why Christians can’t trust psychology

At PCC, one of the classes I had to take was “Educational Psychology,” and I was initially puzzled that PCC had a class like that, let alone required every education major to take it. The world I grew up in has a deep, deep distrust of psychology– I can’t even number the times I heard it referred to as as a pseudoscience, like there’s no more truth in psychology than there is in phrenology. There’s an entire cottage industry inside conservative Christianity for “biblical” or “nouthetic” counseling as an alternative to secular therapy methods, which I strongly recommend everyone avoid.

When I got into the class, though, the confusion evaporated. The only “textbook” we were going to read for the class was called Why Christians Can’t Trust Psychology, and the class only covered two topics: why every psychological theory about education is wrong, and how to emotionally abuse children in a classroom setting (which they called “classroom discipline”). Unfortunately, it was a class I did extremely well in.

I’ve spent a lot of time on this blog talking about Christian culture’s aversion to psychology– there’s a fivepart series on “biblical counseling” and an entire review series on Tim LaHaye’s How to Win Over Depression. Most of that time has been spent trying to show how that point of view is at odds with the evidence: therapy is helpful and can be an incredibly healing experience, while the “methods” that nouthetic “counselors” pursue have been demonstrated to merely re-traumatize victims and cause even more harm.

However, many Christians are willing to speak at length about why they don’t trust psychology, and most of it revolves around how they think it’s impossible to treat spiritual problems — because all mental health issues are of course really spiritual problems– without recognizing the Truth. Psychology, they say, tries to tell us that we’re fine and good and we just need to talk things out, while the Truth of the matter is that we’re not fine and we’re most definitely not good and we need repentance, not therapy.

Interestingly, I’ve never really addressed this claim. I’ve largely ignored it, because I was trying to show that Christians can benefit from therapy, and that the nouthetic approach to “counseling” is damaging and dangerous. However, the more I learn about psychology and therapy, the more I realize that these Christians are right to identify psychology as a threat to their faith system. Modern psychology and therapeutic techniques are fundamentally at odds with evangelical and fundamentalist theology.

I’m hardly the first person to notice this. Most of the Christians I knew growing up have been shouting about this as long as I’ve been alive or could remember. I just didn’t really see it the way they did. How could something capable of bringing healing and peace– backed up by rigorous study– be diametrically opposed to a theological system? All therapists are doing is helping us identify and respond to our emotions in a way that doesn’t cause more harm, and psychiatrists are just trying to find chemical imbalances so we can fix them. How is any of that opposed to Christianity?

And then I started looking into things like cognitive behavioral therapy, EMDR, and encountered a concept known as negative and positive cognitions (link opens a PDF). As you can see, essentially every single “negative cognition”– the side of the chart that CBT/EMDR therapy methods are attempting to counteract with a “positive cognition”– is not just openly acknowledged by conservative Christianity but actively taught as essential doctrine. Evangelicalism is trying to get everyone to believe in the “negative cognition” side of the chart, while modern therapy wants the opposite.

I am a bad person. Mark 10:18, “no one is good.”
I am shameful. Isiah 64:6, we are “filthy rags” (or used feminine pads, עִדָּה means “menstruation“)
I deserve only bad things. … basically every verse interpreted as “you deserve hell’s damnation.”
My judgement cannot be trusted. Jeremiah 17:9, our heart is “deceitful” and “desperately wicked.”
I am not in control. I Chronicles 29:11-12, God is the “ruler of all things.”
I have to be perfect. Matthew 5:48,” be perfect as God is perfect.”
I am permanently damaged. Ephesians 2:1-3, we are “dead in our sin,” and wrathful “by nature.”
I am in danger. Hebrews 9:27, we are “appointed to die” and then face “judgement.”

All of the others from the chart are echoes of these, in my opinion, and I’m sure we could all sit down and think of many more verses that are used to badger us into believing that we are disgusting worms condemned by a mighty god to eternal torment. These are ideas identified by modern psychology as being harmful to our mental and emotional health, and should be overcome– and I agree. These are also just some of the theological foundations of the Christian evangelical and fundamentalist religion. The Sovereignty of God, Original Sin, and Eternal Conscious Torment … you can’t get any deeper into the bedrock of that theological system. Contradicting these also means that you’re contradicting another foundational idea: the inerrancy and inspiration of Scripture.

