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  1. #1
    Furry Critter with Claws Kiddo's Avatar
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    Default Psychology and Religion

    While getting a head start in studying for one of next semester's psychology courses I came across some very interesting facts about psychology in respect to religion.

    Over most of this century, clinical psychologists have held a very negative view of religion. This was in part due to the practices of the church back in the Middle Ages, where it was believed that mental illness was a sign that demons and evil spirits had possessed a victim. The treatments were usually exorcism and torture.

    This negative view also had to do with the realization that people suffered great distress and dysfunction from having behaviors and thoughts not condoned by their respected religions despite that it was apparent that they were perfectly healthy and normal thoughts and behaviors for people to have. One example being masturbation, which even today many young men seek therapy to remedy, despite it being a perfectly normal behavior. In addition to that, many religious groups came to fabricate myths about behaviors with the intention of inspiring fear in people. Many of these fabrications still exist today.

    Guilt and shame from religious beliefs was often observed in case studies. Freud came to argue that religious beliefs were defense mechanisms that men had developed in order to cope with helplessness. It was forbidden in many clinical practices to even discuss religious beliefs for a good share of the century.

    Over the last couple decades, it became apparent that some people benefited greatly from spiritual beliefs. Psychologists began to study specifically what beliefs had the greatest positive impact on patients/clients. Researchers systematically studied links between spiritual beliefs and mental health and came to conclude something that I have found extremely interesting. Interpretation is key. Those people who believed in a loving, forgiving, and caring God showed significantly greater mental health than the general population. Whereas those who believed in an authoritarian, judging, and traditionalistic God did not enjoy any benefits or were actually predisposed to psychological disorder.

    Since then, clinical psychologists have treated religion as another form of cultural diversity and have pushed for religious individuals to take on a positive interpretation of God.

    I was actually quite happy to read this and even look into some of the clinical studies and see for myself. It confirms what I had already concluded.

    My conclusion: Being "God Fearing" is bad for you mental health.

    Thoughts?

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    I have not really seen the studies on this, although I am aware of the popular culture slant that positive thinking towards life and a generally positive view towards God and life meaning (including prayer and whatnot) usually results in better health physically and psychologically.

    A small point -- when Christianity talks about "fearing God" it usually means fear in the sense of "awe and respect" (as in a "healthy respect for authority") rather than "run screaming from the room Fear in case God is watching." But I think very often it has become literal fear -- God is waiting to punish those who break the laws and send you to hell, if you fail to be the "good child." Even when the threat is not overt, those who ascribe to a doctrine tainted by legalism still view God to some degree as the distant authority whose ultimate goal is to force conformity to the standards of good, and this results in a critical and (to some degree) fearful spirit.

    In generally the best human model I can think of is the ideal parent. The best parent encourages, loves, gives, and lifts the child up, strengthening and providing and equipping them for adulthood themselves. The goal is not to terrify or punish but to nurture always with intent for growth and health. Sometimes this means being firm and even disciplining the child, if need be, to keep them on track... but not for any personal desire for revenge or to enjoy inflicting pain. The parent is the ultimate nurturer both in masculine and feminine ways.

    When that parental model is mirrored in one's view of God, that seems to me to be the most positive sort of religion -- the parental figure engraved within the person, to be taken wherever they go in life, offering them confidence and value and security.
    "Hey Capa -- We're only stardust." ~ "Sunshine"

    “Pleasure to me is wonder—the unexplored, the unexpected, the thing that is hidden and the changeless thing that lurks behind superficial mutability. To trace the remote in the immediate; the eternal in the ephemeral; the past in the present; the infinite in the finite; these are to me the springs of delight and beauty.” ~ H.P. Lovecraft

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    Furry Critter with Claws Kiddo's Avatar
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    Ah, but the question is, is God an authoritarian parental figure or an authoritative parental figure. Both meet the description you gave above, but each has a style that is intrinsically different and produces very different types of children. One produces children that demand power over others in order to maintain control over their lives, whereas the other produces self sufficient children who wish to collaborate with others.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jennifer View Post
    A small point -- when Christianity talks about "fearing God" it usually means fear in the sense of "awe and respect" (as in a "healthy respect for authority") rather than "run screaming from the room Fear in case God is watching."
    Agreed. The true meaning of "fearing God" is not about being afraid of God.

