Monday, December 3, 2012

Religious Doubt and Psychological Well-Being

It has been speculated that religious doubt may have either positive or negative effects on psychological well-being. However, studies have shown that religious doubt seems to primarily have a negative effect on those who experience doubt. On the other hand, the argument has been made that religious doubt may also enhance spiritual growth as long as one pushes past the doubts and resolves them. Yet, in this case, the doubt is not what solidified the faith, but the further understanding of truth is what led to a mature understanding and faith. So, studies appear to show that religious doubt actually leads to negative psychological well-being since the mental struggle between two contradictory points strains the mind (Aging, Religious Doubt, and Psychological Well-Being).

This appears to present a huge challenge to Christians because it seems nearly impossible to have absolutely no doubts about anything ever. Of course, the problem often lies not in the existence of the doubt, but in the failure to pursue an intellectual resolution. However, Krause suggests that a potential danger of doubt is that further knowledge into a subject, while being informative, actually may increase doubt since the more we know, the more we realize that there is so much more that we don't know (Religious Doubt and Psychological Well-Being: A Longitudinal Investigation). Yet, this is true in every case with regard to every instance and subject, not only with respect to religion. Therefore, if this mindset was adopted, then every experience in life would have a negative impact on our psychological well-being, and knowledge would actually be a negative achievement; however, we know that this is not true. Thus, while doubt is certainly a negative aspect if not resolved, it is also a constant, present reality in the life of every person because as humans with limited knowledge we can never be absolutely certain of anything.

So, what can we do with doubt and what should we do with it? How can we retrieve a positive outcome from something that seems detrimental to our psychological well-being? In one way, doubt is a positive thing because if we never doubt anything then we would believe everything, which would really be detrimental because because we would accept so many contradictory beliefs and that would really cause psychological distress. As a Christian, one would need to be aware of proof texts and how people may take verses out of context in order to try and show that the Bible supports a point that they are trying to make. For instance, Krause quotes this portion of Romans 14:23, ". . . he who has doubt in condemned," and he uses it in order to try and show that the Bible declares that doubt is negative and wrong. However, his use of the verse is improper since it has been entirely isolated from the context, which has to do with maintaining a pure conscience and not creating stumbling blocks for others with the focus being on what food is proper to be consumed. In fact, Romans 14:23 within its context has not even been fully quoted because the whole verse states, "But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin." Thus, the doubt is not wrong, but the emphasis is on the fact that ignoring the doubt and performing the act without being certain that it is not improper or a stumbling block is wrong since it does not fully satisfy the conscience.

Thus, there is clearly a positive aspect of doubt being a type of safety mechanism by which we prevent ourselves from being easily convinced of anything that claims to be truth. The balance, in my opinion, is in how we view and handle doubt. We can't just ignore it because then it will always remain and fester and become a constant corruption of our beliefs and defile the purity of our conscience. On the other hand, we must also realize that doubt is a natural result of sin and can be part of Satan's plan to keep us from seeking and pursuing truth. So, doubt may be helpful or harmful depending on how we allow it to impact us. If we are utterly controlled and plagued by doubt with regard to every issue then it will absolutely have a negative influence on our psychological well-being, but it can also bring us to further probe and search for solidification of truth. The key is to learn to manage and control our doubt, instead of being manipulated by it.


