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60Resurrection in the Gospel of Markhttps://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2012/04/resurrection-in-the-gospel-of-mark
Sat, 07 Apr 2012 18:35:48 -0400Most New Testament scholars agree nowadays that Mark 16:9ff. is not the original ending of Mark. Either it ended with v.8, or there was an original ending that’s been lost (sometimes thought to be something like Matthew’s ending but with differences similar to how Mark normally is different from Matthew). A certain breed of skeptic often found on History Channel or Discovery Channel Easter specials will sometimes use this to claim that Mark doesn’t actually report the resurrection, with the insinuation that Mark is the earliest gospel and therefore the most reliable reporting of events. Therefore, we might be expected to include, Christians invented the resurrection after Mark’s gospel was fully composed.
Mark Heath nicely presents several reasons
why such skeptics have to be ignoring what the Gospel of Mark really says and what else is in the New Testament. According to standard dating of Mark (by scholars across the theological spectrum), Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians church is earlier than Mark, and chapter 15 of that letter is the lengthiest discussion of the resurrection in the entire New Testament. Furthermore, the entire gospel of Mark forecasts the resurrection and leads to its expectation, even explaining elements of it long before it gets to the actual events. But most importantly, the resurrection is the very last event reported in the section of Mark 16 that most scholars consider authentic. The disciples are told that he has been raised and told that they will see him. There aren’t chronicles of what Jesus did after the resurrection, as there are in all three other gospels and in the book of Acts, but the resurrection is very clearly reported right there in the section that no one questions.
I’m less convinced on the fourth reason, so I’m not mentioning that here, but you can see Mark’s post for it and my comment for my response.
Neurodiversity and Relativismhttps://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2012/01/neurodiversity-and-relativism
Tue, 31 Jan 2012 22:13:05 -0500There’s a relatively new movement in the communities of people who deal regularly with autism and related conditions that’s assigned themselves the term “
” as a shorthand reference to their commitment to affirming atypical neurological conditions as equally legitimate. This movement shuns the terms ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’ and instead prefers to speak of those who are neurotypical and those who are not. The neurodiversity movement seeks to identify various traits common with autism as neither better nor worse but simply different.
This movement should be praised for its recognition that respecting people with autism requires taking into account how differently they take in information, process it, use it, and produce various responses. They rightly emphasize that an atypical neurological state need not be thought of as a disease that needs a medical cure or treatment or a disability that requires taking the person to be deficient. They recommend supporting a person for who they are rather than trying to “fix” them to conform to the standards everyone else has. Some autism advocates on the autistic spectrum insist that they wouldn’t want to be made “normal” if a “cure” were ever found. They like being the way they are.
There’s something obviously right about most of that. The more I read stuff from this movement, however, the more disturbed I get that there’s something they’re just not seeing, and the good in what I just wrote is blinding a lot of well-meaning people to a serious philosophical error lying behind much of what the neurodiversity movement produces. Consider
by Karen Kaplan of the
Los Angeles Times
. She is right to point out that, just because autistic people do badly on certain standardized tests, it doesn’t mean they’re cognitively deficient. It may well be that the reason a certain person scores low on a certain test is because the test is relying on typical patterns of language use, and someone with autism may be using a different pattern of language use. The underlying cognitive ability being tested for may be stronger than the test shows. That’s all correct. But in her rush to make this point, Kaplan completely ignores the fact that the reason someone is scoring low on the test is because of a genuine deficiency in the kind of language use that most people are much better able to engage in. That means there is a lack of ability that comes with autism, even if its manifestation will be different from person to person.
Again, Kaplan speaks of those who emphasize “training kids with autism to behave like typical kids instead of allowing them to make the most of their differently wired brains.” That’s especially helpful, because allowing autistic people to make the most of their differently-operating brain is certainly the right goal. But that’s perfectly compatible with taking their differently-wired brain to be operating at a deficient level with respect to certain cognitive skills, even if it’s also operating at a higher level with regard to other cognitive skills. Some in the neurodiversity movement are willing to recognize that differences between neurotypicals and autistic people involve autism conveying certain strengths and weaknesses. But the language of “not better or worse but just different” disallows any such recognition and smacks of crude relativism, whereby we cannot recognize any difference as being better or worse. When taken to its logical implication, we’d have to say that someone who is not intelligent enough to read is not less smart in any respect than the norm, just different. I submit that such a statement is nonsense. There’s a particular cognitive ability that allows for reading that most people have, and someone who doesn’t have that ability (assuming they genuinely don’t) is lacking a cognitive skill. Why can’t we just accept that?
