Can your worldview affect your mental health? Specifically, can a Biblical worldview be better for your well-being than a secular one?
The state of mental health and well-being in the US was on the critical list long before COVID-19 showed up & sent us into quarantine to deal with our anxieties all alone.
We'll likely be reeling from the physical, emotional, and economic impact of COVID-19 for good while, so let's take a look at recent research into the fields of neuroplasticity and positive psychology, to see how you and I can improve lives of our friends, families and communities by helping them embrace and cultivate a Biblical worldview.
What Is a Worldview?
If you ask theologians and philosophers to explain what a ‘worldview’ is, you won’t get identical responses. Some will say that a worldview is:
- the set of lenses through which you see the world
- a map by which you navigate life and reality
- a framework through which each of us interprets our life experience
I doubt any of these definitions are incorrect. They all touch on a crucial central theme, which is: we all have a worldview whether we realize it or not, and it affects everything we do.
Best Worldview Definition
But the most useful and insightful one, in my opinion, comes from Dr. David Naugle, the Distinguished University Professor and Head of the Philosophy Department of Dallas Baptist University. He defines ‘worldview’ as your “view of the world and the resulting way of life within it”
Why Is Worldview Important?
You see, each worldview carries its own set of implications, and these implications effectively trap us inside a certain way of thinking, feeling, and choosing.
The other definitions treat worldview as though it’s an intellectual patchwork quilt – we just pick the fabrics and colors and patterns we like, and then sew them all together. Granted, that’s how most people approach their life philosophy, if they have one at all.
But that’s not how worldview really works.
For instance, Oxford Professor (and very vocal atheist) Richard Dawkins was asked about whether or not humans possess free will. You and I probably think that’s an odd question with a pretty obvious answer. But his response is very insightful. He said:
‘I have a materialist view of the world … and so that commits me to the view that … when I think I am exercising free choice, I am deluding myself. And yet that seems to contradict, to go against the very powerful subjective impression, that we do have free will.’ (emphasis mine)
Did you notice that in his remark he called himself a materialist? He’s not talking about an insatiable desire for material possessions. No, he’s referring to the fact that he believes that everything in the physical world exists by material means only.
Did you also notice that he said that his worldview commits him to a materialist view?
This is the crucial point:
The framework with which we approach the world carries with it a certain set of implications.
Professor Dawkins does not believe in God. So, neither does he believe that humans are God’s creation. Instead, we are merely accidental products of time, chance, and matter, so according to his worldview, humans must recognize that immaterial things – like thoughts and choices – don’t really exist, even though our typical human experience seems to suggest otherwise.
He isn’t alone in his conclusion.
“The notion that we have free will flies in the face of much modern neuroscientific research, which suggests an ever-increasing number of our “choices” are somehow hardwired into us — from which candidate we vote for to which flavor of ice cream tops our cone. In fact, neuroscientists like David Eagleman and Sam Harris have released best-selling books offering that we are, at bottom, high-functioning, delusional robots.”
NEUROPLASTICITY: The Connection Between Well-Being and A Biblical Worldview
Dr. Jefferey Schwartz is a world-renowned research psychiatrist in the area of neuroplasticity. His book called The Mind and The Brain: Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force chronicles his decades of work with OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) patients, and the groundbreaking method of treatment he developed for them.
He found that by teaching his patients to drive their thoughts intentionally to something other than their unwanted, intrusive thoughts (which compelled them to execute their dysfunctional behavior patterns), they could eventually establish new neural pathways which offered them relief from their disorder.
He called it ‘Directed Mental Force’ or, more formally, ‘Neuroplasticity.’
The Apostle Paul calls it ‘Renewing Your Mind.’
What is Neuroplasticity?
Neuroplasticity refers the brain’s ability to reorganize its neural circuitry in response to intentional mental effort. It can also birth brand-new neurons, a process called neurogenesis.
The brain, for a long time, was believed to be fixed and unchangeable at some point in a person’s life. A damaged or underperforming one just had to be accepted, or else treated chemically in order to (hopefully) return its neurophysiology to a more optimal state.
But Dr. Schwartz’s research showed otherwise.
Directed mental force, or neuroplasticity, grants all of us the opportunity to change the neural pathways in our brains based on where we focus our attention, but it requires that all three components be present – brain, mind & free will.
The Biblical Worldview has always insisted that these three things are present in humans as the image-bearers of God. A materialist/naturalist worldview, however, can only account for the brain.
