Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Humble Criticism

Written by: on November 18, 2023

Introduction: My Personal Opinion

Daniel Liberman’s book, Spellbound, was a difficult read for me. I tackled a few chapters a day for the past week and with all due respect, I felt like some of the text was indirectly dark. The more I read about unlocking the potential of our minds with references to magic, mystery, and even tarot cards, the greater my bias grew. I feel uncomfortable criticizing any of our assignments but in full transparency, I was turned off by the opening line. After reading a few chapters I open-mindedly considered my own conscious and unconscious bias and stand by my initial “intuition.”  

Supernatural Philosophies

The supernatural is very real. There is a light and dark side of the unseen realm, and darkness attempts to illuminate the pliant mind with a positive spin such as “unlocking your potential.” I may have missed the entire point of this book but I felt like he was promoting magic as a bridge to understanding consciousness. I kept asking myself, ‘Why?’ Perhaps there is good insight from an apologetics defense to know the enemy, or one can gleam some of the opposer’s playbook like the Screwtape Letters, but in general, we’re clearly instructed to stay away from such acts or ways. The Bible condemns involvement in occult practices, emphasizing the importance of relying on God for guidance. Deuteronomy 18:10-12 warns against divination, sorcery, interpreting omens, and consulting mediums – declaring them as detestable to the Lord. As Christians, we are called to avoid seeking answers from mystical sources that stand deviously in opposition to our faith. I believe our resistance also applies to knowledge or education. We should draw a hard line in the sand on some ideas and discern and frame any study appropriately. 


The book was heavily influenced by the psychoanalytic philosophies of Carl Jung. I took a short detour from the book to discover more about Jung and learned that his contribution to psychiatry is considered questionable on many platforms, even his relationship to Freud is controversial. Nonetheless, they differed in their views of psychoanalytics. Jordan Peterson sites an unacceptable “oversight by Jung” in a public interview concerning his limited view on extroversion, stating “ he never formalized his ideas on neuroticism and negative emotion,” and with this oversight, he missed “the core feature of what we consider psychopathology.” Other scholars criticize Jung’s work as ‘limited,’ and my personal interpretation is that Jung and Lieberman are brilliant in their own regard but Jung’s contributions to the world of psychoanalytics tend to reference the darker subject matter. 

The Brain and The Mind

Distinguishing the difference between the brain and the mind is a crucial element in a discussion on consciousness. While the intricacies of both remain beyond comprehension, there is a unity regarding the view of the mind’s complexity and the profound impact it has on our lives. The human mind and brain are undeniably remarkable, and I don’t contest the scientific definitions regarding the brain’s anatomy or its role as an organ in the body. My struggle lies in reconciling the concepts of the brain and the mind as the same, particularly in response to Lieberman’s assertions about control and choice. Throughout the book, I was tracking with Lieberman’s exploration of brain function and the influence of the unconscious mind on our feelings, emotions, and mood. However, I diverged from his perspective when he repeatedly alluded to our unconscious minds controlling our decisions. He opened the book with this presumption, “You think you’re calling all the shots – that you’re in charge of your thoughts, feelings, and choices. You’re not.” It’s a great opener and set the tone for the entire book, however, I would have been more interested had he rephrased it without including choice.

Spiritual Warfare

In the pursuit of understanding the unconscious mind from a Christian perspective and arguing choice on the side of cognitive ego over unconscious determinism, it is imperative to emphasize the distinction between the subconscious, the influence of the Holy Spirit, and the allure of mystical practices such as tarot cards, spells, or witchcraft. When it comes to crediting influence, I agree we can gain a lot from examining a supernatural perspective, however, I do not believe Spellbound acknowledges the appropriate sources. Lieberman claims, “We no longer believe in the pervasive influence of supernatural entities,” and “we credit ourselves with having exclusive control over what goes on inside our heads.” I sadly believe this is the majority consensus in today’s world, however, Christians with a deep connection to the Holy Spirit would argue that ‘the war of influence in our head’ is not solely a product of genetic coding or learned behaviors.

