Book Review: Homosexuality – The Use of Scientific Research in the Church’s Moral Debate; By Stanton L. Jones & Mark A. Yarhouse

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Letter TThe topic of homosexuality has been discussed from a variety of angles from within the Christian context. Some scholars seek to address the ancient near-Eastern and Greco-Roman contexts in which the Scriptures were written to best understand their injunctions, others attempt to deal directly with and exegete the Biblical texts.

The goal of Stanton Jones and Mark Yarhouse in their book here is to analyze how the most recent scientific research effects the Christian moral debate around homosexuality. To be clear, the book is not written to answer the question of whether homosexual actions are immoral in light of science, the authors begin from the assumption that it is. The goal is rather to show that “while science provides us with many interesting and useful perspectives on sexual orientation and behavior, the best science of this day fails to persuade the thoughtful Christian to change his or her moral stance.”(p.13) The goal is to answer the question of how research on homosexuality should inform the Christian understanding of homosexuality.

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Book Review: The Psychology of Atheism – By R.C. Sproul

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Letter MMuch has been written trying to explain the psychology of theism. The foundational text in that field is probably Sigmund Freud‘s The Future of An Illusion, where Freud theorizes that religion came about as a sort of coping mechanism; it was comforting for early man to personalize the forces of nature and to turn their chiefs into legends, and eventually this evolved into the more institutional forms of religion.

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Book Review: The Future of An Illusion – By Sigmund Freud

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Letter WWell known for his work in the fields of psychology and particularly his founding of the field of psychoanalysis, The Future of An Illusion is Freud‘s tackling of the foundations and future of religion, especially as it relates to civilization.

Religion, as Freud see is, arose out of the “necessity of defending oneself against the crushing superior force of nature” where “the primal father was the original image of God,” or rather a model on which he was shaped. Freud sees religion as a sort of neurosis which, with the advancements of science and proper education, the human race will eventually overcome.

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Book Review: Basic Principles of Biblical Counseling – By Larry Crabb

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letter-lLarry Crabb is continually one of my favorite Christian psychologists, and in this book he offers a basic summary and outline of what he believes to be the – as the title denotes – the basic principles which should be employed for biblical counseling.

Crabb operates off of what might be called the cognitive-behavioral approach to psychology, as seen through a Christian lens. This approach can perhaps best be summed up in Crabb’s statement that “the event does not control the feeling; the evaluation of the even controls it.” 

That is to say, events themselves do not directly result in the things that plague us, rather, it is our interpretation of those events which cause us trouble.

Crabb opens his book with a wonderfully insightful section on the basic philosophical underpinnings of his theory, such as the necessity of God in interpreting our experience and noting the failure of the rationalistic/scientific philosophy/endeavor to provide true certainty (but merely the ‘floating anchors’ of existentialism).

With this foundation set Crabb goes on to discuss the basic needs of people and how they go about meeting these needs (and in turn, how they should go about meeting them), to include that “The basic personal need of each personal being is to regard himself as a worthwhile human being” and furthermore that “In order to regard themselves as worthwhile, people need not only significance but also the security of being loved… People need that kind of love [which God offers]. We need, really need, to be loved as we are, loved at our worst. We need to regard ourselves as worthwhile. In order to do so, we must not only be significant but also be secure in the unconditional love of another person. We need relationship.”

Crabb notes that change is dependent upon the value system that is brought to a problem, and that the goal is to change the person towards Christ-likeness (and that in doing so clients must be held responsible for their actions, doing away with the more deterministic approaches of early twentieth-century psychology).

Naturally, this is an approach in which the therapist instills proper – Biblical – values onto the client, rather than merely humoring whatever values the client may already have, hence: “The initial task of the Biblical counselor is to recognize the basic personal needs of people (significance and security) and to identify the wrong thinking about how to meet those needs which has led to either sinful behavior (the problem then is guilt), or sinful feelings (resentment or anxiety).”

Crabb does not believe that this change should be brought about merely through the counselor-counselee relationship, or between the pastor and the church-member, but rather “God has designed the local church as the primary vehicle through which people are to exercise their significance-providing gifts… As long as pastors do all the work in the local church, they are robbing their people of an opportunity to meet their needs as God intended.”

Thus, Crabb’s model is one in which the church plays a significant role in working to aid those members which make it up.

As with most everything I’ve read by Crabb, I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and find his insights – and overall approach – to Christian counseling to be wonderfully well-grounded both philosophically and biblically (and, indeed, psychologically).