I didn’t see this before. To me, therapy became just a helpful tool and equally as routine and normal as getting my blood pressure checked. I left behind fundamentalist teachings about psychology long before I started looking for secular therapy, so I didn’t realize how deeply it contradicted the faith system of my childhood. And because I started interacting with more “normal” evangelical Christians who also thought therapy was a good idea and “biblical counseling” is a load of poppycock, it didn’t really occur to me to examine how the fundamental assumptions of each might gainsay each other.

I take all of this as just another indication that American Christian evangelicalism and fundamentalism are unhealthy to their core. They do not promote mental, emotional, or spiritual well-being and instead lead to lifelong damage. A few years ago I adopted what I think was Jesus’ hermenuetic: a good tree cannot bear bad fruit. If an interpretation or application of Scripture leads to harming myself or others, it is bearing bad fruit and should not be considered a credible interpretation. Doctrines like eternal torment and original sin cause harm; therefore, they should be rejected. I will prefer readings and interpretations that prioritize love and justice–not empty, meaningless wrath and shame.

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  • Phil Ledgerwood

    Very glad to see this article.

    When I first started into recovery, I was making notes in the margins of a very helpful book talking about shame, and I wrote “Calvinism?!” in the margins. It was a very formative tradition for me, sitting on top of a bedrock of fundamentalist Baptist. It felt very furtive and rebellious, and but also the beginning of some things starting to crack, as I began to ponder whether or not the theology I had worked so hard to implant in the marrow of my bones had actually contributed to my struggles.

    I think it has, and it’s been interesting to note that, as I have made progress in recovery, my theology has also been shifting. I don’t know that one is necessarily always the lead of the other, but they are definitely in relationship.

    For me, I have found over the past few years that the more I have suspended my theological framework and read the biblical texts as artifacts of their own world and tried to understand them on the terms of the world that produced them, it has not only made more sense (to me) of much of the Bible, but also illustrated just how artificial the theological cage was to begin with.

    But this is a hard rut to get out of, and it may regrettably take a crisis to do it for a lot of people. Part of what keeps the traditional evangelical package going is the deep belief that “what the Bible says” and “how I’ve learned to read the Bible” are exactly the same thing, everywhere, all the time. It makes it hard to have room for other thoughts to get in.

    • Timothy Swanson

      “Part of what keeps the traditional evangelical package going is the deep
      belief that “what the Bible says” and “how I’ve learned to read the
      Bible” are exactly the same thing, everywhere, all the time.”

      That’s a great observation.

      Interesting that many of these things Evangelicals are so sure are the only possible meaning of a text often turn out to be interpretations that didn’t arise until the 1700s or 1800s.

      • Tim

        So true.

  • ellen

    I love this post, and I can relate to it so much. I had depression as a young adult which led me to both evangelical Christianity and therapy. My experiences also led me to graduate school and a career as a therapist. I could seriously go on and on about my experiences–how evangelicalism provided both immense comfort and exacerbated my suffering, how concepts I learned changed my faith, and how my path to healing stress related illnesses led me to stop attending church. For me personally, I came to a crossroad where I had to choose between being a healthy person and being a part of a church community. I chose health, and I wish I had done so earlier.

    • Do you still consider yourself a Christian?

      • ellen

        I’m honestly not sure what to consider myself.
        I tried to be an atheist for a while but it didn’t work for me because spirituality is too ingrained in me. I know that the communities I was a part of in the past would not consider me a Christian (some might think of me as a prodigal) because I no longer believe in things like hell, penal substitution, etc. I try to hold my beliefs very lightly and follow good fruit and love, like this post describes. The crazy thing is I still feel what I would consider God’s presence and guidance regularly and more clearly than ever. I think there are two big reasons for this–codependent church dynamics got in the way of me listening to that still small voice, and listening to and following it made it grow stronger and clearer.

        • Kaci

          You totally don’t have to be Christian or belong to a church if it doesn’t work for you, but if it is something you want, there are Christian communities where there are other interpretations of the crucifixion besides penal substitution and where there are people who don’t believe hell exists at all or who don’t believe that God condemns people as punishment.

          • ellen

            Thank you, you are right about that. Maybe someday it’ll be right for me, but it’s encouraging to know there are church communities like that.

        • Gulo

          Have you tried being a non-religious deist/theist? A non-religious taoist? A non-religious taoist deist/theist?