Similarly, there is a seeming refusal to recognize any medical condition that can be spoken of in terms of being made worse off. In some respects this strikes me as a general problem among disability communities that stems from crudely relativistic thinking. The deaf community is largely unsupportive of cochlear implants, because it gives children the ability to hear, and they take their lack of hearing not to be a genuine disability. There’s nothing wrong with not hearing, so why should they support giving deaf children the ability to hear the way most people can?
If we really took this line of reasoning seriously, we’d have to apply it to other conditions that virtually no one wants to see as perfectly normal. For example, one could argue that pedophilia is just a different way of being, and we should respect it. After all, it’s caused by a brain condition, and all brain conditions are equally good. In terms of the arguments I see from the neurodiversity movement, I see no way to say the things they say while avoiding such a conclusion. There are plenty of ways to distinguish between the two cases, but I don’t see how those are available given the extreme sorts of statements that I regularly see among neurodiversity advocates.
People who have serious cognitive deficiencies often have serious problems seeing their own intrinsic worth. It’s important to affirm that. It’s important to help them see that their very existence is not wrong in the sense that we should blame them for being the way they are. It’s important to help them see that their preferences may seem weird to others but that in many cases perfectly all right for them to have them. But some voices advocating for neurodiversity want us to say that someone with autism is not messed up in any sense. The fact is that we’re all messed up. We’re all distorted. We’re all flawed. No one is the way we ought to be. Autism is one way to have various deficiencies, one that also happens in many cases to have plenty of strengths above the level typical of most people. To say that we can never evaluate being less good at something or more good at something with such value-laden language would be to overreact to a genuine problem in how many people look at people with disabilities.
But on one level, I can’t blame the neurodiversity movement (and the more general relativistic outlook among other disability communities). After all, their view follows fairly easily from a particular version of secularized naturalistic thinking. Different neurological conditions stem from natural variation, and there’s no other level of explanation but natural variation. There’s no God who designed human beings to have certain capabilities. There are no natural purposes according to which organisms have a nature, and certain capacities are part of what a well-functioning member of their species will be able to do. There’s no notion of well-functioning if your worldview doesn’t allow for higher-level explanations about purposes and design, other than perhaps simply asking whether a particular organism fits into the way most members of its species are or whether it fits the patterns members of its species typically desire for themselves. There’s nothing objective about what a healthy member of that species or a well-functioning member of that species would be like. There is no way we can have a notion of the way we ought to be if there’s no ground for what it would be to be the way we ought to be. But such a conclusion seems to me to be so obviously false that perhaps we should just question the metaphysical underpinning of the neurodiversity movement, rather than giving in to that metaphysical picture’s logical implications.
]]>Adoption, Having Children, and Secondary Moral Obligationshttps://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2011/10/adoption-having-children-and-secondary-moral-obligations
Sat, 29 Oct 2011 22:13:52 -0400Russell Moore has a nice post
about how, although there’s generally a moral mandate upon Christians to adopt, there are plenty of people who ought not to be the ones to fulfill that mandate [ht:
]. In particular, certain kinds of issues tend to come up with adoptions that most people, because of the reasons they’re interested in adopting are not well prepared for and do not have the commitment to see those problems through, which leaves kids twice orphaned in too many cases.
I think this is a nice example of what I’ve elsewhere called a
secondary moral obligation
, an obligation you incur because you fail at a prior moral obligation. You ought not to have the attitude toward children that you see them as fulfilling your needs, but if you do then it’s immoral to adopt, even if it’s generally a moral mandate to adopt when such immoral attitudes are not present (and they shouldn’t be present) and when there aren’t other extenuating circumstances making it a less good idea to adopt (whatever those might be, and I’m open to their being lots of them).
