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Saturday, December 15, 2018

Good News/Bad News from Psychology

Good News/Bad News from Psychology

First the bad news:
Here we shine some evidence-based light on the matter through 10 dispiriting findings that reveal the darker and less impressive aspects of human nature. … We view minorities and the vulnerable as less than human…. We experience Schadenfreude (pleasure at another person’s distress) by age four…. We are vain and overconfident….
And on it goes. Such are some of the less noble findings of the science of psychology. The article ends on a hopeful, if naïve, note:
Don’t get too down—these findings say nothing of the success that some of us have had in overcoming our baser instincts. In fact, it is arguably by acknowledging and understanding our shortcomings that we can more successfully overcome them, and so cultivate the better angels of our nature.
Maybe with God’s help. Which as it turns out, is another recent conclusion of the science:
Studies have shown that religious people are less prone to depression and anxiety, are less likely to abuse alcohol and drugs, and have above average immunity to physical diseases. As a result, psychologists are now developing faith-based approaches to treating chronic anger and resentment, the emotional scars of sexual abuse, and eating disorders.
If God is a crutch, it turns out he’s a very useful one. But of course, religion, and Christianity in particular, is not ultimately about us or our mental well-being. As the Westminster Shorter Catechism puts it, it’s about glorifying God and enjoying him forever. Often that leads to mental health. But sometimes to a dark night of the soul. Yet always, in the end, to the Source of all goodness and life.
The ‘Religion of Humanity’
Life without God—well, that has been the goal of the movement known as humanitarianism. Author Daniel Mahoney has written a book about what he calls “The Idol of Our Age,” and the book is reviewed by Gerald Russello in City Journal:
Mahoney draws on a tradition of reflection on humanitarianism, including Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Hungarian philosopher Aurel Kolnai, and Russian Orthodox thinker Vladimir Soloviev. As Mahoney frames the debate, “woefully ignorant of sin and of the tragic dimension of the human condition, [humanitarianism] reduced religion to a project of this-worldly amelioration. Free-floating compassion substitutes for charity, and a humanity conscious of its unity (and utter self-sufficiency) puts itself in the place of the visible and invisible Church.”
Sounds like an important book that will spark more comment in the coming weeks.
Christian Humanitarianism in Action
A number of Christians in the Netherlands believe God is calling them to help some humans by worshiping, now for nearly 1,000 hours straight:
A marathon worship service held by a church in the Netherlands to shield a family of asylum seekers has garnered worldwide attention. The feat has proved impressive for its longevity alone—now going on six weeks—but also represents a unique ecumenical moment among Christians in the tiny European nation.
Dutch law generally prohibits officials from interrupting a religious service, so Bethel Church in The Hague has kept worship going non-stop in order to turn its church into a sanctuary for an Armenian family who faces expulsion.
A Picture of Courage—and Help
Speaking of working together, check out this video of hyenas attacking a lion. It looks like it’s going to become gruesome, but stick it out to the very end. It’s a picture of Proverbs 30:30 (“a lion, mighty among beasts, who retreats before nothing”) and Psalm 46:1 where God is described as “an ever-present help in trouble.”

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