Attachment to God and Hermeneutics: Part 3, Getting Lost in a Fog of Fear

In 2006 I published, along with some ACU colleagues, a paper entitled "God as a Secure Base: Attachment to God and Theological Exploration." In a sample of undergraduate students, we observed that participants who reported having a secure attachment to God were more likely to explore their religious faith when compared to their anxiously-attached counterparts.

If you've followed this series, the reasons for this should be obvious. As described in the last post, those with anxious attachments to God have greater anxiety about abandonment, greater fears of being rejected by God. Consequently, these believers fear doing anything that might risk God's disapproval. These fears interfere with faith development as any questioning or change in one's beliefs risks making a "mistake." A "better safe than sorry" dynamic comes to regulate how these anxiously-attached believers hold their beliefs and read the Bible.

By contrast, in our study the securely-attached were more willing to explore, ask questions, and change their minds. And yet, this didn't cause them to reject orthodox beliefs. More confident in their relationship with God, convinced that God wasn't going to condemn them for mistakes, these believers possessed a freedom to grow and develop in their faith.

All this brings me back the first part of this series, to the point I made with the pastors. You have to attend to attachment styles if you want to take your faith community on a hermeneutical journey. If you want a faith community to explore different readings and understandings of Scripture you have to deal with the anxious-attachments in the pews. Because conversations about the Bible are not purely hermeneutical or intellectual in nature. The challenge in reading Scripture is as much emotional, affecting deep psychological scripts in regards to our attachment to God. The anxiously-attached are reading the Bible with their amygdala, through their "fight or flight" response. Simply stated, hermeneutics concerns our anxiety as much as Biblical texts. Our capacity to read the Bible is directly proportional to our attachment-related fears.

And this is why I shared with the pastors that, if you want to explore reading the Bible differently in your faith community, your first and primary task is helping your people develop a more secure attachment with God. Everything depends upon this preliminary emotional work. Otherwise, attachment anxieties will swamp and terminate the conversation, as all exploration will be experienced as "risky," triggering a fight-or-flight response. Fearing God's anger and disapproval, the conversation gets lost in a fog of fear.

This entry was posted by Richard Beck. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply