Religion has clearly performed great services for human civilization. It has contributed much towards the taming of the asocial instincts. But not enough. It has ruled human society for many thousands of years and has had time to show what it can achieve. If it had succeeded in making the majority of mankind happy, in comforting them, in reconciling them to life and in making them into vehicles of civilization, no one would dream of attempting to alter the existing conditions. But what do we see instead? We see that an appallingly large number of people are dissatisfied with civilization and unhappy in it and feel it as a yoke which must be shaken off; and that these people either do everything in their power to change that civilization, or else go so far in their hostility to it that they will have nothing to do with civilization or with a restriction of instinct. At this point it will be objected against us that this state of affairs is due to the very fact that religion has lost a part of its influence over human masses precisely because of the deplorable effect of the advances of science. We will note this admission and the reason given for it and we shall make use of it later for our own purposes; but the objection itself has no force.It is doubtful whether men were in general happier at a time when religious doctrines held unrestricted sway; more moral they certainly were not. They have always known how to externalize the precepts of religion and thus to nullify their intentions. The priests, whose duty it was to ensure obedience to religion, met them half-way in this. God's kindness must lay a restraining hand on His justice. One sinned and then one made a sacrifice or did penance and then one was free to sin once more. Russian introspectiveness has reached the pitch of concluding that sin is indispensable for the enjoyment of all the blessings of divine grace, so that, at bottom, sin is pleasing to God. It is no secret that the priests could only keep the masses submissive to religion by making such large concessions as these to the instinctual nature of man. Thus it was agreed: God alone is strong and good, man is weak and sinful. In every age immorality has found no less support in religion than morality has. If the achievements of religion in respect to man’s happiness, susceptibility to culture and moral control are no better than this, the question cannot but arise whether we are not overrating its necessity for mankind and whether we do wisely in basing our cultural demands upon it.
Sigmund Freud
Since I am writing a book about depression, I am often asked in social situations to describe my own experiences and I usually end by saying that I am on medication. Still? people ask. But you seem fine! To which I invariably reply that I seem fine because I am fine and that I am fine in part because of medication. So how long do you expect to go on taking this stuff? people ask. When I say that I will be on medication indefinitely, people who have dealt calmly and sympathetically with the news of suicide attempts, catatonia, missed years of work, significant loss of body weight and so on stare at me with alarm. But it’s really bad to be on medicine that way, they say. Surely now you are strong enough to be able to phase out some of these drugs! If you say to them that this is like phasing the carburetor out of your car or the buttresses out of Notre Dame, they laugh. So maybe you’ll stay on a really low maintenance dose? They ask. You explain that the level of medication you take was chosen because it normalizes the systems that can go haywire and that a low dose of medication would be like removing half of your carburetor. You add that you have experienced almost no side effects from the medication you are taking and that there is no evidence of negative effects of long-term medication. You say that you really don’t want to get sick again. But wellness is still, in this area, associated not with achieving control of your problem, but with discontinuation of medication. Well, I sure hope you get off it sometime soon, they say.
Andrew Solomon