very attuned to local culture.

Maybe Thogmartin’s appeal is to the funeral corporations and their employees but on careful scrutiny and analysis, his whole operation is questionable and his advice serves only his interests, Disrupt Media.

Serve rather than Disrupt!



Accepting Our Roles, Respecting Our Limitations

Why Funeral Directors and Clergy Should Ally with the Chaplain.

Rev. Ch. Harold W. Vadney B.A., [M.A.], M.Div.
Bereavement Chaplain/Thanatologist/Psychospiritual Care Provider

In principle and practice, as a celebrant/officiant, the focus of my attention is the family, then the deceased, the assembly and finally the venue. As a bereavement chaplain my focus is correctly spelled “t-r-a-n-s-f-o-r-m-a-t-i-o-n” and its outcome is correctly called “growth.” It’s a vocation not a career; a specialist profession, not a job.

Today’s most communicable disease is called control. But as a chaplain, control is alien to me. True, when I appear people seem to quiet down, to be more in listening mode. They seem to be more receptive to hearing a message that might possibly ease the suffering, the acute pain they are experiencing. There’s a certain authority that I have to bear with self-effacing humility; while powerful it’s not power as such, and it’s much less control than it is co-being. It’s the aura of authenticity, of compassion; people trust me. I care for and about them.

I am in fact not in control, nor do I attempt to assume control of anything, not even the funeralization rites and ritual, the ceremonial, on which I may have worked for days to organize and to tweak right up to the point of greeting the assembly and pronouncing the words of dismissal, “Go in peace and love one another.” I am merely an instrument of comfort and healing; a mere master of ceremonies. A sometimes crisis manager. A paid consultant.

“This is about the family, your loved one; it’s not about me or anything else. I’m here to serve you.”

I receive the first call from the funeral director with gratitude and commitment; I contact the family and the arrangers with compassion and humility. My first words after introducing myself and expressing my condolences and assurances, are likely to be “This is about your family, your loved one; it’s not about me or anything else. I’m here to serve you.” Those words usually break the ice immediately, and the anxiety associated with the protocol of chatting with the chaplain about rites and ritual that might be as strange and mysterious as death itself, is dispelled, and we can talk about the deceased loved one and the service like family—or as close to being old friends as the situation will allow. Always in the back of my mind is that these are suffering people, each in his or her own way experiencing a loss and attempting to cope with the situation and to manage the bizarre, unfamiliar ball of emotions with whatever they might have at hand. It’s my job in this initial phase to sort through my armamentarium of training and experience, common sense and wisdom (my own and that received), listening skills and vocabulary, style and demeanor,  to find the right salves, ointments and incantations to assuage the acute pain, to prepare them for the chronic aches, and to ease, not remove, their suffering; it’s the suffering that will nurture their healing and growth, after all, you can’t harvest a good crop without wounding the earth and planting the seed.

But even after breaking open the earth and planting the seed, aftercare is essential. You must water and weed the rows to ensure that the seedlings prosper and grow. It’s what I call a resurrection experience, similar to the seed parables of the Christian Gospels and so many other sacred texts that deal with death and rebirth. So, too, in our funeralization rites and rituals, we can describe the bereavement experiences as being broken open, the seeds of transformation planted, receiving the waters of life experience, wisdom, and then resurrecting as transformed beings. The final transformed being that emerges from the ante-mortem, pre-bereavement person becoming the post-mortem mourner doing his or her grief work, implementing coping and support resources, and finally healing and growing, differs with each unique situation, and it’s what makes my vocation that much more exciting and rewarding because each call presents its own unique set of challenges and opportunities.

I’ve often taught that Death is not an enemy; we just have to embrace it and befriend it. We often look at things we can’t control as the enemy; that’s a modern mistake in our relationship with everything from relatives to the line at the supermarket to the neighbor’s dog to the mysteries of life, including death. Death is not the enemy; our modern tendency is to think that everything, including creation, needs to be controlled, dominated, subdued. As soon as we find that we can’t do that we avoid or deny the situation until it can no longer be denied, and then we curse it. That’s unfortunate because we could enjoy life so much more if only we would accept the humility that brings peace to our lives. To do so would mean that we have to be silent and most of today’s humanity has been taught that silence is bad; movement, no matter how frenetic, noise, no matter how cacophonous, is a sign of life. That’s how we have lost touch with our innermost self, the core of our humanity, and we have become animate tools, an insidious but real violation of a basic moral principle: Human beings should never be used as means to an end.

I have found that most families whom I have served over the years have lived in denial of the inevitability of our 100% mortality rate. As the result, when Death ultimately pays a visit they are caught 100% unprepared, are shocked by the fact that a death has occurred, are devastated that so many decisions have to be made NOW, completely confused by the bureaucratic complexities of just getting the deceased moved, and once moved, bombarded by a bombastic but “compassionate” salesperson dressed up as a funeral director, and floored by the financial burdens of just one death. “We know you want to honor your loved one. Now that’s what we would suggest, but if you’d like to keep it simpler, we can also offer…” Sound familiar? As a bereavement chaplain trained in spiritual care and thanatology, I often have to recall one of the first things my deathcare instructors repeated: “The bereaved should never make a major decision in the first year following the loss.” But arranging for the final disposition of a dead human being, a loved one who has died,  is a major decision, one of the most major decisions some of my clients will ever have to make, and that major decision — or perhaps more accurately stated, major decisions — have to be made within mere hours of the major loss and in the 2-3 days following the major loss. So now what do we do?

Would you like us to bring along our chaplain?”

Well, too few funeral homes, too few funeral directors and — to my personal knowledge and in my experience — no funeral service groups or corporations tend to involve a chaplain in the removal call, the initial family meeting or the arrangements conference. In fact, I know of none who involve a chaplain immediately after receiving the first call. Wouldn’t it be great if one of the questions asked during the first call conversation would be, “Would you like us to bring along our chaplain?” In the hours immediately following the death the family is most receptive to the idea of having a spiritual care provider in their midst — not necessarily to talk but just to be present, perhaps just to listen quietly, just to be there if needed — at least that’s been my experience in my hospital and nursing home chaplaincy work.

Too few funeral homes, too few funeral directors and — to my knowledge and in my experience — no funeral service groups or corporation arrangement meeting guidelines recommend that a chaplain be present at the arrangements conference. I’m usually called after the arrangements conference and have to put the family through the ordeal of repeating so much of what I could have gleaned from simply sitting next to the funeral director or the arranger during the arrangements conference. Quite frankly, it’s beyond me why this is so.

Worse still, too many amateurs are allowed to inject themselves into the incredibly complex mix of emotions, physical reactions, social intricacies, and spiritual questions, and amateurs tend to complicate things beyond anyone’s expectations. When I use the term “amateurs” I mean people who are only minimally trained in spirituality, in psychospiritual care, people who read a book or take a course and are miraculously transformed into a being with privileged and extraordinary knowledge. Worse still, we frequently find volunteers or CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) trainees — most egregiously in the acute care setting, the hospital — winging it through some of a family’s most difficult moments! Fact is, they’re amateurs. Fact is that they can cause a lot of damage, directly and collaterally, simply because they are well-intentioned people but dilettantes, amateurs.

Bereavement chaplaincy, psychospiritual care is a vocation and spans a wide range of interdisciplinary subject matter. Many of us have graduate degrees in at least two academic or scientific specialties. Most of us have degrees in pastoral care, theological studies, or even the gold standard, divinity. Many of us have degrees in psychology or/and the humanities. Many of us have either formally or informally studied mortuary science and understand and appreciate what the funeral director has been taught, how s/he has acquired his/her practical experience, and most importantly, their limitations; perhaps we are not licensed to embalm or to operate a funeral home but we have made every conceivable effort to know what goes no behind the scenes and what makes the funeral home staff tick.  Many of us attend regular continuing professional education (CPE) —not to be confused with CPE as in “Clinical Pastoral Education,” the training offered by some healthcare institutions under the aegis of a national or international accreditation program — courses and conferences, and maintain programs of continuing awareness and currency. Many of us are members of professional associations. And many of us study, study, study to be able to provide the most comprehensive and efficacious care possible.

As an on-call chaplain or chaplain “in residence” I have also made special efforts at understanding the protocols of hospice and the role of spiritual care in hospice environments; the same is true regarding palliative care. Hospice, palliative care, hospital, nursing home pastoral care providers differ considerably in their protocols and practices; as a bereavement chaplain serving funeral homes and providing post-funeralization aftercare, I have to pick up where hospice, palliative care, hospital and nursing home staff — some of them ordained amateurs —, and funeral directors have left off or, in some cases, dropped the ball!

Some funeral service operators, whether independent funeral homes or corporate funeral service groups, need to learn that the chaplain is not the enemy. Mainstream clergy — those priests, ministers who run parishes and congregations as part of a mainstream institutionalized religious community (I’ll call these collectively “pastoral ministers”) do view the bereavement chaplain as an interloper cutting into their revenues. But a more compassionate view would be to accept the chaplain as an ally, someone with whom they should be collaborating instead of undermining and disparaging. Why? Well tackling the first proposition that the chaplain cuts into their revenues, I can say that most clergy will show up with Holy Scripture tucked under one arm and swinging a rosary in the other hand, machine gun a couple of verses or race through a couple decades of a rosary and then be off, tucking a hefty check into their pockets. Even funeral masses and church services are cookie-cutter and generally unconvincing. But they bring in the bucks. Consequently, if a chaplain is engaged to perform the funeralization rites and rituals, the pastoral minister will have to forfeit his or her stipend, and that can add up over the shorter or longer term.

Funeral directors are not stupid either. Most will get real cozy with a local congregation or the local priests and ministers, wining and dining them, ensuring that they have the local clergy in their pockets and then putting out the funeral-home sponsored annual free calendar promoting their funeral home in the vestibule of the church or temple. Pastor gets a call when a local family loses a loved one and recommends John Smith Funeral Home. Bingo! It’s a win-win for both the pastor and the funeral director. The only real loser is the consumer.

So, given the choice between the 15-minute Wham! Bam! Amen! cookie-cutter commendation-committal combo offered by the local pastor and the hour-long in-house commendation or memorial service with the 20 minute graveside or committal service offered by the chaplain/officiant, the funeral director will play his best, winning hand regardless of the quality of the service or the therapeutic effects — or lack thereof — on the bereaved and the mourning community. After all, for both the funeral director and the pastor the adage “Time is Money” applies with few exceptions.

But the difference between the chaplain and the parish priest or deacon or the congregation minister is that the chaplain is a specialist in psychospiritual care, especially end-of-life and deathcare, something few pastors can claim. Furthermore, the chaplain has the knowledge and experience to guide the bereaved through a complicated process, which may take the investment of hours of time, something that few if any pastors will do unless there’s a bequest or an estate to consider, or the deceased was a community leader. The chaplain is not concerned with what the faith tradition prescribes or what the faith community expects; the chaplain’s concern is directed and focused on the care of the bereaved, how they are coping, navigating them through the grief work, the mourning process, healing, transformation, and reintegration. Neither the funeral director nor the pastor is in a position to tackle such a situation. In fact, most funeral directors and pastors are really not  interested in getting that involved in the process of grief work and forget aftercare altogether. The same applies to many pastoral ministers.

