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Illusion in the Freudian Theory of Religion: Part Two

April 30th, 2014 No comments
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ILLUSION IN THE FREUDIAN THEORY OF RELIGION con’t…

Read Part One here.

Freud put forth some intriguing ideas about the origin, motivation and tenacity of religion.  He has, however, been harshly criticized for his lack of validity, and some have suggested that he, himself, engaged in mythologizing and counter-narration of already established myths. A brief overview of the validity of his work in terms of its ‘historical’ accuracy and evidentiary value will demonstrate that much of his theories are based on unsubstantiated reconstructions of Biblical history and weak scientific inquiry.  Despite these weaknesses, it will be suggested that the primary benefit of Freud’s theory doesn’t lie in its robust application, historical accuracy or scientism, but rather its use of illusion and fantasy as an explanatory mechanism of religious motivations.

In his critical appraisal of Freud’s theory, Michael Palmer suggested that there are three types of evidence that Freud provided in support of his hypotheses – anthropological, historical and psychological.[1]  Indeed, several scholars and authors have criticized Freud for the lack of validity in the evidence he used to put forth his ideas.  Using Palmer’s triad, a brief examination of these components will assist in ascertaining as to what extent Freud’s theory is rooted in the scientific paradigm of which he so staunchly advocated and to the veracity of his application of anthropological considerations.

From the overview of Freud’s work presented at the beginning of this paper, one of the anthropological foundations of his theory rests on the notion of a primal horde.  This Darwinian idea allowed Freud to substantiate his Oedipal theory which would become his psychoanalytic basis for religion.  While Darwin’s postulations are intriguing, it is important to point out that there is little valid data to support the universality of the primal horde.  In fact, research has demonstrated a remarkable variation in the social organization of primates,[2] and while there is noticeable similarity between the social organization of some primates and that of very early man, the generalization of this observation in Freud’s account is highly misleading.  Freud does not shy away from universal application of this sort, and this manifests as a blatant weakness in his theories.  When examining the matrilineal family structure of some societies, the theory of primal hordes fails miserably.  In these societies, the women provide authority and discipline for the clans.[3]  This suggests a fundamental flaw in Freud’s attempt to apply such reductionist ideas to the highly dynamic nature of social structures and its various components, such as religion.

Paul Ricoeur, who has written extensively about Freud’s theories, suggested that, “…the truth is that the primal parricide is merely an event constructed out of ethnological scraps….”[4]  Freud attempted to integrate his father complex (Oedipal) ideas with several observations taken from the social scientific realm in order to further validate his claim that the foundation of religion was rooted in supressed childhood wishes.  The problem with Freud’s attempt isn’t the fact that he looked for evidence to support his claims, but rather that the evidence he used wasn’t as empirical or accurate as one might expect from scientific inquiry – an inquiry of which he not only advocated, but also suggested as the only valid truth, calling it, “…our only way to the knowledge of external reality.”[5]

Perhaps, this propensity for Freud to use lacklustre science in explaining cultural phenomenon was due to the fact that his main research method was generalizing from individual case studies to the entire human population.[6]  It is little wonder that Freud employed this technique because the foundation of his practice of psychoanalysis was one of historical reconstruction through revealing the repressed past in an effort to understand one’s psychological problems in the present.  Through the use of free association, in which the patient was walked through reconstructing their past, classical psychoanalysts provided interpretations of any sensitive memories which might suggest suppressed feelings, desires or struggles.[7]

It is undeniable that one of the most obvious weaknesses of Freud’s theory is the exclusion of matriarchal societies, which speaks to the lack of universality in extending his thesis beyond paternally dominated religions, particularly of monotheistic traditions.  Interestingly, Freud acknowledged this as an issue by suggesting, “…I am at a loss to indicate the place of the great maternal deities….”[8]

Conceivably, the most controversial narrative Freud provided was the integration of his primal horde and totemism theories into a historical reconstruction of the biblical Moses.  This re-imagining of the historical origins of monotheism provides little more than an unsubstantiated counter-narrative.  Claims such as the name Moses meaning ‘child’ in Egyptian, or the fact that circumcision, which was widely practiced among Egyptian people[9] and adopted by the Jews, do not provide the evidence that Freud was desperately seeking.   Similarly, we find dubious assertions in the claims that Moses was executed by the Israelites or that the monotheism of Amentohep IV actually had an influence on the development of Judaism. Instead, Freud appropriated these biblical myths and attempted to weave a narrative of the history of religious origins which seemed to fit his psychoanalytic theory of the origin of neuroses.  His counter-narrative provided the link he required to justify his claim that religion was a neurosis of mankind.  Freud did so by providing an original sin which was repressed and remained latent, followed by a return of the repressed manifested as guilt, culminating in the establishment of an illusion as a defence against the resurfacing of these repressed memories.[10] In the story of Moses, and subsequently the story of Jesus’ execution, Freud delivered a recurrence of the memories of the first primal scene that allowed him to apply his Oedipal theory to the origins of religion.  In essence, it appears as though he has conveniently rewritten Biblical history in order to accommodate and advance his own psychoanalytic theories.  Ironically, the very nature of Freud’s theory that religion is an illusion seems to be predicated on illusory bits of history and evidence itself.

Given that Freud applied certain psychoanalytic concepts to his theory of religion, it behooves a brief examination of the criticisms and commentary that have been expended on these notions.  Many have suggested that Freud’s psychoanalysis lacked the fundamental requirements of scientific theory and empirical verification.[11]  Particularly, critics have lambasted its use of subjective interpretation of dreams and memories,[12] in addition to its use of individual case studies which were generalized to the entire human population.[13] These points assuredly strengthen the arguments criticizing psychoanalysis as an unempirical and unverifiable science, yet some of Freud’s psychoanalytic concepts do show validity in follow up studies; however, it’s the application of these concepts in which Freud erred.

The heart of Freud’s postulations on religion is embedded in the Oedipal complex theory.  Indeed, Freud, himself believed the Oedipal complex to be the single greatest claim to psychoanalytic fame.[14]  Given this grandiose claim, it’s little wonder that there has been much research around verifying its importance or, indeed, existence as part of the development of the human psyche.  Overall, research has demonstrated that there is evidence to support the existence of the Oedipal complex; however, there is little evidence to suggest that it can be generalized to all human beings, nor can it be claimed that it plays a central role in the development of mental processes.[15]

Wish fulfillment and repression are two other bases for the Freudian account of religious motivation.  The concept of wish fulfillment has been largely drawn from his work on the interpretation of dreams, specifically their latent meaning.[16]  As previously pointed out, the highly subjective nature of dream interpretation provides for an extremely weak methodology.  Clearly then, it cannot be considered scientific as such.  While we find little evidence to support the applicable robustness of either the Oedipal complex or wish fulfillment, the concept of repression as a defence mechanism has been widely recognized as verifiable.[17]

Finally, Freud adopted the concept of a collective unconscious or archaic memory heritage as the mechanism by which people acquired ideas and memories from their ancestors.  Although these theories weren’t cornerstones to psychoanalysis, they do play an integral role in his theory of religion.  Obviously, a concept of inherited memory is difficult if not impossible to test, and as such is highly unscientific.[18]

Ultimately, Freud’s psychoanalysis gravely lacks adequate application of the scientific model.  His observations were drawn from unrecorded and recollected therapy sessions with his patients, and his concepts have, for the most part, remained untestable.[19]  Thus, the bulk of Freud’s basis for his theory of religion is “…decidedly interpretative rather than empirical,”[20] because he based so much of this theory on his psychoanalytic model.

Freud clearly viewed himself as a scientist; however, he is more aptly viewed in the context of this paper as a culture theorist.  Perhaps in part due to the reductionist nature of his scientific pursuits, his cultural theories have been widely regarded as attempts to advance his own psychoanalytic model.  Additionally, his work has been accused of being piecemeal, limited in focus and the speculations of an aged man.[21] Given the aforementioned criticisms and inherent problems in his approach, is it possible to identify any worth in his theory of religion – other than merely part of the history of the psychology of religion?