What Moore does not mention is that the same is true of having children naturally. If you have the attitude that children are to meet your needs, then you shouldn’t have children, even if (and I know not all Christians agree on this) it’s Christian teaching that we ought to seek to have children or at least be very open to it (as many believe it is; whether it is is irrelevant to my point here, but assume it is for the sake of argument). My suspicion is that many new parents who were seeking to have children were doing so for completely selfish reasons. It strikes me as a thoroughly immoral reason to want to have children, and it seems to me that it’s just as immoral to go ahead and have children if your desire is for them to fulfill your needs. That’s so even if there is a moral mandate upon Christians to seek to have children, as many Christians do believe.
What makes this a nice case of a secondary moral obligation is that you have two obligations that conflict, one of which only appears if you violate the other one. It’s wrong to have this selfish kid-possessing attitude, and those who have it ought not to have children. But you ought to seek to have children (on the premise I’ve been assuming, at least for the sake of argument). There’s no inconsistency in such a position, despite the initial surface-level appearance of two contrary obligations. You do have an obligation to seek to have children (at least certain people do, anyway, on this view), and you do have an obligation not to want children for the wrong reasons, but if you do have the wrong reasons for wanting children then you simply ought not to have children, even if that means failing in the first obligation. It’s worse to seek to meet the first obligation but violate the second than it is to fail the first because you’re meeting the second.
But it becomes a fairly messy question if children come along anyway unintentionally when someone has this attitude. The original obligation still remains in such a case, and you simply ought not to have this attitude, even though most people do before they have children. Once they appear, you ought not to rid yourself of them unless your situation is so bad that they’ll have a much better home without you than with you (and this selfish desire isn’t usually so bad as to generate that situation; other conditions need to be met for that). I would argue that someone with the selfish attitude toward children does conceive a child, they ought (barring other considerations) to raise that child and to remove that selfish attitude. But that’s compatible with thinking they ought not to seek to have children until they can rid themselves of that attitude, especially when it comes to great expense as with adoption.
Sun, 14 Aug 2011 21:13:53 -0400I’ve determined that there’s a political faction out there that needs a name, because it’s a group of conspiracy theorists with a particular agenda that’s becoming somewhat influential, and it’s achieving its agenda fairly well. Its agenda is to discredit mainstream evangelicalism by confusing it with extremist figures who have nearly zero influence on much of any importance. I’m going to call this group the Dominionismists, because their whole agenda depends on this fictional line of thought called Dominionism [sic].
Dominionismism begins, as far as I can tell, with a sociology Ph.D. dissertation at the University of California at Berkeley, by a woman named Sara Diamond. Diamond’s dissertation sought to expose a group of Christians she was calling Dominionists [sic], who held the view “that Christians alone are Biblically mandated to occupy all secular institutions until Christ returns”. Dominionismists like to lump together such diverse figures as Abraham Kuyper, Francis Schaeffer, R.J. Rushdoony, James Dobson, Gary North, Greg Bahnsen, D. James Kennedy, Jerry Falwell, Tim LaHaye, Randall Terry, Pat Robertson, Charles Colson, and Nancy Pearcey as influential figures in the development of Dominionism [sic].
Now while most of these people are nearly household names to me, many people reading this might not know who any or many of them are, so let me break it down a little. Abraham Kuyper was a prime minister in the Netherlands a little more than a century ago, and his vision of a Christian interaction with politics was that Christianity includes both (a) influencing non-believers with the good news of salvation and (b) attempting to do what good we can in the world, and that involves seeking to implement policies that Christians agree with. He thought it was perfectly proper for people of any mindset to seek to implement the policies they thought would be best, and therefore Christians should implement policies that are based on principles they hold as part of their Christian worldview. He didn’t think there was some biblical obligation for Christians to take over all the positions in every secular institution. He did think it was appropriate for Christians to seek a biblically-aware worldview that informs how they influence society for good, including occupying positions of influence.
