Over on the Psyblog, an (ambitiously named:) article entitled How to Banish Bad Habits and Control Temptations illuminates the distinction between self-control/denial and Christianity.
“Top of the list for unwanted activities,” relates the article, “were excess sleeping, eating and procrastination (no big surprises there in a sample of students). The top strategies to combat these were:
Vigilant monitoring: watching out for slip-ups and saying “Don’t do it!” to yourself.
Distraction: trying to think about something else.
Stimulus control: removing the opportunity to perform the habit, say by leaving the bar, fast-food restaurant or electronics store.
For strong habits it was the vigilant monitoring that emerged from self-reports as the most useful strategy, with distraction in second place. While for strong temptations rather than habits, participants reported that stimulus control was the most effective strategy while monitoring dropped to third place behind distraction.”
Like the Mark Galli article on the discovery that hallucinogenic drugs can give people an experience seemingly identical to powerful religious experiences, one wonders what will become of Chrsitianity for many when and if these strategies prove effective. You say Zanex, I say Holy Spirit, let’s call the whole thing off.
This is why when talking about Christianity, the temptation to base its truth on some sort of inward experience or even outward change should be avoided at all costs. This is not to discount the many wonderful and life-changing experiences people attribute to God, but we have to remember that people get chills when they watch the Blue Man Group throw cheese around on a stage, millions of dysfunctional and absentminded people have been helped by Tony Robbins and the power of positive thinking, Jared has helped all of us see the true gift that is Subway restaurant, and Nicholas Spark’s”The Notebook” has shown us a picture of true love. However, as inspiring and meaningful as these things may be, these experiences are only palliative hospice care for lives lived under the weight of the law, under guilt, fear and shame.
The Gospel message does not have a corner on power for getting your act together, being a nicer person or even becoming a loving person (for that matter), but it “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes”(Romans 1:16). This is, as we are want to say, not about vice to virtue, but death to life. The ex-smoker, the newly tolerant, the oft-recycler and the now-progressive thinker (ie. good people who were once bad) certainly have something to say, but it is a different song, if you will, than that of those who have been raised from the dead.
2 Corinthians 12:9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.