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The following program is produced by the University of Michigan broadcasting service under a grant he made from the National Educational Television and Radio Center in cooperation with the National Association of educational broadcasters. Religion and mental health. A program from the series human behavior social and medical research produced by the University of Michigan broadcasting service with special assistance from the Mental Health Research Institute of the University of Michigan. These programs have been developed from interviews with men and women who have the too often on glamorous job of basic research. Research in medicine the physical sciences the social sciences and the behavioral sciences. Occasionally you will hear what may seem like strange or unfamiliar saw. These are the sounds of the participants office laboratory or clinic where the interviews were first conducted. The people you will hear today are the
Rev. S. Leslie Glenn Dr. Earl Loomis and the Reverend George Christian Anderson. And my name is Glenn Phillips. In the previous program on religion and science some of the investigations were discuss and one of the interesting questions was the effect of religion on the individual whether or not religion might or indeed could contribute to mental illness. First Reverend C. Leslie Glenn replied to this question are there sick and healthy religion. Well I'd rather put it the other way that every religion can produce health in people and it's only when they misuse it that it produces sickness and of course I think there's a difference between the amount of health the different religions will will produce. I suppose that's why I belong to a religion that I belong to and we all choose our own because we think there for us is the final sacred and and yet. There's no religion in the world almost today.
Even I would think someone who practices in Africa has no religion which is completely sick. They all produce by certain measure of well-being and strength and inner integrity for the people who practice them. And yet you can practice them in a bad way and in that sense they become unhealthy for you. Dr. Earle Loomis discussed how religion could be unhealthy or harmful to the individual he said. Paul Sigmund Freud's position on this is probably the classic one and he's probably a classic Gothard side since he is really in many ways the founder of all modern Depp's kind of tree in psychology. Even those forms that have deviated from his central direction. Freud believed that religion as he saw it in his community and through the eyes of his patients could constitute a an unrealistic escape to a wish fulfilling
fairy land or world of unreality. A world that was made up of entities and images and and relationships it could not be talked about scientifically could not be shared in any demonstrable way and which fed into the need of all people but particularly neurotic people to regress or go backward to a more perfect. To a more painless to a less complicated way of life to go back to wish fulfillment childhood infancy level of development and not to face the cruel hard facts of life. In other words where the religious men Freud thought that death was replaced by the idea of immortality. Death is
painful death is real we can measure death we can count death we can see death we know about death immortality we we can't see we can't measure we don't know about and people have all kinds of opinions about it. So he saw this is a kind of easy way out and one that a really scientific Mattoo or thinking person would would probably avoid. While the more immature and erotic a person would take the easy way. This is one of his feelings about religion that was kind of immature. My second feeling he had about it was that religion was a way that people had a kind of unrealistically dealing with their guilt they could through religion. Impose on themselves certain routines and strictures and and inhibitions and rituals and rites which by going through or which by following would would make them feel less badly or less uncomfortable and not have to face the things that are really
wrong with them. Again he saw it as a kind of escape into a kind of artificial system that didn't have much bearing on reality. His feeling was that religion was a kind of shared neurosis and that a religion was a group of people kind of playing together this this neurotic game. And he saw again and again in his practice the instances of where religion had had precisely this function for a given patient where a person would take part in a religious act socalled rather than face the truth about himself. Freud was deeply interested in people seeing the truth about themselves. So so this is a kind of observation that leads many psychiatrists in the past and some in the present do have serious doubts about most religion and leads
most psychiatrists still to have some doubts about religion in certain of its manifestations. Other words we don't feel that religion can be exempt from the scrutinizing I have psychiatry. This doesn't mean that we can a psychiatrist know any more about the ultimate unmeasurable infinite than in the other man perhaps we know less and some ways but we certainly are in a position to see what seemed to be the observable effects of religious life and behavior of patients and to some extent in other people. Well Reverend George Christian Anderson's views. I ask him if religion could really be harmful. His reply was the expression religion is harmful. Of course is a sweetened statement that would be very difficult to prove as such. The question has to be stated had to be rephrased this way. There are certain religious practices which do not contribute
