Despite that many people tend to separate the science of psychology from religion, I view religion and being very behaviorally based. As an example of this, I’d like to look at the book of Matthew as an example. Many Christian behaviors are learned behaviors reinforced by the church and its members. Also, since many people use different versions, I will be providing a comparison of two different widely used versions of each scripture, one more traditional (New King James – NKJV) and one more contemporary (New Living Translation – NLT).
Matthew 7: 1-2
1 “Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.Matthew 7:1-2 NKJV
1 “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. 2 For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged.Matthew 7:1-2 NLT
This passage speaks to two concepts. One, that everyone engages in maladaptive behaviors, which means you should be mindful of your own behaviors. Two, the behaviors you engage in create a learning history for those you interact with that teaches them how you interact and respond to your behaviors. It’s the ideology that you teach people how to teach you, the scripture is a confirmation of that principle. If you teach people that you behave in certain ways, there is a higher probability they will treat you that way as part of their learned behavior, as that is the standard you set for judgement of yourself by others.
Matthew 7: 7-12
7 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. 9 Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? 11 If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! 12 Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.Matthew 7:7-12 NKJV
7 “Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 9 “You parents—if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? 10 Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! 11 So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him. 12 “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.Matthew 7:7-12 NLT
Emphasis on “God Helps Those …” (Matthew 7:7-8)
7 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.Matthew 7:7-8 NKJV
7 “Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.Matthew 7:7-8 NLT
In order to find what you seek (want), you have to knock and ask (put in the effort). This is the essence of the phrase, “God helps those that help themselves”. Behaviorally, if you do not perform a behavior that can lead to the consequence you want, you can’t ever achieve a result that gives you that consequence. Thus, God cannot (will not) give you the desired consequence without your effort of engaging in an appropriate behavior. Seeking can be replaced (behaviorally) with find the appropriate SD that you can focus on as a trigger of when to engage in the behavior (knocking) so that you can find (result) in the desired consequence.
Emphasis on “The Golden Rule” (Matthew 7:9-12)
12 Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.Matthew 7:12 NKJV
12 “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.Matthew 7:12 NLT
Again, you teach people how to treat you, and one of those ways is based on how you treat them. If you create a learning history with others that allows them to learn you are reinforcing to have around them (in their environment), they will treat you as a preferred stimulus by engaging in behaviors that maintain your presence in their environment. Likewise, if you engage in behaviors that are aversive to them, they will treat you as a stimulus that is to be avoided or escaped from, as to no longer have you in their enviornment.
Matthew 22: 17, 21
17 Tell us, therefore, what do You think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” 21 They said to Him, “Caesar’s.” And He said to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”Matthew 22:17, 21 NKJV
17 Now tell us what you think about this: Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” 21 “Caesar’s,” they replied. “Well, then,” he said, “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.”Matthew 22:17, 21 NLT
This passages speaks to the necessity of rule-governed behaviors. Specifically, despite personal feelings and beliefs (private events), one has to comply with the laws of the land in order to have a socially successful life.
Matthew 22: 37-40
37 Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”Matthew 22:37-40 NKJV
37 Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”Matthew 22:37-40 NLT
This passage tells Christians that you cannot truly live a Christian lifestyle if you don’t first love God and second, love others. The meaning behind this passage is that claiming your love for God vocally, but not showing similar love for your peers through your actions, teaches people that your behaviors do not match your words. Again, teaching people how to treat you. If you engage in behaviors that make people feel (trigger their private events of thoughts and emotions) negatively about their interactions with you, they will disregard your words and treat you based on the behaviors (private events) you trigger within them.
I am by no means the supreme expert on all things religion, all tings Christian-based, and all things behavior. I enjoy breaking things down behaviorally, and one of those things is how easily religion can go hand-in-hand with the laws and principles of behavior analysis. I could continue to write about the meanings of these passages for hours, but this is meant to get people thinking and a discussion going. Please feel free to leave a comment or message me via my social media.