The Mental Health Ministry of the Local Church by Howard J. Clinebell, Jr.
Howard J. Clinebell, Jr. Is Professor of Pastoral Counseling at the School of Theology at Claremont, California (1977). He is a member of the American Association of Marriage and Family Counselors, and the American Association of Pastoral Counselors. He is a licensed marriage, child and family counselor in the State of California. His personal website is http://members.aol.com/clinebellh/index.htm, and his email address is clinebellH@aol.com. Originally published as Mental Health Through Christian Community Copyright © 1965,1972 by Abingdon Press Apex Edition published 1972. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.
Chapter 2: The Christian Message and Mental Health
The manner in which a man utilizes his religion -- whether it be to enrich and ennoble his life or to excuse his selfishness and cruelty, or to rationalize his delusions and hallucinations, or to clothe himself in a comforting illusion of omnipotence -- is a commentary on the state of his mental health.( The Human Mind (3rd ed.; New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1946), p. 467.)
-- Karl A. Menninger
The Religion that Hurts Versus the Religion that Heals
Sad to say, the church has not always been on the side of the angels in the treatment of the mentally ill; nor has the Christian religion uniformly been used in ways that enhance positive mental health. In reflecting on the History of Medical Psychology,( Gregory Zilboorg, History of Medical Psychology (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1941). Aldous Huxley commented in a satirical vein:
The tormentors of the insane have been drawn, in the main, from two professions the medical and the clerical. To which shall we award the palm? Have clergymen been responsible for more gratuitous suffering than doctors? Or have doctors made up for a certain lack of intensity in their brand of torture (after all, they never went so far as to burn anyone alive for being mad) by its longer duration and greater number of victims? It is a nice point. To prevent hard feelings, let us divide the prize equally between the two contenders.( Madness, Badness, and Sadness," Esquire (June. 1956), p. 50.)
Huxley points out that, during most of the centuries of the Christian age, the mentally ill have been subjected to almost ceaseless torture. During the sixteenth century, for instance, religious leaders burned at the stake a vast number of "witches" (estimated at from one hundred thousand to several million) . They did it for what they believed to be the soundest of theological reasons (which must have been small comfort to the "witches"). More recent examples could be cited.
Unfortunately, tragic mistakes in the area of mental health by religious leaders are not all in the past. In preparing a report for an international congress on mental health, a group of clinically trained chaplains summarized the insights derived from their work in mental hospitals and prisons:
American Protestantism has frequently made critical and tragic errors in its presentation of the Christian religion -- errors which have contributed to emotional and spiritual conflict and immaturity in our people. Most of those errors find a focus in a stern, legalistic, absolute, and Pharisaical moralism which is the characteristically American form of Protestantism.( "American Protestantism and Mental Health," Journal of Clinical Pastoral Work, Vol. I, No. 4 (Winter, 1948), p. 1.)
The Christian message is frequently distorted in ways that cause it to hurt rather than to heal, to block rather than to stimulate personality growth. Any minister who has worked in a mental hospital has had to face this painful truth -- that distorted religion has contributed to the immaturity, guilt, isolation, fear, and rage of some of the crippled souls to whom he ministers.
Through the centuries, religious leaders have been handling psychological dynamite with little awareness of the tremendous power for good or ill in their hands. In recent decades, thanks to the behavioral sciences and the psychotherapeutic disciplines, tools for testing the impact of various forms of religion on people's lives have begun to become available. It behooves those of us who have responsibilities for teaching the Christian message -- ministers, church school teachers, and parents in particular -- to become aware of the probable psychological effects of certain interpretations of that message.
The central thesis of this discussion is that religion can be a constructive, creative, healing, life affirming force or a dark, repressive, life-crippling force, depending on the way it is understood and used. In this chapter, I will present a list of tentative criteria for distinguishing health-enhancing religion from sickness-producing religion, based on experience in counseling with troubled persons. In describing criteria for a mentally healthy religion, I am not suggesting that there is any one monolithic, mentally healthy theology. Variations in personality needs make different religious interpretations meaningful to different individuals. Respect for the unique religious needs of one's neighbor is one indication of a mentally healthy religious view.
Let me indicate the nature of some of the limitations of the approach used in this chapter. In several cases, my biblical interpretations are strongly influenced by prescriptive considerations, more than descriptive considerations (of what their literal meaning may have been in the thought world of century one) . My assumption is that recent insights from the behavioral sciences constitute fresh revelations about man. These insights illuminate many of the issues discussed in the New Testament, and provide us with a new perspective from which first century interpretations of the human situation can be reexamined. For example, the Sermon on the Mount passages are interpreted in this chapter in ways that seem to be constructive in the light of our knowledge concerning how personality is formed and deformed. Although my interpretations do not reflect the literal first century meanings at every point, they do represent what I believe Jesus would mean (in the context of his concern for persons) were he speaking in our day.
Examining religious ideas or practices in terms of their effects on personality is one valid way of evaluating such phenomena. It is important, however, to hold this criterion in tension with other criteria -- for example: What is the validity of an idea in the light of the understandings produced by that tradition's best minds? The essential task of judging the conflicting results which may accrue from the application of different criteria is a difficult one which (fortunately) is beyond the scope of this book.
All definitions reflect the hidden assumptions of the culture which produces them. Thus, current definitions of mental health may be influenced subtly by our culture in ways that make them faulty devices for evaluating religious ideas and practices. In other words, when one applies mental health criteria to religion, it is well to remember that the results will be tentative, partial, and in need of correction from other intellectual perspectives, cultures, and historical periods. All of this reminds me of the Brazilian psychiatrist in a story by Machado de Assis who decides that the disturbed people are really well-balanced and vice versa. He is committed to his own hospital, using his criteria of mental health, because he is considered by everyone to be perfectly sane.( The Psychiatrist and Other Stories (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1965) .
In spite of these limitations and dangers, it is important to attempt to differentiate health-stimulating from sickness-spawning religion. Both anthropological and clinical evidence support the validity of distinguishing the positive and negative effects of various religious approaches. Anthropologist Ruth Benedict has given a dramatic comparison (Patterns of Culture (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. 1934) of the "adient," or love-motivated religion of the Zuni Indians of the Southwest, and the "adient," or fear-motivated religion of the Ojibwa of the Canadian-U. S. border regions. All Zuni gods are beneficent; all religious practices are interpersonal in orientation. There is no sorcery. The Ojibwa gods, in contrast, have to be bargained with and bribed. All religious practices are self-centered and there is an abundance of black magic. The Zuni are a happy people who "dance" everywhere, including their religion. The Ojibwa use dancing only for individualistic prestige, never for the joy of common participation and celebration.
