Tuesday, May 14, 2013
My article from this week's Algona Upper Des Moines about Hypnosis:
Q: How should Christians approach hypnosis, whether the self-help variety used to quit smoking or lose weight, or the entertainment variety that is often seen during prom season?
Even though there are diverse methods and definitions, the common thread that defines hypnosis as an intentional practice seems to be that the practitioner of hypnosis induces upon another person a mental state other than that in which they normally exist. Characteristics of this mental state might include such things as sleepiness, increased suggestibility, decreased inhibitions, or heightened concentration. There are even natural hypnotic states that occur spontaneously, such as when a person spaces out while watching television or becomes sleepy as a result of the motion of riding in a vehicle.
As noted in the question, there are also a variety of purposes for which hypnosis is employed. Sometimes, it is merely for entertainment (stage hypnosis). Other times, it is used to achieve behavioral ends, such as smoking cessation or weight loss, or as an attempt to relieve pain, phobias, or anxiety. On other occasions, hypnosis is used as a spiritual discipline for recovering memories, particularly those from supposed past lives in a cycle of reincarnation.
For Christians, this final purpose of hypnosis would obviously be inappropriate. Since we know that humans live once, are judged at death, and will one day be resurrected to live out the rewards or consequences of that judgment, any past-life memories are certainly fraudulent and to be rejected. Likewise, even if hypnosis were to be used only for the purpose of recovering memories within natural life, research regarding such results suggests that the recovered information is frequently unreliable.
Similarly, for a Christian to subject oneself to a stage hypnotist seems unwise. In many cases stage hypnotists use deception to make their acts appear genuine to audiences, which would make the Christian who participates with them complicit in deception or fraud. Even when this is not the case, Christians should instinctively be cautious about an activity which causes them to yield any degree of control over their thoughts or behaviors to someone else, particularly in a scenario where they are likely to experience decreased inhibitions, and especially when the potential gain is merely entertainment and not more significant benefits such as found in the final category in the following paragraph.
This final category of hypnosis is probably the one for which it is most difficult to exclude Christians from participation. Many people seeking behavioral change or relief from anxiety or physical pain do report benefits from hypnosis. Although there is debate concerning whether these benefits are an actual result of hypnosis or a placebo effect, even beneficial results would not automatically allow participation, thus necessitating closer examination.
Even though there are no Bible verses conclusively referring to hypnosis or necessarily naming participation in it a sin, several concerns would still exist for the Christian considering hypnosis. First among these would be its connection to the meditation practices of Eastern religions like Buddhism and Hinduism and to cultic and New Age philosophies. Since the Bible forbids Christians from engaging in the worship of other religions, this would require thorough contemplation and research on the part of the Christian before they engage the practice.
Additionally, because of the reduced inhibitions or suggestibility often associated with hypnosis, the character and beliefs of the practitioner would be of great importance to the Christian considering hypnosis. A practitioner who follows a false spirituality or is lacking character could potentially cause spiritual harm during the practice of hypnosis. Furthermore, the mental state associated with hypnosis does not seem to be consistent with Biblical admonitions to “be on your guard” (1 Cor. 16:13) or “Be alert and sober minded” (1 Peter 5:8).
Finally, the orientation of Christianity is that we seek solutions to spiritual problems outside of ourselves (namely from Jesus) and that spiritual benefits are delivered through external means (namely the Bible, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper). Hypnosis suggests the opposite—that we can achieve desired outcomes or overcome troubling behaviors and thoughts by looking deeper into ourselves—a reversal of the Biblical direction.
In his Large Catechism, Martin Luther defined a “god” as “That from which we seek the highest good.” For this reason, it seems that even if hypnosis is not a sin, and even if hypnosis did not render a person vulnerable to spiritual harm or to sinning as a result of reduced inhibitions, even therapeutic hypnosis would be an ill-advised choice for Christians, because it seeks solutions to spiritual problems by human manipulation and introspective techniques rather than from God and His divinely-appointed means of delivery.