No doubt

by Joe Ferullo

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What if, as human beings, we could erase all doubt? Would that make us better people? That’s the central focus of a new branch of American psycho-analysis called "Positive Psychology" -- it's sort of a Tinker Bell solution to life's worries: if we just believe hard enough, it will all work out.

Gary Greenberg writes about this new psychological approach in the current issue of Harper’s magazine. (Click on this link to listen to a public radio interview with Greenberg; the article is behind Harper’s paywall.)

According to Greenberg, the Department of Defense has gotten behind "positive psychology," as a way of reducing post-traumatic stress in soldiers at war – training them to see only the positives in what they have experienced, or what has been inflicted upon them.

Greenberg calls his article "The War on Unhappiness," because this new approach views melancholy and doubt as disorders, as parts of the human psyche that drags the rest of the personality down. They need to be erased.

Clearly, few Catholics are among the therapists promoting "positive psychology." Catholics celebrate doubt -- understanding in a way that evangelicals and other do not, that doubt is an integral part of human nature, and can actually lead to better self-knowledge and a stronger relationship with God.

Dramas I would consider culturally Catholic (such as the Pulitzer Prize winning play called, um, “Doubt”) paint the protagonist as someone who starts out over-confident in his world view. Through the course of the drama, that confidence is challenged and shaken – doubt enters the picture and leaves the main character more fully, recognizably human because of it.

Which strikes me as a true reflection of life itself. We’ve all encountered people who hold no doubts, and they tend to be a scary crowd. There really is something “other than human” about them – and at the extremes, lack-of-doubt lead in the last century to a notorious lineup of hellish abuses in every corner of the planet.

Embrace doubt – and even the occasional bout of melancholy. (Which was once very fashionable.) This may not make you happier, but -- as any Catholic can tell you -- happiness is overrated.

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