The pastoral counselor encounters many examples of both the positive and negative uses of the Christian religion. I can recall many persons in whose lives Christianity was a rich source of courage, strength, and growth. It enabled them to handle personal crises of almost unbelievable dimensions. They were troubled and in need of pastoral care but they were not crushed. Their religion was obviously a very present help in time of trouble. On the other hand, the misuse of the Christian religion has also been illustrated in my counseling experience -- a father who used religion as a club to force his children to conform to his puritanical distortion of Christian ethics; a middle-aged woman living under a miasmic cloud of what she believed to be the "unforgivable sin"; a teen-ager in a frenzy of morbid guilt based in part on a literalistic self-application of certain New Testament statements regarding sexual thoughts. Those of us who have dismissed a literal belief in demons as a form of crude superstition cannot but be impressed by the "demonic" destructiveness of warped religion.
The impact of religion on mental health is usually complex. In a study of sixty-eight mental hospital patients, Wayne Oates reports that twenty percent used religious ideas to clothe their psychoses, seventeen percent showed a long-standing rebellion-submission conflict toward the religion of their early home (their religion being interwoven with unresolved conflicts with parent figures), and another ten percent seemed to be using religion as a "last straw." Surprisingly, since the study was made in the "Bible belt," fifty-one percent gave no evidence of religious interests or ideas in their illnesses. This report, contained in Religious Factors in Mental Illness,( Wayne E. Oates (New York: Association Press, 1955), pp. 6-7) shows that it is important not to exaggerate the role of religion in causing mental illness.
Sick religion is both cause and effect. Distorted religion is often one symptom of an underlying personality distortion. But it is more than this. The sick person's sick religion tends to reinforce his pathology! From her cross-cultural studies, Ruth Benedict concluded that a group's religion both mirrors and molds the life of that group. The egocentric, mistrust-saturated Ojibwa religion is a major factor in keeping mistrust and aggression rife in that culture. It reinforces the very factors which brought it into being. The cooperative interpersonal climate of the Zunis is both reflected and reinforced by their religious beliefs and practices. What is true in these Indian cultures is also true of individuals and groups in our culture.
Some Tests for Mentally Healthy Religion
Ever since William James contrasted the religion of the "healthy minded" and that of the "sick soul," (See The Varieties of Religious Experience) students of psychology of religion have wrestled with the distinguishing characteristics of health-giving and health-depleting forms of religion. Here is a list of inter-dependent questions which I have found useful in separating mentally healthy from mentally unhealthy religion:
1. Does a particular form of religious thought and practice build bridges or barriers between people?
What religion does to interpersonal relationships is the acid test. Does it isolate one group from another, or does it draw them into a warm sense of kinship? Does it express in action the universality of God who has "made from one every nation" (Acts 17:26) and "Have we not all one father?" (Matt. 2:10) Is it inclusive or exclusive in its conception of salvation? Those forms of Christianity which exclude non-Christians from access to God and salvation drive wedges between individuals and groups. They maintain a sense of in-group security by keeping alive a belief in the exclusive truth of their position. But they sacrifice those mutually enriching relationships with others who differ, which could broaden their own horizons and deepen their understanding. Their arrogance and exclusivism cause jangling disharmonies in intergroup relations, and deny the spirit of the majestic conception of Christian love described in I Cor. 13.
In Religious Factors in Mental Illness, Oates writes: "In essence . . . healthy religion binds people together in such a way that their individuality is enabled both to be realized and to be consecrated to the total community . . . to which they belong. This is a religion of mature and responsible relatedness.'' (p. 113) This particular aspect of mentally healthy religion has taken on special significance on our shrinking planet where human animosities are now armed with hydrogen bombs and worse. Norman Cousins writes:
Religion need not turn against itself to do what is now necessary. A basic unity already exists. That unity resides not in doctrine but in man himself.... Theology cannot survive without man. Theology therefore can transcend itself in the cause of mar, . . . what we can do is to try to get all to agree to the human proposition that spiritual resources are inherent in all men, that these resources, when summoned, can bring them closer to one another, and that the sacredness of life is not peculiar to any one creed.( Quoted from Harvey H. Potthoff, "Theology and the Vision of Greatness," The 1liff Review (Winter, 1959), p. 10.)
2. Does a particular form of religious thought and practice strengthen or weaken a basic sense of trust and relatedness to the universe?
As Erik Erikson has observed, a contribution which positive religion makes to mental health is that of giving people periodic experiences of the renewal of trust. To know that life is trustworthy and that one is organically related to the rest of creation produces a strengthening, healing effect on personality. Persons who have felt they had to fight the stream of life discover they can float on it. Moses expressed this in his blessing of the people of Israel: "Underneath are the everlasting arms" (Deut. 33:27). In a vital religious experience the ontological loneliness of feeling oneself to be a spiritual orphan is overcome by the awareness of one's unity with all of life.
In Protestant thought the Pauline conception that salvation (healing, reconciliation) comes "by grace . . . through faith" (Eph. 2:8) is central. Here the word "faith" has overtones of "trust," as when one says "I have faith in him." It is in a relationship of trust that the love of God can have its healing effects.
3. Does a particular form of religious thought and practice stimulate or hamper the growth of inner freedom and personal responsibility? Closely related questions are these: Does it encourage healthy or unhealthy dependency relationships -- mature or immature relationships with authority? Does it encourage growth of mature or immature consciences?
Some psychotherapists charge that religion often fosters emotional immaturity, childish dependency, and a lack of inner freedom. Unfortunately, this is a valid accusation when applied to dogmatic theologies and authoritarian forms of church relationships. The chaplains' group, mentioned earlier, states: "One of the most common errors found in the churches is an unhealthy authoritarianism. Too frequently we develop fear, submissiveness, dependence, and guilt as a result of that attitude." ("American Protestantism and Mental Health," p. 1.) Authoritarian religious leaders, theologies, or ecclesiastical systems produce adults who are infanticized to some degree in their spiritual lives. Conformity to a theological and ethical "party line" becomes the goal. The individual is deprived of the possibility of growth through working out his own salvation. Consequently, he cannot discover that particular religious approach that is most meaningful and satisfying to him.
The Protestant parallel of dependence on the absolute church of Roman Catholicism is dependence on an absolute book (the Bible interpreted literally) or an absolute creed. Unhealthy dependence patterns also emerge in liberal Protestant circles when clergymen (because of their insecurities and power drives) gain neurotic satisfactions from keeping their congregations dependent. In all of these cases, persons "escape from freedom," to use Erich Fromm's apt term, into the security of an authority-centered religious group. The anxieties of struggle with the complexities of adult life are avoided, but so is the growth which could result from this struggle.