Saturday, November 17, 2012

Alcohol Dependency and the Avoidant Attached Individual

Alcohol dependency has a habit of wreaking havoc anywhere it goes; it has a tendency of breaking relationships, tearing families apart, and creating money issues. Although alcohol dependency is a self-control or self-regulation issue in and of itself, much scientific research and non-profit organizations have spent much time and resources to provide an explanation to the cause of such a disorder and how to break a person from such an addiction. Many have blamed genes, exposure, and social desirability for the alcohol addiction phenomenon, but new research says that although the above may be contributors, it may not be the most accurate cause of such a debilitating addiction.  Authors, Clinton & Sibcy (2006), Schindler, Thomasius, Sack, Gemeindhardt, Kustner & Eckert (2005), and Hernandez, Salerno & Bottoms (2010) believe that an avoidant attachment style may be the leading cause of the alcohol abuse.
                Attachment theory ultimately states that the relationship a child has with his/her caregiver at the earliest stages of their lives affects how they can develop and maintain relationships later in life. Essentially, people with avoidant attachment styles often had parents that dismissed their feelings or emotions, especially any negative emotions. Even further, some parents physically or emotionally reject or disengage from their children. When these parenting styles persist, these children, and then adults follow the following relationship rules: other people are not reliable, dependable or trustworthy to care for their needs and they must rely solely on themselves to tend to these needs.  To pinpoint, as Clinton & Sibcy state, “addictive behavior stems from turning away from others, especially God, and looking to the self, and only to the self, for comfort. This state of inwardness sets the stage for addiction as the avoidant person looks for substitutes for intimacy” (pg. 84).
                Many often label attachment theory as “pop” psychology. In essence, is their research to back up the claims that an avoidant attachment style often leads to substance abuse? Hernandez et al. (2008) discovered that, in comparison to the other attachment styles, avoidant attached people used and abused alcohol significantly more as a coping style. Further, Schindler et al. (2005) found a significantly larger difference in alcohol abuse between securely attached individuals and avoidant attached individuals. At first glance, this theory seems very fatalistic. How fair is it that a child’s parents have such a weight on their behaviors as well as their abilities to develop and maintain relationships as they grow through the lifespan? It is entirely possible to break free from the insecure attachment style and the alcohol addiction one may be facing, but that is unfortunately a blog post for another time. However, a great source to learn about attachment theory and how to develop healthier attachment styles, consult Why YouDo  the Things You Do by Dr. Tim Clinton and Dr. Gary Sibcy. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Effects of Doubt

“Do you know that you KNOW that you KNOOOOOOW that you Know?!?” bellowed from the pulpit nearly every Sunday for the three years I attended. It was the characteristic beginning of the alter call. The message was implied not so subtly: If you were a true Christian your certainty of your faith ran as deep as you could possibly know. A lack of certainty needed a pledge or a prayer. This message carried deep into my personal journey of Christianity. Having a dramatic teenage conversion, I knew that I knew that I knew. Until I didn’t. And when I couldn’t be sure of that last “know”, I couldn’t be sure of the first one either! Doubt crept in. Confusion gave way to fear. This message, tied with others similar to it, created a belief in me that it was wrong to doubt. Many Christians hear similar messages from the faith community. This creates a bewildering experience for anyone who finds themselves struggling with an aspect of faith or doctrine.

Recently, psychology has explored the psychological wellbeing of those who experience religious doubt. What has unfolded is complex and at times seems inconsistent (Krause & Ellison, 2009). Is religious doubt healthy or unhealthy, positive or negative to mental wellbeing? My upbringing would shout (bellow!) that it is unhealthy and negative. Yet research has revealed that it is a dynamic mixture of both. Common doubts rise from difficult life experiences. Seeing evil or suffering gives rise to tension with religious views. Further, conflicts between faith and science as well as struggles with life meaning may also generate doubt (Galek, Krause, Ellison,Kudler, and Flannelly, 2008).

Francis Schaeffer
Francis Schaeffer, pastor and founder of L'Abri, went through a period of religious doubt surrounding meaning as a pastor. He states in True Spirituality, "I faced a spiritual crisis in my own life. I had become a Christian from agnosticism many years ago... After that I had become a pastor... Gradually, however, a problem came to me - the problem of reality... I realized that in honesty I had to go back (to agnosticism) and rethink my whole position."

