Recently, distinguished philosopher and theologian J. P. Moreland sat down to talk with historian of science Mike Keas on what he learned from his battles with psychiatric disorders. Moreland had inherited proneness to anxiety and panic attacks, which struck in force first for five months in midlife in 2003 and then again for seven months in 2013. To win the struggle with mental states that he knew to be aberrant, he had to clarify for himself and for others his beliefs about psychiatry, mental disorders, the mind, and the soul. But this time it was from the first-person perspective: it is not my theory; this is happening to me.
As a prominent devout Christian, Moreland found himself contending with two extremes of popular culture: “Why can’t faith alone heal?” pitted against “Why can’t pills alone heal?” So he found himself starting to live the approach he had often explained in his writings:
J. P. Moreland: We are a unity of body, mind, spirit, emotions, and will and they all affect one another. And so, if my brain is damaged and it’s not producing the kinds of chemicals that it needs to help me have a good mood, then medication feels like oiling the engine or vitamins for your brain. And it restores your brain to a balance so that you have a fighting chance now to deal with anxiety and depression through your spiritual life and your counseling.
I was in such bad shape that I needed medication and I highly recommend that people try this because there is nothing wrong with doing this. It is not unspiritual to do so because we are not just souls, we have bodies too. – (From the podcast “Our Anxious Souls Have Bodies” [5:30-7:15])
Mike Keas: So are you asking for a more balanced perspective on this?
J. P. Moreland: I am looking for a more holistic one. I don’t think of myself as a disembodied spirit. I am a soul that is embodied. And guess what? If my body isn’t working, my soul won’t work, and if my soul does certain things, I can change my brain and restructure it so that I don’t have anxiety.
As it happens, in 2014, Moreland had written a book, The Soul: How We Know It’s Real and Why It Matters, which the publisher, Moody, blurbed,
In a culture in which science is believed to hold the answers to every question, spiritual realities like the soul are often ignored or ridiculed. We are told that neuroscience holds the key to explaining every aspect of human behavior. Yet Christian philosopher J. P. Moreland argues that Scripture, sound philosophical reasoning, and everyday experience all point to the reality of an immaterial soul. Countering the arguments of both naturalists and Christian scholars who embrace a material-only view of humanity, Moreland demonstrates why it is both biblical and reasonable to believe humans are essentially spiritual beings. He also describes the various components of the soul and how Christians can nurture their souls as disciples of Christ. Moreland shows that neuroscience and the soul are not competing explanations of human activity, but that both coexist and influence one another.
He woke in absolute terror. It was the middle of the night, and he had no idea why he was so afraid.
It was widely respected Christian philosopher J.P. Moreland’s first panic attack. It took him months to find out how to deal with it and to heal.
I’ve had a similar experience. My struggle and Moreland’s played out in much the same way, and by the grace of God, we overcame in much the same way…
Don’t wait and use psychiatrists as a last resort. They are trained to diagnose disorders that baffle the rest of us. Had I seen a psychiatrist sooner, instead of relying solely on counselors, I could have avoided years of anguish.Dante Witt, “Finding Quiet: J. P. Moreland’s New Book Offers Hope and Help for Those Struggling With Anxiety” at The Stream
A sound model should apply to other’s situations as well.
Notes: Moreland also discussed these issues in an earlier podcast with Sean McDowell and Scott B. Rae. See: Moreland Theologian, battling depression, reaffirms the existence of the soul. J. P. Moreland reasons his way to the evidence and captures his discoveries in a book
His most recent professional work is Scientism and Secularism: Learning to Respond to a Dangerous Ideology (2018); an outline is available here.