Caught in the Pulpit, pg 197

Mar 15, 2016

Clergy are taught to “meet people where they are.” So are psychotherapists. The difference is tat professionals are trained to care for people’s psychological health have a central responsibility to help people grow, and in particular to grow more independent of their counselors. In contrast, the central responsibility of clergy has been to comfort people, which fosters an increasing dependence on counselors and on the community of the church. This may be called inculcating “spiritual growth,” but it can amount to encouraging addiction to the comforts to be found in the arms of the faithful, the surest way of keeping one’s parishioners where they are – needy and trusting and obedient. So if, as many clergy tell us, their congregations are not ready for the truth, not strong enough for the truth, their own practices are in part responsible for this frailty.

Daniel Dennett and Linda LaScola, Caught in the Pulpit pg 197



8 comments on “Caught in the Pulpit, pg 197

  • Yes, this is a very insightful perspective. Indirectly religion and spiritual paths ultimately teach “trusting” and “relying” upon God or some sort of higher power. Some may even stretch this view by saying that it is the spirit within you. Yet, even these views actually are placing responsibility to something that is outside of yourself. They state that “all things are possible THROUGH God” which then gives credit to a source other than the individual or circumstances which truly created the possibility.

    Why is this done? If an individual does good or wrong, the group will try various tactics to get that individual in line with the status quo of the majority. They are viewed as selfish and being considerate of their own needs. Yet, if someone from a group expresses a wrong which would benefit the group or status quo, others from the group will stand up for the person or turn a blind eye. How many crimes have been committed by justifying a group’s selfish needs by belittling an outsider – making the “wrong” in some way and their group as “right”or justified? Introverts, loners, and the daring torchbearers are frequently called selfish while it is actually the group attempting to control someone considered out-of-line.

    Some people prefer a group at all costs and knowingly or unknowingly create elaborate tactics in an attempt to form a cohesive society predictable of a hierarchy and social roles.

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  • I would also add that one cannot teach what one does not know. As our societal knowledge progesses by better understanding human behavior, we can better advise our peers, children, friends …Humanity progresses while religion is generally resistance to change. While religion buries its head in a book filled with many outdated misunderstandings, it knocks itself out of the arena of understanding and their ultimate goal of compassion. They limit themselves by demanding a correctness which has been disproved. For instance, those of us who know someone who is gay, can move beyond the person’s sexuality and give the individual relevant and meaningful advice of where they are at in life. The conservative religionist is stuck in the concept of sin and unable to reach out to the person in an act of love and compassion. The gay individual represents a break in the whole of their group concept and is seen as some sort of outsider which is in need of melding into the collective like a Borg. The group, when united, sees itself as being better able to move forward growing in various ways of prosperity and power – absorbing people into the Oneness of the group enhances the likelihood of this success when their are less challengers.

    The group is valued over an individual’s need of personal wellness. Fostering dependence is taught because that is what they know. Self awareness, thinking for oneself, self care, envisioning a personal direction, communicating effectively and diplomatically while considering your own needs as well as others takes lots of skill, practice, intelligence, education, personal reflection and a authentic curiosity to understand human dynamics. This is not an easy task. Even therapists with a Ph.D. are constantly refining their techniques and expanding their knowledge. Religions cannot teach what they do not know. These answers are not in their books. We have been slowly discovering more and more about human behavior.

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  • Anecdote: a man is admitted to hospital after a deliberate overdose, perhaps a suicide attempt. After the stomach pumping and the vomiting are over, he’s seen by a doctor, Korean, if that makes any difference. Doctor asks if the man believes in God. Man says something indifferently negative, he’s always been a non-confrontational atheist, his own business. Doctor says that he believes in God, and (paraphrasing) “Do you mind if I say a prayer for you, I believe it will help”, takes the mans hands and does some praying. I don’t know if it was the verbal kind or the silent kind. Man accepts this as a well-meaning (if futile) gesture.

