Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Return to Religion

One of my students lent me a book, Return to Religion by Henry C. Link. He explained that it had been originally published in 1936, but just been reprinted this year in India. He lent it to me because of a conversation we were having about the importance of faith and he spoke about his Catholic faith and that he goes to church every Friday and Sunday. He said that going to church for him was important to do, even if he didn't feel like it. He was reminded then of this book whose author wrote that he goes to church because, although he hates to go, he knows it will do him good.

Henry Link says he wrote the book after working for many years as psychologist and discovering that his clients suffered from many typical problems and that after some time he realised that the advice he was giving them sounded like the Bible teachings he had learned when he was growing up. Despite his extensive education and experience in psychology, he found that the scientific language of his profession was inadequate. He states that it was neither clear nor practical enough to be applied to their real life situations. He found during the course of his work that he was reducing a set of scientific facts to a few simple precepts and that those precepts resembled the religious teachings he had abandoned as a young undergraduate student.

He explains that he had given up his religious beliefs and become an agnostic due to what he had learned in his university classes. In his classes of philosophy, he learned about the gradual replacement of religious faith for scientific facts, and in his classes about the history of the development of the Bible he learned about the way it had been rewritten by various individuals causing him to question its veracity. Finally, in his anthropology classes he learned that only provable scientific facts could be relied upon and that the existence of God was not a provable fact. He says that his student life led him to conclude that, "The more analytical a student, the more penetrating his search for truth, the higher his I.Q., the more likely he was to be stripped of his religious beliefs."

These kinds of Intelligence Quotient tests were being developed during the period of the writing of the book and as a psychologist he took part in much of the research, being responsible for their planning and supervision and with access to the results. Of these, he says that one of the findings was that the individuals who believed in religion or attended church had significantly better personalities than those who did not. He doesn't explain in what sense they had better personalities but we might conclude from the rest of the book what qualities he thinks make a good personality as discussed below.

A little disappointingly, the rest of the book is less about religion and his reasons for rekindling his faith and more about his clients' problems and the advice he gave them. But on occasions he does refer to the Bible passage that he believes informed his decision. He writes mainly about his view that his clients' problems stem mainly from introversion and a tendency towards solitary pursuits and his advice to them is that they should dedicate themselves to social activities such as playing sports, dancing, joining clubs and going to church. His intention is to encourage his clients to solve their problems by developing less selfish habits by dedicating themselves to spending more time with others and by learning how to make others happy become more selfless.

He says that, "By nature, the individual is selfish, and inclined to follow his immediate impulses. The personality tests and the clinical experience of psychologists prove conclusively that this road leads to introversion, to emotional instability and neuroticism, to intellectual futility, to maladjustment, to unhappiness. It requires religion, or something higher than the individual or even a society of individuals, to overcome the selfish impulses of the natural man and to lead him to a more successful and a fuller life." 

He advocates becoming an extrovert and claims that Jesus himself was one because he would make social contacts easily, talk to everyone he met regardless of who they were and was naturally altruistic. He says that Jesus preached, "meekness in spirit but boldness in action."

His overall message seems to be that what his clients lacked were the morals, values and sense of right and wrong held by those who receive a religious education while growing up. It appears that even his years of study and training as a psychologist were of less help to him than his own religious education when attempting to set his clients onto a better path in life. 

Although this book was first published 82 years ago it seems just as true today. In the western world, the overemphasis on the importance of scientific reasoning in education and the lack of any religious or moral education in many schools or homes has led to a decline in morality. Immoral behaviour such as lying, stealing, cheating, infidelity and promiscuity all seem to be more prevalent, more acceptable in some quarters and less shocking than in the past. Fashion and popular culture seem to positively encourage promiscuity as a right and freedom that should be indulged in regularly. The advances in technology have made it easier for people to be lazy and introverted if they are so inclined and the percentage of the population with depression and mental health problems is almost certainly higher than it was in 1936.

So what do these people who do not have a faith believe in? How do they find happiness and meaning in their lives? Do they never stop to ask what is this world we live in? Do they ever ask what is space, why are there so many stars and where does the universe end?

These are questions that I have no answers to. But I believe that the return to a spiritual life would help many who are suffering.

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