This means that the bereaved and the mourning community are short-changed; they’re cheated out of the full transformational experience of offered by the personalized funeral ritual that offers profound psychospiritual support and paves the way to healing and transformation, making grief less traumatic and life more promising.

When secular funeral professionals and pastoral ministers collude and conspire together under any pretense or for any reason whatsoever, they betray the trust traditionally conferred upon them by the community, they cheat the bereaved and the mourning community, and worse still, they set an fundamentally evil precedent! The resulting situation is not only regrettable, it’s reprehensible. Why? Because most persons who are in the traumatic throes of acute grief are in an altered psychospiritual state; they are not thinking right and see the world in a confused vision. They tend to grasp trustingly at any straw coming their way and think that it will save them. Regrettably, most funeral service providers and clergy take fullest advantage of that to spew their respective “pitches” whether it be merchandising or pabulum preaching. Both disguise a cookie cutter as a life preserver!

In reality, the funeral director, whether independent or corporate, is interested in getting the case processed and closed within the shortest time possible without traumatizing the bereaveds’ sense of decency — assuming that the bereaved have any such sense — and getting on with the next removal. The pastor has to prepare his sermon, supervise the bible study groups, plan the religious education curriculum, discuss Sunday’s worship music with the music director, meet with the parish council, look for a new car, check the obits, and make time to have dinner with the local funeral director(s). Tough life for both, right?

My message, if I may presume to state it in so many words, is that funeral directors and pastoral ministers or spiritual care providers must take their fiduciary duties and obligations ethically seriously, they must play fairly and remember their privileged role in the community. When I say they must play fairly and remember their privileged role in the community I mean that they must respect boundaries, admit their limitations, and practice true humility in compassion. Funeral directors and pastoral ministers must be ready to admit that they can’t do everything, that they don’t have the training or experience to do some things, and that they have to stop deceiving their respective publics by shamelessly representing or misrepresenting that that are masters of all trades.

While I would like to pass on some of the responsibility for this deplorable state of affairs, essentially  caused and exploited by spurious funeralization practices and the greed of pastoral ministers in institutionalized religion, each at times illicitly operating both on the profane and the psychospiritual planes, on the shoulders of the consumer of funeralization and religious services, I can’t do that with very great confidence or credibility. The reason I can’t do that in the majority of cases is stated at the beginning of this essay, in a nutshell: They are simply so traumatized and confused by the complexity of circumstances surrounding a death that they have to legally, physically, practically and spiritually rely on others to help them through it all. It is here that the so-called professionals fail in their basic duties and obligations, and not only the bereaved, but all of society suffer the deleterious effects caused by these two professions, the funeral director and the clergy, alone.

Death is not just natural. Death is not just inevitable. Death is not just a loss. Death is a set of circumstances that sets into motion a vast array of complex responses and reactions in a process that can either be destructively or constructively transformational at the personal, community and societal levels. It is the vocation of the bereavement chaplain to provide the psychospiritual armamentarium to ensure that the transformation is constructive, healing, and nurtures positive growth and reintegration into life.

To read or download the original article please click Accepting Our Roles Respecting Our Limitations.

Groupthink! The risk of paralysis inherent in every group.

“As members of interdisciplinary care teams, we are frequently exposed to and have to cope with what is known as groupthink, a phenomenon that may seriously compromise our efficacy as care providers, and may also compromise our duty of authenticity and autonomy. And yet, groupthink is precisely what underlies much of our training in Clinical Pastoral Education and in the so-called Board Certification programs and our professional organizations, and is pandemic in most of the institutions in which we work. Agendizing, brainwashing, programming.”

Rev. Ch. Harold W. Vadney B.A., [M.A.], M.Div.

We, as psychospiritual care providers, as chaplains, thanatologists, end-of-life and deathcare providers have an inherent authority in most organizations to speak freely and openly about sensitive subjects without the stigma that might apply to a colleague working in a different field. People tend to listen to us and give credibility to what we have to say; consequently, we can and should play an important and proactive role in making the organizations and leaders with whom we work aware of the groupthink phenomenon, its dangers and risks, and ways of avoiding the phenomenon in our environments. Once people are made aware of the phenomenon and ways to identify it and prevent it, we are on the path to reclaiming the efficacy and authenticity we once enjoyed but lost in the wake of the development of corporate control of our institutions and the chilling of interpersonal relations by online social media.

Groupthink.[1] It’s everywhere and it’s toxic! It’s dehumanizing. It perpetuates lies and factoids. Yet you love it! It makes things so much easier when you don’t have to use your own brain and you allow yourself to be programmed to think, speak, act, perform according to the in-group’s agenda.

Irving Janus mainstreamed the term in 1982. [2] According to Janis, groupthink

“[h]appens when in-group pressures lead to deterioration in mental efficiency, poor testing of reality, and lax moral judgment. It tends to occur in highly cohesive groups in which the group members’ desire for consensus becomes more important than evaluating problems and solutions realistically. An example would be the top executive cabinet (the president and vice presidents) of a firm, who have worked together for many years. They know each other well and think as a cohesive unit rather than as a collection of individuals.” [my italics]

We can find groupthink in our workplaces, churches, schools, social media, government, and Yes! even in our homes.

Janis identified eight symptoms of groupthink, which are noteworthy and which I will briefly describe below.[3] Persons affected by groupthink may exhibit any of these symptoms:

  1. An experience of the illusion of invulnerability. This illusion produces an unreal sense of optimism and the sense of empowerment to take risks, sometimes extreme, which the individual would not otherwise take.
  2. Acceptance of a collective rationalization. The individual ignores the red flags and warnings and refuse to reassess their biases, prejudices and assumptions regarding reality.
  3. Belief in the inherent morality of the group. The individual and members of the group are convinced of the righteousness of their beliefs and become indifferent to the ethical or moral effects and consequences of the group’s decisions and actions.
  4. Establishment and adoption of stereotypes of out-groups. Stereotypes are a facile way of dealing with the “others” and do not require thinking or decision-making. De rigueur negative presumptions and characterizations of the “enemy” render rational and effective responses to conflict unnecessary. Cookie-cutter responses are the result.
  5. The imposition of direct pressure on dissenters. Any deviation from the presumptions and dictates of the group results in sanctions. Individuals, group members are discouraged from expressing alternative views, or representing positions conflicting any of the group’s views.
  6. Requirement of self-censorship. The individual and members of the group are required to ensure that any questions, doubts and deviations from the group’s “consensus,” program, or agenda are not expressed. The individual must “watch his/her mouth” or be sanctioned.
  7. The illusion of unanimity. The views and judgments, decisions and actions of the “group” or of the group’s statutory and declared leader(s) and majority are assumed to be unanimous, justified and reliable.
  8. The presence of self-appointed ‘mindguards’. Certain members isolate and “protect” the group and its leader(s) from information that is problematic or contradictory to the group’s cohesiveness, view, and/or decisions. These are the “thought police” who ensure that any information that can potentially threaten the group or its leaders is filtered out and neutralized.

In other words, the phenomenon of groupthink seems to have grown out of and fits perfectly into the framework of George Orwell’s dystopian novel, “Nineteen-Eighty-Four,” with its implications of superpower invulnerability, collective processing of curated data and information, a sense of moral superiority of the group’s decisions and actions, the facile handling of non-members by the application of stereotypes, direct suppression and sanctioning of any opposing thought or expression — the individual “watches his mouth” to avoid attracting attention to himself and possible sanctioning —, all communications and indicators seem to indicate that “everyone is on the same page” and “stands united.”  Finally, the self-appointed “mindguards,” the Orwellian “thought police,” ensure that everyone toes the mark, knows his place, and follows the “party line.”

The Thought Police or Mindguards ensure that you don’t think out of the box.

As I mentioned above, groupthink is easily observed in our schools, churches, public servants, social groups, the workplace, etc.

Here’s an example that comes from my college days when I worked as an encyclopedia salesperson. We were trained to ask potential purchasers questions that they could not disagree with, such as, for example: “You do care about your children’s education, don’t you?” or “You want your children to have the best available information for school, don’t you?” Once they answered in the affirmative, they were cooked. It was sort of like asking a veteran the question, “You do love your country, don’t you?” Or a clergyperson asking a dissenter, “You do believe in God, don’t you?” Ask those sorts of questions and you get a commitment to groupthink; the rest follows once the individual is on the slippery slope to group membership, willingly or not.

It’s certainly easy enough to self-test yourself by asking yourself if any of the above symptoms could possibly apply to you…but be aware of the sneaky symptom of “self-censorship” because you might actually be unaware that you are self-censoring; you may actually believe that what you say you believe is in fact what you believe. (Please go back and reread that last part. It’s important and you didn’t understand it!)

Everyone connected to the same “brain”, the core-group’s!

Here’s a real example: I was at my fitness center and struck up a conversation with a guy who was working on a neighboring piece of equipment. The conversation started out on muscle groups and doping, use of anabolic steroids, doping scandals, and how natural fitness was desirable over and against taking performance enhancers. The conversation drifted to the inquiry, “What do you do?” The guy was intelligent, apparently well-read in the subject of performance enhancers in athletes, and was no dummy. He responded by telling me he was a “personal income tax auditor” for the state of New York. What followed was a textbook example of groupthink. He commenced by telling me how interesting his job was because he was making sure everyone stayed honest. Everyone should pay taxes. Not everyone was honest, some people were honest but ignorant. The tax department and auditors were there to protect the public. He was happy doing what he was doing, and he liked his work. He was protecting honest citizens from the crooks and the parasites. New York state took care of its people unlike those states with no personal income tax, states that provided sanctuary to people who want to keep their fortunes but not share by paying personal income taxes. Basically, you can’t argue with this guy because what he is saying is superficially true, ethical and moral. But, and there’s the clincher, his thinking from one subject to the other was schizoid! He was very individualized, independent, even liberal when discussing the social and personal impact of performance enhancers on non-professional vs. professional athletes, and the use of performance enhancers in the guy-next-door who works out to stay healthy or attractive. His lock-step “tax department” jargon and speech, almost soapbox preaching, was groupspeak, the product of groupthink. Can you identify the symptoms?

Here are two more examples I found on a professional networking site, LinkedIn, which is slowly morphing into a Facebook-type social media space. Whereas LinkedIn was originally intended to be a forum facilitating networking among professionals, the parasites slowly infiltrated and started their social justice preaching and religious proselytizing.