Memorable Quotes:

– “In a sentence, my argument is this: the field of counseling needs a certain and meaningful unity. Science by itself can provide neither. It can attach greater or lesser probability to hypothesis but it can never prove a single proposition… if there really is a personal God, then there is a truth about people and their problems which can provide the necessary foundation or framework for variety in counseling technique. And basic truth apart from God cannot be known with certainty apart from revelation.”-24

– “… people must accept themselves as adequate in a truly significant role if they are to honestly regard themselves as worthwhile and so to enjoy the fulfillment of being a real person. The need to be significant can be met only by glorifying God in my life by surrendering to Him.”-61

– “Either God has failed me or He hasn’t. Either He is meeting my needs right now or He isn’t. Christianity demands that I trust God to be faithful.”-67

– “God is where the buck-passing ends. Because He is sovereign, I must either thank Him or blame Him for what happens to me.”-69

– “Personal problems begin with a wrong belief which leads to behaviors and feelings which deny us the satisfaction of our deep personal needs.”-81

– “When I am faced with a sinful pattern of thinking, and I therefore am prompted to behave sinfully, I am to die to that sinful pattern experientially just as I already am dead to it positionally. I am to actualize in my immediate experience that which God says is true: I am dead to sin. In other words, I am to identify with Christ in His death by doing with sin exactly what He did with sin.”-101

Specific Criticisms

I am unable to provide any critique of this book, which is as always not to say that the book is perfect, but merely that I haven’t advanced to the point of being able to pick out whatever flaws might be present.

Depression – A [Short] Study

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Letter DDepression as a general phenomenon has often been referred to as “the common cold of psychopathology”; an extreme of this condition – Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) – serves to be a much more severe form of depression, indeed, it is “one of the most common, debilitating, and deadly psychiatric conditions.”

In order to best understand this disorder it is necessary that one understand multiple aspects of it, to include: the symptoms associated with the disorder, its etiology, its prevalence, and the various modalities used to treat the disorder.

Furthermore, as the Christian counselor seeks to understand the disorder, it is also necessary that the Biblical and theological issues and critiques relating to the disorder also be addressed; this is especially true because as A.W. Tozer once noted “because we are the handiwork of God, it follows that all our problems and their solutions are theological.”

Symptoms

 The symptoms of MDD are varied and not confined to a single area of functioning, rather, there are “emotional, motivational, behavioral, cognitive and physical symptoms of depression; it is a holistic phenomenon.” As laid out by the American Psychiatric Association in the most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, there are nine primary symptoms of MDD.

When the individual has MDD these symptoms will be present during the same two-week period, will occur most of the day, nearly every day, will not be attributable to the physiological effects of some substance or to a medical condition, and will cause clinically significant distress in functioning.

The first of these symptoms is a depressed mood, expressed by such things as feeling sad, empty, and/or hopeless. It could be said in this state that depression feels like a mere absence of everything, of an empty pain that feels not merely like pain but like meaningless pain.

The second of these symptoms is anhedonia, or a loss of interest or pleasure in most to all activities. One of these previous two symptoms must be present in order for an individual to have MDD.

Apart from these two, at least four of the other associated symptoms must be present in order to diagnose with MDD. These other potential symptoms include such things as a significant amount of weight loss despite not dieting, or weight gain of more than 5% body weight in a month; a marked decrease or increase in appetite may also suffice. These also include insomnia or hypersomnia; fatigue or loss of energy; a lowered ability to think or concentrate; feelings of worthlessness or inappropriate guilt; psychomotor agitation or retardation; and recurrent thoughts of death, such as suicidal ideation (even without a specific plan) or a suicide attempt. One way of describing a person in this state is that they “view the world through gray-tinted glasses.”

In the Christian realm there are also spiritual symptoms which one may observe. Thus the symptoms of depression can express themselves as being compounded by a feeling that God is angry with them.

Causes

There are a number of theories regarding the causes of MDD. Sometimes the disorder seems to arise out of nowhere while other times it seems to have a trigger. Because of this it is often difficult to ascribe a specific cause to a depression. According to the DSM-5, the risk factors related to this include temperamental, environmental, genetic, and other factors.

The main temperamental risk factor associated with MDD is neuroticism, which cause individuals to be more likely to develop a depressive disorder in reaction to stressful events in life.

The main environmental factor which plays into MDD is the presence of stressful life events – this is especially so in terms of childhood experiences, which research indicates plays a large role in the development of cognitive processes. Examples of such life events would include the loss of a parent before age 5 (which has been associated with an increase in depression as an adult), some sort of abuse, or living in an environment where the child’s self-esteem was constantly threatened and/or a negative worldview communicated.

