The Instigator
Pro (for)
The Contender
Con (against)

Christianity is Therapy For Learned Helplesness

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 7/3/2016 Category: Religion
Updated: 2 years ago Status: Debating Period
Viewed: 899 times Debate No: 93326
Debate Rounds (5)
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In this debate I'm going to argue that Christianity, as describe in the synoptic Gospels is more of a therapy for learned helplessness than a religion. Or at least that's the point of be religion.


Spur of the moment decision to debate this, mostly out of curiosity as to what Pro's line of argument is going to be!

I would just like to stake a claim to winning the vote for spelling and grammar from the outset, seeing as the instigator has misspelled the word "helplessness" in the debate title :o)
Debate Round No. 1


I'll be damned. I did misspell it. :)

Essentially learned helplessness is a mental state where a person has been conditioned to believe that they can't change their situation. Suppose that a baby elephant was tied to a stake which it couldn't pull out of the ground. During it's youth, it learns that it can't do it, so that later as an adult it never tries, despite the fact as an adult it could easily do it. Having learned it was helpless to change it's situation, the adult elephant is suffering from learned helplessness.

The teaching of Jesus in the Gospels can be summed up with this verse, Matthew 17:20 : And Jesus said unto them, 'Because of your unbelief, for verily I say unto you, if ye have faith as much as is a grain of mustard seed (a very small seed), ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place, and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible to you.

This is often taken to mean that Jesus is saying that with faith you can perform miracles (like move mountains) " which from the point of view of someone afflicted with learned helplessness, the slightest amount of improvement is a miracle. When examined from this point of view, it's clear that Jesus is speaking psychologically and not supernaturally.

In fact, there's no need to consider any part of the Gospels supernatural. Instead, the Gospels are much like the Odyssey which uses "supernatural myth" to illustrate lessons to be learned or point to be made. The the only important thing is to understand what the author is trying to get across " unfortunately many people take the Gospels to be literal. They are, in fact, psychological.

Faith is key to the Christian religion because faith is essential to get over learned helplessness, a person has to believe their situation can change. The problem is that someone afflicted with learned helplessness believes that they are powerless to change their situation. They first have to believe in someone else who can make it possible, then, with that person acting as sort of training wheels, they can begin to "relearn" what they've learned.

Matthew 14:24-32

24: And the ship was in the midst of the sea, and was tossed with waves, for it was a contrary wind.

25: And in the fourth watch of the night, Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea.

26: And when his disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit, and cried out for fear.

27: But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good comfort, It is I; be not afraid.

28: The Peter answered him, and said, Master, if it be though, bid me to come unto thee on the water.

29: And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water to go to Jesus.

30: But when he saw a mighty wind, he was afraid, and as he began to sink, he cried, saying, Master, save me.

31: So immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said to him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?

32: And as soon as they were come to the ship, the wind ceased.


Learned Helplessness vs Christianity

I will accept Pro’s example of Learned Helplessness with the tethered elephant. It will be interesting to see how Pro can demonstrate that this scenario can be paralleled with the crux of Christianity - (that is to say where Christianity has been understood correctly.) I do not doubt that there are people out there who do use Christianity as a sort of crutch, meticulously following a load of religious man-made rules to try and earn favour with some invisible sky-bully - but I do not believe that this is a correct understanding of Christianity at all.

Faith vs Love

I contest that the teaching of Jesus in the Gospels can be summed up with Matthew 17:20, as Pro claims. Whilst faith is an important facet of Christianity, Christ goes out of his way to demonstrate that Love is of at least equal (if not greater) importance. Staying with the Synoptic Gospels to begin with, we see in Matthew 22:36-40:

36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’

38 This is the first and greatest commandment.

39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’

40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

[all Bible quotes will be New International Version (NIV), unless otherwise stated]

Luke 10: 25-27 is another example of Christ affirming these same two examples of Love.

Then looking outside of Christ’s teachings, St Paul in one letter to the Corinthians also underlines the importance of Love - see 1 Corinthians 13:1-3:

1 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.

2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.

3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Then he finishes with a clear statement as a form of corollary to the above, in verse 13:

13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Intent of the Gospels

I do not consider that Pro has gone anywhere near far enough to demonstrate that Christ intended the passages he quoted to be taken psychologically rather than supernaturally. Perhaps Pro can cite some evidence for this assumption?

I can give counter-examples where Christ appears to not only believe in, but also directly interacts with, a supernatural realm: Matthew 12:43-45; Mark 5: 1 -20; Mark 9: 14 -29; Luke 4: 33-36.

As such, I find it difficult for Pro to argue that there is no need to view the Gospels supernaturally, akin to the cited example of Homer’s Odyssey. One only has to compare the literary style of the Odyssey versus the Gospels to realise that the Odyssey is meant to be read as a great epic tale (like an ancient "Lord of the Rings" if you will), and that the Gospels are intended to document the life and actions of a historical person called Jesus.

Lord of the Rings opens with: “When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton.”

Would you infer from this that a historical person called Bilbo Baggins existed, lived to be 111 in an actual place called Hobbiton? Hopefully not, and it is all to do with literary style. The story sounds like an epic tale, not recorded history.

Compare this to, say Luke 1: 1-4

1 Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us,2 just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word.3 With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.

