How does religion affect our psychology?

Religion and health from a religious psychological perspective - and what this means for religious education

1 Religion and health as a topic in theology and the psychology of religion

Religious belief hopes for salvation. The Christian expectation of salvation promises comprehensive salvation in spite of and beyond suffering and death. The Christian tradition of faith has therefore had to deal with the accusation of hostility to the body, exaggerated mysticism of suffering, the interpretation of illness as God's punishment and the hope of salvation as a strategy of consolation leading to passivity. The Bible itself regards body and health as gifts from God, while illnesses are often used as metaphors for a deeply dire situation. Miraculous healings, on the other hand, are interpreted as a sign of great faith (Eibach, 2011).

Church pastoral care today no longer aims only at extraterrestrial salvation, but at the concrete psychological and physical well-being of people. With regard to the fundamental question of what a successful life means, there is a considerable overlap between secular psychotherapy and church diakonia (Utsch, 2002, p. 13). Nevertheless, the psychotherapeutic and the pastoral approach are not congruent. Philosophical and religious neutrality are among the methodological principles of psychotherapy, while the church-mandated interlocutor may and must take a religious position. Professional standards also apply to the latter: precisely because of the religious attitude, he must be critically aware of his own position and be able to deal constructively with differences. (Utsch, 2002, p. 60). Despite the different approaches, there is growing awareness in psychotherapy that religious elements may not be excluded in some people in the interests of a healing process, possibly out of fear of violating neutrality (Klosinski 1994, p. 17; Utsch, 2004; Utsch, Bonelli & Pfeifer, 2014).

From its beginnings, religious psychology has dealt with the harmful or health-promoting effects of religiosity, especially with regard to mental illnesses. The following article deals with the question to what extent the findings of the psychology of religion with regard to the connection between religion and health are of importance for religious socialization and educational processes. The psychology of religion itself claims the value-free representation of the influence of religion on health. Nonetheless, the question of religion and health threatens to quickly become apologetic: while on the secular side religion and belief are asserted as obstructing human development, as unfree, as disease-causing, or, on the religious side, religious salvation is presented as far superior to that which is attainable within the world becomes.

First, the positions are presented, which emphasize the negative sides of religiosity. This criticism has come mainly from theologians since the middle of the 20th century. Harmful images of God are named and serve to criticize undesirable developments in one's own religion. A closer analysis of exemplary cases shows, however, that the effect of the image of God can only be explained contextually in the psychosocial environment, especially in connection with family socialization. The integrative concept of health, which overcomes the exclusivity of health and illness and focuses on the resources of coping with life, offers a new perspective on the topic. In this concept, the role of religion can be reconsidered. A look at the studies shows that religious things can have both positive and negative effects. This religious ambivalence, which not only affects possible effects but is inherent in the religious tradition itself, must not be concealed, but must be productively absorbed in religious socialization and educational processes.

2 Negative effects of religiosity and spirituality

Negative effects of religion and religiosity on people have been an issue since the criticism of religion in the 19th century at the latest. For Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, religion is harmful because it hinders human autonomy and the use of reason. On the one hand, the idea of ​​God is modeled on the ambivalent father image, which is characterized by promises of protection and fear; on the other hand, religion itself is an illusion, a fairy tale that keeps people in dependent childhood (Freud, 1948, p. 346), although the psychoanalytic Tradition is not consistently characterized by hostility towards religion, this extremely negative assessment of religion is still represented. "The elegant therapeutic solution to emotional problems lies in being completely non-religious," says A. Ellis, the founder, founder of rational-emotive therapy (Grom, 1992, p. 114).

The criticism of the harmfulness of religion, more closely of the Christian faith, can also be found among theologians or authors close to the church. As early as 1955, the physician Eberhard Schaetzing used the term "ecclesiogenic neuroses", which was often quoted in the following, to denote the harmful effects of a prudish, instinctual and bigoted religious education on human sexuality. Schaetzing does not radically reject the Christian faith, but makes the fundamentalist understanding of the Bible, the infantile dogmatics he calls this and above all the restrictive sexual morality that is hostile to pleasure is responsible for the negative effects of faith. He sees a religious education that aims at developing a personal conscience, maturity and personal responsibility as a necessity his moral attitude is altogether typical of the time and in conformity with the church; he rejects homosexuality. The latter is a result of false religious attitudes: namely, "in certain pietistic circles [would] both male and female homosexuality [would] be bred directly (...)." (Schaetzin g, 1955, p. 99) Likewise, the ecclesiastical hostility to pleasure promotes marital unfaithfulness. Schaetzing's theological judgment transcends the boundaries of an impartial medical view of religion.