Clearly, Freud’s use of psychoanalysis as a scientific explanation for the motivations and origins of religion is unfounded; however, his work is regarded as influential in the psychological study of religion because it helped advance discussion concerning the cognitive aspects of religion.  Further, it drew analogies to the inherent need of people to feel safe and secure, which is arguably an intrinsic function of religion.[22]  Ultimately, Freud’s theory of religion should not be regarded for its scientism, or for its rejection of religion as a meaningful element in human life.  It is best interpreted as a tool for understanding the manifestation of symbol systems and the use of fantasy in positive personal and social development.[23]  This stands in marked contrast to Freud’s assertion that religion functioned as a negative consequence of repressed wish fulfillments.  Thus, Freud’s theory of religion can be linked to other cognitive developmental strategies involving fantasy and illusion such as creativity and imagination, which demonstrate a vital relationship between reality and the use of fantasy in the positive development of the human being.[24]  Through re-assessing the Freudian critique of religion a new appreciation of his work as a rich account of how fantasy and illusion influence experiences of external reality can emerge.[25]

Freud may have insisted that religion has negative consequences for the individual, and indeed society, by keeping it stuck in a state of childlike dependence; however another view can be adopted – one that speaks to the unfettered power of illusion in its ability to help the human species to reconcile those aspects of life which are conceptually out of the human ability to understand.[26] Perhaps the strongest argument for this view of religion can be found in Freud’s own views on the relationship between man and nature, and the subsequent need, “…to defend us against nature.”[27]  In this standpoint, we can draw parallels between the use of illusion and fantasy – or religious narratives – as a means to cope with the unknowable, volatile, and devastating events affecting human life.  Beverley Clack aptly suggests, “[r]eligion offers solace in the face of chaos.  It is this that connects religion most clearly with the concerns that drive the construction of phantasy: the attempt to limit pain and to master reality.”[28]  Accordingly, religion becomes a mechanism, propelled through the use of illusion and fantasy, which serves to regulate feelings of mortality, helplessness, and uncertainty.  The nature of the human species as self-aware inevitably leads to these postulations and the necessitation to mitigate the discontent that arises from these inherently emotional aspects of being human.  In this manner, Freud’s belief that religion was illusion may be accurate; however, his view of religion as neurosis should be more accurately articulated as religion as a source of inspiration for the human species.

There is no denying Freud’s influence on our understanding of the human mind – in particular, his enormous influence on engaging future scholars in debate concerning the curiosities of the psyche and the role of human cognition in the creation of cultural systems.  There is also little doubt that Freud rejected religion as a means in which to understand the world, although his motivations for doing so remain unclear.  Further inquiry into Freud’s life would assuredly lead to many assumptions; however, this remains outside the scope of this paper.  It also would fail to prove useful toward reconciling the argument herein.  Certainly, he was a highly polemical figure who sparked discussion and much criticism; however, these criticisms have not been fully warranted.  It behooves his critics to revisit his work for not its factual, empirical, or historical value – despite Freud attempting to conform to these standards – but rather for its interpretative value.  This is where we find the true essence of the Freudian theory of religion.  A theory which speaks to the depths of the human psyche and the fantasies employed to navigate through an often turbulent life.  Through reassessing Freud’s critique, one might rightly suggest that he was indeed a friend of religion, albeit a hesitant one.

 M. xo

Suggested Readings:

 


[1] Palmer, Freud and Jung, 61.

[2] Ibid., 62.

[3] Ibid, 65

[4] Paul Ricoeur, Freud and Philosophy: An Essay on Interpretation, trans. Denis Savage (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1970), 208.

[5] Freud, The Future of an Illusion, 55.

[6] Roderick Main, “Psychology of Religion: An Overview of its History and Current Status.” Religion Compass 2, no. 4 (2008): 715.

[7] David G. Myers, Psychology, 7th Edition in Modules (New York: Worth Publishers, 2004), 668-69.

[8] Freud, Totem and Taboo, 192.

[9] Ricoeur, Freud and Philosophy, 245.

[10] David Humbert,“The Return of Adam: Freud’s Myth of the Fall,” Religious Studies 29, no. 3 (Sep. 1993):  293.

[11] Robert Banks, “Religion as Projection: A Re-Appraisal of Freud’s Theory,” Religious Studies 9, no. 4 (1973): 412- 20; Palmer, Freud and Jung, 63-64; Ricouer, Freud and Philosophy, 345-75.

[12] Ricoeur, Freud and Philosophy, 346.

[13] Main, “Psychology of Religion,” 715.

[14] Banks, “Religion as Projection,” 413; Paul Kline, Fact and Fantasy in Freudian Theory (Edinburgh, GRB: T & A Constable Ltd, 1972), 348.

[15] Palmer, Freud and Jung, 64 – 65; Kline, Fact and Fantasy, 348.

[16] Banks, “Religion as Projection,” 414-15.

[17] Ibid., 413-14.

[18] Kline, Fact and Fantasy, 351.

[19] Ibid., 1-2.

[20] Main, “Psychology of Religion,” 715.

[21] Howard L. Kaye, “Was Freud a Medical Scientist or a Social Theorist? The Mysterious ‘Development of the Hero’,” Sociological Theory 21, no. 4 (2003): 378.

[22] Raymond F. Paloutzian, Invitation to the Psychology of Religion, 2nd Edition. (Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon, 1996), 47-48.

[23] DiCenso, “Totem and Taboo”, 561; James DiCenso, “Religion as Illusion: Reversing the Freudian Hermeneutic,” The Journal of Religion 71, no. 2 (1991): 178.

[24] Clack, “After Freud,” 204.

[25] Ibid., 210.

[26] DiCenso, “Religion as Illusion,”179.

[27] Freud, Future of an Illusion, 26.

[28] Clack, “After Freud,” 214.

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Illusion in the Freudian Theory of Religion: Part One

April 28th, 2014 No comments
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Adapted from an essay submitted March 2012 to the the Department of Religion, Carleton University

ILLUSION IN THE FREUDIAN THEORY OF RELIGION

 

Sigmund Freud, 1921

Sigmund Freud’s theory of religion, as outlined in his seminal works, Totem and Taboo, Moses and Monotheism,and The Future of an Illusion, undoubtedly contributed to numerous classical and contemporary scholars pointedly labelling him as an enemy of religion.  Despite identifying with a Jewish heritage, many have suggested that Freud was – for all intents – an atheist who viewed religion as merely another manifestation of his psychoanalytic concept of wish fulfillment.  Freud’s reductionist treatment of religion established his adherence to scientific principles, which he viewed as the only means in which to understand the world.  In fact, religion was just another stepping stone for humanity on its way to the scientific age, one in which illusions and fantasy played no part in reality or understanding the human condition. Ironically, in his attempt at developing a theory of religion, he cast aside doctrines of scientific principles and cast a blanket of suspicion over the validity of his claims.   His theory is intriguing, innovative and bold – especially given the time period in which he first advanced his ideas.  Yet, despite his tenacious pursuit of explaining the origination and purpose of religion in scientific and historical terms, he failed to develop a theory that could be described as such.

He staunchly advocated methods of rational inquiry and empirical methodology, and through case studies and observational techniques he developed theories to explain the human psyche and a greater understanding of cultural phenomenon.  Despite these ambitions, many of his theories have gone largely unproven; ironically because they lack universal application as a result of limiting research methods.  His theory of religion is based on several of his psychoanalytic concepts, and as such suggests inherent weaknesses in his approach; however, Freud may have been his own worst enemy due to his refusal to waver from the scientific paradigm in an attempt to explain external reality.  In fact, his critique of religion may actually provide a more positive explanation than the one he overtly claimed.  Far from the parallel of religion as neurosis, his theory suggests that religion works as a mechanism through using illusion and fantasy as a means to resolve reality and the uncertainty of the human condition.  In this view, Freud’s religion becomes a positive mechanism for the development of the human psyche, similar to other concepts such as creativity and imagination.  Thus, Freud – or at least his theory – can be understood as an advocate for religion rather than a dissident.