Francis Schaeffer was of the same mindset, basically, and he was influential in bringing Protestants to care about the abortion issue, which before Schaeffer was mainly a Catholic issue. Schaeffer is more importantly credited with bringing evangelicals to care about theology, philosophy, and intellectual endeavor more generally, playing a large role in influencing evangelicals to go back into the academy that fundamentalists had left in the early 20th century as it was becoming more dominated by secularists and theological liberals. Schaeffer’s main influence in evangelicalism is in opposing anti-intellectualism and calling on evangelicals to think through their worldview and the worldviews of those around them, considering what sorts of views are out there and influencing them and how to think more carefully for themselves whether their views fit with scripture and whether they fit together consistently. He emphasized the gospel message’s importance in influencing every aspect of someone’s life, with an impact on how you live, how you pursue your career, and what sorts of intellectual pursuits you engage in if you have a career that has any relation to such pursuits. Nancey Pearcey is a Schaeffer-influenced contemporary author who has published works that continue largely in the pattern of her mentor.
Some of the figures in the list are politically-active evangelicals of various stripes. D. James Kennedy was a Presbyterian minister who had a TV ministry that was very much not like most televangelists. His Reformed theology set him apart for one thing, compared with Baptist Jerry Falwell and Pentecostal Pat Robertson. All three spent time arguing on behalf of particular causes associated with the religious right, but Kennedy’s theological background was much closer to Schaeffer’s. Schaeffer spent time trying to rein them all in, according to Schaeffer’s son-in-law Udo Middelmann (see his
9:52am comment here on 8-11-11
), preferring to influence society with the gospel and to change people’s minds with argument, rather than simply putting Christians in government positions with a disproportionate representation without changing the opinions of those whose worldviews did not support the agenda of those Christians. So here we have a further distinction among the figures in the list between those who want Christians to seek to occupy positions in government or to influence policy directly (without necessarily thinking Christians somehow have a right to all such positions, as Dominionism [sic] purportedly holds, and those who think Christians shouldn’t even bother with that sort of thing but should instead seek to influence people’s hearts, and then they’ll vote their conscience.
Then there’s a very different mindset out there called Christian Reconstructionism. R.J. Rushdoony, Gary Bahnsen, and Gary North argue that the proper Christian view of law and politics is a Christian theonomy, which means applying God’s law as revealed in the Bible fairly directly in the laws of whatever society we’re part of. Rushdoony argues for imposing penalties from the Torah for our day, including putting people to death for having gay sex or for getting married under false pretenses of virginity. Rushdoony also argued independently for several theses that have caught on among non-theonomists, such as the idea that the founders of the United States saw this country as a Christian nation and did not intend for the First Amendment to prohibit states from endorsing a particular Christian denomination but that it simply prevented the federal government from taking a stance among the Christian denominations. He saw the American Revolution as motivated in significant part by an orthodox Christian resistance to a secularized British government, and many in the homeschool movement have been attracted to those ideas, without necessarily buying into the whole theonomist project. He also saw the institution of slavery as relatively benevolent, opposed forced integration and interracial marriage, and bought into Holocaust deniers’ claims that the number of Jews killed by Nazi Germany has been wildly exaggerated.
It’s not hard to see the huge gap between standard Religious Right social conservatism and its claims of this being a Christian nation that needs to be restored to its roots and the kind of vision Rushdoony had, even apart from the racial elements I just mentioned. It strikes me as irresponsible to lump him together with Francis Schaeffer and those influenced by him, especially given Schaeffer’s many recorded instances of resisting exactly the kinds of views Rushdoony developed. Indeed, it strikes me as an error of the magnitude of some of Rushdoony’s own historical nonsense to consider there to be such a view called Dominionism [sic] that Rushdoony, Schaeffer, James Dobson, and all the other people in the list somehow share and that it seeks to get Christians and only Christians into all the influential positions in secular society. Those who are perpetuating this lie are conspiracy theorists, and it strikes me as irrational and contrary to the evidence as Birtherism and Trutherism.
Dominionismism is of the same sort, except for one thing. Terry Gross (most recently
but see also
) and Diane Rehm (e.g.
