Over the last couple of years or so, I have been working on two books on the topic of depression and anxiety. Working titles: The Truth about Dragons and The Book of Consolation.
In the course of research and writing, I have sadly apparently lost two of my oldest and most valued friends.
The first will not respond to my emails since I disagreed with him over Freud. I do not clearly recall what the exact point of disagreement was; I disagree with Freud on almost everything. I believe it was on Freudianism calling itself “depth psychology.” Since it saw everything psychic/spiritual as a direct reflection of physical things, I think I argued that it actually greatly lacked depth in comparison to a religious approach.
My second friend to shun me actually accused me of moral mendacity for dissenting from Abraham Maslow’s existential psychiatry. Since then he will not respond to emails. My point was that, in saying concurrently that the key to mental health was finding a meaning in your life, and that there is no meaning in human existence, Maslow had no place to lead a patient but permanent despair. A meaning you just make up is meaningless. This is why existentialism has mostly evaporated as a philosophy.
That they would end a friendship of many years over such matters made me wonder. What is going on here?
And here is what I think is going on. Modern psychiatry or psychology is a religion. To them, I had become a heretic. People now rely on their psychologies as their world views, and so feel deeply disturbed if they are challenged. The entire universe is at stake.
Psychology/psychiatry generally pretends to be scientific, but that was never true. Broadly speaking, there has never been any decent scientific evidence for any of the psychiatries or psychologies we have seen come and go over the last century or so. They are visibly held to for reasons other than evidence or experiment. Nor do they work as philosophies: their approach is automatically ad hominem. Anyone who dissents from them is, in effect, declared insane. So they are adhered to neither for logic nor evidence, and cannot be challenged on either ground.
So the proper question is, how well do they work as religions; as comprehensive world views?
And the immediate evidence is, not well. Since we have generally shifted, as a society, away from traditional religious views and towards the psychiatries as substitutes, the incidence of mental illness has, by most accounts, skyrocketed. Suicide is also up. An international survey undertaken by the WHO suggests that rates of recovery for all kinds of “mental illness” are significantly better in the “underdeveloped” world—where folks are more apt to rely on religion rather than a pricey therapist. Other studies show therapists produce a worse or a no better cure rate than a layperson.
Some deficiencies of psychiatry or psychology are obvious. To begin with, they deny the reality of the psyche. Where do you go from there? They deny moral considerations, and morality is, according to long philosophical and religious tradition, if it is not self-evident, a key concern of human existence. They broadly avoid any consideration of a God, which is to say, of any inherent meaning in the universe.
It is a meagre, despairing worldview.
But it is our real religion nowadays, and not our nominal religions anymore.
In writing the first book, I contacted the Toronto Catholic archdiocese to see if I could get a nihil obstat—an official statement by the bishop that there was nothing in the book that ran counter to Catholic doctrine. They wrote back offering to have it looked over by a priest who was also a psychiatrist, to ensure that it was sound in psychiatric terms. When I specified that it was Catholic doctrine with which I was concerned, they said they could not help me. Nobody there was interested.
The New Testament understanding of mental illness is plainly that it is generally a matter of demonic possession. Casting out demons was the precise mission on which Jesus first sent out the apostles, and much historic evidence suggests that it is its legendary ability to cure mental illness that was the primary cause of Christianity’s spread through Europe, later through the Americas, and even today through Africa.
Yet the current protocol for exorcism in the Catholic Church is clear and firm that no exorcism may be contemplated until and unless all “natural,” that is, psychiatric, explanations have been ruled out, by the patient displaying some impossible supernatural knowledge. By, for example, suddenly being fluent in a foreign language, or showing knowledge of some secret matter. Or at least showing a violent aversion to religious objects.
This makes no sense in theological terms. Catholic doctrine holds that demons are real beings. Yet why would a real demon be so stupid as to do something to prove he is there? In order to get exorcised?
In other words, in case of doubt, faith is assigned to psychiatry and psychology, not to Catholicism. Even by the Catholic Church.
This is perhaps one reason for the rapid growth of the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements within Christianity. They are the branch that still takes it all most seriously. And that performs exorcisms and healings.