to the healthy psychological development of a person. There are many things in religion. And here again we are confused because we want to know what we mean by religion. Do we mean religions which are organizations or do we mean a broader appreciation of spiritual mahl values. But there are many things in organized religions and in the pursuit of modern spiritual values which are of enormous help in creating healthy emotional attitudes and thus leading to good psychological and physical health in the person. Reverend Anderson continued his statement about the harmfulness of religion by saying. Well here again be careful of your words now when you say that religion can be harmful. That's almost like saying that air can be harmful for a person. You have to ask what kind of a are and in what situation. There are certain religious practices which are not conducive to good health or good mental health. So we have to be careful not to
condemn all of religion. What practices are we speaking about and what are the intellectual beliefs to which we're asking the individual to conform or accept. If it is not the religion that is harmful. I wondered if it could be the byproduct so to speak. Again Reverend Anderson. Yes I recall reading recently in a very fine Jesuit magazine an article by a splendid Catholic scholar in which he pointed out that we all must be careful that we are not guilty of making God some kind of a lovely old lavishing grandfather that if we think that we can turn to our grandfather God in heaven every time we want something in that we're going to be satisfied. This is a childish approach to God. And here's a good illustration where our religious practices and perhaps even religious doctrines if they keep us arrested at an infantile level of
development then this isn't contributing to good psychological growth. Religion and mental help suggest the employment of a trained psychologist and psychiatrist. Dr Loomis is a psychiatrist and earlier referred to theories of Freud in response to the question Are there conflicts between religion and psychological concepts. Reverend Lenz said no I should hope not. I should think not. Maybe I'm giving you the answer from what I what I want to have to be to be true. Certainly there is evidence that there are psycho analytic workers psychiatrists psychoanalysts who are atheists and there are psychiatrists and psychoanalysts who are Christians or are Jews practicing their religion so that it shows that the conflict with religion does not line psychoanalysis itself or any concepts but it rather lies in the philosophy
that's behind it as we find the biologists who who are religious men and biologists who are atheists. It isn't in the scientific facts they know but it is in the philosophy of other religious training other religious background which they associate with those facts. Can mental illness have religious significance. Again Reverend Glenn. Yes I think it can certainly. What happens and in the case of many people is that there are mental breakdown is caused by some lack of confidence. With what you might call a cosmic uncertainty some loneliness some lack of security which religious people generally have. Young said one time that he this is often been misquoted and I may not have it exactly right now but he said suddenly he said something like this I read that anybody that he had never found any person over 35
who came in as a patient who attended church. In other words his patients were on him on non church people after the age of 35 because that group is apt to be uncertain and lonely and facing increasing loneliness as they get older and in need of a doctor and that's why mental illness does have. But I just significance what religion does primarily for people is give them certainty and assurance and confidence and that they ought to have that's our human birthright that's how we were created meant to be. And if we lose that there is some sickness in allies even though we may not need the doctor and of course if it gets bad enough so that we're completely and say that's when we're having the nervous breakdown I must have a psychiatrist. Theories are of course one thing and statistical data another Dr Loomis discussed the available statistics showing a relationship between religion and mental illness. Our findings are limited to a kind of superficial
statistic because no one yet knows how to measure how strong a religious background is or whether it rubbed off or not. We have some statistical data on the nomination of membership and type of illness. These statistics are now. Available but they're not generally confirmed in the sense of having been tested in numerous places. They are suggestive. There are some statistics which would suggest that certain types of religious concerns may reflect themselves in certain kinds of neurotic illnesses. Is it possible that any resultant mental or emotional disturbance brought about by religious practices may be a self-imposed penance. Dr Loomis said I don't think it's as simple as that I think that that the people who get ill are the people whose faith has failed.
