The Quest for Pow­er: Reli­gion and Politics

Samuel Slipp
  • Review
By – September 8, 2011

Samuel Slipp brings his exper­tise as a psy­cho­an­a­lyst and dis­tin­guished pro­fes­sor of psy­chi­a­try to this schol­ar­ly his­tor­i­cal study of the inter-rela­tion­ship between reli­gion, pol­i­tics, and pow­er. Slipp’s cen­tral the­sis is that reli­gion, at its core, is of great ben­e­fit to mankind and that the cri­tiques of reli­gion put forth by Marx or Freud are incor­rect due to a con­fu­sion of the essence of reli­gion with the cor­rup­tion and mis­use of reli­gion by those in pow­er. In what makes for com­pelling read­ing, Slipp strives to make the case for the heal­ing aspects of faith both as a source of solace and hope for the believ­er as well as a pow­er­ful moti­va­tor of human­i­tar­i­an and altru­is­tic behavior. 

Slipp focus­es on the ear­ly moth­er-child attach­ment as the neu­ro­bi­o­log­i­cal foun­da­tion for the warmth and secu­ri­ty recre­at­ed by plac­ing one­self under the pro­tec­tion of a lov­ing God. The capac­i­ty for empa­thy and care that stems from such secure and lov­ing ear­ly bonds is observed lat­er in the ded­i­ca­tion to ser­vice of many who are reli­gious­ly inspired. For read­ers seek­ing a thought­ful coun­ter­point to the athe­ism of Hitchens and Dawkins, this work will pro­vide much to pon­der. But, it is rea­son­able to con­clude that only those already pre­dis­posed to a lib­er­al, human­is­tic the­ol­o­gy will be con­vinced by Slipp’s argu­ments. Slipp harkens back to the ear­ly Civ­il Rights move­ment and reflects upon Mar­tin Luther King, Jr. work­ing togeth­er with Rab­bi Abra­ham Joshua Hes­chel as the gold stan­dard of what it means to be authen­ti­cal­ly religious. 

Slipp’s psy­cho­an­a­lyt­ic vision of the human con­di­tion under­es­ti­mates the role of a destruc­tive dri­ve with­in each of us. An overem­pha­sis on the cor­rupt­ing role of pol­i­tics on the way in which reli­gion is prac­ticed leads Slipp to min­i­mize the intrin­sic dan­gers and cat­a­stroph­ic poten­tial of reli­gion. When the inter­viewed moth­er of a sui­cide bomber says: thank God my son is dead,” one can­not main­tain that this is a polit­i­cal state­ment or a dis­tor­tion of reli­gious belief. This is the mother’s belief and one empathized with by thou­sands of like-mind­ed wor­ship­pers. More­over, reli­gious lead­ers, with mil­lions of fol­low­ers world­wide, con­demn homo­sex­u­al­i­ty, oppose birth con­trol and abor­tion, and reject the auton­o­my and sex­u­al free­dom of women. 

Like­wise, as physi­cist and Nobel Lau­re­ate Steven Wein­berg recent­ly said in tra­gio-comedic fash­ion, fly­ing planes into tall build­ings in antic­i­pa­tion of eter­nal bliss in par­adise would rep­re­sent a bad career move” if it wasn’t tru­ly and deeply believed. 

None of this should detract from the impor­tant ser­vice that Slipp has done by high­light­ing the vital role of spir­i­tu­al­i­ty, and ele­ments of orga­nized reli­gion, in the end­less strug­gle between the forces of light and dark­ness. Appen­dix, bib­li­og­ra­phy, index.

Steven A. Luel, Ph.D., is asso­ciate pro­fes­sor of edu­ca­tion and psy­chol­o­gy at Touro Col­lege, New York. He is a devel­op­men­tal psy­chol­o­gist and psy­cho­an­a­lyst in pri­vate prac­tice. He is co-edi­tor (with Paul Mar­cus) of Psy­cho­an­a­lyt­ic Reflec­tions on the Holo­caust: Select­ed Essays.

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