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Theism Psychology

Psychology of Religion

On (False) Prophets and Messiahs (2016) by Michael Moore

Innumerable claims to being a prophet or messiah should raise suspicions even among believers that a great many claimants have been false prophets. Nonbelievers go even further: all prophets are false. Among those that believe that some prophets are the real deal, one might think that picking out the genuine article would be a straightforward matter: just wait and see whether a prophet’s predictions come true. Historically, however, within the three Abrahamic religions there are accounts where a prophecy came true, yet its author was declared false, or where a failed prophecy did not disqualify a prophet from being regarded as genuine. And in each of these major religions, those who deviated from orthodoxy threatened the security of those in power and were met with ridicule, censorship, persecution, or ruin. Such responses illustrate a kind of need dominance that is (a) a common reaction to being faced by stubborn opposition and is (b) directed against anyone who opposes any need.

Filthy Lucre: The Church and Wealth (2019) by Michael Moore

The New Testament laments that “money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith.” Meanwhile, the Vatican discovers “hundreds of millions of euros ‘tucked away'” off the books in various departments of the Holy See, to say nothing of the officially recorded cost of the construction and maintenance of various lavish Catholic buildings. While there is no lack of “prosperity gospel” apologists who twist and turn in their efforts to explain the blaring discrepancy between the New Testament’s condemnation of wealth and the mammon accumulated by the Church, as Pope Francis himself noted, “It is a scandal to say one thing and do another.”

God Doesn’t Punish? (2019) by Michael Moore

Apologists from several different Christian denominations paradoxically maintain that God doesn’t punish sinners, but instead shows mercy on them. In his final essay the late Michael Moore categorizes the kinds of contortions that these apologists explicitly resort to in order to rationalize the numerous biblical passages that show otherwise. Moore concludes that there are four standard responses to the paradox: God shows his mercy by (1) playing word games, (2) letting the Devil do his punishing for him, (3) punishing only those who fail to play by the rules, or (4) making bad things happen in order to demonstrate his greatness.

“Happy is the Man that Feareth Always”: Psychology vs. Religion (2005) by Daniela Kramer and Michael Moore

Kramer and Moore analyze four main conflicts between humanistic psychology and prominent religious precepts found in Jewish, Christian, and Islamic prayers. These conflicts concern locus of control, self-esteem, social values, and the status of the family. The authors conclude that the messages promoted by various prayers are diametrically opposed to the goals of humanistic psychology and progressive education.

Holy Fools (2017) by Michael Moore

In this paper Michael Moore explores the veneration of individuals afflicted with madness in several religious traditions. An early example of this practice is the high regard that the Hebrews placed on prophets, but the explicit appellation of the label “holy fool” or “fool for Christ” starts with the apostle Paul. Said in irony, that irony was nevertheless lost on many of the faithful, who occasionally regarded mentally disturbed individuals who had a religious predilection as “fools for Christ’s sake.” Strange behaviors taken to be religiously inspired include slaying in the spirit, holy laughter, and religious ecstasy. The reported behaviors of seminal Judeo-Christian figures resemble symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia, but reports of similar behavior have not been limited to Western religious traditions. The Avadhuta of India, Japanese Zen masters, and Chinese adepts also exhibited bizarre behaviors. Islamic Malamatiyya Sufists interpreted apparently unethical acts committed during “divine intoxication” as illustrations of the deeper meaning of Shari’a law. Early Church Father Tertullian turned the connection between religion and irrationality into dogma, and the widespread rejection of Jesus by his contemporaries has often been seen as proof of his divinity by his followers.

On Miracles and Miracle Workers (2019) by Michael Moore

Miracles are the staple food of religions. In order for a religion to flourish, its adherents must believe in a supernatural power greater than that of mere mortals. While some alleged miracles are held to have originated from a divine power alone, more often than not a particular individual is believed to have been chosen to work wonders. Picking up from his earlier work on false prophets, in this essay Michael Moore explores the psychological methods employed by various “miracle-workers.”

Prejudice and Religion (2018) by Michael Moore

In this paper exploring the links between prejudice and religion, Michael Moore distinguishes between a kind of institutionalized religiosity that promotes an in-group mentality, and a more interiorized kind of belongingness. Moore then goes on to consider several competing explanations of the demonstrated connections between religiosity and prejudice. For example, psychologists have long noted the tension between professed attitudes of welcoming openness among the religious and an actual positive correlation between religiosity and prejudice. Part of the reason for such a correlation is that intolerance is almost the inevitable outcome of privileging one’s own religion as more important than all others. There are also significant correlations between greater religious participation or identification and greater levels of racial prejudice, even apart from the correlation between racist attitudes and authoritarian fundamentalism in particular.

Psychopathology in Religious Ideation: The Case of Death by Proxy (2013) by Michael Moore

A large body of data suggests a causal relationship between religiosity and psychopathology. One illustration of such a connection is the delusional belief in “death by proxy,” such as Greek orator Aelius Aristides belief that he could appease the Greek god Asclepius by sacrificing two of his foster sister’s children in place of himself, 16th-century Jewish scholar Yosef Caro’s belief that, although he was condemned to death, the death of his first wife and three children substituted for his own death, and psychoanalyst Carl Jung’s belief that his doctor’s death due to septicemia substituted for his own death, allowing him to survive an illness that would have otherwise killed him. Belief in death by proxy presumes that a divine being takes oneself to be so important that another human being can be sacrificed in one’s stead, approaching what DSM-IV labels delusional disorder—grandiose type and bordering on the psychopathological.

