Healing From Old Hurts

Forgiveness is a common subject. We frequently hear “inspirational” quotes about forgiveness and letting go. But what does forgiveness and letting go really mean and what steps do we need to take to truly be able to heal from past hurts?

Forgive–Forgiving doesn’t mean pretending “everything’s OK” or acting as if more healing doesn’t need to take place. St Augustine said that forgiveness simply requires us to surrender our natural desire for revenge. To forgive someone just means that you are going to refuse to be defined by the injuries you have suffered at their hands, and that you are refusing to make things worse by hurting them for having hurt you. Forgiveness allows something other than our pain to come into existence. It allows the possibility for healing to occur. The first step in letting go of old hurts is choosing to forgive the other person by refusing to be defined by your pain and choosing to get on with letting God’s grace heal your heart and any other damage that might have been caused by the other person’s actions.

Focus on Healing Not Hurting–Sometimes, even after we’ve forgiven someone, it can be hard to heal. Sometimes, we can even fall a little in love with being the victim. Holding on to victimhood sounds bad, but it can feel good, because it makes us feel like we’re on the winning team of us against the world. But this is an illusion that separates us from God’s healing grace. You don’t have to deny the pain you feel from those old hurts. You just have to focus on taking the next step in healing those hurts. When those injuries come up, instead of nursing them, ask yourself, “What’s one small thing I can do right now to heal myself or this relationship? What’s one small step I can take to regain what was taken from me or heal what was broken in me?”  Then do that thing. If you’re stuck and don’t know what to do, seek guidance from a faithful mentor, spiritual director or pastoral counselor. Either way, the key to letting go of old hurts isn’t found in pretending they don’t exist or in wallowing in them. It is found in making a plan to let God’s healing grace into your heart so that you can not only restore what lost, but so that you can rise up to new heights through God’s mercy and his healing love.

Cultivate Joy–Cultivating joy in the face of old hurts doesn’t mean putting on a happy face and denying your problems. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit. It is the quality we achieve by doing everything we can to cooperate with God’s grace to live a more meaningful, intimate, and virtuous life.  Living more meaningfully means doing whatever we can to use our gifts, talents, and abilities to make a positive difference in our lives and the world around us. Living more intimately means doing whatever we can to make our relationships healthier and deeper. Living more virtuously means asking how we can use whatever life throws at us as our opportunity to become stronger, healthier, godlier people. The more we respond to our pain by throwing ourselves into cultivating meaningfulness, intimacy, and virtue, the more we cooperate with God’s desire to give us joy in place of the hurt.

For more on how to heal from past hurts check out The Life God Wants You To Have and tune in to More2Life, weekdays at 10am E/9am C on EWTN SiriusXM channel 130.

And Indeed It Was Good

Guest post by Rachael Popcak.

 

When thinking about Genesis 1, people typically focus on God creating the world, and then He created man. While of course this is extraordinary, something really struck me recently while re-reading this section of the Bible.

After God creates each piece of the world, it is specifically noted that He took the time to acknowledge that “it was good.” God could have easily created everything in the world all at once. He could have simply blinked and the whole world, His greater plan, could have been created. But He didn’t. Instead He carefully and lovingly molded each aspect of the world. He made it beautiful, He acknowledged its goodness, and THEN he created man, and placed man in a world where everything was perfect and was created to provide for all of man’s needs.

In our daily lives it is all too easy to say “God, why can’t I get my dream job now, or have the perfect relationship now, or [fill in the blank with your hopes and dreams for you life] now.” However, like with everything in life, we need to strive to be like God. We need to carefully and lovingly acknowledge the goodness of each piece and each step of our lives. While our mind, our ambitions, and our society are screaming, “hurry up! You need to be successful, in shape, in a picture-perfect relationship, working your dream job, etc., etc., right now!”, we need to do as God did. We need to acknowledge the goodness of where we are in life now in order to truly value and appreciate the plan that God has for our lives.

Just as God takes His time to prepare us for His greater plan by appreciating each step of His process and acknowledging that “It was good.”, we need to walk with God in our lives and say, “And indeed it was good.”

