Alfred Adler Institute of Northwestern Washngton

Classical Adlerian Quotes: Religion

Developed by Henry T. Stein, Ph.D.

The following Classical Adlerian quotations are from the Adlerian Translation Project Archives at the Alfred Adler Institute of Northwestern Washington (AAINW/ATP). Selected works of Alfred Adler, Kurt Adler, Lydia Sicher, Alexander Mueller, Sophia de Vries, Anthony Bruck, Erwin Wexberg, Alexander Neuer, Sophie Lazarsfeld, Ida Loewy, Ferdinand Birnbaum, and other Classical Adlerians have been collected, translated, edited, and converted into electronic text. All of this material is protected by copyright and may not be reproduced without the expressed consent of Dr. Stein at

Alfred Adler:

"We have observed that all the tasks that life demands can be divided in three categories: the individual's attitude toward others, toward work and toward love. Religion belongs for the largest part to the first category, because in religion the highest Being is worshiped, while everyday life is to be lived according to His laws; however, it also belongs to all three categories in the same way that art does."

(From a new translation of "The Systematics of Individual Psycholgy," [1932] originally published in the Internationale Zeitschrift für Individualpsychologie, Vol. X, p.241-244. An unpublished manuscript in the AAINW/ATP Archives.)

"The concept of 'human being' is linked unalterably to 'fellow human being.' The prerequisites for human beings to develop physically and mentally are encompassed by fellowship and can exist and grow only in accordance with social needs. Language, understanding, culture, ethics, religion, nationality, and citizenship, are social forms which separately act as a deposit for humanity as a whole. These forms of life entail an effective reflection of life on earth, strong and unwavering like the compulsion toward community. Human beings cannot develop free of these prerequisites."

( From "Marriage as a Task" [1926], originally published in The Book of Marriage, Harc. & Brace.)

"I should also like to remind you here of Vaihinger's 'as if.' For example, in an aboriginal religion an alligator is declared holy, as if it were a deity. Probably there were people even then who did not take the divinity of an alligator seriously. But to make this a fact had great advantages for the tribe, because in this as-if conception all the Poloniuses regarded themselves as brothers. They met in the name of the alligator, and although it was all only an expression of group egotism, it was supposed to alleviate the need of the time. Probably many of these people faltered, but under some circumstances such a religion could be helpful. You see how far the seeking of an alleviation in life, of superiority, of the possibility of success, extends itself in any kind of context which is not understood by the one concerned. It is a phenomenon which Individual Psychology calls the Polonius complex."

(From a new translation of "The Complex Compulsion as Part of Personality and Neurosis," [1935] originally published in the Internationale Zeitschrift für Individualpsychologie, Vol. XIII, p.1-6. An unpublished manuscript in the AAINW/ATP Archives.)

"You can use every religion for good and for bad because religion can be used to elevate a person or it can make him a failure, for unfortunately all the best ideas can be abused. Therefore, we cannot generally say this religion or that religion is not right. What is of importance always is the use of a certain religion."

"In the past social interest always had to be taught in religion. All religions were based on the idea of social interest--'Love thy neighbor.' In our time it is possible that some people doubt it, that someone may say, 'Why should I love my neighbor?' You see, there is a possibility of discussing social interest up to the present day, but later, sometime in the future mankind will not discuss it anymore, because it will have become natural, it will emanate automatically, it will have been made living, and the distress and the miseries of our time, of war, of unemployment, for instance, will not be possible anymore. All the wars, sufferings, and pains of mankind will have disappeared when mankind has once arrived at this level where social interest is no longer a question."

(From "The General System of Individual Psychology," an unpublished lecture series given by Adler in New York City, date unknown, in the AAINW/ATP Archives.)

"In the great and small religious movements, as in the great achievement of philosophy, science, art and political wisdom, the heart of humanity beats calmly on, clearly audible only to those whose thoughts and efforts are fixed upon the elevation of the human race. Whether they strive to penetrate the truth, or seek to refine and dignify the thought, emotion, sight, and hearing of mankind, these men and women bear with them the most exalted expression of human greatness, consciously or unconsciously, but always deeply graven on their ultimate, ideal purpose: 'Love thy neighbor.'"

(From "Zur Massenpsychologie," in the "Int. Z. Indiv. Psychol.," Vol 12, 133-141, 1934. Translated and re-printed as "Mass Psychology" in the Int. J. Indiv. Psychol., Vol 3, 111-120, 1937.)

