Last week, I raised a mini-ruckus with my post on the psychological and social benefits of religious faith. While some commenters were supportive, more than a few readers accused me of proselytizing. Others decried that religious topics had no place on a site dedicated to freeing people from their “mental disorders” (implying that religion was a mental disorder).
The kerfuffle even inspired my colleagues at Therapy Soup to wonder what causes people to become unhinged at the mere mention of religion when similar behavior would never be tolerated around virtually any other topic.
A Professional Response to Knee-Jerk Reactions
Obviously, it’s as easy for religious people to have knee-jerk negative reactions to psychology as it is for psychologically-minded folks to have visceral and vitriolic responses to religion. Ignorance, sad to say, does not discriminate. Regardless, since I’m going to continue discussing this topic for the foreseeable future (this is a blog dedicated to psychology and religion, after all), I thought it might be useful to look at what the American Psychological Association has to say about what it considers to be a healthy relationship between psychology and religion–or even if such a thing is possible (HINT: It is).
~A woman, angry at her best friend for some hurtful comments following her miscarriage tearfully says, “No matter how hard I try, I just can’t let it go.”
These are just two examples I’ve heard in session* recently about the challenge of letting old hurts go.
Letting things go is one of the hardest relationship tasks we all face. For Christians in general, there is even more involved in the challenge of letting go. For instance, two of the 7 Spiritual Works of Mercy (which, along with the “Corporal Works of Mercy” offer specific examples of what it means to live as a person-of-faith in the world) involve “Bearing Wrongs Patiently,” and “Forgiving Willingly.” And Catholics, specifically, have often heard the counsel, “offer it up” (i.e., use the offense as an opportunity to grow in patience and generosity), when they complain about how others have treated them poorly.
But as my post on St Gregory the Great’s counsel regarding the need to sometimes speak up shows, placing a premium on letting go of some offenses doesn’t mean that it’s never appropriate to address others. So, how do you know when to speak up and when to let it go? And once you’ve decided to let something go, how do keep it from coming back and haunting over and over again?
People-of-Faith often think it’s more charitable to simply forgive and forget, even if the other person hasn’t asked for it. There are times when this is true, but if you find you’re not able to let go of an offense, stuffing your feelings and pretending everything is “OK” isn’t the “faithful” thing to do. Even if it might cause some conflict, it is always better to bring your concerns to the other person directly, and not seethe in silence.
St Gregory the Great has this advice for those who were hurt and are unable to just move on:
“Often those who are offended suffer from remaining silent because it leads to more damaging words running through their heads. Thoughts seethe all the more in the mind when corralled…by an indiscreet silence. The words we think multiply even more than the words that we might have spoken, since people who are brooding count themselves safe from being heard by others who might criticize what they’re thinking. The tongue, therefore, is like a dog that should be discreetly curbed, not tied up fast.”
Wise counsel from St G. If you can’t just “let it go,” it’s no less virtuous to charitably discuss your frustration with the person who “done you wrong.”
For more information on how to pursue real peace in your life check out, God Help Me, These People are Driving Me Nuts! Making Peace with Difficult People.
Forgiveness photo available from Shutterstock.
Religion gets a lot of bad PR these days. Some of it is certainly deserved. Much, I would argue, is not. But all of that begs the question, “Does religion provide any objective purpose for the psychological health of the person and the good of society?”
Benefits of Religious Faith: All in Your Head?
It’s an important question, especially as more and more people jettison religious faith in favor of more subjective, personal, spiritualities. According to the Pew Research Center, the rate of 18-29 year olds jettisoning religion has doubled from 8% to 16% over the last 10 years.
If religion is merely a personal affectation–something done in private for one’s own pleasure–then throwing it over for a more self-styled spirituality–or nothing at all–just makes sense. But what if religion offers more specific and robust benefits to psychological health and the health of society than personal spirituality? What if there are objective benefits to following a specific creed, participating in specific rituals, and actively associating and worshipping with a particular group on a regular basis?
Does the person and society as a whole lose something if it jettisons, specifically, religious faith?
When I ask my clients what they want from their lives they often say, “I just want some peace.” But what they really mean is that they want quiet. What’s the difference?
Telling someone what you need is almost universally awkward, but people-of-faith often struggle against the idea that telling others what they need runs counter to the call to be generous, selfless, and committed to working for the good of others. For Christians, this struggle is crystallized by the misapplication of John 3:30 that says, “He must increase while I must decrease,” but by no means have Christians cornered the market on misplaced guilt.
-Being Faithful AND a Person: A Possible Dream…-
The impetus to place another’s needs before one’s own is genuinely admirable, but doing it to the exclusion of meeting one’s own needs can lead to burnout or “compassion fatigue.” Worse still, for the person-of-faith, being irresponsibly selfless is one of the most common reasons I see people giving up on their religious faith. They can’t figure out how to be faithful and still be a person. It doesn’t help that pastors, family, and other members of one’s faith community often give advice that appears to suggest that you can’t, or shouldn’t, do both. The good news is, it doesn’t have to be that way, nor should it.
I recalled Twain’s note from “beyond the grave” this past January when I read a study purporting to announce the death of the notion that marriage gives benefits to couples that cohabitation can’t give.
A Little Known V-Day Factoid: Although we popularly celebrate St. Valentine’s Day on Feb. 14th, the liturgical calendar for the Roman Catholic Church honors Sts. Cyril and Methodius (missionaries to the Slavic people and founders of the Russian, aka, Cyrillic, alphabet) on this day. What few people realize is that this is intentional. Roman Catholics join these two great celebrations, of course, to remind the world that Slavs are the best lovers! As the saying goes, “Lex orandi, lex credeni.” (“If you want to know what the Church believes, listen to how she prays.”)
And you know it’s true, because you read it on the internet! Happy Valentine’s Day! And don’t forget to ask someone to be your Methodius!
(PS. I know this has nothing to do with psychology, but I just couldn’t help myself. Mea culpa.)
Heart cloud photo available from Shutterstock.
If you guessed, “hate” you’d be wrong. The opposite of “love” is actually, “use.” Let me explain.
How true it is. Our capacity to…
is the key to emotional, relational and spiritual health.
But those things are easier said than done. It’s one thing for St Paul to tell us to “hold every thought captive in obedience to Christ” and to develop our ability to “demolish every argument and pretension that sets itself against the Truth” (2Cor 10:5), it’s quite another thing to pull it off. What’s a faithful mental dragon-slayer to do?