Thursday, August 1, 2013

Psychology and Theology (2)

In chapter 1 of The Integration of Psychology and Theology: An Introduction, John D. Carter, S. Bruce Narramore write that conflicts between theology and psychology are in fact "conflicts between either the facts of Scripture and the theories of psychology, the facts of psychology and our (mis)interpretation of Scripture, or between the theories of psychology and our misinterpretation of Scripture." Then, they write:

For years large portions of the the evangelical church have been influenced by the Keswick Movement. This movement, in espousing a "deeper" Christian life, has frequently taught a morbid form of self-denial and debasement that can stir up neurotic feelings of worthlessness and self-contempt in people prone to guilt and self-devaluation. <...>

Responding to such misrepresentation of biblical Christianity, many psychologists have attacked the Christian faith for promoting psychologically unhealthy attitudes and for being in conflict with accepted principles of psychological health. Ellis, for example, states that religion "consequently is self debasement and self abnegation as, of course, virtually all the saints and mystics have clearly stated that it is. In the final analysis, then, religion is neurosis. This is why I remarked at a symposium on sin and psychotherapy held by the American Psychological Association a few years ago that form a mental health standpoint, Voltaire's famous dictum should be reversed, for if there were a God it would be necessary to uninvent him."

In this conflict between one view of Christianity and one psychological viewpoint we have a rather typical example of mutual misunderstanding. Although some Christians do interpret the Christian concepts of humility and sacrifice in a self-debasing manner, most theologians would agree that this is a serious distortion of scriptural teaching. Similarly, many respected psychologists (Allport, 1950; Fromm, 1950) object to Ellis's diagnosis of religion as neurosis. The apparent conflict dissolves when we take another look at biblical teachings, which in fact do not propound a neurotic self-abasement, and at psychological research, which does not support the implication of Ellis's theory.

Well, I know theology much better than psychology. I am not familiar with Ellis' works, but I know very well what the Keswick Movement teachings are. The Keswick view on a human nature is extremely negative. Most Christians believe that people have a sinful nature as a result of Adam's fall, but there are different views on what the sinful nature is and how it affects people. The Keswick concept is that the whole human nature was corrupted and thus the whole human being in total is viewed as evil, as the expression of Satan. They also believe that all the people (both Christians and non-Christians) will remain in this condition until death. So, they believe that the whole human nature is completely evil and corrupted and will not be cured in this life. This is how a person who believes in Keswick teachings is expected to view oneself. However, the Keswick teaching does not stop here. It proposes its solution to this problem. This solution is to receive Christ as one's life and everything and to live every minute and every second in union with Christ, completely denying oneself and accepting Christ as everything.

This is the main idea of this teaching. So, there are actually two problems with it. First, it has a very negative view of a human being. Second, it sets very high and unattainable goals. In my opinion, this teaching really may lead to psychological problems and it also may lead to spiritual abuse (and I know cases when it really happened).

As Carter and Narramore correctly noted, it is not the only view of Christianity and many Christian theologians reject is. Just a couple months ago, I reread some of the literature of the Keswick movement, for example, The Law of Liberty in the Spiritual Life by Evan H. Hopkins and a number of books by Andrew Murray. Evan Hopkins is considered to be the founder of the Keswick Movement, and his book The Law of Liberty in the Spiritual Life is considered to be "the standard textbook of the original Keswick teaching." Andrew Murray is considered to be "Keswick's foremost devotional author" who wrote much more books than any other of the Keswick writers. Rereading this literature, I noticed two things that I did not notice before:

1. The teachings of these authors are based mainly on their own ideas rather than on the Bible. Of course, as any Christian authors, they do quote the Bible a lot, but their interpretation of the biblical verses they quote is not correct. They take verses out of their context, misinterpret them, and so on. In other words, the Keswick teachings have no solid biblical foundation. They are not based on the Bible.

2. The Keswick teachings set unattainable goals. They require a person to reject all their own thoughts, feelings, desires, and so on, and to do this constantly, literally every second. It is obvious that it is just impossible to do so. Since the failure to reject one's own thoughts, feelings, and desires is viewed as a sin, this can easily make a person feel guilty. Of course, the problem is not with the person who fails to live this way all the time, but with this teaching itself. The Bible never teaches that a person should reject all their thoughts, feelings, and desires. This teaching is a serious misinterpretation of what the Bible actually teaches.