His line of argument is later taken up by psychologically trained theologians such as Zellner (1995) and Frielingsdorf (1997; 2004), who focus on harmful images of God. For Frielingsdorf they are the key to understanding the disease-causing potential of faith. He names two manifestations of the harmful image of God: the god of stopgaps and the god of fear.

The God of the gap is a projection in Feuerbach’s style, a god of wishes onto which positive attributes and unfulfilled longings for closeness, security, protection, security, love, etc. are projected. In children and adults who are denied the fulfillment of these needs, faith leads to a division into a good world with God and a bad one with humans. God is the great compensator here. Grom reports on a 14-year-old schoolgirl who suffers from the lovelessness of her mother and foster father:

“My prayer always goes to God the Father first. He is my real father (...). If my foster father scolds me unfairly, I pray to him. (...) [The parents say to me]: You don't belong to us, you have to go to a home (...). I hope that I can become a good child of my God-Father ”(Grom 1994, p. 184).

This image of God becomes problematic when it prevents the person concerned from actively dealing with the loss of the father, the lovelessness of the mother or other experiences of hurt and fails to develop his own resources.

The vicarious confrontation with God also belongs to the category of the god of stopgaps, which can occur when the dependency on the parents makes it difficult or prevents the confrontation with negative feelings towards them. This is particularly the case when the parents portray themselves as weak or as victims or when they need the help of the children. The unsettled conflict with the parents can turn out to be a clash of faith and leads to consequences that affect religion or the church, but leave the relationship with the parents unaffected, e.g. leaving the church (Frielingsdorf, 1997, pp. 44-45 ).

The second type of harmful image of God is the fearful, punishing God. He demands obedience and submission. The reward for faith lies in the promise to be protected by an absolute power (Frielingsdorf, 1997, p. 62). This conception of God is linked to a deficient image of man in which man, no matter how hard he tries, always remains inferior. It is a contradicting concept of God that holds man captive. Zellner describes in his autobiographical and therapeutic book, which is kept in a dramatic style God Therapy (Zellner, 1994, p.64) describe this as “schizophenia” and “God's mess”. The fearful god is described by him as the "patriarch god" (Zellner, 1994, p. 64). For Zellner the solution to this problem is obvious: it is the God of Jesus. His therapeutic intervention consists of a series of Bible studies. Frielingsdorf also contrasts the sick with the healing images of God in the context of religious exercises in the Ignatian sense (Frielingsdorf, 2004).

Recently, Bucher has resumed criticism of negative images of God (Bucher, 2017). He does not differentiate between the ideas of God, but judges them from the point of view of their negative effects. These are:

  1. Generation of fear

  2. Induction of maladaptive, i.e. unfounded feelings of guilt

  3. Favoring scrupulosity and compulsive behavior

  4. Decrease in self-esteem

  5. Promote hostile attitudes

  6. Disability in dealing with crises (Bucher, 2017, p. 24)

All of these effects are interrelated and, taken together, give a problematic picture. Fear and guilt are ambiguous. It is well known that fear has a necessary protective function for humans (Bucher, 2017, 14). Feeling of guilt can lead to a reflection on one's own responsibility or it can become harmful if it becomes a permanent state of mind for which there is no reason (Bucher, 2017, 29). Theological topoi such as original sin or the human fault of Jesus' death on the cross help to burn maladaptive guilt consciousness into people.

Compulsive behavior is also related to the first two effects. It occurs when the religion provides rules, the strict observance of which is required of the believers. (Bucher, 2017, p. 30; Klein & Albani 2011, p. 221). The effort to protect oneself from unpleasant consequences or to attain a status of purity or sinlessness while at the same time being uncertain about what exactly is required and how God will react encourages compulsive behavior. (Bucher, 2017, p. 31) The deficient, negative image of man that underlies certain images of God as well as the demand for strict religious regulations can, in conjunction with appropriate rituals or prayers, reduce self-esteem or even trigger depression. All factors combined lead to the fact that faith prevents people from overcoming crises and leading a fulfilling life (Bucher, 2017, p. 31).