Joni Earikson Tada
Joni Earikson Tada struggled with doubt as a result of severe pain and trauma when she became a quadriplegic after a diving accident. As she healed and learned to cope with her new disabilities, Joni went through a period of intense anger and doubt of God.
Conducting a study on the effects of doubt, Galek et. al. (2008) discovered that those who doubt are likely to experience more depression and anxiety. Such struggles seem consistent and natural for painful life experiences that give rise to questions concerning longstanding beliefs.
Doubt does not affect everyone in the same ways. Several factors influence the experiences of doubt. Doubt is not the same thing as unbelief. As opposed to the rejection of religion as in unbelief, doubt is seen rather as uncertainty and questioning. It does not reflect immaturity or lead to a blind rejection or rebellion against religion as many may fear (Puffer,Pence, Graverson, Wolfe, Pate, and Clegg, 2008). The struggles of doubt may be exacerbated by painful experiences with other church members. Additionally, attempts to suppress doubt are related to poorer overall health (Krause &Ellison, 2009). These issues may reflect the strong associations doubt has with anxiety and depression.
Rather than avoiding these questions and doubts, it may be beneficial to engage them. The questions of faith may be an important step in forming individual convictions and maturity. Doubt has been shown to have several advantages: higher self-esteem, the ability to think critically and problem solve, to develop principles and morality, and to have less dogmatic judgments. Baltazar and Coffen (2011), researchers who see doubt as an important part of religious exploration and commitment, encourage youth workers to teach the Bible using faith challenging questions in order to foster deeper religious thinking.
Francis Schaeffer worked systematically through his doubt and developed a deep and rational conviction for the basis of Christianity. He continued as a pastor and founder of L’Abri and became a renowned apologist and author.
Joni Eareckson Tada found peace with her doubts and became a bestselling author, motivational speaker, artist, and disability advocate founder of Joni and Friends.
And I – I learned how to doubt from Joni and Francis. I learned how to take my questions and struggles to God. From this I developed a better understanding of the character and nature of God - and of grace. Now my questions about my faith do not cripple me. They encourage me to explore and to learn.

Thursday, November 15, 2012


There is already much research out there talking about the importance of attachment or what is sometimes known as "object relations." The theory stresses that the nature of the early relationships we form with significant others in our lives, that begin with our parents, whether positive or negative inform the way we do relationships for the rest of our lives. Some of us learn to avoid others because we believe that they cannot understand us, others of us learn to prize others while holding ourselves in contempt, others of us become confused about who we can trust and who we can't, and others still learn that we can trust others and partake in healthy relationships. Current information now leads us to believe that the way we learn to do relationships early in life is related to the way we approach our analysis of God and our attachment strategy toward him. This research suggests that God attachment can be explained in one of two ways: Our relationship with God directly mirrors our relationships with early significant others (correspondence model), or that our relationship with God can compensate for the failings of earlier significant relationships (compensation model).

The large implication of this new research is that it has the potential to explain the disparities we may sometimes encounter when considering why some individuals are resistant to conversion or belief in God, and why others of us have a hard time while in relationship with God. Many of us become so frustrated when because we feel that God is far from us because he is either angry with us, disappointing in us, or about to hurt us by abandoning us again to difficult circumstances. Some of us may feel that God is untrustworthy and manipulative, so we decide to keep him at arms length. This research interjects the possibility that if we could understand the dynamics of our relationships with others, we may be able to better understand our current standing, or struggles with faith. On the other side of the equation is the great potential for restoration in our broken relationships. A fresh encounter with a loving God may indeed have the potential to free us from past wounds, and usher us into a new world of experiencing relationships.

The point here is that however our current schema for deciphering relationships is shaped, we can glean some insight from those relationships to inform how we do relationships with our God. It is in my opinion that a small dose of insight can go a long way with understanding our frustrations, and encouraging our healing.