The popularity of authority-centered religious groups in our society is one indication of the prevalence of emotional cripples. Many persons probably could not function were it not for the womb-like security of authoritarian religions. From the mental health standpoint these groups should be seen for what they are -- immature systems for immature people. Our protest should be at the point where such religions anchor people in their immaturity. Some who have the capacity for growth toward inner freedom are trapped by a repressive system. Children who grow up in authoritarian systems (religious, familial, or political) are crippled by them. Such systems thus become self-perpetuating. They create the very neurotic needs for the absolute answers which they then supply.
A key distinction between healthy and unhealthy dependence should be made. On the interpersonal level, healthy dependence (for adults) can best be described as interdependence. Unhealthy dependence (on a religious leader, for instance) is a symbiotic (mutually parasitic) relationship in , which the "true believer" gains a neurotic sense of power by identifying with the leader. The leader in turn is dependent on the sense of power derived from having others dependent on him. On a theological dimension, unhealthy dependence is involved when a person expects God to do for him what he is capable of doing for himself. Maturity-motivating religion, in contrast, encourages people to utilize their God-given inner freedom and resources to handle their life situations constructively. Healthy dependence is based on the recognition that one is not God, and that one is, in fact, dependent on other people, nature, and God for life itself. This is the basic meaning of "humility." There is as much grandiosity in the way some "self-made" persons ignore their dependence on others as in the way some religious people try to manipulate life to their own petty ends through religious practices.
Erich Fromm's distinction between rational and irrational authority helps clarify the healthy versus unhealthy dependence issue. All of us need rational authority, the authority of competence. This was the authority with which Jesus spoke. His competence in spiritual matters was self-evident. His grasp of the truth was unmistakably authentic. This was in sharp contrast to the irrational authority of the scribes and pharisees, an authority based on status and power over others.
Religious approaches based on irrational authority breed immature (authority-centered) consciences in their adherents. Such a conscience is negative in orientation. It is saturated by neurotic guilt (fear of punishment and abandonment). The conscience of a child is formed as he internalizes the values and taboos of his culture which are screened through the praise-blame, reward-punishment systems of his parents. In healthy maturing, this childhood conscience should gradually be transcended. The mature conscience is essentially positive. It is oriented around what that individual really values. Its guilt rises not from fear of punishment but from the awareness that one has hurt what is of highest value -- persons. This is rational appropriate guilt, as contrasted with neurotic guilt.
To the degree that one is burdened with neurotic guilt stemming from an authoritarian conscience, one is incapable of experiencing rational guilt. It is as though one's moral capital were exhausted in the operation of the immature conscience. The maturing religious person should experience a widening awareness of what is really worthy of pouring his life into. As psychologist Gordon W. Allport puts it, the person begins "to live in accordance with an adequate frame of value and meaning, and to enlarge and energize that frame." (The Individual and His Religion (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1950), p.64.)
4. Does a particular form of religious thought and practice provide effective or faulty means of helping persons move from a sense of guilt to forgiveness? Does it provide well-defined, significant, ethical guidelines, or does it emphasize ethical trivia? Is its primary concern for surface behavior or for the underlying health of the personality?
The problem of unresolved guilt feelings -- neurotic and normal -- is a persistent one in much mental illness. In understanding this, the distinction between moralism and morality is useful. Moralism contributes to mental illness; morality, to mental health. Moralism, concerned with controlling surface behavior, arouses neurotic guilt feelings about sex, anger, and ethical trivia, and is the product of an authoritarian conscience. Moralism is concerned with sins; morality, primarily with Sin -- the condition of a person's inner life in which he is alienated from other people and God. An example of the pathetic distortion of the Christian message often produced by moralism was the sermon preached by a certain chaplain on the eve of the Normandy invasion. The men of his military group had come together for worship, knowing that many of them would not be alive by the next sunset. They were hungry for some message to give meaning to their situation. The chaplain delivered a rousing sermon to a crowded chapel, on the evils of smoking and drinking. His moralism gave them not bread but a stone!
Sound morality is concerned with both the underlying causes and the social consequences of person-hurting behavior. It scales to provide reasonable guidelines for interpersonal relationships, fostering the kind of society where personality can mature. It recognizes that a person's capacity for genuine ethical decisions depends on the extent of his inner freedom, which in turn depends on the degree of his mental health. To the extent that a person is driven by inner compulsions and shackled by neurotic guilt-feelings, he is unfree to function ethically. He may seem to be good, because he is afraid to be bad, but there is no wholeheartedness or spontaneity in his "goodness."
A religious system which provides significant ethical norms (that is, having to do with the maximizing of personality values) gives growing individuals guidelines in developing their own value systems. The best in a tradition should be available to persons as resources in discovering their own hierarchy of values. As Eric Erikson has shown, ethical ideals are vital elements in the ego's strength. It is crucial that people come to feel guilt about significant things -- that is, those misuses of one's freedom that hurt persons. The capacity to experience appropriate guilt is one of the signs of mental health. Those in whom this capacity is undeveloped are emotionally ill. In the psychiatric vocabulary they are called "sociopathic personalities."
Constructive means of reducing guilt are essential in health-promoting religion. Liberal Protestantism has often not taken guilt seriously. How guilt is handled depends on whether it is neurotic or normal. (Actually the two elements are usually blended in a given individual's psyche.) The neurotic elements can be recognized by these characteristics: (a) They do not respond to forgiveness (from God or other people). (b) They do not motivate the guilt-laden person to make constructive amends (although they may produce compulsive confessing). (c) They are the product of moralism in that they focus on surface behavior, ethical trivia, or on feelings and impulses which are taboo in one's culture. (d) They are often linked with perfectionism, an impossibly high standard which makes continual failure inevitable. Normal or rational guilt is reduced by confession (in worship or counseling) and healthy atonement (making amends). Neurotic guilt may be temporarily alleviated by such methods, but a more lasting sense of forgiveness depends on working through (in counseling) the conflicts that underlay it.
Healthy religion encourages a person to accept himself as he is -- imperfect, finite, sinful -- and then to move ahead. Self-acceptance, based on God's acceptance, is the starting-point of spiritual growth. Perfectionism, a serious deterrent to self-acceptance, tends to paralyze growth. It is a form of self-punishment -- the punishment of automatic failure. Literalistic interpretation of the biblical passage, "You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matt. 5:48), tends to feed the perfectionistic tendencies of neurotic individuals. Charles C. Torrey's paraphrase, "Be therefore all including in your good will even as your heavenly Father includes all" is preferable, from a mental health perspective, particularly if seen, as an ideal which exerts a steady pull toward widening one's circle of goodwill rather than a static, achievable goal.
