On what was otherwise an ordinary day, psychiatrist Armando Favazza found himself listening sympathetically to the heartfelt appeals and agonized protestations of a devoutly Christian family that was struggling to deal with a son's homosexuality.
Favazza's patient, a young man whose mother wouldn't accept that he was gay, desperately craved his mom's approval. It was not forthcoming.
"The mother was livid," Favazza recalls. "She said, 'It's an abomination. It says in the Bible that homosexuals should be killed.' The father, who was a Protestant minister, gently admonished her, saying, 'No, honey, that's the Old Testament. The New Testament is all about love and acceptance.' "
"That was a really dramatic moment," Favazza continues. "Here were two people reading the same Bible and getting two totally different things out of it." And it was tearing the family apart, he says. Soon Favazza found himself incorporating religious queries into sessions with patients. He began studying the Bible and its multitudes of injunctions, realizing that some people stake their lives on the Bible with relatively little idea of what's in it.
Favazza set out to remedy the problem. What emerged, after eight years of exhaustive research, was PsychoBible, a massive, fact-filled book that seeks to offer to the public and to mental health experts' objective scholarly information on perplexing Biblical topics. So armed, he hopes, his readers will make up their own minds about what to believe and how to behave.
PsychoBible begins with the observation that the Bible can be a less-than-helpful guide to behavior. A quick look at the Old Testament's Levitical laws against touching dead mice or its prescribed penalties for adultery and Sabbath violation confirms this.
For most believers, of course, such outdated norms are simply anachronisms in what is otherwise a profound guide to living morally and ethically. Favazza, who has been in practice for 31 years, often sees those who have more trouble sorting things out. He has treated or studied patients whose misapprehension of doctrine has manifested itself, for example, in behaviors ranging from self-mutilation to spousal abuse.
Barnes and Noble featured Favazza's book prominently on its new-release tables nationwide for two weeks starting in February. Why the push? "The way sacred texts affect our lives and our world is of perennial interest, and the interest seems especially high at this point," says Barnes and Noble buyer Tim Flannigan. "Some who question the Bible, or doubt God's existence, or have some critique of religion and the Bible, will read it to have their opinions validated. Some readers will just be curious. Others will read it in order to defend the Bible and their interpretation of it."
And it's not only the public who might profit from Favazza's critique, he says. PsychoBible has already won endorsements from prominent intellectuals and members of the Catholic, Jewish and Protestant clergy.