A Psychiatrist on C.S. Lewis' Apologetic as an Answer to Why Christianity Flouishes

Hi. I’m new here, but I follow this site and have a few thoughts about this topic that I haven’t seen brought up yet. I am an atheist-leaning agnostic, a former fundamentalist, and a psychiatrist, so I hope I can bring that perspective to this discussion.

What I suggest as part of the reason for the flourishing of Christianity is apologetics – but not the “conscious”, logical sort of apologetics debated on this site, but rather a more “implicit” sort, more emotional and rhetorical (in the sense of classical rhetoric), that otherwise uncritical prospective believers come across.

I recently wrote my deconversion story and, as part of that process, went back and looked at some of the apologetics that I used to find convincing. What an interesting exercise! It is fascinating to re-examine these things, now that I am a much more critical reader, and note the assertions and bad arguments I used to accept.

Most significant for me was CS Lewis (like many people), especially his Mere Christianity and The Problem of Pain. Here’s what I noticed:

It is quite noteworthy, I think, that Lewis does not begin with philosophical or evidential arguments about God or the Christian Bible. He instead argues from the basic human experience of guilt. He asks his readers to consider all of the times they have acted, or thought, selfishly, or done something they knew was wrong. This is a master rhetorical move, because it gets his readers into a state of affective arousal (we are social creatures, and all experience guilt), which makes them less critical. And then he pulls a bit of slight-of-hand, which it goes without saying I did not notice at the time.

(a) He defines “sin” extraordinarily broadly, encompassing anytime we have any bit of self interest in our actions (for example, if we take any pleasure in having done something good – i.e., the fact that *I* did something good – rather than pure egoless pleasure in the fact that *good was done*, that’s sin), as well as any “primitive” emotions, such as jealously (which implies selfishness) or irrational anger (“If you are angry with your brother…”). Since human beings cannot control what they feel, then obviously, by this definition, we are all sinners.

(b) He suggests that these experiences of shame and guilt are the truest and most accurate intuitions we have, so we should heed them. They imply what kind of creature we are. There is no irrational or misplaced guilt, for Lewis.

(c) He suggests that this is only the tip of the iceberg, that we are actually much, much worse than we realize. He does not even bother to argue this. He simply states, in Problem of Pain, that once we *feel* how bad we have acted, that something about us is really awful and unforgivable, then we will begin to see how pervasively wicked we really are.

Lewis then makes another Christian assertion, which is common (not unique to Lewis) but is almost never argued: that God cannot tolerate sin. Yet this seems curious and at least would seem to require an argument. Why not? Isn’t he God? Doesn’t he tolerate our “corruption” already, while we are alive? Why does he stop after 80 or so years? Lewis does make a somewhat oblique argument for it, when he suggests that “real” love, such as God has for us, “demands the perfection of the beloved.”

Love that does not wish its object to be perfect is disinterested, and therefore not real love, according to Lewis. Yet this, too, seems curious, and is inconsistent with human relationships: we wish those we care for to be the best they can be, yet accept their foibles nonetheless, indefinitely. We even laugh about them. Its what makes us interesting! But Lewis’ readers are not likely to notice this. Now that they are convinced how utterly corrupt they “really” are, being told they are loved fiercely by God (Lewis has a stirring passage describing this) is likely to engender even more guilt and a sense of undeservedness.

Taken together, if Lewis is effective (and his popularity suggests he is very effective) then it is likely because, it can be argued, he gets his readers into emotional arousal, taps into bad feelings they have about themselves, and then convinces them that they are much worse than they think and God will not tolerate even minor imperfections.

What out does a reader have at this point but accept the cure that Lewis offers?

I think some psychology can shed some light on this process. Most schools of thought within psychology, though they differ on the details, agree that self-esteem is a learned phenomenon. We are not born knowing how to feel okay about ourselves, and feeling that we have worth. But anything that is learned, can be learned well or it can be learned poorly. Self esteem can be spotty, uneven, even in healthy people, and can be lower during times of difficulty in our lives.