As Tillich has observed, the heart of forgiveness is reconciliation. From a mental health standpoint, the nature of the reconciliation is crucial. In certain forms of Christianity, it is similar to the groveling experience of a child who is driven back to a harsh parent by an intense fear of abandonment To be healing, reconciliation must be like the experience of the Prodigal who comes to himself in a breakthrough of self-awareness and realizes that the parent's love has never left him, even in the far country of rebellion. Having grown through his painful far country experience, reconciliation further enhances his personhood.
There is a consistent emphasis in Jesus' teaching on the roots or underlying causes of behavior in the "heart" of man. "For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man out of his good treasure brings forth good" (Matt. 12:34-35) . To the superficial moralists he was saying, "Why are you concerned only with surface behavior while ignoring the causes of this behavior in man's inner life?" His concern was for the underlying wholeness of personality.
Depth psychology has confirmed the wisdom of Jesus' focus by discovering many of the hidden (unconscious) causes of behavior. It has demonstrated the soundness of seeking to enhance total personality health rather than merely controlling surface symptoms. (Destructive symptoms -- for example, Hitler's -- must be controlled to protect society, of course.) Jesus' words to Nicodemus, emphasizing the necessity of rebirth (John 3:3), stress the importance of radical change at the center of a life. An error on a mimeograph stencil is repeated on every copy. Moralism's attempt to control surface behavior is comparable to correcting each copy instead of changing the stencil.
The chaplains' report, mentioned earlier, observed:
Churches have had too little concern for understanding why people behave as they do and have been most relentless in their condemnation of acts contrary to social standards with the result that. many have responded with intense guilt feelings.... The guilty feel a sense of fear, loneliness, and rejection and the result is various degrees of emotional disturbance.( "American Protestantism and Mental Health," p. 1.)
5. Does a particular form of religious thought and practice increase or lessen the enjoyment of life? Does it encourage a person to appreciate or deprecate the feeling dimension of life?
The various forms of the word "joy" are used 192 times in the Bible. Jesus' fondness for all sorts of people (including the hard-to-accept) was a scandal to his critics. His glad participation in occasions of fellowship provided his enemies with the excuse to brand him a winebibber and a glutton. He was pro-life, savoring deeply the satisfactions of communion with others and with God. His joy was directly related to his awareness that a new age of spiritual aliveness was breaking into history, making possible a new creativity in relationships. Here are the words attributed to him by the author of the fourth Gospel: "These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full" (John 15:11) .
Unhealthy religion contradicts the spirit of Jesus' life by fleeing from the God-given vitalities of living into asceticism. Much of Christian history is warped at this point. Religion errs when it becomes primarily a source of controls, rules, and duties, and loses its ability to lift, inspire, and energize the totality of one's life. According to Harry Emerson Fosdick, such lopsided religion provides weights, not wings on the spirit of man. There is more than enough drabness in life without making religion into a force that further squeezes the enjoyment out of living!
One form of enjoyment that is often neglected is religious enjoyment -- the uplifting, numinous, and ecstatic elements in religious experience. The spine-tingling qualities in vital religion are often missing in conventional churches. In Jungian terms, the masculine elements in religion (reason, logic, ethics, controls) are present without the balancing feminine elements (feeling, giving, accepting, nurturing). This accounts, in part, for the popularity of the sect groups which encourage their adherents to feel and enjoy their religion. When religion loses its mystical quality, many people seek a pseudoreligious experience in alcohol.( For a comprehensive discussion of the use of alcohol as a religious substitute, see "Philosophical-Religious Factors in the Etiology and Treatment of Alcoholism," by H. J. Clinebell, Jr., Quarterly Journal of Studies on Alcohol (Fall, 1965).
The prayer of Augustine in The Confessions has wistful overtones for modern man: "Oh that Thou wouldst enter into my heart and inebriate it." It is a pity that many have found so little excitement, inspiration, and lift in their religion that they have sought these in nonreligious practices.
The full range of religious enjoyment depends on loving God with both one's mind and heart. The religion that stimulates health strives to involve the whole person in the religious quest. It brings the full scope of the intellect to bear on the pursuit of religious truth but, recognizing the importance of feelings and attitudes in personality health, it avoids top-heavy, intellectualized religious approaches. It respects the deepest freedom -- the freedom to think, imagine, fantasy, and feel. Negative religion blocks this precious inner feeling by spawning neurotic guilt about asocial and antisocial feelings. Positive religion encourages appreciation of the richness which a wide spectrum of feelings brings to one's life.
Healthy religion draws a clear distinction between the right to feel and fantasy and the necessary prohibitions against acting on all one's feelings. If this key distinction is blurred, persons become so guilt-ridden and frightened about their "bad" thoughts or so destructive in their actions that their creativity is crippled. Dorothy W. Baruch declares:
No matter how we prod or pry, a child is going to go right on feeling the way he feels. If we don't let him think his feelings aloud, he'll think them under his breath. If we make him too ashamed to think them consciously, he'll feel them in his unconscious where he is unaware of them and so can do nothing about them. But we don't stop him from feeling the feelings . . . no matter how "bad" or "wicked" they are.( New Ways in Discipline (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1949) . pp.47-48)
This also applies to adults. Constructive religion views the capacity to feel, vividly and along a wide spectrum of emotions, as one of God's good gifts.
6. Does a particular form of religious thought and practice handle the vital energies of sex and aggressiveness in constructive or repressive ways?
There is no more revealing test of the mental health impact of a religious approach than its handling of sex and aggressiveness. Creativity-crippling repression most of en occurs in these two areas. When persons label these drives as "bad" in themselves, they must either deny their existence (repression) or stagger under a deadening load of guilt feelings.
Despite recent improvements, the overall record of churches in the handling of sex has been far from constructive. The doctrine of the virgin birth has at times been interpreted in ways that suggest that the normal means of procreation is tainted. Baptism has sometimes been interpreted as a cleansing of a baby from the stain felt to result from the circumstances of his conception and birth. The idea of original sin has been interpreted by some to imply that it was either the consequence or cause of sexual intercourse by the first man and woman. Such interpretations are distortions which obscure the valid meaning of these symbols.( The idea of the virgin birth of Jesus can be understood as a symbolic way of expressing the fact that deep unity is possible between God and a human being (Mary) . Infant baptism should be a meaningful sacrament of thanksgiving and dedication. with none of the cleansing-from-sin overtones. The idea of original sin can be understood as a symbolic way of expressing a truth that every counselor observes repeatedly -- namely the way in which neurosis (or health) is passed through the generations. In the organic matrix of interpersonal life, all men are linked psychologically to the past and to the future. The emotional problems of the fathers (and mothers) arc visited on their children and children's children far beyond the third and fourth generations, through the orderly process of psychological transmission.)
