5. Religion Versus Psychology

Virtually all psychologists who write about self-development and personal transformation begin with this premise: human beings have the power to shape their lives. This passage demonstrates this view:

Thoughts aren’t so much about things, they are the things themselves…A successful, happy life is simply a matter of realizing that you have the ability to make almost anything happen—life is, literally, what you think about it…Today, there’s little in your body that was there a few years ago. Like a river, you’re constantly changing, never completely formed. The real you is something beyond your form. The real you is unlimited. Through your thought, you can encompass everything: a vast system of harmony, co-operation, and love.

Religion in its pure form confirms the preceding principle and facilitates and expands what psychologists try but often fail to achieve. Most psychologists recognize the rational (cognitive) and emotional (affective) nature of human beings, yet ignore the spiritual. If they acknowledged and fully employed the power of the spiritual, they would be astonished by their achievements.

Abraham Maslow, who has studied the outermost reaches of human potential, and is recognized as the most prominent figure in “self-actualization movement,” has classified human needs from the most basic or urgent to the least:

  • Physical or survival
  • Safety or security
  • Love and belonging
  • Approval and recognition
  • Knowledge and understanding
  • Order, beauty, truth, justice, and goodness
  • Transcendence: spiritual needs for broader cosmic identification

Maslow’s classification adequately accounts for the behavior of children and spiritually immature adults. But when a soul is awakened and empowered by the great Spirit, Maslow’s theory falls apart. It cannot explain the priorities of the spiritually aspiring. When God touches a soul, the chain of command changes entirely; the individual transforms into a new creation with a new vision.

The following list shows what would come first or last in the life of a spiritually advanced person. It presents his constitution for life:

  • Love for God and truth
  • Love for people and nature
  • Need to satisfy physical needs • Need for safety
  • Need for knowledge
  • Need for recognition

To speak of the spiritual needs of a human being, as Maslow does, is the exception rather than the rule. Most psychologists define mental health mainly in terms of our primitive needs and desires in the context of the prevailing standards of society. They do not equate health with the presence of peace, awe, joy, and ecstasy, but rather with the absence of neurotic behavior. For instance, if the majority of people live an unchaste life, but experience only tolerable guilt, they consider the response normal. Only when guilt incapacitates the individual do they show any concern.

Moreover, psychology limits the human horizon to the here and now; religion expands it to eternity and infinity. It shows the interconnection of all things—from subatomic particles to the greatest galaxies—for all time. The knowledge and love of God reveal a grand panorama of the future and a fervent hope for attaining it.

The visions of the future are the most powerful motivators for human beings.

The following are a few assets of religion for personal transformation and self- development, which most of today’s psychologists fail to acknowledge or apply. In its pure and perfect essence—as expressed by all the great Teachers and Messengers of the past and in this age by Bahá’u’lláh—religion:

  • Anchors human beings by relating them to God and to all humanity.
  • Provides a clear and lasting purpose to live for and an ever-advancing goal to pursue.
  • Establishes a solid basis for building a high and humble self-esteem.
  • Offers a set of practical values as guide for living.
  • Reduces or eliminates the fear of death.
  • Teaches accountability before God for one’s behavior.
  • Inspires a healthy view of adversity.
  • Strengthens the individual against stress.
  • Creates a community of fellowship, in which people can communicate and understand each other because they uphold the same philosophy and ethical principles.
  • Promotes self-expression and an inner peace through prayer and meditation.
  • Instills a positive attitude towards work.
  • Honors self-sacrifice and glorifies love for people for the sake of God.
  • Advocates objective thinking and independent search for truth.
  • Inspires a sense of peace, awe, and ecstasy.
  • Enhances harmony and understanding among people by honoring and respecting all religions and cultures.
  • Fosters the expression of individuality and uniqueness.
  • Reinforces family ties.
  • Encourages respect for one’s body and a concern for healthy living.
  • Builds a positive view of the future of the world.
  • Guides the individual’s desire for service by providing concrete and practical means through which he can use his talents for the advancement of society.

Besides providing all these practical and verifiable assets, religion claims a mystical influence from God that can further facilitate the process of personal transformation. Thus, in its ability to manifest the human potential, religion, compared to psychology, shines with a dazzling brightness. No psychologist, however learned, can attain his full development without anchoring himself in God and reaping all the spiritual bounties that religion in its pure form bestows.

Great and Blessed is this Day—the Day in which all that lay latent in man hath been and will be made manifest.108 _Bahá’u’lláh

Psychologists have been avoiding the use of the word “spiritual” as if it symbolizes the superstitious beliefs of ancient times. Surprisingly, in recent years their attitude and emphasis has shifted from the mind to the soul, from the material to the spiritual. This passage, from a psychology textbook, points to a trend of times:

Human beings need to believe, even passionately, in things abstract, moral, and “spiritual.” But there are so many divergent “moralities” from which to choose today that the choice itself can be a source of confusion.109

The authors aptly acknowledge the need for the spiritual as well as the difficulty of finding it.

The next chapter focuses on the joy and the honor of receiving the gift of spiritual freedom—a most sublime and splendid gift bestowed on all human beings.

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