I need a critical assessment of the book The Relational Self: Ethics & Therapy from a Black Church Perspective by Archie Smith Jr. Is this book realistic, and is it helpful and harmful?

Archie Smith Jr.’s book will probably be seen as realistic and helpful for readers who believe that religion can be a force for positive change in the world. For people who see religion as a part of the problem, they will likely find his book harmful.

Expert Answers

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Whether Archie Smith Jr.’s book is realistic, helpful, or harmful will depend on one’s own beliefs and attitudes when it comes to religion and what it can and can’t do.

The nineteenth-century German thinker Karl Marx believed religion was “the opiate of the masses.” He saw religion as an artificial institution that kept people from achieving real happiness and fulfillment. In fact, Marx called for “the abolition of religion.” Thus Marx, and those who share his opinions about religion, would probably reply that Smith’s ideas aren’t realistic.

In his book, Smith sees pastoral care as a way to break through the “false consciousness” and the myriad superficial, sinister constructs created by society. Smith’s notion would likely be problematic for people who see religion as conduit of the very false consciousness that he seeks to combat.

However, the contemporary pastor and scholar Pamela Cooper-White would probably respond that Smith’s ideas are realistic and helpful. In her books, including Many Voices and Shared Wisdom, Cooper-White echoes Smith’s ideas about the ways in which pastors can be a force for healing and good in society.

Going back in time again, Leo Tolstoy, another nineteenth-century writer, would, like Cooper-White, probably see Smith’s book as realistic and helpful. As with Smith, Tolstoy saw religion as the best means to counter the prejudice and oppression of the world. Smith’s belief in the “emancipatory” potential of religion reflects Tolstoy's belief that Christianity could free people from toxic social and political norms.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
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