A positive Christian view of sex holds that it is God-given, to be used appropriately, as any of God's gifts. Christians (and others) should thank God that he devised such an enjoyable way of continuing the race. It may be that the human species' day-in, day-out interest in sex (as contrasted to the periodic interest of most other animal species) accounts in part, for the relative permanence of the family. Any gift of God, if misused, damages personality. Sex enhances personality when experienced in a context of love and responsibility.
The positive Christian view of sex extends the range of its appropriate functions beyond procreation to include the unitive function -- that is, two persons overcoming their spiritual isolation to some extent in becoming "one flesh" -- and the function of mutual pleasure and satisfaction. Any counselor who observes the strengthening of marriages which results from improvement in this area is impressed by the potential person-enhancing effects of mutual sexual satisfaction.
Halford Luccock once commented that he was tempted to make a list of statements which he wished Jesus hadn't made, because they lend themselves to misinterpretation.( The Interpreter's Bible (12 vols.; Nashville: Abingdon Press. 1951-57), VII, 693.) High on such a list, from the mental health perspective, would be, "Every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Matt 5: 28) . When taken literally, this has produced a plethora of neurotic guilt-feelings by making the "wandering eye" as reprehensible as adultery. The absurdity of such an interpretation has not protected some people from misunderstanding it to mean that their desires, per se, are sinful. To consider the basic attraction between the sexes, which makes possible the family, as tainted, is a perversion of the spirit of Jesus' teachings. Nowhere does he condemn sexual impulse as inherently sinful. He pronounced judgment only on lust -- that is, sex without mutual love which uses another as an "it." In the passage cited, he presumably was utilizing oriental hyperbole to stress the importance of considering the underlying causes of behavior rather than surface symptoms.
The puritanical approach usually does not keep people from thinking about or from engaging in the proscribed sexual behavior. It only keeps them from enjoying these activities. Moralistic approaches seem to stimulate sexual fantasies and exaggerated behavior. Sexual libertinism, at the one extreme, and the cold drabness of sex in many American marriages, at the other, are two sides to the one coin which is the price we pay for distortions in this area. The yawning chasm between standards and practice, as revealed by Kinsey's studies, is another illustration.
Psychiatrist Frieda Fromm-Reichmann once commented that, in contrast to Freud's day, hostility has become more frequently repressed than sex in our day. Christianity becomes an instrument of mental distress when biblical passages such as this are taken literally: "You have heard that it was said to the men of old, 'You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.' But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment" (Matt. 5:21-22). In spite of Jesus' personal example (such as responding to the Pharisees' objections to his healing on the Sabbath "with anger," Mark 3:5), his words have been misinterpreted by literalistic legalists to mean that anger as such is evil. The familiar words from the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:3842) on turning the other cheek, going the second mile, and giving one's cloak to a man who demands one's coat, also have been misused in ways that produce personality damage.
Tom, a minister's son, was taught that "good Christian boys do not fight." His normal aggressive impulses were, to his parents and eventually to him, dangerous and bad. Christian love was understood in essentially masochistic terms His early conditioning made him incapable of living in the competitive society outside the family. In young adulthood, the whirling inner conflicts concerning his fear of his aggressiveness, his repressed anger at his parents, and the demands of his job led him to a mental hospital. Prolonged therapy eventually rescued him from his tailspin and enabled him to live in society.
The valid meaning of these passages has to do with the second-mile principle which characterizes mature relationships. A patient, being interviewed by a psychiatrist before a class, vented his rage on everyone present. Those of us who were students responded with a mixture of fear and feelings of indignation. In contrast, the psychiatrist remained calm and accepting. He was secure and experienced enough not to be threatened by the verbal lashing. He knew that the patient was sick and afraid and that his condition caused the rage. He was able to accept the patient's need to lash out in an effort to defend himself. In short, the doctor was able to go the second mile with that patient. By accepting what the patient could not accept in himself, he brought a healing dimension to the relationship. (The patient was free to express his anger because he knew that he would not be allowed to act out his rage. The limits provided by the psychiatrist and the attendants helped him deal with his anger, in spite of his lack of inner limits.)
When anger is pushed into the unconscious because it is unacceptable to one's self-image, it is as though dynamite were stored in the basement of a house. Eventually it will explode in such forms as a "nervous breakdown," psychosomatic illness, unreasonable fears of illusory foes, or prejudice against a minority. Repression is not the answer to the problem of handling anger constructively. The answer is to keep one's God-given assertive-aggressive energies from accumulating by directing them into socially constructive channels.
7. Does a particular form of religious thought and practice encourage the acceptance or denial of reality? Does it foster magical or mature religious beliefs? Does it encourage intellectual honesty with respect to doubts? Does it oversimplify the human situation or face its tangled complexity?
The words of Paul, "When I became a man, I gave up childish ways" (I Cor. 13:11), should be applied to religious attitudes and beliefs. Gordon Allport observes in The Individual and His Religion, "In probably no region of personality do we find so many residues of childhood as in the religious attitudes of adults." (The Individual and His Religion, p. 52.) Magic, another name for immature religion, is an attempt to manipulate spiritual powers to one's own ends. In contrast, mature religion is an exercise in bringing one's life into harmony with the orderly principles of spiritual reality. It sees the "will of God," not as the capricious whim of a sentimental grandfather, but as the trustworthy principles of a law-abiding universe. Jesus' Gethsemane prayer, "Not my will, but thine, be done'' (Luke 22:42), is thus a magnificent example of mature prayer. Conforming his life to God's will was not abject groveling before an arbitrary, oriental potentate, but the acceptance (whatever the cost) of spiritual reality.
The law of the harvest, "for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap" (Gal. 6:7) is a description of the cause-effect nature of psychological reality. Maturity-motivating religion respects this, whereas magical religion fosters the expectation of certain immunities from reality -- that is, special protection from the suffering that is a part of the fabric of existence. Such expectations produce crippling resentments ("God let me down"), when trouble inevitably strikes.
Religious beliefs that deny the reality of diseases, define evil as illusory, or encourage belief in superstitions decrease respect for reality. Mature religion is well integrated with scientific truth. It does not force one to choose between "geology or Genesis," nor to compartmentalize one's mind in "religious" and "scientific" pigeonholes. All truth is God's truth, whether discovered in the laboratory or in religious experience. Geology and the other sciences constitute "God's other Bible," revealing the "how" of continuing evolutionary creation, whereas the Bible tells the "who" and "why" of this process.