One characteristic of social justice and religion is that both are fertile ground for a bumper crop of groupthinkers. Example 1: Social Justice. This example is remarkable because it is so homogeneous in the majority responses and because of the sheer number of responses: 5,013 Likes, 321 comments! Synopsis: A young woman with Down’s syndrome appears in what is obviously a staged video, in which she receives a call from a fast-food chain, Chik-Fil-A, in which she is offered a job paying $11.50/h. It is her first real job and she is elated at the offer and accepts.

The groupthink: Actual comments: “Awesome!” “Wonderful!””Isn’t Chik-Fil-A a great company!””The story brought tears to my eyes!” “It made my day! We need more stories like this!” But many of the comments were condescending: They mentioned “learning disability” and how remarkable it was that this young woman had “won,” how employment “is a right,” and other misguided slogans associated with what we know as PC but was described by Janis as groupthink. The censorship/sanction/thought police action: A commenter posted some reasonable, dissenting, conflicting thoughts about the reality of the situation in terms of stereotyping highly functional Down’s syndrome  persons as having “learning disabilities,” a bucket term that stereotyped them unfairly. That she was hired on her merits and if she didn’t have what Chick-Fil-A needed and wanted, she would not have gotten the call. That Down’s syndrome persons are highly desirable in service jobs with customer contact because of their personality characteristics, as was pioneered by McDonald’s some time ago, and that these corporations are exploiting vulnerable persons with Down’s syndrome because they are perfect for these low-paying jobs, and it creates a very positive social image for the corporation, so-called “organizational health.” (See the McKinsey report below.)

Needless to say, the “mindguards” were quick to respond, and butchered the commentor for being “a Grinch,” for not “caring” and for his “dripping sarcasm.” Not a single comment out of more than 300 comments and replies accepted the truth of what the commenter wrote; almost all condemned him for not sharing the majority’s groupthink. (Click here to read the actual comments made by the commenter and some of the replies.)[4]

The value of hiring persons with Down syndrome is not lost on the corporations![5]

The economic benefits of hiring persons with intellectual challenges is not lost on the corporations, as is demonstrated by the McKinsey report[6], but we’re not supposed to talk about the dark side of Julia’s hiring because the group think won’t allow anyone to pop their bubble of denial or distract them from their happy, be nice, love fest by suggesting reality. That’s groupthink.

One of the most recent dum-dee-dull-dull-DUH! comments came from one Richard Martire (Southern Star Events) who touts himself as “Improving Customer Relations & Boosting Revenue through Transparent Communication. Mr Martire writes: “Pardon my confusion, but how does a video showing a woman with disability getting a job offer lead to “didactic methods of devil’s advocate” or groupthink? Are you implying that people shouldn’t echo their support to this video, or are you just pushing your article?” Apparently Mr Martire has no idea of what devil’s advocacy or dialectic inquiry, or the elenchic method might be. The concepts are just as transparent to him as his “transparent communication” is to me. Transparent is a nice word but wouldn’t it be clearer if Mr Martire read my comments and this article before  making a fool of himself with his driveling his sarcasm? Why “transparent communication” when we can have “clear communication.” Big words don’t help the communication, Dicky.

Here’s another from the same site, LinkedIn. This time it was a religious fanatic known popularly as a “Jesus-freak,” someone who posts an inflammatory statement about how Jesus is the truth and everything else is a lie. First of all, such posts are more Facebook quality and have nothing to do with professional networking, so it shouldn’t have been on LinkedIn in the first place. So the original post by one David Wood, who describes himself as the “Executive Producer Resurrection of Jesus Christ, Resurrection of Jesus Christ LLC, School Of Hard Knocks,” and his project as:

“The Resurrection Project unites the Body of Christ, to launch a global love movement, a feature length movie, and a video game, and tell the story of Jesus’ Christ resurrection and the 40 days that followed. “The Resurrection of Jesus Christ” is the greatest love story ever told.” [Author’s note: My italics; I have not undertaken any editing of Mr. Wood’s English.]

His post was simply:

That was it. My first reaction was that Islam never claimed that Muhammad was God. Nor does Buddhism teach that Buddha was a god. The name applied to God in Arabic, and hence in Islam is Allah, which is merely an equivalent of the English, God, so that point is really moot. And the fact that Wood claims that his Jesus is the “only one God” reveals a bit of tunnel vision, even religious and theological ignorance. This is groupthink at one of its worst moments!

My point is this: Approach that post as I did, with the above reasoning, and you will obtain a clear lesson in groupthink.  The post received 51 Likes and 15 Comments but was seen be hundreds, perhaps thousands who didn’t want to “offend” by responding. (Or perhaps because religion is not as popular as Down’s syndrome? Or because the message was so bizarre? Who can say for sure?)

Those three examples should suffice to convince even the hardcore groupthinkers of their affliction.

The kinds of groups that are particularly at risk for the groupthink phenomenon are, of course, groups that we could characterize as cliques, whether consisting of 3 or 3000 persons. Cliques don’t need to be small and a whole company or department may become a clique. The group or clique should be cohesive for groupthink to develop; cohesive factors may include ethnicity, similar interest, and physical appearance. Members of a clique often isolate themselves as a group and tend to view the clique as superior to anyone outside the clique.

Cliques can form in any age group but they are most associated with groups whose members have gotten stuck in an adolescent or late childhood developmental stage, the stage when individuals normally form and become members of such groups. Accordingly, groupthink is characteristic of individuals who may have gotten stuck in a pre-adult developmental stage.

Facebook is a well known huge groupthink-tank in which groupthink can be diagnosed at various levels in the interactions from the very top, where the Facebook Standards and the thought police are active censoring deviant thinkers, that is, anyone who may not agree with Facebook or its policies, to the smaller yet equally repulsive “groups,” which may be “open,” “closed” or “secret”. The problem and real danger associated with Facebook and other social media that functions by exploiting the groupthink phenomenon is the sheer numbers of people who can be and actually are affected by the clique(s).

Another problem is what I would call the “Room 101” factor[7]:  the fact that in terms of groupthink, when Facebook decides to deactivate an account for one reason or another, whether for a period of time certain (days, weeks, etc.) or permanently, this “punishment” practice has a psychospiritual effect on the affected individual, similar to being shunned or banned froma group or a clique. It is a powerful motivator to keep people under their thumb, a control strategy, that works extremely well once Facebook has hooked a person, and the person is sufficiently invested in Facebook in terms of time spent and digital friends collected, such that the now addicted subscriber will feel the psychosocial pain of being “deactivated.,” in a sense placed in isolation by Facebook without the benefit of due process. Yes, it’s the beginning of the end of open communication, autonomy, and due process. Similar, in fact, to “vaporizing” a dissenter in Orwell’s “1984” where the dissenter is simply made to disappear, as if he never existed. [8]

The same “vaporizing” occurs when someone “unfriends” or “blocks” another subscriber who may have violated the group-leader’s or the group’s groupthink policies. Have you been Facebook vaporized recently? You wouldn’t know if you had been because Facebook keeps it a secret; only the vaporizer and Facebook knows it. Same applies when someone has a grudge against you on Facebook: they simply report you for such-and-such, and you find yourself deactivated. Groupthink à la Facebook!

The groupthink phenomenon can be avoided but only if the clique or the group is willing to acknowledge the phenomenon, to recognize it in their group, and sees the benefits of avoiding the phenomenon.

Fred Lunenburg (2012) proposes a number of possible ways to avoid groupthink in a group, including[9]:

  • Encouraging group members to state and air objections, doubts, and questions,
  • Promoting impartiality rather than stating preferences and expectations of the group at the outset,
  • The group leaders should periodically discuss the group’s policies and practices and report their transactions back to the group, inviting feedback,
  • Members should be invited to challenge the views of core members (and leaders),
  • At least one member should play the role of devil’s advocate, expressing objections or critiquing group policies and practices, and beliefs,
  • Where there is devil’s advocacy, members should spend time and effort evaluating the warning signals of developing groupthink inherent in adverse responses,
  • Alternative scenarios should be constructed by group leaders in evaluating any rivaling intentions,
  • In the case of a member who appears to consistently rival the group’s polices or practices (Red flag! Think groupthink!), the member should be asked to express as vividly as he can all his residual doubts,
  • Group leaders or core members should present the entire issue to the group to elicit feedback and insights before making any definitive choices or decisions.

Group coherence and decision making has clear benefits over individual decision making. This is especially true when a decision must be made under conditions of uncertainty.[10] Some of the benefits described by Bonito (2011) include[11]:

  • Improved decision quality
  • Higher level of creativity and creative thinking
  • Improved decision acceptance and organizational learning
  • Increased decision understanding
  • Enhanced effectiveness in establishing objectives, identifying alternatives
  • Greater decision accuracy and avoidance of errors and glitches

Admittedly, these benefits may be less related to the actual outcomes of decisions than they are to group morale and satisfaction; we can agree that groups should and probably do perform better when

  • Group members present a variety of relevant skills that differ sufficiently but do not create constraints or conflicts;
  • There is a division of labor or effort, input;
  • Individual inputs can be “averaged” in such a way as to arrive at a group “position.”

By now you might be asking yourself the question: “That having been said, and while applicable to business decisions or to Facebook and other moderated social media, how does that apply to spiritual care or to chaplaincy practice?” Well, in order to answer that question, I have to ask you to step out of the spiritual care or chaplaincy box, and think about the environment in which we practice.

Most of us will find ourselves practicing as psychospiritual care providers or thanatologists in a hospital, palliative care, hospice, or skilled nursing facility. Some of us will practice in any or all of those environments plus provide services to the deathcare sector. The most complex environment, of course, would be the modern hospital or trauma center. The most intimate would be the deathcare sector (funeral home). Each of these environments is at high risk of the groupthink phenomenon.

We frequently say that “emotions are contagious,” but we don’t frequently admit that not only emotions but the environment created by the attitudes and thinking of leaders and core members in a group are just as contagious in the form of groupthink.

Those of us with hospital experience will admit that each floor or service has its own culture, and if we are to work effectively with the staff and efficaciously serve the patients on that floor or service, we have to be aware of the groupthink phenomenon as it most certainly exists on that floor. Take for example, the service where the nursing leadership is more technically oriented than spiritually, and their attitude towards the “necessary evil” of chaplain intervention must be tolerated rather than facilitated. That attitude extends to all the staff on that service and the symptoms of groupthink are explicit. How do we deal with that situation armed with the awareness of the probable existence of groupthink?

Organizations like hospice are hotbeds for the groupthink phenomenon because they are founded on very clear principles of operation and program. The objectives and goals of hospice are clearly defined and the team is guided by specific tasks and protocols. The agenda is clearly defined. You simply don’t dissent or rock the hospice boat. Groupthink.

Institutional Agendas Define the Group.

Palliative care situations are probably somewhere in between the hospital/trauma center and the hospice situation. Depending on how tightly management controls operations, groupthink may be more or less obvious, but clearly the palliative care environment can be fertile ground for groupthink.

