Taking Control



The debate seems to have ended. Mankind is controlled by environmental factors and therefore is not responsible for behavior. What kind of a world has this produced?

Merriam-Webster defines Behaviorism as:

a school of psychology that takes the objective evidence of behavior (such as measured responses to stimuli) as the only concern of its research and the only basis of its theory without reference to conscious experience.[i]

In my book, Can We Talk: About Matters of this Life, published in 2000, I begin the chapter on Behaviorism with the following introduction:

How We View Behavior Divides Us

The Game: The Devil Made Me Do It

Perhaps the most baffling question lingering from the shooting at Columbine High in Littleton, Colorado, is why these boys chose to do what they did, killing and maiming so many people. Some blame the Internet, some the entertainment industry, some the video games, some the National Rifle Association, some the parents of the shooters, and on and on. Under the surface of the blame game is the basic philosophy that the shooters were products of their environment. If we could somehow change the environment, we would do away with these acts of violence.

 I call this game “The Devil made me do it,” not because people believe in a real devil and blame him, but because they are simply seeking a scapegoat. Another name for this game is Behaviorism. It is a belief system that places much of the blame for the destructive behavior today on the environment or on genetic makeup. Behaviorism as a philosophy divides us because it teaches that individuals are not morally responsible for their behavior. Yet accepting responsibility for one’s actions is the very thing needed for healthy relationships in society.

 Behaviorism is “a movement in psychology that advocates the use of strict experimental procedures to study observable behavior (or responses) in relation to the environment (or stimuli).” Behaviorism seeks to discover why people behave the way they do. In its simplest form, it seeks to examine through observation the cause and effect of behavior and then to draw conclusions that can be used to alter that behavior.

 I call it a game because, on the one hand, behaviorists have become adept at controlling human behavior. To see how effective behaviorism is, we need to consider the advertising industry today and its ability to sell almost anything. This ability comes from conclusions drawn by behaviorist who study human behavior. On the other hand, behaviorists are quick to deny that they are to blame for the destructive behavior stemming from the products sold using methods devised by the techniques they have developed. Behaviorism is more than mere scientific study of human behavior. It has become a philosophy because it is based upon some basic presuppositions that do not belong in the field of scientific investigation, presuppositions such as morality that cannot be put into a test tube and measured.[ii]

Theories of Behavioral Psychology

In an article by Saul McLeod published by SimplyPsychology.org, he writes:

 Behaviorism is a theory of learning which states all behaviors are learned through interaction with the environment through a process called conditioning. Thus, behavior is simply a response to environmental stimuli. Behaviorism is only concerned with observable stimulus-response behaviors, as they can be studied in a systematic and observable manner.

The behaviorist movement began in 1913 when John Watson wrote an article entitled 'Psychology as the behaviorist views it,' which set out a number of underlying assumptions regarding methodology and behavioral analysis:

(McLeod quotes Watson)

"All behavior is learned from the environment:

Behaviorism emphasizes the role of environmental factors in influencing behavior, to the near exclusion of innate or inherited factors. This amounts essentially to a focus on learning.

We learn new behavior through classical or operant conditioning (collectively known as 'learning theory').

Therefore, when born our mind is 'tabula rasa' (a blank slate)."

Psychology should be seen as a science:

Theories need to be supported by empirical data obtained through careful and controlled observation and measurement of behavior. Watson (1913) stated that:

"Psychology as a behaviorist views it is a purely objective experimental branch of natural science. Its theoretical goal is … prediction and control." (p. 158).

The components of a theory should be as simple as possible. Behaviorists propose the use of operational definitions (defining variables in terms of observable, measurable events).

Behaviorism is primarily concerned with observable behavior, as opposed to internal events like thinking and emotion:

While behaviorists often accept the existence of cognitions and emotions, they prefer not to study them as only observable (i.e., external) behavior can be objectively and scientifically measured.