Virtue-Focused People Better Decision Makers, Study Says

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It’s common knowledge that people tend to be better at solving other people’s problems than they are at addressing their own.  But a new study  finds that people who think, not in terms of what they personally feel or think they should do about their problems, but in terms of what attempting to live up to a particular set of virtues would have them do in response to a problem, are just as good at solving their own problems as they are helping others.

The study, published in the journal Psychological Science, found that people with a more virtue-oriented focus tend to think more objectively and take a more long-term view in the face of their struggles and so are less impulsive and reactive than those who aren’t as virtue-focused

This research supports a technique we use with our clients in the Pastoral Solutions Institute.  When a client is struggling with a challenging situation.  One of the things we will have them do is reflect on the following questions:

  1. What your automatic response tends to be in that stressful situation? What, specifically,  you didn’t like about the response?
  2. What virtues were missing from your default response?  What qualities would have been helpful to be able to access in that situation?
  3. Identify different times you have been able to display those qualities in different situations when you were under pressure.
  4. How you could adapt those more virtuous/productive responses to this different, frustrating situation?
  5. What structures of support you will create (phone reminders, notes, daily reflection time, an accountability partner, etc.) to help you remember to use this  new, more virtuous response next time.

This technique is tremendously helpful for escaping the tendency to fall into reactive, emotionally-driven responses to frustrating situations and identifying healthier and more productive alternative responses.  Eventually, the more the client uses this exercise, it actually rewires the way they think about problems allowing them to adopt the more virtue-based, goal-oriented, objective approach to problem solving that enables them to be as effective in helping themselves as they are in helping others.

To learn more about how the Pastoral Solutions Institutes Tele-Counseling practice can help you face challenges in a more productive manner, visit www.CatholicCounselors.com or call 740-266-6461 to make an appointment to speak with a counselor.

 

3 Simple Ways Stop Blaming And Start Reclaiming Your Power in Grace

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In today’s world, placing blame is easier than ever. Outlets such as the news and social media allow us to say “it’s their fault!” without a second thought. Because of this, placing blame on others—or even yourself—is a trap that is all too easy to fall into. However, figuring out “who’s to blame” is not an effective way to heal the hurtful situations in our lives.

In Love and Responsibility, Pope JPII spoke of “responsibility” as a basic and inalienable human freedom that gives us the ability to choose to work for our good and the good of others no matter what.  In a sense, despite the fact that we live in a broken, fallen world, filled with broken, fallen people, no one and nothing can ever take away our ability to respond in godly ways that work for our good and the good of others.  No one can take away this ability to respond to our circumstances UNLESS WE SURRENDER IT OURSELVES and one of the most common ways we do this is by blaming.  When we blame, we turn other people or our circumstances into idols that are more powerful than God’s grace working in us and giving us the ability to do all things through Christ who strengthens us.

Here are three More2Life Hacks that will help you stop blaming and start reclaiming your power in grace!

1. Don’t Blame Yourself–Overcoming the temptation to blame others isn’t an invitation to start blaming yourself. The first step to reclaiming your power over blaming is to stop trying to figure out whose fault it is and just start solving the problem. Assigning blame–whether to others  or yourself–won’t change reality. Only the next steps you take will.  The only question that matters is,  “What are YOU going to DO about it NOW?”

2. Adopt A Supernatural Perspective–We often blame others when we feel powerless or afraid.  Saying that our circumstances are someone else’s fault allows us to avoid acting in ways that might be necessary, but are scary or unpleasant–especially when we aren’t sure we can do it.  This is the time to remember St Thomas Aquinas’ maxim, “Grace builds on nature.”  Instead of saying, “I CAN’T.”  Remind yourself of St Paul’s words, “I have the strength for everything through Christ who empowers me.” First, ask God what he wants you to do to start making a positive difference in your situation. Second, ask him for the grace to make up for everything you feel you lack. Finally, do the thing that challenges both you and the people around you to be your best selves and let God’s grace flow through your actions.

