Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Love Compassion and The Good Neighbor

Who is my neighbor?

The focus of various compassion ministries and public charities this time of year is naturally on helping those less fortunate--people who are cold, hungry, and lacking life's basics.

What some miss in the focus on being a "Good Samaritan" is the identification of the neighbor in the famous story.

Who is my neighbor? The neighbor is the compassionate Samaritan--not the beaten victim in need of much love and compassion. The focus of the story is on the people of faith who need to develop the virtue of neighborly love.

Story from Luke 10:25-37

Related Post

How to measure compassion: 


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Friday, August 17, 2018

Psychology and The Battle of Britain

Originally published 10 July 2015

Today, July 10, marks the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. German Luftwaffe attempted to destroy the British Royal Air Force (RAF) before invading Britain in 1940. Timeline.

The failure was a turning point in the war. Many have analysed the event in terms of German air superiority-planes, pilots and experience. There are mentions of British radar as helpful.

I take a look at psychological factors.

People make mistakes. Germans underestimated the number of British planes. The British overestimated the number of German planes. It’s always better to underestimate an enemy.


Defending your family, friends, and homeland is much more motivating than risking your life to attack an enemy-especially one you expect to defeat later in the year.

EMOTION trumped cognitive strategy

By all accounts Hitler was angry over British counterattacks on German towns. He began pummeling London (minor damaged to my own house in North London). Whilst this can put fear into a civilian population, it spared the RAF planes and personnel and allowed them to repair and increase their capacity.

Germans were led to believe they were winning-- the war would soon be over. It’s hard to keep up such deception when the RAF just burned your capital city. Berlin was bombed 25 August, 1940. Luftwaffe head, Hermann Goering was embarrassed – Berlin would never be bombed, he had promised.


Churchill’s speeches included fiery rhetoric in tune with the anger of the civilians. Of course this is linked to motivation.

WINNING support

It would be more than a year until the United States entered the fray. Churchill had to communicate a delicate balance of needing help but not looking like a losing cause. The Battle of Britain showed resolve and strength against a powerful German military that had wiped out the large country of France in a little over one month.

Churchill's famous phrase--

"Never, in the field of human conflict 
was so much owed by so many to so few."


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Why People Support Trump

7 Reasons Why Donald Trumps the Republican Competition

Original post date 25 July 2015 at 7:01 PDT

Anyone getting news in the last month knows the name Donald Trump and a few of his ideas. His outrageous statements got the focus on him. No other GOP candidate got near the publicity. Donald played offense (offensively) and Democrat Clinton was on defense —about emails. Of course a lot of others were playing defense too—people defending immigration, John McCain, and they’ll likely be more.

Trump says what his conservative fans want to hear. For the conservative group that’s fed up with politics as usual, lost freedom of speech, perceived threats from immigration, Trump shows he’s part of the tribe.

Trump gets “Us vs. Them” tribal thinking.

Check out the word “you” and “They’re.”

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems,…” (wsj)

Trump is a well-known brand name—that counts for authority in a nation where athletes sell sneakers and movie stars sell cosmetics. Take a sample of ad campaigns in the U.S. and you’ll likely find some celebrity touting the virtues of something unrelated to their education.

Authority is a commodity that can be created and sold. 

Publicity gets votes and votes create authority-even if not elected. 

Trump leads the polls.

Trump offers to protect the U.S. from harm—it doesn’t matter that the harm is a matter of perception or that the "Great Wall" on the U.S. southern border would cost billions. Most people respond to emotions not reason. People respond to threat. Why would we have immigration laws and border patrol in the first place if it weren’t for concerns about who gets in?

Trump knows what his conservative base wants to hear. It doesn’t hurt that an infamous Mexican criminal escapes from the most secure Mexican prison in July. And it didn’t hurt that a man deported five times killed a woman in San Francisco in July (CNN).

