Friday, May 29, 2015

"Can Christians do yoga?" A question and response


Hello Dr. Pendergrass,
I am Christian and I love yoga and helps me with stress. I have seen many critiques of yoga by Christian websites and magazines. If my focus is on God when I do it, I don't see the problem. I am wondering why yoga condemned by some Christians who don't do it? Trying to figure out what to do since I find good stress relief from its practice.

Thanks,
Internet Friend


Hello!

That's a good question.

Yoga is truly a religious ritual. It's roots and meaning derive from the areas around the Indus River Valley. Here's more information: Yoga - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
I used to teach it in my World Religions classes.

However, I fully understand that a person can perform the movements without smuggling all the religious beliefs. It's like celebrating Christmas but without anything at all concerning Jesus. Some argue, "it's not Christmas if you take away Jesus." In the same way, some might argue, "It's not yoga if you take away its Hindu roots."

So, it seems to me that it depends on why you do it.

I don't see why a Christian can't perform the movements and exercises in yoga, but not import all the religious meanings. I could just as easily pray to Jesus while I did the poses. I don't need to be meditating about the teachings of the Vedas or of Buddha.

Whatever people say against yoga, they would need to say against most forms of Kung Fu, since Kung Fu is also based on ancient Chinese beliefs concerning the Dao. But who in the world does that in America? How many people just practice the moves of Kung Fu but don't care at all about the original religious meanings? If you already believe in Daoism, then you'll practice Kung Fu as a Daoist. But, I can be a devout Christian and practice the exercises of Kung Fu.

So, in my view, you could tell people that you practice the exercises of yoga, but not any of its religious practices. 

As a Christian, you're not importing all the religious meanings, you're just doing the exercises.

That's my view, at least!

In Christ,
David


Sunday, May 24, 2015

19 Kids and Counting and Pedophilia in a Christian worldview

There is a show on TLC called “19Kids and Counting” which follows the life of a large family based in Arkansas. My wife loves the show. The show’s been on for ten seasons, but now it’s being suspended.

One of their sons, many years ago while a teenager, molested five girls: some his sisters, some their friends. This tragic news is a hot topic these days.

Because of this popular news, pieces have been written to speak about pedophilia (= when an adult or older adolescent maintains a sexual attraction toward prepubescent children). Though, of course, I have no idea if their son has that condition or not. Based on the interviews I've heard, it seems he does not. Several studies demonstrate that it is not uncommon for early teens, especially around the age of fourteen (the age Josh was), to experiment sexually with younger siblings and friends. Studies demonstrate that 95%+ of them never do it again.

Sexual behavior has long been a hot topic not only in various cultures, but among clinical therapists. 

For example, for a very long time, homosexuality was considered a mental disorder. In fact, in the first “Bible” of therapists, the DSM, homosexuality was labeled a mental disorder. Things changed in the 1960s: societal views towards homosexuals changed, there was constant political lobbying in favor of homosexuals, and some other psychological studies were conducted. 

Thus, the DSM changed its description of homosexuality in the 1970s. What changed? Instead of homosexuality simply being a mental disorder, they clarified: it needed to cause personal distress for it to be a disorder. So, if you accept your homosexuality so that it doesn’t cause distress, then you don’t have a disorder. Your feelings of acceptance of your behavior decide whether or not you have a disorder.

Even this was heavily opposed by the LGBT community. By 1986, homosexuality was removed entirely from the DSM (for more, click here).

The same seems to be coming true of pedophilia. It has always been considered a mental disorder. In the most recent DSM-5, they have now changed how to define pedophilia. Here is what the DSM says:

“To be diagnosed with a paraphilic disorder, DSM-5 requires that people with these interests:
  • feel personal distress about their interest, not merely distress resulting from society’s disapproval; or 
  • have a sexual desire or behavior that involves another person’s psychological distress, injury, or death, or a desire for sexual behaviors involving unwilling persons or persons unable to give legal consent.”

So it is once again: your own feelings of distress get to determine whether or not you have a mental disorder. Moreover, it must not cause distress in someone else or it involves sexual behavior in “unwilling persons or persons unable to give legal consent.

Why the change? The DSM tell us: “It is a subtle but crucial difference that makes it possible for an individual to engage in consensual atypical sexual behavior without inappropriately being labeled with a mental disorder.”