Moreover, modern psychology suggests that the emotional life of young children is much different than the emotional life of adults. Consider when you are angry, as an adult, at someone you love. You may be very, very angry, spittin’ angry in fact, but somewhere, deep down, you still know (and could say, if pressed), that this person is still the same person they were, the same person you love, and still has good qualities, despite your being so angry. This sense is what children probably lack. Their emotions have a global, totalizing quality. When they are mad, that anger is, for the moment, all they know and all they have ever known. It colors their whole experiential world.

The reason is that the ability to discriminate emotions from self is also a learned behavior. In older analytic terms, it is an ego function. It takes brain maturation and good parenting to learn that what you feel at the moment is not all of who you are; feelings are part of the self but not identical with it. Thus, the upshot is that, for a young child, there is no or little difference between *feeling bad* and *being bad.*

The point here is that we all carry within us a residual sense of “inner badness” that most of us eventually learn to master, but during periods of stress and emotional upheaval, can be reactivated. Christianity has a keen sense for human frailty, and well-honed methods for rooting out any sense of imperfection we already harbor.

Lewis taps into these feelings. This sense of inner badness and (potentially) low self-esteem is ubiquitous in our development and so Lewis, in activating these feelings, presents what is essentially an emotional argument that serves as both an amplification of bad feelings, low self worth, and a solution to them.

And if we feel overwhelmingly that we are bad, worthless, and unable to help or improve ourselves, well then what option to de have except to accept the “rescue” of a larger-than-life figure such as Jesus?

My proposed solution to this focuses much more on emotional health than on the more cognitive arguments that many atheists gravitate toward. We should be teaching our children – perhaps in schools? – how to deal with their emotions. How do you recognize when you are upset, or hurting? How do you seek support when you need it? How do you ask for and get what you need from others, effectively? How do you make, and keep, friends? How do you make yourself feel good about yourself? What do you do when you get mad, or sad, or lonely, or upset? How do you “regulate” emotions, as psychotherapists say? These are skills that many of us learn, imperfectly, as part of growing up, from watching others and trial-and-error, but they can also be taught explicitly. I think we can make people much more resistant to Christianity or any other form of ideological indoctrination, not only by making them more adept at critical thinking, but more adept at managing their emotional lives. We can impede Christianity by getting people to need it less.

So, my basic idea is this: critical thinking is extremely important. But it goes out the window when emotional needs are not being met. We need to teach people how to take care of themselves emotionally. Psychotherapists know how to do this. I’m not saying everyone needs therapy; these are skills that could be taught in a classroom.

I apologize for the length of this post, but this material is hard to summarize quickly.

I’m interested in hearing others thoughts!

Posted from Richard M

23 comments:

B H said...

Thanks for reposting this, John. I missed it the first time around.

Good work, Richard.

Evie said...

Richard,
Thanks for a very good post. There has been some discussion lately (either here or at deconversion.com) about the need for atheists to appeal a bit more to peoples' emotions. I think most of the commenters are concerned that the "emotional" appeals be done with integrity and that atheists don't reach into the same manipulative bag of tricks that ensnared many of us in the past.

Perhaps this post can be the starting point for a discussion of how atheists can emphasize the emotional, spiritual and psychological well-being that one finds when one sheds the baggage of religious guilt. I do not intend to disparage the rational basis for atheism in any way. If I've been reading posts on this blog and elsewhere correctly, however, I believe that most atheistic and agnostic participants find that their rational, emotional, psychological, etc., needs are all met much more satisfactorily by agnosticism or atheism than they were by religiosity. Perhaps we need to articulate the totality of experience more effectively than we have done in the past.

Eric D said...

Awesome article. This basically describes what convinced me to dedicate my life to Christianity - it was that inner guilt and lack of self-worth (made stronger, I think, but the fact that my father rarely praised me for my actions), combined with a sort of perfectionism that made me want to correct myself. I thought Christianity would help me do that - but the problem wasn't that I needed correcting, it was that I needed to see that I was already okay. And it took till I became an atheist for me to finally feel that way.

Shygetz said...

Well done, Richard. I've been hoping we would get someone with your perspective and expertise on board for a while, and I am very impressed with your writing thus far.

Thanks!

Brother Crow said...

