Tag Archives: psychology

Fundamentalists and Psychology: Faith isn’t enough?

Continuing the theme of my previous post, I think that there is another important reason why fundamentalist Christians are anti-psychology and particularly anti-psychotherapy (by which I mean any form of mental health counseling).  This other reason is touched upon by Total Life Ministries’s vignette, “The Seduction of Psychology.”  The author explains:

It’s practitioners believe that the word of God by itself is inadequate. So they presume to integrate God’s Word with humanistic, atheistic psychology. What results is supposedly Christianized therapies. But these therapies diminish the Lord Jesus Christ while exalting man. Many Christians are being led astray by these seductive therapies–which amount to a new gospel that heals their brokenness superficially (Jeremiah 8:11).

While those behind TLM choose to focus on the idea that psychology is extra-Biblical, thereby suggesting a tendency towards what many have come to refer to as bibliolatry, I think the idea can be spread to a belief that psychology is extra-theological (as evidenced by TLM’s constant reminder that many leading psychologists have been and are atheists).  To put it short, they see psychology as not only suggesting that the Bible is insufficient for mental health, but that Jesus and God aren’t sufficient.

While not all fundamentalists are proponents of the prosperity gospel to the same degree as people like Oral Roberts and Ken Hagin, there’s a certain kernel of that mentality in most fundamentalists, most notably when it comes to people’s emotional well-being.  There is this strong sense in most fundamentalist communities that a faith in Jesus should lead to peace of mind, happiness, contentment,[1] and joy.  Indeed, if you express concerns for your state of mind in fundamentalist circles, you are most likely to be told to “have more faith,” “pray more,” or “hand it over to Jesus.”

So ultimately, seeking out the help of a mental health professional for a problem is saying that “faith in Jesus” isn’t enough.  It’s saying that you can’t “pray away” your problems, be it depression, marital troubles, an addiction or compulsion, or something else. It’s suggestion that “His grace is not sufficient for you” after all.

Psychology’s suggestion that it might have something to offer that might help in ways that “praying harder” and “having more faith” cannot is a direct attack to fundamentalist theology.

[1]  Of course, this idea is further strengthened by the cherry-picking of verses like Philippians 4:11.

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.

[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.