Check out the alleged threats from Mexico:

“They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” (wsj)

Now contrast this “harm alarm” with another candidate, Jeb Bush. Bush succeeds in scaring millions of seniors by raising the fear of cutting Medicare. What a headline! His explanation is lost—emotion trumps. Instead of “Us vs. Them,” Bush creates an “Us vs. Him” situation—at least for those worried that their last days may be horrible without the security of healthcare. (CNN)

Checking out a great wall

Trump intuitively knows how to trigger disgust psychology—that powerful feeling that causes people to recoil and protect against anything that might contaminate and destroy us. We don’t just need a wall—we need a powerful filter. 

So, back to the speech lines above—notice the need for a filter to protect us from “rapists” and almost a question that “some, I assume, are good people.” 

The thought that rapists might be coming across the border and we can’t tell the good folks from the rapists is an emotionally charged image evoking the psychology of disgust linked to tawdry, life-destroying sex. His timing is incredible in the context of recent widespread rape news of an actor and terrorists in Iraq.

The Republican way to freedom from oppression is often linked to employment—hard work is the way you get ahead in the U.S. What’s not to like in the following quote by a successful business man who claims to be the best at producing jobs. And a nice touch—Trump gets in a link to God and creation. 

Trump will be "the greatest job-producing president that God ever created." (Arkansasonline)

Trump’s poll numbers make it clear that he can attract more voters than any other GOP candidate. If he does not become politically bankrupt, he could become an independent candidate and draw conservative voters away from Republicans. (WashingtonPost)


Crime data. So how real are those threats from Mexico? The WashingtomPost reports Trump is wrong about immigrants and crime.

Branding. Many of us prefer generic products so Trump, as an expensive brand, will not attract a majority of voters, unless he runs as a third party candidate. Trump has a niche market but I doubt he has national appeal. And brand loyalty can be fickle. Brands stumble for many reasons and other brands can rise to become competitive. It will be interesting to see if he maintains his lead.

Lessons. Those of you familiar with moral psychology will recognize several moral foundations that apply to politics and religion. In a sense, Trump has artfully captured a righteous constituency. A good summary of moral psychology can be found in Haidt's book, The Righteous Mind.

The race to the U.S. presidency is an ultramarathon.

Thoughts from a legal immigrant.

Political Cultures and the Psychology of Enemies

On the Psychology of Politics

“You want to know what this was really all about?” he asked with the bluntness of a man who, after public disgrace and a stretch in federal prison, had little left to protect. “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

The forgoing quote is from John Ehrlichman in 1994. Dan Baum includes it in his April 2016 Harper's article: "Legalize It All: How to win the war on drugs." I came across the piece posted on Facebook by my friend, Doug Olena. The drug issue is interesting in itself, but my focus is on the psychological principles within the quote.

Here's my three points.

1. "...by getting the public to associate..."

For decades psychologists have demonstrated people and animals learn new things by association. This can be used for good when you want to teach new skills like learning to count or say the alphabet while laughing at funny characters.

Marketers sell whatever to men linking a beautiful female model draped on some product like a truck or motorcycle. Women are shown luxurious hair next to a picture of shampoo. Just watch commercials.

In the quote we see the evil side of association. Link any group of people with something evil or fearful and you can stir up hatred and rejection. Repeat the message until it is learned. Portray your product or yourself as the one who can fix the problem. Link and repeat. 

Some may not know the psychology behind this approach, but they know it works. Motivational speakers use this all the time. For example, think of any contemporary outgroup based on religion, ethnic identity, or gender identity. Link that group to trouble, crime, or anything considered evil. It won't take long before a lot of people get the message.

Can you name any groups vilified by politicians or religious leaders lately?

2. "...vilify them night after night on the evening news."

Repetition is a key to learning anything. 

When a deceptive association is tagged with emotion--especially fear or anger--it just needs to be repeated over and over again. We naturally pay attention to threats, which is why negative news fills the media. It is obviously good to know if bombers are heading to our city or conditions suggest a risk for a tornado in the next few hours.

