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This reading group guide forThe God Attachmentincludes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with authors Dr. Tim Clinton and Dr. Joshua Straub. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
There are two crucial questions in life: Am I worthy of love? and Are others capable of loving me? In God Attachment, Dr. Tim Clinton and Dr. Joshua Straub take these personal questions to help explain the rationale for why humans believe, feel, and act the way they do about God. Whether you yourself are God-loving or God-fearing, atheistic or Christian, there is something fascinating to us about an omniscient and omnipresent being who has some sort of influence in our daily life. Drs. Clinton and Straub attempt to explain this phenomenon—and why it remains a mystery to us—in the first portion of the book. In part two, they take us through a series of quizzes to help us find out if we’re in a secure, anxious, avoidant, or fearful relationship with God. They explain how we can find ways to improve this relationship, even in the most difficult of circumstances, which they tell us is the best time to find out our true understanding of God.
In the last section, the authors go over ways to daily use this newfound knowledge, whether we’re on a high or a low, so that God is ever-present in our lives. As the authors tell us, every one of our lives count, and though for some it takes a lot of faith to believe, the benefits of having God as a father and a mentor are limitless.
Questions for Discussion
1. What is your perception of God? Is your God a benevolent father or a power-hungry totalitarian? How does this compare to others’ views of God? How does it make you feel that in a 2009poll, it was found that 91 percent of Americans believe in a God of some sort, and that only 3 percent of the American population identify themselves as atheists? Is this in line with what you imagined? 2. Based on the descriptions on pages 79-94, what kind of relationship do you have with God? Is it secure, anxious, avoidant, or fearful? How does this compare to the rest of the group? Can you explain why you have this relationship? Has this relationship with God affected any other aspect of your life?
3. Why do you think for some it’s difficult to reach a safe haven with God, or even with other people in life? Do you feel secure in your relationship with God? Do you ever feel that He becomes distant? How does attachment behavior (page 70-71 for definitions) play a role in the lives of children, adults, and yourself?
4. Is there a connection between God and good role models? If you don’t have the latter would the former exist for you? How does this statement resonate with you: “Perhaps because we have poor models when we were children, we make the colossal but wrong assumption that in our difficulties, we aren’t lovable or worthy of love or God isn’t capable of caring from us”? (page 106)
5. Early on in the book, the authors write that some people are “God Crazy.” They discuss how Dale and Lailani Neuman were sentenced to jail for second-degree homicide for the death of their 11-year-old daughter; instead of sending their diabetic daughter for medical treatment, they prayed over her waiting for God to perform a miracle. Do you think that there are God Crazy people? What are some other examples from the news? Are these people a good reason for many to unsubscribe to religion?
6. In an article by Jeffries McWhirter (page 20), he writes that “Too often our religious ideology has not progressed at the same rate as our physical, intellectual, conceptual, and even moral development.” Why do you think that is? What prohibits people from enhancing their understanding of religion? Do we live in a culture that refuses this? What are steps that you can take in order to develop your religious ideology?
7. Why do you think that one prevalent, universal fear is that of nothingness, of being alone? Does this fear then enhance one’s relationship with God, of believing that someone out there cares? Why are people attracted to the mysterious, that which cannot be answered, when it comes to faith and religion? Do you believe the study that stated “all scientific research now shows that from the time a baby is born, a baby’s brain is biologically already formed to connect in relationships” (page 61)?
8. How does the fact that God often produces more questions than answers make you feel, as a follower or a skeptic? What does this invisibility of God mean to you? Do you find it helpful or inhibiting in your relationship to God? Does this invisibility make you desire a stronger attachment to God? Why or why not?
9. The authors quote Alfred Nobel in his dying words: “Silent you stand before the altar of death! Life here and life after constitute an eternal conundrum; but its expiring spark awakens us to holy devotion and quiets every other voice except that of religion. Eternity has the floor.” What is Nobel saying here? Why does it usually take a tragedy or a death to move us to religion? How can you find a way to be more aware of God without such a tragedy? Is it possible?
