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.