Freud’s work in religion began in 1907 with a short essay entitled, Obsessive Actions and Religious Practices.  This paper heralded the beginning of a tumultuous relationship between Freud’s psychoanalysis and religion.  In it he drew parallels between the expression of belief in the religious and acts of neurotic psychiatric patients, which he called “ritualistic”.  Both, he suggested, had a shared origin in repressed instincts and supressed childhood experiences.[1]  Specifically, Freud viewed religion as an illusion based on early childhood fantasies, which had been supressed.  Re-emerging in adulthood, these suppressed instincts would ultimately influence the way in which the adult viewed the world,[2] such that reality would become distorted.  Religion was thus realized as a coping mechanism for unrealized childhood wish fulfillment, which ultimately had harmful consequences for the adult human.

Totem and Taboo (1913) by Sigmund Freud

In Totem and Taboo, Freud introduced the concept of totem prohibitions and their relation to modern day religiosity.  In his introductory chapter, he defined totems and their role within the social organization of a tribe, as the first tribal ancestor – animal, plant or force in nature – which held a unique relationship with the tribe.  This relationship was such that a taboo against killing the animal emerged – except for the ritualized annual act of killing and devouring the totem.[3]  This totem meal was instituted in an effort to obtain the power and strength of the totem animal.  Additionally, a strong familial connection to the totem extended throughout the entire clan such that every member of the tribe was deemed blood related.  This led to the practice of exogamy which created a second taboo in the totem social system, namely the incest taboo.[4]  Freud believed that these original taboos signalled the start of morality and ultimately of a social structure[5], which later propagated into religion and other cultural phenomenon.

Freud created a narrative using these totem taboos that extended his thesis in Obsessive Actions and Religious Practices and integrated previously developed theories of psychosexual development, specifically the Oedipus complex.  Drawing heavily from Darwin’s work on primal hordes, Freud described the later manifestation of these primal hordes into totems and subsequently modern day religious traditions.  He postulated that a lone dominant male maintained his status and claim to all females in the tribe through driving out young males to find mates in different totems.  The outcast males then came together and conspired to kill their father.  Subsequently, the sons consumed the father in an effort to assume his power.  Despite their efforts to end the patriarchal horde, the sons became consumed with guilt.  A brother horde was created and soon the practice of exogamy was reinstated, in effect supressing the motivation for the original sinful act.[6] With guilt subsiding and longing for a father-ideal, of which none of them could obtain, the brothers conceived of a symbolic father-figure in the totem animal[7] and commemorated the killing of the father through the annual totem meal.  This ritual was created to relieve the brothers’ guilt through honouring the father and attempting to harness his power.[8] Freud theorized the ceremony and associated symbolic father-image were the precursors to the creation of gods and modern religion.

Additionally, he surmised that the ceremonial act of the totem meal was similar to the obsessive thinking and ritualistic act of the neurotic patient.  Fearing the negative consequences of acting against prohibitions and taboos, these rituals provided both patient and prehistoric man a way in which to supress forbidden impulses and unconscious desires[9] – specifically, the latent desire to kill the father and wed the mother (Oedipus complex).[10] Moreover, the rituals served as a way to reconcile the guilt stemming from these unconscious wishes.  Freud believed that this original sin of the brother horde and the subsequent guilt brought about the totemic religious system which would later become a base for all future religions.[11]  In this way, the totem feast became, “…the repetition and commemoration of this memorable, criminal act with which so many things began, social organization, moral restrictions and religion.”[12]

Freud extended this theory further by suggesting that religious gods were always modelled after an idealized father-figure which was greatly influenced by the individual’s relationship with their own father.[13] The paradoxical nature of this relationship was exemplified by the simultaneous disdain and love for the all-powerful father-figure.  Here, the unconscious wishes of the child, the repressed guilt in the neurotic adult due to those childhood wishes, and the religious person converge in the Oedipus complex, and manifest in various ways in which humans view the world.

In The Future of an Illusion, Freud bridged his postulations on religion as illusion with his work in Totem and Taboo.  In it, he discussed the nature of ambivalence toward the father figure through suggesting that children experienced jealousy and fear toward the father for his all-powerful role, but also looked to the father for protection and care.  As the child grew and experienced the harsh reality of life, the realization that he was destined to be helpless forever emerged.  In order to harness the protective feelings experienced from their own father as a child, the adult transferred the father-image into gods that were both feared and revered.[14]

Freud suggested that modern day monotheistic patriarchal religion developed from this idea of helplessness, particularly in reaction to the harsh and unknowable power of nature.  Mirroring the father-child relationship, the relationship between man and nature was such that man was ultimately at the mercy of natural forces, thus creating fear, helplessness, and awe.  In order to adequately resolve these feelings and to identify with nature, man projected his image into illusory beings with humanlike traits in an effort to establish a relationship with these unknown forces.[15]  Realizing that this helplessness would not cease during the course of the adult’s lifetime, the father-figure beings were created as more powerful than any individual to whom the adult could conceive – namely, the father.[16]

It is important to discuss what Freud meant by illusion.  He believed that illusion stemmed from wishes and fantasies and were similar to psychiatric delusions.  The differences between the two are that delusion suggested a struggle with reality while illusion wasn’t necessarily opposing reality.[17]  Essentially, illusion was motivated by repressed fantasies and the content of the illusory narrative was possible, although not always probable.  For Freud, the narratives of religions were certainly possible, but mostly improbable.  As such, he considered them neurotic fantasies.  Freud translated this hypothesis into the notion of religion as illusion, and ultimately called religion, “…the universal obsessional neurosis of humanity,” [18] rooted in the infantile Oedipal stage.  For him, religion was keeping humanity stuck in a childlike wonderment that abandoned reality for the safety and security of fantasies.  The only proper course of action was the turning away from religious proclivities holding humanity in a middle stage of development and adopting the scientific view of external reality, which more adequately explained the world than religious doctrine.[19]

Finally, further development of his critique of religion was put forth in Moses and Monotheism, in which he applied his theory to the development of firstly Judaism, and then Christianity.  Using the story of Moses from the Hebrew Bible, Freud reimagined the narrative through claiming that Moses was born to Egyptian nobility.  He further claimed that an early form of Judaism was founded on an ancient Egyptian Aton religion, prominent under Pharaoh Amenhotep IV and was known as the only form of monotheism in Ancient Egypt.[20]  Freud speculated that this was the precursor to the rise of the first of the great monotheistic religions, Judaism.  He drew comparisons to the Mosaic religion and the Aton religion highlighting such points as a strict adherence to monotheism, which was very uncommon in the time period.  He also suggested that Moses gave the Jewish people more than just a new religion, but also the law of circumcision which was believed to be widely practiced in ancient Egypt. [21]  Additionally, Freud suggested that the Jewish people revolted against Moses for imposing this new religion on them and subsequently killed him.  He pointed to narratives in the Bible which described these uprisings.[22] In what he described as a latent period in the history of the Jewish religion, Freud suggested that after revolting and killing Moses, that the people turned away from the new religion and returned to their polytheistic ways with a particular emphasis on the worship of the volcano-god Jahve.  A long period of denial followed in which both the killing and the religion given by Moses were supressed.  It was only through oral traditions, which were kept alive by a few loyal followers, that the story of Moses came to permeate the cultural consciousness of the Jews and counter the non-objective historical accounts that were given forth. [23]  Freud said, “[i]t was this tradition of a great past that continued to work in the background, until it slowly gained more and more power over the mind of the people and at last succeeded in transforming the God Jahve into the Mosaic God and in waking to a new life the religion which Moses had instituted centuries before and which had later been forsaken.”[24]   This reworked Mosaic mythology provided Freud with the opportunity to tie in his theory of religion introduced in his previous works – particularly his notions of guilt and fantasy as outlined in the Oedipal concept.

