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Christopher Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus and Modern Psychology Essays

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Christopher Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus and Modern Psychology


Due to the fact that I recently finished reading Spirit and Will by Gerald May, I find my perception of Christopher Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus filtered through that book. May, a psychiatrist from the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation in Washington, D.C., makes a rather courageous attack on a sacred cow, modern psychology. He asserts that "Psychology is fundamentally objective, secular, and willful whereas the core identity of religion is mysterious, spiritual, and willing" (10). He criticizes religion for having sold out to psychology in its attempt to remain "relevant." Like Dr. Faustus, we have pursued knowledge with a passion in order to master ourselves and our environment. Psychology represents just one of those areas of knowledge. Through a combination of drugs, behavioral conditioning and psychotherapy we have become relatively successful in altering behavior or even basic emotions and states of consciousness--so much so that religion seems only too happy to borrow psychological techniques to fill the pews of churches or to satisfy the hearts of its worshipers.

May targets three primary attitudes in psychology: the coping, happiness and growth mentalities (11-21). It is true that psychology can help us to cope with stress, to achieve a measure of happiness and to transform our difficulties into opportunities for personal growth and increased creativity. But valuable as this may appear, it cannot provide us with an ultimate reason for living.

In the past we believed that religion could solve all our problems (physical, mental or spiritual) if we turned up the piety level another notch; now we have swung too far in the other direction. As human beings we h...


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...f Vanholt who longs for a dish of ripe grapes in the dead time of winter (854). California spares us from selling our souls to the devil for such a cheap trick.

Too late Faustus realizes that the devil drives a hard bargain. The supernatural thrills lose their attraction, eventually bringing despair and then more hopeless revelry. No matter how spectacular the advances of humankind (and we have perhaps only glimpsed the beginning of technological miracles), a world unwilling to submit to God only succeeds in finding new ways to lose itself in boredom or destruction.

Works Cited

Abrams, M. H., ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Vol I. Fifth ed. New York: W. W. Norton, 1986.

Chesterton, G.K. Tremendous Trifles. New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1909.

May, Gerald. Spirit and Will: A Contemplative Psychology. New York: Harper & Row, 1982.


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