But what is cause and effect? Already Grom stated that the harmful effects of a religiously based, burdensome feeling of guilt have not been empirically proven. Rather, religious groups with a high degree of emotional dependence and authoritarian structures seem to be attractive to people with emotional problems (Grom, 2004, p. 193). The combination of an already existing individual disposition with an unfavorable group structure and their religious ideas can lead to a negative spiral. One has to start from the reciprocity of religiosity variables and individual factors. For example, a religiously fearful of conscience can promote obsessive-compulsive disorder; conversely, already existing obsessive-compulsive disorder can make one susceptible to religiously fearful of conscience. This is exactly how the interaction between fearful ideas of God and low self-esteem as well as between feelings of guilt towards God and non-clinical depression can be seen. Clinically relevant depression, in turn, can impair religious coping, i.e. the ability to use religious resources to cope with a crisis (Grom, 2004, p. 205).

3 Image of God and Education

An unfavorable religious content, such as the harmful ideas of God explained above, does not by itself automatically lead to psychological impairment. It should be borne in mind that religious imprinting usually takes place in childhood, in a situation of great dependence on parents and at the same time a high degree of malleability. It is worth taking a look at the relationship between parenting style, family dynamics and the image of God. Bucher points out that the fear of a punishing God has shrunk massively within a generation (Bucher, 2017, 25-26). This is related to the liberalization of education, which increasingly relies on bargaining instead of orders, and where severe physical and mental punishment is considered unacceptable. The family structure is stronger today than it used to be due to the equal rights of both parents. At the same time, the image of the violent, angry God disappeared from religious instruction and catechesis. It's not a coincidence.

Educational practice and conception of God support each other if, on the one hand, the image of God supports parental, especially paternal authority, and, on the other hand, compliance with church norms, the observance of which the God presented in this way is required by the same person of authority, who at the same time obedience to parental rules demands.

In a critical examination of her own psychoanalytic tradition, Alice Miller made the child's obligation to idealize parents responsible for this connection.

“In the old educational pamphlets it was regularly recommended to 'take away the will' from the child as early as possible, to fight their 'obstinacy', and to always leave them feeling their own guilt and badness; one should never give the impression that the adult could be mistaken or make a mistake, never allow the child to discover the limits of the adult, but on the contrary should hide his own weaknesses from him, simulate divine authority. "(Miller, 1981, p. 276)

Miller describes the function of the Father God as a "phenomenon of our culture":

“The God-Father is an easily ailing, ambitious, basically insecure person, who therefore demands obedience and conformity in the expression of opinion, who does not bear idols next to him (...)" (Miller, 1981, p. 280).

Incidentally, this criticism includes the father figures of psychoanalysis, including Sigmund Freud himself.

The child's idealization of parents can have the effect that necessary arguments and conflicts are suppressed and the resulting feelings are transferred to God. In doing so, Miller distances himself from Freud’s criticism of religion. Miller describes her own reflection process by engaging in the reflections of her pietistically raised patient Inge, who are critical of religion. She states that the biblical God is by no means free of contradictions; that it actually contains elements of the father-like image conveyed through education, but is ultimately to be thought of as the God of love, who does not demand obedience, but gives freedom. Your considerations lead to a criticism of the Old Testament image of God. (Miller, 1981, 120-122). Miller himself sees the Joseph of the New Testament as the personification of an ideal, unconditional fatherly love (Miller, 1981, 125).

Miller can now be accused of failing to maintain the neutrality towards religion postulated by psychology. However, this limit was not always respected by the founders of the psychology of religion. Heine vividly shows how the restrictive, narrow, moral, low-affection religious socialization of the founding fathers of the psychology of religion Stanley Hall, Edwin Starbuck and Gordon Allport, which was characterized by a work-oriented Puritan piety, became an impulse in their research and ultimately a dispute led with their own religion. (Heine, 2005, p. 23). Hall and Starbuck in particular were convinced that religiosity belongs to people and demanded a life-friendly, liberal religiosity.They were criticized for this by their colleagues in psychology, but also by theology, which religiosity could only think confessionally bound and dogmatically defined.

Also in one of the most famous modern writings critical of religion, the autobiographical book published in 1976 God poisoning by Tilmann Moser, the connection between the image of God, education and family dynamics becomes clear. The author, who grew up in a pietistic milieu, accounts in his book as an example of a religion that makes the soul sick. “You [God] resided in me as my self-loathing. You moved into me like a disease that was difficult to cure when my body and soul were small. ”(Moser, 1976, p. 10). Later in the book it says: “You had forbidden so much about me that I could no longer be loved” (Moser, 1976, p. 19).