And Luke 3:1

3 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene…

Does Pro really consider that this sounds like a piece of writing not intended to be taken literally? Yet instead to be taken psychologically? The author of Luke opens chapter 1 stating that the purpose of his writing is to be a historical account based on an investigation, and in Luke 3 we see him citing the specific timeframe these events occurred.

That which is to be demonstrated

In closing this section, I’ll get right to the heart of the argument. In very simplified terms, Martin Seligman’s original experiment regarding Learned Helplessness involved dogs receiving electric shocks at random. Some dogs could press a lever to stop the shocks occurring, and some dogs also had a lever but it did nothing. The group of dogs with the dud lever eventually demonstrated what Seligman concluded to be Learned Helplessness – in that they just lay there resigned to taking the shocks, helplessly whimpering – even if they were later given a lever that did actually work.

[see annual review of medicine:]

In order to succeed with their argument, Pro will need to demonstrate two things at a minimum:

1) That proponents of Christianity can fairly be compared to the helpless elephant or the helpless dogs in the scenarios of Learned Helplessness above.

2) That on the balance of evidence the teachings of Christianity are exclusively about remedying the problem in point 1, and that it doesn’t cover any other religious tenets about which Learned Helplessness is clearly irrelevant.

Early Rebuttal

Christianity does not teach that we are helpless beings resigned to our fate and completely powerless to stop it. Quite the opposite, Christianity teaches that we are autonomous beings with genuine free will to choose for ourselves how we will lead our own lives. [The necessary downside to free will is of course that we are genuinely free to do bad things too – but that is a whole separate debate!]

And conversely to being pitiful creatures wallowing in despair, the Bible actually shows our immeasurable worth. In heaven we are adopted heirs of God, higher than the angels (probably because we have had to transcend this fallen existence first to get there). Just look at the parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15, it teaches precisely that we shouldn't feel like we are worthless just because we’ve messed up, but that our heavenly father forgives us and welcomes us with open arms showering us with gifts.

The great irony here is that Christianity teaches us that we are beings of great worth, and that we have a hope, a future, a purpose, a destiny, a reason for being here on this random planet etc. That is not a position of Helplessness, learned or otherwise. If anything, by contrast you could argue that it is the doctrine of secular atheism that might very well suggest we are helpless beings - just a random by-product of a passionless universe – and no matter what we do, we are doomed to die one day then never exist again. And even if we are lucky and some record remains for a few thousand years after our death (like Rameses or Caesar or someone else like that), eventually the universe will expire and there will be no record of anything that anyone ever did, good or bad. That would be a far better example of Learned Helplessness to my mind – but again, that is for another debate!

Also, Christianity doesn’t just talk about matters of faith, sin and salvation, but covers a multitude of wider moral scenarios eg doing good to your neighbour, feeding the hungry, looking after widows and orphans, the fruit of the spirit – love, joy, peace and so on and so forth. Pro would need to show that these wider points don't constitute a "religion", which Pro has claimed.

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Debate Round No. 5
19 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by Agingseeker 2 years ago
A mindless position stated in murky prose.

Christianity is whatever it is to that believer. If you have to think something else than you have a problem. I would say that atheism is actually that for many people. But I don't care. And you shouldn't eithr. Mind your business and do something to help people. Making fun of them can't be a good thing.
Posted by vi_spex 2 years ago
i agree with pro.. and to go further children of belief were never born
Posted by Emmarie 2 years ago
@Shawn - thanks for the video - heavy and inspiring. I added it to my library. I feel like the training female sometimes.
Posted by Shawn_Hartnell 2 years ago

Posted by Emmarie 2 years ago
Alright truce. I didn't accept this debate because the religion promotes learned helplessness, I agree. I am not a part of organized religion. My Christian experience is derived from the need for redemption within my own soul and the liberation that followed. When I read the Gospel, and only the Gospel (including Gnostic sources that are accessible), I found Christ's message to be an equation about love. The only way to fulfill that equation is to be purged of guilt. Many Christians continue to struggle with not sinning rather than focusing on loving themselves and others. The more energy you devote to not sinning - the less energy you have to love. The more energy you devote to love, the less likely you are to sin. (harm yourself or neighbor) My approach to Christianity gets me excluded from fellowship with Christians who believe verbatim. I can understand the appeal to satanism in that it offers liberty of the practitioner, but I have fused the liberty of satanism with the intent of Christianity, and it has given me the power to endure many tribulations.
Posted by canis 2 years ago
But it is true anyway...
Posted by Shawn_Hartnell 2 years ago
canis: you're officially ignored.
Posted by canis 2 years ago
Redeemed- able to function without the burden of guilt....That is why terrorist feel good..
Posted by Shawn_Hartnell 2 years ago
@Emma: BTW, I'm positive about Christianity as I am for CBT. It's useful for people who need it.

So, chill.
Posted by Shawn_Hartnell 2 years ago

I gotta give you kudos for astuteness in general but off in mechanism in you post about Satanism. But this isn't about Satanism.

Can you provide scripture to back up your definition of "redeemed"?

No, we don't hate Christians, not by default. Generally I tend to avoid Anti-Christian Satanists. They tend to not have read the SB. :)
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