Depending on whether the funeral home is a traditional “family” operation or if it is a member of a deathcare service “group” or is a multinational corporation providing a range of deathcare products and services, groupthink may range from “tradition” to “corporate policy.”

As “tradition” the groupthink may have developed as a response to the local culture, whether it be socioeconomic, ethnic, religious, etc. In this case, it is a response to the exigencies of doing business with that demographic mix, and is almost a requirement for survival. Is this “positive” groupthink? Perhaps, but it goes without saying that unless the establishment leaves the door open to open discussion, sharing of insights, correct interpretations of warning signs and red flags, it can quickly transmute into “negative” groupthink.

As the organization leaves the traditional, local, “family” orientation or organization and moves towards the group or the corporate systems, groupthink becomes more of a high risk than a positive stabilizing factor. This is where the culture of the group or corporation overshadows the individuals that move it as well as those who consume its products and services. Rather than being an evolving, “living” organism, it is a monolith.

A number of large multinational corporations like IBM, 3M, Anheuser-Busch have recognized the threat posed by groupthink and have implemented and developed processes to prevent or at least to mitigate its deleterious and prejudicial effects within the components of the organization and on the organization as a whole. Lunenburg (2012) discusses some of the ways they have approached prevention of groupthink by way of methods like devil’s advocacy and dialectical inquiry. McDougel and Baum (1997) discuss the application of devil’s advocacy to stimulate discussion and avoid groupthink in focus groups.[12] McAvoy et al. discuss how devil’s advocacy and the principles of sensemaking can be used in a method they call the “agitation workshop” as a method of challenging the false consensus created by the groupthink phenomenon.[13]

Do frequent meetings and evaluations work to avoid groupthink? More likely than not, they may actually promote groupthink when leadership reiterate at each meeting the same expectations at the outset, setting the stage for a more limited and controlled conversation that does not allow for alternative discussion. But such meetings and evaluations and be highly productive if, at the outset, the leaders or facilitators are aware of the symptoms of groupthink and some of the methods to directly avoid it, as well as the quasi-paedagogical methods of enhancing creative thinking, even improving performance by institutionalizing dissent!

We, as psychospiritual care providers, as chaplains, have an inherent authority in most organizations to speak freely and openly about sensitive subjects without the stigma that might apply to a colleague working in a different field. People tend to listen to us and give credibility to what we have to say; consequently, we can and should play an important and proactive role in making the organizations and leaders with whom we work aware of the groupthink phenomenon, its dangers and risks, and ways of avoiding the phenomenon in our environments. Once people are made aware of the phenomenon and ways to identify it and prevent it, we are on the path to reclaiming the efficacy and authenticity we once enjoyed but lost in the wake of the development of corporate control of our institutions and the chilling of interpersonal relations by online social media.

Rev. Ch. Harold W. Vadney
January 2018


[1] Irving Janis originally coined the term groupthink in 1972. (Janis, Irving L.  (1972).  Victims of Groupthink.  New York: Houghton Mifflin.)

[2] Janis, I. L. (1982). Groupthink: Psychological studies of policy decisions and fiascos (2nd ed.). Boston, MA: Houghton-Mifflin.

[3] For a more comprehensive discussion of the eight symptoms please refer to Janis’ Groupthink, Psychological Studies, above. A brief and very helpful overview of groupthink is provided in What is Groupthink? (, last accessed on January 8, 2018, 2018).

[4] The “Julia got a job!” obviously scripted video is synopsized on YouTube in the following words: “A heartwarming video shows the moment a teenage girl with Down syndrome receives her first job offer. A girl named Julia gets a phone call from a Chick-fil-A employee in Rancho Murieta, California. ‘I was just calling to offer you a position here,’ the woman says on speaker phone. ‘Your pay rate would be 11.50 per hour, would you like to accept?’ ‘I do,’ Julia says, her face overcome with emotion. As the woman tells her that she will start in December, Julia breaks down in tears of happiness. ‘Oh my gosh,’ she can be heard saying as she thanks the woman profusely. Julia’s family then encircles her and gives her a massive hug while chanting ‘Chick-Fil-A’. “ (AutoNews- Source:

[5] According to McKinsey & Company, a global management consulting firm that serves private, public and social sector institutions, in a report entitled, “The value that employees with Down syndrome can add to organizations,” we read “[H]owever, some companies have chosen to tackle the far more complex challenge of hiring people with intellectual disabilities. Those that have done so have found that these people can add value to organizational health (an organization’s ability to align, execute, and renew itself faster than competitors so that it can sustain exceptional performance over time). Employees with Down syndrome are a particularly interesting topic of research, as they have a number of characteristics that both increase the challenges associated with inclusion and bring added benefits.” [my italics] (McKinsey & Company (2014) “The value that employees with Down Syndrome can add to organizations” (Vicente Assis, Marcus Frank, Guilherme Bcheche, and Bruno Kuboiama), last accessed on January 9, 2018.)

[6] Ibid.

[7] I’m referring to the notorious Room 101 described in Orwell’s novel “Nineteen-Eighty-Four,” the room in the Ministry of Truth (MiniTru in Newspeak), where dissenters were taken for “processing,” most never to be heard from again. “You asked me once,” said O’Brien, “what was in Room 101. I told you that you knew the answer already. Everyone knows it. The thing that is in Room 101 is the worst thing in the world.”  (“1984” Part 3, Ch. 5)  In “1984” the Inner Party persecutes individualism and independent thinking known as “thoughtcrimes” and is enforced by the “Thought Police.” The Ministry of Love (Miniluv), the ministry in charge of torturing dissidents.  The protagonist Smith is subjected to many forms of torture and is forced into the horror chamber known only as Room 101.

[8] Mind Control – George Orwell BBC 101 Documentary last accessed on January 9, 2018.

[9] Lunenburg, F. (2012).” Devil’s Advocacy and Dialectical Inquiry: Antidote to Groupthink”. International Journal of

Scholarly and Academic Intellectual Diversity, Vol 14, No. 1, pp 1-9.

[10] Nikolaidis (2012) defines uncertainty as “the condition under which an individual [or group] does not have the necessary information to assign probabilities to the outcomes of alternative solutions. (Nikolaidis, E. (2012).  Design decisions under uncertainty with limited information. New York, NY: Taylor & Francis.)

[11] Bonito, J. (2011). Interaction and influence in small group decision making. New York, NY: Routledge.

[12] McDougal, C., F. Baum, (1997) “The Devil’s Advocate: A Strategy to Avoid Groupthink and Stimulate Discussion in Focus Groups,” Qualitative Health Research, Volume 7, Number 4, pp 532-541.

[13] John McAvoy, Tadhg Nagle and David Sammon, (2013) “A novel approach to challenging consensus in evaluations: The Agitation Workshop,” The Electronic Journal Information Systems Evaluation, Volume 16 Issue 1,  pp 45-55.

A New Year’s Benediction

My Prayer for You in this New Year

May God grant you the courage from day to day
To accept the challenges that come your way.
May God grant you throughout this new year
More strength to endure and less to fear.
May God help you to live that you may be
From anger, evil, and suffering free.
May you not bitterly complain
When your cherished expectations prove vain,
Or blemish with deeds of hate and shame
Some fair untarnished tomorrow page.
Lord, as my days may come and go
In faith and courage let me grow!

Oh Lord, as the new year opens today
Help me to cast my faults away.
Let me be be blessed in each little thing;
Grant me the joy which love shall bring.
Keep me from selfishness and greed;
Let me be wise in what is need.
In this new year, grant that I
May bring no tear to any eye.
When this new year in time shall end
Let it be sung that I have been a friend,
That I have lived and loved and nurtured here,
And made of it a blessed year!

Peace to you and joy! May you be blessed in this New Year 2018 with health in mind, body and spirit!

Rev. Ch. Harold W. Vadney

SDB: Self-deceiving, self-defeating, self-destructive behavior.

Republished with Permission from the Author.

Editor’s Note: I came across this article and found it to be very relevant to some of our work. It’s apparently meant for a particular demographic but if we read around the target references, the article provides some very valuable insights into this very current problem.

You might be asking yourself what such a question as self-destructive behavior has to do with Homoerotic Tantra. And I’d have to reply that it’s a damn good question. But it has a lot to do with Homoerotic Tantra because tantra has everything to do with awareness, awakening, finding truth, living in the moment, being present, and being in touch with and communicating with one’s true self. Self-deceiving, self-defeating or self-destructive behavior does none of that; in fact, it’s the antithesis of Homoerotic Tantra, and I hope this article helps you to understand that fact, and that you will enjoy an awakening of the spirit in virtue of that understanding. Namasté, brothers!

An Age of Addictions

We live in an age of dehumanization, of materialism, consumerism, anxiety, loneliness, and isolation. We have more addictions today than anyone would have imagined a generation ago: gaming, shopping, drugs, sex, spectator sports, work, there’s even a psychiatrically recognized Internet Addiction Disorder or IAD[1], which has its own set of symptoms and a subcategories, Facebook Addiction Syndrome[2], Gaming Addiction Syndrome[3]! We live in an age of isolation and control.

The 3-Ds: Deception, Defeat, Destruction, have nothing to do with dimension or depth.

But the isolation is a disorder in its own right, and the control is coming from the outside, the media, your smartphone, social media, and it’s everywhere but cleverly concealed. The anxiety and other signs of the times are expressed in a particular way: the self-deception, self- defeating, self-destructive behaviors (cumulatively referred to as “SDB” below). We observe the SDBs all around us. They follow a trajectory running from the innocuous to the deceptive to the defeating to the destructive behavior that can even result in suicide. SDB can represent all or any of these three stages at any given time — the 3-Ds: deception, defeat, destruction, have nothing to do with dimension or depth. Sounds like a military war  strategy, doesn’t it? Well, my friends, we are at war: internall‎y with ourselves and externally with those who want to control us, the “controllers.”[4]

SDB is one of the manifestations of the conflict. SDB is manifested physically in deterioration of one’s health or even suicide. Mentally in becoming obsessive and compulsive thoughts or beliefs that manifest in SDB. Socially by interfering with normal personal and social interactions. Spiritually by altering one’s perception of reality, appreciations of core values, altered self- awareness, deterioration of awareness, obstruction of awakening, altered perception of truth. SDB may be deliberate and intentional, uncontrolled or impulsive, or the SDB may develop over time as a habit or even as an identity. Yes, you can become your SDB.

We all have met people who do self-destructive things, knowing that what they’re doing is wrong or dangerous at any level of their being: mind, body or spirit. But they keep doing it. The behaviors arise from every aspect of life: our work, friends, family, dating, our self image, etc. The sad result of SDB is that it causes the person suffering, disappointment, rejection and failure, making the person miserable and freakish. Part of their suffering comes from the fact that they are aware of their SDB; they know and admit to engaging in the behavior and they acknowledge the suffering it causes them. But they continue doing it! We cant explain it off by simplistically saying that they want to suffer or that they are perverts acting out their perverse desire to harm themselves or to punish themselves. That’s not an explanation why the person continues to engage in the SDB and continues to suffer from the consequences.