So, to make this clear once more, based on the DSM, if your sexual attraction to children (1) doesn’t cause you distress, (2) doesn’t cause someone else distress, or (3) doesn’t involve sexual behavior with someone who can’t give legal consent, then you don’t have a mental disorder.

Therefore, in order to have sex with a child without being considered to have a mental disorder, you need (1) to accept your own behavior so that you don’t feel distress; (2) to find a child that also accepts that behavior; and (3) to find a country where children have legal consent or petition your own government’s view of legality and have it changed.

Here are a few quick reflections:

1.  To be very clear: morality is not determined by legality. It was legal to do all kinds of awful things to the Jews in Germany in the 1930s and 1940s. What rational person thinks that their behavior was moral? Once again: just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s moral. That’s not how humans determine morality based on any moral system I know.

2.  It is certainly obvious that what a culture determines to be psychologically healthy and legal, greatly affects the moral acceptance of the behavior. This is why the two major fights of various interest groups are always to (a) change the clinical view of the behavior and then (b) change the legal view of the behavior. When these two things are accomplished, societal acceptance is very close behind (since society typically thinks whatever is considered psychologically healthy and legal is moral).

3.  It seems to me that when behaviors are defined based on causing distress, "healthy," or legal, we are not too far from accepting nearly all sexual behavior. Does this sound melodramatic to you?

For centuries, the ancient Spartans and other Greek city-states completely embraced pedophilia. They were convinced that the more the man found the boy attractive, the greater the teacher they’d be. There are countless painting and reliefs of the period that document this phenomenon (notice where the man's hands are in the painting on the right). Eventually this practice went away. Eventually it was considered quite taboo. It went from full acceptance to taboo. Imagine that. (It still occurred, but it became unpopular to do so.)

My point here is: the Greeks made arguments in favor of pedophilia for centuries. Real, genuine arguments. I see no reason why the same can’t be done today. In fact, they are being made by pedophiles all over the world. It's just that they are in the minority...for now.

What possibly would stop pedophilia from being fully accepted, regular practice among the supposed 1% who are attracted to children? Is it that hard to imagine that after gradual media attention and lobbying that pedophilia will become more and more accepted? 

(I remember not long ago when a man wrote a “how to” manual on how to have a sexual relationship with boys. Click here to see that I'm not lying. It was sold on Amazon. After a huge outcry, it was removed from the website. I wondered back then how many more years it’d be before works like that were allowed to be sold.)

In a Christian worldview, one might argue that morality is determined by two main ways: 
(a) implementing ethical norms presented in Scripture; and (b) natural law (= looking at the way things seem to be designed). Christians certainly do not determine morality by the criteria of “Is it considered psychologically healthy?" or "Is it legal?" or "Does it cause distress?"

Now, I’m not suggesting that the DSM is a clinical text outlining morality! My point here is simply to highlight that the typical cultural belief that when something is considered psychologically healthy and is legal it is moral, doesn’t work within Christianity.

So, I’m not criticizing the DSM for not getting its morality right since that’s not its purpose. Instead, I’m trying to help bring clarity to the fact that if you think something is moral just because it’s considered “healthy” and “legal,” then you do not possess the Christian worldview.

Moreover, in the case of pedophilia, I see no reason to think that in the years to come, further arguments won't be made in utter favor of pedophilia. Media attention will escalate. Social pressure will cajole. Lobbyists will convince. Step one: it will eventually be removed from the DSM altogether. Step two: the “legal consent” of minors will be adjusted. And pedophilia will be an accepted sexual behavior for humans.

Finally, even if that happens…it will never be, at any time, the Christian thing to do. According to Jesus, sex is designed by God to occur within a marriage of one male and female adult (see Matthew 19). I pray that our culture doesn’t budge on this issue. I do. But, for now, I pray mostly for the Church. May we stop trying to fit in to our culture and falsely credit the “Spirit’s movement” to the whims of this age. A Gallop poll doesn’t equate to the movement of the Spirit. And it’s time for the Church to wake up from our slumber. These children need a hero. They need a defender. And before we know it, we’ll be the only ones left who will be willing to take on that role.


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

"Do Babies Demonstrate Sinfulness? ...And what about Calvinism?" A conversation with a friend

Hey David!

So after our conversation I've been reading and thinking, go figure. So you don't believe in human depravity?