) of NPR regularly have these people on their shows and let them spew forth this historically inaccurate and slanderous nonsense with hardly a critical comment or request for genuine support, and then they treat it as a big secret conspiracy that no one is interested in investigating. A recent article in
The New Yorker
Ryan Lizza’s hit piece
on Michele Bachmann) presents this conspiracy theory as investigative reporting. Dominionismism has mainstream support among influential purveyors of information. That’s the big difference between it and Birtherism and Trutherism, because prominent people have raised suggestions along Birtherist and Trutherist lines, and the mainstream media just laughs at them. Just look at how Donald Trump was treated by Fox News when he was spouting off questions suggestive of the Birther thesis. They gave him time on their shows, as they probably should do with someone of his influence claiming to run for the presidency, but it was obvious that no one who actually worked for the network thought what he was saying had anything to it.
There are figures in the Dominionismist movement who are more careful, for example
(and he says the work of Sara Diamond is too, but I can’t testify to that, and it’s obvious to me that many using her work are not very careful). Even so, some of what he says strikes me as still very problematic. For one thing, he sees Sarah Palin as a dominionist [sic]. I’ve seen no evidence that Palin thinks Christians and only Christians should occupy every position in secular society. I have seen evidence that she thinks it’s good for Christians to seek office and to transform society for the better, with what’s better determined in part (and for all I know
in part, for all I’ve seen) by what can be gleaned from the Bible. He thinks there’s this large class of people who think the creation mandate given to Adam and Eve to have dominion over the planet is really about Christians having dominion over everything rather than the far more common (and far more plausible) interpretation that we all have an obligation to be stewards over God’s creation, and it’s just those with the right views who are doing so responsibly (and Christians should think their views are more in line with what’s right, just as any other group would think their views are more in line with what’s right, or else they obviously wouldn’t happen to have those views but would have other views). Dominionismists would do well to look at Bertlet’s chart showing views along the continuum between Triumphalism and Christian Reconstructionism, and I would inform them that people like Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, and Rick Perry are at most Triumphalists, as far as I can tell, and certainly not in the non-existent camp of Dominionists [sic] as Diamond defines the term.
I should also note a massive misuse of the term “Dominion Theology”. There is actually a view called Dominion Theology, but it has nothing to do with these issues. It’s associated with the Vineyard third-wave Pentecostalism and people like John Wimber and C. Peter Wagner, who see Christians’ duty as not taking the government and secular institutions back from secular society but as taking the world back from Satan’s control, which has been the reigning order since the fall. Christians have the right and authority, according to this view, to exercise dominion over demons and reclaim God’s authority over the fallen world by prayer and confident assertion of God’s reign. People who practice Wagner’s methods will walk around cities proclaiming that God has reclaimed this and will speak to demons declaring them no longer to have dominion over the city. This, as should be obvious to anyone thinking about it, is such a clearly distinct phenomenon from anything to do with the relation between Christians and the government that it’s amazing not only that they’ve been so often confused but that so many people have now attached the name of their theology to the non-existent Dominionism [sic] that it’s largely taken over Google’s searches for the term. It’s actually hard to find any references to actual Dominion Theology by searching for that expression, and the first one I turned up was someone confusing them as a wing of Dominionism [sic] (one of three wings, according to that site, and Rick Warren has somehow managed to unite the three, as if that could make any sense; Warren is well-known as a political progressive/liberal except for some socially-conservative views).
]]>The Gospel According to Jason Brennanhttps://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2011/03/brennan-gospel
Sat, 26 Mar 2011 06:59:38 -0400Philosophy TV posted several reflections on issues related to Christmas during Christmas week last year.
Jason Brennan’s contribution
presents the Christmas story (i.e. the gospel) as a bad story about an immoral divinity.
I chose not to post this actually near Christmas, but when I saw this I thought it would be a great exercise to identify exactly where Brennan gets the gospel message wrong (and Brennan’s final question actually invites that).
In particular, there seem to be two general kinds of responses to a criticism like Brennan’s. You might disagree with his portrayal of what the gospel message actually says, or you might think he gets the message right but applies a problematic moral framework. (And you might think he makes mistakes in both arenas). But if you’re a Christian, you ought to think he does at least one of the two. The question is exactly which elements does he get wrong in what the gospel says or in the moral theory he applies to it, and I’m curious what people would say about that. What do you think?
]]>You Shall Give To Him Freelyhttps://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2010/09/you-shall-give-to-him-freely
Wed, 22 Sep 2010 04:26:27 -0400
Wed, 22 Sep 2010 04:20:20 -0400I
posted this a week ago to my personal blog
and intended to cross-post it here without too much delay, but I’ve just realized that I never got around to it.