I can’t avoid the observation that there are some SDBs that initially cause pleasure; the person feels good during the behavior, sometimes really good, and is able to overlook the misery or the suffering that is certain to follow. Taking drugs is a good example of this. Casual, promiscuous, or unprotected sex is another example. In either case, the individual feels “driven” to engage in the SDB and, against their better judgment, “do it” because it feels good. Other examples of SDB might include gaming, gambling, shoplifting, over-eating, smoking, pornography (with or without masturbation). Short-term suspension of reality as in play, gaming, role playing, cosplay is healthy but when it comes to long- term substitution for reality it becomes SDB. Those of us with some experience in social media like Facebook or Messaging have experience with a great deal of SDB. On Facebook, for example, we are bombarded with “friends” who want to send us fake profile pictures, tell any lie that will attract your ear, send you pictures of their genitals or of them having sex, or they ask you for pictures of your penis, ass, or having sex. What is the sense of this behavior? There is none; it’s totally depraved. These individuals are involved in SDB. Why? Because they are engaging in behavior that gives them some sort of pleasure but the long-term consequences will be negative.

[Editor’s aside: Yes, people, there are Facebook addicts, grandma’s and very nice people, who spend a lot of time on social media. But they use the excuse that they are staying in touch with family, keeping up with the kids’ activities. They natter, gossip, send idiotic memes, plague us with invitations to stupid games, etc. but they are naïve, have nothing better to do, and they think they’re enjoying themselves. Truth is, they’re lonely, and they’re trying to fill their lonely-space with the deception that they are “keeping in touch.” Sorry, try another excuse!]

The photo is not the real person and the profile is not true. 

Take as an example the man who created a Facebook presence, posts a photo and creates a profile. The photo is a very attractive man and the profile is interesting as well. But the photo is not the real person and the profile is not true. He starts sending out “friend” requests and starts receiving “friending” requests from people who like what they see and read about him. He starts to feel real good about the many “friends” he now has and loses sight of the fact that they do not like him, the real him, but his fiction he has created. Over time, he becomes that fiction, the lies become habit, and he is first self-deceiving and then becomes self-defeating/self-destructive; in fact, he has already destroyed his “self” and replaced it with his fictional alter ego. It doesn’t stop there because in many instances this person may actually fall for someone, sometimes again and again, but the lies prevent him from appearing in reality. It’s become a self-reinforcing death spiral. The result is suffering and misery. or worse.

How often does this happen? Who knows? There’s very little we can verify on social media, especially Facebook. In SDB the pleasurable easily and quickly turns into the miserable. As I mentioned above, the list of SDBs is a long one and not all of the behaviors are pleasurable; some bring immediate suffering. One common behavior is clinging to an unrealistic attraction or to a lost love. Neither of these is pleasurable but the individual still persists until it becomes criminal stalking or harassment. We don’t have to look far for other examples in our lives, either: whining and complaining, defensiveness, narcissism., voyeurism, exhibitionism, etc. It is sometimes very difficult or even impossible to convince the self-destructive individual that they don’t need the behavior to get noticed or to maintain self-respect or a sense of worth; he can be appreciated without being provocative, and it’s possible to achieve growth, purpose and meaning without total change or creating a fictional you.

The false self, the ego, is very frequently at the root of SDB.

When considering SDB we cannot overlook the fact that the SDB may be motivated by a feeling of anxiety or fear. The anxiety or fear may be fear of abandonment, fear of rejection, fear of the truth. The SDB may have started innocuously as a way of avoiding some painful or unpleasant situation but over time has changed into a habit. Once a habit, it is now exceedingly difficult to change. The false self, the ego, is very frequently at the root of SDB. The ego is constantly comparing, constantly finding ways to survive and avoid any challenge or threat to itself, even if that challenge or threat is reality and truth. This characteristic of the ego is essential to the deception that we find on social media, and the fact that we have no physical or tangible resources at our disposal to verify what we see, facilitates the deception.

Instant gratification. Misery around the corner.

The deceiver, the individual engaging in SDB, has an ego working hard to make itself “acceptable,” “desirable,” “ideal,” “lovable,” etc. and goes to any length to achieve that end. Who’s going to know? he assures himself. “Look at all these ‘friends.'” Would I have all of these “friends,” admirers, cyberlovers if I were not beautiful? They are [convinced] therefore I am [beautiful]. Piece of cake. Instant gratification. Misery around the corner. I am in a helping profession and, because of my education, training, and professional activities, and because empathy, compassion, listening are essential parts of my activities, I was taught how to recognize the warning signs of SDB, how to be aware of the signs, why self-care is essential, and why self-examination is critical. We are taught to foster authenticity and to be aware of the importance of boundaries and limits. But this is not true on social media. One of the most annoying questions we hear on social media is, “How old are you?” It wouldn’t be so annoying if the question were popped after a substantial time of sharing but when it’s one of the first things someone asks you, it’s a conversation stopper. Why?

The individual asking the question is superficial…

First of all, it expresses a certain limited worldview of the asker. Asked early in the conversation, the asker’s concern with age assumes a disproportional importance in the conversation, and shows that the individual asking the question is superficial. Being who I am, I am very open and I have little desire to waste my time on superficiality. Each of us is or should be more than the time we have been on this earth, and I expect any conversation partner to appreciate that there’s more to a person than age. What I expect isn’t going to change the asker’s attitude. The real question here is this: What happens to that person who makes that question such an important issue in his relationships? When the answer to that question either makes or breaks the conversation, or stymies the experience of the other person, how much does the asker lose before he loses all sense of what relationship is all about. When the question assumes such importance, how soon does the asker start to suffer in the awareness of his own aging, or does he ignore that little fact and turn into a deceiver? Every firm twink ass will sag some day; and life has a 100% mortality rate.

But as I’ve mentioned above, such people are hard to persuade that their SDB is going to make them miserable. I frequently have to question the asker’s intelligence, too. Here you have someone contacting another person, presumably to establish some sort of relationship, and then he asks “How old are you?” It’s clearly a stupid question because given the fact that the two are probably never going to meet physically, what does age have to do with the conversatio? Or am I missing something to the effect that there are discussion subjects that are delimited by a conversant’s age? Off hand I can’t think of any. If any of my readers can, I would appreciate receiving the information.

Out of habit — and general curiosity — when I receive a friend or chat request or a Messenger contact, I usually go to the individual’s profile to see if there’s anything I can use to help in the conversation. I frequently find the usual uninformative profile; the caller hasn’t even cared enough to share any particulars about himself. End of conversation. Don’t waste my time. I don’t need to talk to anyone on Messenger or Facebook; I have plenty of opportunity during the day to talk to real friends. Apparently, some people’s lives are so empty, they have to spend hours on chat or Messenger. People seeking relationship while revealing noting substantial about themselves. That’s SDB.

I think by this time you get my point about SDB. So I’ll go on to discuss some ways to avoid it from the tantric/Zen point of view: Presuming you have become aware, have awakened, are present in the moment, there are some things you can do to survive your addictions and the accompanying SDB. Here are a few:

Experience your pain.
Be in the moment with it. Change involves risk and it doesn’t happen on its own; you have to be motivated to change. Hearing about other people’s suffering may inspire us to change but we need our own painful place and we have to want to get out of it. My advice is to allow yourself to experience the pain, embrace it, and then decide if it’s time for change. You need to decide what is causing the pain in the first place. You then have to decide where you want to be. Then you have to admit that you can get where you want to be.

Acknowledge & Confront the problem.
Procrastination, denial and avoidance are some of the SDBs that prevent us from admitting there’s a problem. We tend to avoid thinking about the problem. When the problem gets worse, we look for distractions. The distractions have to provide pleasure because problems cause anxiety, fear and anguish. The distractions may provide some pleasure but the problem is still there and is aggravated. This fertile ground for SDB. You need to accept the reality of the problem and acknowledge the problem, you must own the problem. It is what it is and magical thinking — “What if?” “If only…”– is not going to fix it. Only the understanding that change is possible only if you acknowledge it, and acknowledge it as a problem, and it requires change.

Make small, focused change.
Making big, overwhelming change is likely to create new problems. Most problems are complex and can’t be resolved all at once. Have a critical look at the problem and why it has occurred. Then tackle each of the elements, considering how to change it. Try to envision the interrelationships of the components of the problem and how they synergize to create the problem. Try to envision how change in one factor might change how the other factors are operating or cooperating. Think of the problem as a meal. You don’t eat the meat, veggies, potatoes all in one mouthful, do you? You go for one, then the other. Each one you taste changes your relationship to the others. One bite at a time, one change at a time, and gradually your plate will be clean and you will feel satisfied, content. Commitment is key to most positive action. Even if you want your change to be small, you have to be totally committed to it.

Small change, big commitment.
Make your intention public. Be accountable to your audience. If you are really bad at sticking to your projects, create or join an Accountability Group. If procrastination is at the base of your SDB, you can agree to accept an publicly embarrassing consequence if you continue your SDB. But you have to be honest, but your dishonesty may have been the original problem, that is, your relationship to truth has to be one of the first changes. So that’s where you might have to start.

A “Can Do” mindset.
I know you all want instant gratification; that’s why you have SDB! Small changes in small steps. It will take time so take the time. Each success will persuade you that you are capable of achieving the next step. Use each success and each achievement to defeat any negative thoughts. Repeat a mantra to yourself like “I can change this.” Use each fall to prove you can get back up.

Failure is a great teaching tool.
In today’s culture we have stigmatized failure. That’s wrong! The SDB, the habit is evidence that you can do something destructive, you can use the same process to do something constructive. The SDB is not proof that you are capable of failure it is evidence that you can do what you set out to do, if you want to do it. Use the SDB as an opportunity to learn: learn about how the SDB caused you suffering and what you learned from that. Now use that intelligence to change the painful behavior into growth behavior. You already know about how bad habits work, how negative self-talk and urges can become SDB. You have learned about obstacles and challenges, which are unavoidable, and how to confront and use them for positive growth. The beauty of being human is that we make mistakes, and each mistake becomes an amazing opportunity to learn more about ourselves, to improve ourselves, to grow, and to awaken to our fullest positive potential. Failure isn’t a dead end — it’s a source of revelation, of new information about how we function and about alternative behaviors. Negative self-talk is nonproductive chatter. Change causes anxiety; status quo is comfortable. Change requires work; status quo is easy; all you have to do is nothing. The voices in your head, your ego, will encourage you to quit. Hear them for what they are: noise. Silence them! Acknowledge them for what they are: destructive. Lazy ego. Lying ego. Destructive ego. You have better counterarguments: I can do this. I want this. I will achieve this. I  will be happier when I get there.

