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WEEKLY REFLECTIONS

~ Psychology of Religion and Authenticity of Behavior ~


We are disciplined, reasonable, and in-control people, are we not? We certainly like to think so. Since emotions, egos, assertiveness and personal agendas are dimensions of human behavior from our creation, we must not be so sure of ourselves. How many of us have succeeded in sublimating our personhoods into sainthood? We strive toward impeccable moral behavior and work toward meeting the expectations of others in our presentation of both clean and attractive souls as well as our bodies as "testimonies" to our Christian faith and the Christ within us. Many of us overlook that this can be (and is) accomplished by many without authentic Christian conversion. 

Four interwoven dynamics govern our behavior and presentation to the world and to ourselves: neurology, psychology, social-cultural expectation, and spirituality. Neurologically, our brains contain two prominent control systems wherein the subcortical area controls our emotions while the cerebral cortex processes thinking and reason. People afflicted by disorders such as aphasia or Tourette Syndrome have brains that functionally blur the boundaries between emotions and cognition. (Which is why fifteen percent of them swear uncontrollably and many more articulate nonsense that is not supported by their reason. That has resulted in people with such disorders being accused of demon possession in times past and even now, in some cultures.) The lateral division of our brains is well documented. Analytical reasoning is done by the left cerebral hemisphere while spatial, musical and visualizations are governed by the right.

This neurologically governed part of our behavior has been raised to the level of victimization in our politically correct arenas of politics, science and psychology. "I am what I am and feel sorry for me" is a typical declaration. Victims are guided by hopelessness, helplessness and self-righteousness. Politically correct psychology and medicine craftily uses this easy tendency toward victimization (not to overlook our legal system) in adding disorders to our therapeutic and economic bases, such as CFS (Compassion Fatigue Syndrome), BWS (Battered Woman Syndrome), SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), and even the more accepted yet dubious disorders such as DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder, formerly known as MPD or Multiple Personality Disorder), ADD and ADHD (Attention Deficit Disorder and Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity.) (Review my article written in Europe, "Made in the USA" in the archives accessible on the News and Articles section of our web site.) These have little or no empirical evidence as scientific basis for their establishment, but they certainly meet the political correctness criterion and are lucrative businesses for the medical, pharmaceutical and mental health professions. Thus, good luck fighting them on these disorders' veracity!

William Glasser is known as a prominent and pioneering psychologist who titled a chapter in one of his many books, "Warning: Psychiatry Can Be Hazardous to Your Mental Health." In it he takes to task the labeling of so many people as "mentally ill" and asserts that human angst and discontent is due to relationships that are providing less than needed for mental health. Yet we can ask, what human relationships have given us all we need in totality and purity?

Glasser overlooked a couple of the Psalms: "Even my close friend, whom I trusted, he who shared my bread, has lifted up his heel against me" (41:9); "In return for my friendship they accuse me, but I am a man of prayer. They repay me evil for good, and hatred for my friendship" (109:4-5); "Because of all my enemies, I am the utter contempt of my neighbors; I am a dread to my friends -- those who see me on the street flee from me. I am forgotten by them as though I were dead; I have become like broken pottery" (31:11-12); "Ruthless witnesses come forward; they question me on things I know nothing about. They repay me evil for good and leave my soul forlorn. Yet when they were ill, I put on sackcloth and humbled myself with fasting. When my prayers returned to me unanswered, I went into mourning as though for my friend or brother. I bowed my head in grief as though weeping for my mother. But when I stumbled, they gathered in glee; attackers gathered against me when I was unaware. They slandered me without ceasing" (35:11-15). Do you pray these lamentations as well? Personally being acquainted with Glasser's school of therapeutic approaches, I contend they would not serve the people who utter these psalms as their own prayers. I do agree, however, that "psychiatry can be hazardous to your mental health" and more so to one's spiritual health and development.

Psalm 33:13-22 points eloquently to the spirituality that transcends the wisdom of human psychology: "From heaven the Lord looks down and sees all mankind; from his dwelling place he watches all who live on earth -- he who forms the hearts of all, who considers everything they do. No king is saved by the size of his army [or ego or self-esteem or self-confidence]; no warrior escapes by his great strength [or reliance on self]. A horse [his resources] is a vain hope for deliverance; despite all its great strength it cannot save. But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love, to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine [of the body, soul and spirit]. We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. May your unfailing love rest upon us, O Lord, even as we put our hope in you."

Given our internal trust in His holy name, in our hearts' rejoicing in Him, we need not concern ourselves with our image, presentation, or physical and emotional relationships that are subject to betrayal at worst and daily vacillation upon our moods and feelings at best. The psychology of religion is real, and so is the authenticity of our behavior based on spiritual formation and devotion. Should we not opt for devotion to the latter?


John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
Spiritual Resource Services
~ Education, Research and Advocacy
   in the Christian Faith ~
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