]]>Rant About Worship Songshttps://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2010/08/rant-worship
Tue, 31 Aug 2010 23:39:39 -0400Continue Reading »]]>Cognitive Behavioral Therapyhttps://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2010/08/cognitive-behavioral
Tue, 24 Aug 2010 10:53:36 -0400Justin Taylor has reposted
David Powlison’s critique of Cognitive Behavior Therapy
. Powlison is the author of the so-called Biblical Counseling chapter of
the IVP Five Views book on psychology and Christianity
I’m not going to worry about the issue, pointed out several times in the comments, that the Bob Newhart video has pretty much nothing to do with CBT. I have two main things to contribute to the discussion, (1) as a philosopher and (2) as a parent of a child who has taken part in cognitive behavioral methods.
Powlison bases a lot of his critique on the fact that CBT uses (sometimes consciously) methods that can rightly be described as Stoic in that they do have a strong enough similiarity to key ideas of the ancient Stoics that I don’t think the comparison is inapt. Stoicism, at least on the issues relevant here, involves one key claim. The Stoics didn’t think it’s worth worrying about something outside your control. The reason is that your life is made worse off by your worrying, but you can do something about the worry. You can’t do anything about the fact that George W. Bush won the presidential election in 2004 or Barack Obama won the presidential election in 2008. You can’t change the fact that lots of people died recently in China from landslides. You can do something to help those who remain, and you can do something to change people’s minds on policy issues and perhaps help elect a different sort of person next time, but there’s no point in worrying about something you can’t do anything about.
That element of Stoic philosophy seems entirely reasonable to me. The Stoics do go on to say that we should remove all emotions, but it’s important to be clear on what they meant. They defined emotions more or less as bad reasoning. Things we call feelings that aren’t bad reasoning and are compatible with good reasoning would not be emotions for the Stoic. So there’s no reason to complain about that view on the ground that it’s healthy to have emotions and inhuman not to. We should eschew the things they called emotions without actually eschewing emotions as we understand the term. They had a strange view about what we should
emotions, but the substance of their view is mostly right, as Augustine so deftly argued in his critique of the Stoics. Feelings of any sort should be submitted to reason, and those that are irrational are best removed. Augustine shows that the Stoic view, when reworked into ordinary language without their odd view of what counts as an emotion, is largely correct and fully compatible with Christian teaching.
Where the Stoic goes wrong, as far as Christianity is concerned, is in not submitting things to the lordship of Christ. I can’t even say that they don’t equate submission to reason with submission to God. They do. They just have a false view of what God is like. Does that affect the practical level? Not so much. Does it affect CBT? Not remotely. The reason is that CBT is really a method, a placeholder in which you insert the content you intend to replace the unhealthy and irrational beliefs. The Stoics insisted that irrationality comes from false thinking. They may have been wrong about that as a fully adequate explanation of all irrationality. But they were certainly right that a whole lot of irrationality comes from false beliefs. I know at least two cases of chronic depression that in large part involves flat-out false beliefs, even if there may also be neurological causes. In one case it’s someone who consistently interprets any possible information that could be stretched to show that people don’t like him or that he’s a failure as if everyone doesn’t like him and as if his abilities are the problem, when in many of these cases no one is even evaluating him negatively, and often enough their evaluations aren’t seen that way by the people doing the evaluating. Such a person might benefit from neurochemical supplements, but CBT would encourage him to replace those false beliefs with a more hesitant approach to such negative interpretations, one much more like how most people would respond.
CBT is offered as a correction to the biggest problem Applied Behavior Analysis therapy. ABA insists on treating only behavior without dealing with anything internal, e.g. unhealthy beliefs. It stems from the behaviorist model of psychology, according to which we shouldn’t postulate anything internal that can’t be measured empirically, and thus any psychologist who talks about beliefs, desires, and so on is engaging in unscientific behavior (notice that even the way I’ve constructed that sentence admits only to the behavior of such a psychologist; a behaviorist shouldn’t even say that such a psychologist has false beliefs about how psychology should be done, just that the speech and methods of such a psychologist are unscientific).