As Baum writes, politicians have often harped on drugs as evil. Religious groups do too. The facts don't seem to matter. War language is not just a metaphor when you use real weapons and kill real people or throw people into prison for possessing small amounts of a substance declared illegal. Dependence on alcohol and other drugs is a real problem for some people but the solution is to help those who suffer from their substances. 

Evil associations linking people to drugs, disease, and depravity produce income for politicians (if they win an election), companies with products that protect, gurus with programs that cure, and religious leaders offering healing or deliverance. Buyer beware. Who benefits from any scary association?

3. "Did we know we were lying...?"

We rarely find out the lies told by government officials or corporate leaders in their quest for leadership. Newspapers and watchdog groups are important to a free society yet masterful politicians know how to use sound bites and staged appearances to convey a lie. Most people don't read detailed analyses about anything.

Learning lies can occur in one lesson. 

Some paired associates are so powerful that the message takes one presentation to learn. Even after truthful messages have countered a lie, an old pairing resides in memory. What group of people do you associate with AIDS? 

Sadly, it's not just politicians and business people who lie. Preachers, teachers, and parents do too. Just about any leader can use associations to scare others into changing behavior. Unfortunately, big lies can cause a lot of damage.

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Sunday, July 22, 2018

What can Christians learn from atheists?

Years ago, at a Christian college, I took a course in Christian Philosophy. I don’t remember much from the textbook but I do recall the title of another book, Why I Am Not a Christian by Bertrand Russell. Looking back, I wondered why the professor chose such a text for a course in a highly conservative college. Was he trying to prepare us to challenge the author? Was he struggling with his own faith?

Spiritual Struggle / Bing Free to use/share

Arguably, the leading atheist of recent decades is the biologist Richard Dawkins. Following the 911 attacks on America, Dawkins and his atheist friends published several challenges to religion. A best seller, The God Delusion, caught my attention. After all, as a psychologist, I know something about delusions. And as one who studies and writes about the psychology of religion, I wondered what might be new in this arena—new since Russell, that is.

Five Things Christians Can Learn From Atheists

I’ve written an academic review of the book, The God Delusion, which you can download at no charge (see references below). In this post, I want to see if Dawkins says anything of value to enhance Christian living.

1. The God Delusion can strengthen faith.

It may seem odd to think an atheist’s attack on faith could end up strengthening faith. So, I should explain how this might work. On the one hand, philosophically minded Christians might respond to the arguments in The God Delusion, identify their weaknesses, and offer a reasoned response. On the other hand, and more in my line of work, terror management theor (TMT) suggests that when attacked, people respond by becoming more conservative. The anxiety that comes from considering death stimulates efforts to bolster self-esteem, which is often supported by faith that make sense of life. Christianity teaches that life is meaningful and all have an important part to play in furthering the Kingdom of God. Under attack, religious people turn to their faith. As they more strongly identify with their faith group, they tend to think their group is superior to other groups within their broad faith group (e.g., worldwide Christianity) and surely against outgroups like atheists.

2. The God Delusion may help thinking Christians adopt a more mature faith.

Many of the challenges in The God Delusion make sense because they are aimed at literal interpretations of scripture, which sometimes fly in the face of extant evidence. Fundamentalists take the Bible seriously as a guide for life. They also tend to avoid metaphorical interpretations of famous stories like Adam and Eve, Noah and the Flood, and the Apocalypse. The atheistic attacks grab low hanging fruit in some presentations of these ancient stories, which embarrass Christian scholars. By referring to scientific evidence, thinking Christians are enticed to discover how faith and science might be integrated. The quintessential example is the conflict between creationism and evolution. Of course, atheists will consider the nonliteral explanations as lacking integrity, but one must consider that even fundamentalists view some texts as metaphors. The onus is on Christian scholars to help fundamentalists appreciate more nuance in the texts than they may have otherwise considered. One scholar with a knack for this kind of scholarship is Craig Keener.