Seek a support system and resources.
If you don’t have a partner ask a good friend to support your efforts. Family or an online support group can also be helpful, and can be available to support you. Read the positive & negative feedback. You should learn how to create a new feedback cycle that supports your change. You do this by removing all of the things that caused you the SDB in the first place. You may want to stop using social media and actually get out an socialize with real people. You might avoid going to bars or clubs and start volunteering or joining a recreational group with people of similar interests. There are many ways of replacing the negative environments in your life with positive growth environments.

Make yourself accountable.
Using the Facebook SDB as an example, our example above the individual could do anything he wanted on Facebook because he wasn’t accountable to anyone. That was the first step to oblivion. Accountability to yourself and to others is your safeguard. Previously, you had only to deal with the consequences from your SDB because you avoided accountability. Now add accountability to the consequences; think about avoiding the negative behaviors and the shame and guilt it caused you (negative feedback) and concentrate on how good you feel about yourself and how good you look by doing right (positive feedback). Think of it this way: Your environment will affect your outcomes. If you are a recovering alcoholic you don’t go to the bars.

Now, for those of you asking yourself, what has this to do with Homoerotic Tantra. My answer would be: Everything. You see, whether you are self-deceiving, self-defeating or self-destructive, or all of these, you are incapable of being present and sharing with another individual in a self-forgetful relationship of surrender. You are incapable of experiencing the experience. That’s what total sharing is with your partner, that is, the man you happen to be with in that moment. Don’t waste your energies; don’t cast your gifts to the winds.

Peace and Blessings to You
William a.k.a. Gay Karuna


[1] Internet Addiction: The Emergence of a New Clinical Disorder; Should DSM-V Designate “Internet Addiction” a Mental Disorder?

[2] Facebook Addiction – New Psychological Scale

[3] Internet Gaming Disorder vs. Internet Addiction Disorder

[4] I am using the term “controllers” in a general sense to describe environmental factors as opposed to internal factors that instrumentally aim to control our behavior. Controllers might include government, the media, advertisers and marketers, educators, neighbors, relatives and parents, as well as the person you meet on Facebook. While keeping in mind that controllers are everywhere, for the purposes of this article I am referring specifically to individuals you might meet on social media, particularly on Facebook, some online dating services, etc.



Glennon and Brené*  have identified what they call “offloading devices,” the easy buttons we push instead of acknowledging we’re in pain, and which may be indicators of SDB. You can ask yourself a couple of questions to help you think about which ones you’ve acturally engaged or are engaging in and how it worked out or more likely didn’t work out. I’m providing these as examples but they’re good for starters:

  • Anger
    Is it easier for you to get mad and lash out than to say “I’m hurt”? Does your anger interfere with your capacity to be vulnerable?
  • Blame
    When a challenging situation arises, do you jump right to faultfinding, payback, or pointing the finger at anyone in your path instead of looking within? Do you point to the cause of the conflict outside yourself but feel the confusion inside, not really believing it’s really “their” fault?
  • Avoidance
    When your emotions start to bubble up in a conflict, is your reflex to respond, “Whatever. I’m fine. No big deal”? Have you perfected the art of cool, pretending all’s well when it’s really not? Do you make excuses for others’ bad behavior?
  • Numbing
    Do you regularly take the edge off emotional pain with social media, sex, pornography, alcohol, food, drugs, gaming, shopping, perfectionism? Do you simply zone out?

* Brown, Brené. Rising Strong: How the Ability to Reset Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. Random House Inc, 2017. Print.

You deserve better!

As we approach the Winter holiday season, we, especially those of us in the  helping professions, become even more acutely aware of the value of our profession to our brothers and sisters, both at the end of their lives, during the active dying process, and to those bereaved and mourning the loss of someone special. This is a time for reflection, to look back on the past year, and on past years, to assess where we are and how we managed to get here. it can be a startling, an alarming epiphany!

We’re here. Now What?

Our attention is drawn even more acutely to the importance of support, compassion, presence and skilled companionship during some of the most difficult hours, days, weeks and months a human being may ever experience in his or her life, both individually and in community. We become even more aware of the importance and indispensability of our knowledge, skills, and services to those suffering among us.

It is a recognized fact in the deathcare professions that total care to the bereaved, and without a doubt even to those who prefer to make advance plans for their funeralization rites, the professional expertise of the funeral director and the bereavement chaplain are indispensible.

Would you like to speak to the chaplain?

In fact, some of the most important words spoken by the healthcare provider or by the funeral services professional may very well be, “Would you like to speak to the chaplain?” You might well ask yourself if, or when you ask a planner or a family that question, you realize what an important question that is.

Would you like the chaplain to be present during the arrangements?” is another question that takes the sting out of talking about disposition or selecting merchandise. Somehow the presence of the chaplain mitigates the confusion and the sense of vulnerability; it softens edge of the formalities, the business, the paperwork, and brings everyone a bit closer.

The winter months bring with the snow and the frigid temperatures shorter days, less sunshine, more depression, and higher death rates. The winter holidays and the transition to the New Year trigger reflection, recollection, and frequently resurgence of grief and mourning of past losses. These triggers can intensify and complicate the grief reactions and responses accompanying a death; it’s at times like these that the presence and support of the bereavement chaplain assumes even greater importance to all concerned, funeral home staff and bereaved alike.

Over the years I have accumulated a considerable stock of observations, knowledge, experience, and competencies all of which, taken together, represent an invaluable resource for the funeral home business, its staff, and most importantly for the families who depend on you, on us, as deathcare professionals.

Based on my professional relationships and experiences with a number of funeral homes, funeral directors, cemetery administrators, and the bereaved, I have found that a personalized approach — including the process of information gathering, the planning and design of the service, the format and content of the service, the execution of the service — whether it be an end of life visitation at the home, the care facility, the hospital or even the ER, the family conference or the arrangements conference, and, very importantly, the quality of the aftercare, make a big difference not only in the immediate funeralization rites and rituals, but in the presentation of your operations and performances as deathcare professionals as well.

The impression you make, starting with the first call and your response sets the stage for all subsequent interactions, and are the basis of the message taken home by the family. It’s only natural that human beings in the acute enthrallment of the grief and besieged by the myriad emotions accompanying acute bereavement are not only extraordinarily stressed, they are confused, uncertain, vulnerable, hypersensitive, and, thanks to the incredible quantity and accessibility of both good and bad information,  well informed and proportionally suspicious. Yes, nowadays, suspicion is part of the grief reaction, and has been since the first appearance of Jessica Mitford’s “The American Way of Death,” (1963) and her sequel, “The American Way of Death Revisited,” (1998), which updated her almost libelous attacks, the attention that the deathcare industry has received at the hands of those specializing in the muckraking, which was and continues to be her legacy, has to a large degree misinformed the public. Add to that information glut the appearance on the scene of the funeral services groups, the funeral corporations, the acquisition of hallowed and sacred places of repose by cemetery real-estate corporations, the failure of mainstream religion to meet the needs of the faithful, the perversion of the notion of individuality, the ascendance of so-called social media, the disintegration of tradition and traditional values, the collapse of materialism and consumerism, the elevation of the idolatry of control have all contributed to the elevation of denial of death to an unprecedented apogee, the result of which is the movement towards disposition rather than memorialization, celebration or even funeralization. Consequently, the depersonalization and sanitization of human being has not only signaled the demise of community and the support resources and system it provided, further isolating the individual and the group; these developments have actually and literally driven a wedge between groups, a wedge that over time has become an abyss, and in a society that touts itself to be multicultural, multiethnic, raising diversity to the status of “idolatry” has actually fostered and nurtured discrimination, prejudice, bias,  segregation, isolation, and suspicion among and even within communities living in close association with one another. Add to this the great leveler, the great common thread of all living creatures, even those only half-alive, death, and complicate this by, on the one hand, the denial of death by one element and, on the other hand, the awareness and acceptance of death by various other elements, and we have a veritable existential and cultural tohu-wa-bohu, total confusion.

Acute Grief

Given the avalanche of marketing efforts by the professions since the 80’s touting everything from pharmaceuticals, to healthcare choices, to funeral services by small enterprises locally to multistate and even multinational funeral corporations and deathcare corporations selling their products ranging from direct disposition services to cut rate cremation or funeral packages in almost dishonest cutthroat campaigns, it’s no wonder the family funeral home is experiencing a crisis at the hands of the corporate agenda. The once family funeral home, like so many community service providers, has either been eliminated completely or has been devoured by some corporation employing the deception of keeping the name of the family funeral home but including a “member of some corporation moniker” somewhere on the shingle or the letterhead. Say goodbye to tradition, compassion, integrity, community and Welcome! policies, procedures, agendas, shareholders, bottom line and stuffed shirts. It’s all become, like so much else in life in the modern industrialized, dehumanized society, lifeless. They’ve even rendered the Grim Reaper lifeless, empty, and profane. Even the language has been perverted when we read words like service, compassion, sensitivity in their marketing collaterals, and are forced to see their cadaver-like grinning and fake compassion in their expensive choreographed  video and television advertisements. The grinning death’s head has been replaced by the grinning cadaver Ren Newcomer with his comparison shopping graphs and promises, until you experience the horrors of the corporate factory funeral home and the nickel-and-diming of the bereaved in their most vulnerable moments.

Guess who’s paying for these expensive television ads nationwide?

Cut costs, increase revenues and profits, hire the neophyte, the recently churned-out graduate for next to nothing, the bereaved won’t notice their faltering efforts at feigning compassion and concern. Dedication to the community, professional pride and dignity, respect and compassion have all been replaced by sprawling funeral complexes complete with immaculate meeting rooms for arrangements, fully appointed merchandize rooms that look like death malls (you can now even purchase your casket at Walmart!), fully rehearsed “compassionate” funeral directors in immaculate attire, elegant parlors and chapels,  a complete pool of multicolored funeral vehicles to choose from, an infinity of categories of services, and a very, very detailed pricelist with convenient check-boxes that tend to add up to a small fortune in a very short time. Someone’s got to pay for all of the glitz and guess who that is?

The “Merchandise” Room

But then you have the option of keeping your savings and your inheritance and choosing direct burial or cremation, or you can do the newest thing, you can simply dissolve dad in the process known in the industry as alkaline hydrolysis, misleadingly advertised by the manufacturers and those funeral homes offering it as “liquid cremation,” in which the body is dissolved in a Draino®-like solution at high temperature in a pressure cooker system; the remaining slurry is then flushed into the sewer system and the remaining bone and other hard materials (teeth, plastic and metal implants, etc.) are separated and processed (the bone is dried and pulverized, the metal and plastic implants are recycled). Does it get any more disgusting? Are we proud of ourselves? Have we given dad the dignified send-off he deserves? Well, you gotta do what you gotta do in the three days your company allows for bereavement,  so-called bereavement leave. American materialist capitalism at its best.