Religion militates against full mental health when it encourages people to ignore their honest doubts. Many congregations commit mass perjury Sunday after Sunday by repeating, parrot-like, and without awareness of the possible symbolic meanings, creeds and hymns containing ideas which many adults cannot accept literally with intellectual honesty. Such self-deception tends to stymie inner questioning and block spiritual growth. In contrast, a healthy religious climate fosters self-honesty with Inference to doubts, a quality of flexibility concerning one's beliefs that leaves one open to new insights. It recognizes that there are elements of wish-fulfillment in most religions, but that healthy religion is not dominated by these elements.( Sigmund Freud held that belief in deity represented a projection onto the universe of one's continuing wish for the presence of an ideal parent. There is no doubt in my mind that our feelings and ideas about God are influenced in deep and continuing ways by the nature and quality of our early experiences with need-satisfying adults. However, in the relatively healthy person (who continues to grow in his spiritual life) these residual elements from childhood play a gradually decreasing role. On the other hand, in a neurotic or psychotic person, distortions in childhood relationships continue to distort his relationship with God grossly. There is a chronic rigidity about such a person's "head-theology" and "chart-theology," which blocks his awareness of the living God. As Allport holds, the psychoanalytic view errs in reducing religion to wish-fulfillment, ignoring the elements of positive striving in it. As a person matures emotionally, his religious beliefs become less a product of wish-fulfillment and increasingly ways of understanding and articulating the spiritual realities experienced by that person as an adult. To accept the fact that the origins of everyone's religion are influenced by childhood experiences says nothing about the truth or falsity of these beliefs (in terms of objective reality) nor does it identify their present level of maturity. Furthermore, it is important to realize that all deep attitudes and beliefs are rooted in childhood, not just religious beliefs!)
The cult of reassurance and positive thinking is a prevalent type of reality-denying religion. The prophets of these approaches are "modern pied pipers," (I am indebted to psychoanalyst David Morgan for this apt label) leading people astray with childish tunes which deny the ambiguities, complexities, and tragedies of human life. By giving oversimplified solutions to complex problems, they increase the despair of suffering people. The inadequacy of superficial answers and glib reassurances was described by "a late inmate of Glasgow Royal Asylum for lunatics" around the year 1860. Following his recovery, he reflected: "We do not know how the waters may rise and rage, how uncontrolled may burst the fury of the storm, while 'Peace, be still,' is drowned in the maddening roar." (The Philosophy of Insanity (New York: Creenberg. 1947), p. 104 (italics supplied) "
8. Does a particular form of religious thought and practice emphasize love (end growth) or fear?
Like a family, a religious group has a certain emotional climate. This is of greater importance to its mental health impact than its specific teachings. The group climate which helps personality blossom like a flower on a spring day has a central emphasis on growth, love, and grace. Those which emphasize fear make personality shrivel to protect itself from the chill. healthy-minded religion is oriented toward the fulfillment of persons. Jesus' parables of growth (for example, leaven, mustard seed, sower) have this thrust. His emphasis on rebirth points to the need within the general pattern of growth for decisive moments of turning from less to more adequate frameworks of meaning -- for surrendering smaller ways of relating in favor of more complete ones. The existentialists in psychotherapy evaluate such crises or turning points positively. As Jordan M. Scher declares, writing in the Journal of Existential Psychiatry, "life is a continually renewing and creating process, and one dies and is reborn many times." ("The Concept of the Self in Schizophrenia" (Spring, 1960), p. 76.)
Grace, the instrument of healing and growth, was demonstrated in Jesus' remarkable ability to accept the rejected and to love the hard-to-love person. His words, "Neither do I condemn you," blow like a fresh breeze through the parched deserts of religious judgment. He was able to incarnate God's grace and express it in his relationships because of his amazing self-acceptance. Furthermore, Jesus' intuitive insight into the depth and darkness in human life put him in touch with another wellspring of grace. He "knew what was in man" (John 2:25). He must have sensed the sinner's inner civil war, the compulsions that truncated his freedom to choose, the tragedy which had warped his relationships. It is one of the ironies of Christian history that followers of Jesus should present the message not as a wonderful, fulfilling way of life, but as an escape hatch through which people flee from fears created by the misinterpreted message.
9. Does a particular form of religious thought and practice give its adherents a "frame of orientation and object of devotion" that is adequate in handling existential anxiety constructively?
Psychoanalyst Erich Fromm holds that everyone has a basic need for a "system of thought and action shared by a group which gives the individual a frame of orientation and an object of devotion. (Psychoanalysis and Religion (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1950), p. 21.) One's "frame of orientation" is his philosophy of life. It includes his value system and his fundamental attitudes toward the universe. Viennese psychiatrist Viktor E. Frankl has built a system of therapy (called "logotherapy") on his theory that the "will to meaning" is the dominant drive in human life and the unrequited quest for meaning (producing the "value vacuum") is a major cause of personality problems.( The Doctor and theca Soul, An Introduction to Logotherapy New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1962). ( Other psychotherapists have explored the role of a person's values in his psychological difficulties. Gordon W. Allport asks: "May not (at least sometimes an acquired world outlook constitute the central motive of life and, if it is disordered, the ultimate therapeutic problem? (Rollo May (ed.), Existential Psychology (New York: Random House, 1961), p. 98.) The loss of a sense of meaning is often a symptom (of depression, for example), but an inadequate "frame of orientation" sometimes is a factor in personality problems.
Every person needs an object of devotion, something to elicit his loyalty and motivate him to self-investment. Having such an object introduces what Tillich calls "the dimension of ultimate concern" into one's life. So compelling is the need for an object of devotion that those who do not find a high object will give themselves to a lower object. This is the essence of idolatry.( There arc various idolatrous forms of religion: Biblicism makes an idol of the words of the Bible, ignoring the findings of many years of dedicated scholarship. Creedalism makes an idol of a fossilized description of religious experience, a set of verbal symbols which, at one period of history, were used to articulate the Christian experience of certain persons and groups. Sectarianism makes an idol of a particular religious group. Moralism makes an idol of conformity to a set of ethical stricturcs. Each form of idolatry creates a false absolute in the name of religion. As thought-terminators, these block spiritual pioneering, allowing persons to escape the anxiety but miss the thrill of the personal struggle at the center of a maturing religious life. From a Christian standpoint, no idol, nothing short of a growing relationship with the God of the prophets and of Jesus will satisfy one's hungers for an object of ultimate devotion. This is the meaning of Augustine's familiar words, "Thou hast made us for thyself and our hearts are restless until they rest in thee." Finding an adequate frame of orientation and object of devotion depends, from the Christian perspective, on entering into what Tillich calls the "new being in Christ," a new state of consciousness and awareness. He writes: "The Christian message is the message of a new Reality in which we can participate and which gives us the power to take anxiety and despair upon ourselves." (Paul Tillich, Theology of Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 1959), Christianity can avoid the trap of arrogant exclusivism by recognizing that pathways to new qualities of awareness also exist in other religions.