Here Freud demonstrated the restoration of the father as he previously discussed in Totem and Taboo through the growing feelings of guilt among the Jewish people and the resurfacing of suppressed memories of the original sin of killing the father as proclaimed by a Jewish rabble-rouser, Paul of Tarsus.  Redemption and salvation were brought to the Jewish people and indeed all of civilization through the sacrifice of the son of god, Jesus.[25]  It was the leader of the brother horde, Freud suggested, that would be most befitting as a potential sacrifice.  He further illustrated connections to his theory by pointing to the Holy Communion ritual, one in which the flesh and blood of Christ is symbolically ingested, as similar to that of the totem feast.[26]  This account showed how Christianity rose from Judaism, but more specifically how the father religion was replaced by the religion of the son through the transference of repressed guilt.  It is here that Freud attempted to connect totemism to monotheism.  Obviously this re-envisioned account created much public criticism of Freud, as he had essentially claimed that the Judaic religion was not founded on the word of God, but rather the edicts of the Egyptians.

In support of this reimagined historical account of the rise of Judaism and then Christianity, Freud offered up the concept of an archaic heritage which he suggested may involve inherited memory traces that could help to explain why individually different people respond in remarkably similar ways to the same experiences.[27]  Essentially, this concept put forth the notion that repressed memories were passed on from generation to generation and remained dormant during the latency periods of mankind.  This concept allowed Freud to connect how the memory of Moses’ murder survived for generations and the subsequent guilt that consumed the Jewish people.

 Read Part 2 of Illusion in the Freudian Theory of Religion here.

M. xo

Suggested Readings:


[1] Kirk A. Bingham, Freud and Faith: Living in Tension (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2003), 31-32; Michael Palmer, Freud and Jung on Religion (New York: Routledge, 1997), 12-13.

[2] Beverley Clack, “After Freud: Phantasy and Imagination in the Philosophy of Religion,” Philosophy Compass 3, no. 1 (2008): 203-204.

[3] Sigmund Freud, Totem and Taboo, trans. A.A. Brill (New York: Vintage Books, 1946), 134. Freud suggested that animals and plants were most often adopted as the tribal totem.  Taboos against destruction of the totem led to a refusal to kill the animal and avoidance in harvesting the plant.  Although he didn’t specifically address the plant totem in his discussion on the annual totem meal, it is feasible to extend the hypothesis and suggest that the totem plant may have been eaten once a year.  Freud did not include a discussion of the tribal totems identifying with forces of nature.

[4] Ibid., 5-7.

[5] Ibid., 45-48.

[6] Freud, Totem and Taboo, 182-83; Palmer, Freud and Jung, 23.

[7] Palmer, Freud and Jung, 25.

[8] Freud, Totem and Taboo, 183.

[9] Bingham, Freud and Faith, 35.

[10] Palmer, Freud and Jung, 24.

[11] James DiCenso, “Totem & Taboo and the Constitutive Function of Symbolic Forms,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion  64, no. 3 (1996): 572; Palmer, Freud and Jung, 25.

[12] Freud, Totem and Taboo,183.

[13] Ibid., 190.

[14] Sigmund Freud, The Future of an Illusion, trans. W.D. Robson-Scott (Mansfield Centre, CT: Martino Publishing, 2010), 41-42.

[15] Ibid., 29-30

[16] Ibid., 52

[17] Ibid., 54

[18] Ibid., 76.

[19] Ibid., 55.

[20] Sigmund Freud, Moses and Monotheism, trans. Katherine Jones (New York: Vintage Books, 1967), 7-26.

[21] Ibid., 28-29.

[22] Ibid., 58. Freud speculated that uprisings which were supressed by the God Jahve during the time of “wandering in the wilderness” may have been during Moses’ time, despite biblical texts failing to explicitly suggest such postulations.

[23] Ibid., 85-86.

[24] Ibid., 87.

[25] Ibid., 109-10.

[26] Ibid., 111.

[27] Ibid., 125.

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What is the Psychology of Religion?

April 22nd, 2014 No comments
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What is the Psychology of Religion?  Let’s begin by looking at definitions of both psychology and religion. Examining their historical and contemporary contexts can allow us to better understand how psychology and religion have developed to form a symbiotic relationship (even though some may contest otherwise, but that’s another post for another day).

Psychology

The Greek capital letter psi, often used to represent the word, or study of, Psychology.Humans have been pondering questions of a psychological nature for millenia. Early writings of Buddha, Confucius, Socrates and in Hebrew Scriptures provide glimpses into the historical beginnings of psychological queries. The origins of the word psychology have roots in the Grecian words psyche, loosely translated as, ‘soul‘ or ‘spirit‘, and logos, translated as, ‘meaning’ or ‘account‘. Thus, in its earliest form, psychological musings were concerned with ‘accounting for the human spirit‘.

Psychology as a science did not emerge until the late 1800’s, when the first experiment addressing mental processes was conducted by Wilhelm Wundt. The science of psychology began to flourish and branch into many different paths and theories. Today, the broad definition of psychology as, the science of behavior and mental processes, is widely accepted. This definition serves merely as a generalization of the discipline of psychology as a whole and does not highlight the complex nature of human behavior and cognition.

Religion

RELIGIONESDeveloping a concrete and universal definition of religion is, in my opinion, an impossible task.  Simply Google ‘define religion’ and you’re guaranteed to get dozens of differing definitions.  Indeed, some scholars spend their entire careers seeking out meaningful definitions that can by relevantly applied to all that encompasses ‘religion’.

For the purpose of this post, I contemplated various definitions of religion presented by scholars over the centuries. I cannot wholly accept definitions, such as social psychologist’s Erich Fromm’s, “[a]ny system of thought and action shared by a group which gives the individual a frame of orientation and an object of devotion.” Religion is both personal and social. It is quite conceivable for a single person to hold religious beliefs that may not be connected to a group, therefore, the first part of the preceding definition does not adequately explain religion.

Carl Jung’s definition is, perhaps, more closely aligned to my understanding of the term religion:

“Religion is a peculiar attitude of the human mind […] that is a careful consideration and observation of certain dynamic factors […] of whatever name man has given to such factors as he has found in his world, powerful, dangerous, or helpful enough to be taken into careful consideration or grand, beautiful and meaningful enough to be devoutly adored and loved”.

Clearly, religion is hard to define; however in order to find merit in any scientific study of religion, and in particular facets of religious behaviour and thought, there must be some universal mechanism for measuring the multidimensional concept of religion.

Psychology+ Religion

Religion can be broadly examined through the various dimensions of religion proposed by sociologists, Charles Glock and Rodney Stark. They proposed five dimensions of religious commitment with which to study the multidimensional nature of religion. These included: the ideological dimension, the ritualistic dimension, the experiential dimension, the intellectual dimension, and the consequential dimension (Paloutzian, 1996).

These dimensions of religious commitment enable researchers with powerful tools to measure the behaviors and mental processes of people from various religious traditions. Through applying the various theories of psychology to the most rudimentary understanding of religiosity, a wealth of knowledge begins to emerge concerning religious behaviors and mental processes that span all faiths and doctrines. Despite the seemingly different beliefs found in the world’s religions, researchers can make generalized statements about the behaviors and cognitive processes that bind them all together.

As with any theoretical work, new ideas will change the shape of what is known today and will invariably lead to new paths of theory. This is especially poignant in research that encompasses any religious domain, due to the very complex nature of religion itself. Undeniably, the process of applying variables and measures to the religious domain with respect to behaviors and cognition can only serve to further enhance future knowledge of how and why religion plays a central role in humankind.

M. xo

Further Reading

Myers, D.G. (2004). Psychology: Myers in Modules (7th Ed). New York: Worth.

Paloutzian, R.F. (1996). Invitation to the Psychology of Religion (2nd Ed). Massachusetts: Allyn & Bacon.

 

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How a Christian and an Atheist Shaped the First Moon Walk

March 31st, 2014 No comments
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I couldn’t resist blogging about this interesting bit of trivia when I accidentally stumbled upon it this morning.  Despite being too young to have been able to actually experience the excitement of human’s first walk on the moon in 1969, I’ve seen the grainy footage an untold number of times.  If you happen to be one of the few in the industrialised world who hasn’t, well, here’s your chance.

Seriously, don’t let the lack of high definition video dissuade you.  This video is EPIC!