Richard, thanks for a great post. I am a bit of an agitator, and am perceived as being harsh and arrogant and vulgar (all admirable qualities, according to Ezra Pound). Anywho, I have taken this personality affect in order to "shake the cage" of christians...because I believe this issue of emotional manipulation (and yes, I do believe it is manipulation) is at the heart of christian religion. Formerly, as a christian, I was mentored in the Wesleyan tradition, which honored reason, but subordinated it to "experience" - the "heart strangely warmed." And it all hinged on the subjective experience of god's love being experienced by a guilty sinner.

As brother crow, I like to stir things up a bit, cause people to be angry, come across as harsh...my choice I guess and probably a flawed strategy. However, nothing reveals the primitive heart of humanity more than anger, and often anger leads to the epiphany of deconversion (or at least begins a process in that direction).

As I have observed on this site and in over 25 years of ministry before, christians are willing to reject reason for emotion every time. A commenter on this site (several posts ago) said "prayer of salvation trumps all." He was referring to the subjective experience which has an emotional center. Until we atheists/agnostics grapple with the emotional power of christianity, we will never get far in debunking...or understanding why religion flourishes.

Thanks for putting this back on the table. Your exegesis of Lewis was superb.

Richard M said...

Thanks to everyone for the kind words so far. I have felt, ever since my deconversion, that the emotional needs of deconverts and prospective deconverts are an underrecognized issue. Perhaps I am more in tune with that sort of thing, given my profession, but it is also at least partly because that was the way it was with me, during the long course of my deconversion. For a very long time (years) it was the emotional issues I had to lay to rest, first and foremost, before I was able to deconvert. In other words, it was not for a long time any intellectual argument that convinced me Christianity was false, it was a gradual, dawning realization that it was unhealthy.

Friedrich Nietzsche was very helpful to me in that process, because he argued precisely that: Christianity is unhealthy. He took it for granted, and not in need of arguing, that it was false. But he also put forward the provocative thesis that sometimes, at least, it matters more that an idea be healthy than that it be true. The only thing that mattered for him was an ideas *value for life*. That may be overstatement (he was given to hyperbole) but it did provide me with as much rationale as I needed at the time. He taught me that it was okay to ask whether what I believed was *working*, whether it was enhancing my life, and not just whether it was true (which I didnt question anyway). This slowly-emerging Nietzschean sense that the Calvinism I had absorbed was, in fact, unhealthy is what convinced me to leave it. The emphasis on sin, depravity, and our helplessness worked rather too well in me. I became to depressed and desparate I was willing to accept help wherever I could get it, even the godless psychiatrist I wound up seeing. Over time I came to develop self-esteem in other ways and found that, well, after a while, I just didnt *need* God all that much. I could handle my life -- not perfect but well enough-- on my own. The counterapologetic arguments regarding evidential claims, inerrancy, etc, came much later.

What I take away from this is that, like everything, people believe Christian myths *for a reason*. To successfully debunk, I think, means we must understand that reason, internally, so to speak. We need to understand what Christianity *means* to Christians and only then are we in a position to try to meet those needs for Christians in other, healthier ways. I do agree with Evie who suggested that our emotional needs can be well met within atheism and agnosticism -- *but* the problem is that Christians dont believe that. When Christians say that life without Jesus is empty and meaningless, this may be annoying but I do not think it is just a scare tactic. I think they really feel this way. I know I did. I had to find *another* way that my life could have meaning, *another* way to understand painful emotions (rather than that they were indicative of sin, as Lewis taught me) before I could leave it, and that was not easy.

So, part of our task, I think, is to deal with the concerns people have. Someone who feels content in their belief may be beyond our reach, for the moment, and it may be that all we can do is plant seeds of doubt. But when folks come to us with full-grown doubts, we need to gently guide them in their cognitive questions, sure, but we also need to address the emotional fears they have, and that, I think, is actually harder. Difficult emotions are, well, difficult, and Christianity serves a need in that person. We need to help them meet that need in other ways.

One of my favorite quips comes from the Talmud : "Who is the wise man? He who learns from everyone." I propose we learn from Lewis; there is a reason he is popular. (I can think of no better parting gift I could give Lewis than to learn from his methods in order to mitigate the damages he does....). Lewis meets people where they are, and I offer that our goals would be well-served if we did the same.

Richard M

Lee Randolph said...

