Man Without Qualities

Friday, December 10, 2004

War Of Religions

As noted in prior posts, the present state of medical research refutes any belief that Freudian psychoanalysis is "scientific" in any acceptable modern sense. In fact, the materials documenting the lack of psychoanalytic efficacy are extensive and persuasive. The field itself harbors a truly disturbing focus on its founder, Freud, bearing a strong similarity to the focus of a religious cult on its main prophet. In this sense, psychoanalysis is at a distinct disadvantage to chiropractory. Indeed, the evidence of psychoanalytic therapeutic value seems to be somewhat less persuasive than the evidence of the therapeutic value of traditional prayer. Psychoanalysis is, in short, a kind of religious cult - and will remain a cult unless and until scientific evidence is amassed demonstrating its predictive and therapeutic value - and we are very, very far from having such evidence.

Given the religious cult status of psychoanalysis, it is hardly surprising that adherents to its dogmas find themselves increasingly at war with adherents of other, older religious traditions, as described in this interesting article from the University of Chicago Magazine concerning the escalating clash of psychoanalysis and Hinduism:

Rajiv Malhotra, an entrepreneur and activist living in New Jersey. Malhotra, who studied physics at India’s St. Stephens College and computer science at Syracuse University, now works full time at the Infinity Foundation, a nonprofit he founded in 1995 to “upgrade the quality of understanding of Indian civilization in the American media and educational system, as well as among the English language educated Indian elite.”

.... His ... essay, published on the Indian community Web site, has become a pivotal treatise in a recent rift between some Western Hinduism scholars ... and some conservative Hindus... Since G. M. Carstairs’s 1958 book The Twice-Born (Hogarth Press) scholars have noted Freudian themes in old Indian texts and stories, arguing, for example, that the god Ganesha can be read as having an Oedipus complex. ... In two years Malhotra’s essay received more than 22,000 hits and generated 445 comments (several by Malhotra himself) and two response essays. ... The adamant, at times violent responses parallel a political movement in India, where conservative Hindu nationalists have gained power since the early 1990s. ... [I]n “Wendy”s Child Syndrome” Malhotra condemns “the eroticisation of Hinduism by Wendy Doniger, who is un-doubtedly the most powerful person in academic Hinduism Studies today,” and “her large cult of students, who glorify her in exchange for her mentorship.” ... “Under Western control,” he argues, “Hinduism studies has produced ridiculous caricatures that could easily be turned into a Bollywood movie or a TV serial.” ....

ALTHOUGH ACADEMICS FREQUENTLY INTERPRET religions through a sexual lens (see, for example, Theodore W. Jennings Jr.’s The Man Jesus Loved: Homoerotic Narratives from the New Testament [Pilgrim Press, 2003]), for some Hindus such scholarship has hit a sensitive chord. Online writers complain that psychoanalysis has been discredited in psychology, and applying it implies that Hindus are “sick.” But “historians of religion are not doing therapy; they’re interpreting texts,” Kripal argues. “A model can be accurate and therapeutically unhelpful” (though for him personally, he says, psychoanalysis has been an effective therapy). “People use psychoanalysis or Foucault because it’s the most sophisticated language we have in the West to talk about the questions we have.” In Kali’s Child, he says, he doesn’t apply a strict Freudian analysis but also interprets Ramakrishna’s story through the Hindu tantric tradition. “Both are languages,” he says, “that turn to sexuality as the key to human religious experience.”

But in what sense is it correct to assert that "a model can be accurate and therapeutically unhelpful?" This can be true if one takes "accurate" in a religious sense - religious truths are often presupposed to be beyond scientific verification. But in a modern scientific sense, a model is "accurate" only to the extent it has predictive (that is, "therapeutic") value; otherwise it is mere speculation. And not applying such a model "strictly" or applying it in conjunction with another, traditonal, religious approach hardly renders the analytic effort scientific.

The current highly problematic status of that portion of string theory that goes beyond previous theories, for example, is instructive (discussed in this New York Times article). String theory at least predicts what its antecedent theories predicted - and to that extent is "scientific." That much cannot be said of psychoanalysis or Hinduism. But, as the linked Times article discusses, verifying that string theory adds anything to what came before is much tougher - and it, too, has been labled a "colossal failure" despite its huge ambitions. But if string theory cannot be demonstrated scientifically (that is' "therapeuticlly"), there is little doubt that physicists will not be cheeky enough to argue that it retains value because "a model can be accurate and therapeutically unhelpful."

The escalating wars between the Hindu and psychoanalytic religious traditions are instructive to a non-Hindu because one normally sees the pseudo-scientific psychoanalytic model juxtaposed against the Judeo-Christian model, a confrontation in which most Westerners have a considerable personal investment that can make objectivity much harder to obtain or maintain.

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