In some way or who have become ill in spite of their faith and you see both these types you see the person who comes into treatment whether they have faith it's let him down and he's bitter and hurt and angry with or angry with his parents he's angry with his church and angry with God and the process of treatment generally want to three things happens. He may. Give up his faith. He may regroup and strengthen his face or he may change his face. But usually something happens. And it need not be any one of the three and you can hardly predict in advance which it will be. The other thing one will see sometimes is a person whose faith remains strong despite his illness and for whom the faith may be the one linked to. Security the person has to describe at some
length by Intan Boyson who was for some 30 years in a mental hospital chaplain and who had occasion many times to observe that some of the patients who could survive actually held together only had seemed to him. On the basis of the persistence of a strong faith. So I think I think we have it both ways. Can we conclude that the religious mores and doctrines may contribute to mental illness. Reverend Glenn commented Yes I guess a that's true. We have to recognize that that religion can be both good and bad. All expressions of religion are not good. The problem which religious leaders have always had it is a problem of taking the native instinct for a legend in the human race and turning it into a good channel because it isn't turned into a good channel. It will get into a bad situation all kinds of gross superstitions and bad practices go up and backward places where where
religion does not have the proper leadership. And when I say this I don't mean for example that you might say that the Methodists are a good religion the Baptist bad religion. I would mean that among the Methodists there are those who practice it to their great strength and usefulness. And then there's a certain way by which Methodism can be badly practicing with the Baptists. A form of Protestantism same way with Roman Catholic Church the good Roman Catholics and bedroom. It's going to cause companions and bad ones. Good Jews and bad ones. I mean within each particular way and I would apply also to the Muslims and the but as those all those within each particular division of religion it produces health and happiness for some and it produces only failure and life for others because somehow they're doing it wrong they haven't got the right leadership or the proper understanding of the faith itself. I asked Reverend Glenn if his opinion could be demonstrated. Well I can only think that many scholars have written about this and of
course anthropologists and people like that going on primitive people or even going in our own society which we can say in any given city. People who who find in the First Baptist Church are wonderful things and people who misunderstand the First Baptist Church and find something better. I think I would have to be demonstrated just the way from books that have been published and studies and also field workers could could not dancey see the thing laid out before their eyes almost any minister or rabbi or priest could tell you people give you names addresses of those who don't seem to understand what he's talking about and really really use the religion for their own damnation as you say. And I ask Reverend Anderson if there had been studies conducted in motivation to determine why one religion or doctrine is accepted as opposed to another. Oh yes there have been a number of studies about this. Concerning the motivations for men going into the ministry there are very many motives there. They are next. Some are of high motives and some are.
Very poor motives. For instance I. We know that some men change their denominations. These are clergymen who stop being a Baptist college men or a Methodist clergyman and go into the Episcopal Church of the Presbyterian Church where there is a social prestige is enhanced and the income is higher. This shifting from church to church on the part of many individuals can be a very sinister thing. You take the tech some of the suburbs family will move in and that one of the first questions they will ask sometimes is who are the right people that go to the right church. And so they will join their church so they can meet the so-called right people. Reverend Anderson was also asked. If economic or cultural groups tend to select certain churches to satisfy a psychological need. Yes that is true. But to go back to the psychological question a person uses their religion according to their psychological needs one can almost
say that a person selects their religion according to their psychological needs. If their psycho psychological needs are very immature. If the individual is rather childish or remaining in adolescence that of growing up then the kind of religion he selects is apt to reflect. This kind of thinking in these kind of practices we have noticed this. I think this is this is something which can be fairly well verified. In summary these comments were offered by Dr littleness. Well I think there are two or three questions and I'll be frank to give you my opinion. These are based not on extensive research or on wide demonstrable knowledge but I'll give you my opinions these are that religion may or may not be present in secular healthy people. That the. The presence of religion in a person's life is no guarantee of health.
On the other hand that for some people religion may be either a substitute for sickness or prevention against it. And I've stated a variety of ways it can and it can work out. Furthermore and this is one of the things that probably isn't too popular say. I think they're sick unhealthy religions. You've implied something like this and think yourself in your question and I think that where you find a 6 segment. I'm not talking about major faith groups now I'm talking about a six segment in which religion is misused. Let's say religion is used to increase guilt and to manipulate human behavior without laying guilt and freeing human behavior. This is a sick religion. I think when religion is used to hide truths from man rather than open doors of truth this is a sick religion. I think when religion is used to cut people off from you know Missy and understanding and relationship rather than open
to them the doors of communication with each other and the doors of self-expression and self understanding mutual knowledge. I think here too it's a sick religion and I think psychiatry does in a way have a contribution to the great world religions to help them do a certain amount of self-examination. Are you indeed producing the kind of character the kind of personality the kind of behavior in your parishioners by your educational system by your cult by your community. But you say you want a man to be concrete. Here's a community that says we want our children to be to be kind to one another we want them to be loving to one another. We want them to love their mothers and fathers and to love their brothers and sisters and love their teachers and to work well together. And we want them to respect a certain body of doctrine and ideals and live up to them. And how do we produce this. And you ask and you discover that they
are trying to inculpate love in hateful ways. Psychiatry can see these things. Perhaps the religion should know this and should be able to see it itself but they don't often. And sometimes psychiatry can say well look if you do this this is likely to follow. And here we can show you an instance where it happened again and again. And the face group then can take another look and say gee whiz we've been trying to teach these kids to be kind but we've been unkind to them as teachers what kind of an example is this. Oh we've been trying to teach these kids to trust each other but we haven't trusted them. How can we teach trust to buy distrust. This seems perfectly obvious but oh major faith groups have come to see this through psychiatry's help I think in the last 25 50 years and are now in CA getting in their clergy and in their teaching groups a re-examination of not only what is taught but how it is taught when it is taught and how is a child treated while he's being exposed to religious doctrine and moral teaching into ritual.
