To the Editor:

The article “God and the Psychoanalysts,” which appeared in the November issue, illustrates a widespread misconception, namely, that of identifying religion with theology. We over look that the word “religion” means not one thing but many things, and that while religion in its varied senses is espoused by vast numbers of people, only a few are theologians or are at all concerned about theological quandaries.

Large areas of those interests which have acquired the name “religion” lie in the domain of music, painting, sculpture, architecture, poetry, and dramatics, especially that province of dramatics known as ritual. Sometimes religion consists of ecclesiastical or synagogal organization. Again, religion can be identified with affectionate and felicitous human relationships and with social idealism. In these several religious interests, how scant is the role of theologizing! Of this, the article “God and the Psychoanalysts” seems to be oblivious.

Psychoanalysis is a mode of therapy. It is also a mode of explaining mental processes. Psychoanalysis would, accordingly, challenge a religion identified with a competing mode of therapy or with a rival mode of psychological explanation. Yet the forms of religion are legion which stand entirely uncommitted to any special therapeutic technique or to any special school of psychological interpretation. With those types of religion, how can psychoanalysis collide?

In its diagnostic capacity, psychoanalysis may, correctly or incorrectly, pronounce certain fancies or certain practices unwholesome. Such allegedly unwholesome tendencies crop up everywhere in human life, the domain of religion not excluded. Yet historically religion has been no less often concerned with combating the unwholesome. For correcting the unwholesome, psychoanalysis might find in religion not always an obstacle but sometimes an ally.

Throughout the ages, religion has grown by “religionizing.” People tend to bring, within the scope of what they deem sacred, anything that seems fraught with great advantage. Thus did agriculture once become a part of religion: medicine became a part of religion: law, education, and art became parts of religion. Eventually, love and beauty, peace and social endeavor became parts of religion. It would be but a continuation of this process if those who see in psychoanalysis an unprecedented possibility of healing illness or of throwing light upon the inexplicable should “religionize” psychoanalysis. This appears to be what is happening in some quarters. One may contend that psychoanalysis will disappoint those expectations. But, beyond that, what objection is there to raise? . . .



The author of “God and the Psychoanalysts” recommends, as preferable to psychoanalysis, a certain theology. If psychoanalysis be not a form of theology but a form of medication or psychological explanation, there can hardly be any antithesis between the author’s theology on the one hand and psychoanalysis on the other. Possibly our author identifies psychoanalysis with Freud’s personal crotchets [regarding religion]. In that event, one who sees no need of such identification will likewise see no need of our author’s remonstrance.

At bottom, the author seems to find at variance with his theology some of the psychoanalytic surmises about the origin of the idea of God. He identifies religion with some dissenting surmises on that point. But religion can consist in something far other than surmises. Religion can embrace, instead of theories as to origins, experiences as to values. The word “God” need not function amid attempts to explain. It can function amid our responses to that which life brings us of hope, love, courage, and strength. It can, like art, serve not our need for information but our need for inspiration. In his solicitude about truth, valid information is what our author understands by “truth.” But information is a means toward an end. The import of “God” can lie, beyond all means, in the larger goals.

Our author’s religion, in brief, is but one of many kinds of religion. There are other kinds, and those other kinds may well hold themselves neutral or even friendly toward psychoanalysis.

Abraham J. Cronbach
Hebrew Union College
Cincinnati, Ohio



To the Editor:

As one of the “bright young rabbis” mentioned by the still younger and brighter Irving Kristol in his almost frantic insistence on the incompatibility of religion and psychiatry, I presume I may be permitted a few paragraphs of comment. I have no thought of demonstrating whether or not I know as much about Freud as Mr. Kristol does by dealing with the specifics he raises. My quarrel with him is rather one of method. . . .

There can be no question that Mr. Kristol’s kind of “religion” is completely incompatible with Mr. Kristol’s kind of “psychoanalysis.” There is very real room for doubt, however, whether either of his interpretations is accurate, or whether indeed he has bothered to learn much about psychoanalysis since Freud or religion since Moses.

In short: he seems here to insist quite stubbornly on static, unchanging concepts of both religion and psychoanalysis in order to make them appear irreconcilable. What reasonable justification can there be for saying, as he does, that religion lives “under the jurisdiction of the past. . . . God’s word, spoken in the remote past and now hardly audible, is ever more true than the persistent chatter of men”? Or that “religion has to deny the thesis of progressive human evolution. . . .”?



To be sure there undoubtedly are certain kinds of “religion” which live completely “under the jurisdiction of the past,” just as there are psychiatrists here and there who have made of their interpretation of Freud a closed orthodoxy. But it would be no more accurate to generalize in the one case than in the other. For the modern religionist—be he Christian or Jew—God’s word is a progressive, growing, never-ending revelation which is today “hardly audible” only to those who have stuffed their ears with cotton. And conversely, today’s psychoanalysts have tempered Freud’s strict rejection of religion (much to Mr. Kristol’s discomfort, alas) with greater and deeper understanding. (One speculates, incidentally, on how much of Freud’s bitterness toward religion was motivated by his own unconscious resentment against being a Jew.)

I have myself enjoyed rather extended conversation with both brothers Menninger and with other psychoanalysts who see not only compatibility, but mutual dependence between an evolving religion and a growing psychiatry. Is their understanding of the science of mental health less perceptive than Mr. Kristol’s? Or is it their comprehension of religion that is faulty?

What Mr. Kristol has done here is to set with the specific bait of religion and psychoanalysis the old, old trap which used to tempt the unwary more generally with religion and science. The “logic” goes something like this: (a) The religion of three thousand years ago and the science of today are largely incompatible. (b) If religion refuses to adjust its sights to a world of expanding knowledge, it will no longer be able to claim the minds or hearts of intelligent adults. Therefore it ought to grow. (c) If mature religion does continue the process of growth and change, it thereby contaminates itself with the mundane and ceases to be “spiritual.” Therefore it must not grow. (d) Therefore religion and science are incompatible.

This is precisely what Mr. Kristol has done here in terms of religion and psychoanalysis. . . .

Roland B. Gittelsohn
Central Synagogue of Nassau County
Rockville Center, New York



+ A A -
Share via
Copy link