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Therapy and Religion.

"Counselling is the new religion, warns Archbishop Carey". Steve Doughty reported this attack on therapy, education and wealth as three forms of idolatry (Daily Mail, 2 August p24). This event was widely reported on 1 August on radio and TV where most of each report focused on the therapy idol rather than the other two cited.

Oliver James was bought in to defend therapy and on each occasion he used his stint to attack the inequality that he feels is caused by the market society. He was on the Moral Maze to repeat what he said elsewhere on this and to promote his silly book Britain On The Couch (1997). James holds that capitalism is to blame as it makes most of us feel we are losers even when we have not done so badly. People tend to go on spending sprees when they feel bad about themselves, and so this is good for business. He favours the Scandinavian democracies that tame the market and ensure more equality. He also favours drugs like Prozac.

In his attack on therapy, Dr Carey held that it could become a false god that masks the reality of evil. It can encourage selfishness. We have become fascinated with the healing of the body and the mind. The unspoken assumption is that if we can keep in tune with our inner selves then all will be well. Dr Carey admitted that Jesus was at one with himself so Christianity is not against therapy on principle. Oliver James also admitted no absolute clash of therapy and religion on his various media appearances.

Steve Doughty gives some quotations from Dr Carey's speech (p24). Dr Carey says, "Therapy can easily fail to face up to the reality of sin in our lives. And when therapy replaces faith and when therapeutic techniques are seen as the total answer to humanity's deepest needs and longings, another idolatry is introduced. That idolatry reveals itself when it replaces the gospel by focusing solely on satisfying ‘my happiness, my needs, my desires'." Many of the clergy were held to have neglected parts of basic Christianity in the attempt to appease their congregations and make them feel better. He is accusing them of corruption: "Listen to many sermons today and this therapeutic approach is uppermost. Missing is the appeal to a holy God and His call to us to turn to Him in repentance and faith. Missing also is a true appreciation of the depth and reality of sin and our – and the world's – need for salvation." He went on to say that education could also be a false god: "When education is seen as the answer to mankind's problems, then serious troubles begin. Why is it that, in spite of universal education in First World countries, there is such crime, vandalism and breakdown of family life? Why is it that many terrible atrocities have occurred in advanced societies? In my country my church was investing in education long before the state took an interest" (p24). He went on to say that the church was against the New Age cults.

Dr Carey might not want to face up to the fact that all gods are false. Evil is not so much a reality as an ignorance or absence of knowledge of the good, as Augustine pointed out. But sin is quite absurd. On the one hand, there is no God to disobey, and on the other we could not do what we ourselves held to be wrong (as Plato explained). Jesus, of course, never existed--as G.A. Wells makes clear enough in his many books, e.g. The Jesus Myth (1998). Faith fails, as we will not let things go unchecked in the way it assumes that we have to. Our five senses reassess all around us and we cognitively revise all we behold, even if we fail to amend what we think. Salvation from the fact of death is sadly a complete delusion.

It is true that the vicars have let slip the unpopular aspects of the creed. Most people today think that Christianity adheres to bourgeois or middle class values when in reality it was originally otherworldly and indifferent to ordinary morals. It repudiated the world on the meme that the end was nigh. The modern vicars are more in the grip of sociology than psychotherapy though, and Political Correctness is a far greater rival to religion than therapy is – both within and without the church. But then this Archbishop and his forerunner were themselves in the grip of this PC idol, especially in its meme of equality, as their support of female clergy shows. It has certainly been against the Christian creed for the last two thousand years to have female clergy, and that is why they did not exist till lately.

Carey raises some prima facie criticisms of education as a solution to modern problems but they are not adequate. It is true that the problem of rising crime is one of mass urban society. As Ferdinand Tonnies rightly held in his Community and Association (1887), the movement from the villages to the towns brought about a society of strangers that could no longer police itself. The task of policing society became a job for the division of labour but it remained one that only existed because of a corrupt few who would lower themselves to crime. The corrupt seem to be due to remain with us for a long time yet, though if we were all properly brought up, they would soon cease to exist. Such civilising trends are possible.

From 1800 to 1850 in Britain, a society emerged that no longer bore arms. At the same time, the first police forces also emerged in Britain, unarmed or only lightly armed. It has been claimed that Methodism had a part in that civilising result. I would not deny it, though it was also a time when lots of liberal propaganda was being produced. But there still remained the corrupt minority of criminals and so the certain need for a police force to defend social liberty. With the shake up of society in the Second World War and a particularly naïve and ignorant generation that built up the welfare state in the wake of the war, the public had set themselves on the moral decline that Dr Carey sees has resulted in the rise of crime and the breakdown of the family today. While the study of economics is value free, the actual market society teaches us values that tend to civilise us, like the honesty, independence and trustworthiness that we need in most jobs. So the market itself is not value free. It helps us to make realistic choices that will help to build up our character.

The welfare state since 1945 has undermined this civilising factor, allowing some of us to make choices at the expense of others, choices which have not truly been viable without state aid. If we had to face the full price of what we did ourselves then we may have acted more realistically. The state has also encouraged more children to think that they do have a right to what they want at others' expense, and this has led more of them into crime. If they do not have something they want when they want it, they feel deprived and this justifies them to help themselves in criminal abuse of others. The state, by always being there to back us up, has allowed some of us to choose divorce or an irresponsible marriage, and has therefore been the chief enemy of the family since 1945 – and its only real enemy. The family has ceased to be an economic unit, and to that extent it has died. But the due decay of state welfare will revive it. The universal education that Dr Carey cites is very poor and haply inferior to that which those who left school at 14 got at work in the inter-war years. I did say above that the post-war generation was a particularly ignorant generation, but I meant in economics not in good manners or in social responsibility. I freely admit that they had better manners by far than members of my own generation who are amongst their children. Education in the sense of knowing more is not something that we can have too much of, but the rise of vandalism has gone along with a controversy over a decline of standards in education and a general dumbing-down of all subjects. Maybe the church should not have let the state get hold of education.

What the archbishop's case against wealth was did not appear in the papers or on the media but it is not likely to be sound. What is the true value of therapy? I think the Stoics got it right and their insights are largely incorporated into the modern therapy paradigm of Albert Ellis, which has recently been advocated in Three Minute Therapy (1997) by LA member D.R. Steele and M.R. Edelstein. The Sheldon Press in the UK put forward titles like Jealousy (1986) by Dr Paul Hauck, (amongst some ten others by that author) and he also puts forward Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy, the name Albert Ellis calls his therapy. It urges the use of reason, which is intrinsically free of all authority. It is not the grand solution to all problems but it deals openly and freely with personal problems and it is often surprising what a little clear thought can achieve.


"In a therapeutic society, medical services are free, but people are not; in an open society, people are free but nothing else is." THOMAS SZASZ

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© Libertarian Alliance  2001


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