A placebo is not a cure but a lie that makes you feel better.  It presumes that a lot of your illness and distress is self-inflicted so now that you feel more optimistic you might stop the toxic self-abuse.  Law whether it is civil law, criminal law or moral law leads to a placebo effect. It works by giving the the illusion of being protected and important and safe. Religious law does that too. It is probably so good at it that it puts the others to shame.  Religion teaches that God puts up with evil but is working in the situation to expose it and put good in its place.  Divine providence is a mega-placebo.  Religion in principle is not about the placebo.  But in daily life and in practice, and religion knows it, that is what it is using to get and keep people.  Religion then in therapy is totally unethical.

Prayer and religious contemplation like going to the movies are attempts to leave the outside world outside.  Why are they placeboes for the agony of a bad conscience that should be dealt with instead of soothed?  One reason is that we find it hard to accept that we cannot control or limit what others think but we assume that a God or higher power or karma can.  It is unethical for therapy to just ignore this.

Response to

The therapist has to guide the client into identifying for himself or herself the things that can be affecting his or her psychological health adversely. If the client belongs to a religion that teaches a vindictive God what then? Is the therapist meant to help the client see that he or she needs to drop this religion or pretend to be a true believer while secretly thinking its view of God is harmful and disgraceful?

The therapist encouraging a vague view of the infinite where mindfulness and living in the now count is taking a doctrinal stance against religions that forbid such a view or who declare it insufficient. Christianity says the only right way to see God and to profit is from perceiving God through faith as three persons in a relationship. Most religions ban vague spirituality and deny that it is an end in itself.

What if there are ethical objections to encouraging a client to believe in a higher power such as an external God instead of believing that there is always part of us that can go into motion and help us to overcome the power of illness and unhappiness? The higher power is the deep forces within a person that can take action often when you least expect it. There is no magic in it.

Faith in divine revelation and the religions based on them leads to exploitation and ethical problems.

If somebody refuses to have an abortion to save her life and trusts in God to save her, she will still say that he is saving her if she is dying. She rationalises the dying as his way of saving her. In her heart, she is no different from the person who thinks that being raped is a gift from God. If she uses a doctor it is not because she believes in the doctor but because she thinks God wants to help her through the doctor. It is about God and extremism as much as it would be if she would not let the doctor in the door on religious grounds.

Man must be wiser than God when man is able to decide if God is talking to him and if others are able to decide the man is right. There is no real humility in a prophet no matter how well humility is simulated. If you want power over people and the feeling of power, there is no greater ego buzz than getting people to think you are God's spokesperson.

God and religion are simply masks. Man cannot claim to be God so man does the next best thing - claim to be inspired to speak for God. Though we are not to condemn something just because it can be abused, we can condemn religion for the harm it has done because religion is an abuse. Let me explain.

Hearing a voice does not mean it is God’s and only God can know if he is really speaking. Even the person who hears cannot be sure but can only guess. If anyone claims to be hearing the voice of God and giving his message to others he is a liar. To think that you don’t know where the voice comes from means it is not from you is arrogant. It is, “I don’t know where this inspiration comes from so it comes from God.” It makes no sense. By spreading your message you inspire a worse arrogance in others. The arrogance takes the form of "X has a voice in his heart or head and doesn’t know where it comes from therefore it is from God." That is not logical. The more your faith in a prophet is based on hearsay the worse the problem gets.

God has no existence except in the imagination of the believer. Even if there is a God, it does not mean that the believer reaches out to him rather than an imagined God.

That means man wants to condone the terrible things that happen say when babies suffer by saying they are the will of God. It is man's will we are talking about and nothing else - despite appearances. In the scheme of things, a person can only experience a little of all the suffering that was and is and will be. It is easy to condone the suffering of creatures other than yourself when you are not those creatures and when you are a drop in the ocean.

God is not a trivial matter. We should be so disgusted by evil that we should all be among those who need us the most even if they are in the middle of the desert. Belief in a divine purpose relieves the pain we should feel for those people. You need proper and strong evidence to avoid being the kind of person who is using God as a placebo like this. Assuming the existence of God in order to make a client feel better is ultimately failing that client not least because God is too serious of a subject to be merely assumed.

Posted on Psychology Today Website 28/12/13 in response to an article showing that belief in Hell is generally bad for society and leads to those who think people can be bad enough to go to Hell countenancing violent measures for dealing with "bad" people such as capital punishment
The Bible teaches that people who die unreconciled with God make an irrevocable choice and will suffer in Hell forever. Jesus called this eternal punishment.

The first problem is that nobody has the right to accuse us of being capable of becoming evil forever. Even the worst of us has several good points.

The second is that if we may become so evil that we reject love forever then that is a case where the rule "love the sinner and hate the sin cannot apply". That rule is based on the notion that sinners have a good side and if we show them love they may give up the sin we find hateful and abhorrent. So Hell necessarily implies that hate speech and hate are acceptable. Love the sinner and hate the sin is suspect because can you really judge a sin and not the person who commits the sin? After all the sin is supposed to show what kind of person we are dealing with. It is the person that is the problem not the sin.

The third is that if sin is so bad that it can take us to Hell forever, no sane person will be able to tolerate it in themselves or others. The teaching leads to violence if it is really taken seriously. Not all who say they take it seriously actually do.

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