Tag Archives: Martin Luther

On a Few Thoughts

Monday Musings” for Monday March 24, 2014

Volume IV, No. 168


On Magic, Memory, Wrong Diagnosis, Origin of Inoculation, and What to do for Depression

By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*

Luther and Erasmus

Recently, we observed the 88th birthday of a good friend at a luncheon. The toast was the story of Luther (Nov 10, 1481-Feb 18, 1546) and Erasmus (Oct 27, 1466 to July 12, 1536), two fierce competitors (but good friends). Erasmus who was quite a few years older than Luther was debating the existence of ‘Miracle” and “Magic” with Luther. After many exchanges of letters, with a sense of exhaustion, Erasmus tersely wrote to Luther, ”Boy, Of course there is magic and miracle.  You get magic and miracle when you combine intellect and industry ” Yes, “smarts” and “hard work” produce magic and miracle…. I think Erasmus was thinking of our honoree. Happy birthday!

 Digital Learning

 Promulgation and promotion of digital learning, and creation DigiLearn as reported in news media including New York Times and the Wall Street journal are all meritorious. But idealizing DigiLearn as a powerful instrument that nurtures imagination as opposed to memorization that discourages imagination is a disservice. This view is scientifically flawed and untenable. In neuroscience and neurobiology, we know that those areas of the brain, including the limbic system, association cortex and nucleus coeruleus that are responsible for memory and storing of information are strengthened by memorizing facts. The same centers are also responsible for strengthening the power of imagination, creativity and innovation. These centers work together to enhance both memory and imagination. Memorization complements and enhances imagination. Please do not malign memorization and do not deprive our children from receiving the gift of knowledge through activating the memory centers of their brain. All the computers and artificial intelligence floating around will never replace memorizing epic poems of Homer, Dante, Faust and Milton.

 Krauthammer’s Wrong Diagnosis

I usually agree with the opinions of my respected colleague turned journalist, Dr. Charles Krauthammer. His style shaped by his training as a physician, to cut through symptoms and look for the correct diagnosis(es) and cause(s) of America’s ills, is most gratifying. But his  March 14 syndicated column in Washington Post and other papers “An Action Plan to Stop Putin”, while making recommendations to cure our current ills do not go deeply enough to make the correct diagnosis before offering suggestions and remedies.

The basic problem with America’s repeated failures in foreign affairs is that our European and Middle Eastern allies no longer respect the office of American Presidency or the current person who occupies the post. I hear derogation, mockery and condescension from ordinary citizens of foreign nations about US presidency. We should address that basic malady before offering remedies.

 The Origins of Inoculation and Vaccination

For the readers who are contemplating to travel to Turkey, here is a historical aside: It is about Turkish women of many centuries ago. It explains the character and intellectual capacity, with Baconian and Lockian power of inductive reasoning and empirical observation of Turkish women of the middle ages. These women were most likely illiterate. The story has to do with inoculation against smallpox. These women observed that they can sell their daughters into slavery for a higher price if they were unmarked by the scars of smallpox. They noted that mild cases of smallpox provided lifelong immunity to the disease and limited the scarring. So they exposed their young daughters to benign cases of smallpox. This practice was carried out hundreds of years before Louis Pasteur (1822-1895) and Robert Koch (1843-1910) introduced inoculation  and vaccination to modern medicine. Voltaire while exiled to England in Les Lettres philosophiques has written extensively about powers of observation, inductive reasoning and empirical knowledge.

 Treating Depression with Good Thoughts

Worth  reading. I will be writing about how empirical data are showing that good thoughts, good words and good deeds(Zarathustra’s Motto) not only elevate mood and restore dopamine levels of the brain, but actually changes the morphology of the brain. This is the essence of Eshgh, the Sufi love. Thinking good thoughts suffuses brain with good hormones like dopamine and indoleamine…Exciting stuff to think about and write about….