3. Accept The Invitation–Surrendering the tendency to blame means accepting God’s invitation to grow in strength and wisdom.  When we stop blaming–ourselves or others–we embrace the changes God wants to make in us and through us; changes that WILL lead to us closer to becoming our whole, healed, godly, grace-filled selves and living more abundant lives.  All of God’s children receive this invitation.  Have the courage to accept it and let God make you a witness to the amazing things he can create with imperfect people and imperfect situations

For more information on how to accept and embrace God’s grace in your life, tune in to More2Life, weekdays at 10am E/9am C on EWTN Global Catholic Radio, and check out my book Broken Gods: Hope, Healing, and the Seven Longings of the Human Heart.

Imagining the Future Helps Couples Resolve Present Arguments More Easily

Image Shutterstock

Image Shutterstock

A new study published in the journal  Social Psychological and Personality Science found that thinking about the future helps couples focus on their feelings and reasoning strategies.

 “When romantic partners argue over things like finances, jealousy, or other interpersonal issues, they tend to employ their current feelings as fuel for a heated argument. By envisioning their relationship in the future, people can shift the focus away from their current feelings and mitigate conflicts,” said researcher Alex Huynh.

Previous research has shown that taking a step back, and adopting a distanced fly-on-the-wall-type of perspective can be a positive strategy for reconciliation of interpersonal struggles. Huynh and his collaborators investigated whether similar benefits in reasoning and relationship well-being can be induced by simply stepping back and thinking about the future.

Study participants were instructed to reflect on a recent conflict with a romantic partner or a close friend. One group of participants were then asked to describe how they would feel about the conflict one year in the future, while another group was asked to describe how they feel in the present.

 

The researchers found that thinking about the future affected both participants’ focus on their feelings, and their reasoning strategies. As a result, participants reported more positivity about their relationship altogether.

In particular, when study participants extended their thinking about the relationship a year into the future, they were able to show more forgiveness and reinterpret the event in a more reasoned and positive light.

Responding to conflict is a critical skill for relationship maintenance.

“Our study demonstrates that adopting a future-oriented perspective in the context of a relationship conflict — reflecting on how one might feel a year from now — may be a valuable coping tool for one’s psychological happiness and relationship well-being,” said Huynh.

The research also has potential implications for understanding how prospection, or future-thinking, can be a beneficial strategy for a variety of conflicts people experience in their everyday lives.

For more great ideas for dealing more effectively with marital conflict check out For Better…FOREVER!  and When Divorce is NOT An Option:  How to Heal Your Marriage and Nurture Lasting Love or contact the Pastoral Solutions Institute (740-266-6461) to learn how our telephone counseling practice can help you have a more peaceful, loving marriage.

Releasing Resentment: 5 Steps to Overcoming Bitterness and Increasing your Peace

Image via Shutterstock. Used with permission.

Image via Shutterstock. Used with permission.

No one wants to be bitter.  It sneaks up on us.  Bitterness is unforgiveness fermented.    The more we hold onto past hurts the more we become drunk on our pain and the experience can rob us of the joy we can find in anything.

 

Bitterness occurs when we feel someone has taken something from us that we are powerless to get back.  We hold on to the hurt in an attempt to remind ourselves and others of the injustice we’ve experienced in the hopes that someone will save us and restore what we’ve lost.  Unfortunately, bitterness only makes our sense of the injustice grow.  It does nothing to heal the wound caused by the injustice.  In fact, it causes the wound to become infected with anger.

 

Bitterness:  Wrath’s Little Sister

Bitterness is wrath’s little sister.  Where anger can be just and moral if it propels us to seek solutions for the wrongs we have experienced or witness, wrath is a deadly sin because it becomes anger that feeds on itself and adds to wreckage caused by the original wound.  Bitterness does this too, but instead of burning down the house with everything we value still inside, bitterness is quieter, slowly poisoning our life until we lose it one joy at a time.

 

Here are some things you can do to begin to overcome bitterness.

 

1.  Forgive

Forgiveness does not mean pretending everything is “OK.”  It doesn’t mean forgetting the hurt either.  According to St. Augustine, forgiveness is simply the act of surrendering our desire for revenge; that is, our desire to hurt someone for having hurt us.   Forgiveness is the gift we give ourselves that enables us to stop picking at the scab and start making a plan for healing.  My book,  Broken Gods: Hope Healing and the Seven Longings of the Human Heart can help you identify the steps you need to heal the hurt, and find authentic peace.