His remarks about communication in the family and dealing with one another show that the basic problem is by no means in religion, but in the deeply disordered family in which everyone lived alone. Moser writes:

“Do you know that for many of my families you were the only interlocutor for whole areas of their emotional life? That your oppressive reality comes from their isolation, their contact disorders, their speechlessness towards other people? That they prayed to you, told you their day in the evening because no one else would have listened to them? ”(Moser, 1976, p. 23) Family life was burdened by the father's serious illness, which took up all of the mother's energy and affection , so that Till was given to a foster family at the age of six months, an act which he accuses his mother of treason. He hates his brothers who are themselves 'spread out 'and leave him no more space. God has to grow up "to keep this hatred in check." (Moser, 1976, p.37)

In her autobiographical novel The hidden word Ulla Hahn, born in 1946, narrates the use of religious convictions to consolidate parental authority.

“In the beginning God created hell, devils and children, and he saw that it was bad. My grandmother too. Children were born badly. Growing up meant getting better. The adults, who knew everything better, could do better, did better, took care of that, precisely because they were adults. To be a child was to be guilty. To be sinful. In need of repentance, penance, punishment, in exceptional cases of grace. Do's and don'ts came directly from God. But God was the one before whom everyone fell on their knees. In the end it was not the adults who knew everything better, but the good Lord who spoke through their mouth. "(Hahn, 2001, 15)

The family context in which they are conveyed is decisive for the effect of religious ideas. The family and religious factors increase when they are congruent. Grom emphasizes:

“An authoritarian and criminal conception of God tends to go hand in hand with an authoritarian and strict upbringing style of the parents, which in turn correlates positively with a somewhat lower self-esteem of the children. As a bible camp experiment has shown, the mere talk of the Judge God (...) can be effective in adolescents' concept of God, but hardly change their self-image. "(Grom, 2004, p. 192)

Unsettling social experiences in the family and in other central relationships are the most important factor in the development of obsessive-compulsive disorder (Grom, 2004, pp. 190–191, 192), along with a strong individual vulnerability. Conversely, an already existing disposition to excessive impulse control can also increase the susceptibility to a fearful conception of God (Grom, 2004, pp. 192–193). Central to the individual is the extent to which religious rhetoric is used for existential experiences of love or abandonment, a feeling of security or defenselessness, and to what extent these experiences are religiously explained or legitimized.

On the other hand, the view of the image of God alone seems to be too narrow. The examples clearly show the image of man associated with religious ideas, which strongly shapes the self-image of those who are religiously socialized. Also to be taken into account are the demands with regard to religious practice, which are handled more or less strictly or are more or less closely linked to the image of God.

Religious ideas unfold their effectiveness within a given psychosocial context. The harmful or positive effects of religious socialization cannot be traced back to a specific image of God, but can only be explained in connection with other religious ideas and a deficit in the quality of primary relationships, combined with a loveless style of upbringing.

3 Coping with life, coherence, resilience

In everyday language, for example, in the phrase “the main thing is healthy”, illness and health are mutually exclusive. Illness is equated with malaise and deficit, health with freedom from symptoms and normalcy. Today's health science no longer sees health and illness as mutually exclusive states, but as endpoints of a continuum in which there are different parts of illness and health (Franzkowiak, 2015a). A viable health concept must integrate the conditionality and potential limitation of health, since every person has to deal with the given possibilities and limitations of his body and his environment at all times. There is no such thing as one hundred percent health. According to this understanding, people with physical and mental impairments are not only sick, but also healthy in the sense of coping (Hurrelmann & Franzkowiak, 2015, p. 5). Health does not designate an ideal norm, but a state in which one

“The person is psychologically and socially in harmony with the possibilities and goals and the given external living conditions. Health is the stage of equilibrium between risk factors and protective factors that occurs when a person manages to cope with both internal (physical and psychological) and external (social and material) demands. Health is a stage that gives a person well-being and joie de vivre. "(Hurrelmann & Franzkowiak, 2015, p. 4.)

Hence there is disease

“A stage of imbalance between risk and protective factors that occurs when a person fails to cope with internal (physical and psychological) and external (social and material) demands. Illness gives a person an (acute or permanent) impairment of his well-being and his joie de vivre. "(Franzkowiak, 2015b)

The medical sociologist and stress researcher Aaron Antonovsky (1923-1994) had a decisive influence on the changed perception of health and illness with his concept of salutogenesis (Antonovsky, 1997; orig. 1987). Originally, he investigated the quality of life of Holocaust survivors and asked why 30% of them were able to lead a successful life despite severe stressful experiences. In doing so, he takes a new perspective in medicine: it is not illness that is researched, but the factors of health and quality of life in view of the finiteness and fragility of life. He comes to the conclusion that all human beings are on a continuum of illness and health: "We are all mortal and as long as there is still a breath of life in us, we are healthy to a certain extent" (Antonovsky, 1997, p. 23) .

