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Sikh woman gracefully responds to joke on Reddit.

May 23, 2013

Sometimes I worry that the Internet is too dehumanizing, and lends itself too easily to cruel jokes, criticism, and bullying.  So I was very happy to come across this article.  It’s a great example of how a religious person (or female person, or just any person really) can deflect what could have possibly turned into an awful viral joke, into an uplifting teaching moment.  Western standards of beauty, devotion, and care of one’s body are certainly not universal.  In fact I find the Sikh approach to one’s body to be quite refreshing in this world.  Not only that, but I’m very happy that this woman politely but firmly used the opportunity to teach people about her religious beliefs.  Great moment.

“Get really good at psychology. Get really good at theology.”

April 1, 2013

Here’s a great new post at Richard Beck’s blog Experimental Theology, which is my favorite blog dealing with psychology and religion.  Beck is a psychology professor at a Christian university and frequently talks about theology, from the perspective of psychology.  He has written extensively on a favorite topic of mine:  disgust and purity metaphors in religion.

One of the unfortunate stereotypes in all academia is that anyone who tries to combine two different fields in their graduate or professional work is probably weak at both fields.  For instance, a person who gets a combined PhD in psychology and religion (they do exist out there) is kind of weak in psychology and kind of weak in religion, because there’s no way to fully study both in the same time another person can study one or the other.  Perhaps some of that stereotype is deserved, but I don’t think it’s necessarily true.  Beck’s post does give some pointers on how such a combination is possible – though he calls his model the “trainwreck model,” presumably because whatever structure might exist at the nexus between two fields has to be created by you out of the chaos.

He also very interestingly recommends that psychologists study not just clinical/counseling psychology and religion, but also more applied fields of psychology – which may include social, developmental, behavioral, cross-cultural, and cognitive psychology.  I think this is very good advice.  It is probably tempting for clinical/counseling students to find a theoretical orientation and only learn enough to be an expert on mental health outcomes and therapy; this is like building a house without a foundation – I have seen complaints that clinical/counseling psychologists don’t know enough about experimental psychology to be good consumers of general psychology research.  By “the basics” I mean things like classical and operant conditioning, theories of social influence, cognitive dissonance theory, stage development theories of cognition and moral thinking (Piaget, Kohlberg, etc.), reinforcement schedules, etc.  Though I am moving to a doctoral program in counseling or clinical psychology this fall, I did get a MS degree in experimental psychology and found my experience in applied psychology to be invaluable.

Mindful vs. Non-Mindful Cognition During Prayer

February 20, 2013

saint theophanI came across this interesting link this morning, outlining some views of Saint Theophan (about whom I know very little) on prayer.  He suggests that if our mind wanders during prayer, we should mournfully rebuke it (my own emphasis in bold):

Kindly read the 19th discourse, concerning a Christian’s duty to force himself to do good. There it is written, “One must force oneself to pray, even if one has no spiritual prayer.” And, “In such a case, God, seeing that a man earnestly is striving, pushing himself against the will of his heart (that is, his thoughts), He grants him true prayer.” By true prayer, St. Macarius means the undistracted, collected, deep prayer that occurs when the mind stands unswervingly before God. As the mind begins to stand firmly before God, it discovers such sweetness, that it wishes to remain in true prayer forever, desiring nothing more.
I have stated more than once exactly what efforts must be made: Do not allow your thoughts to wander at will. When they do involuntarily escape, immediately turn them back, rebuking yourself, lamenting and grieving over this disorder. As St. John of the Ladder says, “We must lock our mind into the words of prayer by force.”

Interestingly, this approach seems quite different from the general approach outlined in my previous post by Orthodox Fr. Meletios Webber on “brushing away” sinful thoughts.  Webber specifically stated not to treat unwanted thoughts as “fire-breathing dragons” but to take a more mindful approach.  The difference is that in mindfulness, all thoughts are simply observed without prejudice, and allowed to come and go.  Mindful meditators are not supposed to react with frustration, anger, or grief over unwanted thoughts, they are simply taught to observe, then return, to the desired object (a sensation, mental image, etc.).

Both of these teachers are Orthodox, but they seem to take very different approaches to unwanted cognitions.  Certainly some would favor one method over the other, but if practitioners wish to reap the benefits of mindful thinking (which have been demonstrated in psychological research previously) the more mindful approaches would be favorable.

In fact, it would be an interesting research question to test each approach empirically.  Instruct some people to pray or meditate mindfully while another group is instructed to “fight” against unwanted thoughts.  But what would the dependent variable be?  Perhaps the two kinds of thinking are intended for different ends.

Links of Note

January 27, 2013

Hello faithful readers,

I know I have not been a faithful poster lately, but there are still lots of cool links I want to post for people to read.  So I decided to add a widget to my sidebar with interesting links.  You should check them out!

