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Religions, Values, and Peak-Experiences
Abraham H. Maslow
Chapter VI. Science and the Religious Liberals and Non-Theists
Nineteenth-century objectivistic, value-free science has finally proven to be also a poor foundation for the atheists, the agnostics, the rationalists, the humanists, and other nontheists, as well as for the "liberal" religionists, e.g., the Unitarians and the Universalists. Both of them, orthodox science and liberal and non-theistic religion, leave out too much that is precious to most human beings. In their revolt against the organized, institutionalized churches, they have unwittingly accepted the immature and naive dichotomy between traditional religion (as the only carrier of values), on one hand, and, on the other, a totally mechanistic, reductionistic, objectivistic, neutral, value-free science. To this day, liberal religionists rest heavily, even exclusively, on the natural sciences which seem to them to be somehow more "scientific" than the psychological sciences upon which they should base themselves but which they use almost not at all (except in positivistic versions).
Thus, average, liberal religionists try to rest all their efforts on knowledge of the impersonal world rather than on the personal sciences. They stress rational knowledge and are uneasy with the irrational, the anti-rational, the non-rational, as if Freud and Jung and Adler had never lived. So they know nothing officially of a subrational unconscious, of repression, or of defensive processes in general, of resistances to insight, of impulses which are determinants of behavior and yet are unknown to the person himself. Like positivistic psychologists, they feel much more at home with the cognitive than they do with the emotional and the impulsive and volitional. They make no basic place in their systems for the mysterious, the unknown, the unknowable, the dangerous-to-know, or the ineffable. They pass by entirely the old, rich literature based on the mystical experiences. They have no systematic place for goals, ends, yearnings, aspirations, and hopes, let alone will or purpose. They don't know what to do with the experiential, the subjective, and the phenomenological that the existentialists stress so much, as do also the psychotherapists The inexact, the illogical, the metaphorical, the mythic, the symbolic, the contradictory or conflicted, the ambiguous, the ambivalent are all considered to be "lower" or "not good," i.e., something to be "improved" toward pure rationality and logic. It is not yet understood that they are characteristic of the human being at his highest levels of development as well as at his lowest, and that they can be valued, used, loved, built upon, rather than just being swept under the rug. Nor is it sufficiently recognized that "good" as well as "bad" impulses can be repressed.
This is also true for the experiences of surrender, of reverence, of devotion, of self-dedication, of humility and oblation, of awe and the feeling of smallness. These experiences, which organized religions have always tried to make possible, are also common enough in the peak-experiences and in the B-cognitions, including even impulses to kneeling, to prostration, and to something like worship. But these are all missing from the non-theisms and from the liberal theisms. This is of especial importance today because of the widespread "valuelessness" in our society, i.e., people have nothing to admire, to sacrifice themselves for, to surrender to, to die for. This gap calls for filling. Perhaps, even, it may be an "instinctoid" need. Any ontopsychology or any religion, it would seem, must satisfy this need.
The result? A rather bleak, boring, unexciting, unemotional, cool philosophy of life which fails to do what the traditional religions have tried to do when they were at their best, to inspire, to awe, to comfort, to fulfill, to guide in the value choices, and to discriminate between higher and lower, better and worse, not to mention to produce Dionysiac experiences, wildness, rejoicing, impulsiveness. Any religion, liberal or orthodox, theistic or non-theistic, must be not only intellectually credible and morally worthy of respect, but it must also be emotionally satisfying (and I include here the transcendent emotions as well).
No wonder that the liberal religions and semi-religious groups exert so little influence even though their members are the most intelligent and most capable sections of the population. It must be so just as long as they base themselves upon a lopsided picture of human nature which omits most of what human beings value, enjoy, and cherish in themselves, in fact, which they live for, and which they refuse to be done out of.
The theory of science which permits and encourages the exclusion of so much that is true and real and existent cannot be considered a comprehensive science. It is obviously not an organization of everything that is real. It doesn't integrate all the data. Instead of saying that these new data are "unscientific," I think we are now ready to turn the tables and change the definition of science so that it is able to include these data. (See Appendixes D and I.)
Some perceptive liberals and non-theists are going through an "agonizing reappraisal" very similar to that which the orthodox often go through, namely a loss of faith in their foundation beliefs. Just as many intellectuals lose faith in religious orthodoxy, so do they also lose faith in positivistic, nineteenth-century science as a way of life. Thus they too often have the sense of loss, the craving to believe, the yearning for a value-system, the valuelessness and the simultaneous longing for values which marks so many in this "Age of Longing" (6). (See also Appendix E.) I believe that this need can be satisfied by a larger, more inclusive science, one which includes the data of transcendence.
Not only must the liberal religions and the non-theisms accept and build upon all of these neglected aspects of human nature if they have any hope at all of fulfilling perfectly legitimate human needs, but also if these value systems are to do the ultimate job of any social institution, i.e., to foster the fullest actualization and fulfillment of the highest and fullest humanness, then they will have to venture into even stranger fields of thought. For instance, such purely "religious" concepts as the sacred, the eternal, heaven and hell, the good death, and who knows what else as well are now being nibbled at by the encroaching naturalistic investigators. It looks as if these, too, will be brought into the human world. In any case, enough knowledge is already available so that I feel I can say very confidently that these concepts are not mere hallucinations, illusions, or delusions, or rather, more accurately, that they need not be. They can and do have referents in the real world.
