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When ideas become God and science is heresy

By August 10, 2022No Comments

The struggles of our times: women’s and LGBTQIA+ rights, and even the danger to free speech and thought

Most of us are familiar, if only from early school days, with the historic clash between the Church and Science, the Pope and Galileo, unquestioning faith and scientific heresy. We know this divide as Western history. But is it just history?

To answer this question, or at least to begin, let us look carefully at the contemporary struggle between unquestionable doctrine and the questioners, between ideology and science, between the immutable and the mutable in the 21st century. In our century. In our time.

I direct our attention then to the comparable struggles of our times, including, but not limited to, women’s rights, lesbian and gay rights, transgender rights, and even the danger to free speech and free thought, evidenced by the political effort to ban both speech and books. In fact, there are even questions about the use and interpretation of the Constitution of the United States as gospel which echo this ancient division.

The side of the questioners has, until this moment, been well represented by various academic disciplines, including philosophy, psychology, and the “harder” sciences. In accepted scholarship, the latter two flow from the former. That is, psychology and other sciences function as applied philosophy. The empirical method itself is the application of philosophy in the real world, of positivist theory to real-life experimentation. As such, it is just one method of engaging in scientific inquiry and not identical to science itself. It is clearly the preferred method in Western science, the very foundation upon which our form of science is situated.

The empirical method is applied stringently in a real-world attempt to answer the questions generated by the mind experiments of philosophy. Philosophy specializes in thought experiments and other abstract mental exercises. Psychology, when functioning effectively, serves as a bridge between the abstract mind and embodied reality. Reality, as we know it, is not only embodied, but inexorably intertwined with the social context and the physical environment. Philosophy can suggest that all human behavior is performance, but the answers must come from psychology. Philosophy can posit gender as more real than sex, but only psychology and biology can answer the question.

Yet we find ourselves today, the questioners and the experimenters, forbidden from these pursuits by the very academic disciplines and professions that many of us have called home. Those of us who specialize in questions and research focused on gender, on women, on the alphabet people known popularly as LGBTQIA+, are admonished to cease and desist, are punished, and shunned if we do not.

We have not changed. Philosophy has posited something extreme that cannot stand up to empirical scrutiny. Instead of this scrutiny engendering a shift in philosophy, such a revelation has been forbidden as heresy. As a consequence, the field of psychology itself has transitioned from the empirical, the scientific, the clinical and the questioning to the totalistic side, from a science to a secular religion. In this case, God is an idea that cannot be questioned but must be accepted on faith and in prayerful silence. All else is heresy.

Psychology serves as the bridge between the abstractions of the mind and the actions of the body and of the material world or what we name “reality.” Indeed, the very definition of psychosis is the loss of contact with reality. It is sometimes said that “Neurotics build castles in the air and psychotics live in them.” While the borders of reality can be debated, even philosophy must ultimately accede to the fact that there is material reality. All of us humans must live inside that reality. Thus, we can ask “What is a woman?” “What is a man?” “What is a human being and when does life begin?” From the religious side, from the papal perspective, these questions can all be answered without recourse to material reality. In this view, there is an ultimate reality greater than that of the material world. These questions are not decided by experimentation or science, but once and for all by a god. This god is not to be questioned, but to be obeyed. Material reality must be molded to divine desire without many nuances.

My purpose here is not to argue with God, but simply to note that secular society today is making its ideas into a god. Thus, rejection of women’s rights, lesbian and gay rights, human rights are no longer the purview of the God of the right but are in equivalent jeopardy from the ideas of the left treated as gods. Ideas are no longer to be questioned, debated or subjected to a scientific method. They must instead be accepted as gospel, any questioner labeled a heretic and metaphorically stoned to death or permanently silenced.

I do not oppose the human rights of transgender people or any other people. Rather I support them, but not unquestioningly. My questions are focused on material reality. My questions are to be answered by discussion, debate and research. And these are urgent questions that must be answered. Our very survival as people and as a species depends on these answers.

I myself have been the chair of the committee of the American Psychological Association designated to deal with these issues. However, that was when we still could ask questions. Questions that must be asked. Questions about the veridicality of diagnosis, the goal of treatment, the effects of pathologizing. Questions about potential harm to children of puberty blockers and other hormones are good questions. So are questions about curing so-called gender dysphoria with surgery and, indeed, whether gender dysphoria stands alone or is a symptom of deeper dissatisfactions, whether it is not an individual disorder, but a reaction to a particular constricting society.

I oppose the silencing of psychologists, researchers, and questioners. I oppose the break with material reality that psychology so easily pathologizes in other cases. Can sex really be replaced by gender? Can women really be removed as a social and legal category? Can heterosexual men declare themselves lesbians? These are all questions for reality, not for philosophy.

It is right here that mainstream psychology, official psychology and sadly now corporate psychology has failed us. For psychology itself has foreclosed on the questions. And it is right here that I must question my own profession and academic discipline.

It is not widely enough known or understood that that big book of psychological diagnoses is not based in any form of science, but instead on the opinions of those who are designated as official observers. In effect, diagnoses are voted in and out of office, much like political candidates themselves.

Enter gender dysphoria, voted in as a replacement for homosexuality, which was voted out in 1973 by the same APA membership. The original purpose of this vote was to retain access to treatment for those still having difficulties with homosexuality. And make no mistake, leaving the door open is crucial to insurance reimbursement. Illnesses are reimbursed by insurance. Existential questions are not.

Enter Big Pharma and big money into the debate between ultimate and immovable truth and the questions. In a circularly self-perpetuating dance, psychology diagnoses and pathologizes, insurance then pays for the ensuing treatment. Psychology validates the need for medication and insurance then pays. Finally, today, the dance widens as psychology validates diagnoses that are not scientific but decided by the majority vote of the American Psychiatric Association and then those diagnoses elicit insurance payments, drug therapy and now damaging hormone treatments for children, along with a surgery touted as a “cure” for an illness created by consensus, gender dysphoria.

Absolute good and evil, the prohibition of questioning and unquestioned purity are all hallmarks of totalitarian religion. Official psychology has come to embrace ideology over discussion or research, silence and reprimand over discussion, sureness over questions, pathology over ordinary problems in living, political correctness over courage. Psychology, in this way, has transitioned from a science to a religion and a totalistic one at that. You must either be for or against. Searching for answers or even turning to the biological sciences is pure heresy. You either comply or are a heretic to be shunned and perhaps banished.

Where has this already led us and where will it all end?

This article was originally published in Meer.

Ellyn Kaschak

Ellyn Kaschak

Ellyn Kaschak, Ph.D. is an internationally acclaimed and award-winning psychologist, author and teacher. She is well-known as a speaker, workshop leader, human rights advocate and a public intellectual.