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Ask Dr. Salvo

February 22, 1994

Dr. Salvo and Tim

Ask Dr. Salvo

Dr. Salvo,

Many thanks to you, Ellen Gilchrist and Dancing Rabbit for echoing my sentiments regarding the Hank Shivers and Jesse Baileys of the world.

Ellen makes a good point that I too have noticed: Jesse seems to have very few arguments. In his letters to me and in his letters I've seen published, he repeats the same three or four mantras time and time again, no matter how well or thoroughly they have been countered in the past.

As for Dancing Rabbit (whose letter was published in the Letters to the Editor section on the same day as Ellen's appeared on your page), pointing out errors in Hank's thinking is futile. However, DR's excellent response may have some impact on any misguided souls who were thinking he made sense.

Hank and Jesse seem to have little knowledge of real Christianity. They seem ignorant of the great apologists of the faith, unaware that there are good, solid, RATIONAL arguments for faith -- although, of course, ultimately faith must transcend pure reason.

The bitterness and anger these men harbor is so obvious as to be beyond doubt. The question is, why?

I regard astrology as a load of rubbish. However, I do not spend much time arguing about it with its believers, nor do I write letter after letter to various public forums pointing out astrological predictions that are wrong, or advocating astrology believers be locked away. If someone close to me were about to make a major life decision based on a horoscope, I would argue against it. Otherwise, I live my live and leave astrology-believers alone.

So why do Messrs. Shiver and Bailey, and their brethren, seem so obsessed with an idea in which they profess to disbelieve? If they've decided God does not exist, why can they not simply go on about their lives under that assumption and quit shouting about it?

Perhaps they secretly fear Christianity may be true. After all, I don't see them attacking flat-earthers. No one wonders if the flat-earthers might not be right after all, so there is no drive to attack. Ditto astrology, tarot cards, palm reading and other beliefs. Unless you fear something, you can ignore it.

They may legitimately fear the political intentions of the so-called "Christian right." Many Christians do too. But a political faction with tenuous and self-proclaimed ties to a religion do not equate to the religion itself. If Jesse and Hank are primarily worried about the political movement, they ought to narrow their focus to just that and leave the rest of Christendom out of their diatribe.

More likely, I think, they are afraid of what will become of them if they reach out in faith and find they have been wrong all these years. That would require a complete paradigm shift, which can be wrenching. As G.K. Chesterton said, it is not that Christianity has been tried and found wanting. It is that it has been found difficult and left untried.

Quite Rational

Dear Q.R.,

And thanks to you for such an eloquent and thoughtful lesson to Shivers, Bailey & Co., the discontented nay-sayers. Your letter sent old Salvo scurrying to the Brittanica for more ammunition.

I expect that sardonic cohort would reluctantly agree that Einstein had a modicum of intellectual brilliance. Yet he was a life-long admirer of Baruch (the Blessed) Spinoga, the inventor, mathematician, student of light, and maker of the finest lenses. Spinoga's private religion was basically Christian, but he was also a pantheist and a believer in panpsychism. That is, all matter contained God and was sentient, beliefs that were and are widely held by some American Indians.

Ah, Baruch, where are you today when we need you!

One need not childishly swallow everything that is offered by purveyors of dogma, Christian or non-Christian, as Spinoga proved. In the end all religious belief is private and unassailable even under torture, and is intimately bound up with one's views on Nature, the Universe, and the dignity of Man. Perhaps the skeptical shouters should begin looking at the rest of their philosophy and explain to us how it all makes sense without a Creator.

Keep writing, Q.R.!

Dear Salvo,

It is Mardi Gras, and Lent is facing us. Once again I must abjure water melon and chewing tobacco for forty days. so lighten up a little and share with us some amusing episodes from your checkered career. That stuff you told us about psychiatric treatment in the old days was too grisly to be funny. So, laugh with us!


