Fundamenetalists, Selfishness, and Psychology

One of the interesting things about fundamentalist Christianity is that it often looks upon modern psychology with suspicion and mistrust.  At the extreme, you have many people in the “spiritual warfare” movement that believe psychology is downright demonic, as demonstrated by a scene in “This Present Darkness,” where the demons are found gathered in the building that houses Whitmore College’s psychology department.  I myself underscored this during a comments discussion at Confessions of a Former Conservative:

But bear in mind,t hose “experts” rely on psychology, which is considered highly suspect as “secularist philosophy” in spiritual warfare crowds. In many of these people’s minds, psychologists are opening them up to demons as much as a group of teens with a ouija board.

Even those fundamentalists who don’t go looking for demons behind every bush are highly skeptical of psychology, considering it “pointless mumbo jumbo” at best.[1]  So why is this?  Is it simply a matter of fundamentalists’ suspicion of science in general?  I think that contributes to it, but I think there are a couple of other factors worthy of note.

For this blog post, I want to focus on fundamentalist Christianity’s extreme focus on self-denial and a common perception of psychology — especially psychological counseling — as being a selfish pursuit.

Growing up in a fundamentalist church, I learned the key to J-O-Y:  Jesus, others, and you.  Sometime in elementary school — perhaps even preschool — I learned this little formula of the order of importance of everything in the universe and was told that following it would bring me joy.  If I just put Jesus first, then everyone else around me, and only thought of myself at the very end, I would be a good little Christian and would be blessed by this.

In many ways, psychology — especially those areas of psychology and psychiatry that focus on helping people overcome their problems — turns this whole meme on its head.  Psychology is the exploration of one’s own thoughts, and very psyche.  In terms of counseling, one sits with a therapist and looks over one’s life and ones problems,[2] trying to make sense of it and figure out how to change things to either overcome a problem, learn to better cope with it, or just heal from past hurts so one can move on with ones life.  A session of therapy is quite self-centered.  To a mode of religious thought that believes that everything and everyone else must come first no matter what, this makes psychology downright horrible.

It’s no wonder that such Christians would see psychiatry as a sure gateway to demonic influence.

Notes:
[1]  For the more daring reader, some “interesting” alternatives to psychological counseling can be find by doing an online search for “Bible based counseling.”  However, be forewarned that while you will find some interesting pages of honest people trying to integrate their faith in sound, science-based therapeutic techniques, you will also find a lot about deliverance, victim-blaming, victim-shaming, and some of the worst aspects of the darker side of the so-called Prosperity Gospel.

[2]  In stricter fundamentalist circles, even acknowledging that one has problems is often considered a great sin or weakness.  Of course, that’s getting into a subject of a future blog post.

3 thoughts on “Fundamenetalists, Selfishness, and Psychology”

  1. It’s been fascinating to me while pursuing my higher education…once you get your foot in the door to modern psychology, some things suddenly become clear to those who have been steeped in fundamentalist Christianity.

    Psychology makes most of Christianity a moot point. Psychology can explain many types of supernatural experience, psychology can treat mental illnesses that churches try (but fail) to treat with religion, psychology can even explain our need for god to exist.

    Maybe that’s why Christianity fears it. šŸ™‚

  2. That certainly explains Marshall’s snarky comments about Sandy’s “self-centeredness” – to him, not only is she failing as a Christian by not submitting to his abuse, she’s also trying to learn about herself rather than spending all her time focusing on Jesus, meaning she’s doubly damned. I think the biggest issue I have with TPD is that I keep wanting to give the book the benefit of the doubt – I keep saying, people don’t actually believe this crap, do they? But they do. And it’s terrifying.

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