The Enlightenment, eager to break the power of religion—the institutionalized and codified superstructure on top of religiosity—lost sight of one cardinal issue. The issue that man consists of more than reason, that his way of life is not exclusively (or primarily) guided by reason. Enlightenment lost sight that the human soul consists, to a considerable extent, of irrational ingredients. Those irrational elements are mainly emotionally colored, and they influence our reasonableness and thus our behavior and decisions. Reason cannot overcome that our irrationality demands gratification. Irrationality wields a considerable power over rationality.
Is that an unfortunate situation? Is our irrationality a blind for enlightenment? Not really, irrationality is not intrinsically destructive. If irrationality overrules reason, the outcome can be positive. Think of the person helping another in spite of a considerable chance of harming himself in the process.
Provided they balance each other, the combination of rationality and irrationality is a precondition for a full and fulfilled life. Religiosity belongs to the irrational domains of the soul. This dominion creates needs. Needs that cannot be rationalized away. Hence the struggle of secularists, and in particular radical secularists a la Dawkins,13 is doomed to fail. They fight not against windmills but against forces reason is unable to master and never will be. They fight a losing battle.
In Heyerman’s play Ghetto, Sachel’s mind is damaged by religion, certainly. He is hard-boiled, inflexible, intolerant. He renounces everything that is dear to him. This is a form of religious expression that I have qualified as abnormal.14 Faith calling forth inhuman behavior amounts to perverted faith. Parental bounds should supersede religious bounds. If the reverse is true, lifelong intense sorrow is the result. Then darkness sets in. That cannot be God’s intention.
This, however, does not mean that the future is with Sachel’s sons—the Raphael’s of the world, as Groot, the philosopher, has posited. I hope that the future is with those who are optimally enlightened, ie, those who are able to develop the rational and the irrational potential they possess to the fullest. If reason is the only source of light, one finds oneself in the twilight.
Today the brain reigns supreme in psychiatry at the expense of the mind. The mind is in danger to be usurped by the brain. Mind, so it is rumoured in neurobiological circles, will eventually and probably pretty soon reveal its secrets via the study of the brain. As a corollary, religiosity is currently psychiatry’s stepchild, as biology was when I started my career in psychiatry and neurobiology some 60 years ago. For the future of psychiatry, this reductionist viewpoint is risky. Psychiatrists cannot, with impunity, disregard an important domain of man’s personality makeup. He ought to remain a searcher of the soul at large.
However, take care—false prophets roam about the neurosciences. It seems highly unlikely that in the foreseeable future, brain studies will provide useful information about the appearance of individual minds. As psychiatrists, we should continue to honour the mind in its own right. Let’s not quench its lustre by reducing it to sheer matter. Our identity as psychiatrists is a dualistic one. We respect the mind no less than the brain. Let’s keep it that way!