Posts tagged ‘psychology’
In this, our third essay on the psychological and rhetorical techniques that underlie evangelical Christian apologetics, we will examine some evangelical Christian claims that seem devilishly difficult to prove wrong. We have all heard such claims. They would include the following:
- If you de-convert from Christianity, you never really were a Christian at all
- All Christians, in right relationship with God, experience peace in the face of adversity
- If you sincerely seek God you will find Him
- “I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move.” (Matthew 17:20, NIV)
What I will argue is that such statements either are not actually claims about the world at all, and hence insulate themselves from disconfirming empirical evidence by defining it away, or else they are claims/predictions, but rely on vague, ill-defined subjective states and thus, are impossible to confirm. In each case, I will elucidate the issues involved and then tie it in with the relevant psychological issues…
Author’s Note: This is the second in a five-part series examining fundamentalism from a existentialist perspective.
We will begin by looking at some of the themes that emerge in existentialist thought, and see how they can help make some sense of many of the features of fundamentalist Christianity. My thesis is this: fundamentalism is a response to these basic human (which is to say, existential) “givens” in life. It is a way to assuage some of the most difficult and vexing anxiety that comes part-and-parcel with being human. But in doing so, it separates the believer from full participation in life. It is, in the end, life-denying, not life-enhancing.
My guiding text will be Dr. Irvin Yalom’s wonderful 1980 Existential Psychotherapy. Yalom is a psychiatrist, psychoanalyst and writer working at Stanford who has written extensively on the intersection of existentialist thought and psychotherapy – a topic that could comprise a book in itself. Yalom’s book has become a classic in the field. His clarity and lucidity in representing existentialist concepts and placing them in a psychological context (for, really, where else could they be placed?) has no equal. It is relatively non-technical and I highly recommend it to the interested reader.
Yalom divides his work along four “themes” that were predominant within existentialist writing: death, isolation, responsibility, and meaning…
In my own de-conversion, I found that being in psychotherapy was enormously helpful to me in overcoming some of the indoctrination I absorbed in my fundamentalist church. In fact, I was so impressed with the outcome — I quit writhing in neurotic self-flagellation as a Christian and actually started enjoying life — that I went on to become a psychiatrist.
I do not believe psychotherapy is a panacea for all the ills of the world. However, it surely represents a step forward from the morass that is fundamentalist Christian counseling.
The issue of Christian psychotherapy is complex. In fact, most religions, especially conservative ones, have a built-in psychology. This is the means they use to peddle their wares. Fundamentalism must first convince you that you are sick before its cure will have much of an appeal. To accomplish this task, it utilizes time-tested methodologies. For example, it teaches that your worst feelings of guilt and shame are the truest intuitions you have about yourself, so you should listen to them. In fundamentalist thought, there is no such thing as neurotic or misplaced guilt; guilt is the bite of a God designed conscience. It demands repentance, not an understanding of *why* you feel guilty…
“We have the answer!”
“If you have any problem coping in any way, there is a quick and obvious fix. It is free. All you have to do, is just take it. Let it rule your life and you will be free. Compulsive thoughts? No problem, just pray. Depression? No problem, just fast and pray. Addictions? No problem, just learn a couple of New Testament letters off by heart. All the supernatural power outside the world is waiting for you. All you have to do is access it in this simple way. Of course, in former times we might have told you to flagellate yourself, but you don’t need to do that these days. We have moved on. And we do have the answer.”
There is a very interesting post by Lorena – Addiction Recovery: Can It Be Supernatural? – where she describes her contact with a Texan pastor who condemned her contact with a psychological counsellor for depression and recommended a behaviour modification program of prayer, fasting, and memorizing large chunks of the bible instead. Lorena explains her anger at this suggestion, and develops her reasons. So much of her experience and reasoning resonated with my own. It echoed my own anger at a religious faith which occasionally seems so blind to what it is encouraging people to believe and do.
Being a former evangelical church leader, and now a humanist and practising therapist, I think I can write about both of the worlds that Lorena describes with some insider knowledge…
Some of us here at de-conversion, as well as many of our readers, come from, or are affected by, Pentecostal/Neo-Pentecostal movements. HeIsSailing reminisced on several posts, including one on glossolalia, and another on self-exposed charlatan, Marjoe Gortner; Roopster also posted a humorous clip by an infamous prosperity gospel teacher. If you are in the United States, even your politics are infused with Charismatic non-theology. The dynamic attributes of the movement has obviously led to a relatively flexible belief system which is all loosely based on a few passages in the New Testament. Some Pentecostals take a more “moderate” stance, accepting Biblical priority, whereas others prefer the voice and actions of the Spirit. A few follow the disciple’s example of living a poverty-stricken life, while many flock to the health-and-wealth promises of Joel Osteen, Kenneth Copeland, and Joyce Meyer.
However, if people want wealth from their religion, Christianity isn’t usually the place to start – just taking a look at the first book of the New Testament should be enough to scare away any religious gold-diggers. No, charismatic Pentecostals do not win converts by Biblical exegesis or even appealing to the heart: they proselytize via the sensations…