Neuroplasticity and Positive Psychology
In 1998, Dr. Martin Seligman became the president of the American Psychological Association. He had become convinced that the field of psychology was doing itself (and all of its patients) a disservice by almost exclusively studying the causes and effects of psychological damage. 
Similar to Dr. Schwartz’ work with OCD patients, Dr. Seligman believed that scientific inquiry could be pursued with the intent of discovering the personal, emotional, and behavioral elements which facilitated psychological health rather than psychological disease.
In other words, he wanted the field of psychology to expand its borders, to examine healthy people to find out what made them healthy, to identify practices and habits which corresponded to the development and protection of healthy neural pathways, as opposed to its sole focus on the unhealthy ones which led to disease such as OCD.
In doing so, he pioneered the still-developing field of Positive Psychology.
PERMA: Positive Psychology Theory and Interventions
Part of Dr. Seligman’s work produced the PERMA model of well-being, which indicates 5 core areas demonstrated to be effective in developing and promoting the good life.
Positive Psychology practitioners can then develop treatments or recommend lifestyle changes which cultivate PERMA in the life of the individual:
P – Positive Emotions – These include a range of sensations such as gratitude; satisfaction; and optimism, which helps us accept challenging situations with an eye toward positive outcomes; as well as enjoyment, which has more to do with intellectual stimulation, creativity and curiosity than just sheer physical pleasures.
E – Engagement – Engagement refers to something called ‘flow,’ which is the total immersion in an activity or project that seems to make us lose track of time. Athletes mention it when they practice hard or play a game. Musicians report it during live concerts. You’ve probably experienced it when you’ve participated in a hobby or a passion which stole all of your focus for the duration of the activity.
R – Relationships – Researchers have confirmed the rather self-evident truth that all of us need warm, close relationships with others in order to be emotionally and psychologically healthy.
M – Meaning and Purpose – Part of a healthy psyche includes the ability to grasp one’s purpose for being alive. Investing ourselves in something beyond ourselves is a key ingredient for well-being.
A – Accomplishment – Finally, we all need to be pushing toward a goal or an objective. A sense of competence and mastery, combined with experiencing the reward of a job well done, are part of overall well-being.
Positive Psychology, Neuroplasticity, and the Biblical vs. Materialist Worldview
Putting all these elements together in light of the findings of neuroplasticity and positive psychology, we find that a material worldview can’t account for the necessary ingredients of mind and free will, but the Biblical worldview can.
It is well-noted in the literature that a material or naturalist worldview tends to promote hopelessness about the future, and a bleakness related to the purposelessness of the universe and of human life. Since all is random & purposeless, there’s no higher purpose or meaning to anything.
It also promotes a sense of stark individuality, where each of us is free from all constraints of tradition or moral expectation, answering only to ourselves, biding our time until we finally cease to exist.
And if this is the worldview we take to be true, the principles of neuroplasticity tell us that we can only expect for these negative, isolating, and corrosive thoughts & feelings to rewire our brains to do more of the same.
But a biblical worldview, in alignment with the principles of neuroplasticity and positive psychology, does the opposite.
Romans 8:6 - For the mind-set of the flesh is death, but the mind-set of the Spirit is life and peace. (HCSB)
We are commanded to rejoice in the Lord always, to give thanks, and to put our hope into the hands of a loving God who is superintending all things to our good and His glory. (Optimism, Enjoyment, Gratitude, Hope)
We are told that we are never alone, and that we should always strive to put off the flesh and put on the mind of Christ, to set our minds on things above rather than earthly things, and to practice forgiveness as we’ve been forgiven. (Relationship, Accomplishment, Positive Emotions)
The Biblical worldview teaches us that, thanks to Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection, we have a purpose that transcends this life and never, ever ends. Jesus’ atoning work on the cross assures us we are loved and valued, and that through Him we can live an abundant life. (Purpose & Meaning)
Biblical commands for husbands and wives to stay together creates a warm community for each of us, and is reinforced by extended family and members of the church. (Relationships)
In short, the implications of a material or naturalist worldview cannot account for the kinds of results that the research of neuroplasticity and the field of positive psychology have uncovered.
Science has begun to confirm the goodness which is inherent in the practical outworkings of obedience to the New Testament principles of living and walking with Jesus.
Although our society has massively shifted away from its Biblical roots toward a much more secular worldview, we should double our efforts to reach people for Christ, and teach them how to walk in His Word.
Because we’re not delusional robots. We are image-bearers of the One True God.