After dissolving the body in Draino-like solution.

Where has all the humanity gone? How has the human spirit managed to get so lost in the fray of digital relationships, electronic devices, the self-driving car culture? Even a national chaplaincy organization touting the moniker, “Caring for the Human Spirit,” has gone digital, even offering online bereavement counseling! Rubbish!

What’s even worse is that with the demise of institutional religion, there are no reliable tools to guide the majority of people towards a transcendent, healing, meaningful, nurturing, and growth enhancing spirituality. Values have become so perverted that spirituality has transmutated into an idolatry: the idolatries of narcissism, materialism, consumerism, money.

Our lives are no longer peaceful and tranquil; we can no longer enjoy simple quiet. Everywhere we turn we are accosted with “Hurry!” “Don’t miss…!” “Give!” “Do you have these symptoms…” “Limited time!” Let’s simply acknowledge that we are all living in limited time, and those imperatives that are driving us to distraction are distracting us from what is essential to our fully enjoying and living our limited time.  Our only response should be, “Shut up!” “Unsubscribe!” “Don’t call again!” And stop telling me I’m the best part of Verizon while you are emptying my pockets with lousy services and fees! Deception ad nauseum!

It’s all about a quick fix, all about convenience!

The funeral service profession has not been immune to these wicked developments. What was once a dignified and compassionate, family-oriented, local icon has now become just another ticker symbol,  just another corporate revenue generator for the materiealists, the capitalists, the consumerists. Every death and every bereaved family is distilled down to a consolidated ledger figure. The once dignified funeral director whose father and whose father’s father operated the family funeral home, and who knows everyone by their first name, has become the agenda-led, production-driven, sanitized, hair-gelled, twenty or thirty-something, recent grad from his two-year associate’s degree mortuary science program, and now a new-hire at the local factory funeral home. He’s probably never experienced the death of a loved one, has no idea of compassion for another physical person  — all his friends are digital and he’s the product of the materialist, individualist, disposable society —, and is a corporate slave.  He makes the first call, arranges for the removal, schedules and arrangements meeting, and greets you armed with a detailed price list, a merchandise room as big as a Walmart and fully stocked with every sort of container imaginable. He’s memorized his scripted pitch, and you, in the bewilderment of acute, crushing grief, sign on the dotted line!  Consumerist corporate death services. The funeral professional has become the epitome of the disposal professional.

Example of a Price List

That can we do in our positions as thanatologists, as psychospiritual support providers, as deathcare professionals? Well, we have to establish clear boundaries as to what we want and can do. We have to establish clear ethical principles as to what we are qualified to provide and how. We have to stop striving for numbers and start caring for people.

The boundaries part is very simple: do what you have been trained to do, and let others do what they are trained to do. If you are a business man take care of the business end. If you are a cosmetician, do the cosmetics. If you are a chaplain, do the psychospiritual work. Set the boundaries, know which are flexible and which are rigid. Ensure everyone on the multidisciplinary team is aware of their boundaries and remind them if necessary. If something is working but you don’t understand it, don’t interfere; if it ain’t broke don’t break it.

The ethical principles are something that need clear statement and uncompromised commitment. Decide what your objectives are and achieve them in a right way. If you are simply selling merchandise and service, don’t try to be falsely compassionate; it will betray you and worse still, you’ll hurt vulnerable people who don’t deserve to be hurt. If you need to sell them something, and you do as a funeral service professional, turn them over to someone who can provide psychospiritual support with true presence and compassion, and wait until that expert turns them over to you. The chaplain will know when that time is right and will ensure that they will be in a proper mindset to respond to your ministrations appropriately. It is horribly callous to spend 10 minutes posing with a sad face, at T=11, you produce the pricelist and contract paperwork and launch into a sales script, only then to invite the dazed bereaved to make a selection in the merchandise room for dad’s final packaging. You may do everything quite legally, but in terms of right approach and moral conduct, you have violated every precept imaginable. Talk to the chaplain about ethical and moral conduct, he’s trained in the subject matter, you are not.

Better still, have the chaplain sit in on the arrangements meeting. His mere presence adds a note of trust and authenticity to an otherwise icey transaction.

The chaplain can soften the experience.

The third item, caring for people, not the bottom line, is a bit more difficult because it redirects everything the mortuary science program has taught you, and focuses everything you have learned in your mortuary science program and your residency to a ministry of caring for the human spirit.  Mortuary science curriculum taught you the principles of the funeral service business; it did not teach you how to be a funeral service professional, nor about ethics apart from business ethics and staying out of jail, and even less about spirituality.  Don’t kid yourself.

Believe it or not, you can make a living as a funeral service professional without gouging every family that comes to you for support. Keep in mind that they are not calling you because they want to; they need you, in some states the law requires that they involve you. To take advantage of them at this time is abominable.

The situation is considerably different in the factory funeral home or the corporate funeral home. In those situations such as at Newcomer Funeral Service Group’s facilities, or Service Corporation International (Dignity Memorial), or any of the other multi-state or multi-national disposal corporations.  In the corporate factory funeral home numbers rule. Statistics rule. How many bodies were removed from how many locations in how much time by how many removal persons using how many vehicles, and how many bodies were transported in one vehicle in one trip. How many cases did FD1 receive for processing and how long did it take for him to close the deal; how was he rated by the customer, and how does his performance compare with FD2, FD3…FDn? In the back of FD’s mind is the statistics, as well. FD is thinking how much can they afford? Can spend the time with them and can I upsell them? Do they look like they can spend some money or do I have to give them the quickie script and get them out of here, so I can move on to the next case. Have I complied with corporate procedure? Am I up to snuff on corporate policy? Have I read the latest facility production and revenues report? Am I on the bonus list? Can I afford the new Cadillac SUV? It’s the embalmer’s fault if the head’s turned too far to the right. It’s the hairdresser’s fault if the hair isn’t teased like in the picture. It’s the cosmetologists fault if there’s caked pancake makeup at the hairline. Oops? The lighting’s off and the liner’s too blue. Just lost 6 points on the aftersale survey. Too bad; no bonus this month.

Sound familiar? Sure, to the corporate FD but not to the traditional family-owned funeral home. Things are much, much different there. So what’s the logical choice if you have any self-respect or any respect for the treatment of your loved one?

Seems today everyone has deserted us for the job and has forgotten the profession. Take a step back and look at what has happened to what was once the family doctor. He’s now a corporate employee, working for a healthcare group or a hospital satellite clinic, or is a hospitalist. Numbers, production, rush. You call his “office” and you get a menu only to get his “secretary,” actually a central answering service, who “sees if she can contact the doctor,” only to return to say he’s with another patient but suggests you go to the emergency room or to an urgent care facility and have them call him. You’re half dead but you have to get in the car, drive 20 miles, answer a million questions, show you can pay, and then wait hours to be seen. Well, if you survive you’re one of the lucky ones. If you don’t, let’s hope they don’t call a corporate disposal service.

Two of our most essential services in life, healthcare and deathcare, have seriously dropped the ball and have left us high and dry. It’s no wonder our society, our culture has turned sociopathic, apathetic, callous, paranoid, digital.

It tragic but true that so many people today have become so sociopathic and so misguided that they accept digital algorithms as friends, and are incapable of engaging a flesh-and-blood human being as a friend and confidant; people are, after all, too complicated and it takes too long to develop a trusting relationship. Hell, on Facebook, I can make a “friend” in a mouse-click and pour out my heart to 50,000 listeners at once. Beat that in a real person relationship. Well, guess what, I can.

It’s tragic but true that we are so busy doing nothing that we can’t take proper care of our dead and we need to dispose of the mortal remains as quickly and as neatly as possible; we can hold the funeral or memorial service on a date to be announced. Funeral homes will now bury or burn the body immediately. You’ll save time and money. But your time is still limited and you will some day have to leave all your money and stuff behind when your kids decide that they don’t have the time or the spare cash to treat your mortal remains with dignity and respect. By the way: Who’s getting the house? Let the battles begin!


We live in a world with some very real problems, and many of those problems have their causes at the personal level, that is, they originate in how theindividual human being relates to his or her world, and how they interact with others in the reality they literally create for themselves.

When the individual human being is accosted at every turn, in every moment with a command to rush, hurry, and not to miss something, they miss everything. When the individual is inundated with commands, offers, warnings, alerts, the individual becomes anxious and fearful; that vulnerability is a key to controlling the individual and then the group. When an individual is made dependent and even subordinate to recorded messages, online menus, digital services, and the human element and human contact, especially touch, is removed from the interaction, the individual is dehumanized; they then react and respond as if programmed or as if the program has gone awry. Some will react like sheep, others will react like enraged beasts. No one will take responsibility, everyone will point fingers.

Many of those who are in positions in which they can inaugurate change if they wanted to just sit back and watch the spectacle unfold; our society has become as degenerate and uncaring as the crowds watching gladiators kill each other or wild beasts attack and maim defenseless prisoners. We look back at the Crusades, the massacres of the Native American peoples, the atrocities of the French Revolution, the Cheka purges in Bolshevik Russia, Stalin’s purges, the Turks and the Armenian genocide, the 20th century holocausts in Nazi Germany and in Serbia and the Balkans. We have not changed. Our genocides today are more sterile, more subtle, closer to home; the tyranny and the methods of control are literally our own and at our fingertips; the controllers are not the secret police knocking at our doors in the middle of the night, they are our Facebook friends, they are on Twitter, they are watching on Google. The persecutors don’t have to come to us, we go to them; willingly.

While some of you sit back and watch the spectacle unfold, watching your own destruction and annihilation orchestrate before your very eyes, some of us are observing, watching, questioning, writing, wondering why you don’t see what we see.

While they exterminate the soaring eagles, the cockroaches will survive.

Where are you in all of this?




Dissolve and Flush: An Analysis of a New Body Disposal Method, Alkaline Hydrolysis.

Dissolve and Flush: Funeralized Alkaline Hydrolysis.

The Newest Technology for Disposing of Dead Human Beings.

Rev. Ch. Harold W. Vadney, BA, [MA], MDiv
Interfaith Bereavement Chaplain/Thanatologist

“All humankind is dust and ashes.” Sirach 12:32

In the West, interment, inhumation, entombment have been the traditional methods of disposing of dead human bodies, that is, prior to the late 19th century with the revival of cremation as an alternative. Until about 1880, cremation was anathema, unless, occasionally, at times of extraordinarily large numbers or dead, such as during war time, during epidemics, or following natural disasters, mass graves or incineration of the corpses was preferred to avoid further catastrophe in terms of public health. Fire cremation was revived in the West as a quasi-pagan option attributed to non-Christian freethinkers and masons or simply to anti-social elements but then took a different tack by appealing to the public health and environmentally conscious elements in conventional society. Today, economic concerns both consumer and industrial take precedence. The dominant market economies in the industrialized West, particularly in the USA, UK, and some Western European countries, as well as the insatiable appetite of post-modern, post-Christian cultures for novelty and individualism, have left the door ajar for the entry into the funeralization professions of an industrialized process called alkaline hydrolysis (AH), an industrial process invented in the late 19th century as a way of dissolving in strong chemicals farm animal waste for use as fertilizer.

