Relationship with God --
and "Jewish" Psychotherapy

The Rev. Dr. Peter Toon

[COMMENT: Dr. Toon here points to some deep issues, although I want to clarity some of the terminology and worldview issues raised by his remarks.

It is true that many of the original psychologists were Jewish by birth.  But few, if any, were Jewish by religion.  Freud and Adler were both non-believing secularists.  So it is somewhat misleading to refer to their psychology as "Jewish".   Freud was hostile toward his own Jewish religion. 

Secondly, the term 'therapeutic' (which means "healing") in this kind of context usually implies "secular" or "materialist", as though the secular and pagan folks had the real scoop on healing -- which is demonstrable nonsense.  Christians ought have no problem with genuine healing.  The problem comes when healing is conducted as though God were irrelevant.  It does not work. 

The legitimate discoveries, however, of secular therapists ought to be used by Christians and Jews alike.  The primary failure has been that of Jews and Christians' to develop an honestly Biblical framework within which to incorporate these legitimate findings.  My book, Biblical Inner Healing, was written precisely to deal with this failure.

The Biblical worldview has (in my humble opinion) the only workable framework within which psychology and healing can be rationally understood and pursued.  The secular world does not, and has not delivered on its promises of a new golden age of secularized science.  The 20th century was the most brutal of all human history, not the most healing.  But neither have believing Christians or Jews done much to produce healing.  

Thirdly, the word 'relationship' is just a word.  It has no particularly Biblical or non-Biblical implications.  In fact, because in the Biblical cosmos, persons, not things, are the primary entities, personal relationship is far more rightly a primary category in the Biblical view.  Both the secular and the pagan views end up explaining persons (and thus relationships) away in terms of matter or mystical essences.  Only in the Biblical worldview are persons ultimate entities, and so only there can the end goal of life be a Kingdom of Godly relationships.  The two Great Commandments are all about relationship. 

The problem, in other words, has not been the language, but the worldview which we Westerners have adopted.  Most Western Christians are practicing deists (at best) or atheists (at worst).  They do not understand life in terms of the Biblical doctrine of creation, but in terms of the secularized materialist worldview which the West has adopted. 

(The Intelligent Design folks are reformatting that whole debate, so keep tuned.  The 21st century promises to be much different from the 19th and 20th -- in which Christians were run from the public arena.)

So, I would recommend (as I try to do in Biblical Inner Healing), first of all developing our Biblical worldview -- by which we can then better discern what to keep and what to throw out of resources offered by secularists and pagans.  And then using every bit of truth that is indeed truth within that Biblical worldview context.  In my experience, the results are astonishingly productive. 

We can make much better use of concepts such as "persons" and "relationship" than can secular or pagan people -- because persons and relationships are what the Biblical world is all about.  The world of science and the world of the Spirit -- healing by "therapeutic methods" and by the power of the Holy Spirit -- work hand in hand.  It is all God's world.  It is the secularists and pagans who do not know what to make of relationships, and inescapably subvert them. 

Until we develop the Biblical worldview in contradistinction to the secular/pagan worldview, we will continue to slip and slide, no traction under our feet.   But with a clear understanding of the differences between the two alternative ways of looking at the cosmos, it becomes quite lucid as to who has the more reasonable explanation of life, including the healing of life. 

I am grateful for Dr. Toon raising these issues.  The secular worldview has almost destroyed our Christian witness, much of that through capturing the high ground in the healing professions.  But that has been mostly our own fault for doing so poorly in explaining our own faith. 

I highly recommend the authors to which he refers below.  I recommend also two books by John Macmurray -- Persons in Relation and The Self as Agent.  As Macmurray said, "All thinking for the sake of action, and all action is for the sake of relationship."  And, God Who Acts, by Rabbi Abraham Heschel. 

NOTE:  The word 'relationship' became popular because the science of psychology (developed first in Germany, then Soviet Russia for control of human beings - Pavlov, etc.) came to focus on the relationship aspect of our lives.  The world 'person' developed a new and very helpful meaning because of that.  We had a new way and more focused way of understanding our relationship to God and one another. 

Yes, psychology was first developed by secularists, some of them virulently anti-Christian.  Many still are.  But over the 20th century, actual practicing therapists drifted strongly away from a secular "drive" understanding of human nature, toward a personal relationship understanding -- strongly supporting the Biblical understanding of things.   E. Fox]

Before the 1960s very few Christians, conservative or liberal, Protestant or Catholic, spoke of “my relationship with God/Jesus.”  Rather they used different language to point to their religious convictions, based either on the terms used in the Bible or in the Christian tradition – e.g., a child of God, a son of God, a disciple, following Jesus, walking with Jesus, a baptized believer, a believer, and so on.

