Visions of Daniel

Religion and the Human Sciences
An Approach via Spirituality


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Chapter One
Opening a Can of Worms

Religion used to be everything. The religions of traditional societies encompassed every facet of life—conception, birth, puberty, marriage, hunting, planting and harvesting, commerce, warfare, medicine, "science," art, music, death, burial, and the afterlife. Even surveying was originally a religious function. The markers between properties were considered sacred to the gods and, for this reason, were not to be disturbed (DeCoulanges, 1972).

The function of religion has always been to bring meaning and coherence to life—to explain what life is all about and to prescribe how life is to be lived in the face its religious purpose. Meanings and values, beliefs and ethics, credo and commitment, vision and virtue, under-standings and evaluations, ideas and ideals are core hallmarks of religion. So religion touches every aspect of life.

Yet as history progressed, one by one, facets of life branched off and became independent. Socrates was noted—and executed—for teaching youth to question the stories about the gods. Thus, philosophy, the "love of wisdom," emerged alongside of religion. Medieval sacred music was fitted with secular lyrics and played for entertainment. Soon the troubadours were singing their own songs of romance and love rather than hymns of God and the saints. Modern science once provoked heated controversy about the cosmos as understood in the Bible. Today not even the stanchest Fundamentalists insist on the biblical account, that the earth is a flat disk of land supported by pillars sunk into the deep and covered with a hammered-metal-like dome, from which hang the sun, moon, and stars. The hard sciences and religion now coexist in peace.

But the more science touches human life and its meaning, the more entangled religion remains. Biblical Fundamentalists still do protest an evolutionary account of humanity. And medical advances routinely provoke ethical condemnations from religious leaders. Biology comes too close to home. Even worse are the human (or social) sciences—sociology, anthropology, political science, economics, psychology. Religion and the human sciences have been unable to draw their boundaries to anyone's satisfaction.

At the beginnings of American psychology, William James (1902/1961) allowed that religion is an important dimension of human psychology. He addressed the matter in his classic, Varieties of Religious Experience. In contrast, Sigmund Freud (1927/1975) denounced religious beliefs as infantile wishful thinking and named his important treatment of religion The Future of an Illusion. For the most part Freud's influence carried the day, and during much of its first century, modern psychology has been antagonistic to religion. A recent study shows that the majority of psychologists and psychotherapists are much less committed to religion than their clients or the population at large (Bergin & Jensen, 1990).

Nonetheless, psychology is too close to religion to be able to steal away quietly. Early on religionists were already looking to psychology for pointers on pastoral care, and within religious circles concern about pastoral counseling and psychology of religion continued the discussion about the relationship between psychology and religion (Wulff, 1997). Most recently, even secular sources have begun to reintroduce religious—or at least, spiritual—concerns into psychology. So, for example, American Psychologist, the pres-tigious journal of the American Psychological Association, carried a series of articles arguing for the integration of some religious dimension within contemporary psychology (Jones, 1994; Kukla, 1989; O'Donahue, 1989).

It has now become respectable to attend to spiritual and/or religious concerns in psychology and especially in clinical practice and psychotherapy (Bergin, 1980, 1991; Bergin, Masters, & Richards, 1987; Canda, 1988a, 1988b; Conn, 1989; Chandler, Holden, & Kolander, 1992; Ellis, 1980; Ellison & Smith, 1991; Helminiak, 1987c, 1989a; Hiatt, 1986; Kass, Friedman, Leserman, Zuttermeister, & Benson, 1991; Manaster, 1990; McFadden, 1991; Miller, 1990; Moberg, 1978; Moberg & Brused, 1978; Paloutzian & Ellison, 1982; Schneiders, 1989; Shelly & Fish, 1988). But the "and/or" and the "especially" are significant. They point up the ambiguity surrounding the matter. While there is growing consensus that somehow psychology inevitably implicates religious or spiritual issues, there is no coherent and commonly accepted understanding of how religion and the human sciences relate. This is the problem that this book addresses.

The focus here in on psychology, though the overall topic is the human sciences. This is so not only because I am more familiar with psychology than with the other human sciences but also because religious issues come to the fore more saliently in psychology than in economics, political science, anthropology, or sociology. Of course, conflict with religion is at the roots of modern sociology. Its founders, August Comte and Claude-Henri Saint Simon, proposed that, with the full deployment of social science, the superstitions of religion would fall away and a form of positivist religion, a "new Christianity" of ethics and fraternity, would thrive in its place (Reese, 1967, pp. 99, 505-506). Moreover, sociological studies of American society, for example, have analyzed questions of meaning and value (Bellah, Madsen, Sullivan, Swindler, & Tipton, 1985), the very pair of concerns that are central to religion. And serious theoretical discussion, closely related to the religious concern for truth and goodness, surrounds the very nature of sociology as a discipline (Bernstein, 1976; Doran, 1981, 1990; Habermas, 1991/1970; Taylor, 1989; Weber, 1949; Wolfe, 1989, 1993). The question is, How is it possible for a supposedly objective and value-free science to treat of human realities? For not only are these human realities constituted by the meanings and values that people place on them. But the very scientists studying them also buy into particular world views and implicit agendas; the scientists are operating out of their own chosen sets of meaning and value. These methodological issues are the very same ones that also affect psychology (Browning, 1987; Richardson & Guignon, 1991). Thus, while the focus here is on psychology, the methodological issues at stake are common to all the human sciences.