Most of us can recite Neil Armstrong’s word’s by heart, “One small step for man; one giant leap for mankind,” but what many of us may not be aware of, are the actions of co-astronaut, Buzz Aldrin, just prior to stepping onto the surface of the moon.

In this article, originally published in 1970 by Guideposts, Aldrin describes how he performed the Christian rite of Communion on the Moon.  This clip from the 1998 HBO miniseries, From the Earth to the Moon re-imagines the circumstances.

So, why were Aldrin’s actions kept secretive for so long?  Well, it turns out that on Christmas Eve the previous year, astronauts of Apollo 8 (the first to orbit the moon) sent greetings back to Earth, and included readings from The Book of Genesis.  This ignited lawsuit threats by the founder of American Atheists, Madalyn Murray O’Hare.  Subsequently, NASA officials refused to live broadcast the Communion rite.

Years later, Aldrin discussed in his memoirthat despite the ritual being of personal significance to himself, he should have chosen something more representative of all mankind humankind.

Watch the Apollo 8 crew read from the Book of Genesis, Christmas Eve, 1968

 

M. xo

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St. Patrick’s Day: History & Myths [VIDEO]

March 17th, 2014 2 comments
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Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Every year, on March 17th, people around the world participate in a tradition of donning green clothing, parading in the streets, and partaking in eats and beverages inspired by the Emerald Isle.  Considering the pious origins of St. Paddy’s Day, the celebrations are rather bodacious.

Like other holidays, St. Patrick’s Day began as a religious holiday to celebrate the patron Saint of Ireland.  Over the years, it has been embraced as a cultural holiday, celebrated by the religious and the non-religious alike – and much like other holidays, myths reign supreme.

You know that colour we associate with today?  Yeah, turns out we should all be wearing blue.  And what about the famous shamrock, considered by many as the symbol of Ireland?  It, too, has an interesting history of becoming part of popular culture.  Originally, identified with Saint Patrick who used the plant as a way to demonstrate the Holy Trinity, it later became a national symbol when adopted by an Irish militia group.

Yep, much like other holidays, fact and myth get all jumbled up until the holiday of yesteryear has transformed into something different, perhaps more audacious… or maybe not.  At any rate, before you head out to happy hour featuring green-tinted beer, brush up on your St. Paddy’s Day history with these short, fun, and informative videos.

M. xo

P.S. For a glimpse at what drunk people think St. Patrick’s Day is all about, check out this satirical report.

St. Patrick’s Day | Bet You Didn’t Know (2:23)

St. Patrick’s Day Myths; John Kosich WKBW-TV (1:58)

The History of Saint Patrick – a Short Story (3:15)

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The Lev Tahor Controversy in Canada

March 13th, 2014 No comments
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I couldn’t let an opportunity pass to comment on yet another religious controversy making headlines in my home country.  If you’ve been paying attention to the news out of Canada lately, then you may have heard about a small ultra-Orthodox Jewish group, Lev Tahor, creating quite the controversy here in the Great White North.  Now, Canada tends to be known for its multiculturalism, and as a champion of individual rights and freedoms, including religious freedom.  Although admirable, at times this tolerance creates a firestorm of controversy.

Late last year, media stories began percolating about a group of ultra-Orthodox Jews living in a secluded and tight-knit community in Quebec.  They were clashing with the province over the education of their children, and fled to Ontario in order to privately educate their children (read about issues surrounding private and public education in my post on Creationism in Canada).  What began as an increasingly common story, religious rights versus the public education system, has turned into a media frenzy with accusations circulating of child endangerment, suspicious charitable donations, and religious discrimination.

I won’t bother rehashing all the details that have been steadfastly published in the media.  You can do that for yourself, here, here, and here.  You should also consider watching two investigative reports available on YouTube, one by Global’s 16×9, and the other by CBC’s Fifth Estate.  Both provide some interesting insight into this group, particularly during the interview segments.  Regardless of how sensationally the information has been portrayed in the media, it’s pretty clear that something isn’t quite right.  So, should Lev Tahor be considered a legitimate religious group simply trying to live in accordance with their beliefs, or are they a dangerous cult?

In all honesty, I don’t know.  I hesitate to label minority religious groups, fringe religious groups, or new religious groups as a cult, because the word is far too often misused and abused.  That said, after researching Lev Tahor, something is terrible amiss with the leaders of this group.

It’s no secret that I champion religious tolerance and freedom; however, it’s important to clarify that there are exceptions.  For example, religious rights should never trump basic human rights.  If there is even the suspicion that Lev Tahor children are not being properly cared for, then a full investigation is warranted.  Lev Tahor claims they have nothing to hide, then open your doors and let social service workers have unfettered access to your way of life.

There are also questions surrounding how Lev Tahor generates income, particularly when so few members work outside the community.  According to community leaders, generous donors help sustain the community.  It was reported that at least one charity run by Lev Tahor had their charitable status revoked.  As a taxpayer, I’d like to ensure that tax exemptions are indeed being given to real charities. Further, it was reported that some Lev Tahor members receive thousands of dollars in child tax benefits.  This causes me concern too.  Child tax benefits are intended to ensure that children are being adequately taken care of, but clearly there are numerous accusations that suggest otherwise.  This must be investigated fully.

I don’t wish to see Lev Tahor members persecuted, but there are too many unanswered questions that need to be addressed.  I hope that officials and the media can do so in a responsible and unbiased manner, so that religious freedoms and basic human rights are appropriately balanced and equally championed.  Anything less would be ‘un-Canadian’.

Do you have thoughts or questions about this story?  I’d like to hear from you!

M. xo

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Nature-Connectedness: The Greening of Behaviour, Well-Being and Christian Imperatives: Part 3

February 24th, 2014 No comments
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Read Part One and Two

Getting Back to Nature – A Christian Imperative

“And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion … over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth” (Genesis 1:26)

“And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31)

In perhaps one of the most significant articles in religion and ecology discourse, Lynn White Jr. (1967) in his article, The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis, discussed the impact of Westernized Christian tradition on the proliferation of the misuse of science and technology that ultimately led to perpetuating a polarity between humankind and nature. Acknowledging that people remarkably and often unintentionally impact the natural world (p. 1203), he suggested that a historical overview of the advent of the ecological crisis was warranted. White discussed the rise of Western industrialization, leading to modern science and technology as harbingers of doom for nature (p. 1204). In a critical examination, White admonished the Western Christian tradition for spreading ideological narratives from the Biblical account of the story of Creation that called for a fundamental reign of humankind over nature (p. 1205-1206). He suggested that solutions to the ecological crisis should be one of a religious nature because its origins were based in religion. Further due to the influence of the Christian tradition on science and technology, he believed that further remedies of this nature could not aid in a resolution because they were ultimately based on religious ideology (p. 1206-1207), therefore a religious response could be the only proper course of action.

White’s arguments provide a sound base for what roles, if any, religion and science should impart in the continued efforts toward ecological salvation. Clearly, this argument lays the blame squarely at the foot of the Western Christian tradition and as such has incited much response from the community. Responses have ranged from outright denial to acknowledgment of partial culpability; however, there appears to be a growing trend of redefining the terms and understanding of dominion or stewardship as suggested in the Genesis account. Indicative of this sentiment have been many messages and appeals from leaders of the Roman Catholic Church, particularly Pope John Paul II.

 

Christian Perspectives

In a 1990 address celebrating World Day of Peace, Pope John Paul II discussed an emerging adversary to world peace – the present day ecological crisis (Message of His Holiness, Intro., par. 1). Pointing to the same passages in the book of Genesis that White used in his argument, in which Adam and Eve were granted dominion over the Earth (Gen 1:28), he expanded the interpretation to suggest that dominion was granted on condition that it was carried out with love and care. He further suggested that it is through sinful acts of rebellion against the Creator’s instructions that have led to the present day environmental devastation (Sec. I, par. 2).

The Pope’s message also discussed the negative impacts of consumerism, irresponsible use of science and technology, a complacent disregard for life, and the lack of education encompassing an environmental ethic. These, he theorized, are all factors that have contributed to ecological devastation affecting every life on the planet. The solution he put forth called for a united world of peoples who step into their place as proper stewards of creation (Sec. II – Sec.V).