I have always been under the impression that we are not good at the core. Experience has seem to show me that too. Also if my first thoughts were broadcasted out loud I would be quite ashamed.

What do you make of this video?

I'm really trying to look at this thing clearly. :)

Check out this video on YouTube:


Friend


Hi Friend,

This video is confused on several levels.

1.       It assumes morality throughout; it doesn’t demonstrate origins. For example, it labels “being nice” as moral. That assumes a Moral Law. In no way does the experiment of a child picking a toy suggest that the kid understands or is attempting to be moral. We simply have no idea if a child understands morality based on observation. It is the same with the higher primates. We can only observe; we cannot know if they perceive of the Moral Law. The only possible way to know is to communicate with them. They would have to tell us that they feel an intuitive sense of “ought.” And…that they feel guilt when they didn’t do the “right” thing.

2.       Picking a toy that slams down the box is associated with violence, not necessarily “being bad/immoral.” As creatures, we will stay away from that which causes violence/damage naturally, since our brains are wired to survive (unless the Moral Law tells us we “ought” to face that violent thing for some greater good).

3.       The video and study seems to be arguing for the “origin of morality.” It does no such thing. Instead, at the very most, it would demonstrate how early humans can perceive of morality. By analogy, if tests were done that tested the “origin of math,” and showed how babies can gather things together in groups, it would in no way demonstrate when math begins. It would only demonstrate, at most, when babies can begin apprehending mathematics. In morality, this is called “moral epistemology,” which is the study of how people come to know or apprehend morality. So, the study should have been called, “A study of moral epistemology.”

4.       As far as my view of depravity goes, I think I hold the NT’s view (even though that term is never used in the Bible, depending on how you translate ἀδόκιμον in Rom 1:28): that all humans are in a state of sinfulness, unable to fulfill perfectly the obligatory commands to love God and neighbor on their own free will. Humans do not want to perform these commands perfectly on their own. Thus, because of this inability, humans do not fulfill the purposes for which they were designed. They need divine aid to perform this task. Because of Jesus’s teachings, death, resurrection, ascension, and sending of the Spirit, humans who receive His Spirit are now able to perform those tasks, thus fulfilling their original design.

Where I disagree with most/all people I’ve heard who speak about depravity is this: they suggest that sin affects every area of a human person (i.e., to them, “total” = “affecting all areas”; but to me, “total” = “affecting my entire moral self”). I don’t find their view compelling based on anything taught in the Bible or found in Christian philosophical reflection. For example, I don’t think sin affects anything that is amoral (e.g., mathematics, art, scientific discovery, language arts; and all basic decisions involved in life that are not moral, such as whether I choose red or blue, eat fish or eggs, etc.).

The real issue is whether or not, in my free will, I am able to respond to the gospel positively. On that issue, I am ambivalent. There are texts that suggest I can’t. There are texts that suggest I can. What I don’t find compelling is any suggestion that God forces me to love him (e.g., Calvinism) or that God frees me to love him preveniently (e.g., Wesleyanism). These are attempts to “fill in the gap” between my sinfulness and my response to the Gospel. (There’s more here, but I’m out of time.)

That’s what I think, at least!!

David


Hey David,

Yeah good points on the video.

I see that selfishness, bias, greed etc. seem like they aren't taught, we lean towards that as kids (like in the video they showed in older kids, but as the kids got older they began to be less selfish) and we have to be taught to do the opposite, be giving, think of others first, put anything above ourselves even God.(pride) Our first inclination is "me first" and herein I see the place where man breaks the first commandment. Nothing should go before God or try to take the place of and yet in man's nature it's our tendency.

About Calvinism( I'm not arguing for it only trying to understand) I never was under the impression that God ever forced himself on anyone, free will still stands. Because like you said, we don't have the capacity in our own free will to live up to the standard, God has to intervene so that we can. It seems clear to me that in our fleshy state we are dead and when God intervenes we are changed.

This goes back to my questions that you did the blog on about desiring God. If a person is changed we should see change at least happening. Can anyone really know the things of God or want to know the things of God without first him imparting revelation? And who ultimately gets all the glory? Me, partially because I came to my senses and decided to believe?

To what degree is God sovereign and is God really providential?

This is tough stuff and I can see why people argued over for centuries. My brain is tired and it's still morning. Ha!

