Psychology and Religion

“Religion is not a science, and psychology is not religion.”

On March 28, 1965, Rabbi Olan preached a sermon designed to differentiate therapeutic psychology from the religious thought and practice. This seems to have been an important topic of discussion for Rabbi Olan, who also addressed the topic in January of 1961 with the sermon Religion and Mental Health ( His main concern is that both fields of study be appreciated for what they are, and not be confused for each other.

Despite the title, Olan spent little time defining and discussing psychology and psychotherapy. Instead, most of his sermon addressed the meaning and practice of faith / religion, and the diversity of religious thought. He leads us to ask ourselves what our theological constructs (faith systems) actually produce. For instance, does our faith make us active participants in God’s work or merely passive recipients?

Is our religious understanding primarily a quest for happiness in this life and/or the next, or is it about finding meaning and purpose in the midst of our daily harships? Olan suggested that “The religious [person] prefers meaningful misery to aimless happiness.”

On a personal note, I wonder why the difference between psychology and religion was so important to Rabbi Olan that he spoke about it repeatedly. In recent decades the links between mental health and spiritual well-being have grown. These fields are not as incompatible as once thought. However, when I hear pop-psychology substituted for deep theology from the pulpit and bema, I also find myself offended. And like Rabbi Olan, I am also concerned that people struggling with mental illness be encouraged to seek out professional help. Pastoral counseling is not a substitute for psychotherapy. Both are important, but in their own ways.

Follow this link to read the sermon text.
Follow this link to listen to the audio recording.
Follow this link to watch the scrolling-text video.

*Written by Tim Binkley.*