Although the Keswick teachings may lead to psychological problems, I strongly disagree with Ellis' statement that "religion is neurosis."

Carter and Narramore give one more example of an apparent conflict of psychology and religion:

Freud's (1913/1953; 1927/1961) assumptions about religion provide another good example of the confusion of fact and theory. In transferring his theory of the psychosexual development of the individual to his study of culture, he concluded that the idea of God is simply a myth created to cope with primitive people's anxiety in the face of natural disasters and the child's ambivalent feelings (love and hate) toward the same-sexed parent. <...>

Some people would hold that with this analysis Freud "disproved" religion or at least "explained God away." But as soon as Freud began speaking about the existence or nonexistence of God, he left psychology and entered the domain of philosophy and religion. Even if it could be demonstrated that people's concept of God arises from the intimate relationships with their parents, this would not justify the conclusion that God does not exist. A psychological fact is just that. It is not and can never be an ontological statement about the existence of God. If God so willed, He could have chosen to plant the rudimentary concept of Himself in the mind of every person through this very process.

Well, according to my understanding, most psychologists rejected Freud's concept of Oedipus complex, which he used for his statement that "religion is neurosis." However, it seems that some of them still believe that "religion is neurosis," even though they do not believe in Oedipus complex. It looks quite self-contradictory.

Also, it seems that a common problem of some secular psychologists (like Freud, for example) is that they tend to leave psychological facts and go too far in their theories, entering the domain of philosophy, which, strictly speaking, has nothing to do with psychology. It is quite obviously that there is a conflict between religion and atheist philosophies, but it is not a conflict between religion and psychology. I agree with Carter and Narramore that there is no need to view theology and psychology as contradicting one another, that is, according to the view of "Psychology Against Religion" or "The Scripture Against Psychology."

In their book, Carter and Narramore present their model of integration of psychology and theology on the basis of the principle that they call "the unity of truth":

Christianity affirms that God is the Creator of all things and that this establishes a basic unity of all truth, whether found in scriptural revelation or scientific experimentation (Gaebelein, 1968; Holmes, 1977). Given this unity of truth, it is possible to integrate truth arrived at from different sources and with different methodologies.

This principle comes from a widely accepted theological teaching of two kinds of revelation: general (through the nature) and special (through the Bible). Since both the general and special revelations come from God, there is no conflict between them. Scientific knowledge has to do with the general revelation, and there is no contradiction between scientific facts and proper interpretation of the Bible.

Although it is a widely accepted position in Christianity, many Christians do not agree to consider psychology in the same way as any other science. In principle, they do have some reasons for this. In psychology, there are a lot of various theories, and many of them have more to do with secular anti-religion philosophies rather than with psychology itself or with psychological facts. Also, in psychology, there are many different views, and psychologists disagree with one another even on fundamental things, such as a definition of mental health. There are more different opinions and disagreements in psychology than in any other science. In this way, psychology reminds more of philosophy with its different branches, schools, and opinions than of any other science. Well, the thing however is that Christian theology does use philosophy. Since the earliest times of Christianity, theologians used various kinds of philosophy. Of course, Christian theology usually does not accept atheist philosophies (though some liberation theologians managed to use Marxist philosophy in combination with the Bible). In the same way, there is no need to accept psychological theories that contradict the Bible. However, psychology contains not only theories, but also facts, such as various experimental data. There is no essential difference between facts of psychology and facts of any other science and there is no reason to reject them.

Not only those who belong to "The Scripture Against Psychology" camp criticized Carter's and Narramore's concept of integration of psychology and theology, but even some of integrationists, such as Larry Crabb. Crabb argued that, although errors are possible both in science and in interpretation of the Bible, he considers that the interpretation of the Bible (even though it may be mistaken) should be given preeminence over scientific facts because of the authority of the Bible.