Discovery of a meaningful philosophy of life and object of devotion is crucial because this is the only way of handling existential anxiety constructively. Anxiety is a response to whatever is perceived by a person as a threat to his essential well-being. Neurotic anxiety is the result of inner conflict and repression. In contrast, existential anxiety is nonpathological or normal. It is "existential" in that it inheres in human existence as a part of what Tillich calls our "heritage of finitude." The threats which arouse this anxiety are of three kinds: of fate and death, emptiness and loss of meaning, guilt and condemnation.( The Courage to Be (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1952) . See Chapter 2).
Since this anxiety is a part of man's very existence, it cannot be done away with. Its impact can be either a paralyzing force or a stimulus to creativity, depending on how it is handled. Although psychotherapy is often helpful in reducing neurotic anxiety" it is ineffective in dealing with existential anxiety. Existential anxiety is handled constructively only by a vital religious life, including -- (a) a meaningful philosophy of life, (b) a challenging object of devotion, (c) a sense of transcending the earth-boundness of life, (d) a deep experience of trust in God and relatedness to the universe. Attempts to handle existential anxiety by pseudo-religious means (the various idolatries such as alcoholism) inevitably fail.
Living religion enables a person to confront rather than evade his existential anxiety. As Tillich has made clear, only as such anxiety is confronted and taken into one's self-affirmation can it enhance rather than diminish one's life. When existential anxiety is not handled in this way, it helps to create neurotic problems. To quote Tillich again: "Neurosis is a way of avoiding non-being by avoiding being." (Ibid., p. 66.) It is with reference to existential anxiety that religion makes its absolutely unique and indispensable contribution to mental health.
10. Does a particular form of religious thought and practice encourage the individual to relate to his unconscious through living symbols?
If a religious approach is to enhance personality health, it must take the deep, unconscious aspects of the mind seriously, encouraging its participants to keep open the lines of communication with this hidden world which profoundly influences everything they do. The language of the unconscious is the language of symbols -- the language of myth, dreams, fairy tales, and psychoses. Healthy religion, through its symbolic rites, myths, and beliefs, helps the individual keep in contact with his unconscious. The unconscious is the wellspring of creativity (as well as a storehouse of repressed memories and primitive impulses). By keeping in touch with his unconscious, the person enriches his conscious life immeasurably. The life of the person whose unconscious is walled off from his consciousness is impoverished thereby. His psychological well-being is increasingly threatened by the forces which build up in his hidden depths, like pressure in a teakettle with its spout sealed.
The liturgical churches, with their drama of the church year and their abundance of symbolic rites and festivals, have a great deal to teach the symbol-poor Protestant groups who, in their zeal for pure religion have thrown out the baby with the bathwater. Many people are able to work through their unconscious impulses through sharing in those symbolic religious practices which are filled with profound meaning for their group. Writing out of more than a decade of experience as a mental hospital chaplain, Carroll A. Wise speaks to the importance of symbols in religion:
The function of religious thought is that of penetrating beneath the level of appearance and sense experience to discover fundamental meanings and relationships. Such thought uses its symbols for the purpose of apprehending and expressing insight or understanding of the nature and and of life as experienced by the individual and group.( Religion in Illness and Health (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1942), p. 137.)
11. Does a particular form of religious belief and practice accommodate itself to the neurotic patterns of the society or endeavor to change them?
One mark of a maturity-motivating religious approach is that it is concerned with the redemption of society as well as of individuals. Healthy religion has a vigorous concern for the growth of individuals, but alongside this is an equally vigorous interest in changing the factors in society which produce personality damage on a mass scale. Rather than preaching "peace of mind" or "adjustment" to society it challenges persons to creative discontent and nonconformity to the sick side of our culture.( In The Undiscovered Self, Carl G. Jung makes a case for the importance of religion as the counterbalance to the mass-mindedness which characterizes our society. (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1957), pp. 19-31.) It helps to counteract the forces which provide the matrix within which personality problems are spawned like mosquitoes in a stagnant pool. It sends in judgment on the neurotic aspects of our culture. More about this in Chap. 5.
12. Does a particular form of religious thought and practice strengthen or weaken self-esteem?
The late David Roberts once observed that if parents had to choose one thing which alone they could give their children, it should be a sturdy sense of their own worth. Without a solid sense of self-worth, a person is limited in his ability to live fully, to relate in a mutually fulfilling way, and to find a religious life with real depth. In Jean Anouilh's play "The Lark," the inquisitor declares in effect that the thing which made Joan of Arc dangerous was not that she had visions, but that she had dared to trust in herself as a human being.( The Lark (New York: Random House, 1955), p. 113).
The point at which a particular form of religion influences self-esteem most direct, is its doctrine of man. Three strands of Christian thought, when emphasized, tend to strengthen self-esteem -- the doctrines of the goodness of creation (Gen. 1:31), the image of God in man (Gen. 1:27), and the incarnation John 1:14). If man is created in the image of God then he must be a creature of inherent worth. If the "Word became flesh" -- that is, if God could use a fully human personality to express himself in history -- then human nature cannot be fundamentally depraved. There is no doubt that the essential worth of man is solidly grounded in the Christian faith. Being aware of this, the eighteenth-century French thinker Fenelon could write, "We should be in charity with ourselves as with our neighbors."
In spite of these three doctrines, a considerable slice of Christian theology through the centuries has pictured man as groveling in depravity, total or partial. The Genesis story of the fall of man has been interpreted to mean that man's original goodness and the imago dei in him were completely corrupted by his disobedience to God. According to this view, man in his present condition is fundamentally had and lost.
Negative views of man sometimes produce detrimental effects on self-esteem, particularly in children and youth. Claude, a young adult from an ultraconservative Protestant group, reports that the theme song of his early religious life might have been the hymn line, "For such a worm as I." As a result of obtaining psychotherapy in his early twenties, he gradually achieved a sense of his worth as a person. He realized that he wasn't a worm. Commenting on this, he said: "I saw that I had much more to give to life as a person than I had ever hoped when I felt like a worm." Basically Claude's low self-esteem was the result of his parents' lack of self-esteem. But the negative climate of the family was reinforced by their negative theology.
Liberalism in theology (of the nineteenth and early twentieth century variety) held to a naïvely optimistic view of man. The "Fall" was rejected as an outmoded fragment of primitive folklore. Man was seen as essentially rational and good. Evil in society was attributed to "social lag." Education would cause the escalator of social progress to continue upward with alacrity. The grim facts of recent history have produced widespread disillusionment and reaction to this facile optimism. Negative theological views of human nature have proliferated, emphasizing man's inner corruption and impotency to do anything to save himself. Even his good works are, to quote Luther, "filthy rags" before God. Some recent theologians have agreed with Calvin that as Christians we ought to despise "everything that may be supposed as excellence in us." Only an act of divine intervention can save man.