Bryce Rich on “Becoming Orthodox”

January 2, 2013

st-timothy1I love reading unique faith journeys that don’t “fit the mold,” especially conversion stories, which is why I really enjoyed this article by Orthodox lay theologian Bryce Rich.  Some of the things that he loves about Orthodoxy are the things I love about it, too.  Most particularly, I find it interesting that an openly gay man could find a spiritual life in a church that is unambiguously traditional in its views on sexuality.  His insights on the matter are fascinating – he notes that the strength of Orthodoxy is its unchanging nature, and how big conversations about doctrines happen on very large time-frames.

An Orthodox priest once told me a joke about his religion:

Q:  How many Orthodox does it take to change a light bulb?
A:  Change?  What’s that?

Now I’m not going to say the views of the Orthodox church on homosexuality are wrong or right, I just find it’s interesting that a person would join a church that seems to be at variance with his identity.  Many people in this world suffer when their religious identities and personal identities conflict.

That is not to say that Orthodoxy is completely at odds with Bryce Rich, as his post illustrates nicely.  He certainly “clicks” with Orthodoxy’s liturgy, history, and theology.  It is just that for many congregants, teachings on sexuality can be a deal breaker, even if they like everything else about the religion.

It also seems to remind me of the American tradition of “church shopping,” which is a process where people “shop around” to different denominations to find one that suits them the best.  This usually means the church that they agree with the most, or the church where they are the most comfortable.  However, I wonder if this is really the best way to do things.  If I wanted to join a church that believed everything I believed, I would imagine I would have to start that church, and I’d be the only congregant!  Perhaps there is something special about worshiping with those we disagree with, or who challenge our conceptions about spirituality.

One Year Anniversary of The Value of Saintliness!

October 23, 2012

Well, it’s been just over a year since I began this blog, and if traffic continues as it has been, I will hit 10,000 views by the end of the month.  This have given me the opportunity to reflect on the blog, my purpose in creating it, and some of my favorite posts over the year.

When I created the blog I had a burst of creative energy and was able to write several pieces a week.  Now I don’t have the time to maintain that type of work, since I’ve created several other blogs this year as well, including Aristotle’s Revenge, and have begun to work on my Master’s thesis.  My purpose in starting the blog was to create a forum to discuss psychology and religion, with a perspective that was largely scholarly but slightly biased in favor of spirituality in general (I don’t argue that any one particular religion is best, but rather that spirituality, broadly defined, is a good thing).  This is sort of a blend between my two other favorite psychology and religion blogs, Epiphenom (which is very scientific and secular) and Experimental Theology (which is Christian and discusses more advanced theology). I wanted to provide some resources in which I feel that I demonstrate that psychology does not necessarily mean the end of faith, but wanted to do it in a scholarly way, without sacrificing the fact that some aspects of religion are not positive.

Here are some links to a few of my favorite posts that I’ve done over the past year.  A few of them involve psychological research:

Spiritual Meditation and Pain Tolerance

Child Abuse: Leave God Out of It!

Moral Proportions

Some of my favorites were simply discussions of religious issues based on psychological perspectives:

The Catholic, Mormon, Atheist, and Islamic “Threat”

Atonement Theories and Psychology

Happy Jesus, Sad Jesus

Some involved one of my favorite Christian religions, Eastern Orthodoxy:

On My First Visit to an Orthodox Church

As A Man Thinketh: Fr. Meletios Webber on Addiction, Psychotherapy, and Hesychasm

I’ve also written some controversial posts that drew both arguments and discussions.  The first one was picked up and reposted by John Dehlin (Mormon Stories, etc.), the other involved a philosophical debate with an engineer:

Just Answer the Question

Know Your Tools (and Their Limitations)

Finally, the most popular post I’ve written that has driven the most traffic to my blog was a brief overview of several visualizations of Christian History.  I created it partly because I couldn’t find anything like it, and it seems that many people find it a useful discussion (I’m pretty proud of it myself):

Visualizations of Christian History

I can’t wait to see where the next year takes this blog.  Hopefully I will still have periodic insights into psychology and religion that I can post here.  Since I’ve had more success with this blog than my other ones (generally), I’m also considering purchasing a dot-com for the website.  It’s not too expensive to do that, but I would have to offset the cost with ads, and I’m not particularly keen on that, so we’ll see.  Thank you so much to all my regular readers who find value in The Value of Saintliness, and please subscribe or stay tuned for more psychology and religion posts in the future!

The Problem of Evil and the Silver Lining of Adversity

September 20, 2012

Here’s a little “kink” in the Problem of Evil that neither solves nor answers anything, but makes it more interesting.

Many people use the existence of Evil in the world as some kind of evidence that God does not exist, with the assumption that a loving God who wants the best for his children would not allow them to suffer.  This is a naive restatement of that position, I realize – the debate has more to do with unnecessary suffering.  But what is unnecessary suffering and what is necessary suffering? Read more…


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