The Anatomy of Man

The Anatomy of Man

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Psychology vs. Religion (2005)

Psychology vs. Religion
"Happy is the Man that Feareth Always": Psychology vs. Religion (2005)
Daniela Kramer and Michael Moore


Fundamental contradictions between psychological and religious ideation are illustrated by excerpts from Jewish, Christian and Islamic prayers and hymns. Four substantive areas are discussed: locus of control, self-esteem, social values and the status of the family. In each of these it is shown that religious messages propagated by prayers are diametrically opposed to the goals of humanistic psychology and progressive education.

We often wonder how some scientists are able to reconcile their scientific knowledge with their religious beliefs. Aren't there obvious, blaring contradictions between Bible "truths" and physical anthropology? Doesn't a fundamental belief in providence clash with the efforts of modern medical science? Yet none of these (or similar) inconsistencies are as pervasive as the chasm between religious vs. psychological ideation. Unlike some fields of more limited application, psychology touches upon everything that a person thinks, feels or does. In what follows, we shall pinpoint some of the more obvious difficulties that result whenever a psychological touchstone is applied to monotheistic religious percepts. Of the scores of relevant topics offering an opportunity to demonstrate the gap between psychology and religion, we have selected four; several others are treated in Moore & Kramer, 2000 (see also Moore, 2000). The branch of psychology we use in this discussion is mostly, though not exclusively, humanistic psychology; for a representation of religious thought we have perused several Jewish prayer books. For the sake of comparison, we shall also present texts from Christian (e.g., Catholic, Anglican and Baptist) and Islamic prayers and hymns. Our method of analysis is drawn from orientational inquiry (see orienting theory in Carspecken & Apple, 1992). This approach acknowledges and makes explicit the theoretical perspective of the researchers that guides the inquiry from its outset.

The following inquiry is necessarily limited; additional facets of the conflict between psychology and religion are beyond the scope of the present thesis. We shall only mention in passing that an endless number of religious practices, whether found in so-called primitive religions[1] or in highly developed ones[2], would be classified as neurotic behaviors aimed at the temporary reduction of anxiety were it not for their illustrious nexus. (Cf. Fromm's, 1977, p. 327, concept of the 'pathology of normalcy,' according to which a widely shared pathology is not experienced as pathology.) Radcliffe-Brown's analysis goes a step further, associating religious ideation with the creation of that anxiety which such practices are designed to alleviate[3]: "While one anthropological theory is that magic and religion give men confidence, comfort and a sense of security, it could equally well be argued that they give men fears and anxieties from which they would otherwise be free" (quoted by Levi-Strauss, 1963, p. 67). To what extent these "fears and anxieties" turn into a clinically identifiable disorder is another matter. As we have stated elsewhere (Moore & Kramer, 2000), the research on religiosity and psychopathology is contradictory. In several studies higher religiosity is associated with increased psychopathology (e.g., Kaldestad, 1996; Lewis, 1998; Quiles & Bybee, 1997), while in others there is either a lack of relationship (e.g., Pfeifer & Waelty, 1995), or a positive correlation with various desirable outcomes (e.g., Blaine & Crocker, 1995; Jensen, Jensen & Wiederhold, 1993).

In the present analysis we do not intend to argue about the proper interpretation of prayers. Historically and philosophically, it is edifying to differentiate between the authentic faith of the early Christians and "the ritualistic, nonexperiential activity so characteristic of churches today" (Harris, 1973, p. 229; see also Phillips, 1965, for a similar distinction, as well as Erikson 1971, p. 83, for his c

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