23 February 2011

De-pathologizing Religion

Psychologists generally regard organized religion as pathological, because their founding saint, Sigmund Freud, hated religion. He rejected it along with his shtetl* Jewish upbringing, in hope of being accepted into the urbane society of early 20th-century Vienna.

Now, however, the editors of Monitor on Psychology have permitted the writer Beth Azar to contribute the article, "A Reason to Believe," in their December 2010 issue. Religion is not so bad, she claims. It might be normal, even healthy for people. It enables them to bond together in larger social groups. It helps them be more calm and graceful under pressure.

But it can't possibly be true. Indeed Azar quotes one researcher expressing the hope that religion's functions can be taken over by secular communities built on some non-religious moral foundation, like Denmark's welfare state.

It seems to me that most psychologists feel compelled to display the left-leaning identity badges of their tribe, including spouting the anti-religious shibboleths of their own religion - psychology itself. Of course, psychologists see their discipline as science, not religion. But one very good psychologist once asked me if using more solar energy would cause the sun to run down faster. Truly, one does not need to be a scientist to be a psychologist. One needs only to believe in the modes of therapy one has mastered.

* What was a shtetl? A rural village apart, where only Jews lived. There used to be shtetls all over central and eastern Europe, with a vibrant Yiddish culture all their own. The shtetls, and their urban counterparts, the Jewish ghettos, were wiped out during the Holocaust. Those of their inhabitants who escaped extermination migrated to America, to what is now Israel, and other places. Those who would deny the Holocaust must answer this question: Where have all the shtetls gone and why?

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