Note: Page numbers enclosed in parentheses are citations from The Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler: A systematic presentation in selections from his writings. (H. L. and R. R. Ansbacher, Eds.). © 1964, Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc. Used by permission of Perseus Books Group.
Adler worked as a physician and aspired to think and write as a scientist. His understanding of the range of scientific thought was, however, inclusive of a respectful consideration of the phenomena of religious belief, language, and practice. Adler did not write in the tone of one who saw through or condescended toward symbolic forms or devout practices. His science was not meant to dispel "illusions" but to regard religious fictions as necessary devices for an appreciation of realities otherwise inaccessible to strictly scientific inquiry. These fictions remain illustrative as concretizations of the goal of human movement, which is included in the universal striving of all things toward perfection. One who is not sympathetic to the metaphysic of emergent evolution in which Adler (1979) situated the study of both physical and psychological phenomena will doubtless find his writings to be elusive, perhaps even exasperating. There will be little argument when he says, "Mankind has variously made the attempt to imagine this final goal of human development," or when he goes on to say, "Of course it seems to me that each person imagines his God differently." However, those who want an argument can find one when, in the same paragraph he also says, "The best conception gained so far of this ideal elevation of mankind is the concept of God (Jahn and Adler)" conceding that "There are conceptions of God which from the outset are not equal to the principle of perfection," and then concludes, "But of the purest formulation of God we can say: Here the concrete formulation of the GOAL of perfection has been accomplished" (p. 33).
He anticipated argument and complaint, and a little later in the same paper, says "Of course one will ask, how do I know this?" answering, "Certainly not from immediate experience. . . . Those who find a piece of metaphysics in Individual Psychology are right. Some praise this, others criticize it" (Adler, 1979, p. 35).
We do not criticize it. His suggestive and poetic evocation of the movement of human striving, and of the place of religious thought and practice in that striving, is to us a sign of his intellectual daring.
The idea of God and its immense significance for mankind can be understood and appreciated from the viewpoint of Individual Psychology as concretization and interpretation of the human recognition of greatness and perfection, and as commitment of the individual as well as society to a goal which rests in man's future and which in the present heightens the driving force by enhancing the feelings and emotions (Adler, 1979, p. 276).
The ideal, ultimate union can hardly be attained, whether one forbids the making of an image or attempts to bring about identity with an image. No wonder that in the millionfold diversity of concretization the scale ranges all the way from personification to its opposite, especially when man no longer sees himself as the center of world events and is satisfied with a more meager concretization, with the recognition of causally acting forces of nature as the image of highest strength. Individual Psychology . . . would by the essence of its view be forced to regard such an unpremised, mechanistic view as an illusion inasmuch as it is without GOAL and direction, just like drive psychology, which is cut from the same cloth (Adler, 1979, p. 277).
See Adler, 1979, "Religion and Individual Psychology," pp. 271-308; Powers, R. L., (2003).
© Griffith, J., & Powers, R. L. (2007). The Lexicon of Adlerian Psychology: 106 terms Associated with the Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler (2nd ed.). Port Townsend, WA: Adlerian Psychology Associates (p. 45).
Definitions of concepts are used by permission of Jane Griffith. A comprehensive list of concepts and definitions can be found in The Lexicon of Adlerian Psychology: 106 Terms Associated with the Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler by Jane Griffith and Robert L. Powers, available for purchase on Amazon.com.
Adler, A. (1979). Superiority and social interest: A collection of later writings (3rd Rev. ed.). (H. L. Ansbacher & R. R. Ansbacher, Eds.). New York: Viking Compass. (Original work published 1964)
Powers, R.L. (2003). Robert L. Powers's original contribution to Spirituality in the Adlerian forum." Journal of Individual Psychology, 59(1), pp. 83-85.