Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Christianity

Regarding Football and Worldview: Is Defensiveness the Best Offense?

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Christianity

Regarding Football and Worldview: Is Defensiveness the Best Offense?

Article excerpt

Two of the varieties of religious experience that have been examined in past research include existential faith and defensive faith (Beck, 2004, 2006). Existential believers have been conceptualized as feeling free to explore questions about faith. They may experience the discomfort of doubt and uncertainty but they also may be more adept at managing 'the bumps in the road of life.' Defensive believers may feel relatively safe and secure because they assume that they are special in God's eyes and that God will surely favor and protect them. For these individuals the bumps in the road of life may be more difficult to navigate because they are so unexpected. To further explore these constructs a series of studies were done with students, staff, and faculty at a Christian college. The first two studies looked at the connection between optimism (both spiritual and secular) and existential/defensive world views, hypothesizing that optimism would relate better to a defensive worldview. Both types of optimism correlated with defensiveness in the students but only spiritual optimism connected with defensiveness in the older participants. In a third study, both kinds of optimism and defensive/existential worldviews were again assessed among Christian students, staff, and faculty. In addition, a measure was crafted to capture the notion that God can be in control and bad things can happen. It was predicted that the older participants would show direct relationships between spiritual optimism, defensiveness, and this new measure of God control. Younger participants were predicted to show direct relationships between both types of optimism and defensiveness but not the same connection with the new measure of God control. God image and religious coping were also assessed.

Beck (2004, 2006) has proposed a religious typology that distinguishes between defensive and existential faith. A defensive orientation to religion is a faith that seeks to avoid the doubts and fears in life. The believer feels special and chosen by God. As a result, the believer feels favored by God and has a sense of being pro- tected by God from the bumps and potholes of life. The life of faith is one of comfort and affir- mation. In fact, Beck further explained defen- sive faith as an unconsciously motivated effort, on the part of the believer, to repress existential anxiety (e.g., anxiety about death and meaning- lessness). In contrast, Beck conceptualized an existential orientation to religion as a perspec- tive that does not confuse faith with knowledge and certainty. The believer simultaneously embraces faith and the confusion, doubt, and uncertainty of life. Thus, a relationship with God is not seen as a guarantee of protection against the bumps and potholes of life. The anxieties of life and God are simultaneously, and consciously, embraced.

In an effort to operationalize this typology Beck (2006) developed the Defensive Theology Scale (DTS). The scale contains 22 items with 16 of the items aimed in a defensiveness direction and 6 reverse-scored items aimed in an existential direction. With Christian college students, Beck reported these items had an inter-item reliability of .86. Providing construct validity for the instrument, Beck found that existential faith predicted higher levels of quest orientation and defensiveness faith predicted higher levels of ingroup bias. However, a prediction that existential faith would be more open to religious pluralism was not confirmed.

It should be noted that Beck does not conceptualize this typology in simplistic, good vs. bad, terms. He argues there are costs and benefits associated with both approaches to faith. An existential believer may not be threatened or surprised by the 'bumps in life;' but, life for such a believer may be filled with more doubt and less optimism. A defensive believer may be vulnerable to existential shock and in-group bias; but, such a believer should look at life in a more enthusiastic and optimistic fashion. …

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