3. The God Delusion can help Christians confront violence.

The 911 attacks are vivid memories in the minds of people old enough to remember the horror of falling towers in America’s iconic city. The religiosity of the attackers is also well-known.  But Christians know that people of their own faith have been violent toward those of other faiths or other Christian groups with different beliefs.  Christians need to deal honestly with the horrid stories in the Bible where children and adults are the targets of destruction. It does no good to preach that God is Love when a normal understanding of love does not include God ordained slaughter.  Atheist attacks on religiously motivated violence are common themes hurled at na├»ve Christians. Such attacks can encourage Christian thinkers to offer a thoughtful response. For some, Swinburne has an answer. Other may be more inclined to take a psychological view that stories of power from centuries past might embolden a nation's troops and evoke fear of a powerful God in one's enemies.

4. The God Delusion can help Christians think more clearly.

As a college student I became aware of the faulty thinking in the so-called proofs for the existence of God. Atheists, like Dawkins, are quite adept at highlighting the illogic in the common arguments. Unfortunately, despite the logical problems, many young Christians continue to learn the arguments as if they would be helpful. To be sure, many thinkers are quite satisfied that intelligent design is a sufficient argument. Others know God apart from reason and testify to their living faith based on experience. If thinking Christians can control their defensive posture, they can be more willing to agree that various arguments are indeed faulty. As many have admitted, proving or disproving the existence of God using reason does not work well. Such arguments won’t lead to the kind of faith that nurtures well-being and an impetus to love one’s neighbor.

5. The God Delusion can help Christians develop a deeply rooted moral response.

As Dawkins points out, some Christians wonder how atheists can be moral. Indeed, some Christians think atheists are immoral.  Thoughtful Christians are certainly aware that the moral response is common amongst people of many religions and those with no religion at all (See A House Divided below). As Haidt and his colleagues have shown, virtues like care, fairness, respect for authority, loyalty, and respect for the sacred are common in many societies.  The challenge to Christians can be to consider biblical teaching and stories in the light of moral principles rather than a superficial endorsement of some law or teaching that seemingly contradicts another.  For example, Christians used to quote biblical texts to justify slavery, disallow abused women to divorce, keep women out of certain jobs, and dictate styles of clothing and appearance.

     There are surely more lessons we can learn from a consideration of Dawkins’s attacks on religion, which is mostly about Christianity because that is the religion he knows best.  Of course, Dawkins is an evangelist for atheism thus, we would not expect him to appreciate how his arguments could enliven anyone’s faith rather than persuade them to give up faith altogether.

References (APA style)

Dawkins, R. (2006). The God delusion. New York: Houghton Mifflin.

Sutton, G. W. (2016). A House Divided: Sexuality, Morality, and Christian Cultures. Eugene, OR: Pickwick.

Sutton, G. W. (2009). [Review of the book The god delusion by R. Dawkins]. Journal of Spirituality in Mental Health11, 235-239. Download from  Academia Link    Researchgate


     FREE review copies for instructors and book reviewers.


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Monday, June 25, 2018

Prayers and Thoughts and Deeds

Alzheimer's took his mind long before his body leaving his wife and children with years of distress instead of a time to mourn his loss. When he stopped breathing, words of comfort arrived online and in cards. "Our prayers and thoughts are with you," they wrote. They meant it too. Loving people care. Some send flowers. Others call.

From time to time people post calls to action online. They appear frustrated by "prayers and thoughts" that seem to replace more meaningful action. Children die in a school shooting and people offer prayers and thoughts. But grieving parents and friends want action. "This shouldn't happen!" they scream.

A crowd of sobbing people gather near an impromptu memorial of flowers. They tightly hug survivors of the bombing that separated lovers, family members, and friends. Sincere comments appear on social media pages, "Our prayers and thoughts are with you." What else can we do? We feel so helpless sometimes.

Dr. Schnitker and her team at Fuller examined the link between prayers and action in an experiment designed to study the role of prayers and generous action toward members of their ingroup (Christians) compared to those in an "other" group (Muslims). (See the Lilly link below for more details.)