Bretherton, I. (1992). The origins of attachment theory: John bowlby and mary ainsworth. Developmental Psychology, 28, 759-775
Beck, R. (2004). Attachment to god: The attachment to god inventory, tests of working model correspondence, and an exploration of faith group. Journal of Psychology and Theology, 32(2), 92-103

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Inviting God Back Into the Marital Bedroom

One day while at work, I was conversing with a colleague on the topic of keeping God at the center of all things we do.  My colleague shared a story of how a married couple expressed that they listen to worship music during their times of intimacy.  Immediately, I thought this was far-fetched and weird honestly, because I have never associated the two together. Ironically the next day, intimacy was one of the topics that emerged in a class discussion.  It was indicated that to experience true intimacy, all three aspects of the Trinity must be experienced at one time…and the best example of this is Christian marital sexual intercourse. 

Unfortunately, the nature of today’s corrupted (broken products of the Fall) world has perverted something that God has intended to be glorious.  We see the bastardization of this through infidelity, the use of pornography, or other marital contaminates that derive from the lack of self-control. Particularly, pornography in all of its forms is destructive and addictive. Although, it may begin out of curiosity, it can become a habit that takes control life and destroys spirituality. In having this lack of control individuals thought patterns are perverted, making it difficult for them to look at sexual intimacy in a wholesome way. Consequently, impacting a person’s ability to have a normal relationship with their spouse.  Dysfunctional relationships easily lead to infidelity and divorce. Various statistics present implications for further therapeutic attention.

These concepts eventually led to the idea of, “How do we invite God back into the marital bedroom?”   and not shut the door, leaving Him waiting outside.  Or better yet, get back to the garden where man and woman were naked and not ashamed.

Spiritual intimacy in marriage is about more than just spending time in God's Word. It's about learning how to connect with your spouse through your faith.  Research  indicates that the tools to rebuild trust and intimacy might include prayer, imagery, and meditation on texts emphasizing positive attributes of God. People can start building intimacy in their spiritual life by praying daily for their spouse and their relationship as a couple. Also, controlling negative feelings, thoughts, and eyes are all inclusive in changing behaviors that pervert marital intimacy.  Ultimately, having an appropriate understanding of intimacy is critical.

Sacred Marital Intimacy is based on:
Inappropriate Sexual Gratification is based on:
Mutual agreement
No Commitment/Disloyalty
Understanding each other
Lack of concern
God's teachings and boundaries
False teachings and lack of restraint
God's inspiration
Lucifer's temptations
And leads to unity, self-control and great blessings
And leads to isolation, addiction, and negative consequences

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

NDEs Hit Close To Home: One Lynchburg Man's Account Sparks Midnight Chatter

The term "ER" for individuals stirs up a lot of feelings and thoughts--for me the first one is WAITING.  Two nights ago, I found myself with a medical condition calling for some ER attention and had to spend almost 9 hours in the ER here in Lynchburg, VA.  What that really meant was 15 minutes of care and 8.75 hours of waiting and thinking.  All around the ER are triggers for thoughts regarding pain, suffering, life's meaning, death and life after death--allowing my mind to wander into such thought, I was abruptly interrupted when a lady suddenly asked "So did you hear about that smart fella from Lynchburg who died and went to heaven in this hospital?  Went to Harvard I think."  I looked around to see who else was listening, first of all, because I was intrigued, but to be perfectly honest I found myself a bit embarrassed to be engaged in talking OUT LOUD in front of the crowded ER about my thoughts on a topic as controversial as life after death---I mean I'm a Christian, but, I was there to potentially get my appendix out, not to proclaim my thoughts on the meaning of life in front of the sick, the attention-seeking, the worried, and the waiting, that night.

It seemed this particular topic had been chasing me lately from classroom to emergency room, so I decided to investigate.  I asked my "smart phone" for a little assistance and found out she was talking about a Harvard professor named Eban Alexander who reports experiencing heaven during a 7 day coma resulting from bacterial meningitis--Dr. Alexander who taught at Harvard medical school and now commutes to the University of Virginia from Lynchburg, VA, reports that while his brain was in a disconnected state (the cortex which is considered the primary location of memory and consciousness was being attacked by the illness) he experienced heaven. (See video link below)

