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Christianity And Sanity

Creator: Raymond Dodge (author)
Date: November 1901
Publication: Methodist Review
Source: Available at selected libraries

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CHRISTIANITY, as we find it in Christ's precepts and life, constitutes a unique system of mental hygiene. The grounds for this statement as here made are neither philosophical nor theological, but plain, matter-of-fact insight into human nature as we find it; and the contention of this article is that the fundamental principles of Christianity are the fundamental principles of a thoroughly wholesome mental life.


A prominent psychiatrist recently said that he believed no theological student should be graduated without spending at least three weeks of active service in an insane asylum; he believed it was impossible to thoroughly understand human nature or to minister most intelligently to its needs until one became somewhat acquainted with its pathological phenomena. His thought was not far wrong, however exaggerated his statement may at first appear. The insanities of mind certainly help us to understand many a shadow that crosses our normal consciousness. They expose human frailties and limitations with awful distinctness, while they indicate morbid tendencies that we must ever strive to correct and counteract. Their value, however, is not all negative; just as in general we regularly fail to appreciate health until we come into contact with disease, so, I believe, the insanities of mind reveal the hygienic value of many phases of our normal life that we ordinarily fail to appreciate. It is in this light I would be interpreted when I say that my work in pathological psychology has brought home to me over and over again the marvelous wholesomeness of the teachings of the Christ.


The wholesomeness of religion is not a universally admitted thesis. On the contrary religious phenomena are only too often regarded as something morbid and abnormal. The Master himself was accused of being in league with the spirit of evil. The little band of apostles were thought to be intoxicated when they were first baptized with the Holy Spirit. Even now conversion is sometimes studied as though it were something pathological; and religion is given a prominent place in the etiology of insanity by a majority of the text-books. Moreover, many a scientist leading a blameless life, inspired by high ideals of service to humanity, holds himself aloof from the Christian Church because he is unwilling to compromise his high standard of truthfulness by subscribing to dogmas which he is unable to prove; and we not infrequently find an honest, upright man who regards religious enthusiasm as some sort of unbecoming emotional weakness. Unquestionably there is an element of truth in some of these counter contentions. Religious excitement certainly has occasioned the breakdown of many a weakened and unbalanced mind; but adolescence and childbirth have occasioned many more breakdowns, and they cannot be termed pathological or abnormal. I must admit, however, that the real difficulty is not got rid of in this easy negative argument, for there must be some morbid element in an otherwise normal event when it is the cause of a pathological process. I think it must be sorrowfully admitted that there are some quite generally accepted methods of stimulating religious interest which are not thoroughly wholesome, but they are certainly very far removed from the gentle, tactful methods of the Master when he called his disciples or awakened the slumbering longing for a better life in the Samaritan woman at the well of Jacob. And I venture the opinion that, since these questionable methods of revival have little in common with the spirit of the Master, Christianity should not be held responsible for their excesses.


It must be admitted, too, that insanity often adopts the formulae of religious expression. Special revelations from God, special missions and even reincarnations of Christ are among its most frequent vagaries. But the time has passed in the history of psychiatry when the form of the delusions can be made the essential characteristic of the diseased condition. Any given delusion must be regarded not as the essence but as an accident of the disease process. The self-styled Messiah who promenades his asylum ward, contemptuously disdaining to notice either his fellow-patients or his physicians, has chosen a religious word to express an ego-centric consciousness which is perhaps as empty of religious content as a phonograph is which could reproduce the Lord's Prayer. It may be true that "there is no more weak, unstable, and shifty nature in the world than that which finds its joy, perhaps its refuge, in an extremely narrow, exclusive, and egotistical religious profession," but I insist that here, too, religious forms are degraded by an irreligious spirit. The haughty ego-centric consciousness and narrow bigotry have nothing in common with the spirit of Christianity. Indeed, whatever name it assumes, nothing could be more manifestly antichristian, if we measure Christianity by its founder, and the doctrines he gave us, as he washed his disciples' feet, and rebuked forever the spirit of pride and selfishness.

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