Here's the primary finding in her words:

“The main finding we had was that the people who prayed donated less of their payment than the people who read the newspaper articles,” she said. “This is not what previous literature has suggested. Most studies have found that prayer leads to positive outcomes. We found, though, that prayer actually led to less generosity in this particular measure of generosity.”
Why do you think people who prayed were less generous? Think about the complaints of parents and friends who've lost a loved one.

Here's what Dr. Schnitker suggests:
"...people who prayed felt like they acted by praying."

“They may have felt that they did something and so didn’t have
the drive to act when it came to making a donation...”

Dr. Schnitker also noted that religious people give more and cautions that the findings need to be replicated to learn more about prayer and generosity.

While many may appreciate our thoughts and prayers, others won't. And in many cases, specific actions can be taken to support survivors of disasters and human violence. In addiiton, in some cases, action may be taken to prevent future incidents.  

You can learn more about this study and generosity from the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.

I write about Psychology and Religion.


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Tuesday, May 15, 2018

American Crusaders Return to Jerusalem

The 14 May 2018 marks an historical moment for Evangelical Christian Americans (timesofisrael). It’s the day the U.S. president’s representatives officially opened a U.S. embassy in Jerusalem signifying the ancient city is the capital of Israel (whitehouse; on Youtube).

The media posts spread as soon as photos from the event appeared online. Here’s one example from Franklin Graham whose post garnered 61K reactions, 13,374 shares, and 1,673 comments in 13 hours.

Christians have not always seen eye-to-eye with Jews as any student of history knows. In fact, even amongst American evangelicals there’s divided opinion about Jews and their faith. For example, a Baptist pastor from Dallas Texas, Robert Jeffress, was quoted as saying that Jews “can’t be saved.” Despite his history, Jeffress pronounced the blessing at the opening ceremony (read more at CNN). Jeffress defended his remarks on twitter declaring that salvation is through Christ.


As in past crusades, the “entry” into Jerusalem was accompanied by violence (BBC). It was 1095 when Emperor Alexius I asked Pope Urban II to send troops. In November, the Pope called on Christians to take back the Holy Land from the Muslims. The first crusade began the next year, 1096, and continued until 1099. Several groups of Christians headed to Jerusalem. One army led by Count Emicho massacred Jews in the Rhineland (History). Eventually, the Crusaders wrested control of Jerusalem from the Egyptian Fatimids in mid-July, 1099. Additional crusades occurred over the next centuries with the last one ending in the year 1271.


Fast forward to the present (or at least recent times). Last year, 2017, marked the entry of Field Marshal Edmund Allenby into Jerusalem during World War I. The Ottoman Turks, who controlled Jerusalem at the time, surrendered to the British Egyptian Expeditionary Force on 9 December, 2017. Descendants of Allenby were present at the 100th anniversary celebration (TimesofIsrael).


The British ended their rule over Palestine in 1948. The United Nations partitioned the area into Jewish and Arab states. The modern State of Israel was proclaimed 14 May, 1948 by David Ben-Gurion. During the years 1917 to 1948, many discussions were held about the future of the area controlled by the British. Jews from Europe flooded the territory--including holocaust survivors. Arab-Jewish relations were tense. British and American leaders made commitments to Jews and Arabs. The control of the city of Jerusalem was a particular problem for those seeking to keep the city open to all interested parties (US Dept of State).


Now, 70 years after Israel became a modern State, and after decades of conflict and attempts to negotiate peace, the U.S. recognizes Jerusalem as its capital by opening its embassy there. Not surprisingly, there is violence (JPost 2018).

Christians: Belief and Behavior

The history of Israel and the history of the three major world religions tied to Jerusalem are complex narratives with many opinions about what events took place and how such events led to the present state of tension. Currently, American evangelical Christians view the events in Jerusalem as evidence that ancient prophecies are coming true.

According to Pew Research (2013), 82% of white evangelicals believed God gave the land of Israel to Jews. In contrast, only 40% of American Jews believed their land was God-given. The general American sample was more divided with 44% saying “yes” to the belief. Interestingly, Christians who live in Israel only share the belief at a rate of 19% (see also CT,2016).