Lydia Sicher:

"Q: How does the Adlerian approach deal with religion?

A: We deal with the person who uses religion either in a neurotic or in a non-neurotic way. What interests us is to see how a person uses or approaches any problem in life. A religion is one problem that exists in life, our interest is how the person approaches the problem of religion.

Q: Don't you think orthodox religions condition people and cause guilt feelings and many neuroses spring from this?

A: This is probably only one of the problems that bring about so called feelings of guilt. This is only one problem in life, we have a million: economic, social, family, cultural, religious, educational. Probably any kind of pressure will bring about in one person submission and in another person, revolt. It does not make any difference from wherever this pressure comes, whether from the religious, economic, or social angle. It is the pressure that creates, for example, submission or revolt, according to a person's style of life. But it is not just religion.

You have probably seen a great number of people who have said that when they were children religion was poured down their throats. And later on they were absolutely unwilling to have anything to do with anything that even started with an R. And there are other people who have not been trained and who are looking for something. They will adopt some kind of religious philosophy according to their own style of life. We cannot say that it in itself has brought this about because it is only how this child experienced it.

I once had a patient who was quite interesting to me because he was the first Holy Roller whom I met. He told me very proudly how marvelously he rolled in church as a child. You could not get this person near anything now that sounds like church. But as a child he was very proud of himself because he got so excited and was praised so much because he did it so well. To the child it meant superiority because he could do this much better than anyone in church. When he started on his antics everyone looked at him, the center position. Later on when he had other ways to find a center position as he had as a Holy Roller, he did otherwise. He did not need this anymore because it no longer brought him any satisfaction. So he did something else which returned the center position to him, not in a religious field."

(From "The Collected Works of Lydia Sicher: An Adlerian Perspective," edited by Adele Davidson, published by QED Press, second printing, 1992.)

Erwin Wexberg:

"The significant difference between individual ethics in its religious and various other forms, and the techniques for life taught by Individual Psychological lies in goal setting: religious ethics regards as its highest value the salvation of the individual; for Individual Psychology the goal lies in society."

(From "Does the End Justify the Means?" a lecture by Dr. Erwin Wexberg, MD, on March 13, 1932 at the Association for Individual Psychology in Vienna. An unpublished manuscript of "Newsletters for Individual Psychological Events," in the AAINW/ATP Archives.)

Alexander Mueller:

"God, or the different forms of religion should not separate people from each other. Religion is the connection of men with God and with other men. All higher religions teach people to see a brother in others, a creature made by the same Creator. Where religions alienate people from one another, people practice religion in a destructive way. Deep down, all religions strive towards the same end. They reveal God to man, and acknowledge the unity of all beings. In the specific areas in which people believe they know about God, they go in different directions. However, real religious people will respect the devotion of others, even when they take a different approach from themselves. If the difference fills man with restlessness or hate, then this is a problem. These problems are not religious ones, but psychological ones."

"The psychological inclinations and tendencies of man do not stop for religion. Striving for security, vanity and ambition, striving for power and superiority, 'slip into the most subtle feelings of religion in a shocking way' (Jahn-Adler). One should not forget that in the mythological epoch of a people or culture, metaphysical experiences are dominated mostly by fear and a search for protection. Therefore, it becomes important to honor the strongest amongst the ghosts and demons, to behave in the correct way toward them, and to make sure of their approval. It is as if people might say, 'Whoever does not honor my God, doubts also the greatness of my God, regardless of whether he has another one or not. If he has another one, so much the worse. In any case, it is a criticism of my God, a doubt about his power and magnitude, and therefore also a threat to my existence. My being is founded on the magnitude of my God, and on his benevolence. One who worships another God destroys my feeling of security.' Next to the supposed danger to one's existence, vanity also played a big role. One identified with his God and the one who had the strongest God was not only proud of Him, but also felt more powerful himself."

(From "You Shall Be A Blessing," by Alexander Mueller, published by the AAINW, 2003)

James Wolf:

"Much of the discussion of the meaning of social interest has explained its social and psychological dimensions. Adler himself, also commented on the parallels between the views of religion on the process of salvation and Individual Psychological treatment, "In Individual Psychology, during its mild barrage of questions, the erring person experiences grace, redemption, and forgiveness by becoming a part of the whole." Adler also discussed the importance that the idea of God has had as a guiding ideal for mankind toward an ideal society. Alexander Müller's book, You Shall Be A Blessing, presents his thought on the deeper philosophical and spiritual aspects of social interest, the roots of which are seen in connection to man's relationship with creation.

