To get peace of mind, turn to the book that will give you peace of mind-turn to the Holy Bible, and turn your life to Jesus Christ.
In 1946, Simon & Schuster published Rabbi Joshua Loth Liebman’s bestselling book Peace of Mind, a self-help manual that explained how psychiatry and religion together could help individuals achieve emotional and spiritual maturity, and ultimately happiness. It was one the first of many Post World War II self help books that was trying to ease the guilt of events of World War II and the simple fact that the world had forever changed. The Nuclear Age now allowed our world to come to an end at any time.
At the time of its publication, Liebman was a rabbi at Boston’s Temple Israel and was well known from his sermons on the NBC radio program Message to Israel, broadcast in Boston and New York City. Significantly, Liebman was, in the words of Matthew S. Hedstrom, the first “non-Christian author to reach a mass audience in the United States” and Donald Meyer has called Peace of Mind “the book first heralding the whole flood of postwar religious bestsellers.” The book reached readers on six continents, was on the New York Times bestseller list for 173 weeks and the Publishers Weekly bestseller list for 147 weeks, and, by 1964, went into its thirty-eighth printing.
The significance of Peace of Mind lay in the way Liebman blended religion, psychology, and self-help and the degree to which his readers accepted him as an expert in all three areas. No one at the time really questioned his ability to write his book or the conclusions he came up with- they just accepted them.
Prior to World War II, self-help books were gaining momentum, largely owing to the popularity of Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People (1937) and Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich (1937). Religious authors such as Harry Emerson Fosdick and Norman Vincent Peale also had a following. Psychology and psychiatry became a part of popular culture; discussions of personal experiences with psychoanalysis appeared in the New York Times, Ladies’ Home Journal, Good Housekeeping, and Vanity Fair in the 1910s, as well as in books and movies such as Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway (1925) and Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound (1945). By blending religion, self-help, and psychology, Liebman’s book provided simplified views and easy methods for incorporating faith, God, psychology, and psychiatry into everyday life to achieve happiness. As a rabbi who counseled his congregants, he recognized that many people had emotional insecurities, but they often feared admitting them or dealing with their mental health.
According to Joel Pfister, Peace of Mind provided a “therapy for the normal,” giving its readers the tools of both psychiatry and religion to fulfill their quest for happiness. Both fiction and nonfiction bestsellers of the 1920s and 1930s reflected a reevaluation of religion and science, a search for new faiths and philosophies, and what John Tebbel has termed a “religious renaissance.” Liebman believed he was different from both clergy and psychiatrists because his goal was to bridge the gap between religious books that made the individual “feel more guilty and more sinful” and psychological books that added “to his inner confusion by making him feel somehow that he [was] a ‘case history’ in abnormal psychology.” Liebman expected his readers to accept his views on the compatibility of psychology and religion, but he invited them to interpret those views to best serve their beliefs in God, religion, psychiatry, and themselves.
According to his readers’ letters, they did both. This study’s purpose is to explore the breadth of a sample readership of Peace of Mind: how readers viewed Liebman, why they wrote to him, what problems they had, how they read and used the book, and how it contributed to and reflected their values, concerns, and religious and psychological culture. It draws on the personal papers of Liebman held by Boston University and Temple Israel, including readers’ letters, reviews, advertisements, church programs, and other documents that provide evidence about the reception of Peace of Mind. Of the 1,497 letters examined, 898 constitute my sample of “fan mail” and are the foundation for this analysis.
Few historians have thoroughly critiqued Liebman’s book through its reception by readers, but three have provided brief analyses of its readership. Citing an unspecified number of Liebman’s readers, Andrew Heinze speculated that most were women, Jewish, or both. He pointed out that women historically were often responsible for the “therapeutic tendencies” in both Protestantism and Judaism. Like Heinze, Matthew Hedstrom argued that, coming when it did, the book spoke to women who grieved for loved ones lost in World War II.
There was one contemporary to Rabbi Liebman's book who took a great exception to the book and its conclusion. This person was Bishop Fulton Sheen. In his book Peace of Soul (1949), Bishop Fulton Sheen addresses the issues in the Peace of Mind book. `
“Unless souls are saved,” Sheen began, “nothing is saved. There can be no world peace unless there is soul peace. During World War II, Pius XII said that postwar man would be more changed than the map of postwar Europe. It is this postwar, frustrated man, or the modern soul, who interests us in this volume.” Fourteen chapters then follow in the order of Liebman’s panegyric on Freud. He begins by “debunking” the assertion that psychoanalysis has something “new and better” to offer for the care of men’s souls than the wisdom of the Church and her saints. “In the whole gamut of modern psychology there is nothing written on frustration, fears and anxieties which can even faintly compare in depth or breadth with St. Thomas’s treatise on the Passions, St. Augustine’s Confessions, or Bossuet’s treatise on Concupiscence.”
In answer to the rabbi, who described religion as “a fossil in an age that has turned to Marx and Freud and Einstein for salvation,” Sheen logically reduced the various tensions which psychology studies to a reflection of the “deeper metaphysical tension, inherent in every human being, between his contingent and limited being and the Infinite and Absolute Being” of God.
And instead of surrendering to one’s feelings which Liebman recommended as the condition for peace of mind, Sheen explains and proves that “anxiety cannot be cured by a surrender to passions and instincts; the basic cause of our anxiety is a restlessness within time, which comes because we are made for eternity. If there were anywhere on earth a resting place other than God, we may be very sure that the human soul in its long history would have found it before this.”
In Liebman’s book, he concluded that sin and guilt were really artificial and man made. In essence sin was not created for doing something wrong or against God, it was against man. Peace of Mind started an entire generation of self help books which in essence created a climate in which instead of God making man in His own image, they created the concept that man created God in his image. Where is the peace of mind in that statement? Where is the eternal truth? Where is the salvation in that?
Brothers and sisters, we seek peace of mind, not from a book but from The Book- the Holy Bible. Bishop Fulton Sheen wrote a great deal about sin. It was created by man when they created God, it was created by God, when man failed to do what God had commanded him to do.
If you are looking for a world free from sin please remember these words from Bishop Sheen.
But sin, says Sheen, is relentless. “If we remain in sin through the denial of sin, despair takes possession of our souls.” And then follows a terrible indictment of those who, under cover of science, would destroy the foundation of the moral order. “The condition of despair induced by unrepented sin often reaches a point where there is a positive fanaticism against religion and morality. He who has fallen away from the spiritual order will hate it, because religion is the reminder of his guilt.”
Brother and Sisters, we live in a world of sin. To get peace of mind, turn to the book that will give you peace of mind-turn to the Holy Bible, and turn your life to Jesus Christ. Amen