          I believe that SOMETHING created the universe. I believe that SOMETHING created life. I don’t presume to know or fully comprehend exactly what that SOMETHING is, but I am thankful for it.

          I don’t believe religions, religious leaders, or religious texts without credible evidence. I try, instead, to just keep an open mind.

    • Paige

      I’d be curious to hear what resources you’d recommend for dealing with stress related illness.

      • ellen

        This is a little tough to answer because everyone is so different, and I want to premise this by saying I’ll list things that have been helpful to me at some point. I understand that I’m lucky that I had the kind of illnesses that responded to lifestyle changes and that I am fortunate to have access to healthcare choices.

        For me, many of my illnesses were connected to emotional trauma from childhood. This is not the case for everyone but for me it was. This is a good talk that explains this connection. Also, I don’t believe that treating past trauma will automatically resolve all health conditions, but for me it helped a ton.

        I did EMDR with a therapist for a long time and continue to work closely with a naturopathic doctor. My doctor reviewed my entire life pretty much and recommended lifestyle changes and prescribed homeopathic remedies. I know homeopathy is controversial, but for me it addressed emotional and physical symptoms holistically. It actually released a lot of repressed anger which was causing me stress and poor boundaries.

        Other less expensive tools I’ve utilized are practicing mindfulness and yoga. Simple deep breathing for at least ten minutes a day literally changed my life. Yoga was also deeply transformative for me and has been researched for it’s effect on various conditions. Mindfulness/yoga also help cope with conditions and situations that do not change.

        I’ll also list some books and researchers that have helped me. The last thing I would add about my own journey is that making the effort to listen and trust that my emotions and intuition give me important information was huge.

        Some books/researchers that I have found helpful:
        Daniel Siegel’s Mindsight
        Peter Levine Waking the Tiger
        Bessel Van Der Kolk The Body Keeps the Score
        Robert Sapolsky Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers
        Gabor Mate (I have only heard him interviewed but he fascinates me. His book When the Body Says No is on my list of books to read)

      • ellen

        Also one of my friends recently recommended the book Childhood Disrupted by Donna Jackson Nakazawa. I haven’t read it yet but she says it’s better than the Sapolsky and Van der Kolk books.

  • Timothy Swanson

    Thanks for this. I very much agree. Yet another area in which (to borrow from Peter Enns), perceived theological needs trump reality.

  • Kathleen Margaret Schwab

    This approach of evaluating things on whether they produce good or bad things is so important in life – and you are so right, evangelicals have such a problem with this. They want to hold onto “God’s word” or “what the bible says” no matter what. Communicating to these people that it is their interpretation they are stuck on, not an immutable truth, is nearly impossible.

    Another thing that occurs to me is that as we move through life we naturally get better and better at evaluating things this way, according to the outcome. The more experiences we rack up, the better we are at knowing how one thing leads to another. And conservative evangelicalism fights this natural effect of experience by discouraging people from using their experience – i can’t count the times I was told in church not to rely on my own experience, but on the word of God. In a number of ways, and this is one, evangelicalism encourages people not to grow up.

    • Tim

      Interestingly, I have also seen this “evaluation” thing used in positive ways; Believing positive things God says about your identity rather than your own (or others) negative evaluations. As you have pointed out though, it usually goes the other way, and tends to have negative effects as a result.

  • J. Rachel

    Thought this was really interesting! Have witnessed and been harmed by some evangelicals’ aversion to most psychology.

    Personal experience with fundamentalist leaning evangelicals has been that they believe (or claim to believe) that their interpretations of Scripture are loving and just (and therefore right) but that a person needs to take it on faith that this is the case because it might not be obvious in this lifetime or without faith. (In fact, they seem obsessed with believing the right things). The belief that their beliefs are loving and just is then used to justify whatever they think is appropriate…with a variation on, I’m doing this for the betterment of humanity, or as they would put it, to save or purify human souls (Alice Miller-and-Stanley Milgram-style). Maybe their conscience or empathy or some other internal doubts should kick in, but maybe some of them are overriding it? At this point, I have no reason to think that we are not all susceptible to this kind of thought process, evangelical or not. I find that thought very discouraging, though.

  • Kaci

    This is really interesting to me. I’ve benefited from therapy and continue to benefit from psychiatric meds, and I’m also a fairly orthodox Episcopalian who believes in at least some version of original sin, though it’s quite possible I don’t use the term the same way the fundamentalist evangelical community does.