POSITIVE PSYCHOLOGY http://www.ppc.sas.upenn.edu/


*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He serves as a Visiting Scholar and lecturer on Medicine, the Arts and Humanities at his alma mater the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health.

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On a Contemporary Martin Luther

Monday Musings” for Monday November 18, 2013

Volume III, No. 45/139


Paul Tillich, A Contemporary Martin Luther

By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*

Our inbox runeth over. Incoming mail about Martin Luther’s birthday brought us unprecedented response requesting more on Luther. In compliance, we will schedule another “MM” on the occasion of Luther’s mortal anniversary, the week of February 18. Today I thought we ought to recognize some contemporary “Martin Luthers,” my favorite among them is Paul Tillich. But let me share a sample of the incoming mail:  A distinguished colleague and faithful reader of this space writes:  “Concerning grace–suspicious New Yorker, at breakfast in Southern Pines, pointing to white stuff on plate: what’s that! I didn’t order it & I won’t pay for it!Waitress: them’s grits–you don’t order ’em, you don’t pay for them. They’s like grace: they just comes.” I don’t believe Saint Paul or the formidable scholar of grace, Saint Augustine of Hippo, can parallel this…. Now to Paul Tillich.

Paul Tillich (1886-1965) was Harvard Professor of Systematic Theology. It must be noted that there are hundreds of professors at Harvard, but only five Harvard Professors. These coveted positions have been maintained throughout Harvard’s nearly 400 years of existence. Paul Tillich had the rank of Harvard Professor of Systematic Theology in Harvard Divinity School. His tenure as one of the five began in 1955. Tillich came to US at the invitation of Reinhold Niebuhr in 1947.  He had to learn English. Not only did he learn the language–he wrote nearly a million words in English. His many highly acclaimed books, many of them bestsellers in the world of academia, are published in English. He taught in New York Theological Seminary and Columbia University before joining Harvard.

A personal note:  I came to US as a student in 1955.  In my early days of college pre-med, while learning English, I was exposed to some of the Tillich’s writings. I especially enjoyed reading his book, History of Culture and Religion. It was an intoxicating work, emphasizing the universality of “personhood.” Three years later, after entering the George Washington University School of Medicine, I learned that Prof Tillich was to conduct a Saturday seminar on Systematic Theology. I wrote to him and to the Harvard University administration to get permission to audit the course. The privilege was granted. I further obtained permission to tape the lectures. The tape recorder in those days was the size of a suitcase. Bulky and unyielding, I lugged it to the Logan Airport in Boston every Saturday for 19 weeks. I attentively listened and taped the lectures. The Professor had a thick German accent, often unintelligible. But his thinking was clear and unencumbered.  Even though he wrote many books including his three volume Systematic Theology in English, I still believe he really never learned to think, speak and/or dream in English. I believe his English writings were translated German which attest to a brilliance and disciplined mind.

Paul’s career at Harvard ended in 1962 when he moved to the University of Chicago. His last volumes were written in Chicago. He died in 1965. The outstanding feature of his teachings and writings may be summarized as his attempt to correlate/connect and integrate. He called his theology “Method of Correlation”, espousing theology with existentialism, psychology psychological analysis sand biology. Tillich was a huge advocate of ontology and the state of being. He “connected” and “correlated” the philosophical positions of the four work horses of existentialism, Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855), Martin Heidegger (1889-1976), John Paul Sarte (1889-1976) , and Albert Camu (1913-1960); the art of the impressionist painters such as Monet, Manet and Pissarro; theologians of the Reformation era, such as Martin Luther (1483-1550) and his contemporary Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536) known as the father of Christian Humanism (not to be mistaken with secular humanism); as well as pre-Christian philosophers and lovers of wisdom such as Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. He correlated and connected all these exciting elements to achieve his ultimate goal of illuminating the landscape of theology. Paul Tillich was a great observer, connector and co-relater of human and Godly phenomena.

