Monday, June 7, 2010

Polarized Thinking in the Church

Last year, when I was running group on cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), we would often discuss polarized thinking (also known as black-and-white or dichotomous thinking). In exploring how this can be damaging, people often discuss how it hurts ourselves. But I also think it's important to point out how it hurts others.

When we view people with our dichotomous thinking, we often thinking of them as either perfect or horrible (this idea is known as splitting). While it can feel good to be thought of as perfect, it is also anxiety provoking and setting others up for failure.

A perfect example is clergy. As a society, we often view clergy as perfect (or supposed to be perfect). A perfect example of this expectation of perfection is when people make mistakes. We've had several big-name pastors "fall" in the last couple of years.

We're never shocked when an actor has an affair (or even a politician), but a pastor? What makes them so special that they are free from temptation and sin? Really, they're more susceptible to such problems because of how the church community uses and abuses pastors.

So we hold this view of perfection, then the person doesn't meet that expectation, and so they move to the opposite extreme. This is not healthy, helpful, or biblical. Jonathan Brink wrote a nice post regarding Ted Haggard and the shock people have that he could start a new church. He also has nice, but sad joke about the situation.

But seriously. Why can't he start and led a church? He should not have been kicked out of his last church, in my opinion. He's human. He's made mistakes. That's what would make him a GOOD pastor! But then again, he moved into the area of sexual sin, the black hold of evil...

1 comment:

  1. I think we are dealing with an interesting cultural juxtaposition of contradictions here. It’s not that we give a free pass to everybody else—look at the way the sex life of a golfer became the biggest news story on the planet for several weeks. It’s not just preachers who elicit our shocked fascination.

    So what’s going on with preachers? For starters, we are what I call “salaciously puritanical.” We live in a sex-obsessed society that endlessly drools over feasts of sexual titillation. But we do so more to give us a chance to act shocked and horrified than as part of any pattern of finding actual sexual fulfillment. In fact, such endless fascination with the sex lives of celebrities is probably a sign of mass sexual frustration and barrenness. Not morality, mind you (people do have their outlets, but not all that exciting either). The puritanical part is how we deal with the barrenness—we are at least shocked by the behaviors we so enjoy from afar. People justify barrenness and petty little outlets because they can at least tell themselves they are at least righteous enough to be shocked.

    There’s a second factor at work here—what I’d call the “surrogate syndrome.” Since our society if filled people who are both sexually puritanical and sexually obsessed we elect others to live out our paradox. Celebrities have the sexual adventure, excitement, drama, and scandal that provides surrogate erotic fulfillment. And preachers/religious leaders are our surrogate saints—the ones who can console people into feeling that virtue is alive and well. So we have both surrogate sinners and surrogate saints.

    So what happens when surrogate saints become our surrogate sinners as well? It throws the karma of the sad little dance of the salaciously puritanical out of kilter. It’s actually fun to forgive other celebrities as a way of showing them undying gratitude for providing such fascinating erotic entertainment. But doing that for preachers? Then we lose the one thing that makes the dance seem not quite as tawdry as it really is. We no longer have somebody to be our surrogate saint who will seemingly live out the virtue that nobody else wants to practice. The true silliness of the game is exposed and it is harder to at least pretend that it is still moral.

    So the dance goes on….




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