Marking the occasion, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu quoted an evangelical favorite verse from Zechariah 8:3: “I will return to Zion and dwell in Jerusalem. Then Jerusalem will be called the Faithful City, and the mountain of the Lord Almighty will be called the Holy Mountain.” (NIV)

Another belief relevant to the celebration centers on Jesus. Lifeway research (2018) reported that about half of American evangelicals believe most Jews will accept Jesus of Nazareth as the promised Messiah. The study also found that 28% of the sample believed Christians have replaced the Jews in God’s plan for the redemption of humanity.


It is not surprising to find that beliefs drive behavior or that deeply held religious convictions can motivate people to take action. The events in Jerusalem provide a highly potent example of the power of religious beliefs to influence behavior over thousands of years.

The potential for peace and violence linked to variations in religious belief-behavior connections indicate the importance of religious studies for all leaders. The contributions of Psychology of Religion studies should be added to studies of Theologies, Sociology, and Anthropology to understand the complexities of the present and predict behavior patterns in the near future.

Some observations--some of course are obvious but perhaps worth reconsidering:

Religious beliefs can influence the behavior of government leaders.
     Evangelical Christian beliefs influence some of the behavior of the American President.
 Religious beliefs can be linked to current acts promoting peace and violence and many other acts.
Interpretations of sacred texts from thousands of years ago are linked to contemporary beliefs and behaviors.
 What happens in Jerusalem does not stay in Jerusalem.
Jesus’ sayings become different beliefs and different belief-behavior connections for different Christian Cultures. 
 Christians are A House Divided when it comes to many aspects of right conduct.
Scriptures, national leaders, and religious leaders are mostly men in 2018. What might be different if women were the interpretes of texts or leaders of nations and religious groups?

People become emotionally invested in their beliefs, especially when events seem to confirm their beliefs. So, even if things do not go well after this celebration, the principle of sunk costs predicts that narratives will emerge to support the move of the American Embassy to Jerusalem as the right move.

A good time for the faithful to…

“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem…” (Psalm 122:6, NIV).


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Saturday, May 12, 2018

Scaring Parents by Separating them from Children

If you want to scare parents, separate them (or threaten to) from their children.

Some applications of immigration policies result in the separation of children from their parents. A recent news story brings the matter of loving and caring for children into focus.

Here's a quote from a Business Insider article:

When asked by NPR about those who say it's "cruel and heartless to take a mother away from her children," Kelly brushed off the question, according to an interview transcript released Friday.
 "I wouldn't put it quite that way," Kelly said. "The children will be taken care of — put into foster care or whatever. But the big point is they elected to come illegally into the United States and this is a technique that no one hopes will be used extensively or for very long."

When it comes to parenting, relationships matter. Caring is important of course. But parents and psychological scientists know that children need love to grow into healthy and mature adults. Read more about parent-child attachment in this article by Dr. Brogard.

Separating may act as a deterrent to parent behavior but it can have lasting negative effects on children as well.

See the Discipline with Respect website for more information on relational parenting.

Get a FREE sample of Discipline with Respect at AMAZON 

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Sunday, February 18, 2018

FALSE or TRUE: Church attendance is good for your health

The correlation between church attendance and good health is a strong relationship. 
Put simply, people who attend church on a regular basis also have better health than do people who do not attend church on a regular basis.

So, what’s my issue? It’s the old problem that never goes away-- correlations do not mean causation. The fact that people who attend church have better health than those who don’t, does not mean attending church caused better health.

The RNS writer, Yonat Shimron, does not emphasize this important fact about correlations. Here’s a quote from the first sentence of the story:

“(RNS) The latest in a long line of studies, now numbering in the hundreds, if not thousands, shows that church attendance is good for your health.

Later in the article, the author refers to various factors connected with church attendance that might be responsible for the supposed effect. It is good to consider various possibilities like prayer, social interaction, and so forth when trying to understand more about a phenomenon. But, there is no consideration given to the reasons why people who do not attend church may not have better health.