His Holiness also exalted the benefits of the human-nature relationship, “[o]ur very contact with nature has a deep restorative power; contemplation of its magnificence imparts peace and serenity” (Sec. IV, par. 8). In closing his address, Pope John Paul II alluded to a kinship with nature by urging people to keep, “[…] alive a sense of ‘fraternity’ with all those good and beautiful things which Almighty God has created,” (Sec. V, par. 5).

Clearly, one of this generation’s most influential leaders of the Christian tradition felt a deep urgency over the state of matters concerning the environment. In addition, he appears to have intuitively connected with notions of the beneficial effect of nature on not only one’s physical well-being, but also one’s spiritual well-being. His ecotheological contemplations lay forth a path in which Christians can breathe new life into the Biblical account of Creation, including a new standard of humankind’s call to stewardship of the earth.

Renowned ecotheologian and Catholic priest, Thomas Berry, has written much on the subject of the relationship between humans and nature. He suggested that, “[w]e have indeed become strange beings so completely are we at odds with the planet that brought us into being” (Meadow Across the Creek, 2000, par. 9). Discussing the upbringing of children in industrialized nations, he posited that a learned alienation from nature imparts indifference concerning the effects of future economic aspirations that exploit the environment (par. 9).

One response Berry (2003) offered to reconnect humankind with the earth was to usher in an age which he dubbed ecozoic. In this new era, Berry believed that people will and must come to appreciate not only the intrinsic value of all life forms (pg. 569), but also their role as a supreme manifestation and celebratory agent of the universe (pg. 565). Endowed with the ability of self-awareness and heightened intelligence, humankind is tasked with responsibility of stewardship (p. 565) in such a way that honours the symbiosis of all species and the earth itself (pg. 568).

Berry’s reflections suggest a deep spiritual connection and rational understanding about people in relation to the environment. He discussed the inharmonious consequences of human actions on the balance of nature and how this reflected a tragic implementation of the gifts and burdens of intelligence and self-awareness (p. 565-567). Despite the culpability of people on the present state of the natural environment, he acknowledged that future pursuits must still maintain the interests of humans, but also maintain the health of the planet (p. 566-567). Through initiating responsible ecological and economical governance Berry suggested, “[…] that the well-being of each [is] fulfilled in the well-being of the whole” (p. 570). It is in recognizing that the “[…] universe is a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects,” (p. 570) that the greater potential of humankind may be actualized.

Berry’s profound spiritual reflections show a remarkable integration of the views of his traditional faith, but also those stemming from an understanding of a universal consciousness. It is through the integration of multi-faceted frameworks of spirituality and scientific practice that a new era of environmental ethic can arise to influence humanity in shifting their current relationship with the earth.

 

Toward an Integrated Environmental Ethic

The aforementioned research and philosophical discourse highlights a need for an integrated framework to be adopted in order to appropriately respond to the environmental crisis. Lynn White Jr. made the argument that the most adequate responses must be ones rooted in religion; however, scientific knowledge must also be included in the solution. Religion may offer a motivation toward ecological salvation, but science can assuredly offer important tools and methods that will be invaluable toward implementing responses and measuring successes thereafter.

Science and religion have historically been polarized in such discussions; however, both can provide immense benefits. As has been demonstrated, theologians and ecological thinkers often begin by asking important questions that should, and must, be investigated with the rigor of the scientific discipline. One of humanity’s greatest assets is the ability to ponder profound existential issues, and then follow through with logical methods of inquiry. How then, can humankind use these powerful forces to advance a responsible ecological age, while still advancing the human potential in all its pursuits?

Throughout this paper the concept of interdependency has been explored in relation to people and nature. This same concept can be examined in the context of this issue between religion and science, both of which are inherently human concepts of viewing the world. Striving to integrate these concepts can only serve to benefit broadening humanity’s understanding of these important issues.

As noted, much of the research undertaken has stemmed from ecospiritual ideas. These thinkers expressed concern for the alienation of humans from a fundamental part of their being – nature. Clearly, the scientific community has become more interested in these ideas as evidenced from the growing body of research concerning people and the environment. Similarly, science is both validating these claims through a methodological approach and providing important tools in which to understand the causal links between people and nature. Thomas Berry (2003) advocated this integral framework where science, technology and religions forge a new ecozoic era and universe story.

Religion and ecology literature is replete with discussions on whether anthropocentrism or biocentrism is the problem and/or solution to the unfolding crisis. The examination in this paper suggests that anthropocentrism and biocentrism may not be mutually exclusive ideas in the search for an appropriate response. The research indicates that humans receive enormous benefits from being connected or having a kinship with nature. Human needs and interests are fulfilled when the needs of the environment are also fulfilled. This speaks for an anthropocentric ideal in which human behaviour and utilization of the planet’s resources are based on what is in the best interest of humanity.

Interestingly, this adapted anthropocentric notion may also have elements of biocentrism. Human interests are fulfilled through having a deep interest in maintaining a healthy environment and forging a deep connection to nature. Additionally, as the aforementioned research suggests, pro-environmental behaviour may also increase identification with the environment, thus resulting in a greater appreciation for the inherent worth of the environment. This would suggest that claims of anthropocentrism, argued to be inherent in religious traditions such as Christianity, would not necessarily negate an appropriate response to the environment.

Similarly, the concept of stewardship in the Christian ideology can be integrated into a robust environmental ethic. Historically, there may be evidence to suggest that the dominion argument had precedence over stewardship in humanity’s relations to nature; however, religious traditions evolve and adapt in accordance with the acquisition of knowledge and shifting societal ethics. Clearly, as evidenced by the messages from Pope John Paul II and Thomas Berry presented in this paper, a shift in ideological territory is taking place. Christians are heralding a renewed response to their relationship with the environment; perhaps in part due to the growing scientific evidence that highlights humanity’s culpability in the destruction of God’s Creation and in addition to empirical inquiries into the value of nature for people. Reinterpretation of Biblical passages allows for the integration of this knowledge into an appropriate and decidedly Christian response. Part of this response may include the atonement for past sins perpetrated on God’s Creation. Additionally, Christians can seek guidance and a new ethic based on revisiting their sacred text for renewed revelation.

In light of the research and philosophical discourse above, stewardship can provide a bridge for which Christians may develop a deeper connection to nature. If the research holds true, a deeper kinship with the environment will result in an increase in positive actions toward the environment which ultimately will fulfill God’s mandate to care for the land He created. Befittingly, these actions and connections will likely increase the well-being of the Christian community which could be interpreted as divine reward for fulfilling divine providence.

Essentially, science and religion are working in parallel toward the same prospect. One institution doing so based on divine mandates and influenced by modern knowledge; the other based on contemporary methodologies and influenced by spiritual reflections. Clearly, this suggests that cooperative efforts toward ecological sustainability are already underway. The future challenge will be maintaining this synergy, while valuing the insights each paradigm can offer toward the effort.

M. xo

References

Bible, The King James or Authorized Version of the Holy Bible.

Berry, T.  (2000). The Meadow Across the Creek.  In The Great Work.  Retrieved from http://www.thomasberry.org/Essays/MeadowAcrossCreek.html.

Berry, T. (2003). The universe story: its religious significance. In R.S. Gottlieb (Ed.), Liberating faith: religious voices for justice, peace, and ecological wisdom (565-572). Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

John Paul II.  Message of His Holiness Pope John Paul II for the Celebration of the World Day of Peace. 1 Jan. 1990. Retrieved from http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/messages/peace/documents/hf_jp-ii_mes_19891208_xxiii-world-day-for-peace_en.html.

White Jr., L. (1967). The historical roots of our ecologic crisis. Science, 155 (3767), 1203-1207.

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Nature-Connectedness: The Greening of Behaviour, Well-Being and Christian Imperatives: Part 2

February 18th, 2014 No comments
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Missed Part One?  Read it here.