 

2. Make a plan

Forgiveness allows you to free up the energy you need to begin healing the wound. If the person who hurt you is willing to work with you, begin mapping out exactly what changes or effort you would need to see from that person to let you know that it is safe to reconcile.  If you are on your own, focus your energy on making a plan for how will you strive to regain as much of what was lost/taken from you as possible.  The more you strive to find alternative ways to recoup your losses, the less bitter you will feel even if the hurt persists.   It can be tempting to give into feelings that “there’s nothing I can do”   but resist the temptation.  In fact, if you feel this way and can’t think of solutions, talk to a professional to check your math before deciding that you just need to grieve your loss.  If, after consultation, you find that there really is nothing you can do to reclaim what was lost or taken from you, focus your energy on developing new goals that will help you reconstruct a compelling future.  The book, The Life God Wants You to Have:  Discovering the Divine Plan When Human Plans Fail can be a tremendous help for figuring out what God is calling you to work toward in the next chapter of your life.

 

3.  Stop Dwelling and Retelling

When we are hurt, we have a tendency to turn the painful events over and over in our head or tell anyone who will listen about our pain–even over and over again.  It is fine to talk to people we think can help us heal the hurt, facilitate reconciliation or help us rebuild our lives, but other than that, we should do what we can to stop dwelling on the story of our injury ourselves and stop speaking of it so freely to others.  When we are tempted to “dwell or retell” the best course of action is to refocus on what we can do–TODAY–to take at least some small step toward refining or actualizing the plan we’ve developed in Step 2.  The more you are focused on solutions, the less you will experience the sense of powerlessness that comes from ruminating on the hurt.

 

4.  Seek Grace

It can be next to impossible to heal some wounds without God’s grace.  Bitterness causes us to shun God’s grace in favor of obsessing over the wound.  If you are holding on to bitterness I encourage you to take it to confession.  Please don’t be insulted by the suggestion.  I know that you are the victim and you have a right to your pain.  Still, holding on to anything except God’s love, mercy and healing grace separates from God and the life he wants us to have. Confession can open your heart to receive the healing that God wants to give you.   It can help you surrender the pain and powerlessness and begin to discover new options.  Stop hoarding your hurt.  Make your desire for healing official by taking your tendency to dwell in the powerlessness to the confessional and seek the grace to leave it there.

 

5.  Seek Professional Help

If the bitterness won’t let go even after you’ve tried all of the above, it’s time to seek professional help.  Working with a professional can help you see possibilities that your pain has blinded you to and give you new tools to heal the wounds that are holding you back.   If you have a faithful professional in your area that you have worked with before, it may be time to reconnect.  If not, I would invite you to contact us through the Pastoral Solutions Institute to learn more about our telephone counseling practice.  Healing is possible with the right resources.

 

Hebrews 12:5 says, “See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.”  You don’t have to be bitter or consumed by feelings of powerlessness and sadness.  Take action today to cooperate with the grace God is giving you to break free of the bonds of bitterness.  You can discover that with God’s help, there is so much more to life than pain.

4 Steps to Changing Your Life

image via shutterstock

image via shutterstock

My latest for OSV’s Daily Take

Whether or not you’ve made any New Year’s resolutions, this is a natural time to reflect on the changes we might like to make in our lives.

Unfortunately, a lot of efforts to change are driven by self-recrimination. We try to shame ourselves into the changes we’d like to make. “What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I just do this already?”

The Role of Guilt in Change

Guilt can play a part in the change process, but there is a difference between guilt as a loving correction of the Holy Spirit and guilt that’s a temptation from Satan to remain stuck. Healthy guilt allows us to remain hopeful in the face of our struggles. It challenges us to change while simultaneously allowing us to feel hopeful about the possibilities for healing and transformation. Neurotic guilt simply causes us to ruminate about our mistakes and the hopelessness of it all.

