RH: So as a nonevangelical outsider, how were you received by the people you studied?
LUHRMANN: Often I felt like I was trying to get academic information while they were trying to get my soul, which at times was an exhausting experience. But most of the time, people were supportive and generous and refrained from ending every conversation with an exploration of where I was in my walk with Jesus.
I did have one long conversation with the president of a Southern Baptist seminary who loved my book, but he couldn’t stand the kind of Christianity I was describing. He believed that what’s gone wrong in American Christianity is that God has become so loving that people aren’t paying attention to judgment.
RH: Not enough fire and brimstone!
LUHRMANN: Exactly. The folks I studied don’t do brimstone. They were overall pretty accepting and appreciative, especially the people who don’t hear God speak. In fact, they found my work really interesting because they were wondering if they’re doing something wrong and even questioned whether God loved them. They took some comfort from the fact that I was a respectable scientist who was saying there are these temperamental differences that make a difference in people’s experience of religion.
RH: Rather than “ye of little faith,” you’re discussing personality characteristics, telling them it’s not their fault.
LUHRMANN: Yes, and they appreciated that there was no stake in it for me to say that.
RH: Is there any hope that religious and nonreligious people can work together in harmony?
LUHRMANN: Many of my academic colleagues who look at evangelical Christianity are just horrified. At the most fundamental level, they don’t get why anyone would participate in it. As an anthropologist, I was eager to see if I could put politics aside and contribute to a sort of bridging process. I found that it’s not that people are just cut from a different human cloth, but that like other kinds of behavior, religious behaviors are learned. This learning is part of what makes religious faith satisfying, exciting, and joyful. I found that you can be a reasonable human being and still want to have those kinds of experiences.
Ryan Howes, Ph.D., is a psychologist, writer, musician, and clinical professor at Fuller Graduate School of Psychology in Pasadena, California. He blogs “In Therapy” for“In Therapy” for Psychology Today. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; website: www.ryanhowes.net.
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