From its earliest days psychology has been curious about religion. Sometimes that curiosity tilts towards hostility – Freud, of course, didn’t have many good things to say about religion- “infantile neurosis” is a choice phrase. But at least four of his twenty-something books deal explicitly with the topic. So it’s safe to say he was curious. More recently, psychologists’ curiosity has tilted towards openness or outright encouragement. Part of that recent movement has involved an enormous amount of research on the impact religion has on mental health.
You’ve probably read about these studies. “Spirituality is a Key Element of Mental Health” or “New Study links belief in ‘Punitive God’ to Emotional Problems.” If not, you should check out the Punitive God one – it’s got a great picture of an angry God. But the story these studies tell isn’t as neat and clean as they make it seem.