    In generally the best human model I can think of is the ideal parent. The best parent encourages, loves, gives, and lifts the child up, strengthening and providing and equipping them for adulthood themselves. The goal is not to terrify or punish but to nurture always with intent for growth and health. Sometimes this means being firm and even disciplining the child, if need be, to keep them on track... but not for any personal desire for revenge or to enjoy inflicting pain. The parent is the ultimate nurturer both in masculine and feminine ways.

    When that parental model is mirrored in one's view of God, that seems to me to be the most positive sort of religion -- the parental figure engraved within the person, to be taken wherever they go in life, offering them confidence and value and security.
    That's exactly how I see God. Well, in fact, that's how He's taught in my religion, though many of my co-religioners don't see Him that way. But anyway, yes, the "Heavenly Father" aspect of God is the one most prevalent in my life and my worship.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kiddo View Post
    Over most of this century, clinical psychologists have held a very negative view of religion. This was in part due to the practices of the church back in the Middle Ages, where it was believed that mental illness was a sign that demons and evil spirits had possessed a victim. The treatments were usually exorcism and torture.

    This negative view also had to do with the realization that people suffered great distress and dysfunction from having behaviors and thoughts not condoned by their respected religions despite that it was apparent that they were perfectly healthy and normal thoughts and behaviors for people to have. One example being masturbation, which even today many young men seek therapy to remedy, despite it being a perfectly normal behavior. In addition to that, many religious groups came to fabricate myths about behaviors with the intention of inspiring fear in people. Many of these fabrications still exist today.
    That's plausible, and I think the church tends towards fabrications (But I think the one you mentioned is rather morbidly self-indulgent behavior that can often lead to unusual fixations and compulsions, although I wouldn't call it a sin.)
    Guilt and shame from religious beliefs was often observed in case studies. Freud came to argue that religious beliefs were defense mechanisms that men had developed in order to cope with helplessness. It was forbidden in many clinical practices to even discuss religious beliefs for a good share of the century.
    Actually, that makes sense.
    Over the last couple decades, it became apparent that some people benefited greatly from spiritual beliefs. Psychologists began to study specifically what beliefs had the greatest positive impact on patients/clients. Researchers systematically studied links between spiritual beliefs and mental health and came to conclude something that I have found extremely interesting. Interpretation is key. Those people who believed in a loving, forgiving, and caring God showed significantly greater mental health than the general population. Whereas those who believed in an authoritarian, judging, and traditionalistic God did not enjoy any benefits or were actually predisposed to psychological disorder.

    Since then, clinical psychologists have treated religion as another form of cultural diversity and have pushed for religious individuals to take on a positive interpretation of God.

    I was actually quite happy to read this and even look into some of the clinical studies and see for myself. It confirms what I had already concluded.

    My conclusion: Being "God Fearing" is bad for you mental health.

    Thoughts?
    Well, I don't know... religion is okay, but I agree that you shouldn't let it affect your mental health, or become the main focus of your life... that's just not healthy.

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    Quote Originally Posted by athenian200 View Post
    That's plausible, and I think the church tends towards fabrications (But I think the one you mentioned is rather morbidly self-indulgent behavior that can often lead to unusual fixations and compulsions, although I wouldn't call it a sin.)
    Well statistics show that its a behavior that 60% of women and 80% of men partake in. While I don't disagree that people can condition themselves to develop unusual fixations and compulsions while engaging in the behavior, I think some predisposition due to other factors are necessary for that to occur. In other words, people who condition themselves to become unhealthy, weren't exactly healthy to begin with. Morbid suggests a disease or unhealthy state, and clearly the act in and of itself is of the norm. As far as being self-indulgent, well any degree of pleasure seeking behavior could be considered that.

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    Quote Originally Posted by athenian200 View Post
    Well, I don't know... religion is okay, but I agree that you shouldn't let it affect your mental health, or become the main focus of your life... that's just not healthy.
    Could you explain a little bit more what you meant by "affecting your mental health" and especially "become the main focus of your life?"

    After all, if God is real and he created you and your reality is essentially part of His Vision (as the master Storyteller), it follows (to me) that the most important thing you could do would be to make it the main focus of your life. Otherwise your life will become a lie

    (You'd be like Frodo in Lord of the Rings deciding to toss the Ring in the trash and marrying Rose Cotton because he didn't feel like getting out of bed one day -- when his destiny was supposed to be so much more than that. And ultimately his destination and growth as a person would be stilted because he rejected his destiny. After all, if Illuvatar defines reality, then anything that does not conform to Illuvatar's reality is ultimately lifeless, empty, and temporary, the same as morning mist that vanishes when the sun hits it. An illusion of importance and meaning.)

