Science, Love, and Faith Development
Attachment theory is a big deal in many psychological circles these days. Adult attachment models come in four types that some argue can be broken into two questions: what do you think of yourself and what do you think of others? If you believe yourself worthless but others safe and good, you find yourself having what they call preoccupied attachment. If your believe yourself good but others dangerous, your attachment style is dismissing. Similar setups are made for secure and fearful attachment styles.
A graduate student, Jonathan Hart, at Southern Nazarene University did a study attempting to find a correlation between the various attachment styles and how well developed one’s faith is according to a particular scale. Poling students at the school, he found that secure and dismissing attachment styles seem to go together with further progression in faith development.
If you accept the argument that adult attachment styles are based on views of self and other, then secure and dismissing styles have something in common: they both have positive views of oneself. It may, perhaps, be something of a stretch, but one could argue that a positive view of oneself is a form of love of self. If so, then what this study could suggest is that love of self goes hand in hand with spiritual growth.
So does that mean that growing spiritually leads to loving yourself? Or does it mean that loving yourself can lead towards spiritual growth? Well, you can’t really tell from a study like this. One may or may not cause the other, but they do seem to go together. What it does suggest is that a negative view of oneself, self-hatred, isn’t compatible with growing in Christ.
It’s always interesting to see science confirm what good theology already knows. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:8) We’re already loved. The self is already positive. Coming to believe that is part of growing up into Christ.