What brought the revolution in description from the 1960s onwards which affected ALL kinds of Christians – fundamentalist, conservative, protestant, catholic, liberal and progressive – who hold  all kinds of  “values” and doctrines? 

No version of the Bible in use at that time used the word “relationship” and neither did any official Book of Liturgy!  Thus how could a non-biblical word/expression triumph and be the word to sum up the religious experience of being in touch with God?

The answer begins with the arrival of the therapeutic culture in the 1960s, but there is more to it than that.

After World War II several hundred (mostly Jewish) professional psychologists and psychiatrists changed the culture of the USA (and then of much of western society) by introducing psychotherapy into the popular market place. One thinks of the names of Freud, Adler and Maslow and then the popularizers like Rabbi Joshua Liebman, Rabbi Harold Kishner [When Bad Things happen to Good People], and columnists like Anne Landers and Joyce Brothers.

What did they do? And why did they do it? Here is the answer of Andrew R. Heinze, who has researched this topic more than anyone else:

“To reckon with the myths and realities of Jewish neurosis, those popular psychologists emphasized the psychologically crippling effects of religious persecution and orthodox dogma, defended the neurotic as a creative force in society, and presented the once-ghettorized Jews as an examplar of psychic survival in modern civilization.” [ Jews and the American Soul, Princeton Univ Press, 2005]

Thus there began what was to become the rapid advance of psychotherapy in the USA with its new explanations of human nature and the self, offered first to Jews and then by Jews to Christians and fellow Americans. 

This advance was not primarily because of the secularization of American society, or the arrival of emphasis on human rights, or the loss of the Protestant work ethic, although these things certainly helped erode the received view of human nature and the soul. Rather, it was through the adapting of what Jewish scholars and popularists had first applied to Jewish people to bring them out of the ghetto-mindset  and holocaust-mindset into the mainstream of US society to other Americans, especially to Christians.

What happened to the USA in and from the 1960s has been well explained by Philip Rieff in The Triumph of the Therapeutic, but it is to Heinze’s fascinating and learned book that we must turn for the details of the origins of the Therapeutic as a major reality in shaping American lives and society.

Because of the triumph of the therapeutic in explaining who and what we are,  the whole tone of American life and religion changed – e.g., notice how often we say “I feel” when we really mean, “I think” or “I believe’; and notice also how difficult it is for people to speak objectively about views, which they hold, without getting emotionally involved in commending or defending them (for they feel personally attacked if their views are subjected to discussion).

In the churches, notice how descriptions of salvation, the nature of sin, the Christian life, communion with God, public worship, and so on and so forth have all been touched and often deeply affected by this therapeutic culture. So has the translating of the Bible, Christian music and liturgy and books on maintaining good marriages (here most especially is it most evident even amongst those who wish to maintain “patriarchy” and biblical manhood!).

Here, as an obvious example, I simply point to the widespread use of the word “relationship”  in popular Christian discourse by all kinds of religious persons. At the horizontal level it refers to any kind of sexual union with another person (be it fornication or adultery, sodomy or pederasty, holy matrimony or friendship) and at the vertical level to any kind of felt or perceived union with Divinity. This word  communicates “feeling” and is “experiential” and subjective. >From a truly biblical  or classical position – Christian or Jewish --  its constant use causes believers to lose (a) the divinely ordered relation of holy matrimony as a union of two persons as one flesh for life, and related to this the sense of a family with permanent relatives; and (b) the divinely given by grace ordered relation from God [the Father through the Son] to the believing sinful person for salvation and sanctification in the Body of Christ. [And we have really descended to the lowest in theological terms when we speak of the relationships between the members of the Holy Trinity!!!]

Jews and the American Soul is required reading for those who really have a desire to know why American culture and religion is so deeply therapeutic in all its forms, conservative and liberal. The therapeutic is here to stay it seems but at least it s worth knowing what it is and where it came from!

Finally, if you want to now more about the recent past and present trends  read One Nation under Therapy, by Christina Hoff Sommers and Sally Satel,  St Martin’s Press, 2004.          January 25, 2006

The Rev'd Dr. Peter Toon  MA., D.Phil (Oxford) 

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