Therefore, internal events, such as thinking should be explained through behavioral terms (or eliminated altogether).[iii]

The Destructive Results of Behaviorism

In a 1968 advertisement. Phillip Morris launched the first cigarette brand marketed specifically to women with the slogan, “We’ve come a long way, baby.[iv] We can echo that thought in view of current trends in culture and the resulting events taking place in the streets of major cities in the United States today.

 We have generations nurtured on Behaviorism and its implication that environmental stimuli shape the life rather than inductive reasoning. Some have noted this and are seeking to redefine Behaviorism by putting forth what is called, Cognitive Psychology. Embogama sought to distinguish the two:

Behaviorism and Cognitive psychology are two movements in psychology which are used to explain human behavior. However, they are often confused by many people due to the very thin borderline which differentiates one from the other. The main difference between behaviorism and cognitive psychology is that behaviorism is based on the fact that human behavior is decided by the experiences one has had as consequences to various similar actions whereas cognitive psychology is based on the fact that humans have the capability to process and analyze various information in their mind.[v]

Such a distinction is lost when one does not have a foundation for processing and analyzing truth. The eye is the window of the soul and what one focuses on will come in and transform the life of the individual. To this, both agree with similarity in application and outcome.

Both Behaviorism and Cognitive Psychology present a fundamental truth that a life is guided by the focus of the individual. To this the apostle John also agrees in his epistle on the affects of sin in the life of a believer:

Do not love the world, nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. And the world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God abides forever.[vi]

Jesus said:

The lamp of the body is the eye; if therefore your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness![vii]

Our focus in life, what we are attracted to, becomes familiar and, unlike the saying, familiarity breeds contempt, what we focus on is most often that on which we place our affection.

In the third part of my book, I discuss the doctrine of love in the New Testament. By way of introduction, I summarize and give the purpose of the first two parts of the book:

Love is spelled R·e·s·p·o·n·s·i·b·i·l·i·t·y

The problems in society could be solved if individuals would truthfully fulfill their God-given responsibilities in every relationship, whether they are relationships of circumstance, purpose, or fulfillment. To do this, each individual needs to learn how to communicate effectively. The basic message we need to communicate in order to strengthen our relationships is a concern for others and a desire to meet their needs, sometimes even before our own. We must put responsibility back into the meaning of relationships. We need to fulfill our responsibilities and be assured that others in the relationship will fulfill theirs.

There are some popular philosophies that work against and even destroy healthy relationships and prevent effective communication from taking place. These philosophies—philosophies regarding knowledge, existence, and behavior—work against us by breaking down the fabric of society necessary for building relationships.

 The problems in the world today are so vast and complex that no simple bromide or pat answer is going to resolve them. However, the answer is simpler than one might expect. It is as simple as the lyrics to a popular song a few years ago: “What the world needs now is love sweet love.”  Unfortunately, what the songwriter had in mind is not what the Bible calls love.

 The love of the world is based upon the philosophies of Gnosticism, Existentialism, and Behaviorism. These philosophies have a common denominator. They are based on human reasoning and self-gratification. They exclude God and the supernatural. They excuse irresponsible behavior and relieve mankind of the duty to accept responsibilities in relationships.

 For love to overcome the destructive forces of these philosophies, it must begin with and become an extension of the work of God in our lives. This is exactly what biblical love does. But before we can define biblical love, we need to identify what it is not. Love based upon human philosophies, like the philosophies themselves, is destructive.[viii]

 Society today equates attraction and affection as love, and this is partially correct. It is important to note, however, that biblical love and the love in our present cultural environment are not the same. The major distinction is that cultural anthropologists omit the element of individual responsibility from the equation. If love is environmentally conditioned, then it is one’s attraction in the environment that motivates love, i.e., physical attraction and affection. This, however, does not exclude responsibility in the choices made.

When we break down biblical love into its individual facets as I attempt to do in Part III of my book, we find only two facets, agape and philia. These are not two separate loves as so often taught, but one with two complimenting facets. From the point of philia, affection, it is that to which one is attracted. Since what is appealing cannot be commanded, philia is never commanded. From the point of agape, an act of the will or choice, agape is the term that is always used when love is commanded in the New Testament. We must never separate the two, attraction and responsibility, in our understanding of biblical love.

