Man ought to feel more at home in the modern world. At least he should feel surer about himself and surer about the world around him than his ancestors did. For we understand ourselves and the processes of the universe today much better than ever before, and we have vastly extended our ability to adapt the forces of the universe to our own purposes. It may well be that we sometimes overstate the facts when we talk about our increasing control of nature. But certainly it is true that in dozens of areas we can now defeat, direct, control, or harness natural forces that our ancestors could only view in helpless awe or terror.
Yet we are not at ease in this Zion of our own making, not at all confident about ourselves and our place in the world. If anything, we are more troubled about these matters than were our ancestors. Day by day we seem to become less certain of our ability to make firm distinctions between what is right and what is wrong, less sure of the meaning and purpose of human life and of society, less assured about the place of humanity in the scheme of things
We do understand the processes of nature better, but we are less sure that we understand the sum total of their significance
This uncertainty afflicts most of us today, including many who adhere to a religious faith. We are often reminded that a larger proportion of our population belongs to some church body now than ever before in American history. And yet, it is certainly true that though millions of people today rely as happily on a church-centered faith as did anyone in the Middle Ages, church members are not exempt from the peculiar uncertainties and anxieties of our time.
[It is] implicit in this discussion that the solution of the problems which have their roots in these concerns must come, in part at least, from religious leaders who are prepared to fulfill the function they have fulfilled in the past; that is, who will develop a synthesis of our new knowledge, especially of our new scientific knowledge, in relation to the persistent problems and troubles of mankind. But such a solution is by no means inevitable, for it cannot be taken for granted that the necessary relationships and cross interpretations of science, philosophy, and theology will actually take place.
Mans Search for Values
We seem now more than ever before to be trying to discover the source of all principles of what ought to be and all forces that promote the good
in human affairs
[But] our means of dealing with the problems of ethics, with values, with responsibilityin short, with what ought to beseem all to have the same unhappy lack of reach, to fall short of anything beyond individual or social preference. Applying the most admirable modern refinements of the scientific method to these problems, we achieve descriptive but not normative conclusions. We know more and more about what makes people think and act as they do and about how society operates, but we are less and less sure about the way we ought to behave and what makes a good society
It is for these reasons that modern man, though he knows much more about the universe in which he lives and can mold it much more fully to his purposes, still does not feel at home in it and restlessly alternates between dependence upon individual conscience, which he fears may be merely personal and irresponsible, and conformity to society, which he fears may be no more than the product of historical accidents
The Need for Guiding Principles
There can be no satisfactory or fundamental solution to the problem of ethics, no assurance about the real nature of good and evil, no confidence of ultimate success in the search for answers concerning the significance of mans career on this planet and the nature of his responsibilities to himself or to his society without a sense of the direction of the universe apart from mans desires and choices.
What our age then needs to establish is a sense of direction, not dogmatically but with sufficient confidence to make firm commitments and even sacrifices, some sense that the path laid out is in accord with the constitution and processes of the universe. It is easier to specify the conditions which must be met in a search for answers than to state the answers or even to point out the line of inquiry to be pursued. The conditions themselves are simple. What we need are some conceptions of the universe which hold out hope of a relationship between the human and the non-human, some conception which makes man feel at home in his worldnot necessarily at ease in it or with himself but clearly and confidently aware of his successes and failures, or, to use older words, of his virtues and vices.
of answer required in the search we are describing must contain
the word ought. The question is, what direction or directions
ought the individual and society take? To satisfy this need, the
answer must be more than a description of individual desires or
wants or of social purposes and commitments. It is this requirement
which makes the contemporary term values unsatisfactory,
for it does not necessarily transcend human wishes and often merely
denotes qualities which for some reasonconditioning, social
pressure, or historical accidenthave come to be valued
It is here that modern man finds himself so much at a loss. The admirably effective and productive methods by which he is able to lay hold of some aspects of the nature of things, the methods of the natural sciences, fail him; not because they are inadequate for their primary purpose, but because they do not reveal the basis of ethical choice. They do enable him to predict the sequences in the processes of things. They do provide him with the means of injecting himself into these processes so that he can direct them to satisfy his own desires and wants. But they do not tell him what direction he or a society ought to take
Religion, Natural Law, and the Universe
In times past religion provided a conception of mans relation to the universe which gave his life meaning or taught him how to order his life in order to make it meaningful. In one way or another, religion has always attempted to establish a relationship between human purposes and aspirations and the scheme of the universe. By devices which in their primitive form seem naive, religion has asserted the possibility of establishing a harmonious connection between human intentions and behavior and the universal course of things.