Nice Job Richard.
I have been a fan of psychology since I was a teenager, but my circumstances led me into a different career. As you can see though, it doesn't stop me from basing arguments on it. I hope you will contribute more, and if I say something stupid regarding your field, please be gentle!

Lee Randolph said...

one more thing, while I wholeheartedly agree that we need more emotional training and appeals, I personally don't really know how to articulate something like that. But I think I'll accept it as a challenge, and try to figure it out. I think I can write an article on how I cope with uncertainty or loss.

Andrew said...

Well, as I pointed out the first time, this is an example of the abuse of psychiatry.

It reminds me of how the Dialectical Materialists used it to label believers and dissidents as mental cases.

And we are seeing more and more of this; Dawkins of course calling Christians Delusional, Dennet calling them child abusers, Harris telling us people can be killed for their BELIEFS is their BELIEFS are dangerous enough, (P 53 of TEOF) and more recently the "Rational" Responders working to label theism a mental disorder in the DSM.

Don't try to spin it, my grandparents excaped from a country run by the Dialectical Materialists...no reason it can't happen here.

"New" Atheism! Sure.

Shygetz said...

It reminds me of how the Dialectical Materialists used it to label believers and dissidents as mental cases...Don't try to spin it, my grandparents excaped from a country run by the Dialectical Materialists...no reason it can't happen here.


Oh FSM, it's the old "Communists were atheists, so atheism is evil!" argument. Communists tried to snuff most religion because it competes with the state for the loyalty of the subject, and can serve as the nucleus of revolt.

Well, as I pointed out the first time, this is an example of the abuse of psychiatry.

Why? Because he uses it to describe the emotional appeal of an irrational position? You theists use psychological prinicples all the time in winning and keeping converts, but now you whine because people are exposing your use of those principles to manipulate? Get over it.

And we are seeing more and more of this; Dawkins of course calling Christians Delusional, Dennet calling them child abusers, Harris telling us people can be killed for their BELIEFS is their BELIEFS are dangerous enough, (P 53 of TEOF) and more recently the "Rational" Responders working to label theism a mental disorder in the DSM.

Christians are delusional--they believe in something that is unjustified rationally. You think the fact that they think God talks to them rather than Napoleon exempts them from being delusional? Hardly! We at least know Napoleon is real. And threatening to lock your children in the closet for a day if they are bad is child abuse--but some Christians threaten their child with eternal torture if they are bad! You think the fact that they attribute the punisher to a fictional deity makes it any better?

Spirula said...

it was not for a long time any intellectual argument that convinced me Christianity was false, it was a gradual, dawning realization that it was unhealthy.

Thank you Richard. This was how it happened for me as well. I came from a very strict, conservative Christian minister's family. One, I should add, that was not very emotionally supportive. Guilt and fear were a major part of my childhood (rules, rules, rules). 30 years after leaving it and I still see it's effects in my self-esteem occasionally. It takes some effort to avoid being bitter.

Guilt and fear. Two powerful tools for social control. Conservative Christianity thourghly exploits them like any authoritarian system would.

Goldstein said...

But the old totalitarian states DID use "mental disorder" as a reason for locking up opponents, not just believers but dissedents as well, as already pointed out.

I know of know mainstream psychiatrist who labels religious belief delusional, per se.

This is just another example of atheist dishonesty.

Shygetz said...

But the old totalitarian states DID use "mental disorder" as a reason for locking up opponents, not just believers but dissedents as well, as already pointed out.

Yes, they did use that label. They also labeled people who denied Lysenkoism as defenders of "bourgeois pseudoscience". Does that mean that they defended pseudoscience? No, of course not; it means that it was a convenient label to give dissidents.

I'll say it again; Communism was anti-religion for the same reason they were anti-free press--it served as a method for the control of the political and social atmosphere that was necessary to maintain the totalitarian state. Look at any totalitarian state and you will find repression of religious freedom for the same kinds of reasons. Yet you pretend that it is a unique fault of atheism.

I know of know mainstream psychiatrist who labels religious belief delusional, per se.

"Labels" or "diagnoses"? Because there is a difference. Psychiatrists are allowed to have personal opinions, you know. If you know of one who diagnoses mainstream religious views as delusional behavior, then I suggest you report this person for operating outside of accepted best practices.