Antonovsky defines three factors of behavior and attitudes, which he uses the term "sense of coherence" or SOC (sense of coherence) summarizes:

- understandability

- manageability

- Significance (Antonovsky, 1997, pp. 33-46).

One speaks of comprehensibility when one's own life situation and circumstances are perceived as meaningful and understandable. Their lives do not seem chaotic to these people and they have a fairly realistic idea of ​​what might happen to them. Such an attitude is the prerequisite for being able to use one's own physical and psychological resources at all. A second factor of the SOC is confidence in the manageability of future challenges. It is the conviction that difficulties will also be overcome in the future, be it alone, with others, or with divine help. It has the effect that people do not allow themselves to be easily pushed into a victim role in which they feel powerless. Finally, importance relates to the motivational level; it describes the extent to which one perceives one's own life as a whole to be meaningful; it is a feeling that life's demands are worth the energy invested in them. People with a high level of meaningfulness can often name very specific areas that are important to them. (Antonovsky, 1997, pp. 34-36). All three components are necessary for the SOC, but they can be expressed differently (Antonovsky, 1997, p. 38).

The sense of coherence does not exist one hundred percent, because everyone has doubts and questions and experiences frustrations - if there is a strong sense of coherence, these can be better integrated into their own life. However, very high SOC scores can even indicate a negative state of mind: rigid or inauthentic SOC. As an example, he cites religious people who are “hysterically rigid” and whose system of rules shows no room for flexible strategies. In this case, there may be a self-deception and insufficient awareness of reality, because nothing conceivable is understandable, manageable and significant for anyone (Antonovsky, 1997, 42).

The term resilience has established itself in education today. This means the ability to cope with life constructively despite challenging experiences and poor framework conditions. Resilience is multidimensional: if positive development is possible despite limitations, it shows in the maintenance of the ability to act despite stressful situations and in the ability to recover from stressful trauma in a short time. Resilience research, founded by Emmy Werner and Ruth Smith, is congruent with Antonovsky's approach (Antonovsky, 1997, p. 55). Werner and Smith's original research on children on the island of Maui looked at how some children manage to cope well with adverse circumstances such as poverty, lack of education, conflict-ridden environments, and difficult fates such as loss and disease (Werner & Smith, 1982). Resilient people are characterized by a number of characteristic personality traits: they have confidence in themselves and believe that they can cope with life; they can endure dry spells and the unpleasant for a while and they do not insist on unrealistic ideas. In terms of character, they are rather extroverted, communicative and socially acceptable.

Compared to the rather static resilience concept of Werner and Smith, who emphasized the importance of certain personality traits, today, especially in education, where resilience has become a key term, the process-like nature of resilience is emphasized. The ability to cope with stress can vary in the course of life, or the successful overcoming of a crisis can significantly strengthen resilience. (Fröhlich-Gildhoff & Rönnau-Böse, 2014, pp. 9–11). The turn to resilience in education is a paradigm shift in which the question is how each child can recognize and learn to use their own resources and which external factors contribute to favor this process. Such factors are, for example, the presence of stable confidants, an environment that is both challenging and secure, certain spatial factors such as a place of retreat.

Health research has embraced the resilience approach by asking about the resources for a healthy lifestyle. The decisive factor is the ability to productively deal with reality, the positive attitude to everyday challenges, the acceptance of one's own body and basic psychological equipment, optimistic expectations of the social environment and, overall, the idea of ​​how one's own lifestyle can be influenced. (Hurrelmann & Franzkowiak, 2015, p. 5.).

In theology, the topic of "resilience" has recently appeared in two themed issues of the MThZ and the magazine Practical theology has been taken up (Richter & Blank, 2016; Vogt & Schneider, 2016). Although the editors see a number of points of contact with resilience-promoting attitudes in the Christian tradition, they are skeptical of the term. It is feared that the “magic word” resilience will be instrumentalized with regard to the uncritical acceptance of higher resilience in the professional environment, a “system-affirmative self-optimization” (Sautermeister, 2016, p. 216). At the same time, using the example of the Christian virtues of faith, hope and love, it is shown that Christianity has a high potential for resilience. Belief relativizes one's own self and can thus interrupt fearful reaction patterns (Schneider & Vogt, 2016, pp. 198–199). Christian hope has a meaningful effect and makes it possible to go through suffering without glorifying it (Schneider & Vogt, 2016, pp. 199–202). An attitude of love, of being devoted to the other, could also contribute to the liberation from fear by disregarding oneself (Schneider & Vogt, 2016, pp. 202–203). According to the authors, the Christian virtues integrate the ethical aspect and are thus able to overcome the individualistic approach of the concept of resilience. In his empirical study, Stangls postulates the positive correlation between Christian faith and resilience; however, only a small group from the same Catholic milieu was examined (Stangl, 2016).