Dear Optimistic,

When evaluating a new patient at Searcy -- or any such place -- there are certain aspects of the patient's history and course of illness that must be addressed. Some patients have been evaluated enough to conduct the enquiry themselves, but usually they feign ignorance and watch you struggle. However, I've just recalled a wonderful lady in New York who was my subject for examination on the Psychiatry and Neurology Boards. In the course of saying hello and getting acquainted I had noticed she was remarkably relaxed, almost indifferent though sociable. As I asked question after question she observed me with growing sympathy: Evidently I was not getting anywhere in making a diagnosis. Finally she remarked in a tactfully conversational tone, "You have realized already that I've had a pre-frontal lobotomy?" "Why n-n-no," I stuttered and we both burst out laughing. "And you know I'm not supposed to tell you?" More laughter, till I managed to say, "Yes indeed, strictest confidence -- just between you and me -- and thank you!" I passed, remembering to throw in a few erudite observations on the tendency of lobotomy to abolish inhibitions and discretion. A good thing, too.

Anyway, several years ago I was up at Searcy evaluating a new man with a long history of mental illness. He was a short, freckled, sandy haired man in faded overalls, looked like a country man, volunteering little. I said, "In the course of your illness, have you ever had any really strange experiences -- such as hearing people talking, going to look, then finding nobody there?"

"You mean do I hear voices," he said. "Well yes, fairly often." He paused, his light blue gaze inward. "But you got to remember, I'm a _____" (some denomination) "In our church we often hear voices -- a voice any way."

"Whose voice is it?"


"Have you heard Him lately?"

"Yes, couple of weeks back."

"What did he say?"

"Well, I was kneeling by my bed saying my prayers at night (and I always pray for a few people by name every night). I had said several names, but when I mentioned my wife's name, the Voice said 'Don't waste your breath.' So I haven't mentioned her since then."

This, by the way, won the "hallucination of the year" award in 1988.

More recently I was starting to interview a man about whom I knew little except that he had landed in our hospital by probate court order. In order to put us both at ease I was asking some routine getting acquainted questions such as, "Where are you from? Been in Mobile very long? They treat you all right here? Is the bed O.K.? How about the food? You know it's catered by Morrison's." The man burst out laughing and peered at me with incredulity. "What is so funny?" I asked.

"Well you're the Dr., I'm the patient and I'm locked up -- and you are trying to tell me the food here is catered by Martians!"

I could only hope I had not collaborated in the formation of a new delusional system.

Some of our readers may not be aware they are living in a catchment area. Well, the bottom twenty counties in Alabama (known to initiates as L.A.) comprise the catchment area for Searcy Hospital. This means that is where you will land should you lose your tenuous lease on what is jokingly referred to as reality, or go around the bend in a fashion decisive enough to attract the attention of your probate judge. You may not know you have one. If you live in Mobile County you have an exemplary one, but I'm not so confident about the rest of the twenty. Each a king in his fiefdom, reinforced by his powerful baron, the sheriff, constitutes a formidable center of power, especially if you land on the rough side of the law.

Since we have twenty such royal avatars we must have about twenty highly individual judicial versions of what the 1974 amended commitment statute says. We do, at least twenty, and some are both flexible and inventive. Like the Latin American dictator nationalizing the oil industry and haranguing the U.S. oil executives for three hours, who closed triumphantly with: "And gentlemen those are my principles. If you don't like them I have many more."

A few years ago at Searcy I experienced some of this flexibility at first hand. I was annoyed because a healthy and sane young farm laborer kept getting committed to Searcy for no good reason or at best very shaky grounds. I discussed it with a nurse who had worked there several decades: "Maybe you haven't heard why the Judge is so down on Willie?" she asked. I shook my head. "Well, Willie had the bad luck to come upon the Judge's pickup at a dove shoot! But the judge was not shooting doves. He and his secretary were in the pickup" and (in flagrante delictu). Ever since then his name's been mud. Judge is trying to tell him to leave the county but he's too slow to get it."

As I expressed some moral indignation at the judge's misuse of his judicial powers, the nurse remarked, "You should have been here three years ago. He committed both of his mistresses at the same time!"

Well, we're none of us perfect --


February 22, 1994

The Harbinger