Distinguishing between the work of the Holy Spirit and other influences on our minds requires a keen awareness and a deep connection with our faith. It involves discernment that goes beyond the tangible and delves into the supernatural. The nature of the Holy Spirit’s influence should not be mistaken or replaced with magical interpretation. It is an extraordinary manifestation of God’s presence in our lives. I believe that we not only have control over our choices, we can build endurance to resist temptations, which gives us more control, wisdom, patience, and confidence. In the same way, we can also form terrible habits that lead us away from God and completely ignore or miss his calls, promises, and personal interactions. Jordan Peterson backs up this argument by suggesting a defense to nihilistic behaviors with “The development and maintenance of good practice and habits.”


Overall, I feel like I learned a lot this week. I agree that our thoughts and feelings are influenced by something deeper that we don’t understand completely, but I’d like to draw another hard line we are very much in control of our choices and we have free will. In 1 Corinthians 10:13, Paul writes, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” The problem is, that most of the world has terrible habits that cloud the decisions we make, miss the fullness of God in us, and allow the control of the unconscious mind to gain strength. We can condition one or the other so we must ask ourselves, which side of the war are we assisting the most?


1. Lieberman, Spellbound, Subtitle
2. Deut. 18:10-14
3.  Peterson, Jordan; Where Carl Jung was Wrong, YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vjBkKDvjbFc
4.  Lieberman, Spellbound, xi
5. Ibid, xiv.
6. Peterson, Jordan. 5:55, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vjBkKDvjbFc
7. 1 Cor. 10:13

About the Author

Michael O'Neill

Director of Operations / Executive Pastor at Kinergy, Inc. Federal 501c3 Non-Profit Organization. An experienced entrepreneur, leader, father, wellness professional, and owner of a multi-location medical practice with my wife, Nicole O'Neill, MD.

12 responses to “Humble Criticism”

  1. Kristy Newport says:


    Great reference:
    Screwtape Letters

    I think you make a good point about choice regarding this:
    “I diverged from his perspective when he repeatedly alluded to our unconscious minds controlling our decisions.” BUT I am curious…I know that you work with people who are trapped in some of their habitual choices. It is as if they struggle to make a choice different from the one they have always made in the past. What accounts for this. BUT…I agree with you…our ability to “over ride” or thoughtfully consider a choice and make it apart from unconcious control- we need to believe that we /and our clients can get to this point.

    I like your conclusion and 1 Cor. 10:13 is a great verse. I think this is well put:
    “The problem is, that most of the world has terrible habits that cloud the decisions we make, miss the fullness of God in us, and allow the control of the unconscious mind to gain strength.”

    What might you attribute to being an unconscious thought or habit that you must ask the Holy Spirit to help you with?

    Thank you for your thoughtful post. I could tell that you grappled.

    • Michael O'Neill says:

      Thanks, Kristy. I appreciate your thoughts so much, especially on psych…. (anything) subjects. You’re the pro. The over-ride you mentioned is really my point. In most cases I’ve witnessed with spirituality or health, the goal is not as easy as flipping a light switch and everything is perfect. It’s a process but it starts with the faith and belief that overcoming the obstacle is attainable. Then the steps may be big or small but they will both get you there at some point if you want them to. The faster ticket to that success is utilizing the power of the Holy Spirit. I believe when we partner with Jesus in our goals or struggles we will have a more meaningful journey.

      I’ve been asking the Holy Spirit to give me greater order. I feel like I have a million bad habits that limit me but I have somehow allowed it to become my status quo. I don’t want to just get by. I want to crush it! Reflecting honestly can be depressing at times but generally, I’m motivated the more I affirm my faith and walk with God in my life. It is a constant battle, like the spiritual warfare topic. I feel there is literally a force competing for every thought, action, and decision I make, and each side is building its own endurance and fighting short and long-term battles of influence. I know who is more powerful and I’m glad I’m on the winning team but it’s real for all of us. We can’t get complacent.