    Disclaimer: I’m going to go a bit into my interpretations here, but I in no way want to claim that these are the only valid/workable/meaningful interpretations; it’s just my example of how I make these pieces work. I see original sin in my own life as reflecting the fact that I can’t just will myself into being the kind of person I think I ought to be. It feels contradictory to me, because any given thing that I feel I ought to do/refrain from doing is something that’s physically possible for me, but I don’t consistently do so and on some level it seems like I can’t. The concept of original sin seems to me to capture that experience. It also seems to capture the idea of living in a society that’s done enough evil that there are sometimes no good choices, or the things that seem like good choices require too much breaking with society to feel viable. I didn’t set the world up this way, but I have to live in it and it seems to put restraints on my ability to be a good person.

    • Yes, that is a very different understanding of Original Sin than what you’ll be getting out of conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists. They’re going to insist that you are an abased worm, a wretch, filthy, disgusting, wholly without worth or merit and — depending on how Calvinist they are– totally and utterly incapable of doing anything good apart from God. This condemns you to burn for all eternity, even though there’s literally nothing you could have done to prevent it, since you’re born into it.

      That’s very different from “I was born into a world that has structural oppressions built into it.”

      • Kaci

        Please stop me if this is a derail. I don’t have many places to discuss theology and might get overenthusiastic.

        It’s really fascinating to me the way different groups use the same words/phrases and end up with totally different meanings. The idea that I can do no good apart from God is definitely part of my personal theology, but it doesn’t come with the “therefore I am innately horrible” bits. It’s closer to saying that I can’t survive without air: the idea that God holds the universe in being and is the source of all goodness. So instead of having the belief that if someone doesn’t believe in/relate to God, or doesn’t do so in the way that I think is right, they’re incapable of doing good, I hold the belief that if goodness is present then God is also present.

        • Whereas I fall in a little different place (illustrating your point about different conclusions, same words). I believe like you do, that “I can’t survive without air”, and the idea that God is the source of all goodness. But I also believe that we are all God’s children, separated from Him by sin, but that the knowledge of His goodness and of His original design is embedded deep inside each one of us, and that knowledge is what causes all of us to cry out for justice, for beauty, for goodness, and for, ultimately, God. He created us in HIs image – we long for a return to that state of perfect goodness and rightness and gentleness and justice, even when we don’t know how to name our longings. The “wretched worm, I” theology hurts my soul. God does not see us that way, not at all. My pastor’s wife takes that view and it always makes me simultaneously cringe, and want to take her hands and challenge such a damaging belief about herself.

          • Kaci

            I think I believe pretty much exactly that 🙂 I didn’t as much get into the connection between “all goodness is from God” and “original sin” above, but your description resonates with me and I embrace it wholeheartedly.

          • I guess I see the original sin as less about the disobedience in eating the fruit as in the subsequent running away and hiding from God. I’ve been thinking about it because of my children. We have a five year old little girl, and a nine month old baby boy. My five year old has lately been doing her own thing instead of listening to directions, and we’ve been trying to work with her on that. Our goal isn’t instant obedience, or mindless compliance. It isn’t even happy-slappy abdication of her free will. We’re trying to get her to see that we provide instruction and direction in order to help her learn to think and act for herself, in a safe and healthy way (which includes taking calculated risks). I find myself telling her often that it’s not that she (as an example) couldn’t get a drink before picking up her stuff and heading to the car, it’s that if she wanted a drink all she had to do was ask and i would have gladly said yes and waited for her. But she thinks she has to just do what she wants because I won’t let her if she asks, so she ignores me asking her to follow me to the car and runs off for the drink. All she has to do is ask. I WANT to give her good things. I am HAPPY to change my plans to accommodate her own plans, as often as I am able to do so. We see our family as a team, not a dictatorship. Her dad and I are the coaches, not the king and queen. Our goal is to lead and guide our children as they grow up, teaching them mostly by example how to be responsible and kind and just and loving – not to create tiny robots or miniature adults. We come back often to TRUST – she can trust us to love and respect her, and want to give her good things (like a drink of water before getting in the car). She doesn’t need to run away in rebellion to do her own thing – she can simply ask for a drink of water and we will gladly give it to her. For me, this has been such a poignant illustration of the problem of sin. To me, sin is rebelling against our ideas of the limitations that we think God wants to put on us. It’s in the breaking of relationship. When my daughter disobeys me, I don’t suddenly see her as a disgusting, worthless, snivvling worm to be crushed under the weight of my condemnation, wrath, and judgement. I see her as a foolish little girl who is not yet mature or wise enough to see that I am standing here, all the time, arms and heart full of love and good gifts, wanting to bless the daylights out of her, and that rules, guidelines, directions, etc are like safety bumpers, intended to keep her from harm, and help her to grow and be happy. I see God the same way. Becoming a mother has actually really helped my relationship with God grow and become healthier and more beautiful, because it’s changed how I see His response to me as a wayward, hotheaded, willful child that He dearly loves.

