Psychology and religion, each in its own way, help the human soul. Psychology teaches how to understand oneself and survive in this life; religion teaches how to prepare for eternal life. The solution of these two problems is linked together, and none of them can really be solved separately. After all, if one denies the existence of the soul as an independent entity that lives after the death of the body, then the efforts for its improvement seem to be worthless. If one denies modern psychological knowledge, then it is difficult not only to “love our neighbor”, but it is also might be difficult to accept yourself the way you are. Mutual influence of psychology and religion at each other became particularly noticeable in recent years, although psychology had turned to religion even in the earliest stages of its development as a science, trying to find the explanation of religion in human terms.
Psychology and religion are working side-by-side, but from different premises, they use different methods and have different tasks. Both psychology and religion help people cope with difficult life situations; however, the gap between the two worldviews is illustrated by the well-known Biblical stories. Everyone is familiar with the case when Abraham, in obedience to God’s will, has intended to sacrifice his only son (Genesis 22:1 – 14). In terms of religion, such determination in the implementation of God’s will is a virtue. Psychologically speaking, voices in the head, ordered to kill the child, are a clear sign of a serious mental disorder requiring treatment. The main difference is that psychology is a scientific knowledge about man and his behavior; all that argues psychology is verifiable or is subject to verification.
Sigmund Freud was the first one who noticed the connection between religion and psychology. Religion was seen by him as a form of illusory compensation of human powerlessness as a means of consolation and reconciliation of man with negative aspects of the real existence. The paradox of Freud’s concept was in the fact that categorically denying the idea of religion’s divine inspiration, trying to find its earthly content, Freud nevertheless came to the conclusion that religious need has congenital nature. According to Freud, every human society tries to avoid neurotic breakdowns and invents protective mechanisms, so religion is a “most precious tool of culture”, which performs an important function of social stress relief (Freud 63). By means of psychological illusions, religion creates a subjective feeling of removing contradictions between subjective aspirations and the reality of the objective world without changing anything in the real life of people.
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Unlike Freud, who saw a collective obsessional neurosis in religion, Carl Gustav Jung considered that that neurosis is an inevitable consequence of the loss of the religious view of the world. According to him, mental illnesses are caused by an imbalance between the conscious and the unconscious, particularly when the person ceases to hear and understand the voice of his unconscious (Jung and Stein 40). Considering religion as a prerequisite for the mental health of individuals, Jung linked the observed increase of mental illnesses in the bourgeois society with a progressive decline of religious life. Jung saw the reason for this decline in the crisis of the Christian religion itself, and he saw his mission in breathing new life into crumbling dogmas. Such interrelation between psychology and religion was typical to the virtually entire psychology of the first half of the 20th century.
The position expressed by E. Fromm is specific to our time. He defends the possibility of coexistence of psychology and religion and raises the question of finding common means of influence. Indeed, in his opinion, the goals of religion and psychoanalysis converge. According to him, love should be conscious and full of strength, not weaknesses; it should be the recognition of the human power and not an experience of powerlessness (Fromm 48). Basing on Fromm’s views, it is possible to distinguish the definitive interrelation between psychology and religion.
During anthropogenes, people had gradually lost their stable relationship with nature; relationship, which is peculiar to animals. A man goes beyond nature, rises above its borders, opposes to it as conscious of itself subject, at the same time staying a part of nature and submitting to its inexorable laws. Presence of mind, consciousness and imagination is one of the distinctive characteristics of man, elevating it above the animal world. However, the greatest gift at the same time becomes the gravest human curse. It is the mind who allows people to recognize the tragedy of his situation, all undecidability of “human situation”, the core of which forms an inherent tension in it of natural and supernatural (transcendental) principles.
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Unable to return the lost paradise of animal harmony with itself and nature, a man, in order to survive, had to find new forms of harmonic relatedness with the world and other people. Using the mind, a man produces new forms of orientation in the world; establishes new forms of communication with nature and society. The next needs arise in a person: the needs in relationships with others, self-affirmation, affection, in the internal integrity, based on the orientation and object of worship. These needs are not laid like instincts, in the genetic code, but they are a universal reaction to the “human situation”.
Religion is a specifically human phenomenon that occurs simultaneously with the allocation of man as a rational and self-conscious being from the realm of nature. Religion is initially an authentic expression of the human situation, the shape of human’s understanding of the fundamental problems of existence. In an effort to overcome the conflict between body and soul, a man constructs in his mind a comprehensive picture of the world, which helps him to realize himself, nature and society.
However, he cannot be satisfied with a rational-dry scheme of the universe. Man needs some ideal object (the idea, the purpose), to which he could devote himself, realize its essence and attain the fullness of life in selfless service. This need for orientation and object of worship may be referred to the number of existential human needs and may be seen as the source and the inner core of religion.
In the twentieth century, people need religion more than ever before, from a psychological point of view. Outstanding scientific discoveries and technological advances have provided people with power over nature, facilitated their work and life. Modern man can be proud of the fruits of its work. However, what could that man tell by looking at himself? Did he approach the realization of the ancient dream of humanity – the perfection of the human? This question can only be answered in a negative way. Creating amazing things, the man was unable to improve himself. His inner life is full of conflicts and contradictions, his actions are not consistent with his wishes, his pursuit of happiness and justice is perverted by false motives. He turns to religion in search of protection and reassurance.
The aim of psychotherapy is to heal the soul, to make it healthy; the purpose of religion is something substantially different – saving the soul. However, a wonderful side effect of religion is the psycho-hygienic effect. Religion gives a person a spiritual anchor with the feeling of confidence that he cannot find anywhere else.
It should be remembered that religion and psychology have different end goals. Religion teaches people how to live in harmony with God; its task is to prepare a person to move into another world, prepare to meet God. Psychology is interested in problems of earthly life; it leads people to harmony, primarily with oneself and others.
- Freud, Sigmund. The Future of an Illusion. London: Penguin Pub., 2008. Print.
- Fromm, Erich. Psychoanalysis and Religion. New York, NY : Open Road Integrated Media, 2013. Print.
- Jung, Carl Gustav and Murray Stein. Jung on Christianity. Princeton : Princeton University Press, 2013. Print.