This is just another example of atheist dishonesty.

I will leave the determination of who is being dishonest to the reader.

sacred slut said...

Fascinating analysis. This explains a lot about Christianity to me. Although I was a theist, I never understood Christianity's appeal and I have never understood how Lewis's arguments were compelling. My religious beliefs did not include any of this guilt component, so your post fills in a big missing piece for me in understanding Christians.

Shygetz said...

But the old totalitarian states DID use "mental disorder" as a reason for locking up opponents, not just believers but dissedents as well, as already pointed out.

Yes, they did use that label. They also labeled people who denied Lysenkoism as defenders of "bourgeois pseudoscience". Does that mean that they defended pseudoscience? No, of course not; it means that it was a convenient label to give dissidents.

I'll say it again; Communism was anti-religion for the same reason they were anti-free press--it served as a method for the control of the political and social atmosphere that was necessary to maintain the totalitarian state. Look at any totalitarian state and you will find repression of religious freedom for the same kinds of reasons. Yet you pretend that it is a unique fault of atheism.

I know of know mainstream psychiatrist who labels religious belief delusional, per se.

"Labels" or "diagnoses"? Because there is a difference. Psychiatrists are allowed to have personal opinions, you know. If you know of one who diagnoses mainstream religious views as delusional behavior, then I suggest you report this person for operating outside of accepted best practices.

This is just another example of atheist dishonesty.

I will leave the determination of who is being dishonest to the reader.

B H said...

Thanks to everyone for the kind words so far. I have felt, ever since my deconversion, that the emotional needs of deconverts and prospective deconverts are an underrecognized issue. Perhaps I am more in tune with that sort of thing, given my profession, but it is also at least partly because that was the way it was with me, during the long course of my deconversion.

I think you're right to bring it up. I've heard this a lot from people who are part of both communities, but coming out as an atheist is just as tough emotionally as coming out as gay. That group has many large and small community and national organizations to go to for counseling, friendship, etc, but until recently, religious skeptics have been overlooking that need.

Valerie Tarico said...

There is so much to say on this topic that I don't know where to begin or which direction to head :).

Once you glimpse the manipulations, it's impossible not to see them ever after. I spent part of last weekend among Hindus who were describing some of the cruder manipulation going on among poor Indian villagers: a well dug by missionaries that can only be used by converts; Hindu children sent to a free Christian school where the bus driver disconnects two wires so the bus won't start and then says "pray to Shiva", then covertly reconnects them and says now lets try praying to Jesus; medical care that comes with Christian tracts stigmatizing the Hindu god-manifestations as demons and Hindus as satan worshipers. . .

But I think that at some level this is the same thing going on here -- Christianity seeks to touch and bind each of us where we are hungry and hurting and vulnerable. And if it requires deeping a wound in order to deepen the need for a solution, well it's all in the service of a higher good.

After hearing me quote from one of our fabulously successful fundamentalist mega-churches, Mars Hill, which says that we humans are all "utterly depraved," one women came up to me, appalled. "When Hindu babies are born," she said, "we call a priest who whispers in the child's ear, 'You are divine, you are divine'."

Imagine being taught from birth that you bear a spark of the power and beauty that forms the universe, having parents who nurture a sense of participation in the divine rather than nurturing your sense of a wretched and utter depravity, which makes you utterly dependent on the perfect human sacrifice.

Richard M said...

"Imagine being taught from birth that you bear a spark of the power and beauty that forms the universe, having parents who nurture a sense of participation in the divine rather than nurturing your sense of a wretched and utter depravity, which makes you utterly dependent on the perfect human sacrifice."

Amen, amen, and again amen. This is the major thrust of my argument: conservative Christiaintiy preys on developmental immaturity and emotional vulnerability, and their tactics are often under the radar. The goal of such apologetic maneuvering is to convince the reader, not only that he is just as bad as he fears he might be, but that he is *helpless*. Their are few emotions as difficult for human beings to handle as helplessness. If you are helpless, why then clearly, you must be rescued.