Three Common Approaches

In general, I discern three approaches to relating religion and psychology. In treating the Evangelical integration project, Don Browning's position, and Ken Wilber's position, this book addresses these three approaches. Most globally, there is a call for dialogue. The suggestion is that both religion and psychology have something valid to offer, and conver-sation between the two would somehow be mutually enriching. But determining the ground rules for this dialogue is precisely the interdisciplinary challenge.

Another approach introduces more precision and specifies the domains of competence proper to science and religion. This approach accepts Dilthey's now classic distinction between the Geisteswissenschaften (human or social sciences) and the Naturwissen-schaften (natural or physical sciences) (Palmer, 1969). This distinction suggests that, while the Naturwissenschaften provide explanation about things, the Geisteswissenschaften interpret the meaning of things. (Exactly what this means—and it is problematic—will be discussed in Chapter Three.) Thus, supposedly, there can be no conflict between the natural sciences and religion as long as each remains faithful to its respective role. When the question is about psychology, however, ambiguity reigns again, for both theology and psychology may fall under the Geisteswissenschaften. In this case, the first two approaches are combined, and psychology and religion become partners in a dialogue regarding the meaning of things (Browning, 1987). As may already be obvious, however, this combination of approaches provides no real advance since the topic here from the beginning has been religion and the human sciences.

Finally, borrowed from Hinduism, Buddhism, and disparate strands of Western thought is an approach named "the perennial philosophy" (Huxley, 1945; Wilber, 1996). It suggests that the innermost nature of all things is spiritual or even divine, and thus it indicates a common link that unifies psychological and religious concerns. This approach is the theoretical core of much humanistic and transpersonal psychology, which rightly insists on broadening social science to include the transcendent dimensions of human experience. However, the coherence of this theoretical core remains a problem. As may already be obvious, this unification of disciplines is ultimately bought at the expense of all differentiation of specialized fields of study. Psychology and theology are ultimately collapsed into one.

An Alternative Approach

Detailed exposition and criticism of those approaches fill the latter half of this book. None of them appears to be adequate, but no alternative has been available.

In its first half, this book proposes an alternative; it suggests another approach….

In a volume companion to this one, The Human Core of Spirituality: Mind as Psyche and Spirit (Helminiak, 1996a), I have already exemplified the results of applying this other approach. As the title of that book suggests, spirituality is at the heart of the present discussion. A coherent understanding of spirituality is the key to clarifying the relationship of psychology and religion….

Necessarily, that prior volume gave short shrift to issues of interdisciplinary methodology. This book attends to these issues in detail.

An Overview of the Alternative Approach

A key suggestion was already made: Spirituality is the link between psychology and theology. Of course, here spirituality is taken to refer to an academic discipline or a field a study. It is the study of the lived experience that people call their "spirituality." Accordingly, this side-by-side listing of psychology, spirituality, and theology is already a sorting out of issues that all constitute what is globally called "religion."…

A System of Four Viewpoints

The full-blown presentation of this sorting out comprises a schema of four levels. (See Figure 1.1.) These I call "viewpoints," and they relate in an interlocking system. Viewpoint is a tech-nical term and will be defined in Chapter Two. The term refers to a point of view or a horizon of concern or a stance regarding the attempt to understand something. And the something in question here is the human being and the human situation.

One stance approaches the human with concern simply to understand accurately what happens to be the case. This stance constitutes the positivist viewpoint . Another stance wonders, over and above that, whether what happens to be the case is as it ought to be. Here questions of correct meanings and wholesome values—questions of the true and the good—come into play explicitly. This stance is called the philosophic viewpoint , the stance of the "lover of wisdom." A further stance posits a fullness of truth and goodness as the terminus toward which correct human meanings and values point. This fullness is taken to be God, and this stance is called the theist viewpoint . Finally, a still further stance considers the possibility of human participation in that Fullness, which is God. The concern is to account for human union with God, and this stance is called the theotic viewpoint . Theotic comes from the Greek term theosis , which means deification or human participation in divinity. The study of deification would be called theotics , in contrast to theology, which limits its concern to God….

[There follows a twenty-five-page summary of Daniel's psychology of spirituality, which is presented, argued, and documented in detail in The Human Core of Spirituality and is an application of Bernard Lonergan's analysis of human intentional consciousness to the study of spirituality.]