      Thank you!

  2. mm Becca Hald says:

    Michael, great analysis of Lieberman’s book. I agree that we have to be careful when it comes to what we allow to influence our thinking. I, too, disagree that we have no control over our choices. One of the things I learned in my journey towards mental health was that my emotions are what they are, I cannot necessarily dictate how I will feel, but I can choose how I will act. Yes, there are habits and practices that make my choice to act in a certain way easier, but I am still capable of choosing and I can change those habits. I think the question is how do we discern what practices are spiritually helpful and which ones will hinder us.

    • Michael O'Neill says:

      Amen. Choice and free will is our ante so to speak. We have to put in our chips and gamble our faith but it’s like playing a hand where you already know you won, so it’s not really gambling. You can go all in on Jesus every time and it will always benefit you. Even when it doesn’t seem plausible or the outcome isn’t immediate. Free will is something I just can’t debate. I feel like our life would be meaningless without it and it shows God’s love because he allows us to choose him or the world. He helps us along the way and blesses us in our righteousness. Thanks for the support on choice.

  3. Tonette Kellett says:


    I love where you went with your post, particularly on the point of the will of the unconscious mind versus the Holy Spirit that indwells the believer. It was a touchy point for me as I read that “the unconscious mind has its own agenda.” I think I’m “calling the shots”, but I’m not. I think I’m in control, according to Lieberman, but I’m not. I made note of it as I read. It was unnerving.

    • Michael O'Neill says:

      Thanks, Dr. K. I think it serves as a good warning for awareness and discernment so we can call the shots, through the Spirit, and create a clear, cognitive connection.

  4. mm Chad McSwain says:

    Hey Michael
    Great analysis of Lieberman. I look forward to hearing how he speaks to this with our group.
    I have not done the deep dive of Lieberman that you have but I wonder if he will hold this strict position. I read the assertion that we are not in control of our unconscious as a bit of hyperbole. I could be wrong and if I am, I will say that his language is sensationalized. I did appreciate his points that our minds are much deeper than we realize and that there are many unconscious aspects that influence the decisions we make. I agree that free will is a nonnegotiable, but we are not completely “free” in all instances (genetic, generational, nurture, etc). To say that we have no choice is to give up responsibility. It makes the admonition of Paul “to be transformed by the renewing of the mind” that much deeper and central to the Christian journey.

    • Michael O'Neill says:

      Thanks, Dr. Chad. I’ll never rule out free will but I will definitely say that we are susceptible to bad habits and I think the darkness chips away at our consciousness like a chess move, using reasonable temptations that lure us away from free will and guidance from the Spirit. Awareness/Discernment is key. And so is awesome leadership from Dr. McSwain. Feel free to share the ladder as a cohort-verified fact with your congregation.

  5. mm Audrey Robinson says:

    Michael, thank you for your honest and authentic approach to this essay. I really struggled with the verbiage being used as well. Having studied prophesy and my husband having once been involved in new age (prior to our marriage) there is a fine line between the demonic spirits and the Holy Spirit. The demonic counterfeits what the Holy Spirit is doing. And just like the false prophets accessed the demonic for their revelation – it still occurs today with tarot cards, psychics, etc. (This counterfeits the true prophetic work of the Holy Spirit.) In my opinion, mysticism is not the work of the Holy Spirit. I guess I should pose some sort of question, so how do you think Christian mysticism has impacted our faith?

    • Michael O'Neill says:

      Thanks, Dr. Audrey. The mysticism is the trap. It becomes sensationalized like Chad mentioned and becomes normal in society. It’s “unlocking the potential” of your consciousness, etc. The word mysticism itself is enigmatic and intriguing. Plus, it’s real. But dark. And will lead you in the direct opposite way of Christ.

      Thanks for the comments!

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