Sunday, September 12, 2010

Psychology and Faith

I'm a psych major.

That means when I first met you, I could already tell what kind of person you were because you had your hands in your pockets, you scratched your right cheek every time you talked about your roommate, and you licked your lips every once in awhile, which meant that you were physically attracted to me. There's empirical research to back that last one up.

One big thing that you take away as a psych major, especially if you take a class like social psych, is that the mind is a very powerful and, at the same time, a very feeble thing. Powerful in the sense that it can control so much of your behavior without you even knowing and feeble in the sense that it can be altered so easily and so subtly... take, for example, studies done on mental priming or subliminal thought.

There was a study done on young adults to test the power of mental priming. So they would tell the participant to form a sentence using words from a word bank. The control group would receive a word bank with neutral words, maybe something like, "paper; on; sits; desk" and the sentence would be "The paper sits on the desk." The experimental group, however, would be
primed with old people words like "wrinkles" or "arthritis" or "Florida" haha. And then they made the sentence with those words. After they submitted their sentences, the researchers timed the participants on how long it took them to walk down the hall and out of the building. Crazy thing is, the participants who were primed with the old people words took a significantly longer time to exit the building than the control group. Conclusion: the old people words primed them to feel old, so they walked slower, like old people do! Crazy.

There are other amazing studies. A picture can flash on my computer screen so quickly that my brain can't even process it, and it can still profoundly affect my behavior. I can be convinced that 2+2=5 if there are enough people around me that believe it's true... that one's pretty intense. Maybe you know where this is going...

These studies show me one thing: the mind can be manipulated and molded in so many ways that we don't even notice or understand. The way we act and behave, what we believe, the smallest everyday decisions we make are all influenced by small and seemingly insignificant things we come across in our lives. It's scary if you think about it too much.

I was thinking about the idea of Truth. If the mind is such a fragile thing, how can anyone claim rights to complete Truth? The religious right might believe that they have a monopoly on truth the same way the Catholic church might believe that they have a monopoly on truth the same way the Mormon church, the same way the most evil man in the world... Truth seems so relative when I take into consideration all the ways the mind can be manipulated and even tricked. I know very well how easy it is to jump right on board with an eloquent preacher, a captivating worship song, or a feel-good message. These things aren't bad, but they do, to an extent, mold your mind more and more into... something--whether that something is right or wrong is another question.

If you know me, you know that my mind is often filled with doubts and questions like these. I fear the manipulative power of organized religion. I really do. I've seen Jesus Camp. That shizz is scary. I sometimes question myself, if I've somehow allowed myself to get lost in this fog. If I'm just living in some state of ignorance or self-delusion, if this whole faith thing is just something I fell into that I'm now trying to convince myself is the real deal. I think what makes it harder is that many Christians just seem so sure, as if certainty was the prerequisite for spiritual maturity. Let your doubts be buried; trust more, pray more, and then God will work. I hold tight to spiritual giants like Mother Teresa and Martin Luther who could not separate their unfailing obedience to God with their most damning doubts.

If there is anything that keeps me grounded, though, it is the homeless refugee bastard baby Jesus Christ (bastard bc he didn't have an earthly father. I ain't being disrespectful!). To me, Jesus is so captivating a person, such a pure embodiment of--yes--Truth, that I cannot remain unchanged by the life he lived. I still have my questions about the Old Testament, about the Holy Spirit, about Paul's letters, about the present day church, but as long as I know that Jesus is the center of this entire thing, I know that there is something here worth living for. All human manipulation and distortion cannot change the person of Jesus. On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.


Veronica said...

thank you =]

Anonymous said...

I'm a rhet major.

that means I will probably judge the way you say things and how you say em. there's this term in rhetoric called pathos, "words that evoke feeling of pity or compassion." so yes, mushiness and manipulation fall under this category.

sometimes i wonder if this whole jesus thing is just that. words. rhetoric meant to persuade us to think a certain way.

but i think that yeah, maybe these sunday sermons are merely words, but eventually we'll have to come to our own truth - with or without jesus.

like cs lewis once said, he was either a lunatic, liar, or lord. i think the last one makes sense to me. plus, there's gotta be something stirring mother teresa's and martin luther's heart, right? somethingg!

this was long. hi.