If all that exists is under the firm and universal direction of a being who can be called Father or King, there is hope that mans enterprises may be related to, judged, and given at least long-range assurance of success so long as they are compatible with the nonhuman nature and processes of the world. But the growing emphasis on the authority and reliability of the physical and social sciences has made it increasingly difficult for many modern people to accept or to use these terms with any conviction.
In the eighteenth century the concept of natural law, the law of nature and of natures god, served the same purpose as religion once did. The conception grew out of or implied the idea that the constitution and course of all things could appropriately be regarded as under laws which were not of mans devising but were written in the nature of things. Such a conception consequently provided a reference point for the appraisal of human organizations, laws, and courses of action. But despite our vastly increased knowledge of the regularity of natural processes, even this concept is no longer convincing to many modern men.
The eighteenth century farm boy and the city dwellers alike were constantly reminded of the forces of naturethe succession of the seasons, the processes of generation and growth, the frightful effects of disease. Since it was obvious that all of this was beyond human contrivance, the conception that it was the result of the operation of natural law was persuasive. But we now know that much that was once believed to be immutable in nature can be altered or controlled or directed by man. Modem technology daily performs more astonishing miracles and daily makes us less dependent upon and more distant from the processes of nature. Todays children know milk only as a nourishing liquid that is delivered in cartons, and the hurried modern businessman spans the continent in a few hours, in an elaborately contrived machine, and is conveyed from plane to city in another shiny piece of artifice and deposited in an air-conditioned hotel room. It is hardly surprising that natural law is for many people today an archaic concept.
Today we live not by nature but by technology. But there are tremendous, if not insurmountable, difficulties in establishing a new sense of mans relatedness to the universe, as it is pictured by modern science. One difficulty is simply the overwhelming sense of its immensity. The astronomers universe with its galaxies millions of light years away, each larger than our own but still an infinitesimal part of an expanding system, is hardly calculated to make the inhabitant of a small planet in a minor solar system feel at home in his world. Such a universe is almost beyond our comprehension. Yet the fundamental difficulty does not, I believe, depend on size alone
The real difficulty in feeling at home in the universe, in developing a sense of relationship to it and deriving therefrom convictions concerning what is in itself valuable is conceptual. The world of the modem physicist is conceptually utterly foreign to most of his contemporaries. Most of us, certainly, cannot conceive of a fourth dimension, or of particles with negative spin, and to all but a few the mathematical formulas of modern physics are as unintelligible as the markings on clay tablets made thousands of years ago by a people whose language has been utterly lost. So alien are these modern concepts that there are not even workable analogies to convey to us at least an inkling of what the universe is like and what it intends or at least where it is tending. We are benumbed by size and defeated by complexity.
The Relationship of Religion and Psychology
Human nature being what it is and its needs being what they are, it would be astonishing if there were not some groping beginnings and tentative conceptions of a possible new relation between modern man and his universe It is reasonable to suppose that somewhere in the burgeoning new sciences of our time and in the new techniques based upon them there are emerging fruitful new conceptions of mans relationship to the world around him and to processes not of his own making or willing.
Though we cannot yet discern their outlines, we can properly assume that the new conceptions must have some of the characteristics of the older ones. The concepts by which we once lived clearly established values and standards that existed quite apart from mans desires and choices. They pointed the direction for mans thoughts, feelings, and conduct and indicated the path which he could hope would bring him into harmony with the nature of things. In short, they provided a basis for ethics which was beyond individual and social interests, a foundation deeper than individual and social desires for discriminating between virtue and vice
If we ask where in modern mans thinking about himself and his world such criteria may in a measure be satisfied, we are driven to the conclusion, I think, that it is most likely to be found in the area explored by psychology and psychiatry There seems everywhere to be an increasing tendency to believe that many of the physical difficulties with which our medical men deal are ultimately best understood in terms of the psychological stresses of modern life, and that they can be treated most effectively by techniques which see mind and body as interrelated parts of the whole person. [or Prozac, ed.]
