Friday, September 21, 2012

Religion can give self-control, but Christianity gives satisfaction.

Americans are addicted to almost anything now days.  Americans are addicted to food and the obesity rate just seems to be skyrocketing.  They are obsessed with their social image.  Forty-eight percent of Americans have some sort of social account and they check it constantly.  This has also lead to an addiction to technology.  The rise of smart phones is making it easier to access the internet no matter where a person is.  Americans are addicted to coffee.  To a normal America, you cannot get enough caffeine.  Americans are also obsessed with crime shows.  They are addicted to illicit sex and immorality runs rampant.  Because of such behaviors abortion is at an all time high.  There are those addicted to drugs, pain killers, gambling, and the list goes on.  In short, Americans are addicted to almost any thing and simply put: American have little if any self-control.  The reason why people struggle with addictions is because they cannot control their appetites.  So what is the cure for such addictions and how can someone gain more self-control?  The answer is Religion. 

It can be said that self-control is the master virtue.  With it one can obtain all the other virtues.[1]  In their book Handbook of the Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, Poloutzian and Park discuss three main elements of self-control.  The first element is there needs to be an ultimate standard.  Each person needs to know what to do.  Secondly, each person needs to monitor his own behavior.  The individual needs to know how he is doing in relation to the standard.  And thirdly, the person needs to have the will power and the ability to change to that standard (pg. 414-415). Now there have been many papers done exploring the effect of the religion on the human psyche to help and individual gain self-control (see McCullough and Willoughby2009).  There have even been studies done on people to see if these papers are true (see Rounding et. al. 1012).  They have found that religion does help someone gain self-control.  Why is this?  Poloutzian and Park speak about this also.  First off, religion gives a standard for one to follow after.  Secondly, it provides motivation.  Every religion gives plenty of reason why the striving for the ultimate standard is good- the most basic is G(g)od wants him to.  Third, religions have times and ways for people to monitor their growth in self-control.  Fourth and maybe the most important one, is religion can help a person monitor his desire for vices (418-425). So by this religion can help one curb their desire for vices and give them self-control; however, this will not help an individual in the long wrong. It will merely curb their appetites.  Ultimately the issue is a heart motive that needs to change.
Christians view evil as being a deprivation of the good.  Augustine said that evil is a provatio boni.  This means evil does not possess its own essence.   It is merely the privation of good; similar to the color black.  Black is not a real color but the absence of color, so evil is the absence of good.  However, Augustine expands on this idea in Confessions.  In it he says evil can also be the abuse of evil.  Taking this view, everything is good in and of itself, but becomes evil when it is abused.[2]  What man seeks for is joy. He tries to find it in all the temporal pleasures around him and by doing so he abuses them and turns them into vices.  Kiekegaard believed every soul longed for God but most men tried to fill this longing in other worldly things (Four Upbuilding Discourses).  Likewise, Augustine said, "Almighty God, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you" (Confessions book 1 chapter 1).  So true joy and happiness is found in God and what he has done for us through Christ on the cross.  We do not need to seek joy in other things outside of Christ, but it is who and what Christ has done for us that satisfies man.  And it is only until a person realizes this can he truly have self-control.  For without the ultimate form of joy in their life, they will seek out joy in other things.  So while religion in general can give a form of self-control, it is only Christianity that can give true joy that leads to everlasting contentment which will produce ultimate self-control.  The heart will have what it longs for- Christ- and it will not longer have to seek it out in temporal objects.

[1] See Roy F. Baumeister and Julie Juola Exline “Virtue, Personality, and Social Relations: Self-Control as the Moral Muscle” in  Journal of Personality, 1999.
[2] Cf. C. S. Lewis - Mere Christianity. Macmillan Publishing, 1978. Pgs. 49-54.


  1. I enjoyed this blog. One thing I kept thinking was the idea of delayed gratification. I've heard it said that with maturity and wisdom comes the ability to delay gratification. The points of addiction to technology are pertinent because it shows how society no longer bases success on knowledge, but on the availability of information. It seems that nobody knows anything anymore, they just look it up when the information is needed. Along with this comes the inability to see the big picture. Society has been reduced to a here and now focus and a desire for immediate results and gratification. America, as a whole, focuses on what makes one feel good now (various addictions) instead of searching for and clinging to things to help their future be productive (increased knowledge, spirituality, and quality relationships).

  2. There is a lot of truth to how you indirectly put self-control and addiction at opposing poles on the spectrum. It is true that addictions prevail in our society, from food addiction and drug addiction to the lesser known addictions of approval and perfectionism. As humans we are created in the perfect image of God. However, because of the sin that persists in today's world, in most cases we struggle with misplaced identity. We have a misplaced identity if it's any less than viewing ourselves as created in the image of God. This misplaced identity is a source for addiction. Instead of viewing ourselves as created in the image of God, the identity we carry for ourselves is often times distorted, which can easily lead to one of many forms of addiction. Our identity is destroyed, and as a result the beliefs we have about ourselves are flawed and inaccurate. We turn to alcohol, drugs, food, perfectionistic ways, all to cover or ignore what we perceive as a flawed image. How great would it be if we started realizing our true identity in Christ and living, as John 10:10 say, "to the fullest"!

    1. Good thought Christine, but I do not think we get addicted to things merely because our identity is lost or altered. We all act because we want to. There is a sense in which our idea of joy is what leads us to act. I do not go and get a glass of water unless I desire to. So the reason why people get addicted to things is because they have a desire to.
      Now sometimes this can be because of a misplaced identity that has caused a wrong view for the source of joy, but it ultimately goes back to joy. "Where am I going to get happiness from" asks everyone. If they think it will not be in God then they will not be seeking God, but instead seek anything else. And if they think they have found the source of all happiness then they will stay with it. Hence you get addictions. The alcoholic drinks every night because he thinks that will make him happy. The sex addict will sleep with a different girl tonight because he thinks it will make him happy. We need to change our thought process about what brings happiness and see that joy is ultimately found in God. Here is a link to a helpful video I hope you watch.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.