Favazza also decries what he sees as the aggression masquerading under the "joyful" persona of some Christians. "It's the kind of thing you see with Jerry Falwell, a certain type of arrogance. They're so secure in their sense of righteousness that nobody else can be right. They are bullies in a way. They've got all the answers and it just fills them full of joy all the time."
This brand of joy can't live up to its billing, Favazza adds. "Intense uplifting emotions are suspect because they are as evanescent as incense."
Christians and Jews traditionally have regarded joy as important only on certain occasions, but something to seek constantly. "Most of the time you lead your regular life and in fact you find your deepest meaning in suffering because it sticks to the bones and endures. The greatest image of the Old Testament is that of the Suffering Servant, which is a metaphor for the persecutions of Israel. In the New Testament the Suffering Servant is Jesus, through whose wounds we have been healed."
Favazza's observations will no doubt rankle both liberal and conservative believers, but that's not why he wrote the book.
"If you read my book and lose your faith, you didn't have much to start out with," Favazza says. "Your faith should be magnified because you'll accept the Bible for what it is, not for what people have told you it is. In the dullness of a fool, the Bible can seem foolish. In the grip of a zealot, it can suffocate the human spirit. In the hands of a psychopath, it can rationalize all the antisocial vices. In the eyes of a narcissist, it can promote self-glorification. But countless deeds of mercy and charity have been performed over the centuries in the pursuit of holiness and in imitation of Christ. And for almost two millennia the Bible has provided solace and hope to the vexed and hopeless."
The Rev. Canon John Fergueson, an Episcopal priest from Kenmore, Wash., confirms Favazza's take. A veteran of the Vietnam War who has since become an authority on using spirituality to ameliorate post-traumatic stress disorder, Fergueson has made numerous presentations to the American Psychological Association.
"Dr. Favazza is not out to destroy anyone's faith," Fergueson wrote in an e-mail interview. "Above all, I believe he wants people to think about the subject, whether we're psychiatric residents, therapists, clergy or laity. He's a sympathetic truth-teller."
Indeed, Favazza's sympathies are reserved for patients. "Many of our patients are elderly and mentally ill; they can't compete in the marketplace. They're living on a pittance, day to day." Favazza says.
"During a 15-minute medication check, I get through the symptom checklist quickly and ask about their lives. We've discovered that three things keep these people alive: pets, grandchildren and faith, especially the Bible.
I always ask about all three things. I ask what sections of the Bible they are reading and enter into a little discourse with them."
"A lot of psychiatrists don't ask about it, and so can't make a connection with their patients this way," Favazza adds. "Medicines can cure crying spells and help patients sleep through the night, but pills can't give hope."