    When I heard this I was outraged. Doctor could do this in his own time, if he feels he must, but not while doing his job as a doctor, I declare. Abuse of his position, I said. Attempting to recruit someone in a vulnerable state, I said. Outrageous, vile, disgusting, I said. Christians who heard the same tale, just smiled and said “how nice” and stuff like that. I challenged them and they really did not see what was the matter.

    I tried reversing it: suppose the patient is, say, a devout catholic. And the doctor professes himself to be an atheist, and perhaps asks the patient “Do you pray?”, gets a “Yes”, and then proceeds to suggest that this is a part of his problem, and that NOT praying might help him come better to terms with his mental condition, and be one small step on his long road to recovery.

    How would the Christians react to this idea? I’m certain that said Doctor would be seeking new employment in very short order.

    What do you think?

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  • @OP – In contrast, the central responsibility of clergy has been to comfort people, which fosters an increasing dependence on counselors and on the community of the church.

    This is the essence of religions building and maintaining followings!
    These serve the religious memes, with any needs of the individual, subjugated as an optional extra!

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  • 5
    Cairsley says:

    To OHooligan at #3

    Your attempt to reverse the situation you described did not work so well. An atheist doctor treating a Catholic patient would probably not even think of asking whether the patient prayed, unless there were reason for considering this to be relevant to the patient’s treatment. If there were grounds for supposing that the patient’s dependence on imaginary entities was impeding his healing, then there might well be an occasion for the doctor to say something like the words you put in his mouth. But the situation you envisage would not be the right time to do this; the appropriate time would be when, among other things, the patient is not undergoing emergency treatment to save him from danger.

    I quite agree with your view of the religious doctor who offers to pray with a patient. He is not employed to do that, and he is taking advantage of his position and the patient’s vulnerability to foist his religion on the patient. If I were that patient, I would report such misconduct to his superiors. Since I do not live in the USA, that may be sufficient to put a stop to that doctor’s unprofessional nonsense.

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  • Sure, that fits their business model to a Tee; keep the flock ignorant and milk them for what they are worth. I know there are clergy individuals who mean well, but are stuck in their own religion (See The Clergy Project) and cannot see a way out. However, the religious organisation is all about money and power; in that they are no different than the management of any commercial company.
    It’s worked great for the catholic church for over a 1000 years!

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  • 7
    fadeordraw says:

    This for-discussion paragraph is more interesting than first appears. From pervious comments on the RD site, we would understand that religion, for the most part, involves a childhood indoctrination. So in this example, people seeking counselling from religious sources would be encouraged to find comfort in the continued commitment to the faith, contagion, addition…. We would not expect otherwise. For non-religious counselling, it is a presumption that the purpose is for those being counselled “to grow more independent of their counselors”. Is there evidence that that is what happens? The psychotherapy industry often involves years of sessions with individuals, who are reinforced into a given psychotherapy approach, which is to remain with them even when the sessions cease. Noting that economically, of course, the therapist, as with the priest, has a vested interest in the continuing the counselling with a given individual, are there not many similarities between faith-based and secular-based psychotherapy counselling? And for those who enter such counselling suffering, which one provides superior rates of relief? The majority of the economically suffering in the African and South American continents opted for the faith-based approach, while the majority in most areas of Western countries go for the secular approach. All of which is to say, in the realm of “psychotherapy”, and the various hypotheses promoted, I remain a skeptic and, given the sadness experienced by those involved, surely what works in a given context is what matters. The suggestion, however, that psychotherapy seeks independence of the counsellor, without also seeking independence of the associated therapeutic, or doctrine, approach involved, does raise an interesting question for atheists.

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  • The following is a list of secular psychotherapies that are regarded as harmful: critical incident stress debriefing, facilitated communication, recovered-memory techniques, boot camps for conduct disorder, attachment therapy, dissociative identity disorder-oriented psychotherapy, grief counselling for normal bereavement and expressive-experiential psychotherapies. Ooops! Priest or psychotherapist? Religion or science? Common denominator? Humanity. Problem?…Well…

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