    • Kathleen Margaret Schwab

      I also believe in original sin, also in what is probably my own way. I think it is in our awareness that we all sense that the world should be a better place than it is. Children seem to have an idea that life should be fair, and they are upset as they discover just how unfair it is. I think this is because God made us for a world where justice is done, and we carry that knowledge within us from the beginning. I read the story in Genesis as a metaphor for things somehow going wrong, and we are separated from the beautiful, just world, where the necessities of life were not so hard to come by, and we weren’t violent to each other. I believe Hinduism also has this idea that something has gone wrong with the world, and what we live in now is fallen below its first state.

  • Jeff

    I don’t think it’s really fair to say that the conflict between evangelicals and therapy techniques is that evangelicals want people to think badly of themselves and therapy wants people to think well of themselves. Here’s a link to an article from David Brooks (not an evangelical, not a Christian). He’s talking about a book by Mitch Albom, “The Five People You Meet in Heaven”, but there’s some overlap with what you’re talking about here as well.

    “[The] heaven that is apparently popular with readers these days is nothing more than an excellent therapy session. In Albom’s book, God, to the extent that he exists there, is sort of a genial Dr. Phil. When you go to his heaven, friends and helpers come and tell you how innately wonderful you are. They help you reach closure. In this heaven, God and his glory are not the center of attention. It’s all about you. Here, sins are not washed away. Instead, hurt is washed away. The language of good and evil is replaced by the language of trauma and recovery. There is no vice and virtue, no moral framework to locate the individual within the cosmic infinity of the universe. Instead there are just the right emotions — Do you feel good about yourself? — buttressed by an endless string of vague bromides about how special each person is, and how much we are all mystically connected in the flowing river of life.

    I think Brooks’ view is a better characterization of why evangelicals perceive “therapy culture” to be at odds with theology — not because therapy is bad or that it has no value, but because “instead of offering them the rich moral framework of organized religion or rigorous philosophy, instead of reminding them of the tough-minded exemplars of the Bible and history, books like Albom’s throw the seekers remorselessly back upon themselves”

  • “A few years ago I adopted what I think was Jesus’ hermenuetic: a good tree cannot bear bad fruit. If an interpretation or application of Scripture leads to harming myself or others, it is bearing bad fruit and should not be considered a credible interpretation.”

    I LOVE this. Yesterday, I read through the Gospel of John and noticed that a major chunk of it consists of “the Jews” accusing Jesus of having a demon (which seems to be an ancient way of saying they think he’s crazy). Jesus argues that they shouldn’t condemn him for having done a good thing (healing a man on the Sabbath in chapter 6).

    Today, I read started reading the Gospel of Mark and came across a similar situation: Jesus healed a man on the sabbath and the Pharisees accuse him of healing by the power of Satan. It’s at this point that Jesus utters the infamous “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” unforgivable sin phrase.

    It suddenly occurred to me that I think this is what Jesus is saying: the absolute worse thing you can do is call evil something that is actually good and life-giving. It would seem to me that that’s exactly what people in fundamentalist strains of the Christian faith are doing: they are committing “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.”

  • John W. Morehead

    As a moderate evangelical I appreciate the critique and perspective. I would also point out that evangelical theology is not monolithic, and there are some alternative theologies and perspectives within evangelicalism, albeit minority ones, but alternative voices being heard nonetheless. In addition, I am drawing upon moral foundations theory from social psychology in application to multi-faith encounters so as to expand conservative evangelical moral foundations beyond purity concerns and related disgust so as to draw upon more liberal foundations like fairness. So not all evangelicals find psychology at odds with an understanding of our faith. And there are others out there like me (e.g., Richard Beck at Abilene Christian University).