10. The two questions—Am I worthy of love? and Are others capable of loving me?—come up many times in this narrative. The authors also cite Viktor Frankel, a Holocaust survivor who stated “He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how.” How do you think Frankl was able to keep up his humanity in the concentration camp, surrounded by so much hatred and horrific, inhumane treatment? How does the aforementioned quote apply? How does our daily external bearing influence our internal thoughts and beliefs?
11. Look at the definitions of implicit memories and explicit memories (pages 64-67). Can you name some examples from your experience of implicit memories? Why are those linked to behaviors and feelings, trust and mistrust? Why are they so hard to change as you grow up? Do you think it’s possible to form an attachment to God when you’ve been mistrustful previously?
12. The authors refer to Philip Yancey; in his Reaching for the Invisible God, he reminds us that “God’s body would fill every space in the universe because he’s omnipresent. He hides to protect us from harm, but also because he values faith as the connection point between us and him” (page 115). How does the fact that “God hides to protect us from harm” make you feel? Does this help or hinder your relationship with him? Do you take comfort in the concept that “It is part of his plan for us to pursue him (even as he pursues us.)”?
13. How does repenting bring us closer to God, instead of bringing us farther away as we recognize sin? Does repenting and confessing to others bring us closer to them? How are these concepts related?
14. The authors write, “Until you understand your own capacity for foolishness and evil, your ability to care for and have compassion on others is extremely limited” (page 141). What does this suggest? Is it truly possible to be close to God without sin? Is repentance a restorer of communication and closeness? Are there relationships like this in your daily life? How does Jesus’ statement—“Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? Go figure out what this Scripture means: ‘I’m after mercy, not religion.’ I’m here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders”—mean to you?
15. The authors suggest that the original reason anyone believes or doesn’t believe in God stems “from a selfish desire to seek pleasure and reward, and to avoid pain” (page 146). What are the reasons you have to believe (or not believe) in God? Were they originally selfish reasons? Have they evolved into anything more? Do you see your relationship now like that of a marriage, a “selfless love based on intimacy and grace”?
16. Explain this statement: “we’re free, but we’re free from sin so that we can gladly serve God.” (page 169). Does this sound like free will to you? Why or why not?
Enhance Your Book Club 1. Have everyone write down a few of their memories—good and bad—and next to each memory write down how you felt your relationship with God was at that point. Put your chart next to everyone else’s so that you can compare and contrast as you’ve all grown. Talk about the similarities and differences you see in each other’s memory charts, and also note the historical and social climate of the times.
2. Assign people to take a look at the varied writings of St. Augustine, Sigmund Freud, and Friedrich Nietzsche—men who all have different outlooks on the idea of God, men who certainly have different relationships with God. Have everyone bring in a quote or two, whether it’s a pro-God sentiment or an anti-God sentiment, and read them aloud. Discuss how you feel about each statement. Why do you think each man has taken such a stance on God?
3. Decide to have the book club meeting somewhere you and your fellow club members can experience the majesty of God, perhaps a place that has an open expanse. After you discuss the book, have everyone lie on the ground and look out to the sky or to the horizon and take in such a wonder. Have everyone explain what they’re feeling at that moment, how they feel about God, and how they feel about knowing how God created such a world.
A Conversation with Dr. Tim Clinton and Dr. Joshua Straub
1. Do you find the psychology of religion a burgeoning subject in religious studies? Have you found a lot of support or rejection from your cohorts?
Spirituality is now recognized as the 4th force in the mental health field. Mental health experts are increasingly becoming aware of the influence of faith on human behavior. And increasing numbers of those seeking mental health care want their faith addressed as a part of the therapeutic encounter. What is also encouraging is the growing empirical support that faith has a profound influence on human behavior. We believe it to be gross negligence on the part of any mental health provider today to not recognize the spiritual component in the counseling office. Of course we said that to say that the psychology of religion is a burgeoning subject and is in a season of a much wider acceptance by professionals.
2. What do you find most interesting in the concept of “attachment”? How did you originally bring your studies on “attachment” to the thought of God? Did you ever feel that any of your steps were challenging Biblical teaching? If so, how did you remedy that—were they missteps or did they bring you closer to understanding God?