COAL: Fuel for change 

Neuroscientists tell us that neurotic guilt makes change more difficult. The more we beat up on ourselves, the more brain chemicals that accompany self-hatred inhibit brain cells from growing and making new connections — both of which are necessary for new behaviors to develop and new lessons to stick.

The spiritual life is all about growth and change. In “Broken Gods: Hope, Healing, and the Seven Longings of the Human Heart”(Image, $21), I present a brain-wise approach for creating graceful change. The four-step process employs the acronym COAL, which stands for Curiosity, Openness, Acceptance and Love. Whether you are trying to be more consistent about your prayer time, get control of your temper, lose weight or any other concern, research shows that approaching change with these qualities in mind facilitates the brain processes that allow our efforts to take root.  CONTINUE READING

A New Year Resolution: Stop Shaming Yourself

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Four steps to graceful change in the new year.

 

Whether or not you’ve made any New Year’s Resolutions, this is a natural time to reflect on the changes we might like to make in our lives.

Unfortunately, a lot of efforts to change are driven by self-recrimination.  We try to shame ourselves into the changes we’d like to make.  “What’s wrong with me?”   “What can’t I just do this already?”

The Role of Guilt

Guilt can play a part in the change process but there is a difference between guilt as a loving correction of the Holy Spirit and guilt that’s a temptation from Satan to remain stuck.  Healthy guilt allows us to remain hopeful in the face of our struggles.  It challenges us to change while simultaneously allowing us to feel hopeful about the possibilities for healing and transformation.  Neurotic guilt simply causes us to ruminate about our mistakes and the hopelessness of it all.

Guilt on the Brain

Neuroscientists tell us that neurotic guilt make change more difficult. The more we beat up on ourselves, the more brain chemicals that accompany self-hatred inhibit brain cells from growing and making new connections–both of which are necessary for new behaviors to develop and new lessons to stick.

COAL: Fuel for Change.

The spiritual life is all about growth and change. In Broken Gods: Hope, Healing, and the Seven Longings of the Human Heart (Image, 2015), I present a brain-wise approach for creating graceful change.  The four-step process employs the acronym COAL which stands for Curiosity, Openness, Acceptance, and Love. Whether you are trying to be more consistent about your prayer time, get control of your temper, lose weight, or any other concern, research shows that approaching change with these qualities in mind facilitates the brain processes that allows our efforts to take root.

Curiosity

Curiosity refers to a genuine desire to understand ourselves.   Curiosity allows us to ask important questions like, “What hurt am I trying to address with this behavior?”   “What is the godly motivation behind my fallen choices?”    The truth is, most of our unhealthy and even destructive behaviors represent a distorted effort to meet a legitimate need.  As GK Chesterton put it, “Every man who knocks on the door of the brothel is looking for God.”

Curiosity allows to overcome the judgmentalism that shuts down healthy self-examination. It assumes that in the face of our brokenness we have something to learn and God has something to teach us.

 

Openness
While curiosity allows us to ask questions about our motivations in the first place, openness allows us to receive, with an open heart, the answers that come to us.    Without openness, we may end up dismissing  or negating the insights that come forward as the result of our attempts to understand our deeper motivations.  Openness allows us to consider our insights in a spirit of prayer.  Openness does not require us to accept, as gospel,  every silly thought or excuse that pops into our head, but it requires us to admit that there might be more to our initial thoughts than meets the eye.  Our prayerful openness gives God the chance to develop the pictures that begin to emerge under the light of his grace.

 

Acceptance

            Acceptance does not mean that we rejoice in our brokenness. It simply means that we are willing to face the changes that need to occur and be patient with the process of change–even if that takes time.  Acceptance stops us from giving up in frustration just because we’ve had a bad day and fallen off the wagon–so to speak.  True acceptance facilitates the diligence and fortitude that graceful change requires. We address what we can, as conscientiously as we can, and trust God’s infinite mercy to make up the difference.

 

Love

            To love is someone is to be committed to working for their good.  The same applies to loving ourselves.  Committing to loving ourselves through change means finding healthy ways to meet the positive intentions or needs that underlie our destructive or undesirable behaviors. It means refusing to give up on ourselves when we become frustrated.  It means clinging to the fact that God believes in our capacity for change even when we can’t believe in ourselves.  Finally, it means being gentle with ourselves while we continue to steadfastly pursue our goals.