Religion and Cultural Cleansing (2019) by Michael Moore

Knowledge has traditionally been transmitted across generations through spoken and written words. Both mediums have disadvantages: spoken words get distorted, and written ones are often destroyed. In this essay Michael Moore discusses the willful, ideologically motivated destruction of religious and cultural heritage by representatives of competing religions. Illustrative cases exemplify violent religious intolerance in general.

Religion as a Total Institution (2019) by Michael Moore

In what sociologists call a total institution, daily life is strictly regulated according to the norms, rules, and schedules set forth by a single authority, whose subordinates enforce these directives. Erving Goffman’s original typology of total institutions included (among other things) convents, nursing homes, boarding schools, prisons, and concentration camps, but subsequent scholars have expanded it to include elementary schools, the home, the media, tourism, universities, and other organizations. In this essay Michael Moore argues that religion should also take its rightful place alongside these institutions since it, too, exerts control over its subjects by “putting to death” one’s self along the same seven dimensions that characterize other total institutions.

Religion and Violence (2017) by Michael Moore

In recent years there have been a number of claims for substantial social benefits stemming from religious belief. On balance, however, the prevalence of religious violence calls these claims into question. Even a casual review turns up ample instances of violence between the members of different religions, both throughout history and across the world today. In addition, tens of thousands of members of the same faith were killed for “witchcraft” or the slightest deviations from orthodox Christian doctrine during the Inquisition. And since the advent of Islam, millions more have been killed over the Sunni/Shia rift. Finally, while religious spouses are not more likely to be abusive, the victims of domestic violence are more vulnerable to abuse when they live in religious households.

Religious Attitudes toward the Disabled (2015) by Michael Moore

In this essay Michael Moore provides ample evidence that discrimination against the handicapped is often doctrinally justified in all five of the major world religions today. Moore cites not only direct scriptural support for discriminatory attitudes toward the disabled, but also actual instances of such discrimination by religious perpetrators and even apologists’ use of explicit arguments for holding handicapped persons in low regard. The specific example of religiously inspired discrimination against the disabled illustrates the more general point that believers can use scripture to rationalize virtually any human behavior.

Review of Fighting Words (2006) by Kenneth Krause

Hector Avalos’ Fighting Words adds organization, scholarly research, and coherent theory to the phenomenon of religiously inspired violence. Analyzing religious violence in terms of “scarce resource theory,” Avalos argues that sacred spaces and authoritative scriptures constitute scarce resources accessible to, controlled by, or interpreted by only a few. Competition for these resources, or for group privilege and salvation, inevitably leads to violence which is only that much more tragic because of the unverifiability of the very existence of such resources. Failure to recognize the authority of, or correctly interpret or observe, a particular sacred text creates the potential for bloodshed; and Judaism, Christianity, and Islam’s soteriological justifications for violence only exacerbate its realization. Rather than merely explaining the root causes of religious violence, Avalos encourages us to assist religionists in modifying their traditions to thwart the maintenance and creation of unverifiable scarcities, or otherwise seek the elimination of their violent traditions.

Review of The Psychological Roots of Religious Belief (2006) by Kenneth Krause

According to M. D. Faber’s The Psychological Roots of Religious Belief, although we are born free of religious inclinations, widespread belief in a personal God has its roots in our early childhood development. In infancy, for instance, a child relies on his or her seemingly omnipotent caregiver (a “proto-deity”) to supplicate cries (“proto-prayer”) for nourishment and care. The child is consequently primed to map this process onto a religious narrative complete with its Parent-God. By promoting a religious narrative early on, religious institutions lay the groundwork for religious belief by exploiting an essentially subconscious process before a child has fully developed the ability to reason. None of us are quite “wired for God,” however; the existence of nonbelievers testifies to the possibility of accepting alternative narratives by the time one is exposed to religious ones. Despite reservations about some of the author’s contentions, Krause uses Faber’s analysis to offer his own recommendations for ensuring that one’s children enjoy the rewards of a rational life.

We Are Too Weak to Walk Unaided: A Family Therapist View of the Pathogenic Aspects of Prayer (2000) by Michael Moore and Daniela Kramer

Many aspects of psychology are at loggerheads with religion. In this paper excerpts from prayers, hymns and scriptures of the three monotheistic religions are used to illustrate major areas of conflict between these two institutions. Special attention is given to those aspects of prayers which contradict basic tenets of psychological well-being not only of individuals but also of families. The discussion is divided into four major fields: Feudalism vs. egalitarianism, developmental issues, defense mechanisms, and interpersonal control mechanisms. In each field, several examples, organized around subtopics, show how the manifest message of religious texts legitimizes and encourages practices considered pathogenic by the standards of various psychological approaches.

Why Religion is Persuasive: How Religious Rhetoric Taps into Intuitions Underlying Religious Thought (2011) by Adam Lewis

Many of our intuitions were not cobbled together by evolution for discerning truth, but for building approximations of reality that were useful to our ancestors. A number of skewed ways of thinking are well known to psychologists. Just as human beings are biologically “prewired” to learn language from their social environment, thinking in terms of the supernatural may also be inborn. Our biases might therefore explain why empirically vacuous claims about gods, souls, afterlives, and so on are rhetorically effective: they fit well with people’s prescientific intuitions. In this paper Adam Lewis explores how these intuitions shape beliefs about gods as supernatural agents, drawing on examples from the Koran, before finally considering their impact on beliefs about the soul and related afterlife beliefs.