Freud was Wrong

Prison Fellowship mourns the loss of our friend, Dr. David Larson, who died unexpectedly last week. Dr. Larson's name will be familiar to BreakPoint listeners, especially those who've attended our conferences: Larson conducted groundbreaking research proving that religious commitment can help people live longer, healthier lives.   That's a finding that's in direct contrast to what Larson heard during his training in psychiatry. In fact, one of his professors, knowing Larson viewed religion to be a potentially helpful factor in patients' lives, urged him to give up psychiatry. "For psychiatric patients," he said, "religion can only be harmful."   The psychiatrist was stating the conventional wisdom handed down from Sigmund Freud, who viewed religion as "a universal obsessional neurosis."   But Larson refused to be deterred. As he continued his research, he noticed a surprising pattern: The published data showed that religion, far from causing harm, actually helped protect against both mental and physical disease.   For example, studies have shown that older adults who frequently attend religious services may have healthier immune systems. Heart patients with strong religious beliefs are much more likely to survive surgery. Church-going folks also have lower blood pressure, even when risky behavior like smoking is factored in. Most dramatic of all, the simple act of attending church each week is linked with reducing risk of earlier death by about twenty-five percent.   Religious commitment also protects people from addictions and mental disorders. Consider: Alcohol abuse is highest among those with little or no religious commitment. Studies have found an inverse correlation between religious commitment and drug abuse in youth. The non-religious are also much more likely to suffer from depression and to commit suicide.   The standard view that associates religion with psychological problems does have one small kernel of truth. Larson found that people who believe in Christianity but don't practice it do experience greater stress. People who believe in God but who neglect church attendance and Bible-reading, who are divorced or abuse alcohol, show higher levels of anxiety than the general population.   In short, the inconsistent Christian suffers greater stress than the consistent atheist.   Dr. Larson's scientific data provide a wonderful tool for apologetics. Christians believe that God created humans to have communion with Him, and to live according to His laws. If we live contrary to God's plan, the research shows that we pay a steep price in stress, depression, family conflict, and even physical illness.   It's a sad irony that Dr. Larson himself was taken from us at a relatively young age. We grieve for his family and for the kingdom, but we remember that no one knows God's timing or his divine purposes. And I can only pray that others will pick up the cause of the psychiatrist who proved Freud wrong.   If you call BreakPoint, we'll send you an essay written by Dr. Larson that will help you make arguments to friends if they repeat that old canard that religion is harmful.   Paul wrote that while bodily training is of some value, we should train ourselves in godliness, for godliness holds promise both for the present life and also for the life to come.         For further reading and information:   Call toll-free 1-800-995-8777 to receive Dr. Larson's essay, "Patient Spiritual Distress a Risk for Dying Sooner," free of charge.   Visit the International Center for the Integration of Health and Spirituality.   Paul C. Vitz, Psychology As Religion: The Cult of Self-Worship (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1994).   David B. Larson, Michael E. McCullough, and Harold George Koenig, Handbook of Religion and Health (Oxford University Press, 2000).   "Analysis of Studies Shows that Religious Involvement May Be a Factor in Living a Long Life," American Psychological Association, 4 June 2000.  


Chuck Colson



  • Facebook Icon in Gold
  • Twitter Icon in Gold
  • LinkedIn Icon in Gold

Sign up for the Daily Commentary