Translating the Nature-Connectedness Hypothesis into Theoretical Frameworks

The groundwork of any psychological research involves the study of various facets of human nature and behaviour. There are numerous branches of psychology that focus on specific frames of reference to focus investigations, such as social, physiological, forensic, personality, etc. The emerging sub-discipline of ecopsychology (also related to environmental psychology and conservation psychology), “[…] proceeds from the assumption that at its deepest level the psyche remains sympathetically bonded to the Earth that mothered us into existence” (Roszak, 1995, p. 5). Clearly, this focus of empirical research sounds remarkably similar to the aforementioned hypothetical musings of Wilson, Naess, Louv and Jung. Although these ideas are not new, scientific inquiry is a refreshing course of action that may provide stronger evidence for the validity of these philosophical claims.

It is important to point out that while psychological inquiry does make use of scientific empirical techniques that the essence of this study is inherently speculative (p. 14). The mysterious nature of the mind makes even the soundest theory difficult to prove conclusively. Additionally, no two people are exactly alike; therefore, psychology can most often speak in terms of generalities and correlations. Despite the seemingly inconclusive quality of this research, it is still extremely valuable in assisting to understand the motivations and behaviours of people. This can be a powerful tool in influencing policies and actions of social institutions.

 

Toward Environmental Well-Being

Some research inquiries assist to further understand human motivation toward positive environmental action. P. Wesley Schultz (2000) conducted research on the role of empathy with nature on concern for the environment. Drawing on previous research that suggested that an individual’s value system could determine the extent of environmental concern, Schultz constructed a research design to measure three factors of value-based environmental concern.

The first, egoistic concerns, suggested that people will have greater concern for environmental issues that affect them personally. Altruistic concerns proposed that concern is derived from the degree to which environmental crises affects others, including individuals, communities, nations, and/or humankind. The last concern, biospheric, assumed that interest in the environment is propelled by a deep value for all living organisms (p. 392).

Schulz did not believe that these concerns worked independently; however, he suggested that the degree to which an individual felt interdependency with self, others or all living organisms could propose motivating foundations with regard to environmental concern (p. 393-394). Further, he posited that individuals could have differing motivations for their concern about the same issue (p. 392). For instance, individuals protesting the destruction of a local forest may be engaged in the environmental cause because the forest represents a personal place of leisure (egoistic). It could also provide important community recreational and aesthetic attributes (altruistic), and it may also be a place of great bio-diversity worthy of protecting for its own sake (biospheric). Egoistic and altruistic concerns may be easier to activate as they appear to direct concern toward more localized and personal areas of interest, while biospheric concerns could propel wider reaching implications of global concern, such as issues surrounding carbon emissions.

Drawing on past research on inducing empathy to increase helping behaviour, Schultz assigned two groups of participants into either an objective condition or perspective-taking condition. Participants were shown a series of images depicting people engaged in outdoor recreational activities, animals in nature, and animals being harmed in the natural environment. Following, participants completed a questionnaire designed to measure environmental attitudes and the three proposed value-based factors (p. 398-399). The results indicated that when shown images of animals being harmed, biospheric concerns were activated in the perspective-taking condition significantly higher than those in the objective condition (p. 400), suggesting that empathy toward nature seems to increase concern for it, thus potentially highlighting an important element in which to engage individuals in environmental issues. The link between connecting to nature and pro-environmental behaviour will be discussed further in subsequent sections.

In his discussion, Schultz pointed out that more psychological research is needed to understand motivations and behaviours with regard to people and the environment, especially in light of the growing ecological crisis facing the world. He acknowledged that much of the research is disjointed – drawing from models within the field of social psychology – and that there has yet to be a comprehensive and organized theory to understand ecological behaviours (p. 401). He suggested, “[…] that any activity that reduces an individual’s perceived separation between self and nature will lead to an increase in that individual’s biospheric concern” (p. 403).

As Schultz aptly demonstrates, psychology is making strides toward narrowing the gap between philosophical ideas concerning nature-relatedness and the scientific understanding of this phenomenon.

A 2004 paper documented investigative research, influenced by the work of famed ecologist Aldo Leopold. Using the Connectedness to Nature Scale (CNS), the research sought to test Leopold’s assumptions that people need to feel a kinship with nature in order to respond to environmental crises as if their own welfare was at stake (Mayer & Frantz, p. 504-505). In addition, parts of this study were designed to test Wilson’s biophilia hypothesis using established measures of previously conducted social psychological inquiry derived from theories of the need to belong to groups (p. 509). The results of this work demonstrated that the CNS is a reliable and valid measure that supports Leopold’s postulations.

Overall, the researchers concluded that people do need to feel connected to nature in order to protect it; however, the researchers also noted that a cause-effect relationship cannot be cited because of issues of bi-directionality (p. 512). In essence, does a deep affiliation with nature lead to environmental behaviour or does environmental behaviour lead to a deeper affiliation with nature? These are important elements for future research to investigate in order to provide even more robust theories that can be adopted by social institutions seeking to integrate methodological frameworks into responsible environmental directives.

The authors also noted that some people can and do engage in self-destructive behaviour, either consciously or subconsciously, and therefore increasing connection to nature may have little impact on positive environmental behaviour (p. 512). For example, this insight demonstrates that knowledge, such as the negative environmental impact of burning fossil fuels, may be difficult to manifest into positive change, particularly due to cognitive processes that override the integration of this logic. Immediate gratification and short-term benefits may supersede the long-term gains derived from an ecologically superior course of action. For instance using public transit may be more environmentally friendly; however, using one’s own vehicle may provide greater comfort and decreased travel time. Clearly, individuals’ actions toward the environment are mitigated by numerous factors, suggesting further research is warranted.

Research published in 2011 in the Journal of Environmental Psychology examined how commitment could impact environmental behaviours. The authors postulated that dedication to nature could lead to pro-environmental behaviour (Davis, Le & Coy, p. 257). Drawing from work on interdependency theory and other such commitment models, the research sought to draw conclusions on the relation of an individual’s dedication to the environment and one’s willingness to sacrifice to sustain it.

Overall, the study demonstrated that commitment to the environment does lead to positive environmental behaviour, especially when instances of experience in nature are fulfilling. Additionally, individuals’ sense of purposefulness in their actions toward the environment also tended to increase commitment and positive ecological behaviour. The authors cautioned that results are correlational only; suggesting that one cannot ascertain whether commitment affects behaviour or behaviour affects commitment (p. 263). Of positive note in this study, is the attempt to bring together fragmented frameworks of inquiry into a combined analysis.

 

Toward Individual Well-Being

The aforementioned studies demonstrate just a small sample of the robust investigations being conducted into the motivations of human behaviour toward ecological well-being. If, as has been put forth, there is an interdependent relationship between people and nature, what can this research reveal about the influences on individual well-being when engaged in ecologically positive practices?

Paul Stevens (2010), in an article published in Perspectives in Public Health, presented a comprehensive overview of research in the area of individual well-being resulting from interaction with the natural environment. He documented research that demonstrated most individuals display a preference for natural environments, which are posited to produce relaxation, focus, and emotional engagement. Additionally, ecotherapy models have advocated that feeling disconnected from the environment could result in various maladaptive psychological symptoms such as anxiety and depression, which is mitigated through increased contact with the natural world (p. 267). This appears intuitive when considering that people often recharge their bodies and minds through breaks from the hectic technological world by getting back to nature through hiking, camping, or exotic vacations on tropical beaches. People seem to instinctively know that nature has a restorative quality that nourishes the body and soul.

Perhaps more intriguing is research indicating a decrease in biological ageing with subsequent increases in the availability of green space in areas where people live (p. 268). Clearly, there is a causal connection; however, it’s difficult to ascertain the cause-effect relationship. Perhaps, individuals who have more natural settings nearby are likely to get out and enjoy those spaces more frequently – resulting in increased exercise, a healthier body and a healthier mind.

Stevens concluded his overview by stating, “[e]nvironmentalism has never just been about the loss of habitats and other species becoming extinct – it is fundamentally linked to all aspects of who we are, individually and collectively. Well-being requires a healthy environment, local and global, to ‘be well’ in” (p. 268).