    • “And because I started interacting with more “normal” evangelical Christians who also thought therapy was a good idea and “biblical counseling” is a load of poppycock…”

      I mean I wrote that in this post, so I already knew this?

      • John W. Morehead

        Well, “normal” is in quotes which raises questions, and the thrust, tone and major specifics of your essay certainly does not convey your recognition of this.

        • “The world I grew up in”
          “inside conservative Christianity”
          “many Christians”
          “these Christians”
          “Most of the Christians I knew growing up”
          “conservative Christianity”
          “fundamentalist teachings about psychology”

          I beg to differ. I went out of my way to specifically limit my criticism to an exact group of people: people who think that psychology is bad and is the opposite of their religion. You’re clearly not one of these people, so commenting to say “but I’m not one of these people and other people are not these people, too” is just rather … pointless.

          • John W. Morehead

            The title of your piece is not “Why *Some* Christians Cannot Trust Psychology.” You stated Christians in general. Then you come to a conclusion that indicts American evangelicalism across the board: “I take all of this as just another indication that American Christian evangelicalism and fundamentalism are unhealthy to their core.” This is hardly a limited criticism, therefore my comments are pointed, not pointless. Thanks for the exchange.

          • It’s a reference to the textbook for the psychology class I took at PCC, which I talk about for two paragraphs. And if you’ve been around here, you’d know that the term “American evangelicalism” is also pretty narrowly defined here as the conservative, bigoted, hateful, privileged, racist, misogynistic cultural force that it is.

          • John W. Morehead

            If you’re using that description for a American evangelicalism then you don’t understand its diversity or complexity. I think your bad experiences are colorfing your thinking on this topic.

          • I think your white male experiences are coloring your thinking on this topic.

          • John W. Morehead

            It does for all of us. But with your sweeping generalizations you are not properly accounting for your bias. I am for mine.

          • Sure. Of course you are.

          • John W. Morehead

            I’ll bow out now. I hope you are more professional in your practice than you are in interacting with critical comments online. Thanks for the interaction.

          • For everyone reading: this is a pretty typical response. When I refuse to engage with men who behave like John in the precise way they want– in this instance, by not acting as if his view of the world is superior to my own, that his definitions and perceptions should be given preeminence over my own, that his experiences override my own– I’m not behaving “professionally.”

            I was mildly sarcastic in a single comment. The rest of my comments to him are blunt and straightforward, nothing more. I challenged his belief that he gets to be more unbiased and rational than me because I am a woman who disagrees with him, and that makes me “unprofessional.”

            This sort of comment and the sort of man (why is it always men, I wonder?) who makes it are performing that whole “I am calm and sedate and that makes me right.” Couldn’t be further from the truth. I am more than capable of challenging his claim that American evangelicalism as a cultural force isn’t, to its core, white supremacist and misogynistic and bigoted– there’s mountains of historical evidence on my side– but I’m not going to, because that’s not what he wants. He wants to show up, say “not all Christians” and have that be enough for no other reason than he’s a white man.

            Have a nice day, John. That “professional” enough for ya?

          • John W. Morehead

            Wow. Since we are talking past each other I’ll leave some final comments for the readers of our exchange so they can draw their own conclusions.

            Dr. Field continues to read my comments in the most negative way, and then generalizes that this is somehow a “pretty typical response.” She then brings gender and race into it, as if somehow I’m an evil white man picking on and abusing power dynamics on a woman. Nothing in my comments or assumptions includes gender or race issues. Dr. Field has a chip on her shoulder in a number of areas, and it colors her interpretation of the issues and the way in which she apparently responds to white men. Her unaccounted for biases are clearly showing, and it’s a pity, because the issue of evangelicals and psychology is an important one that I work in myself.

            I shared a criticism of Dr. Field’s thesis, which in my view has not been successfully rebutted, by way of generalizing evangelicalism in negative ways and she responds with more generalizations and assumes gender superiority. Somehow this is supposed to be the way good academics and professionals engage others online. I’m content to bow out and allow Dr. Field any last words she might want to have as this kind of engagement holds no interest for me. I prefer critical self-reflection and respect, and I haven’t experienced that here. (By the way, you might be interested in recent studies in social psychology documenting that the liberals can be just as intolerant of out-group members as those on the right, and I think I’ve seen that operative here.)

          • I don’t have a doctorate. This isn’t an academic blog.

            “Nothing in my comments or assumptions includes gender or race issues.”