Other environmental factors include such things as the lack of a support system, systems which “have been shown to mitigate the effects of negative stressors”, as well as a significant amount of stress in the individual’s life which can result in a chemical imbalance which may then trigger a depression.

The main genetic factor associated with MDD is that having a close family member who has had MDD increases an individual’s chances of developing it themselves; it has furthermore been found that there is a higher prevalence of MDD in females than in males.

Finally, the presence of any other non-mood disorder can play into an individual developing depression, with substance abuse, anxiety, as well as borderline personality disorder being the most prevalent, along with other medical conditions. Of these other factors that may play into the development of depression, while mild symptoms of depression have been associated with conditions such as diabetes, asthma, and heart disease, it has been found that obesity does not play a significant role in causing depression.

Apart from these risk factors, there are also other elements which have been linked as contributors to depression, such as the biological element. As stated by Yarhouse et al., few clinicians today “would deny that there are usually biological foundations for problems of mood.” One of these biological elements is the influence of chemical hormones and neurotransmitters, for instance, a decrease in serotonin or norepinephrine will result in the feelings that rare labeled as depression.

A potential cause of this decrease are the thoughts of the individual, for “it is now believed that thoughts stimulate chemical hormones.” Because the chemical balance of the body plays such a large role in the way an individual feels, serious depressive symptoms can also be “direct results of poor choices about chemically controlling our mood states” such as is present with abuse of both legal and illegal medications and drugs.

The cognitive element also plays a role in the etiology of MDD. A major cognitive element present in both major and minor depression is negative self-talk, and there are at least three different misbeliefs or types of negative self-talk that individuals repeat to themselves or ruminate over as a way of devaluating themselves; these include the beliefs that they are no good, that their daily life is no good, and that their future is hopeless. This sort of self-talk “can and does create and maintain feelings which are so miserable they may lead to suicide attempts.”

While engaging in this sort of negative self-talk the individual will often reinterpret their own personal history so that those things which were good – or even average – become seen as “terrible and deserving of infinite guilt.”

These sorts of cognitive patterns often become immune to attempts at logic, and it is debated whether or not these patterns are the primary causes of depression or results of a “synergistic combination of stressors and vulnerabilities.”

In being immune to normal logic, depression also shows a logic of its own so that the afflicted individual is unable to distinguish between loving actions, hurtful ones, and indifferent ones. Regardless of whether this sort of rumination is the cause or the effect in relation to depression, it has been shown by Vanhalst that the most harmful component of rumination was often the uncontrollability of it.

This negative self-talk is generated in a variety of ways and can perhaps be narrowed down to five major cognitive errors.

These errors include: selective abstraction, where the individual focuses only on certain elements of an experience to describe the entire thing; arbitrary inference, where the individual draws a conclusion without evidence or in the face of contrary evidence; overgeneralization, where the individual draws a conclusion based upon only a single incident; personalization, where the individual relates events to themselves even without evidence that the events are so linked; and dichotomous thinking, where the individual classifies events into either/or and all/none categories despite the possibility of there being other options.

From the Christian perspective it should also be noted that sin can be a cause of depression. Despite this, one can’t automatically attribute one core sin as being the cause of a depression. This sort of connection should not be made lightly, especially since in Christian circles depression is usually seen as a moral failing anyway, even when it may not be.

Thus, while sin may be a contributing factor in a depression, other factors should always be taken into consideration.

Prevalence

According to the APA the prevalence of MDD within the United States is approximately 7%, where 18-29 year olds have a threefold higher rate than those over 60 years of age, and females have a “1.5- to 3-fold higher rates than males beginning in early adolescence.” More specifically, the prevalence of depression has be shown to be between 3-8% in adolescents (with a lifetime prevalence of 14%), and a prevalence of 17% in adults, where approximately 40-70% of those who experienced as adolescents also experiencing it as an adult.

This recurrent nature increases with each additional onset, such that approximately 60% of those who develop have one episode will experience a second, “70% of those with a second will suffer a third, and 90% of those with three or more episodes will experience further, often many more, recurrences.” Beyond this, it is also noteworthy that there are symptoms of depression “underpinning many acute psychological disorders.”

Treatment 

Recently it is becoming more understood that depression is something that needs to be treated holistically and in an interdisciplinary way. This treatment uses one or more of multiple types of interventions, to include: suicide prevention, biotherapies, psychotherapies, and family involvement. Suicide prevention is the most pressing treatment needed if there is a risk, as 15% of those with severe depression will eventually commit suicide (this in itself accounting for 60% of suicides). This can be accomplished through such things as getting the client merely to agree not to kill themselves, by breaking the pattern of ruminations through hospitalization, and to assign task once this pattern is broken.

