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Gods and Diseases: Making Sense of Our Physical and Mental Wellbeing

HarperCollins Publishers


RRP $35

Reviewed by Kevin Mark.

IN recent years we have witnessed the appalling effects of natural disasters in our region.

Some of us will have felt disturbed that despite humanity's unprecedented scientific knowledge and technological advances, we remain vulnerable to the awesome powers of nature.

What about in the realm of our individual lives?

Don't we also experience a certain powerlessness before inner forces we do not fully understand?

As St Paul wrote, "I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate." (Romans 7:15).

Gods and Diseases considers this paradox.

The author is Associate Professor in Humanities at LaTrobe University, Melbourne, and has completed post-doctoral studies in psychoanalysis and religion in the United States.

His previous books include the popular studies Edge of the Sacred (1995/2009), Re-Enchantment: The New Australian Spirituality (2000) and The Spirituality Revolution (2003).

Tacey holds that the rejection of religion, spirituality and mysticism by modernity has not helped individuals to better understand themselves or be healed.

Growing up in Alice Springs, Tacey came to appreciate the Dreaming stories of the Indigenous peoples, but also witnessed the result when spiritual vision is lost: "Where there is no vision, the people perish." (Proverbs 29:18).

The book argues that our inner lives are affected by forces that in the past have been understood as gods or spiritual.

These can have a profound impact on our lives, such as resulting in serious physical or mental illnesses.

Tacey follows the teachings here of psychologist Carl Jung.

Rather than simply treat the symptoms of such illnesses, one should try to engage with these inner spiritual forces and listen to what they are revealing about how our lives should change.

This is not the New Age approach of saying that we can simply reverse physical or mental problems by changes in how we think, such as positive thinking.

It is much more challenging than that.

Tacey also examines issues such as incest, child abuse, alcoholism, depression, self-harm and suicide as distortions of positive drives that become pathological when our religious and spiritual frameworks have broken down.

He also makes a case for health-care professions to take the spiritual dimensions of patients seriously, and his concluding chapter focuses on spirituality as a source of healing (which is not necessarily the same as "cure").

This is a challenging work that will repay careful reading and reflection.

And it is a significant account of the crucial consequences of neglecting the spiritual realm for our personal lives and our society.