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Sickness and Scientism

One of the foremost objections sustained by modern theologians concerning contemporary society is scientism. Though what is Scientism and why is it relevant? The word Scientism is used to describe a frame of reasoning that solely relies on scientific thinking to come to conclusions about our reality. By that definition alone, one may find it obvious why a religious would be opposed to it. Though let us not be too hasty, as there are many scientific ways of framing and understanding our world and universe that a religious would not quarrel with. Take for instance the presumption that meteorological phenomena have something to do with areas of high and low pressure in the atmosphere. I’d bargain that theologians are comfortable with such a fact. Where theologians tend to reject scientism is in arguments pertaining to our humanity; the way we understand our own nature and how we view ourselves with respect to nature. Now, one might think that there is an obvious discrepancy here since a religious might fundamentally view humans as created by God and a secular scientistic view of humans is constituted by theories of evolution. Though none of that is quite as straightforward as one might believe as there are religious people that believe both in a supernatural cause of the universe and in the evolution of human beings. So that is not the most precise area in which we experience the divergence between the non-secular and secular conception of humanity today.

One of the most expressive, codifying, and compelling ways we speak of and understand ourselves today is through popular notions of psychology and psychological disorders. Anxiety, ADHD, OCD, eating disorders, and the ever-circulating tag of labeling an ex as a narcissist. These are all ways we have come to define and understand ourselves and others. Even more, they are ways of defining and understanding our humanity through a scientistic notion of human psychology. While I am not suggesting that religious beliefs are a plausible cure to an eating disorder, I am suggesting that in modern times we tend to go to science first to classify and define ourselves. How does Christianity differ? Does Christianity contain a psychological understanding? If so, how is it different from scientism? Christianity indeed has a psychological foundation, as one can actually read the Bible as not a religious text to be believed but as an exposition on the array of human behaviors. Nearly every possible behavior humans can express then and now is shown in stories throughout the Bible. What makes the psychological outlook of Christianity different from the scientism we see today is that the latter does not seek to reconcile disorders but tries to construct a situation and culture in which one can live with them.

The difference in methodology between the two is that much of Christianity is about reconciliation through virtue, and much of the psychological method found within scientism is predicated on classification, diagnosis, and coping. To be fair, one might charge the exercise of religious virtue as a way of getting over some psychological ailment as a coping mechanism, but where that charge loses its grasp is in the fact that the Christian framework is much less likely to see a psychological ailment as a permanent or fixed condition of one's personality or being, but as a trial; a trial amongst all the other trials that will inextricably be experienced by fallen beings in a fallen world. The Christian framework does not see struggles as part of one's personal identity but as part of living in the world. The psychological method brought on by scientism, however, tends to view psychological ailments as part of one's personhood. Scientism as it relates to psychology is used in two primary ways. In explaining one’s self and in treating one’s self. We see here that the scientific paradigm not only uses it’s own knowledge, understanding, and criteria to diagnose but also to treat. Psychology leads to psychiatry, leads to pharmacology and it is there, on the side of treatment, that scientism meets what is often its final machination. Machinations in technology.

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