Are religion and psychology enemies or allies? Can religion and psychology peacefully coexist? Can religion and psychology work together for the sake of social progress? Man and Mind, an anthology of thought-provoking essays, seeks to provide answers to these questions.

The essayists are united in their conviction that most modern psychologists consider psychology a good secular substitute for religion. New York University professor Paul Vitz contends that modern psychology has, in effect, become a kind of religion, namely, a form of secular humanism based on the worship of the self. In Vitz’s measured judgment, “the overriding religious character of so much psychology is its tendency to replace God with the self. Intrinsic human pride and narcissism seem to have found one of their more effective expressions in modern psychology—a discipline that substitutes for the ancient, no longer appealing worship of the Golden Calf what might perhaps be called today’s psychological worship of the Golden Self” Many persons, it seems, who never would attempt to confess their sins to a priest in a confessional box now try to achieve a false sense of self-esteem and self-acceptance by confiding their mistakes, secrets, and innermost thoughts to a psychoanalyst, a sex therapist, or members of an “encounter group.”

According to William Kirk Kilpatrick of Boston University, psychology is woefully inadequate to help people understand and cope with life. Dr. Kilpatrick observes: “Why isn’t secular psychology enough? It offers plausible explanations, good insights, good techniques. It offers very good pills. But it doesn’t offer the one thing that people require most: a sense of meaning.”

Indeed, it is sad but true that, as Kilpatrick continues, “we can even say that the psychological sciences tend to reduce meaning. One comes away from the psychology textbooks with the feeling that though life now seems more explainable, it somehow seems less meaningful. Everything we thought was of value gets explained away. Symphonies and paintings turn out to be sublimations of the sex drive or productions of the right brain hemisphere. Love turns out to be a matter of stimulus and response or a series of transactions conditioned by family patterns.”

Kilpatrick rightly insists that a major problem with secular psychology is that “not only is the noble side of our nature reduced, so is the ignoble side. We are allowed to be neither saints nor sinners because, as it turns out, there is no sin; only synapses.”

Certainly one sure sign of a corrupt society is the deification of the self, of one’s selfish ego. David Riesman of Harvard maintains that our society is suffering from a decline in national morality as a direct result of our narcissistic preoccupation.

“Egocentrism,” he writes, “is now widely peddled as a therapeutic means to encourage self-assertion; and people buy books and attend seminars in which they are encouraged to discover and promote their own feelings and wishes—in some manuals and seminars almost as if this were an ideal or goal in life.”


[Man and Mind: A Christian Theory of Personality, edited by Thomas Burke; Hillsdale, MI: Hillsdale College Press]