    I totally understand why people say it's the "most important" thing in life. How could it NOT be?

    Quote Originally Posted by Kiddo View Post
    Ah, but the question is, is God an authoritarian parental figure or an authoritative parental figure. Both meet the description you gave above, but each has a style that is intrinsically different and produces very different types of children. One produces children that demand power over others in order to maintain control over their lives, whereas the other produces self sufficient children who wish to collaborate with others.
    How would we know which is God is? All we have are different doctrines from many different religions, each claiming to have the most "correct" picture of God. But none of them prove God exists and in that form; they simply paint a picture of him, and it's up to us to accept or reject it.

    An abused child will see the authoritarian parent as the "real picture" because it's what they know to be true in experience. Hopefully they will find kinder gentler people who love them in life, and suddenly they will realize the possibility that a kinder, gentler, more loving God might exist as well. And so on. Much of what we accept or reject is based on probability of truthfulness as we've learned through our experiences in life so far.

    But in the end we decide to believe what we want to believe.

    I would align myself with the authoritative parent out of the two, if i have a choice, because I believe in it. I believe it's healthier. I believe it results in more actualized people. And I believe it's more beautiful aesthetically and meaningfully truthful of reality than the authoritarian parent. (I'm not sure we both have the same definition of "authoritative" but I'm picking someone who is the opposite of authoritarian -- essentially the nurturer, encourager, supporter, helper, empowerer, etc, teaching the child how to be self-sufficient in the good sense so that the child has active power to then love others similarly and then setting an example of love so the child has a VISION of how to love others simiarly.)
    "Hey Capa -- We're only stardust." ~ "Sunshine"

    “Pleasure to me is wonder—the unexplored, the unexpected, the thing that is hidden and the changeless thing that lurks behind superficial mutability. To trace the remote in the immediate; the eternal in the ephemeral; the past in the present; the infinite in the finite; these are to me the springs of delight and beauty.” ~ H.P. Lovecraft

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jennifer View Post
    After all, if God is real and he created you and your reality is essentially part of His Vision (as the master Storyteller), it follows (to me) that the most important thing you could do would be to make it the main focus of your life. Otherwise your life will become a lie.
    For one thing, I don't want to be subject to someone else's vision to the extent that I no longer know or care what I want for myself or anyone else. Also, it's like it forces you to think inside a box, and I don't care for that. I feel like being asked to make religion the focus of life is like being asked to give up my individuality and accept whatever I'm told internally... I may be willing to compromise or even slightly lie and do that externally with social systems and such, but I'm not willing to do that inside, where faith tries to crawl. I also don't think it's a good idea to neglect everything else in your life and become fixated on religion... I just don't think that's healthy.


    I totally understand why people say it's the "most important" thing in life. How could it NOT be?
    I don't see how it could be. It's mostly related to what happens after you die, and you won't know that until it happens, so you might as well try to use your lifetime. Also, I think it's somewhat irritating when any question asked is simplified to something about having faith and accepting it as it is, because that doesn't seem like a real answer to me as much as an excuse for not really understanding something.

    There are a lot of things we probably shouldn't bother to discuss, because we can't see what the other is talking about. Religion is obviously another one of them, sorry.

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    Quote Originally Posted by athenian200 View Post
    For one thing, I don't want to be subject to someone else's vision to the extent that I no longer know or care what I want for myself or anyone else. Also, it's like it forces you to think inside a box, and I don't care for that. I feel like being asked to make religion the focus of life is like being asked to give up my individuality and accept whatever I'm told internally... I may be willing to compromise or even slightly lie and do that externally with social systems and such, but I'm not willing to do that inside, where faith tries to crawl. I also don't think it's a good idea to neglect everything else in your life and become fixated on religion... I just don't think that's healthy.
    I understand all that. And I agree that most religious obsession is unhealthy. Even what sometimes passes for "good" dedication to religion, I have been increasingly reconsidering for the last few years because it seems to be stifling rather than liberating.

    I'm simply explaining the mindset of many of the religious people (Christian) that I deal with: If you were created by someone who supposedly has a purpose for you, and designed directly to accomplish that purpose, then doesn't it make sense that your greatest fulfillment would be in discovering that purpose?

    (It's like a can opener complaining that it doesn't want to be stifled if it wants to try to be a tire iron. The truth is, it would make a lousy tire iron and the best thing it could ever choose to do would be true to itself and be a can opener.)

