Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Exorcism of Mental Illness

I'm not sure why the topic how the Church handles mental illness intrigues me so much. I think it is for several reasons. One, I do have a degree in psychology and it has been an interest of mine for quite a while. Also, as I mentioned at the end of my last posting, I too have suffered from some significant mental health issues in my life (and may be the reason I got a degree in psychology to start with).

The last reason, is our concepts of human emotion and behavior is central to our Christian paradigm. For example the Greek concept for psyche and soul is virtually the same. It was only through the developments of Dualistic thinking that the spiritual "soul" became separated from the physical (brain) "psyche."

Back in the 1970s I was studying psychology at a state university, however, most of my thinking about psychology came from Evangelical sources at the time. The only reason I was getting a degree in psychology at the state school is because, I wanted to eventually get a license as a psychologist and the only way to do that was to get a credentialed degree.

Most of the Christian psychology resources, at the time, came from the likes of Jay Adams or Tim Lahaye. Jay Adams, was the king of the Evangelical counselling movement. The cornerstone of his type of counseling was called (coined by himself) "Nouthetic Counseling ." For fifteen years I was a great believer in Nouthetic Counseling as the only true Christian approach.

I will barely mention Tim Lahaye because, ( back when he was making money on psychology books . . . before he starting making millions on "end times" books) based his ideas on Greek mythology. Yet his ideas were very popular.

Now I believe that Nouthetic Counseling, in my honest, monist opinion is total crap and has done more harm than good. The reason is that Adams believes that ALL mental illness is the fault of the victim. So, to help them you must 1) confront them, 2) make them change . . . or cast the demons out of them. He told stories back in the 70s of how his Nouthetic Counseling techniques were emptying out mental hospitals.

But when you consider mental health issues in the true, non-Platonic-Dualistic view, you would realize that the Fall of Adam not only affected our spirit, it greatly affects our physical being, including our brains. Psychiatry and neurology (in which I now work) has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that the brain is malfunctioning in most major forms of mental illness. This is not inconsistent with scripture. Only if you had been hoodwinked by Platonic Dualism would you ever see people as only the soul. Read some of Plato's works and you will see that he struggled very much with the division between the Soul and the body . . . believing that our essence was the soul (without any influence of the physical body or brain).

To say that our tendency toward mental illness has a physical (brain) dimension is in no way excusing it (as some Evangelicals would say). It is only dealing with a real problem in a honest and Biblical way. The brain can recover from the genetic and acquired injury, both by God's healing and what the Bible calls "renewing our minds" (or what secular psychology would call cognitive restructuring.) There is a place for medications, to help to correct for the malfunctioning brain.

The other common Evangelical (Dualistic) view is that mental illness is a direct attack or possesion by demons. Again, they reach this position because they can not accept that the brain, because it is physical, has any merit.

More later. . .


bryan said...

I believe that one reason mind/body duelism is popular among christians is that it makes belief in an afterlife/resurection much easier. If one says that the mind/soul is a different stuff than the body, then it is easy to say that when the body dies the soul can go on living. How do you understand resurection and/or afterlife without thinking of a soul that is distinct from and not dependant on the body?

MJ said...

Good question. I think the answer to the riddle lies somewhere in the following passage from I Cor 15

35But someone may ask, "How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?"

36How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else.

38But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. 39All flesh is not the same: Men have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. 40There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. 41The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor.

42So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.

If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45So it is written: "The first man Adam became a living being"[e]; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. 46The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. 47The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. 48As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. 49And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.

50I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory."

55"Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?"[h] 56The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Brian said...

Very interesting stuff. Looking forward to reading more on this subject.