You don’t have to read very far into the Bible to understand that we were created for relationship – with God and significant others in life. How we do or don’t do these relationships is everything.
What we found most interesting about Attachment theory was the idea of core relational beliefs and how these beliefs affect and/or infect our relationship with others…Understanding our attachment to God really only made sense.
What we learned only deepened our faith. In some respects God Attachment puts language to the relational dynamics we see in our basic understanding of a biblical worldview.
3. Do you have a secure, anxious, avoidant, or fearful relationship with God? Has it always been that way? Can you chart your relationship with God? The journey is about being strengthened and challenged by the ebb and flow of life. There are times in our lives when every one of us goes through difficulties that shake us to the core and we wonder if God even exists. What’s so amazing about God is he allows us to meet Him even in the darkest of places. That’s why we all quote Psalm 23, “Though I go walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will no evil, for thou are with me.” Walking with God is a journey of support and challenge. Times when He is there to support us and we literally feel His presence and then times when it feels as if He has backed off and is distant, and we just don’t know what to do. This ebb and flow in relationship with God is very important because the way we relate to God is based on how well we can regulate our emotions in our relationship with Him, and only that is based on how well we see Him as a safe and secure attachment figure.
4. What about the paradox that humans want to be dutiful to God but have to be sinners and then forgiven by God in order to truly understand their Creator? Do you find this inhibiting or enlightening?
The issue here is grace versus works. We are all sinners and we all fall short of the glory of God. Yet, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. As Paul wrote to the Romans, “The law was added so that the trepass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” It’s when we truly understand our brokenness and need for God, that we grasp His love for us with our heart. And it’s when we feel and experience His love that we’re compelled to living righteous and dutiful live for Him. Not out of duty or works, but out of love and grace. It is for freedom that Christ set us free. Paul wrote in Galatians 5, “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.” True righteousness and justice stem from a love for God out of His love for us.
5. People are also interested in the psychology of religion, but for different aims: to understand why people want religion in their lives in order to find ways to eliminate wants. How do you feel about that? Why do you think people are interested in doing away with religion?
Religion has divided families, people groups, and countries. Wars and rumors of wars are usually fought over religious ideology. Religion is also a powerful motivating factor for good and bad in everyday life. That’s why people want to understand the Psychology of Religion. People want to do away with religion because it is enslaving. Religion is about bringing ourselves glory and making ourselves feel important. A relationship with Jesus Christ is completely different because eternal life is based on God’s grace through faith, not on works, so that no one can boast. In God’s eyes every one of us is a sinner in need of grace. Religion is about exalting self and is based on self-righteousness. A relationship with Jesus Christ is about living a righteous life because of the love we have for God for what He did for us by sending His Son Jesus Christi to die for us. When we experience that love, we in love want to serve others. That’s freedom. Not bondage.
6. How do you feel about authors like Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins and the fact that they sell so well around the world? What does that suggest about people’s relationship to God?
It’s confirmation that whether you love him, hate him, deny him or claim him, the world is fascinated with God. People are wrestling with the presence of God and the power of Him in everyday life. It is a fascination that has existed since the beginning of time and will continue to. As people consider their life and face eternity, they want to find God and believe he actually cares for them.
7. You mention that there are people who are too overzealous about God who are sometimes the best reason people have for being atheistic. Can you explain that a little more? How can one avoid being too overzealous about God?
Our primary reference is toward those who go to extremes with their thinking and behaving that they deny reality and common sense in judgment…For example, while we do believe in miracles, you also have to understand that God’s plan for healing or a miracle may come through medicine…those who are condemning and not grace-based in their treatment of others would be another example.