Biological treatments are a major tool in the treatment of MDD, which includes everything from serotonin reuptake inhibitors to mood stabilizers to electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). According to Maxmen et al., 78% of individuals improve through use of ECT, 60-70% with the use of antidepressants, and 23% improve simply through the use of a placebo (p. 363). ECT is usually only used with the most severe cases of depression, such as those which do not responds to any sort of medication.

Because depression includes cycles of negative self-talk and ruminations, its treatment should go beyond mere medication to also include counseling for change in beliefs and behavior. Cognitive approaches to psychotherapy are one of the more effective treatments, especially as it is this sort of approach which is most directly able to target the negative self-talk as well as the irrational attitudes and beliefs, selective memory, pessimism, guilt, and shame associated with depression. This approach has been shown to have successful results of 50-60%.

For the Christian, part of this approach may include correcting the misbeliefs which plague the depressed individual.

Thus it can be asserted that the individual is indeed a creature of worth and value, created in the image of God. It can be shown that even a depressed person can find meaning in activities, because the daily life of the Christian comes from God. It can finally be shown that the Word of God says that the future is not hopeless, but that there is hope in Christ.

The goal of this is to change the way the individual perceives the problem, which then may result in a reevaluation of the problem; in this way “experience has been altered through the change in meaning.” Once the experience has been altered through this change in meaning the individual may begin to find some sense of hope.

Strategies along the behavioral line focus on helping the individual to develop social skills and reinforcing non-depressive actions. This development of social skills is especially important – as noted earlier – the lack of support systems is a possible contributing factor to depression. The development of social skills may go a long way in correcting this, and as is noted by Larry Crabb: “because our worst problems began in community, that’s where our answer lies.”

Rather than seeing themselves as “damaged selves needing repair,” the individual needs to see themselves as “isolated souls who can find life only through connection with God and with other people.”

These behavioral strategies can also include helping the individual to set and achieve goals that they themselves set, which because they are set by the individual are more likely to succeed.

In the same vein as this development of social skills in order to create support systems is the need for family involvement. This is especially important because the family members may also feel drained through involvement with the depressed individual.

The involvement of the family serves three primary functions, to include: supporting the individual, supporting the family, and treating the family. In this the family should be shown the limits of what they can do to help the individual, but should also be educated and involved in the treatment process, thus “by helping the family help the patient, the therapist helps the family.”

From the Christian worldview there are a few other noteworthy nuances to treatment. One of these is the potential to deal with the problem of sin, which may be one of the causes of the depression. It is likely that many of the false beliefs and the negative self-talk that the individual is engaging in is based upon a non-Biblical worldview, and correcting this worldview may be a step in the right direction for the individual, along with helping the individual to get beyond certain sins in their life.

Beyond this, more drastic measures may be necessary, and in some circumstances deliverance from demonic influence may be in order and may be helpful for the individual.

While major depression is one of the more common and more serious disorders that individuals deal with, there is much about it that is understood and also much that can be done about it. Through the use of suicide prevention, biotherapies, psychotherapies, and family involvement, many individuals will be able to overcome the disorder.

 

Book Review: What Is Man? – By Mark Twain

 

marktwainwhatismanLetter Published by Mark Twain in 1906, What Is Man is a book indicative of its time, and if nothing else serves very well to demonstrate the popular ideas present during the turn of the previous century.

The text takes the form of a dialogue between two characters, the Old Man and the Young Man. The theme of the conversation revolves around psychological egoism – the idea that every human action is motivated by self-interest (even in apparent altruism), which can be seen loosely in the form of social exchange theory (that human relations and actions are based in a cost-benefit analysis). The Old Man in Twain’s work takes this psychological egoism to the extreme and the entirety of the text consists of him attempting to persuade the Young Man that humans are merely machines on the grounds that everything which determines that self-interest comes from the outside.

Twain’s argument isn’t particularly difficult to follow: “From his cradel to his grave a man never does a single thing which has any first and foremost object but one–to secure peace of mind, spiritual comfort, for himself.”

When one objects, citing an example of an instance where somebody does something somebody else in which they get nothing in return, Twain would posit that it is the satisfaction of doing something for somebody else, or seeing somebody else happy, that is the return – that this satisfaction is merely another form of personal gain which the individual may place over and above other more literal forms of personal gain.

Twain couples this notion with his second argument, that: “A man’s brain is so constructed that it can originate nothing whatever. It can only use material obtained outside” in order to conclude “It is merely a machine; and it works automatically, not by will power. It has no command over itself, its owner has no command over it.”