And more importantly, the author, like so many students and professionals, ignore the fact that the research is not an experiment aimed atdetermining cause-effect relationships.

Correlational research is useful. We can learn about relationships, which can lead to exploring additional connections. Some of the reliable relationships may turn out to be cause-effect relationships. The problem with the article, and other news stories derived from this and similar studies, is the lack of attention to the research methods involved.

One useful part of the article is the link to the original publication. I took a look at the original study. Do you see how they defined church goer? In one analysis, a church goer was someone who attended at least once a year. In another analysis, a churchgoer is someone who went at least once a week.

Another issue common to much research, including my own, is the reliance on self-report. When we are talking about health, self-report is a place to start, but we really need biological data before making health claims.

Shimron asks, “Should doctors prescribe church attendance?”

I say unto you, “maybe, but not for better physical health.”

Create better surveys and understand how to use surveys in experiments and correlational studies.

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Related Post

Psychology Experiments

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Friday, February 16, 2018

Psychology of Religion and Mental Health

Thank God for psychologists and Lexapro. Without them, I might be dead today."
--Jonathan Merritt (2018, February 16)

Jonathan Merritt's body vibrated. Then he had difficulty breathing. He grips us with his story of a panic attack.

Then he shares his story of faith and psychology. Friends diagnosed a spiritual problem. A professor advised against a professional therapist saying, "you already have a wonderful counselor in Jesus."

Merritt has more to say about Christian beliefs and mental health so, I suggest reading his post. I now move to related thoughts on Christianity and psychology.


I was sitting in a church pew one Sunday evening when a pastor launched into a rant against psychology. I left and never went back. At the time, I was in the process of earning a master's degree in Counseling at the University of Missouri-Columbia. Since those days, I find that my profession is still unwelcome in many conservative churches and Christian organizations.

At about the time I left that conservative congregation, I learned that a group of psychologists were working on ways to integrate Christian faith and psychological science (www.caps.net). Although, most of the integrationists focus on ways to integrate faith and clinical practice, rather than other areas of psychological science.

At some point, a number of Christian universities began to offer graduate degrees in psychology, counseling, or both. Today, there are a variety of approaches available to Christians who want to remain loyal to their Christian beliefs and find evidence-based interventions to eliminate or control distressing conditions like panic attacks, depression, anxiety, relationship struggles, sex and gender-related distress, and more.


Merritt’s story is a reminder that divisions between faith and science persist. I suspect there will always be religious people who are so skeptical of science that they will not consider help that does not come from their religious leaders. However, I think the percentage of people opposed to scientific interventions is dwindling along with the social values conservative Christians used to teach and practice only a few decades ago.

Merritt’s story explains one reason many Christians no longer consider psychologists as enemies—psychotherapy works. And sometimes, psychotherapy plus medication is the best available approach.

In fairness, I should add that many people improve when they share their concerns in the context of a warm and caring relationship. People also improve when their expectations are raised such as when beginning an organized course of treatment (placebo effect). And, unfortunately, some people who attend professional counseling do not improve. So, I support the inclusion of "lay counseling" as a Christian ministry, provided that they participate in an educational program.

I write about Christian cultures and social-moral values.

Here’s a recent book: A House Divided

Discussions of A House Divided have been well-received in conservative and liberal settings--in churches, universities, and a seminary.  The book is free to professors as an exam copy from PICKWICK. The publisher - PICKWICK- also offers group discounts.

A low cost Discussion Guide can be found on AMAZON.

Buy an eBook on AMAZON and at other bookstores.

Connections and Links to Resources

My Page    www.suttong.com

My Books   AMAZON

FACEBOOK   Geoff W. Sutton

TWITTER  @Geoff.W.Sutton

LinkedIN Geoffrey Sutton  PhD

Publications (many free downloads)
  Academia   Geoff W Sutton   (PhD)
  ResearchGate   Geoffrey W Sutton   (PhD)