I am myself uneasy, even jittery, over the semantic confusion which lies in store for usindeed which is already hereas all the concepts which have been traditionally "religious" are redefined and then used in a very different way. Even the word "god" is being defined by many theologians today in such a way as to exclude the conception of a person with a form, a voice, a beard, etc. If God gets to be defined as "Being itself," or as "the integrating principle in the universe," or as "the whole of everything," or as "the meaningfulness of the cosmos," or in some other non-personal way, then what will atheists be fighting against? They may very well agree with "integrating principles" or "the principle of harmony."
And if, as actually happened on one platform, Paul Tillich defined religion as "concern with ultimate concerns" and I then defined humanistic psychology in the same way, then what is the difference between a supernaturalist and a humanist?
The big lesson that must be learned here, not only by the non-theists and liberal religionists, but also by the supernaturalists, and by the scientists and the humanists, is that mystery, ambiguity, illogic, contradiction, mystic and transcendent experiences may now be considered to lie well within the realm of nature. These phenomena need not drive us to postulate additional supernatural variables and determinants. Even the unexplained and the presently unexplainable, ESP for instance, need not. And it is no longer accurate to accept them only as morbidities. The study of self-actualizing people has taught us differently (59, 67).
The other side of the coin needs examination, too. One of the most irritating aspects of positivistic science is its overconfidence, I might call it, or perhaps its lack of humility. The pure, nineteenth-century scientist looks like a babbling child to sophisticated people just because he is so cocky, so self-assured, just because he doesn't know how little he knows, how limited scientific knowledge is when compared with the vast unknown.
Most powerfully is this true of the psychologist whose ratio of knowledge to mystery must be the smallest of all scientists. Indeed, sometimes I am so impressed by all that we need to know in comparison with what we do know that I think it best to define a psychologist, not as one who knows the answers, but rather as one who struggles with the questions.
Perhaps it is because he is so innocently unaware of his smallness, of the feebleness of his knowledge, of the smallness of his playpen, or the smallness of his portion of the cosmos and because he takes his narrow limits so for granted that he reminds me of the little boy who was seen standing uncertainly at a street corner with a bundle under his arm. A concerned bypasser asked him where he was going and he replied that he was running away from home. Why was he waiting at the corner? He wasn't allowed to cross the street!
Another consequence of accepting the concept of a natural, general, basic, personal religious experience is that it will also reform atheism, agnosticism, and humanism. These doctrines have, on the whole, been simply a rejection of the churches; and they have fallen into the trap of identifying religion with the churches, a very serious mistake as we have seen. They threw out too much, as we are now discovering. The alternative that these groups have rested on has been pure science of the nineteenth-century sort, pure rationalism insofar as they have not relied merely on negative attacks upon the organized churches. This has turned out to be not so much a solution of the problem as a retreat from it. But if it can be demonstrated that the religious questions (which were thrown out along with the churches) are valid questions, that these questions are almost the same as the deep, profound, and serious ultimate concerns of the sort that Tillich talks about and of the sort by which I would define humanistic psychology, then these humanistic sects could become much more useful to mankind than they are now.
As a matter of fact, they might very well become very similar to the reformed church organizations. It's quite possible that there wouldn't be much difference between them in the long run, if both groups accepted the primary importance and reality of the basic personal revelations (and their consequences) and if they could agree in regarding everything else as secondary, peripheral, and not necessary, not essentially defining characteristics of religion, they then could focus upon the examination of the personal revelationthe mystic experience, the peak-experience, the personal illuminationand of the B-cognitions which then ensue.
Footnotes1. It should be noted (because it may contradict my thesis) that these general criticisms of the "liberal religions" apply also to the Quakers even though they originally based themselves in principle on inner, personal, quasi-mystic experience. Today, they, too, tend to be only Apollonian and have no respectable place for the Dionysian, for the "warm" as well as the "cool." They, too, are rational, "simple," sober, and decent, and bypass darkness, wildness, and craziness, hesitating, it appears, to stir up orgiastic emotions. They, too, have built themselves a philosophy of goodness that has no systematic place for evil. They have not yet incorporated Freud and Jung into their foundations, nor have they discovered that the depths of the personal unconscious are the source of joy, love, creativeness, play, and humor as well as of dangerous and crazy impulses.
Because I do not know enough about the Friends, I don't know why this is so. Certainly it is not because of my great reliance on nineteenth-century science. (back)
2. It was said of one man that "he could be at home neither with the Catholic solution of the religious problem nor with the rationalist dissolution of the Problem." The "liberals" who gave up the illusion of a god modeled on a human father, who revolted against a wish-fulfillment god against a churchly establishment with political ambitions and power, against functionally autonomous dogmas and rituals, also gave up, quite unnecessarily, the true and deep and necessary purposes of all "serious" humanists and humanistic religions overcoming the limitations of a self-limited ego, relating in harmony to the cosmos, attempting to become all that a human being can, etc. (To the thoughtful scholar, interested in precursive answers to the same questions, I recommend an examination of New England transcendentalism and its interrelations with Unitarianism.) (back)
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