    Of course, the assumption is that (1) God exists, (2) God created you for a specific reason, inherently, and (3) that reason can be discovered if you search for it.

    If you disagree with those assumptions, then you won't think similarly.

    I don't see how it could be. It's mostly related to what happens after you die, and you won't know that until it happens, so you might as well try to use your lifetime. Also, I think it's somewhat irritating when any question asked is simplified to something about having faith and accepting it as it is, because that doesn't seem like a real answer to me as much as an excuse for not really understanding something.
    I think religion is mostly meant (or functions) to reduce ambiguity in life. And that has been my growing problem with it. Many religions preach such specifics, doctrinally, that I think cannot be proven: They have to be either accepted or rejected as a matter of choice, not proof.

    (For example, the whole Trinity concept: You can make a conceptual case for it for why it might make sense, and you can distill the doctrine out of preestablished Christian doctrines, but all of THOSE doctrines and texts and past beliefs are all still based on someone's conjecture/belief and can't really be drawn directly from the Real World around us.)

    And you are right. We don't know what happens after death. Everything we believe about that is a belief, not proven. Christians have said, "Here is what happens," just like every other religion has; and they base their lives on the hope those beliefs are true; but again, they are just beliefs and thus personal choices.

    I know I've reached a point where I do not feel the need to reduce my ambiguity. I am fine with not knowing what happens after I die. I don't need to know if God is in charge, either, when tragedy occurs. I don't need excuses, I don't need pretty explanations, I don't need reassurance. I don't need to feel like someone is there watching over me. I don't even like discussing theology much anymore or debating it... because it seems like fighting over the merits of an arbitrary, unprovable system... and I am so much more concerned with the tangibles nowadays and what seems to be Real.

    Because I think I have internalized what I think is good. I'm going to live in what I consider to be a "good way" (that happens to coincide with "Love God" and "Love your neighbor as yourself") regardless of all the ambiguity I see in the world.

    To me, when people internalize the god image or whatever, then the ambiguity no longer has to be reduced. If God has not been internalized, then the only way to find security is to reduce ambiguity by imposing rules on the world... basically reducing the world to a subset that conforms to their point of view.

    There are a lot of things we probably shouldn't bother to discuss, because we can't see what the other is talking about. Religion is obviously another one of them, sorry.
    Well, I was describing a point of view I don't really hold myself, and I think I was being very clear about that. Why do you think I'm arguing with you on a personal level? I'm merely challenging your view with other points of view I've run across in my lifetime. Unless you hide in a hole for the rest of your life, you WILL run across these viewpoints... and I think it's much better to discuss them with me or someone else who understands your view and can still challenge you with what others might believe.

    To me, this seems like one more attempt to reduce ambiguity (by avoiding situations in which one might be challenged)... which is what religious people do.
    "Hey Capa -- We're only stardust." ~ "Sunshine"

    “Pleasure to me is wonder—the unexplored, the unexpected, the thing that is hidden and the changeless thing that lurks behind superficial mutability. To trace the remote in the immediate; the eternal in the ephemeral; the past in the present; the infinite in the finite; these are to me the springs of delight and beauty.” ~ H.P. Lovecraft

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jennifer View Post
    Could you explain a little bit more what you meant by "affecting your mental health" and especially "become the main focus of your life?"

    After all, if God is real and he created you and your reality is essentially part of His Vision (as the master Storyteller), it follows (to me) that the most important thing you could do would be to make it the main focus of your life. Otherwise your life will become a lie

    (..)

    I totally understand why people say it's the "most important" thing in life. How could it NOT be?
    My religion IS the most important thing in my life, for the very reason you've described: if my understanding of God is right, then putting anything else as more important than Him in my life would be both stupid and counter-productive, since doing His will IS the BEST way for me to grow into myself and into happiness.

    It would be like a 6-yo telling his parents: "Sorry Mom, Dad, I'm sure you have my best interests at heart, but really I can't bear the way you stifle me at home. I'd rather go and make a living for myself, thanks!" Not only would it be literally suicidal, but it would totally miss the point that the "stifling" is *in the kid's best interests!* Demanding that he go to school and learn to read, write and count, for example, may be very stifling, but it's a GOOD thing in the end. Demanding that he stick to a fixed bedtime may be stifling, but it's in his own interest. And so on. So leaving his parents and going to do it on his own is the WORST choice the kid coud make.

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