 

Cooperating with Grace       

            The Christian life is all about transformation, conversion and healing.  By using COAL as our fuel for change, we can cooperate with God’s design of our brain to bring about greater peace in our hearts.  To learn more about how you can fulfill God’s desire to make graceful change in your life, check out Broken Gods: Hope, Healing, and the Seven Longings of the Human Heart.

5 Steps To More Joyful Living

Image via Shutterstock. Used with permission.

Image via Shutterstock. Used with permission.

Today on More2Life Radio, Lisa and I revealed what our Catholic faith and the latest studies from positive psychology have to teach us about living more joyfully.

Does God Want Us to Be Happy?

A lot of Christians question whether God wants us to be be happy.  I’ve even heard people say, “God doesn’t want us to be happy.  He wants us to be holy.”  But as I argue in Broken Gods:  Hope, Healing, and the Seven Longings of the Human Heart, the two are far from mutually exclusive.   To be holy is to dedicate ourselves to pursuing a closer relationship with God.  Drawing closer to God helps us to discover God’s plan for our life and when we function according to that plan, we are are happy to be functioning as we were designed to function.  Authentic happiness does not stand in opposition to holiness.  It is made possible by it.  As Pope St. John Paul the Great put it. “People are made for happiness. Rightly, then, you thirst for happiness. Christ has the answer to this desire of yours. But he asks you to trust him.

5 Skills for Increasing Happiness in Your Life

Using the acronym STAGE (Savor, Thanks, Aspire, Give, Empathize), here are 5 skills to practice that can help you increase the joy in your daily life.

Savor–refers to our ability to pause, reflect and live life more mindfully.  To savor our day mean to both recognize the blessings of the day and to reflect on the direction of our life and relationships.  Savoring life allows us to really connect and be present in the moment,to enjoy each moment for what it is, and make conscious decisions about the direction of my life.  Research consistently shows that the ability to be mindful is directly related

Thanks–contributes to joy by helping us be grateful.  Ample research shows that simple gratitude-based activities, like keeping a daily list of 3-5 things we are genuinely grateful for, can increase our “happiness set-point” by at least 20%.

Aspire–refers to our ability to set goals and meet them.  Whether setting and keeping larger life goals, or setting simple goals for the day, the more we are confident in our ability to set and meet goals the more “self-efficacy” we have.  Self-efficacy refers to our capacity to know we can do what we set out to do. It goes to our sense of personal power which contributes to our experience of joy because we are less likely to feel we must simply be dragged along wherever life wants to take us.

Give–reminds us that being self-donative–being generous with our time, talent–, and treasure is an important way to remember that we have the power to contribute to the well-being of others which, in turn, makes us feel good about who we are and what we have.   In Broken Gods (see chapter on The Divine Longing for Trust) I walk readers through several studies that show how  generosity is a key component of joyful living.

Empathize–the more we can make true heart-to-heart connections with those who share our lives the more joy we will experience.  Research consistently shows that the stronger our relationships and social networks are, the happier we will be.  Empathy is the quality that transforms a host of causal acquaintances into true friends who care deeply for us and about whom we can care deeply in return.

Everyone wants to be happier.  With these five skills, you can set the STAGE for greater happiness and real joy in your life.  For more tips on increasing the happiness and joy in your life, check out Broken Gods: Hope, Healing, and the Seven Longings of the Human Heart.

 

 

Good Without God? (Part 1 in My Patheos Head-to-Head Debate with John Mark Reynolds of Eidos Blog.)

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Image Shutterstock

This article is Part 1 in my Patheos Head to Head Debate with John Mark Reynolds of Eidos blog. The question: is a deity necessary for morality?

“Is a deity necessary for morality?”  At the risk of sounding Clintonesque, it really depends on how you define “morality.”  Even so, the answer is by and large, “no.”  To explain, I want to first look at why many Christians struggle with the idea that one can be moral without God but then I’ll reveal why it’s possible–at least to a reasonable extent.

