Psychology and Psychiatry Often Overrated

I wonder whether we are aware of the dangers of the new modernism which is creeping into the prominent religious world?

By GEORGE T. HARDING, M.D., Medical Director. Harding Sanitarium, Worthington, Ohio

I wonder whether we are aware of the dangers of the new modernism which is creeping into the prominent religious world? At first glance it has all the earmarks of fundamentalism. Naturally anything which breathes the spirit of fundamentalism intrigues the ministry of our denomination. We talk a lot about being fundamentalists. And the younger ministers are especially susceptible, because they are always eager for something new, star­tling, and appealing. Actually, this modernism is a form of religious psychology.

There is an acceptable and an unacceptable psychology, of course. We cannot label all psy­chology as wrong, for certainly all Christ's teachings have psychological implications. They deal with human traits, feelings, and ac­tions. The addition to these of God and worship and Christ and forgiveness constitute religion.

But I know from personal contact the kind of psychology which, disguised as religion, is soon substituted for religion. It is rationalizing of religious attitudes on such subjects as sin, guilt, forgiveness, and the reinterpretation in practical, down-to-earth psychological terms and mechanisms that soon come to be substi­tuted for religious beliefs and faith, and leave the individual holding a counterfeit for the gem of great price.

I have known intimately a number of reli­gious leaders of Protestant churches, and real­ize how hard they try to keep their religious beliefs primary and their psychological and philosophical beliefs secondary, and how far they fall short. Just recently I heard one of the most prominent of them say that God was a spirit of good in the universe—not a person in any sense of the word.

Too often the church becomes a community center where they have religious meetings, but they have no doctrine and little real religion. A sinner could go there a year without hearing much to condemn him—though he might hear something to make him want to be a little bet­ter, if not at too great a price.

I can see the danger in having our young preachers begin to think of themselves as sent to save people from psychological problems. Congregations teem with those who have in­feriority complexes and various inadequacies, and who come needing and seeking help. The ministers would get little else done in such churches. I know this to be true, for I have seen young ministers in other denominations whose sole purpose in the ministry seems to be to give good sound psychological advice from the pulpit, and to help correct the personality difficulties and domestic problems of their mem­bers.

Among these young ministers there is a strong tendency to grasp phychology as a sub­stitute for religion, since it relieves them of an­swering many embarrassing questions. I be­lieve undue emphasis on psychology would seri­ously weaken our ministry, as it has theirs. Psychological teaching should only be incor­porated into our theological course in such- a way that reinterpretation is possible in the light of our denominational viewpoint.

We should shy away from modernist psy­chological sermons. We should realize the dan­gers of contagion in learning error, and the concessions demanded by modern psychology. Modern theology is making Christ too human —He is robbed of His divinity. In fact, all Prot­estant churches seem inclined in this direction except ours, and a few small fu:ndamentalist sects.

Psychiatry Has Its Limitations

Actually, psychology and psychiatry are greatly overrated at the present time, as any thinkinc,b man must realize. Psychiatry is bound to be deflated when the public learns more of its limitations. The war led to the writing of articles in which psychiatry became a miracle-working science. Even our Adventist ministers write me in the hope that mentally deficient adults can now be given vitamins and be made sound. They seem to think that a State hospital patient of long standing can be restored to mental health by a transfer to a "Christian in­stitution with godly nurses arid a proper diet." Drinking husbands, nagging wives, all sorts of insecure, inadequate, inferior people are to be changed by just seeing a psychiatrist, not by a miracle of God.

I believe more than ever that Adventist min­isters would do well to stay out of the field of psychological counselors. Their work was clearly outlined for them long ago. At the same time I believe our ministers should have some knowledge of their members' problems and how to help them solve them. They should also rec­ognize that there is a Christian psychology that is good. I do not believe we can afford to label all psychology as bad, or let the denomination be put in the ridiculous position of rejecting all that the science of psychology offers. We should reserve the right to interpret and give our own emphasis on scientific subjects, and not reject all psychology or psychiatric knowledge simply because some of it may be error.

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By GEORGE T. HARDING, M.D., Medical Director. Harding Sanitarium, Worthington, Ohio

November 1947

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