How Christianity Works: Pain

Tom Rees reviews a study showing how self-inflicted pain relieves guilt. College students who describe guilty events feel less guilt after subjecting their arms to painful ice baths. Is this one of the several mechanisms which makes Christianity attractive — guilt assuagement?  Certainly Christianity sells itself as a means to be free from guilt. But remember, someone can incorrectly explain the cause of an effect even though they accurately understand the effect.

Many atheists are totally anti-religion and call it nothing but pure foolishness.  First, their generalizations are grossly distortive and second perhaps this is yet another study showing a psychological phenomena that some religions capitalize on to sell their product — and thus showing that religion is far from being all foolishness.



Filed under Philosophy & Religion

8 responses to “How Christianity Works: Pain

  1. Wow, who came up with that arm ice bath study?? Interesting…

  2. aly :
    Yeah, I think >ice submersion has long been know as a torture method. Having swum in icey lakes a few times, I can understand why!
    But the connection of pain therapy to guilt or other suffering is interesting. I hope to post another example soon.

  3. DaCheese

    Of course Christianity also excels at creating guilt. It’s the insidious combination of creating arbitrary guilt and then offering to relieve it that keeps followers so attached to the church (especially in faiths like Catholicism where only a church priest can absolve you).

  4. Boz

    DaCheese, you beat me to it – Christianity creates the guilt too.

    That’s funny that you describe ice baths as torture, some cyclists, myself included, have used ice baths to reduce recovery time after training/racing. Yes, it is painful, but also funny to watch ‘tough guys’ (myself included) squeal like a 12 year old girl at a Justin Beiber concert when they enter the bath. Apprently it speeds up the repair of the tiny muscle tears that happen during training/racing. There are a few scientific studies that suggest some benefit, but they have small sample sizes. The science is not settled.

    Many(most?) Pro’s use ice baths at stage races like the Tour de France, where recovery is critical.

  5. @ DaCheese & Boz
    My impression of you boys is that any guilt you felt in your youths was well-deserved appropriate guilt. 😀 (just kidding).
    You are absolutely right, if you own the market on forgiveness, there is a benefit for keeping the peasants guilty and controlled.
    But guilt is a universal feeling and pain helps with it. And since it is universal, as you point out, it is universally manipulated by theists and non-theists alike. But when the Church does it, they do it with huge abusive power.

    I do hot showers followed by cold. I think they are good for my health. I am not sure of the evidence for that. Many Japanese and folks in Northern Pakistan do the same. I found your story interesting.
    We know that alternating hot and cold helps improve micro-circulation, btw and is used in therapy for muscle strains.

  6. I think people’s sense of justice is the primary source for desires for self-inflicted retribution. Christianity offers a relief from guilt without a “penance”. There is a world of difference between Catholicism and Protestant Christianity. The distinctions are usually ignored/blurred (usually unintentionally) and the Catholic atmosphere of imposed guilt and required confession are blended with Christianity proper.

  7. DaCheese

    One way of looking at it is that the natural guilt that everyone feels serves as the “free sample” in drug-dealer parlance. It’s what brings people in initially, but after that the “addiction” is fed on false guilt based on arbitrary dogma. Once you have people “hooked”, it becomes much easier to control them and keep them in the fold.

    For what it’s worth, I’m skeptical of religious-based guilt-relief in general. I went through a phase recently where I used a sort of secular Buddhism as a sort of talisman against self-questioning; I’m not knocking it totally, but for me there was an inevitable moment of questioning my assumptions that built up over time. Maybe I’m weird in this regard, but in some ways I feel that any excessive certainty is misleading and false. A certain level of self-questioning and even “angst” seems more appropriate to the situation of being a clueless human…

  8. @DaCheese
    I think many Buddhists use their “Buddhism” as a security blanket — as if thinking: “all the big questions are now covered so I can relax knowing I am spiritual”.
    I agree also that learning to be comfortable with uncertainty is an art. I am not sure “angst” is the best place to live with it, but it is certainly one of them.

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