Thanks for taking the time to share. I'm picking your brain cause after all you are a doctor. :)

Friend


Hi Friend,

Yeah, I’ve not made up my mind yet on whether or not you can determine the moral awareness of children by observing their behavior. The reason is: every psychologist I know would say that kids not wanting other people to take their toys, etc., is perfectly healthy because they’re learning ownership. I’m not suggesting they are necessarily right in their assessment, but it does make sense to me that it’s part of our natural development. Then, as we age, we learn that we can have ownership and not lose the toy. And, we learn that always playing with our “own” toys is selfish.

So, I’m kinda’ in between those two views. Can you elucidate that for me?

Good point about Calvinism concerning the definition of “free will.” I think most Calvinists would say we have a free will, but it’s corrupted. That is, we freely want to sin. But, I don’t know if that’s the consensus view--or if there is one! But, on that understanding, I was thinking that in their view, God “takes over” their “corrupted free will” and regenerates it and changes their desires to God. In fact, I think they’d say, God absolutely must take over their will because they are totally depraved. They can't even “will” the right thing. If this is true, I think “forcing Himself” on a sinful, corrupt person is the right phrase. I might be wrong about that, of course. And when people ask, “Why those people?” They say, “It’s just grace. God in His infinite wisdom has chosen certain people to love Him.”

As far as “who gets the glory,” that’s another good point. Again, as usual!, I might be wrong, but it seems to me that this isn’t part of the discussion in who “gets the glory in saving” (if that's what you mean). It seems to me, by analogy: Imagine I were dangling off a cliff, completely unable to pull myself up, and you reached down to grab my hand. You initiated the saving effort; you let me know that you were there; you did this just because you're awesome--especially if you and I were enemies! But…I have to choose to let go of the rock to grab your hand. You pull me up (= "save me”). It just doesn’t seem to me that at any time after that event anyone would every think to say, “Wow! It's incredible that David kinda’ saved himself….I mean, when you look at it, he was instrumental in this whole thing.”

Of course, Calvinists would alter one aspect of my analogy: David couldn’t even choose to let go of the rock! You would have to grab my hand without me ever wanting it at all or, perhaps you would “talk me into it and change my whole desire to be saved.”

Whatever. It just seems to me that, even in my original analogy, you would clearly receive all the credit for saving me…the “glory.” Could I be happy that I made the choice? Sure! Why not? I’m extremely happy every single time I make a right choice in life! My in-laws gave us a generous cash gift for Christmas. I accepted the check. I didn't earn it. I didn't ask for it. I didn't know it was coming. But I took that junk to the bank! And I'm so glad that I decided to keep the check. Simultaneously, it would never occur to me to praise myself for receiving the cash--it was a grace gift!

Of course, I completely appreciate the desire to be clear that my "saving process” is not based on my earning some “merit” that God needed to recognize. I just don’t think it needs to go as far as they do, based on the biblical texts and on philosophical reflection. Of course, I could be wrong!

Concerning the “sovereignty,” great question. I’ll guess I chat more in person. lol

Let me know what you think if you want to…especially where I'm wrong!

Peace,
DP


David,

One other thought on the kids morality -- "Train up a child in the way he should go" why train him in any way at all? Why not let him make his own choices?

I've seen over and over with family friends society that without guidance and training when developing they more often than not get themselves into a heap of trouble. So why would that be? Is it because they need to be trained taught to not give into those natural tendencies of self first.

And I see it that anytime we put self first in general we are taking Gods proper place.

Good mind strengthening gong on. :)

Friend


Hi Friend,

Great stuff.

I certainly do think we should teach morality to our children. I think morality can be taught just as mathematics can be taught. Children can discover math on their own and they can discover morality on their own, but it sure saves time to teach them.

For me, it depends on why the child is doing what she is doing. For example, if she thinks that if you play with her toy that she will never see it again, then she is not being selfish. She is just ignorant about what psychologists call "object permanence." She thinks that the toy is being taken away from her forever so she is protecting it. 

If she does not think that way, then I would be happy saying that she is being selfish, which is immoral. The problem is, of course, we just don't know what the baby is thinking.

That's what I think at least. :)

David


David,

Good point.                                              

Also good things to think on concerning Calvinism.

Thanks again for the brain workout. 

Friend



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