The role of religion and the coronavirus pandemic
During these difficult times, people are being called to care for one another. In my experience as a Protestant and a psychotherapist, I’ve dealt with conflicting viewpoints and found a helpful balance.
Sigmund Freud is considered the father of psychoanalysis. Some believe that he was led into the field by his opposition to religion. Religion, Freud believed, was an expression of underlying psychological neuroses and distress. A quote of Freud: “Religion is an illusion and it derives its strength from the fact that it falls in with our instinctual desires.”
Early on, clinicians such as Carl Gustav Jung began seeing things differently. Jung was once a trusted colleague of Freud. Freud considered Jung to someday be his heir to psychoanalysis. However, their relationship began to deteriorate over several years. Jung began to disagree with some of the basic tenets of Freud’s theory. For one thing, Jung began to see the use of religion in a more positive way. In fact, in rejection of Freud’s work, Jung made his own assertion that “it is the absence of religion, not its presence, which leads to neurosis.”
These are difficult times that we live in. Dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic has not been easy on any of us. In my current practice, I, unfortunately, see people whose anxiety has gone to a panic state. I witness marriages that are coming apart. I see depression and genuine discouragement and fear among health care workers and other essential workers. I have people who greatly fear going to the grocery store. Others are having a tough time coping – feeling like prisoners in their own homes.
Life and our various faith traditions do not promise that difficult times will not exist. One of the favorite Psalms is Psalm 23. The fourth verse says, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for thou art with me, thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.” It is difficult for many of us to walk through this pandemic without fear. It is difficult to feel protection and comfort. We know from Matthew 25 and other places that “God’s comfort” often
includes contact with others. We see in the words of Jesus that God is the person who welcomes the stranger, visits the sick and cares for the least of these.
We do not know how long this pandemic is going to last. However, we do know that we are in this for a long time yet. Some people are living with the tough issues I mentioned earlier. Some of them may need psychological health. All of them need care from others. We can integrate faith with their issues by just taking time to be there for them. Let us reach out to others in this “valley of the shadow of death.” Let us care for others as if we were actually caring for God. “Truly, I (God) tell you, just as you did it to the least of these, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:40)
Rev. Dr. Phil Ladd is a council member of the Arizona Interfaith Movement
I witness marriages that are coming apar t. I see depression and genuine discouragement and fear among health care workers and other essential workers. I have people who greatly fear going to the grocery store. Others are having a tough time coping – feeling like prisoners in their own homes.
Phil Ladd Guest columnist