The reality is that reports of such experiences are becoming more prevalent in the academic literature and are considered Near Death Experiences (NDEs)--which can be defined as events in which individuals in cardiac arrest or a state of clinical death (in which functioning of the cortex and brainstem has ceased) experience an out of body experience in which they have advanced cognitive functioning, a sense that they are experiencing a reality truer than the "real world" they have known, may experience an interconnectedness with the consciousness of deceased others, or an awareness of information and events that they would not otherwise be privy to (accidents happening at the time of their physical death which were taking place streets away, etc.) (van Lommel, 2011). As the accounts of such experience come forth in academic journal articles do a wealth of letters to the editor--attempting to explain away the individuals' NDEs as little more than modified experiences of consciousness influenced by hypercarbia, hypoxia, and drugs or other physicological stressors.

However, two elements of a portion of reported NDEs seem to remain inadequately explained in the research I found--the out of body awareness and advanced cognitive functioning including awareness of individuals and events that one would otherwise have no access to in their physical state. Some researchers are concluding that "self" exists independent of the body and is not a product dependent upon brain function--that there is perhaps an immaterial aspect to man afterall (van Lommel, 2011). What strikes this reader as most interesting are the reports of the NDE experiencer 1. seeing a deceased person who was thought to be alive (ex. Uncle Carl died in Alaska and Nephew Sam experienced an NDE in which he was revived and reported seeing Uncle Carl at which point his parents reported Sam having no previous knowledge of Uncle Carl's passing or a call comes in saying Uncle Carl just died). 2. seeing a deceased person otherwise unknown to the experiencer and upon being revived the report is cooroborated that the person existed (ex. the experiencer reports communicating with a "cousin" who unbeknownst to the experiencer was miscarried years before by an aunt.) (Greyson, 2010).

I am not about to jump on one boat or another and say all of these NDEs are true or that they aren't--a tendancy which seems prevalent among some of my friends---What I will say, is that although healthy skepticism may be warranted for such claims, as a believer in Christ and the afterlife He came to bring us, at some point I need to not just say, but also believe that "it's possible" He's given glimpses to others. I need to get over my knee-jerk reaction when someone brings up the topic of the paper-thin wall between this life and the next, and really start thinking and researching biblically through what I believe and why.  I just wish we had a more detailed account from Lazarus of Bethany of his experiences while dead--it might help to see how the accounts we are hearing in pop culture and scholarly research articles line up.

Monday, November 12, 2012

God Attachment

The attachment theory suggests that individuals have personal relationships or attachments to other individuals. Through his or her life, an individual develops either trust or mistrust as they mature physically, emotionally, and cognitively. This results in either a positive or negative form of attachment.  Many people now wonder if it possible to have a personal attachment with Christ. It is that time of year when, along with preparing for the holiday season, there are school assignments, papers, and exams that are due, work seems to pick up speed, and random busy work fill our spare time. It is that time of year when stress levels begin to rise and our hearts become anxious. The automatic response most people have when feeling scared and overwhelmed is running towards something or someone who, in their minds, they consider safe. As Christians, when we experience these feelings of stress and anxiety many of us run to Christ with our burdens knowing that there is safety, hope, and encouragement in Him. In order to trust Christ with one’s life then there must be a relationship, therefore, there must be God attachment. The Christians who do rely on Christ and run to Him for safety are most likely brought up in a secure home where they learned to trust and express their troubles and burdens to someone who cares for them. Through this healthy and secure lifestyle, this individual, if they have put their faith in Christ, is more likely to run to Christ and have a secure attachment to Him than a Christian who grew up in a household of fear, anxiety, and avoidance. Secure God attachment views Christ as a safe haven, a secure base, and a relationship that will never be lost. Those who do not live a secure life growing up may experience other types of God attachment such as anxious, fear, and avoidance attachments. However, this does not mean they cannot experience a secure attachment in Christ. There is a difference between cognitively believing in Christ and following after His very own heart. When we make the conscience decision to follow Christ and trust in Him to be our safety and help in times of need and trouble, we develop a healthy relationship with Christ that would be defined as a secure attachment. (Attachment to God: The attachment to God inventory, tests of working model correspondence,and exploration of  faith group differences)

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Spiritual Disciplines: How Do They Affect Our Lives?

