Psychology And Religion.
There have been times when I have wondered if I am crazy. Who wouldn’t? It’s pretty classic isn’t it? People who think they hear God tend to be considered crazy and there have been times when I have wondered if I would be classified as delusional by other psychologists if they knew I think God speaks to me.
When I was attacked last year my faith was rocked to its foundations and I wondered if there really was a God or if I was actually psychotic. I pulled out my DSM-IV (the psychological diagnostic manual) and examined myself to see if I fit the criteria. I came to the conclusion that I did not fit the criteria for being considered mentally ill but only because of the way I interpreted the words “hallucination” and “delusion”.
I do not see visions with my eyes or hear God with my ears. I get pictures in my mind and the talks I have with God are thoughts in my mind not words spoken into my ears. My beliefs are not dictated to me for the most part – I choose them.
As for delusions – I don’t have any about me or my abilities. No more so than the average person anyway. Some people might think my faith in my writing skills is somewhat delusional for instance. On the other hand, I believe in God’s ability to perform miracles, I believe God still performs miracles. There are many who would classify that belief as delusional.
I came to the conclusion the DSM-IV did not support the theory that I was mentally ill and in need of hospitalisation so I did not have to discard my religion to hold on to my profession. On the other hand, when I first became a Christian, there was a definite tendency to reject psychology as being an enemy of faith.
Psychology is fact based, scientific, grounded in reality and research wherever possible and religious faith fits none of those pigeon holes although psychology does recognise the power of faith in people’s lives. Whatever a psychologist thinks about religion in his or her private life there is a tendency to encourage people to use whatever supports work for them and that includes a person’s faith.
Psychologists classify people’s religious beliefs as a form of support except where those beliefs are causing them problems. That tends to be when people don’t fit into their own religious beliefs and feel condemned by them. Psychology now views traditional religious beliefs as harmful for people such as gays and lesbians for example.
Psychology operates on the principle that any belief that causes you harm should be examined with a view to discarding or modifying it. Psychology would approve of a gay or lesbian person discarding their religious beliefs or modifying them to include the belief that God does not condemn homosexuality. Hence the religious perception of Psychology as being anti-Christian. (This is in spite of the fact that, until fairly recently, homosexuality was actually classified as a mental illness!)
It is when my profession locks horns with my faith that my struggle to wear two hats begins to give me headaches.
The fundamental rule of my profession is you absolutely do NOT judge people so what do I say to the gay man who is asking me – is being gay a sin? If I say homosexuality is a sin it will seem like I am judging him. The same applies for abortion and many other issues. If I am a Christian I must accept the religious dictate that there IS a right and a wrong and adhere to the definitions of right and wrong that the bible has laid out for me. If I am a psychologist I do not focus on right or wrong because there is no right or wrong in psychology there is only what makes a person happy and what causes them, or other people, harm.
If a client comes in for therapy and says everything was wonderful when they were a Christian but ever since they rejected their faith they have been depressed a psychologist would look at whether it might be best for them to regain their faith. They would try to help a Muslim regain their faith if the loss of that was causing them to be depressed too – it applies to any religion. If a Muslim became a Christian or a Christian became a Muslim and the change caused depression a psychologist would consider trying to help them return to the faith that was working for them whatever that faith was.
If, on the other hand, someone came in and said their new beliefs were making them happier than they have ever been because now they believe it’s all right to bash the wife and kids a psychologist would focus on the harm the beliefs were doing to others and try to change the new beliefs back to the old ones that prohibited the client from bashing their family.
The goal of psychology is to help people live lives that are happy, productive and fulfilling and do not involve the person doing harm to themselves or anyone else.
The goal of Christianity is to reconcile us with God so we will be welcome in Heaven.
As a psychologist I wholeheartedly reject the idea of telling someone they are sinful and will go to hell for something they feel is a part of who they are and how they were created!
As a Christian I wholeheartedly reject the idea of telling someone God approves of something they are doing if the bible says He does not!
Sometimes that means I fudge it. I avoid the issue of whether or not a person is sinning and ask them to look at the relationship they have with God. I am thinking now of a gay man who come to me for help. He believed in God and he was suicidal because of his belief that his sexuality was a wall of sin between him and God that he could not break down.
He asked me for guidance. The psychologist in me would not, could not, say homosexuality is a sin and God will reject you. The Christian in me was not able to say homosexuality is not a sin. I had no idea what to say to him. It felt like anything I said would involve a choice between psychology and religion and I did not want to believe the two were that incompatible.
I turned to God and He reminded me of the smoking issue. He said sin is sin whether it’s defiling the human body with poisonous cigarette smoke or committing mass murder. It is not which sins we commit or do not commit that matter – it is how willing we are to submit to God’s will for our lives. He said when He looks at me He does not see “Smoker”, He see’s “Kim”.
I do not wish to give up smoking but I am willing to let God change that if or when He chooses to do so. I trust Him to make me willing and able to give up smoking when the time comes. I have found, when the change in me is Gods will, he simply makes it happen if I let him.
When I first became a Christian one of my struggles was not having sex outside of marriage. I tried not to. I anguished and suffered over giving in to temptation. I despaired that the day would ever come when I would not need the touch of another human being regardless of all other considerations.
I have been celibate for almost ten years now. God did not force me to become celibate. He did not even ASK me to become celibate. It just happened this way because I learned things that caused me to simply lose interest in having sex if it does not bring with it love and a commitment to each another.
There is no inner struggle any more. I suffer no anguish, no temptation – I simply don’t want sex without love and I don’t mind waiting for the real thing as long as it takes.
I know the reason I reached this point was because my main goal was to let God make me into the person He created me to be. I have kept my eye on that goal and things have simply fallen into place. I learned things that made it possible for me to give up anger and hate too.
I left the issue of whether homosexuality is, or is not, a sin to those who wish to argue about it. I told my client I felt the important thing was not whether his sexual preference was a sin because we all sin – Jesus was the only human being who was able to never sin. I said God knows we are sinners and it’s not about the specific sins we commit – it’s about our personal relationship with God. I told him what I thought God wanted me to tell him.
You don’t have to be perfect for God to love you. He loves you exactly as you are. Your job is simply to let Him work His will in you and your life, secure in the knowledge you will be happiest if you become the person He created you to be. You don’t have to try to deny who you are – you just have to be willing to BECOME who God created you to be. If you genuinely want God’s will He will make it happen.
I find the best way to keep faith with both my Christianity and my psychological beliefs is to simply leave judgements about people and their behaviour to God.