The question that has driven me, all these years, that ultimately led me to re-read Lewis, and write my story, was: "what the hell was I thinking??" It has bothered me immensely that I accepted so much toxic stuff, especially the doctrine of hell, and my whole goal has been to understand why. The answer, for me at least, was that Christianity addressed the pain that existed in my life. What it taught me was awful -- misery is the result of sin, therefore my unhappiness was my fault -- there was nothing and no one else in my life that even tried to address it. Christianity seemed to give me a way out -- it just didnt work.

Good parenting, I believe, will go a long way towards innoculating children against the draw of fundamentalism. Good parenting by healthy, emotionally aware parents, even more so. We need to be teaching our kids, as Valerie put so beautifully, their inexpressible worth as human beings, and their power to shape the world. We need to relish in their questions and celebrate their successes. We should encourage exploration of the world and instill a basic sense of efficacy, in their ability to direct their lives. We need to teach them how to grieve, how to tolerate intimacy as well as loneliness, and model for them a universal human ethicality.

I firmly feel that children who a confident of their value, who feel a sense of mastery, who know how to seek support when they need it, who are emapthic and yet clear-headed critical thinkers will never fall victim to fundamentalist rhetorical devices such as Lewis offers.

Richard M said...

On another note, to the poster who suggested what I wrote represented an abuse of psychiatry, let me offer a brief response:

First, nowhere did I say Christians are "delusional". Christians are not delusional, clincially, because (a) theism is a cultural norm, and it would broaden the meaning of "delusionality" to the point of uselessness to encompass 250 million+ individuals and (b) it would be improper to claim closure on the debate between theism and atheism; many intelligent and well-informed people are theists. I disagree with them, but that doesnt mean the argument is somehow settled.

Secondly, its a bit hyperbolic to equate the use of psychological tools to analyse rhetorical literature with the actions of an oppressive Marxist state. No one is proposing we shoot anyone up with haldol for being a Christian. I mean, Christians outnumber psychiatrists, what, 10000:1? Doesnt current and past history suggest that the bigger danger is rather the opposite, i.e., that Christians are the ones who are in danger of abusing power to silence dissent?

Finally, beware the reason/emotion dichotomy. Half the point of what I was arguing was that emotional motivations play into our deepest beliefs -- as well they should; we are humans, not Vulcans -- but that does not mean they are determinative. In other words, the fact that we have emotional motivations to believe something does not mean there cannot also be other reasons. The trick is to know the difference, and be honest about it. I have a high tolerance for all kinds of kooky beliefs, because I think I know what beliefs mean for people. So, if believe Christianity because the reasons convinced you, show us the reasons! If you believe because you feel you *need* to, then I, for one, am actually okay with that - just be willing to admit it.

In the end, this may come down to a basic disagreement about values, with conservative Christians on the one hand and everyone else (liberal Christians, Jews, atheists, etc) on the other: is it good and proper to teach people that they are miserable, corrupt, perverted, selfish, weak, undeserving wretches? Or should they be taught that they are -- let me borrow some religious imagery we've been using-- a Spark of the Divine?

gregs said...

I agree with Richard's observations that to many people the draw of Christianity is largely emotional, and its also what keeps many of them from leaving it or even seriously questioning it. I was for me. Along these lines, I want to mention another emotion besides guilt, which I think often comes into play for many Christians, including myself, namely, fear. In fact, I think fear can be an even more powerful emotion and motivator than guilt. I feared going to Hell. I feared displeasing God. I feared "losing my salvation." I feared not being a good witness. Etc. Probably the biggest was the fear of Hell. I was never comfortable with the idea of Hell and deep down never understood how a loving God could send anyone to eternal torment no matter what they did or believed.

But I pushed these questions aside and essentially forced myself to "believe" in God and Jesus anyway, largely out of fear.

But the nagging doubts would not go away. Eventually my mind won out over my emotions, and I realized that no amount of rationalization could explain how Hell, Satan, or things like mass murder (many times condoned in the old Testament) is compatible with a loving God. So my faith died. But it died a slow death, as guilt and fear kept trying to keep irrational beliefs alive.

I believe that if you hooked most Christians up to a poylgraph test and asked them if deep down, one of the main reasons they believed in God was out of fear of going to hell, they themselves might be surprised at the result. I think that many of those trying to justify Hell, Satan, Pain, etc. would fail if you asked them during such a test "Deep down, do you really think such things are compatible with a loving God?" Also working to keep many Christians from questioning their faith is ignorance of what is actually in the Old Testament.
Many probably don't even know about some of the atrocities described there and attributed to God. Most church leaders do a good job or neglecting and avoiding them. If on the same polygraph you asked them "If someone ordered the murder of innocent children and bables, would you consider them good or evil?" almost all would say "evil." Then they could be asked, "Would God ever do or encourage such a thing?" Most would undoubtedly say "no." Then you could show them the many Old Testament verses to the contrary. This might be a way of opening their eyes, and fighting fire with fire so to speak on the emotional side of the issue. It might be seen as a little harsh by some, but I don't think its foul play--its simply a way of driving home a point in a way that intellectual arguments alone seldom do.

gregs said...

Here's an interesting site that touches on the emotional aspects of Chrisianity and the concept of hell as a place of eternal torment. The author argues (as do others) that this picture of Hell is not even Biblical, but came from Pagan influences and the desire to control men through the fear of punishment in the afterlife.

http://www.what-the-hell-is-hell.com/HellSiteIntro.htm

Marlene Winell said...

Hello,
I've been meaning to respond to this post for a while, after John invited me, perhaps because of my work in helping people recover from fundamentalism and my self-help book about that.
In my opinion, the key to understanding religion and fundamentalism in particular is psychological, not just intellectual. As far as being a part of an organized religion it is also contextual - the family and social pressures are tremendous. On the individual level, I explain in my book how the attractions are many - the religion gives pseudo solutions to many basic existential dilemmas. Core human needs can seem to be satisfied - emotional, social, and intellectual - and the person can in effect stagnate in their development. An authoritarian religion takes away your personal resonsibility so when you leave the faith, you can easily feel like a small child, because you are indeed immature - you haven't grappled with the tough issues everybody has to grapple with. This is quite frightening. People also look back with some embarrassment and sometimes horror about being involved. This is why I spent a long chapter detailing the psychological manipulations that go on. If you understand a bit better, and you can name things for what they are, you can have some compassion for yourself and do the healing work more easily. In brief, I've written about:

Recognizing Manipulations: Fear Manipulations • Guilt Manipulations • Mystical Manipulations • Denigration of Self • Discrediting the World • Group Pressure • The Power of Authority • Thought Control • Closed System of Logic.

I don't mean this blog to be an shameless promotion for my book. However, I did spend four years interviewing clients and others telling me their stories, as well as researching the issues and reflecting on my own experience growing up as a missionary kid and then being a zealous born-again in the hey-day of the Jesus movement. As a psychologist, I wanted to bring some insight into the more emotional dynamics involved and then focus on steps to recovery.
The book deals with both intellectual and emotional components of healing and growth - they go hand in hand. It is a great help to get more information - about the history of the church, the real story of the Bible, alternative worldviews, and especially the origins of the most toxic teachings - hellfire, original sin, the atonement, the rapture, and "last days." I have clients who have shed these beliefs decades ago who can still get very scared - "what if it's true?" This is because it's quite possible to have a huge disconnect between your intellect and your gut. And this is the part people find most mysterious and frustrating in their healing. Without going into it in great detail, I can say that concepts taught to you at a young age can be accepted as true and lodge deep in your consciousness because a small child's brain is physically incapable of the cognitive skill of critical thinking. When as a teenager, your brain is finished developing, it's too late to undo the ideas in a simple way. That's why this teaching is very clearly child abuse. It's also possible to acquire toxic ideas in a powerful way when you are older but vulnerable and have your defenses down.
I'm glad to see all the writing of late explaining the origins of religious belief. I hope that more is coming on the dynamics of recovery because it is more than cognitive. My work is all about helping people reconnect parts of themselves and access some innate abilities. I hope my workshops and my book, "Leaving the Fold: A Guide for Former Fundamentalists," are a contribution. I also hope other helping professionals will join me in making this work more of a priority. I'd like to hear from you if you have such a speciality in your practice (not deprogramming from cults) and would like to contribute to the resources listed on the new website, www.recoveryfromreligion.org

There is much more to say about all of this, but I won't write a book here since I've already done that :-) But I'd be glad to get your feedback, and you are welcome to our "Release and Reclaim" retreat Nov. 16-18 in California.

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