     One may ask, what are spiritual disciplines and how do they affect our lives? Well, to answer that question, according to Christian Women's Center there are different types of spiritual disciplines; internal disciplines which includes meditation, prayer, fasting, Bible Study and chastity, external disciplines, which includes evangelism, service, simplicity, stewardship, solitude submission, then there is corporate disciplines, which includes celebration, confession, seeking guidance, and worship.  The personal disciplines are those that each individual should develop for him or herself, while the corporate disciplines are the one that the entire church body can do together.  

      Hebrews 11:1,6 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen v.6 without faith it is impossible to please God, so as Christians, we walk this faith walk before the Lord wanting and desiring to please Him, and so many times we fall short; however, God has made of way of escape for us and He is always faithful and just to forgive us when we find ourselves doing things that are contrary to the word of God. When the internal spiritual discipline of bible reading becomes a part of our daily walk we will then understand more clearly our walk and purpose before the Lord.  When we read our bible I believe it brings us to closer to God which gives us a more intimate relationship with Him. Although, reading our bible daily is important to our walk with the Lord, prayer, meditation, fasting is also important to our walk with the Lord.  We must pray to understand what God's will is for us.  It is suggested that when a Christian is pursuing the discipline of Bible study, the individual should get the one year bible and set a regular time for their daily bible reading Morley (2007).  According to Richard Foster, in his book, Celebration of Discipline, he quotes, " of all the spiritual disciplines, prayer is most central because it ushers in perpetual communion with the Father" (p. 50).  Additionally, fasting has a great benefit to the believers life because it adds strength to the participant's prayer life and it helps the individual hear God's voice and receive His direction 
        As Christians, evangelism is important, however; it is just as important that we understand what it means to serve others and be submissive to leadership.  We must be good stewards over whatever has been put into our hands to do. Being good stewards means that we are being obedient to the word of God.  I believe that the characteristic of solitude must also be apart of our daily walk with God I believe that we must be in a place to hear God and move effectively in what He has called us to do.  We must be swift to hear and slow to speak, we must allow God to work in us of His good pleasure, because He who has begun a good work in us if faith and just to complete the work that He has started.  Philippians 1:6, James 1:19.  It is important that we learn how to be quiet before the Lord, so many times when we go into prayer we begin talking and telling God what we want Him to do and sometimes God just wants us to be quiet in His presence and sometimes He will still speak to us through the silence. Solitude is spending long periods of time alone with God Vos (2012)

One last disciplines I would like to discuss is the corporate discipline of worship.  To worship is to ascribe great worth to God and to see Him as worthy.  Vos defined worship as a response of our heart to the love of God, which encompasses our whole lives (2012).  John 4:23 says, God is actively seeking those we will worship the Father in spirit and in truth.  In our worship we praise God for who He is and we express our gratitude for all He has done for us.  Worship is not true worship unless it changes us. 
In conclusion, it is important for us to want all of the spiritual disciplines to operate in us.  When these spiritual disciplines are working in us, they cause us to grow spiritually in God and our walk with Him.  Spiritual disciplines must be apart of our lives for us to effective not only in ministry but also in our counseling practice.  It is important that as future counselors, that we understand how to integrate the spiritual disciplines into our process of counseling understanding that it is the Holy Spirit's enabling help or empowering Tan (2007). 

Christian Women's Center 

Morley, P. (2007). A man's guide to the spiritual disciplines: Twelve habits to strengthen your walk with Christ. Moody Publishers: Chicago

Tan, S.,Y.  (2007).  Using spiritual disciplines in clinical supervision. Journal of Psychology and 
Christianity 26(4) 328-335.

Vos, B. (2012). The spiritual disciplines and christian ministry.  ERT 36(2). 100-114