Since Twain’s system places man in the realm of machine, the Young Man questions how one is to overcome vices. The solution for Twain is training: “That it shows the value of training in right directions over training in wrong ones. Inestimably valuable is training, influence, education, in right directions – training one’s self-approbation to elevate its ideals.”

Twain’s conclusion is to point out that, being a machine, that man deserves no credit or glory for any good that he does, but that the glory belongs to the one who created him: God.

Memorable Quotes:

-“Whatsoever man is, is due to his make, and to the influences brought to bear upon his heredities, his habit, his associations. He is moved, directed, commanded, by exterior influences – solely. He originates nothing, not even a thought… None but gods have every had a thought which did not come from the outside.”

-“I told you that there are none but temporary Truth-Seekers; that a permanent one is a human impossibility; that as soon as the Seeker finds what he is thoroughly convinced is the Truth, he seeks no further, but gives the rest of his days to hunting junk to patch it and caulk it and prop it with, and make it weather-proof and keep it from caving in on him.

-“O.M. Where does the credit of it belong?
Y.M. To God
O.M. And the glory of which you spoke, and the applause?
Y.M. To God.
O.M. Then it is YOU who degrade man. You make him claim glory, praise, flattery, for every valuable thing he possesses – BORROWED finery, the whole of it; no rage of it earned by himself, not a detail of it produced by his own labor. YOU make man a humbug; have I done worse by him?”

Specific Criticisms

There are a variety of things which can be critiqued in Twain’s work.

1) Although he says that one needs to train “one’s self-approbation to elevate its ideals” his system gives no basis by which to determine these ideals, which actions are better than others. He acknowledges God, but his acknowledgement doesn’t show God having any standard and gives no reason not to simply conclude that “what is is best.”

Along these same lines, if everybody is getting self-satisfaction through their actions, what is the point of ‘elevating ideals’? One would presume that the goal is to create a greater surplus of satisfaction, but that argument is never made.

2) Building off of the last point, similar to how the question of a standard simply isn’t addressed, the obvious objection in the vein of theodicy is similarly not addressed. Twain takes the glory away from man by saying that every man is simply acting out the functions God instilled in him, and in this way he brings down man off his pedestal. What he fails to mention is that at the same time he is bringing God down off of his pedestal as well in that he offers no solution to the problem of evil – not only does he offer no solution, but he seemingly makes God the author of evil as well as good. Afterall, if God deserves the credit for all of man’s positive action on the basis that man is merely a machine doing what God made it to do, then God also deserves credit for all of man’s negative action on the same basis. Twain offers no solution to this, indeed, he doesn’t even mention it.

3) After making his thesis that there are no perpetual truth-seekers Twain makes that comment that: Hence the Presbyterian remains a Presbyterian, the Mohammedan a Mohammedan, the Spiritualist a Spiritualist, the Democrat a Democrat, the Republican a Republican, the monarchist a Monarchist; and if a humble, earnest, and sincere Seeker after Truth should find it in the proposition that the moon is made of green cheese nothing could ever budge him from that position…”

This is just quite simply contrary to the fact, and even contrary to Twain’s own system. “Man as machine” offers no basis for his immutability of belief at any point, but actually just the opposite. Since in Twain’s system Man is completely developed by influences outside himself, one may never posit that a new influence might come along which completely changes even the most hardened individuals mind.

4) The basic argument again is that ‘a man never does a single thing which has any foremost object but to secure peace of mind for himself’. Whenever a seemingly altruistic example is raised as an objection Twain simply posits that there is some other selfish motivation at work which is the foremost object – for instance, satisfaction of having helped somebody.

While this does point out how the individual always gains something or some peace of mind through every action, there is never reason given to positively posit this as the primary object.

What seems to be even more to the point with this particular problem is that the psychological egoist put what constitutes self-satisfaction in the absolute broadest of parameters possible, which makes it amount to little more than “people only do those things that they want to” where any achievement of ‘want’ is self-satisfactory. This makes the argument a near-truism.

5) In asserting that “[the Brain] is merely a machine; and it works automatically, not by will power. It has no command over itself, its owner has no command over it.” Twain is neglecting to factor in the faculties of the mind, such as judgement and imagination, and their role in discerning between and filtering the“outside material”.

Furthermore, to separate the operations of the Brain from it’s owner’s command is to utter a contradiction in terms by creating a dichotomy between one thing and itself. Even if man is a machine the owner still has command, it would simply be the case that that command is automated.