In the theological reception of the resilience discourse one can get the impression that the Christian tradition of faith offers the better way to what resilience promises, since the possible negative effects of resilience orientation such as a lack of community reference and self-optimization ideology would be avoided. Unfortunately, this reception does not deal with the phenomenon of problematic religious attitudes.

5 Positive Effects of Religiosity and Spirituality on Healing and Wellbeing

A number of studies on the relationship between religiosity and mental health or subjective well-being have appeared in the USA since the 1980s. The hitherto predominantly critical attitude towards religion in psychology was broken when religion was considered as a potential protective factor for humans (Klein & Albani, 2011, p. 215). In view of the great importance of religious communities, it is no surprise that this topic is being dealt with in the USA of all places. The proportion of those belonging to a religious group is 66%; they are more religious than church members in Europe, with 44% attending weekly services and 55% viewing religion as very important in their lives. The proportion of highly religious people is much higher than in the German-speaking countries (Klein & Albani, 2011, p. 220).

Problems with the large number of researches are their sometimes small samples, the lack of comparability and the difficulty in quantifying mental illnesses (Klein & Albani, 2011, p. 216; Grom, 2004, p. 187). Nevertheless, a number of conclusions can be drawn from the meta-analysis of these studies.

In particular, the relationship between religiosity and fears has been well studied. Intrinsically motivated religiosity in combination with a loving image of God have a negative relation to symptoms of fear. If this conviction is strengthened again and again, for example in a church service, and is also associated with a positive group membership, this effect is strengthened. This is particularly true for the fear of death (Klein & Albani, 2011, p. 222).

Another well-studied topic is the relationship between religiosity and substance abuse. Many authors attribute religiosity a weak preventive effect with regard to possible drug abuse. In the religious communities, drugs are usually explicitly rejected. However, social control in religious communities only has a positive effect if the belief is accepting and supportive (Grom, 2004, pp. 194–195).In the treatment of addiction, a higher level of religiosity and spirituality has a positive effect; However, alcoholics Anonymous, who explicitly speak of a higher power, show that the duration of participation in the AA meetings is much more relevant than the degree of religiosity. (Grom, 2004, p. 195).

There are a number of theoretical explanations for the positive connection between religiosity and mental health or subjective well-being:

- Social support

- Promote self-esteem

- Sense of coherence

- Negotiating alternative values

- Positive behavior regulation

- Enabling religious coping

All of these explanations also show that the religious factors are ambivalent.

Religious groups, when functioning as social networks, can have positive effects, especially when common beliefs are shared and the community is also expressed in ritual and celebration. This sense of community can be very strong, especially when one has the impression that one is right or even chosen towards other groups. It can turn negative when the community isolates itself too much, when social support is accompanied by social pressure and there are strong mechanisms of inclusion and exclusion. (Klein & Albani, 2011, pp. 226–227)

As already shown, a fear-inducing, rigid image of God in interaction with problematic relationship constellations can make people small and hinder the development of self-esteem. A loving image of God that is accompanied by loving human experiences, on the other hand, can convey the feeling of unconditional acceptance and affirmation, which does not require constant confirmation from outside. A secure bond with God can also instill positive self-esteem and reduce emotional instability. (Klein & Albani, 2011, pp. 227-228).

Religious communities convey narratives and patterns of interpretation that are historically rooted and legitimized. In this way they enable the sense of coherence, which is essential in the sense of salutogenesis, by offering a sense of purpose that goes beyond the individual. These patterns of interpretation are negative if they are presented as unconditional, intolerant and unquestionable, or if consolation leads to a negation of reality (Klein & Albani, 2011, pp. 228–229).

Many religions cultivate socially critical values ​​such as humility, social commitment, relativization of outward appearances. This allows you to weaken conventional expectations of success and conformity. Religion shows people alternative ways in which one can distance oneself from social ideals and demands. The idea of ​​human creation, for example, suggests that every human being, regardless of their abilities and achievements, is willed by God. However, these alternative values ​​can have a negative effect if they are set absolutely (Klein & Albani, 2011, pp. 230–231).

Religion regulates human behavior through ethical regulations and other commandments, e.g. rest periods and abstinence regulations, and thus offers a system of order that can relieve people. Excessively strict compliance with such regulations and commands can, however, promote neurotic behavior (Klein & Albani, 2011, pp. 231–232).

