Rabbi Joshua Liebman says in his “Peace of mind” that religion is “at its best” merely “the announcer of the supreme ideals by which men must live and through which our finite species finds it’s ultimate significance.” If people were honest, says Liebman, “they would admit that the implementation of these ideals should be left to psychology.
Psychology can say much, obviously, about the psyche, but nothing about the God of the Bible. For Liebman, part rabbi, part psychologist, the ultimate aim of religion is peace of mind, which results from the discovery of ”ultimate significance.” To whom must a Jew run to find this ultimate meaning? No, not to the rabbi, says Liebman, but to the psychologist, preferably a Freudian psychologist. Oh the irony! Freud, the Jewish atheist is going to tell us how to find ultimate meaning.
The heart of religion is, says Liebman, “something outside ourselves.” I understand by that the existence of a transcendent being greater than ourselves. Alas, Liebman brings us back us back to earth that it is the job of psychology to make this something (someone?) outside ourselves incarnate. If that is so, religion then has little to do with the Bible, and everything to with the “Varieties of religious experience” (William James). Whereas the Scripture (Hebrew and New testament) says ”look up” Liebman says, “look within, because without’s within.”
If Liebman had been a Messianic Jew, he, firstly, wouldn’t have shackled religion to psychology, and second, he would have said that this making something outside ourselves incarnate is not the psychologist’s job but God’s; and this something made incarnate would be Someone, not something. (Some Messianic Jews, sadly, do not believe that God had a divine Son; so they don’t believe in THE incarnation)
Where Joshua Liebman speaks of ”ultimate significance”’ Viktor Frankl speaks synonymously of “ultimate meaning.” In “God in Viktor Frankl’s Logotherapy,” I concluded that Frankl did not believe in God as a distinct divine being. I wrote there:
In 2000, an update to Frankl’s “Man’s search for meaning” appeared called “Man’s search for ultimate meaning.” What is the difference between “meaning” and “ultimate meaning”? Here are two excerpts from Frankl’s “Ultimate meaning.”
“… God, is not one thing among others but being itself or Being (capitalized by Martin Heidegger). (P. 147)
So Did Frankl, ultimately, come to believe in a transcendent Being called God? No.
“… whenever you are talking to yourself in utmost sincerity and ultimate solitude — he to whom you are addressing yourself may justifiably be called God” (p. 151).
To add to what I said in “God in Viktor Frankl’s Logotherapy”:
God, for Frankl is, ultimately, me – and you. And, to take it where you may not want it to go: you are me and I am you – absorbed into the Universal Soul, where – to use Rabbi Akiva Katz’s terminology – undifferentiated oneness in the higher world comes into this world through specific differentiated channels like you and me. See “Jewish mysticism and Absorption into the Universal Soul.”
Here is the Lubavitcher Rabbi Tuvia Bolton’s response to “God in Viktor Frankl’s Logotherapy” followed by my reply:
It seems to me that Frankl was not talking in terms of absolutes but rather what ‘works’. His god is very similar to the one realized by addicts in the seconds of the 12 steps of AA; god as we understand him. A Meaningful god works to fill man’s need for meaning.
But Frankl seems to have discovered a need much greater and more basic than that of the addicts…. and correspondingly a much ‘greater’ more ‘infinite’ god to satisfy it; man NEEDS ABSOLUTE meaning that only an absolute, totally meaningful god (or G_d) can produce. As evidenced by the several times he mentions the Ten Commandments as the absolute value.
But again; Frankl only seemed to be interested in what works to supply man’s needs; not the Jewish (Chassidic) idea of supplying G-d’s needs (Nachat Ruach l’mala)
My (shortened) reply:
Rabbi, as you no doubt know, Abraham Twerski, a Chassidic rabbi (like youself) adapted the originally Christian 12-step Alcoholics Anonymous method and made it Jewish. Judaism preaches that man is essentially good, where people are regarded as “much better than we think we are” (Twerski), and “knowing that they are able to enjoy a more productive life” (Twerski). So, the solution to inner turmoil for Twerski, for Frankl, for Joshua Liebman, and indeed most Jewish psychologists was to learn how to get rid of one’s negative self-image.
You say Frankl’s “god” goes beyond what works to an “absolute” meaning. I think his god is merely one that absolutely WORKS. As I said in my last two paragraphs of the article:
In 2000, an update to Frankl’s “Man’s search for meaning” appeared, called “Man’s search for ultimate meaning.” What is the difference between “meaning” and “ultimate meaning”? Here are two quotations from Frankl’s “Ultimate meaning.”
“… God, is not one thing among others but being itself or Being (capitalized by Martin Heidegger).” (P. 147). So Did Frankl, ultimately, come to believe in a transcendent Being called God? Let Frankl answer: “… whenever you are talking to yourself in utmost sincerity and ultimate solitude — he to whom you are addressing yourself may justifiably be called God” (p. 151). END OF MY REPLY.
Frankl’s “God is self” (my term) has much in common with Gerald Jampolsky’s (Yogic) “transformation of consciousness” that leads to inner peace. Deep below the dark regions of discord and strife lies the treasure without price longing to find you, the real you. Transform your consciousness and you will find your true self. This “transformation of consciousness” is the “foundation for inner peace” (which is also the name of the publisher of “A course on miracles” on which Jampolsky’s book is based). The “transformation of consciousness” is, of course, also the foundation of Eastern thought systems such as Buddhism and Yoga, which has become a key ingredient in Western psychotherapy. “Hatha Yoga brings about the Unity of the mind, body and spirit. Through this practice, the body is toned, strengthened and healed so that a transformation in consciousness can occur.”
Liebman says go within to find your true self, the real you; but not before you go outside – to Freud. For Jampolsky, in contrast, look within, and that’s good enough to find inner peace.
Rabbi Bolton said above: “Frankl only seemed to be interested in what works to supply man’s needs; not the Jewish (Chassidic) idea of supplying G-d’s needs.” That is true not only of Frankl but all Jewish psychology. A Chassidic psychologist may talk about you (if you’re a Jew) being a piece of God, but what it may turn out to mean is that God is a piece of you – of your needs.
Frankl’s view of God as someone who supplies one’s needs is taken to it’s extreme form in Reconstructionist Judaism, and much of Reform Judaism, where “God” is another name for community, for love, for a matrix of love wherein a positive self-image is nurtured – and where the image of God is possibly also dénaturé (distorted).