Behaviorism is crazy, and CBT is an improvement. It seeks causes in wrong thinking rather than trying to do psychology by ignoring its existence. Doing psychology by dealing only with behavior and ignoring the cognitive elements that lead to the behavior seems to me to be closer to the Bob Newhart video that Powlison holds up as an example of CBT, where the major therapy technique is to tell people to stop it. But CBT insists on changing false and harmful beliefs and replacing them with true and beneficial beliefs. It’s a methodology, not a comprehensive theory of which beliefs are good and healthy. The trick is getting the beliefs right.
Not all CBT therapists will, but some will do much better than others, even if the ones who aren’t believers won’t be going fully deeply enough when the issues that come up are ones that Christians have deeper insight into (and not all issues are like that, e.g. dealing with my autistic son’s attachment to his hat or his collection of pocket lint that he calls his fuzzy. It’s hard for me to imagine a serious effort trying to make such issues out to be primarily about sin, and Powlison’s critique of CBT as avoiding the sin issue in order to make people feel better misses the point. The point, at least sometimes, is simply to remove an irrational anxiety. CBT isn’t comprehensive, because sometimes the problem is just a neurological malfunction that can be corrected with medication that doesn’t have significant enough side-effects to be worth worrying about. In other cases, the problem is largely due to false and harmful beliefs that CBT can help someone to remove via unproblematic methods. The Christian should only worry about cases where actual sin is involved and the CBT therapist is pretending no one is doing anything wrong or elements Christians might disagree with the general populace would cause disagreement between a Christian receiving CBT and the therapist about those particular beliefs that the CBT therapist is encouraging to use as replacements for the unhealthy ones. But those are particular problems in how CBT might be practiced by an individual, not inherent difficulties with the model itself.
But what about cases where there really is a deeper issue that the CBT therapist is ignoring due to an attempt to be neutral on religion? Is it a band-aid if there’s a deeper solution? As Powlison says near the end, it might be. But he also says it’s better than nothing. I would say that it may be just what you need. If my autistic son is having fits over losing his hat, and he’s not at a point where telling him to trust God will do a thing, then CBT may be the band-aid that helps him handle the symptoms and stop worrying about it. If that’s the best that’s neurologically possible at his developmental level, then I would argue that it’s unbiblical to insist that counseling not use CBT methods, I would even say that such insistence would itself contradict more general biblical commands.
I would say, similarly, that ABA is wrong much of the time for ignoring the internal, but with a kid who is so impulsive and unable to communicate as my other autistic son it might actually be the only thing that will help him, because even CBT doesn’t work if you can’t talk about your thoughts, never mind the so-called biblical counseling that doesn’t work when you’ve got someone with severe enough disabilities to prevent understanding of what sin even is. I sure hope no one tells me to tell my two-month old to stop crying because it’s sinful not to appreciate his parents enough to wait patiently for that diaper change. It’s not much different when you’ve got an eight-year-old with severe enough impulsivity issues that much of his behavior is more like what you would expect of a toddler, just with the physical capabilities of a much older child and thus a much greater level of danger.
Reductionist approaches don’t capture the variety of causes of problems that people might want counseling or mental health professionals for. You could be reductionist about any of these methods. Many ABA practitioners won’t consider other methods worthwhile. Many MDs won’t consider non-pharmaceutical solutions. Sometimes medication helps a neurological deficiency enough to be worth it. With genuine cases of the overdiagnosed condition of ADHD, sometimes a stimulant is exactly what’s needed, because the frontal cortex functions much more healthily when it can be stimulated, and you get much greater ability to attend to tasks. Sometimes that approach can be disastrous. Sometimes false beliefs are operative in such a way that some CBT can help someone remove them without necessarily inputting anything differently-harmful. Sometimes ABA is what’s needed when physical impulsivity is the driving force, and physical changes are needed to habituate different responses to certain stimuli or to control for sensory integration problems or high sensory input needs. Sometimes someone just needs to repent of wrong behavior, but sometimes it’s tied up with some of these other things, and it’s worth considering different methods for dealing with these problems in different cases. It doesn’t seem to me that Powlison recognizes this.