Josh Liebman’s “Peace of Mind”: Religion proposes, Psychology disposes

In 1946, Joshua Liebman, a rabbi and Freudian psychologist wrote his bestseller “Peace of mind.” A reviewer from Alcoholics Anonymous quotes a brief condensation from the book that appeared in the May 1946 Reader’s Digest, and again in the November 1962 issue.” The reviewer says, “(The condensation of the book) appears here because, in my fifty mumble (sic) years on this planet, I have–like the author, Dr. Joshua Loth Lieberman–come to the conclusion that Peace of Mind is the gift to be sought after most; that without it everything is Damn near Impossible, but with it everything is a given!”

Peace of Mind A condensation from the book by Dr. Joshua Loth Liebman

“Once, as a young man, I undertook to draw up a catalogue of the acknowledged goods of life. I set down my inventory of earthly desirables: health, love, talent, power, riches and fame. Then I proudly showed it to a wise elder. An excellent list, said my old friend, and set down in reasonable order. But you have omitted the one important ingredient, lacking which your list becomes an intolerable bur- den. He crossed out my entire schedule. Then he wrote down three syllables: peace of mind. This is the gift that God reserves for His special protégés, he said. Talent and health He gives to many. Wealth is commonplace, fame not rare. But peace of mind He bestows charily. This is no private opinion of mine, he explained. I am merely paraphrasing from the Psalmists, Marcus Aurelius, Lao-tse. ‘O God, Lord of the universe,’ say these wise ones, ‘heap worldly gifts at the feet of foolish men. Give me the gift of the untroubled mind.’ I found that difficult to accept; but now, after a quarter of a century of personal experience and professional observation, I have come to understand that peace of mind is the true goal of the considered life. I know now that the sum of all other possessions does not necessarily add up to peace of mind; on the other hand, I have seen this inner tranquility flourish without the material supports of property or even the buttress of physical health. Peace of mind can transform a cottage into a spacious manor hall; the want of it can make a regal residence an imprisoning shell. Where then shall we look for it? The key to the problem is to be found in Matthew Arnold’s lines: We would have inward peace But will not look within . . . But will not look within! Here, in a single phrase, our willfulness is bared.”

Liebman in his “Peace of mind” (Cedar book, 1957, p.18) says: “Psychotherapy is a method where we stop being someone we thought we were (or have been told we ought to be) and becomes ourselves.” He says that psychotherapy must be blended with religion. Only psychotherapy, however, can teach us to “become” ourselves. The inference is that religion has (should) have nothing to do with showing or telling us what we ought to be. If so, then religion has nothing to do with morality because the grist of morality is “ought.” For Liebman, though, religion has very much to do with the “subordination of our little egos to great moral and spiritual ends,” (p.19) namely, with telling us “who we ought to be.”

But if we read on in “Peace of mind” we find 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.” Whereas the Scripture (Hebrew and New testament) says “Man proposes, God disposes,” Liebman says, “God proposes, psychology disposes,” that is, “look within.”

If the heart of religion is, as Liebman says, something outside ourselves that psychology has to make incarnate, then religion has little to do with the Bible. As Liebman is a Rabbi, let me restrict the scriptural ambit to the Hebrew scriptures. What is the first and greatest commandment: “Love the Lord your God…” And: 1 Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye for water, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. 2 Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your gain for that which satisfieth not? Hearken diligently unto Me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. 3 Incline your ear, and come unto Me; hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David…Seek the Lord while He is found, Call ye Him, while He is near…

“Ho” is a transliteration of the Hebrew word הֹוי. This Hebrew word is translated in other scripture passages as “woe,” “alas.” It seems that Isaiah in 55:1 means these meanings as well.

“If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” (Hillel)

Where did Hillel get this from? Epicurus? Possibly. His Bible? Absolutely not.

The Hebrew Bible is clear; “incline your ear unto me,” not unto your self – whether it be your ego or, worse, you superego. And speak to God rather than mumble into your own carnal ear. Look up, and your soul will wax; look within, and it can only wane.