The theory of religious coping comes from Pargament (Pargament, 2002; Klein & Lehr, 2011). It offers the most comprehensive explanatory model for the relationship between religion and health. At the center of religious coping is the question of how faith and religious convictions hold up in crisis situations (Pargament 2002, 84). However, religion is not a stable process in the biography, but can have positive and negative effects on the same person at the same time. Religion can be more helpful for marginalized groups than for people in the middle of society who do not have to struggle for recognition.

Parchament identifies three styles of religion that have proven effective coping strategies. The most effective is the collaborative style, in which people rely on God to support them in their own endeavors. The self-directive style, created by the attitude that you can only help yourself, is also helpful, but works less well in situations where people experience their own limits. The delegating style, which sees the role of humans as completely passive and which trusts in God's help, is overall less positive than the other two because it is usually more associated with fear, but it unfolds especially in hopeless situations of loss of control a positive effect. In his review, Grom states that religious coping is effective as a prevention against anxiety and non-clinical depression, that it can support the treatment of mild and severe anxiety symptoms (Grom, 2004, p. 205).

All authors agree that the positive effectiveness of religiosity depends on its centrality, i.e. on the importance it has in the life of the individual. Religiosity is helpful "if it is an important part of one's own personality and life and is linked to participation in community and social integration." (Klein & Albani, 2011, p. 223) Overall, one can say that religiosity , provided that some favorable factors come together, have a positive effect on subjective well-being, as well as on life satisfaction. However, a clear connection between religiosity and mental health has not been proven (Grom, 1994, pp. 114–115; Grom, 2004, p. 200).

6 The recognition of the ambivalence of the religious as a religious-educational task

The empirical research on the connection between religion and health does not show a uniform picture. The same religious factors, in conjunction with other factors, can have positive or negative effects on subjective well-being and mental health. It must be recognized that religion is ambivalent. Apologetic arguments that propagate the healing effects of faith have no real basis.

The ambivalence of the religious arises from the nature of the religious tradition and the people who practice religion. The older a religion is, the more diverse its cultural references and religious practice, the richer its tradition of interpretation, the more internal religious contradictions there are, the more ambivalence is generated. This results in a challenge to every theology that cannot be met either by a supposedly contradictory reconstruction of tradition or by eclecticism, but only through hermeneutic reflection and intellectual honesty. The demand to cleanse the doctrine of real or alleged harmful elements in order to pave the way for a liberating, healing religiosity is the attempt to extract the apparent uniqueness of a true religion from the ambivalence of the religious, which only at the price of Negation of one's own interest in knowledge is to be gained. Lorenz Kellner, one of the critics of the authoritarian understanding of the Christian image of God, offers this by clearly sketching out the path to “God therapy”, i.e. to healing the human soul: “The unambiguous and ethically impeccable God is an excellent guideline that has long existed. “(Kellner, 1995, 69) By the way, these purification efforts often have anti-Judaism features.

The Zurich pastor Oskar Pfister, who wanted to convince Freud that the true religion is not the neurotic one (Pfister, 1977, orig. 1928), like decades later the Jesuit Frielingsdorf (Frielingsdorf, 1997; Frielingsdorf, 2004) make the psychological perspective strong, to criticize undesirable developments in their own church, theology and in the life of faith and to point out the true core content of faith. That is legitimate and at first glance plausible. However, psychological-therapeutic arguments are not suitable for clarifying claims to religious truth. Rather, what is decisive here is the theological discourse about the relationship between love for God and love for man, between the worldly and the transcendent. This is not to deny that religious structures, religious practice, theology and religious education must be viewed critically from an outside point of view. The decisive yardstick here, however, are the very own religious demands on humanity.

The ambivalence of faith is inevitable even in the individual context of lived religiosity. It is produced both by a strict, casuistic religion, which does not do justice to the claims and contradictions of lived life, as well as by liberal beliefs that rely on the interpretive competence of all believers in precisely these situations, so that they are susceptible to ambiguity and contradictions and, moreover, some Overburdening believers.

Religious tradition and religious practice are tied to people and their historical-cultural contexts and thus always reflect the ambivalence of the human. In a series of articles in 2006, the NZZ asked various authors about their understanding of a good religion. The orientalist and writer Navid Kermani wrote:

“Religions are not good. You're not bad either. They are just there, just like life itself. (...) Religions are as good and as bad as people themselves. They are less a cause than a medium, catalyst and amplifier of human behavior, longings and justifications, for better or for worse. "
(Kermani, 2007, pp. 57–58)

He is addressing the political dimension of the religious. Kermani sees a connection between the humanity of a religion and its chance to exercise power.