Is this made something that occurs in the context of love something that is warmly related to the child's you know religion that he expresses as he grows up through the stages of development and when he has trust when he has responsibility when he has relationship as part of his growing opening in his life. Does it lay hold on those levels of development or is it something that is violently out of kilter with a child's natural and inner self. So there is sort of a foreign body and a kind of thorn in the flesh or a kind of splinter wound that that festers until it makes him sick. Or something and that he has to take out on somebody else. Now there are places in and communions and communities where religion serves this function kind of vicious function and there are others in which it serves the opposite I mean no place is 100 percent good or bad and I'm not naming names but within the various faith groups one can
find subgroups or subcultures or families. Very often it's a small family unit of three or four families related to one another in which religion is really used to punish people or viciously to hurt them. People use it against each other and this is a sick use of religion and it's surprising to find that people have very wide doctrinal differences have come to see this point. From all three major American face groups in from all segments from screaming liberal extremely conservative there are individuals and small units that have studied this accepted this and are trying it out. So it isn't limited to one faith group or one position on the can conservative liberal continuum. And Reverend Anderson concluded by saying Well I think it's important for us to have some further studies to differentiate between these two words sin and
sickness. We need to understand more about the psychological development of individuals and also the constitutional factors that is the physiological factors that influence and distort behavior. Secondly I think. It is important for physicians and psychiatrists and psychologists to take another look at some of the teachings of the great religions because they may find in these religions magnificent spiritual moral values which can be of great help in psychotherapy. Too often psychiatrists and doctors have rejected religion because they were not altogether happy about the doctrines of the religious group or this particular rabbi. Group of tenets. There is need for clergymen to look at the behavioral
scientists and get all the information they can. But I think it's equally important for doctors and psychologists to sit down with the philosophers and the theologians probably the greatest need that we have today in this whole field to try to work out some relationship between model philosophy and psychology. Now this is a great task and primarily this is what the academy is engaged in. I asked Reverend Glenn as one of the foremost clergymen and educators what he felt were the immediate challenges for religious leaders. He said When I think of what I've just been saying is true it's to try to reach more people to my own particular interest is to try to popularize religious thought by writing. I think the work that C.S. Lewis does it has done in England is very good. I have a friend named Herman Wouk a Jewish author who's just written a book called This Is My God which is a popular
exposition of Conservative Judaism a very difficult thing to explain and and it's been a popular book and has been has had a big influence. I think that's that's a big job to try to move as fast as we can. Making more chaplains available in the colleges make you more religious teaching available in the colleges again without compulsion with no effort to force people to take classes or to adopt an official viewpoint but offer them all the best of the different religions. I think we have to move fast to step up that process and we will have a stronger country because the people will be religiously better grounded. They'll have a better understanding of what democracy means because I believe it's founded on the Bible and Judaism and Christianity and in general the social life will be sweetened and improved if more people can be made to understand. Reverend C. Leslie Glenn Dr. Earle Lumos and Reverend George Christian Anderson
Behavioral science research
Religion and mental health
Producing Organization
University of Michigan
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
This program focuses on research in religion and mental health. Guests are: C. Leslie Glenn, B.D., University of Michigan; Rev. George C. Anderson, Academy of Religion and Mental Health, New York City; and Earl Loomis, M.D., Union Theological Seminary, New York City.
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A documentary series on behavioral science and its role in understanding human health.
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Host: Cowlin, Bert
Interviewee: Glenn, Leslie, 1900-
Interviewee: Anderson, George Christian
Interviewee: Loomis, Earl
Producing Organization: University of Michigan
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University of Maryland
Identifier: 61-36-9 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:29:07
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Chicago: “Behavioral science research; Religion and mental health,” 1961-08-07, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed May 20, 2022,
MLA: “Behavioral science research; Religion and mental health.” 1961-08-07. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. May 20, 2022. <>.
APA: Behavioral science research; Religion and mental health. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from