Biblical Love: Affection Under Control

This brings me to the point of this article. What is our focus? As our eyes are the window of the soul and what is appealing to our eyes directs the choices we make, it is clear that we must control our focus both with our physical eyes and our mind where we process that to which our focus is directed.

As I watch the events in the cities across the land and listen to the politicians and political pundits, it is easy to tell what the focus is by the messages individuals and groups are attempting to propagate. Usually the message is couched in terms that will attract their constituency. Usually it is a distorted message to make it even more attractive than it should be by denigrating the opposing side.

The same is true in the corporate and retail industries. Commodities are bought and sold dressed up to be more appealing than they should be so that profits can be made, often at the expense of those who buy into the message.

God has provided a standard for judging all things, His divine revelation, The Word. John wrote:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.[ix]

Jesus said:

I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me. "If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.[x]

Jesus is the message. Therefore, the Bible calls Him Christ. Christ was the message from eternity past from a Self-revealing God. Being the Second Person of the Trinity, the Son of God, Christ was the light of the world. As the Incarnate Son, Jesus, He became the window that let in the eternal light of truth and the only affective means of steering the soul in the right direction here under the sun.

John states:

In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. There came a man, sent from God, whose name was John. He came for a witness, that he might bear witness of the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came that he might bear witness of the light. There was the true light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.[xi]

Most individuals know these simple truths from Sunday School and yet allow the focus of their lives to be on things that are only darkness and there is plenty of darkness on which to focus today. Yet there is infinitely more that is positive and beautiful to set our focus upon. This does not mean that we ignore what is going on around us. In fact, it is true, the darker the night, the brighter the light.

Fyodor Dostoevsky is credited as the originator of this phrase. When Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote the book, Crime and Punishment, from which the quote is thought to have derived, the world was a dark place. Nihilism was on the rise and was often alluded to in his writings. It eventually overtook his beloved Russia and a revolution ensued. In Crime and Punishment, the author expands on the dangers of nihilism—anxiety. His point was that, I am paraphrasing, one can ignore the teaching of moral truth, but can not escape the ensuing penalties, the greatest of which is anxiety.

In our day, with its emphasis upon creating anxiety or angst, the tool is cognitive dissonance. In our house we called this, awfulizing. The trick is to get us to focus on negatives and amoral behavior. The correction is to focus on the things that are true and moral according to the moral standard set by The Word, Christ Jesus our Lord. Then we must be led by that truth. We need truth to develop in us a moral compass that will always direct our eyes to Christ. In the end, we must control our affections, philia, by our moral compass, agape.

It is interesting to note that the actual quote from Crime and Punishment, according to goodreads.com is:

“The darker the night, the brighter the stars,
The deeper the grief, the closer is God!”[xii]


[i] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/behaviorism

[ii] Can We Talk: About Matters of This Life?, Jerry Back, (Dr. Jerry Back, 2000), P. 154-155.

[iii] https://www.simplypsychology.org/behaviorism.html

[iv] https://flashbak.com/youve-come-a-long-way-baby-virginia-slims-advertising-year-by-year-365664/

[v] https://pediaa.com/difference-between-behaviorism-and-cognitive-psychology/#:~:text=The%20main%20difference%20between%20behaviorism%20and%20cognitive%20psychology,various%20information%20in%20their%20mind.%20What%20is%20Behaviorism

[vi] 1 Jn 2:15-17.

[vii] Matt 6:22-23.

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] Jn 1:1-3.

[x] Jn 14:6-7

[xi] Jn 1:4-14.

[xii] https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/4522-the-darker-the-night-the-brighter-the-stars-the-deeper#:~:text=Fyodor%20Dostoevsky%20%E2%80%94%20%E2%80%98The%20darker%20the%20night%2C%20the,The%20deeper%20the%20grief%2C%20the%20closer%20is%20God%21%E2%80%99