Well, Crabb is a psychologist and not a theologian. It seems that he does not realize that the process of interpretation of the Bible involves the usage of a lot of data from sciences such as linguistics and history. So, interpretation of the Bible is not completely separated from scientific facts. Also, one of the principles of interpretation of the Bible is that the proper interpretation of the Bible should not contradict scientific facts.

In the past, people believed that the Bible says that the sun goes around the earth. Not only Roman Catholics, but also Protestants, including the leaders of Reformation Martin Luther and John Calvin, condemned Copernicus because they believed that his teaching was heretic. Eventually, it became clear that Copernicus was right and Christian theologians changed their interpretation of the Bible. It is important to note here that the understanding of the verses such as Joshua 10:13; Psalm 93:1; Ecclesiastes 1:4-5, which were used against Copernicus, was changed because their previous understanding contradicted the scientific fact, not because of any other reason. The current understanding of these verses in Christianity is that these verses present phenomenological view, not scientific fact. That is, when for a person on the earth, it seems that the sun goes around the earth, and so people still say about sunrise and sunset, although both words are not scientific, but are just daily life terms. The Bible is not a scientific book, but it does not contradict the Bible.

It is important to note here that the principle that the Bible does not contradict the science means that the Bible does not contradict scientific facts, not scientific theories. For example, Darwin's theory of evolution does contradict the Bible (at least, the most accepted understanding of the Bible because there is a theory of theistic evolution that combines the theory of evolution with the Bible). However, even though Darwin's theory is very popular, it is still a theory, which has never been proven.

Well, I believe that the same principle should be applied to psychology. Of course, there is a contradiction between many psychological theories and the Bible, but I do not think that there should be any contradiction between psychological facts and proper understanding of the Bible.


Maya M said...

Under what conditions would you accept the evolution theory as proven?

Borz Lom (Löma) Nal said...

Well, the evolution theory was not the main subject of this post. I used it only as an example.

Anyway, before discussing the evolution theory, I want to make clear one point. There is a distinction between micro-evolution and macro-evolution. Micro-evolution is changes within species. Macro-evolution is changes from one species to another one.

No one argues that micro-evolution exists. There are various breeds of dogs, cats, and other domestic animals. But all the different breeds of dogs belong to the same species. There are also hybrids of a dog and a wolf. But both the dog and the wolf are subspecies of the same species - Canis lupus.

In some cases, hybrids of close species (within a family) are possible, but they are usually infertile. For example, mules and hinnies, which are hybrids of a horse (Equus ferus caballus) and a donkey (Equus asinus asinus).

Hybrids of animals that belong to different families are impossible (for example, hybrids of cats and dogs) and it is one of the arguments against the macro-evolution.

Another argument against it is that if the macro-evolution takes place (or took it in the past), there must be "transitional forms" of animals. That is, if species A evolved into species B, there must be some individuals that are between species A and B, which have some traits of species A and species B and cannot be determined as belonging to species A or species B. Such kind of individual animals have never been found. Archaeologists have found various species that do not exist anymore. But in all the cases, they could tell clearly that so-and-so individual animal belonged to species A or species B. They never said that so-and-so individual animal had some traits of species A and some traits of species B, and that they could not clearly define whether it should be considered as belonging to species A or species B. In other words, "transitional forms" of animals between two species have never been found. Every time when animals belonging to a new species appeared, they appeared in a fully formed way, not as "transitional forms."

Darwin introduced his theory over 150 years ago. And although many discoveries have been made since that time, no "transitional forms" have ever been found.

Actually, there are some facts about Darwin that most people do not know:
1. He had a degree in theology and no degree in science. In other words, he was a theologian and not a biologist.
2. He did use theology in his work the Origin of Species, though his theology was not very orthodox.
3. There is a testimony of one of his friends that he became a devotional Christian and rejected his evolution ideas later in life.
If you are interested about that, you can read my another post: Was Darwin an Atheist? I gave the links there.

Anyway, these facts make me believe that his ideas might not be understood correctly. It seems that his original ideas were theistic evolution and not atheist evolution. Theistic evolution is the theory of evolution under God's control. Although it is not what the Bible literary says, there are many Christians who believe in theistic evolution.