Shifting ecological arguments from focusing solely on other species and future generations, to the present state of human well-being, may induce social institutions to radically alter paradigms. Acknowledging the importance of a healthy environment for a healthy individual may increase environmental protection regulations, similar to other health regulations surrounding tobacco and alcohol control or food safety. There’s legislation designed to mitigate psychological and emotional harm to an individual in the form of various anti-discrimination laws and guarantees of certain rights and freedoms; therefore it’s not difficult to imagine legislation that lessens harm to individuals resulting from lack of access to a clean and healthy environment. It appears that as a collective the global community sees the various facets of well-being as important to foster and protect; therefore, protecting the environment which provides so many benefits for humans appears intrinsic to these pursuits.

Specific research undertaken at Carleton University has focused on the correlation between happiness and nature-relatedness. This research utilized the Nature-Relatedness Scale (NR) to measure identification with nature, as coined by Arne Naess and discussed previously in this paper. Thought to be an enduring and stable aspect of an individual, NR reflects differences in the degree of connectedness to the natural environment (Nisbet, Zelenski & Murphy, 2011, p. 304).

The results of three studies conducted demonstrated a positive association between NR and various facets of well-being (including positive affect, purposefulness, and personal growth). Additionally, the research suggested that NR could help mitigate negative emotions and mood or affective conditions. Further, it was shown that students enrolled in environmental courses tended to show higher states of well-being versus students not enrolled in these courses, even when highly stressful academic demands were included (p. 316). This investigation showed that these results were similar regardless of age or occupation of the participants (p. 317), suggesting that they could be generalized to the larger population.

Similar to previous research discussed, there are notable limitations that should be highlighted. This study showed a correlational link between NR and well-being. Additionally, concerns of the complexity of what role NR may play in not only well-being, but pro-environmental engagement were cited (p. 318). Despite these limitations, this research provides strong support for the psychological benefits of humans relating to the natural environment.

The aforementioned ecopsychological pursuits demonstrate that there is an important link between people and nature that certainly requires continued investigation. A failure to advance this inquiry would seemingly result in the loss of opportunity to increase the well-being of not only the earth, but also its various inhabitants – including humankind. It appears intuitive that this research should and must continue, and that influential social institutions must support and even adapt these ideas into a framework that assuredly can only benefit their communities.

One of these institutions, particularly influential in the Western hemisphere, should take interest in this research as a means in which to engage in dialogue and effect a new environmental age of awareness. Religious institutions heralding a Christian perspective will find these insights not only offer adaptive methods to shepherd an age of environmental integrity, but will also offer devotees a path to greater well-being. In addition, a greater spiritual fulfillment may be sought through penance of historical actions that have been suggested as the root cause of the alienation of humankind from nature which may have led to the present day ecological crisis.

***Read Nature-Connectedness, Part 3***

M. xo

References

Davis, J. L., Le, B., & Coy, A. E. (2011). Building a model of commitment to the natural environment to predict ecological behaviour and willingness to sacrifice. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 31, 257-265.

Mayer, F. S. & Frantz, C. M. (2004). The connectedness to nature scale: a measure of individuals’ feeling in community with nature. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 24, 503-515.

Nisbet, E. K., Zelenski, J. M. & Murphy, S. A. (2011). Happiness is in our nature: Exploring nature relatedness as a contributor to subjective well-being. Journal of Happiness Studies, 12, 303-322.

Roszak, T. (1995). Where psyche meets gaia.  In T. Roszak, M.E. Gomes & A.D. Kanner (Eds.), Ecopsychology: Restoring the earth, healing the mind (pp. 1-17). San Francisco, CA: Sierra Club Books.

Schultz, P.W. (2000). Empathizing with nature: the effects of perspective taking on concern for environmental issues. Journal of Social Issues, 56 (3), 391-406.

Stevens, P. (2010). Embedment in the environment: a new paradigm for well-being? Perspectives in Public Health, 130 (6), 265-269.

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Meet Canada’s First Elected Wiccan Member of Parliament?!?

February 13th, 2014 No comments
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Religion & PoliticsNope, it hasn’t happened – not that I know of anyway.  You see that’s how it is in Canada.  I couldn’t tell you which member of parliament is a Christian, Muslim, Atheist, or Pastafarian – that is assuming that they have forgone wearing any religious garbs.  Canadians seem rather unassuming when it comes to religion.

Hop on over the border and we see a far louder and prouder religious presence.  Perhaps for this reason, our American friends are often viewed as more religious than we see ourselves.  Is this an accurate assessment though?  If census data is to be considered, it appears that both countries have a similar religious makeup and are shaped by similar trends/movements (such as the religious, but not spiritual groups).

Unlike the United States, Canada’s politicians are relatively shy about publicly proclaiming religious affiliation.  During election time, the subject of a candidate’s religion is rarely addressed. I even had a casual look at MPs’ websites to see if I could gauge their religious affiliation.  Nope.  The matter was entirely different, however, when looking at various websites for members of the United States Congress.  In almost all instances, the member’s religious affiliation was clearly identified.

So, what gives?  Why don’t Canadians care to know the religious affiliation of politicians?  Does it matter?  Does apathy to religious disclosure make it easier or harder for religion to influence politics?

And the big question – would knowing the religious affiliation of a candidate influence your voting decision?   What if you discovered that your candidate was an Atheist, a Wiccan, or even a member of the Order of the Jedi?  

I’d love to hear what my readers have to say.  And don’t forget you can do so completely anonymous.  As always, please keep it respectful.

M. xo

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Categories: Religion Tags: ,

It’s Time We Take Back The Internet.

January 28th, 2014 No comments
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I was reminded again this week that the Internet can be a truly vile and hateful place.  In fact, if there’s some Internet scale of justice, I’m fairly certain it’s tipping in the direction of hate.

Now, I’m no stranger to the barrage of hateful comments on social media sites.  You see it’s easy for people to hide behind a screen and hurl hateful remarks into the Webosphere.  It’s also fairly easy for people to get caught up in a mob mentality.  Even seemingly peaceful people have been known to get caught up in the hysteria.  So, what got my feathers in a ruffle?

I began to search the web for videos of interfaith harmony for an upcoming blog post I intended to write.  I soon discovered that this was not an easy task in a virtual realm seemingly coated in the paranoid delusions and illogical rants of my fellow human beings.

You see, every search parameter I entered returned videos showing me something very different than a harmonious picture of people of different faiths coming together.  Instead, I was subjected to devilishly crafted videos clearly designed to spread hateful propaganda.

Now, it wasn’t just the videos that caused me such concern.  We all know there’s some heinous stuff out there.  No, I was much more concerned that those videos had millions of views.  Oh, and my interfaith harmony videos?  They rarely showed up in first page results and had significantly fewer views than those other videos.

Clearly, we have a problem, folks.  Somehow we’ve let hate dominate the Internet.  I simply refuse to believe that this is acceptable to the vast majority of Internet users.  After all, this is a tool that teaches our children, informs us of the world around us, and connects us to people we may never have met otherwise.  Do we really want to allow it to be shaped by hate?

A professor once told me that it’s pointless to respond to hate and fundamentalism online.  In theory, I agree with said professor.  The real problem isn’t responding directly to haters online, but rather that good, reasonable people tend to not say anything at all.  That’s certainly the impression I get when reading some comment threads.  For every positive statement, you can bet there are at least ten negative statements.

So is silence the best way to combat hate on the Internet?  I don’t think it is, but neither is spending one’s energy on trying to change the rigidity of hate that already has a firm grasp on a person.  Okay, so we don’t have to engage in dialogue with a hateful person, but what else can we do?  We can take the opportunity to share as many good news stories as possible; post videos that are inspiring and show people doing good works; and pictures that exude joy.  We can communicate positive feedback in comment threads, so that we gradually dilute all the hateful words.  With each page view and click of the mouse, we can consciously choose goodness and inspiration – instead of letting the haters choose for us.

Friends, it’s time we take back the Internet.

M. xo

Musical Interlude – Good People (Jack Johnson):

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