            You have some pretty clear unaccounted for biases of your own, sir. Go spend some time in that critical self-reflection you prefer.

          • Gulo

            Even the most intelligent person in the world is wrong at some times…in some ways. There may also be more than one correct answer or workable solution.

            Intelligence comes, or doesn’t, in many forms. I scored in the 99th percentile on the PSAT. I got the highest score on the ACT in my graduating class. AFAIK, I scored higher on the ASVAB than any Marine I have ever met.

            I can’t read sheet music or play a saxophone to save my life. I can’t tell you the difference between a Matisse or a Michaelangelo. I can’t fluently translate Mandarin, Icelandic, or Arabic into English for you.

            We all have our areas of strength and our areas of weakness. Some experts are more expert than others…in some ways.

          • Kaci

            I’m not making the connection here?

          • Gulo

            You don’t have to. The connection was for SamanthaField to make.

  • Ysolde

    “A few years ago I adopted what I think was Jesus’ hermenuetic: a good tree cannot bear bad fruit. If an interpretation or application of Scripture leads to harming myself or others, it is bearing bad fruit and should not be considered a credible interpretation.”
    I wish more people were of this mindset. Then people like me wouldn’t have to worry as much about the fundamentalists and what they want to do in this worl to hurt us.

  • Alice

    I think the biggest problem with fundamentalism is the lack of empathy. Empathy is powerful and healing.

  • Eleanor Katherine Skelton

    I really love this post. <3

  • Nick G

    A few years ago I adopted what I think was Jesus’ hermenuetic: a good tree cannot bear bad fruit.

    A cursory examination of the history of Christianity suggests an obvious conclusion.

  • Thanks for writing this~ I can relate to SO MUCH of this, I had depression because I was living with my boyfriend and had so much shame because that’s the worst sin ever (apparently), and I had been taught that people who are sinning are supposed to feel the “conviction of the Holy Spirit”, so I thought it was right and normal for me to feel terrible all the time. I didn’t recognize it as depression, an actual health issue that I should get treatment for because I don’t deserve to live that way. And then when I finally did go see a doctor, he kept talking about how I have to “accept myself” and how my value comes from me, not from other people’s approval (ie not even from God’s approval). It’s difficult to even put into words how much this “accept myself” stuff goes against everything I learned in church (but it was exactly what I needed to hear). If people are running around accepting themselves, then they will think they don’t need God, and wouldn’t that just be the worst thing ever.

    The intersection of depression and this “people are basically bad” ideology is a very bad place and I intend to never stop talking about it.

  • Alex Horton

    It’s more about God doing everything He could to save us from eternal torment and cleanse us from the stain of Adam’s sin.

    • Beroli

      What’s It?

      • Alex Horton

        Life, salvation, the human condition, everything.

        • Beroli

          Interesting perspective, but most immediately, so the choice of this blog post to post that comment on was entirely random?

          • Alex Horton

            No, it was in response to what was written at the end of the post about how the poster chooses not to believe in eternal punishment or original sin.

          • Beroli

            Oh, like this then?

            Doctrines like eternal torment and original sin cause harm; therefore,
            they should be rejected. I will prefer readings and interpretations that
            prioritize love and justice–not empty, meaningless wrath and shame.

            It’s more about God doing everything He could to save us from eternal torment and cleanse us from the stain of Adam’s sin.

            You know, it says something when it would significantly up the coherency of an ostensible rebuttal if it was simply, “YOU’RE WRONG YOU’RE WRONG YOU’RE WRONG!!!!!!!!”

    • 1) who made the “eternal torment” in the first place, and why?
      2) why should I be tortured forever for something I didn’t do– the “stain of Adam’s sin”?

      The answers to those questions is why eternal conscious torment and Original Sin (as explained by most American evangelical leaders) is why they’re harmful doctrines.

      • The fact remains the same God who made the eternal punishment and decreed that all humans were stained with Adam’s sin did everything He could for us to avoid that punishment and have the stain of Adam’s sin removed.

        • Beroli

          That assertion is literally as contradictory as it could be.

          • It sounds contradictory but that’s the way it is. Christ is our judge and our advocate. There is eternal punishment and original sin because God is a god of justice, but what Jesus did for us on the cross justifies us.
            It sounds goofy because the natural man can’t accept the things of God, due to the fact that from the standpoint of our natural, fleshly nature it does sound foolish. It’s only by the spirit of God that we can accept these truths.