“The least bad religions are those that have seldom ruled politically (...) The fact that other religions are historically better off probably has less to do with their nature than with the fact that they never established themselves as the majority religion. Within Islam, the Ismailis or the Alawites excel through tolerance, secularity and service to others. "
(Kermani, 2007, p. 56)

What if one could clearly identify the positive effects of faith? Faith is not suitable as a worldly panacea. Faith is understood theologically as the human response to divine revelation. It is characterized by the character of a gift and is necessarily dependent on human consent and acceptance in freedom. Faith is a deeply personal act that defies any instrumentalization, or in other words: "Spiritual exercises are not occupational therapy." (Hauschildt, 2016, p. 101). In addition, a utilitarian belief system is unsustainable and susceptible to what Grom calls disappointment atheism (Grom, 1992, p. 147). Utilitarian arguments cannot be used either to propagate the faith or to reject it.

Against this background, the category “subjective well-being”, which is mainly used by Grom, becomes questionable. In terms of health research, it is a meaningful parameter, but it is not a theological term. Religion is always a sting, a claim, an encouragement. Biblical texts brush the mainstream against the grain: in the miracles it is asserted that more is created by sharing than by keeping; the parables confront the paradoxical statement that the great is really small and the small is great; the Sermon on the Mount contains implausible ethical instructions; the first testament propagates a God who is “there” and yet must remain image-free.

Henning Luther spelled out this challenge of faith. Religion does not appear in the cocoon of well-being, but in the fractures of the obvious.

“Every moment of everyday life can become an experience of the 'limit' or the 'threshold'. Where a hitherto well-established matter of course meets another: the encounter with another person, the experience of an unfamiliar and unexpected event, the memory of the past, the awakening of a wish, the experience of a dream (...) "(Luther, 1992, p. 217).

The ambiguity of everyday life proves to be critical and productive, because "it mobilizes the surplus of questionability in religion, which escapes the pacification attempts of 'last answers' and releases it into a salutary restlessness." (Luther, 1992, p. 223) Therefore the function and effect of religion are twofold, indeed contradicting one another. It can comfort, stabilize and help over fractures; But it can also strengthen the discontinuity by giving it expression. In this sense, religious rituals not only serve stability, but also provoke open questions and thoughtfulness.

"Against religious-metaphysical striving for security, which wants to calm everyday life and keep it away from the unsettling thresholds and strangely breaking moments, it is especially important to perceive these interruptions and transitions as the decisive and fruitful points of contact for religious experience." (Luther, 1992, p. 247 )

This does not mean that well-being has to be rated negatively from a religious point of view. The recognition of the biographical breaks as religiously productive does not mean a return of the mysticism of suffering and hostility to the body. On the contrary: the humanly perceptible dimension of the religious expectation of salvation must be experienced again and again. Making this possible is a central diaconal task of the faith communities and their members.

From a believing, and thus from a theological and religious pedagogical point of view, the confrontation with the ambivalence of the religious is compelling and inevitable: in the critical reflection of theology, on the religious basis, in the self-reflection of the religious hierarchy. We have to agree with Susanne Heine when she measures the “quality” of a religion by the extent to which it not only allows this reflection, but promotes it. When asked about the good religion, she points out that her

“Followers [must] recognize the temptation that lurks latently in everyone, therefore also in their own religion; a good religion gives such great certainty that it can constantly question people. Where religion transmits nothing but certainty, it becomes a danger. "(Heine, 2007, p. 65)

And the theologian Friedrich Wilhelm Graf emphasizes: "A religion is good if it keeps the ambivalences of the religious present in its symbolic language [and] deals with it."

Henning Luther criticizes the fact that religious education does not address and interpret the experience of fragmentarity enough (Luther, 1992, p. 179). One can add: Religious education has tried to convincingly offer the Christian belief in life options, hardly with the possible negative effects religious socialization and the ambivalence of the religious. However, this is essential in the interests of a sustainable belief system. Didactically, the question arises as to when and in what form children should be confronted with the ambivalence of the religious and how productive processes of knowledge can arise from this. For religious instruction in schools as well as for church instruction and catechesis, however, it is true that this ambivalence must not be concealed.



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Prof. Dr. Monika Jakobs is Professor of Religious Education at the Theological Faculty of the University of Lucerne / Switzerland and Head of the Religious Education Institute RPI.