Between the Honors Program, the Psychology Degree, and the Theology degree, I soon began to understand that there were many, many ways to see the world. The theology department started to shape the way I thought, but the Honors program and the psychology program were teaching me how to think. Someone had said to me shortly before I embarked on the two majors that many students began with both but eventually ended up choosing one or the other; part of this was due to the nature of just choosing one as a career path, but another reason was simply because they found that there were too many contradictions. Someone went as far as making the argument that psychology and theology are completely exclusive, one beginning and ending with man - almost by necessity excluding the divine- and the other saying that the mind is not enough without the divine; that if one thought about certain things too much, one would lose their mind. However, if one didn’t think about at all, one would certainly lose their soul.
The psychology department really must be given credit for teaching me how to think. Professors like the Bainums, Greg Schneider, and Aubyn Fulton were brilliant. The department had a practice in almost all their classes of having students participate in debate. However, what was really interesting about the debate was that you did not get to pick your topics or position. They were assigned and you had to present the position no matter your personal belief. The first debate I was assigned to my freshmen year was “Is pornography harmful?” This was something that was so readily self evident to me that I didn’t see why we would be wasting any time on it. The position I was assigned to was ‘Pornography was not harmful.’ This was the stupidest thing I’d ever heard, but I started to do the research academically and honestly. Also, in what really was an academic exercise, I went out and bought a Playboy. I had actually never seen pornography in my 18 years of life and wanted to give this stupid debate a fair position. By coincidence, it was the magazine’s 25th anniversary and they had made an image out of Marilyn Monroe with all the covers the magazine had ever had. I all but turned purple while purchasing it and when I got it back to my dorm room I put it in a plastic bag, in a backpack, in a suitcase, in the back of my closet, not ever wanting anyone to know that I had it. The research shocked me because as it turned out, -and unlike I’d been told – viewing pornography did not make people any more likely to be rapists, adulterers, or radical sexual deviants in anyway. In fact, the only measurable effect that pornography appeared to have was that it was likely to make you rate your significant other as less attractive though not any more likely to leave them. Now, there are people who will read this and have the same reaction that I did. Whoa, hold on a second, so and so got addicted to pornography and it caused this and that. Of course, it did because doing something in excess can be detrimental with anything. Exercise, eating, drinking water, resting, all basic and necessary biological functions if they are taken too far or done too much will damage the body, if not kill it. People who have read the works of the Bible, the Koran, of Shakespeare have gone out and done incredibly destructive things. That does not make Shakespeare the next great Satan. If pornography wasn’t really harmful, why had we made such a big deal out of it?
It would be the first among many of the studies that we discussed in psychology that really bothered me. If you ask the average person what their chances are of getting divorced, of having a heart attack, of having cancer, of having a child die by accident or any number of upsetting terrific things, they will low ball the estimates and be incredibly inaccurate, way underestimating the chances that they actually have. If you ask the average person suffering from depression, the same question they are far more likely to get it correct. Apparently it’s the average person, not the idealist, who sees reality through rose colored glasses. As a group, depressed people see reality much closer to what it is.
More and more of these types of studies kept eating away at me. I read the ones that we had to, and then went back and read the ones cross referenced or even ones mentioned in foot notes. Another study was done where a situation was described where two people met, hit it off, go on a date etc. The scenario essentially ends with them being alone in the girl’s apartment after a date where they had talked, flirted, and had a happy time. Two groups of people were given the exact same story with only the last sentence being different. The last sentence in one of the stories ended with the man proposing and them living happily ever, the other ended with the man sexually assaulting the girl. In both groups, people were asked to measure how much the girl had contributed to the eventual result; essentially asking how much of what had happened was her fault. In both groups, both the group in which the girl was raped and the one in which she was proposed to, both groups found her equally responsible. It was eye opening and absurd to see that people found that the same behavior could merit both of those responses. A few other studies with rather similar results but not quite as dramatic storylines showed that people appear wired to deciding that whatever happened was what was supposed to have happened.
Another statistic that started to dig at me was the fact that the higher your IQ and your education were the more likely you were to be an atheist. Ph.d’s in ascending order were more and more likely to be atheists: Math, Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Psychology. Less than 10% of people with a Ph.D. in psychology believed in a higher power or that there was anything outside of our own world exerting influence now. This one bothered me the most of all because it seemed we were talking about the God who created the universe not connecting with the sharpest minds. Either He or His followers had so poorly communicated the message that the person responsible for mass and life had made those who understood it best, shrug him off as unnecessary.
It then struck me that the psychology department was how the devil had snuck onto God’s campus at PUC. One of those teachers, Aubyn Fulton, even apparently argued that the Adventist approach to premarital sex was harmful and apparently ended a lecture by telling students to “Go have sex.” I had never met the guy but when I heard this, I made an appointment to go talk to him about it. His argument essentially was that learning sexual interaction with people of the opposite gender was healthy before committing to one for the rest of your life. Dr. Fulton gave off an interesting vibe. He was a guy with his own style about everything, a dress coat over a questionable shirt with a questionable tie and tennis shoes and slacks. His approach was a quick smile to disarm before using sharp cleverness to show that his argument was more logical but hey even though I’m right, can’t we still be friends? I argued with him in his office for half an hour and that was the first time I walked out of an argument feeling someone had really torn up my argument logically but that somehow because of my morals, I was still right.
The other really bad influence on my life at that point was Greg Schneider. He was actually a sociology professor in the psychology department, and also clearly very intelligent. (The fact that my psychology teachers as a group came off smarter than my theology teachers as a group has always really bothered me.) He had this capacity to talk about how everything was a human invention, whatever else it was. He introduced me to concepts like the sociology of God and how society’s social structure and religion seemed to mirror each other. Both then and now, I thought it was amazing mental acrobatics to hold true to his beliefs and want to be part of the Adventist tradition while proposing the concepts that he did. To me, it was always akin to the guy who has a drinking problem, realizes that drinking is bad for his family, bad for his body, and bad for his mind but because he likes the way being drunk feels, reaches for another beer and dismisses the rest. Upon our first meeting, it was from a desire to cleanse the church of people who were such a bad influence that I thought Professor Schneider should take his inconsistencies elsewhere. It was ironic to me that he more than anyone is with whom I associate Ellen White’s phrase, “the truth has nothing to lose by examination.” He never seemed afraid of the examination of truth, dissecting it and realizing that if it was true, it would hold. However, he often showed me that certain very important things about our faith had huge holes in them but minimized them as the part that showed humanity’s interaction with the divine; however, such an easy argument was to convenient for me. If I ever came to agree with him, all the most important things I’d ever learned would be wrong so initially I just assumed he was wrong in his examination.
Pornography not harmful? No matter what happens, we find a way to justify it? The mentally ill have a more accurate view of reality? The smarter you were the less likely you were to believe in God? The neat categories in my mind were splintering but at least I had my theology major to teach me that which really mattered.