Finally, Tillich’s lifelong pursuit of philosophy and theology reveals that the central question of every philosophical inquiry always comes back to the question of being, ontology, or what it means to be, to exist, and to be a finite human. Here is a statement in his introduction to systematic theology:

“Theology formulated the questions and implied in human existence and formulate the answers implied in divine self manifesting ideas with the guidance in human existence. This is the circle which drives man to a point where questions and answers are not separated. The Christian message provides the answers to the questions implied in human existence. These answers are contained in the revelatory events on which Christianity is based and are taken by systematic theology from the sources, through the medium, under the norm. Their content cannot be derived from questions that would come from an analysis of human existence. They are ‘spoken’ to human existence from beyond it, in a sense. Otherwise, they would not be answers, for the question is human existence itself.”

Studying Paul Tillich leaves us with more questions than answers, a state that sharpens curiosity and encourages one to be a more eager seeker. I believe Paul Tillich would have made a superb candidate for Meymandi Fellowship at the National Humanities Center.


*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He serves as a Visiting Scholar and lecturer on Medicine, the Arts and Humanities at his alma mater the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health.

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On Martin Luther…and Music

“Monday Musings” November 11, 2013

Volume III, No. 44/138


Martin Luther, A Formidable Child of God Worth Emulating

By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*

Yesterday November 10, was the natal anniversary of one of the most formidable children of God, Martin Luther of Eisleben, Germany. He was born 520 years ago, nine years before Christopher Columbus discovered America, and 21 years after the birth of Gutenberg, inventor of the printing press. Martin Luther was not a rip-roaring revolutionary. He did not set out to usher Protestantism in Europe and challenge the well-established Catholic Church and  the papacy. He was a scholar, a rather reclusive and obscure Augustinian monk and a university professor. In 1517, he posted 95 questions on the door of the church, a common practice when disputation (discussion, exegesis, and examination) was routinely used to clarify a philosophical or theological issue. He innocently posed 95 questions of the established church. The questions caught on fire and from that humble beginning, by 1521 he was catapulted to such prominence that even most peasants would recognize his name. Indeed, he was feared by the Pope and the Catholic establishment. He was openly defying the papacy and the Emperor. 1521 was the year Protestantism and the Lutheran Church were established.  Martin Luther’s argument was simply the issues of corruption in the Catholic Church– selling grace, selling salvation, and implementing other slanderous devices to raise money to build Saint Peter’s Basilica. Being an Augustinian monk and well grounded in Augustinian theology of grace, Martin Luther insisted that grace is given freely– It is not sold…Martin Luther maintained his steadfast Augustinian stand “sola fide, sola scriptura” which means by faith and scripture alone (not by purchase of redemption and grace) one may find the pathway to salvation. He wrote about a quarter million words about faith. He concluded that faith must be “living”, expressed in concrete actions of altruism and love for one’s fellow humans. To exercise faith requires discipline, vigilance and sacrifice

History of Protestantism

1.   Before Martin Luther, many “protestors” had questioned the practice of selling grace by the Catholic Church. Among these protestors was John Huss (1369-1415), the Czech theologian, and founder the Hussite Church. Papal Inquisition which was a common practice of the 15th and 16th century condemned Huss as a heretic. He was burned at the stake. He is recorded in history books as the first martyr of the Hussite Church. Meantime, the air of dissatisfaction and malaise generated by the Catholic Church was prevalent among European peasants which constituted the vast majority of the European population. There was no middle class. The societal structure consisted of a few super rich land owners, those who worked in the government, and those secure in the hierarchy of the church and priesthood. The remaining 95% of the population were poor farmers and peasants. Historical demography suggests these people suffered illiteracy and servitude with no hope for advancement or opportunity to break loose from the shackles of slavery.