The Moral Christian: Not (Mainly) About “Getting Along”

As I note in my book, Broken Gods: Hope, Healing, and the Seven Longings of the Human Heart, Christians tend to think that people can’t be moral without God because, for Christians, (SURPRISE!) morality isn’t primarily concerned with regulating our relationship with ourselves, our community, and creation.  These are essential, but secondary, considerations.

Rather, for a Christian, being moral is really about conversion and transformation; that is,  conforming my inner longings and outward actions to the divine order so that I can fulfill my ultimate destiny in Christ. Christianity believes in God -given, objective, constant, immutable, moral laws by which the universe is governed.  We call this, Natural Law, “the law written on human hearts and minds” (Heb 10:16).  Christians believe we must learn to conform to these laws, not out of slavish devotion to a taskmaster God, but out of the belief that following the Natural Law leads to both earthly and eternal fulfillment. Christians often struggle to conceive of a morality without God because, for us,  the actual goal of the moral life is not just getting along with others, but ultimately,  becoming “divine” (c.f., 2Ptr 1:4) ourselves. (As  St. Thomas Aquinas put it, “The son of God became man so that men might become gods.”)   People can’t achieve divinization (aka, deification/theosis) by practicing an earth-bound morality that is interested merely in going along to get along.

Theory vs. Reality

That said, believing in an objective morality that leads to divinization is one thing.  Actually making moral decisions according to this process is another.  In fact, research shows that most people–theists or no–rely on more mundane modes moral reasoning that, practically-speaking, have little, if anything to do with God.  Most moral decision making–even for theists–is almost universally non-theistic.

Morality without God:  2 Approaches.

Psychologists who study moral development note at least two general, non-theistic approaches to moral reasoning; emotionally-based morality and socially-based morality.

Emotionally-Based Morality (e.g., “Eww…Gross!” & “Tit for Tat” Morality)  —For people who have a more reaction-based morality, anything that seems disgusting,  strange, threatening to my development, or hindering of my goals is considered morally “bad” while things that seem palatable,  familiar, encouraging of my development, and supportive of my goals is considered morally “good.” Developmental psychologist, Lawrence Kohlberg, called this,  “Pre-conventional morality.”  At its root, it is childish (literally), selfish, and narcissistic, but it still enables people to be at least basically pro-social, because it benefits them to do so.

Socially-Based Morality (e.g, “Coffee Klatch” & “Legal Eagle Morality”)  —Those who display more socially-based morality are willing to sacrifice what their reactions tell them is good or bad based on what their social circle (friends and family) consider “good” or what the law says is “right.”  Kohlberg considered this “conventional” morality because this person considers social conventions (e.g., social mores and laws) to be at least as important, if not more so, than his or her own personal feelings.

While social morality is a somewhat more reliable moral guide than reaction-based morality, it too, can change on a dime and tends to be somewhat rootless.  You can see what might be called “coffee klatch morality” reflected in a person’s instantaneous reversal of her opinion on the morality of, say,  abortion or gay marriage because she suddenly discovers that her best friend had an abortion or her cousin is gay.  Similarly, a good example of “legal eagle morality” might be when a community that previously opposed gambling suddenly polls more favorably toward it once an ordinance allowing a casino to open in town is passed.  In either case, the morality of the thing, itself, hasn’t changed, but the view of whether supporting it or opposing such an act is “sociable” or “lawful” has changed.  People want to be considered agreeable or lawful,  so they adjust their opinions to correspond with the circles in which they run.

Mercy Me

These are, by far, the most common approaches to moral decision making for all people–theists and non-theists–and neither has anything to do with God except that, perhaps God, in his mercy, recognizing that many people will struggle to find him, gives humanity a way to at least somewhat peaceably get along without him in the meantime.

As I mentioned at the beginning, there are certainly more complicated approaches to moral reasoning that may, arguably require belief in God.  But that isn’t the question I was asked to debate.  Based on the data, the fact is, people can be at least basically moral without having any sense of a deity at all because the vast majority of moral decisions are rooted not in our sense of transcendence, but in our reactive and social consciousness.

This week’s question was inspired by Patheos Atheist blogger Peter Mosley’s story on Theism’s Morality Glitch.