by Marianne Horney Eckardt, M.D.
This is a fascinating, informative, and timely book, written from an interdisciplinary perspective, which addresses our grave concerns about the global rise of violence fuelled by religious fervors, a recurrent phenomena which Slipp studies and analyses from a historical perspective. He is a passionate scholar who examines his subjects in the context of its time, only to be excited by his discoveries, which invariably open up new paths of investigation. His delight and excitement in his writing journey infect his readers. Reading the book is very rewarding. We not only experience the events in historical time, but also converse with similar events as they have recurred throughout time: Jesus' egalitarian attitude to women leads to Paul's unquestioned view of women as inferior to men, to Freud's ambivalence about women, and Simone de Beauvoir, who was in the vanguard of the movement for women's liberation.
Extreme fundamentalist religious beliefs are again entering the world stage of power politics. At home the religious right seems to be gaining momentum and we have to fight over issues of abortion, marriage, teaching evolution, and other anti-humanistic prejudices. Slipp delves into these historically ever-present phenomena by focusing on Jesus Christ and Sigmund Freud. Though living one thousand years apart, they both were healers and in their different ways tried to stop the abuse of power when religion and politics were joined. Freud tried to undermine the legitimacy of religion by regarding it as an illusion. He favored the development of a secular government. Jesus hoped that by becoming the Messiah, he could bring about the apocalypse, the end of the days, the coming of the kingdom of God and thus universal justice.
The second chapter, "The Impact of Context on Social Belief," reflects a major quality of the author's perspective, namely the vital importance of context, be it historical, cultural, social, familial, personal, or biological. His style of writing is given momentum by recurrent questions of context, such as: “What motivated me to write this book?”; “What were the factors that created this complete turnabout of the very core of Jesus' teaching?”; “What can be said about Freud and his lifelong struggle with the oppression of Jews?”; “How is it that the Romans were so militaristic and brutal?”; “How could the Jews flourish despite being conquered, persecuted, and killed over the centuries?”; “What was the probable origin of the frightening concept of the cataclysmic end of the days?”; “What are some of the factors that made Hitler the most evil man in the twentieth century?”
What influenced Jesus' teaching? Slipp elaborates on the patriarchal Jewish society, which consisted of two powerful groups, the Sadducees and the Pharisees, on the cult of the Essenes, on the Roman domination, as well as on the teachings of the Sage Hillel who stated: “What is hateful to you do not do unto your fellow man: that is the whole Law, the rest is commentary.” The focus on Freud leads to many facets, among them the anti-Semitism of his time, his attachment to his father, his ambivalent relation to his mother, his theoretical disregard of the mother-infant dyad as well as the infant's need of a psychological nourishing environment.
Slipp's psychoanalytic activity embraced individuals, family, groups, and neurological research. His research established the importance of emotional bonding in adults, leading to his hypothesis that the original synchrony between mother and infant is internalized and replicated in the synchronous group activities and rituals of adults. This appreciation of the value and power of rituals reflects Slipp's appreciation of the bonding power of the rituals of religions. The survival of the Jews was due to the ritual of reading the Torah to acquire knowledge, an egalitarian and meritorious ritual that helped them survive their dispersion and persecution.
The titles of the chapters reflect their main themes but not the free associative elaborations. The chapter, “Maintaining the Illusion of Power by Using Anti-Semitism,” speaks of many things: Of the widespread expectation of the coming of a messiah, of the Essenes cult, of the Dead Sea scrolls, of Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice, of Bion's illuminations of group behavior.