The comparison between the religions and psychological approaches can be carried further. The demonic in human life, which used to be associated with the presence of evil, supernatural beings such as devils and witches, is now located in the realm in which psychology and psychiatry operate. We seem increasingly to suppose that there is an area beyond our immediate perception in the depths of the subconscious which in its functions has supplanted demonic hosts
Psychology and psychiatry are also being called upon to establish a new foundation and new conceptions of virtue and vice.
The close relationship between this new approach to the fundamental questions of life and the answers once supplied by religion is evidenced by the increasing interest which it arouses in churches and churchmen
The education and spiritual development of man was entirely in the hands of the Church in the early part of European civilization, and the clergy was, therefore, in a central position. In the centuries following the Reformation, personality development became increasingly a matter of education. Humanistic ideas of development superseded the older religious ideas. With the decline of religion and humanism at the turn of the century, the psychiatrist has moved into a unique position. He is now the recognized, scientifically trained expert on personality development and is expected to fulfill all functions previously divided among clergymen, educators, parents, and other agencies.
If we now attempt to reestablish a relationship between psychiatry and religion, it must be recognized that long-range planning is necessary. At this moment of history, many patients cannot accept what religion has to offer. These individuals consider the psychiatrist to be the only firm reliance in the ocean of emotional currents. Therefore, the present role of the psychiatrist seems to be to make it possible for the patient to interact with his social and cultural environment.
What psychiatry presents to modern man is in effect something quite apart from mans conscious desires and choices. It proposes an insight into the direction of things which exist outside of conscious impulses and wishesan insight which seems to hold out the prospect of becoming a guide to good and evil in human feelings, thoughts, and conduct. In this sense, the processes of psychiatry do resemble the processes of religion. They promise to reveal to distressed and confused people what their feelings or their conduct mean in the light of the nature of things, or rather the substratum of things, in the human mind and in human association. And like religion, psychiatry frequently insists upon the critical importance of helping the individual himself to uncover and understand the hidden sources of behavior and feeling.
There are indeed many similarities between religion and psychiatry. But there are also differences and difficulties, for despite the bridges which are being thrown across the chasm between psychiatry and religion, there are still serious obstacles to communication between the two. Some psychiatrists say that man cannot get on without religion, but such statements seem to many religious leaders to make the unacceptable assumption that any religion will serve the purpose as well as another
It would be bold to the point of foolhardiness to predict the course which the relationships of psychiatry and religion will take Much depends everything, perhapson whether there will emerge a creative intellectual leadership which is capable of opening generally acceptable ways of dealing with the problem. There are reasons to expect that under such leadership fundamental concepts on both sides might be brought into a productive working relationship. For one thing, the growth of religious tolerance, which in America, at least, has been essential to peaceful coexistence of various religions in a united but pluralistic society, has tended to establish and make acceptable the view that there is some truth in every religious position and an element of universality in each. Furthermore, the resolution of the conflicts between science and religion which troubled the nineteenth century, especially after the rise of Darwinism, has left as a legacy the opinion that science does not necessarily threaten religious beliefs
In the final analysis, the success of efforts to find the terms in which man may have some sense of being at home in his universe depends upon the intellectual and spiritual power of any new religious leadership which may arise. Its intellectual power will be revealed by the depth of its insight into the implications of modern science, including psychology and psychiatry. Its spiritual power must rest upon the development of a view which is not merely contrived to meet the human need and desire for mans understanding of himself in relation to the world, but which also reflects the force of inescapable demands made by the universe on man. The faith, the hope, the ethical criteria of religion require the recognition that inescapable demands are imposed upon man and society, rather than being merely generated by mens problems and desires. In this sense the search for answers in this time of burgeoning scientific knowledge must be a religious search, and its products must have something of the force of revelation.
The search for such answers will, of course, inevitably go on. No matter how impressive our scientific knowledge may become, men will be restless until they can form a satisfactory picture of themselves in the kind of universe which science has revealed. The search will be a long, hard task, as long and hard as were those in the days when religion and philosophy provided a rationale for the evaluation of individual and social behavior. No task could be more vital to the welfare of mankind. The most urgent problem of the twentieth century is whether man today can discover and accept the demands which his conception of the universe puts upon him the necessity to find his own place and societys place in the scheme of things before he destroys himself by the abuse of the powers which science has given him.