Knowing God and knowing about God are also very different. Matthew says that there are many who will claim Lord, Lord…but he will say depart from me, I never knew you…’A toxic faith usually develops when people focus on legalism and directly or indirectly the control of others. The heart of the message is not about love of God and others but rather on behavior. These people use God for personal power and gain. They often coerce others into twisted ways of thinking and behaving even to extremes like committing suicide, i.e. the Jim Jones cult or the Branch Davidians. You can avoid it by simply learning about God – his heart of love and the call of truth for everyday life. It’s really a self examination issue too; too many people develop religious behavior but never develop the relationship of a true spirituality of faith, hope, and love. The question we have to ask ourselves is: Am I manifesting the true character of Christ or rote religious behavior?
8. How do you see God Attachment as a new step in religious thinking? How does it compare to historical and recent studies in religious thinking?
God Attachment helps us understand what’s behind how we do closeness or intimacy with God. It gives reason to why some people actually have a close relationship with God and others often practice doing religious behaviors and never feel like they haven’t experienced true spirituality. It’s amazing to see how your core relational beliefs actually move you closer or further away from God. You have a God attachment style whether you know it or not that directly influences how you do or don’t do intimacy with God. Such thinking is beginning to penetrate our understanding of spirituality.
9. Who have been your influences as you’ve undertaken this journey? Are there any writers that you think people should be reading and probably aren’t regarding religion and/or developmental psychology? Have there been any pastors and/or doctors who have inspired you in your work?
As far as spiritual direction goes we would recommend writers and thinkers like Larry Crabb, Dallas Willard, David Jeremiah, John Eldredge, Os Guinness, Philip Yancey, Gary Habermas, and Tim Keller. On a more academic and empirical level when it comes to God Attachment itself we recommend the seminal authors: Lee Kirkpatrick, Phil Shaver, and Pehr Granqvist.
10. Have you met many challenges with students or fellow Christians who just haven’t been able to face their fears and atone with God? What is the best advice you can give someone in such a situation?
The real message of the Bible is not about bondage, it’s about freedom. Gal 5:1 says, ‘It’s for freedom that Christ has come to set us free.’ Most of those who are locked up in fear and paralyzed by their past are wrestling with issues they don’t believe God has control over or just simply they haven’t given them over to God. We #1. First have to acknowledge what these issues are and #2 Spend time working to understand and experience God’s love and reach for us; and #3 Seek His forgiveness and grace as necessary and turn toward new ways of living and changing our behavior.
11. What should someone say if a friend is having a religious crisis? Is it always good to interfere and try to help the situation, or should you try to point them to a support group of some sort? How do you know when you’re ready to help someone else find faith?
It is interesting to note that when people are in a crisis, they are most open to change and influence. Since that is the case, we would encourage you to stand by with your friend during this difficult time. People often ask, “Well what do we do to help?” Sometimes the greatest gift you can give is a ministry of presence – just being there, helping where needed, praying for them, talking, sharing what lessons you have learned during your own, ‘valley of vision’ experience. These times are not necessarily bad, in fact pain is often God’s megaphone to let us draw to Himself and recognize how important it is that we have God in our life.
12. What’s the best advice that you can give someone who is seeking a relationship with God?
You are in for a wonderful adventure. Don’t stop till you find him. And God promises that “if you seek me you will find me, when you search for me with all of your heart…” Start by reading the Bible and seeking out a mentor.
Tim Clinton, Ed.D. (The College of William and Mary) is President of the nearly 50,000-member American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC), the largest and most diverse Christian counseling association in the world. He is Professor of Counseling and Pastoral Care, and Executive Director of the Center for Counseling and Family Studies at Liberty University. Licensed in Virginia as both a Professional Counselor (LPC) and Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT), Tim now spends a majority of his time working with Christian leaders and professional athletes. He has been married 30 years to his wife Julie and together they have two children, Megan and Zach.
Joshua Straub, Ph.D. has served on the executive staff for the American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC) for the past five years and is an adjunct professor at Liberty University. Having served either as a counselor, professor, or pastor since 2000, Josh now spends his time training and speaking to Christian counselors, pastors, and lay leaders across America for the AACC, Acquire the Fire conferences, and local churches. He specializes in attachment research, crisis and trauma, the Millennial Generation, and on cultivating healthy relationships both with God and others. Josh is married to his beautiful wife, Christi.