Müller writes that in man's history and social evolution he has alternated between two extremes. First, at times he has denied God's existence or role in his life while reveling in himself and his own power. Or he has turned to God or gods as the absolute determiner of his fate. According to Müller, the "tragic paradox," our legacy from the nineteenth century, is that while man has freed himself from oppression from certain external forces and become more the master of his fate, he has also looked for and believes he has found internal determiners to excuse himself from personal responsibility (i.e., heredity theories, and other deterministic theories). In other words he has given himself freedom of action, but feels he is not responsible for his actions. Müller writes, "He had been given absolute freedom to be a reflex mechanism." Beginning with his description of this paradox, he explores man's being, self-realization, responsibility, an d creativity, and his relationships with God, the world, and his fellowman.

Müller was a psychiatrist, a student and co-worker with Adler in Vienna. We know from some of those who knew him that he was a dedicated adherent of Adlerian Psychology and practiced it in a creative, Socratic form which he had learned from Adler. He was born in 1895 into a traditional Jewish family in Kormorn, Hungary and died in 1968 in Zürich, Switzerland. He served as president of the Swiss Association of Individual Psychology and First Secretary of the International Association of Individual Psychology. According to his friend, Edith Haas, Müller's world view was profoundly influenced by two events. First, during World War I he was a prisoner of war in Russia for four years. Second, during World War II he became a refugee with his wife, Klara, and then was interned in a concentration camp in Hungary, where both he and his wife miraculously survived. These experiences seemed not to have left him with bitterness, but rather with a greater sense of purpose and of demanding the best from himself and others.

Müller's attitude can be understood from the following views which come from his book, where he writes that we are all co-responsible for the fate of the world. Where we neglect developing ourselves or neglect developing the power to do good or correct injustice, we share the guilt, the responsibility for the negative or destructive outcome. We are all co-responsible through our awareness of creation, a planning creation that calls upon us to cooperate in completing an unfinished world. Awareness of creation means awareness of the unity of all existence. The deeper meaning of social interest is implied in Müller's emphasis that where men are held together by community interest based on social and economic necessity only, in the face of overwhelming external forces cooperation will break down. Only through the awareness of creation, through the deep knowledge of our common origin and purpose, will community feeling, cooperation and peace be lasting.

Müller writes that we are not shown a clear path to our purpose; we must discover it. We are endowed with consciousness and a creative potential which we must develop and use. We have a choice. What we choose to do or not to do strengthens or weakens our belonging to God, and moves us toward or away from realization of our real being, our best form. He adds that we cannot escape from choosing or not choosing, that no one can relieve a person from this responsibility for himself.

As a consequence of his awareness, Müller writes that man must engage himself in a questioning process. To survive, he must ask questions of vital necessity, but to grow as a human being, he must ask questions of a spiritual nature. He discusses a "correct questioning" process that generally follows a particular sequence and he describes it as follows: "1. What and how is this? 2. Should it be different? 3. Does it have to be this way? 4. How should it be? 5. Can it also be different? 6. What can I do?" The ability to ask such questions reflects man as a subject who acts upon the world and works with what is given him, as opposed to man as an object absolutely determined by forces acting on him.

The implications of this questioning process for psychotherapy are obvious. To help a person realize himself, to lead him to greater social interest, we must help him question himself and the world "more correctly." If we impose upon him too much with our own answers or our list of his mistakes, rather than help him find his own way, we risk impeding him from realizing his own creative power and in discovering what creation has meant for him to become. Among the challenges for the practitioner are to develop himself as an adept questioner, and, in Müller's words, as a "spiritual subject" that is, to work to realize his best form as a human being. To understand the essence of a thing, of a living creature or a person, says Müller, is in itself a creative act.

Müller's book is packed with wisdom, insight and challenge, especially for readers interested in spiritual issues. Many Adlerians who are tempted to move "beyond Adler" may not yet have found the creative and philosophical depth upon which one can continue to build. Becoming familiar with Müller's insights will challenge many to journey more deeply into Adlerian concepts. In my view, Müller has added to Adler's philosophy in a way that will at times move the reader and then leave him with an altered picture of himself in the world."

(From "Philosophical and Spiritual Implications of Adlerian Psychology," by James Wolf, M.S., MFCC, co-editor of "You Shall be a Blessing."

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