“Omnes homines terra et cinis” Sirach 12:32

In a particularly beautiful description of how the pre-Vatican II Church thought of the human being, and in poetry that was possible only in a more sensitive epoch of human history, one reads:

“The old Church holds on to her dead with eternal affection. The dead body is the body of her child. It is sacred flesh. It has been the temple of a regenerated soul. She blessed it in baptism, poured the saving waters on its head, anointed it with holy oil on breast and back, put the blessed salt on its lips, and touched its nose and ears in benediction when it was only the flesh of a babe; and then, in growing youth, reconsecrated it by confirmation; and, before its dissolution in death, she again blessed and sanctified its organs, its hands and its feet, as well as its more important members. Even after death she blesses it with holy water, and incenses it before her altar, amid the solemnity of the great sacrifice of the New Law, and surrounded by mourners who rejoice even in their tears, for they believe in the communion of saints, and are united in prayer with the dead happy in heaven, as well as with those who are temporarily suffering in purgatory. The old Church, the kind old mother of regenerated humanity, follows the dead body of her child into the very grave. She will not throw it into the common ditch, or into unhallowed ground; no, it is the flesh of her son. She sanctifies and jealously guards from desecration the spot where it is to rest until the final resurrection; and day by day, until the end of the world, she thinks of her dead, and prays for them at every Mass that is celebrated; for, even amid the joys of Easter and of Christmas, the memento for the dead is never omitted from the Canon. She even holds annually a solemn feast of the dead, the day after “All Saints,” in November, when the melancholy days are on the wane, the saddest of the year, and the fallen leaves and chilly blasts presage the season of nature’s death.”

The Church of bygone days frequently used prose poetically and quoted liberally from the Church Fathers and even from the ancient philosophers and historiographers like Plato, Seneca, Socrates, Cicero many of whom, though pre-Christian, did not eschew the notion of the immortal soul. St Augustine writes, “We should not despise nor reject the bodies of the dead; especially we should respect the corpses of the just and the faithful, which the Spirit hath piously used as instruments and vessels in the doing of good works…for those bodies are not mere ornaments but pertain to the very nature of humankind.”

Cremation made an occasional appearance in isolated periods of Western history or in outlier regions where Christianity had not yet attained dominance; cremation was largely associated with non-Christian, pagan cultures.

In the East, in places where Hinduism and Buddhism had a firm foothold, cremation was and continues to be the norm. In some geographical areas such as in parts of Tibet, where the ground is unfavorable to interment and wood is a scarce and valuable resource, exposure of the corpse or dismemberment of the corpse and consumption by carrion-eating birds, so-called sky-burial or, in its form where the dismembered corpse is cast into a fiver for consumption by fishes, water burial, is practiced.

A similar practice of exposure is found in Zoroastrian communities in Iran, in the so-called towers of silence or dakhma, where the dead are brought, exposed, and consumed by vultures; the skeletal remains are then later collected for disposal.

While isolated instances of cremation are reported both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament, burial or entombment was conspicuously the norm. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, burning of a corpse was a final act of abomination, reserved for only the worst elements of society.

One of the common misapprehensions of the Church’s aversion to or discouragement of incineration of the human body as a routinely available option for final disposal is that it was associated with pagan or freethinker practice, or with attempts to dissuade believers from faith in a bodily resurrection. While this might have some historical substance and may be represented by some early writers, it is but a minor hypothesis.

Ancient Flame Cremation.

As Eusebius describes early Christian aversion to flame cremation in a statement that still holds plausible, “” they (the Pagans) did this (cremated) to show that they could conquer God and destroy the resurrection of the bodies, saying, now let us see if they will arise.” In other words, cremation was a challenge to the belief in bodily resurrection as taught and believed in the early Church.

Furthermore, no less a figure than Cicero advances the notion that incineration was of ancient practice in Rome, and suggests that inhumation was a practice that predated the Roman practice of cremation. In fact, some noble Roman families never permitted their bodies to be burned, and Sulla is said to have been the first Roman who ordered his body to be cremated after death, lest his bones should be scattered by his enemies. The pontiffs of pagan Rome would not acknowledge a funeral to be complete unless at least a single bone cut off from the corpse, or rescued from the flames, had been de posited in the earth.

Ancient Greece and Rome did practice cremation at various points in their histories but the ultimate disposal of the remains continued to be burial; either a part not consumed by the flames or the “bones” of the cremated corpse were ultimately buried in the earth. Cremation was by no means consistently the norm or the preferred method of disposal in Greece or in Rome.

Pope Boniface VIII forbade all violent modes of disposing of the dead as savoring of barbarism. “The respect due to the human body requires that it should be allowed to decay naturally, without having recourse to any violent system;” so says Grandclaude. A forcible argument against cremation is also found in the Catholic custom of preserving and honoring the relics of the Saints and putting their bodies or portions of them in the altar. It would be no longer possible to have the most important relics of future Saints if their flesh were to be consumed by fire.

That brief sampling of ancient teachings and beliefs regarding the question of incineration of human remains, arguably a “violent system” of disposing of human remains, should suffice to provide a background for the remainder of this discussion. For a more detailed discussion, I refer the reader to the Reverend Bann’s article cited above.

It was only in the late 19th century that a cremation movement came into being, and then only owing to the deplorable conditions in the cities which were rapidly outgrowing their boundaries due to immigration from rural areas, and the resulting encroachments on the previously outlying churchyards and, with population growth and densification, poor sanitation, and high mortality rates, consequent overfilling of existing cemeteries literally to the point of overflowing.

London Slum – Age of Instustiralization

Such were the conditions that gave rise to the public health concerns of reformers who claimed that the dead in the cemeteries were evil, that their miasmas leached out into the water and the spaces of the living, causing disease, suffering, and death. It was the evil dead rotting in the earth and their juices that were public health enemy No. 1. The open sewers and living conditions of the larger cities, and the putrid waters of the rivers flowing through them, of course, were not to blame.

And so, an alternative method of disposal of the dangerous and filthy dead had to be found, one that did not threaten to gobble up valuable real estate, and one that could be justified in the face of Church and religious objections. Cremation was the most obvious answer for purifying the unclean corpses. After all, since time immemorial fire was the great purifier.

In the beginning, therefore, the initial impetus was the miasma theory of pestilence, and corpses were to blame. Then, around 1880, the germ theory of disease was born. It debunked the established miasma theory of disease, and stated that disease was caused by specific organisms, germs. No problem for the cremationists, who were quite agile in dropping the miasma theory and accepting the germ theory but corpses were not yet off the hook, so to speak.

If germs were the cause of many of the diseases afflicting the population, wouldn’t the putrid rotting corpse be germ heaven? And if you have all those corpses lying about doing nothing but what corpses do, that is, rotting and defiling the air with the aromas of putrecine and cadaverine. Those same rotting corpses were breeding grounds for pestilence and a simple hole in the ground was not very likely to contain the little vermin. Cremation, the great sterilizer, would be the cremationists’ next slogan. But it didn’t last long.

The interests of the economic-minded would carry the day both in terms of the environment and the economy, and that campaign agenda is with us to this day. Basically, the dirge goes: “Why allocate so much valuable land to the dead when the living can profit by it?” Land for the living! After all, as corporations like StoneMor can confirm, cemetery real estate and the real estate occupied by the cemeteries represents a vast fortune. Someone has to tap into it.

The countries of Europe afflicted with the spirit of rationalism had no problem dealing with cemeteries; they just overruled the Church and legislated that the state had ultimate control of the citizen in life and in death. The Church could fall back on canon law but ultimately had to acquiesce to the state’s overwhelming power, and so the cemeteries were secularized. Once secularized they were emptied and their occupants relegated to ossuaries or catacombs en masse, and anonymous in their tens, even hundreds of thousands. In many instances, their eviction from the cemeteries and relocation to the quarries was done under cover of night, in order not to offend the living or present an obstacle to commerce.

In countries where the Church, Roman Catholic or mainstream Protestant dominated, the faithful were expected under established sanctions, to obey the doctrines of their faith. For most mainstream Christians, and for all Orthodox Jews and Muslims, cremation was an abomination, and burial in the earth or entombment were the only acceptable methods of sepulture. And so it remained until 1963, when the Roman Catholic Church relieved it’s ban on cremation and, while not encouraging cremation, did not censure those who opted for incineration as their preferred method of disposal. Upto then, those choosing cremation were pro forma classified as apostates, atheists, pagans, free-thinkers, or Masons.

The 1960’s was a decade of revolutionary reform in practically every aspect of life: politics, religion, morals, education, all of which ultimately found expression in attitudes towards life, death, dying and after-death.

Alkaline hydrolysis (AH) , aquamation , resomation , biocremation , call it whatever you like it all literally boils down [no pun intended] to taking a dead human body, placing it into a pressure cooker, adding water and chemicals, heating, cooking, draining, rinsing. The dissolved flesh and organic matter is then flushing into the sewer system. What is left is bones and any metallic or synthetic material in the body (artificial joints, pacemakers, sutures, etc.). The metal such as artificial joints etc. will be recycled or “repurposed.” The bones will be dried and ground up into a sandlike powder and returned to the family or otherwise disposed of.

The actual patented process, alkaline hydrolysis (AH) is a process developed for waste disposal. “Waste disposal” is the actual term used in the patents. AH was developed for disposal of infectious or hazardous waste by dissolving it into a “safe and sanitary” end-product. In fact, the actual wording of one of the patents is: “it is an object of this invention to provide a system and method for safely treating and disposing of waste matter containing undesirable elements, such as infectious, biohazardous, hazardous, or radioactive elements or agents.”

AH was developed for dissolving, liquefying organic matter into a disposable liquid that can be recycled as a fertilizer or simply flushed down the drain. It’s actually a technology that was developed in the late 19th century for disposing of animal waste, and which was developed in the mid-20th century for disposal of farm slaughter waste and for elimination of medical school cadavers, is now being promoted as the new eco-friendly take on cremation. Alkaline hydrolysis a.k.a. water cremation a.k.a. biocremation — in reality just using a Draino®-like chemical to dissolve the dead human body and flush the remaining human sludge down the drain into the public sewer system — is the new rage in technology. Some funeral homes in about 14 states, where the process is now legal in the United States are now offering it as an alternative to cremation. It’s disgusting and will be a hard sell, since it will be acceptable only to the really bizarre element out there. I hope to clarify some of the issues in this article.

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