2.   Another factor which complicated matters was the general public had not recovered from the devastation of bubonic plague, 1347-1350.  The plague wiped out three forth of Europe’s population, while the papacy to protect itself against the plague moved from Rome to Avignon, southern France, a safer territory.  The public felt abandoned and neglected by the church, breeding much anger.  The European public continued to carry for some 70 years its pent up hostility against the Catholic Church.  All these factors helped ignite and sustain the fire of protestant reform.  From 1240 on, there were many voices raised in protest of the church practices but often, if not always, silenced by the force of organized papal inquisitions with the ultimate punishment of death by hanging or burning at the stake.  But in 1521 the reform succeeded

The influence of non-theological forces

3.   In addition to the lingering effect of Black death seventy years earlier, other social injustices generated immense pent up anger in the vast majority of peasants. The unequal distribution of wealth, where 93% of wealth was controlled by less than 10% of the people, helped the maturation of the notion of Protestantism. Other factors included high infant mortality which in Central Europe was between 15 to 35%, with another 10 to 20 percent of children dying before age 10 years, helped inflame the public dissatisfaction and anger. Other forces were exposure to famine, epidemic diseases and the ravages of wars. These factors collectively made people lose faith in the authority of the government, the church and priests. The people were numbed by societal injustice.  And finally by the time Martin Luther started publishing his theses, thanks to Guttenberg, the magical printing press became available enabling Martin Luther to disseminate his work widely through throughout northern Europe. All these forces pushed our birthday hero to pursue answers to his original 95 questions, setting the world on fire of protestation.

Martin Luther, a musician and polymath

4.   Besides his theological and philosophical contributions and writings (his collected work exceeds five million words), Martin Luther was a hymnologist and an accomplished musician.  The number of hymns the authorship of which is contributed to Martin Luther is in the hundreds. He encouraged return of music to church services. Martin Luther was a polymath.  He was trained in law (he did not finish law school as his father wanted him because he found studying law to be boring!), theology, philosophy, epistemology, rhetoric, linguistics, political organization and music. He was the formidable author of more than five millions words, among them some 3000 letters he wrote to friends, colleagues, students, fellow Augustinian monks, and fellow parishioners. I view Martin Luther as a representation of God and a role model in achieving one’s maximum potential. Happy Birthday Brother Luther!

 Olli Mustonen, A Superb Omen

These days under the leadership of Sandi MacDonald, President and CEO, and Grant Llewellyn, Music Director, NC Symphony is producing magic. Recently, we had pianist conductor Jeffrey Kahane leading the symphony in Beethoven Symphony No. 2 in D Major, op 36, and Mozart Concerto No. 22 in E-flat Major for piano and Orchestra, K482. We were happy to see Maestro Kahane back at the podium, this time both conducting the orchestra and playing solo piano.   For decades, going back to 80’s, Kahane has been a welcome NCS guest artist/pianist. He was one of 11 auditioned when NCS was selecting a new conductor in 200-2001, a position that went to Maestro Grant Llewellyn. So, those with NCS institutional memory were happy to see the lovable and hugely talented Maestro Kahane back. As an aside, the 3rd movement of Mozart’s piece, if one listens carefully mimics the tune of festive fraternal song “For he is a Jolly Good fellow, nobody can deny.”  The whimsical insertion has to do with Mozart’s exposure and indoctrination to Masonic rituals and songs. Free Masonry was established in England in 1717.  Mozart became a Mason along with his librettist friend Schekineder who wrote the libretto, and played the first Papageno for Magic Flute, a 1791 opera devoted to Masonic ritual. It was Mozart’s last opera.

This past weekend, the audience was privileged to watch the brilliant and incomparable Finnish pianist Olli Mustonen, a superb omen, for Raleigh and RTP, playing the technically demanding Johannes Brahms’s Concerto No. 1 in D minor op. 15. The performance was brilliant. Olli took me on a 43 minute journey in the ether of tomorrow. Every note of the complex composition was articulated superbly pushing the listener higher and higher into the stratosphere of transcendence. The height of enjoyment was unforgettable and celestial. At age 81, NCS has matured to a degree to make traveling to NY Philharmonic, Paris Palais Garnier and Vienna unnecessary. Bravo!


*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He serves as a Visiting Scholar and lecturer on Medicine, the Arts and Humanities at his alma mater the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health.

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