Monthly Archives: July 2014
How have political ethics have replaced Biblically based morality in the minds of educated young people?
Consider Alex. She is a 27-year-old woman in the process of earning a PsyD degree to become a psychologist. She mentioned she was having a difficult time finding appropriate men to date and was considering an online dating service. I suggested that if she goes that route she needs to be clear about what characteristics are unacceptable to her. She thought for a moment then said, “One thing I cannot tolerate is homophobia.”
Of all the advantages a worthy life partner could bring to this young woman, and of all the harm that an unworthy partner might inflict, the first thing she identified is a young man’s view regarding homosexuality.
I asked, “If you could date a rapist-murderer or a homophobe, you’d choose the rapist-murderer?” She laughed nervously. Feeling sorry for this daughter of a world gone mad, I said, “I’m serious, think about it. A woman is vulnerable to the men she dates. Do you really mean to find out about political sensibilities before criminal tendencies?” I asked if she believed the behaviors associated with homophobia were morally worse than sex crimes. She said, “Psychologists don’t make moral judgments!” She went on to explain that homophobia was as bad as any crime because it killed more people than murder by causing suicide, addictions, spread of HIV, and crimes against gay people.
I said, “OK, you don’t like the word moral. How did you learn your ethical code?” She said she had been taught tolerance toward gay people all her life. I asked her if she had been raised in a particular religion. She replied, “No. Most of the problems in the world come from religion!”
“OK, you didn’t go to church. But how would you describe your beliefs about unchanging truth — as William James called it, your religious experience?” She said, “Who’s William James?”
In 1901-02 William James delivered lectures at the University of Edinburgh, which were later collected into the classic book, The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature. James writes, “To the psychologist the religious propensities of man must be at least as interesting as any other of the facts pertaining to his constitution.” In his second lecture, “Circumscription of the Topic,” James declares the search for a single definition of religious experience to be futile. He distinguishes between institutional religion and personal religion, and explains his term ‘religious experience’ as the infinite varieties of personal interpretation of religion, “the feelings, acts, and experiences of individual men in their solitude, so far as they apprehend themselves to stand in relation to whatever they may consider the divine.”
James takes several of his 500 pages enlarging upon the categories of the divine. Summarizing “moral, philosophical and ritualistic belief systems,” James writes, “We must therefore, from the experiential point of view, call these godless or quasi-godless creeds ‘religions’; and accordingly when in our definition of religion we speak of the individual’s relation to ‘what he considers the divine,’ we must interpret the term ‘divine’ very broadly, as denoting any object that is godlike, whether it be a concrete deity or not.”
James’ own experience of “God unseen” permeates his opus. He makes the point that his psychology of religious experience is based on the personal documents of religiously convicted individuals and not on anything resembling cultural anthropology. He writes about religious experiences such as the sense of unseen divine presence, religious conversion, saintliness, mysticism, the comparison between naturalism and salvationism. But the personal documents he reviews are overwhelmingly those of Christians. He devotes a few pages to writings regarding Judaism, Hinduism, Mohammedanism, and other non-Christian religions, but about 90% of his psychological observations refer to Christianity.
James could not have imagined the beliefs of Alex nor that the field of psychology, which he helped to found, would train psychologists to be frankly hostile to Christianity. Young psychologists like Alex blame Christian religious experience for the problems of society and assertively reject the Biblically based moral code.
For Alex, political ethics, especially regarding sexuality, have replaced Judeo-Christian morality as the guide to her beliefs and choices.