Fortunately, depth psychology provides an alternative way of understanding the grim record of man's inhumanity to man. By employing new tools for exploring the depths of man's psyche such approaches have thrown new light on the nature of human nature. Depth psychology, for the most part, does not support the easy optimism of the early theological liberals which ignored the depth and darkness in man. Anyone who has struggled in the hidden recesses of a tangled human life, who has seen there the demonic intensity of human destructiveness, cannot take a rosy view of the human situation. Neither do the depth psychologists accept the view of theological pessimism. If they were to communicate with such theologians, the depth psychologists might say: "From our perspective, your description of the dark distortions in human life are essentially accurate, but your diagnosis of their causes is woefully inadequate. Your prescription for the cure of these distortions is almost as bad as the illness."
In spite of their extensive firsthand knowledge of the destructiveness in men, many contemporary depth psychologists (in contrast to Freud) hold a kind of cautious optimism regarding human potentialities. They can do this because of two factors in their experience: (a) They see the tragic distortions of personality as being caused by cruel inner conflicts, severe emotional malnutrition and blocked growth, not by some inherent corruption in the soul of man. (b) They know from experience that constructive changes can occur through psychotherapy. In many cases, the "demonic" rage can be drained off, the emotional hungers and conflicts lessened, the trapped potentialities for creative relationships released. Counselors and psychotherapists who are religiously oriented see all of this as the way God works, using a therapeutic relationship as the channel of his grace by which psychological healing and growth can occur.
Theologians who are open to the evidence from depth psychology see many traditional theological ideas as meaningful symbols. The "Fall" is seen as a mythological or poetic way of describing the birth of self-awareness and conscience. The Garden of Eden represents the psychological unity of a child with the mother, and of man with mother-nature. In eating the fruit of "the tree of the knowledge of good and evil" (Gen. 2:17), the eyes of conscience were opened for the symbolic parents of the human race. They were separated from the unity of the other animals with mother-nature, and thrust into the world of self-awareness and choice. The gradual dawning of conscience and self-awareness in the evolutionary struggle of the race is recapitulated in the early experience of every child. The slow struggle of the race toward developing its moral and spiritual potential is far from complete. Because of man's tremendous creative potentialities, he is capable of terrible destructiveness when his creativity is blocked or distorted.
Traditional theology has held that all men are sinners. Depth psychology has a parallel insight -- namely, that all men have primitive, asocial impulses which are dangerous unless, through the normal process of socialization, the individual has acquired inner controls based on his natural desire to be accepted by his group. The individual who has not acquired these inner controls is sick; his sickness is potentially treatable.
The dynamics of pride as it relates to self-esteem have also been illuminated by the findings of the depth psychologists. Traditional theology (and its various "neo-" forms) regards pride as a deadly sin. Reinhold Niebuhr, for example, holds that man's "original sin" is his basic self-love, pretension, and the grasping after self-realization.( The Self and the Dramas of History (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1955). Based on his experience as a psychotherapist for a quarter of a century, Carl R. Rogers rejects Niebuhr's view and declares: "If I were to search for the central core of difficulty in people as I have come to know them, it is that in the great majority of cases they despise themselves, regarding themselves as worthless and unlovable."
Any view of man which regards pride, selfishness, self-love, or self-idolatry as the major cause of man's problems misses the crucial fact that these are often symptoms of deeper causes anxiety, self-hatred, inner conflict, and blocked growth. Pride is a symptom-level defense against these unbcarably painful feelings. It is a frantic defense against the agony of feelings of weakness, vulnerability, and despair. Ultimately pride is a regressive defense against existential anxiety. The person makes an idol of himself and his own powers because he cannot trust anything else. Lacking a trustful relationship with God and others, he has no defense against his fear of death and meaninglessness. He retreats to the primitive defense of narcissism which only increases his anxieties. For an adult, narcissism (a normal response for a very small child) is like a suit of medieval armor in a modern battle. As a defense, it cuts the person off from the only sources of genuine help -- meaningful relationships with others and with God. Narcissistic pride arises from anxiety and selfrejection but it becomes a malignant symptom which produces greater anxiety and self-rejection. A vicious cycle is thus established.
To prescribe self-flagellation and self-depreciation as a treatment for pride is to prescribe the very poison which caused the sickness. True, the person must relinquish the ineffective defense of narcissism, but he can do this only within a relationship of trust. To develop trust, he must experience unearned acceptance which, according to Tillich, will allow him to "accept himself as being accepted." This acceptance is present in every good family, in every effective counseling relationship, and wherever else genuine love is found in relationships. In theological terms, this is the essence of the experience of salvation by grace through faith (see Eph. 2:8), the Pauline idea that became central in Reformation thought.
It is significant that this key doctrine, like many others, can be interpreted in a way that strengthens or in a way that weakens self-esteem. It has often been understood in a negative light -- namely, that man isn't worth saving, but God chooses to save him anyway. This view is like a guilt-stimulating parent who condescendingly accepts his child, even though the child in no way deserves acceptance. In contrast, the doctrine can be understood as an affirmation of man's inherent value in God's sight. This view is like a healthy parent-child relationship in which the parent naturally accepts the child because he is his child and he loves him. The child knows that he has the parent's love, that there is no need to earn it. He grows within the sunshine of this love, doing good as a spontaneous response to the love. A parent-child or a man-God relationship of this quality stimulates the growth of persons toward robust self-esteem. Valuing themselves, they are able to value others.
In summary, a particular form of religious belief and practice enhances mental health when it builds bridges between people, strengthens the sense of trust, stimulates inner freedom, encourages the acceptance of reality, builds respect for both the emotional and intellectual levels of life, increases the enjoyment of life, handles sex and aggressiveness constructively, is concerned for the health of personality (rather than surface symptoms), provides effective means of handling guilt, emphasizes growth and love, provides an adequate frame of reference and object of devotion, relates persons with their unconscious minds, endeavors to change the neurotic patterns of society, and enhances self-esteem.
Allport, Gordon W. The Individual and His Religion. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1950.
Fromm, Erich. Psychoanalysis and Religion. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1950.
Loomis, Earl A. The Self in Pilgrimage. New York: Harper & Row, 1960.
Oates, Wayne E. Religious Factors in Mental Illness. New York: Association Press, 1955.
Roberts, David E. Psychotherapy and a Christian View of Man. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1950.
Wise, Carroll A. Religion in Illness and Health. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1942.
Viewed 122722 times.