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  Religions, Values, and Peak-Experiences

    Abraham H. Maslow

        Chapter V.   Hope, Skepticism, and Man's Higher Nature

    The point of view that is rapidly developing now—that the highest spiritual values appear to have naturalistic sanctions and that supernatural sanctions for these values are, therefore, not necessary—raises some questions which have not been raised before in quite this form. For instance, why were supernatural sanctions for goodness, altruism, virtue, and love necessary in the first place?
    Of course the question of the origins of religions as sanctions for ethics is terribly complex, and I certainly don't intend to be casual about it here. However, I can contribute one additional point which we can see more clearly today than ever before, namely that one important characteristic of the new "third" psychology is its demonstration of man's "higher nature." As we look back through the religious conceptions of human nature—and indeed we need not look back so very far because the same doctrine can be found in Freud—it becomes crystal clear that any doctrine of the innate depravity of man or any maligning of his animal nature very easily leads to some extra-human interpretation of goodness, saintliness, virtue, self-sacrifice, altruism, etc. If they can't be explained from within human nature—and explained they must be—then they must be explained from outside of human nature. The worse man is, the poorer a thing he is conceived to be, the more necessary becomes a god. It can also be understood more clearly now that one source of the decay of belief in supernatural sanctions has been increasing faith in the higher possibilities of human nature (on the basis of new knowledge).[1] Explanation from the natural is more parsimonious and therefore more satisfying to educated people than is explanation from the supernatural. The latter is therefore apt to be an inverse function of the former.
    This process, however, has its costs; especially, I would guess, for the less sophisticated portions of the population, or at any rate for the more orthodoxly religious. For them, as Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, and others realized very clearly, "If God is dead, then anything is permitted, anything is possible." If the only sanction for "spiritual" values is supernatural, then undermining this sanction undermines all higher values.
    Especially has this been true in recent decades, as positivistic science—which is for many the only theory of science—proved also to be an inadequate source of ethics and values. Faith in the rationalist millennium has also been destroyed. The faith that ethical progress was an inevitable by-product of advances in knowledge of the natural world and in the technological by-products of these advances died with World War I, with Freud, with the depression, with the atom bomb. Perhaps even more shaking, certainly for the psychologist, has been the recent (61) discovery that affluence itself throws into the clearest, coldest light the spiritual, ethical, philosophical hunger of mankind. (This is so because striving for something one lacks inevitably makes one feel that life has a meaning and that life is worthwhile. But when one lacks nothing, and has nothing to strive for, then...?)
    Thus we have the peculiar situation in which many intellectuals today find themselves skeptical in every sense, but fully aware of the yearning for a faith or a belief of some kind and aware also of the terrible spiritual (and political) consequences when this yearning has no satisfaction.[2]
    And so we have a new language to describe the situation, words like anomie, anhedonia, rootlessness, value pathology, meaninglessness, existential boredom, spiritual starvation, other-directedness, the neuroses of success, etc. (See Appendix E.)
    Most psychotherapists would agree that a large proportion of the population of all affluent nations—not only America—are now caught in this situation of valuelessness, although most of these therapists are still speaking superficially and symptomatically of character neuroses, immaturity, juvenile delinquency, over-indulgence, etc.
    A new approach to psychotherapy, existential therapy, is evolving to meet this situation. But on the whole, since therapy is impracticable for mass purposes, most people simply stay caught in the situation and lead privately and publicly miserable lives. A small proportion "returns to traditional religion," although most observers agree that this return is not apt to be deeply rooted.
    But some others, still a small proportion, are finding in newly available hints from psychology another possibility of a positive, naturalistic faith, a "common faith" as John Dewey called it, a "humanistic faith" as Erich Fromm called it, humanistic psychology as many others are now calling it. (See Appendix B.) As John MacMurray said, "Now is the point in history at which it becomes possible for man to adopt consciously as his own purpose the purpose which is already inherent in his own nature."— Quoted in Man and God, ed. V. Gollancz (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1951), p. 49. There is even a weekly journal, Manas, which could be said to be an organ for this new kind of faith and this new psychology.



    1. For instance, my studies of "self-actualizing people" i.e., fully evolved and developed people, make it clear that human beings at their best are far more admirable (godlike, heroic, great, divine, awe-inspiring, lovable, etc.) than ever before conceived, in their own proper nature. There is no need to add a non-natural determinant to account for saintliness, heroism, altruism, transcendence, creativeness, etc. Throughout history, human nature has been sold short primarily because of the lack of knowledge of the higher possibilities of man, of how far he can develop when permitted to. (back)

    2. See the February, 1950, issue of the Partisan Review on "Religion and the Intellectuals." See also Franklin L. Baumer, Religion and the Rise of Skepticism (New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1960). (back)

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