Attachment to God and Hermeneutics: Part 2, The Attachment Styles

As mentioned at the end of the last post, attachment bonds do not simply vary in intensity, going from a strong attachment to a weak attachment. Rather, the attachment bond is a multidimensional construct, a mix of features which combine to create a unique attachment experience, what is called an "attachment style."

Attachment styles were initially investigated in the laboratory by Mary Ainsworth, a pioneer in developmental psychology. By observing children in the Strange Situation (a laboratory protocol that scripted separation and reunion events between a child and caregiver mixed in with the presence of a stranger), Ainsworth was able to observe the intensity of two attachment anxieties, stranger anxiety and separation anxiety. What Ainsworth noted was that children displayed different levels of these attachment anxieties. Some children showed excessive anxiety (both stranger and separation) and were labeled Anxiously attached. Some children showed almost a complete absence of anxiety (and this is not a good thing; a child who doesn't care if they are separated from parents or doesn't display some wariness with strangers is worrisome) were labeled Avoidantly attached. Finally, children who showed appropriate but not excessive levels of anxiety were labeled Securely attached. Later on, a fourth style was added, Disorganized attachment, for children who displayed inconsistent manifestations of anxiety, making them difficult to classify. 

Later researchers, focusing on adulthood attachment, eventually boiled down our attachment experience to two dynamics. The first is anxiety about abandonment, the anxiety that you will be abandoned, left, or discarded by the attachment figure. The other dimension is avoidance of intimacy, the need to avoid relational commitment, dependency, or intimacy. 

The point to be observed here is that, if our relationship with God is experienced as a attachment bond we also display an attachment style with God. And this attachment style has huge implications for things such as how we read the Bible.

For example, many Christians have an anxious attachment to God and are haunted by a fear that God will abandon them. With an anxious attachment to God the relationship feels fragile, tenuous, and conditional. By contrast, some experience a secure attachment to God. Instead of being anxious about abandonment, the securely attached experience peace and conviction that God's love is stable and unwavering, despite our mistakes and failures. For the securely attached God's love is unconditional, rather than provisional.

I hope you can see here why I shared with the pastors that attachment has huge implications for readers of Scripture. As we explore hermeneutical changes, the prospect of making a "mistake" will trigger anxiety about abandonment among the anxiously attached. And those fears will swamp and overwhelm the hermeneutical conversation. We'll turn to that issue next.

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