          • Beroli

            Alex, your comments here have all had the same, exact structure: declarative assertion. You’re not making any attempt at support, reason, or even argument: you simply assert.

            Do you believe that anyone is going to be convinced by your unsupported assertions, or is your goal to be able to tut-tut about what sinners they are when, inevitably, they brush you off with as few qualms as you would feel about brushing off someone who told you (again, note, didn’t try to make a case, but told you) that the color blue was an abomination unto Nuggan and so it was wrong to look at the sky?

          • Any reasons I could come up with would just be mocked anyway.
            What I’ve been trying to get at is that God is the god of the universe so we can’t choose which of his truths we deem acceptible and which we deem harmful so we’re going to ignore them.
            I was trying to be mindful of what Samantha might have been through and was thus pointing out the truth that the emphasis with God is not on eternal punishment and on how bad Adam’s sin makes us but rather on His justifying us and wanting to save us and bring us into relationship with Him.

          • Beroli

            That is closer to engagement that your previous comments suggested you were capable of. But do you truly not recognize that Sam doesn’t believe what you assert? That it’s not a matter of recognizing that the creator of the universe exists and is exactly the vicious tyrant you describe (without understanding that sending people to eternal torture for being descended from someone who disobeyed an order not to eat a piece of fruit makes someone a vicious tyrant, yes, take it as read that you’ve protested my characterization here) and trying to make that unquestioned fact go away?

          • I recognized Sam didn’t believe it, but as a Christian, I have a duty to stand up for the truth.
            While no one has been able tio explain the reason for original sin as far as I know, the fact remains its true. Call the one whose trying to save you from that a vicious t

          • Beroli

            And right back to unsupported assertions, backed up with sleight-of-hand tricks: that the monster you believe in is (in your belief system, supported as it is by your willingness to keep repeating that it is so true) the cause of eternal torture is to be ignored, that he’s theoretically willing to offer abject slaves mercy is all-important. Not at all surprising in light of the level of discourse you seem to be operating at, but quite disappointing.

          • Think what you want; he’s your only hope. That’s the way the universe is so you might as well accept it. Human reasoning can’t explain it, it’s spiritually discerned. You got a problem with it, take it up with God.

  • I remember the anti-psychology shots in the A Beka textbooks! However, at 18 (back in 2003), through reading a store-brand encyclopedia (from 1991), I developed an interest in psychology. The thing that interested me was the fact that certain theories explained behavior I couldn’t explain. (I had experienced that, in which I would get grilled for something I couldn’t explain, and the other person wouldn’t accept that as an answer, but would accuse me of lying.) I did later find that Fundamentalists had objected to Maslow’s pyramid, because his branch of psychology was called “humanistic” psychology.

    I generally found ways to reconcile Christianity and psychology, and tried to see the link with other religions as well. For example, I read a Times article in 2005 on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), and found that it was compatible with both Christianity and Buddhism. (I also read, watched, and later listened to stuff that would likely not have been approved.)

    One thing I remember from church is that the pastor, considered a prophet and apostle like in the Bible, claimed that the Left-Wing Shadow Government (i.e., the Illuminati) would cause anyone claiming to hear from God would be committed.

  • Rachel Nichols

    I find it odd that you are so blindly gung ho on the “science” of psychiatry here and yet you claim to be against abusive relationships. Psychiatrists enable gaslighters and other forms of abuse. My mother used my MI diagnosis to segregate me from the outside world. Wouldn’t let me get a driver’s license or even a job. Because she said I was crazy. Threw screaming fits if I looked at a guy. Then assured me no man could ever love a fat mess like me anyhow.

    If you ever look at the website Mad In America it is not a religious site. Many of the people have suffered horrible abuse in psychiatric institutes and at the hands of controlling “loved ones.”

    Dr. Peter Breggin has a lot to say about the chemical imbalance approach to treating emotional distress/mental illness. So does Dr. Ronald Pies. In an article to the APA journal, he claims that no well informed psychiatrist has ever believed in the chemical imbalance theory. Just a “metaphor” to ensure meds compliance.

    Apparently none of you have been told you are hopelessly evil, with depraved genes. As penance for this sin of being born “bipolar” or “schizophrenic” you must take massive quantities of drugs that make you fat, physically ill even chronically so, and will guarantee you an early death as well.

    Legalism is not a savior. Neither is the psychiatric system.