The Nexus of Psychology and Religion

There doesn’t seem to be much interest in psychology and its relationship to religion on this forum and I am curious about what people think about the connection between the science of psychology and theology. Most people will acknowledge that psychology is a science, even if only a soft science which carries the implication that it is of lesser value. I think it is important and would like to start a light-hearted discussion on the value of psychology.
God created man in His image. If I had created a hybrid electric/gas vehicle I would recommend that people who owned one also get the owner’s manual – or Bible – to read up on how it works.
For all you linguists out there, let’s start with a test. Which of the following words is used 830 times in the King James Version of the Bible?
Faith Law Heart Love Power Spirit
I’ll give you a hint – I have used it already in this post. Another hint – Moses wrote Genesis after Israel had spent 400 years in Egypt and he spent 30 years growing up in the Egyptian royal family being well educated on Egyptian Gods and creation.
And the answer is: HEART
The Egyptians viewed the heart as the seat of intellect, emotions and the soul so it was carefully preserved with the embalmed corpse while the brain was dug out through the nostrils and thrown away. So let’s get to the heart of the matter.
Modern neuroscience has a lot to say about the brain and our rational and emotional selves. We know a lot more than the Egyptians did but as a general rule people don’t seem very interested in how our psychology can affect how we understand the God described in the Bible. My assertion is that if we know more about the psychology of the people in the Bible, we would have a better understanding of theology and religion. Am I wrong? And, would it make a difference to anyone?

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That’s an interesting thing to ponder. I think some Christians can be nervous about mixing psychology with theology because it can be tricky to figure out where the line is between a psychological condition and a spiritual condition or experience, and just as with some hardline young-earth creationist viewpoints, having a scientific explanation for something (whether hard or soft science) can cause some to worry that the science is infringing on God’s territory. Not saying this is my view, but that’s my assumption for one of the reasons why we don’t often see psychology and religion together, though it’s welcome on this forum and has come up in the past, but not as often as the harder sciences.

You mention knowing more about the psychology of the people in the Bible – how would you go about doing that? Do you mean for individuals that were written about, or more in general terms about the cultures and nations as a whole?

Their psychology was no different to ours. So what is that?

Good subject. The church here has always had a difficult time with how to handle mental illness, and the study of psychology has been impacted. Some very unhealthy attitudes exist. Despite that, the Bible has much to offer regarding understanding human behavior or at least providing case studies to examine.

It certainly has the latter. And shows that human behaviour is understandable across time and culture. I don’t know what else it has to offer, apart from as a case study in itself of the impact of the ultimate proposition: God walked with us in a very long dead culture.

There have been multiple threads discussing topics such as moral foundations theory (evolutionary psychology), and neuroscience. I think most people her take it for granted that psychology is a valuable discipline that has discovered true things about human behavior and reasoning.

Vehemently disagree that the Bible is in any way analogous to a human user manual. It’s the story of God relating to a chosen people and inviting them into his mission in the world. It’s not a psychology textbook any more than it is a geology textbook or a cosmology textbook. If you want to understand psychology, a modern discipline unknown to ancient Israel, you should consult experts in psychology, not the Bible.

Unfortunately, we can’t sit any of the people from Bible times or authors of the Bible down for a therapy session of a psych eval, so how do you propose we gain these psychological insights. Would it not be more relevant to our experience as modern Christians in a particular culture, time, and place, with faith challenges uniquely our own, to understand our own psychology?

We have objective evidence* of the Christian God’s providential interventions into the lives of his children. That has definite implications about the existence of the supernatural and truth in the Bible.

I’m not sure I agree with that idea. As a follow up to my original post, I would like to recommend two books that I believe are important in thinking about psychology and theology.
The first is by Julian Jaynes, a Princeton psychologist who wrote The Origin of Consciousness in the Break-Down of the Bicameral Mind (1976) It’s an old school discussion of his theory on how God’s communication with mankind evolved from speaking to prophets in the Old Testament to written records of the last prophets’ teaching (Jesus).
The other is more modern. Entitled The Physics of Consciousness, by Evan Harris Walker is a solid explanation of quantum mechanics told as part of an enchanting personal story from his own life. I think both are more than worth the time to read.

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I think that God has changed the way He communicates with his followers but I think we have the same humanity as Adam and Eve who covered their shame when they failed to follow God’s command and hid from the punishment they deserved because they were guilty of violating His order. Are we any different than Peter who denied Christ because he feared the consequences of his discipleship?

I’m not arguing human isn’t human, I’m arguing the Bible does not reveal the science of psychology, nor can we investigate the psychological states of people who are long dead, spoke a different language, and inhabited a very different time and culture.

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I remember it well. The year of the English drought. Young Dickie said “one of those books that is either complete rubbish or a work of consummate genius, nothing in between! Probably the former, but I’m hedging my bets”. For once he was wasting his money. He was right first time.

It makes a difference to me. I’m interested in why God belief has been such a dominant aspect of culture nearly everywhere and for as far back as we can trace, and, what role might that have played in our becoming distinctively human. I think the latter question is rather like the one concerning the chicken and the egg: was God belief so compelling that it drove us toward the depths of our humanity, or, did man’s invention of God result in our transformation? Did belief come first and or the invention of that which is believed? Maybe both are true.

Regardless I agree entirely that the answer stems from the facts of our psychology - whatever it may be that brought them about. But not psychology in the behavioristic sense. That won’t work. The facts are phenomenal in nature, subjective facts. Not contrived or arbitrary facts but directly observable only through introspection, so certainly not a hard science. But is science the best approach in all matters? Only if we are truly deterministic machines, but I don’t think any right thinking person believes that or else only fleetingly in the sophomore stage of education. Neurobiology can only tell us how certain aspects of our subjective experience map onto our physiology. That subjective experience cannot be observed and studied objectively from the outside*. So every psychology is at base confessional.

*And don’t believe everything you hear about the hype about fMR imaging’s ability to read people’s thoughts.
[Mind-reading scan identifies simple thoughts | New Scientist]

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In general I am thinking about how people back then and today both processed information and learned about the world around them and creation in general. For example, back then there were no public schools or written material at all. So how did they learn abstract concepts like forgiveness. A lot of the teachings of Jesus were in the form of parables - was there a specific reason for this. Can modern neuroscience give us some hints?

I’ve read a few articles about the importance of stories and how we’re wired to need them in order to make emotional connections with ideas rather than just seeing them as dry facts. Probably humans haven’t changed much since Jesus’s day – we just have more powerful tools.

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Forgiveness is biological. Like compassion. Sympathy. Mourning. A sense of fairness. Play. Kinship. Love. Affection. Higher animals are submissive to more dominant ones of the same species. It’s all, without exception, evolved and amenable to science. Including religion. All of all religion. Natural.

Natural really isn’t a dirty word.

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It’s not acceptable drawing room terminology to the vast majority round here to one degree or another.

Of course it isn’t. It is very acceptable drawing room terminology to the vast majority of us. Most if not all of the scientists here love nature, as well as most if not all of the others that frequent these spaces. But we also have objective evidence of the God who is sovereign over it and who has entered it, humbling himself to communicate truth about his supernatural love for us. But that is not acceptable drawing room terminology in those homes where that love is not acknowledged or reciprocated and subjectively dismissed.

Nature is a beautiful word, but not when it finds itself into a sentence where it can function as a substitute for God. There’s some real dark meaning when that happens, like an infinitely progressing hall of mirrors.

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How can nature be a substitute for God?

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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