Values & Similarities in the Practice of Religion & Social Work
meaning of the word religion has its roots in the Latin word religiare (to read
again and again or the thing that binds), a steadfastness that does not change.
The tenets of the practice of the social work profession
are steadfast and applied thus. Relationship is a common denominator
between groups of people who practice the Judeo-Christian faith and those who
practice social work. There is a
“tie” that binds, a deeper meaning, an understanding that relates one to the
other. Relationship is the most
important and the first thing that is essential in being able to have a
commonality when coming close to
individuals. How can the
“healer” and the one to be healed understand one another if there is no
commonality between them, if they do not
comprehend how the injured one feels or what he/she has experienced? It is the
proverbial “tie that binds”. This
too is true of a religion that is shared by a segment of humanity.
It is true of the positives and the negative aspects of a given faith.
The positives are obvious. They
are the core of the tenets, the rules, the customs and ceremonies that are
prescribed and to be followed. The
negative aspects are so clearly seen by the persecutions that occur and that
have occurred. An example was the holocaust, when the Nazis in Germany
annihilated six million Jews mercilessly with brutality because of their
religion, without knowing them or caring to know them. Another form of
negative relationships are sado-masochistic ones that are destructive and
harmful, and do not encompass what is meant when stressing the importance of
positivity in advocacy in either
religious practice or social work.
social work an important tenet is to be nonjudgmental.
It is stressed that the practitioners view each human being as unique
without having preconceived notions. The
positive aspects must be considered without reservation as to negative images
that are unsubstantiated by facts. The
particular individual must be given an opportunity to become a healthy and whole
person in his own right by using his innate ability and inner strength.
The client is helped to help himself.
In religion also, each person is given the opportunity to adapt, to
change if needed, and to grow at his own pace.
In the Jewish faith the person who has strayed from righteousness, from
honesty, from the “straight and narrow,” is given the opportunity to return
to that which is good and acceptable until the proverbial hour before his death.
He is to be forgiven for his “sins” - his trespasses - and be
accepted in the “olem habo”, the hereafter, along with his righteous
brethren. In the Talmud, the prayer books, the Bible and other religious tracts,
it is strongly emphasized that humans are not to sit in judgment over other
humans, that Hashem (the Lord) is the only Judge, and that we as people must
leave the practice of judgment to G’d.
is an essential rule for both social work and religion. It is a very healthy and rational practice, given normal
circumstances (this excludes suicide and other destructive impulses and possible
behaviors). As people we want to
make our own decisions in all aspects of our lives, as much as that is possible.
Examples are seen daily. No
one wants to do actions or practices which another dictates to him.
The religion is one that we have chosen (with the input of our parents
and traditions). We cannot be
coerced into this. What is against
our “grain” cannot truly be forced upon us in our beliefs.
There are many humorous stories about this .
One such is about a Jewish man who became a priest. When he first began to stand before a pulpit he addressed the
parishioners thus: Good morning
fellow “Goyim” (a Jewish expression meaning outsiders or strangers). Another
is the Jewish gentleman who wants to fit in, so he attends lessons with a priest
and becomes “converted” to Catholicism.
At the time of his conversion, no meat of any kind could be consumed on
Fridays and the custom was that fish must be the fare to be consumed.
The last thing the priest did was to sprinkle holy water from a holy
vessel on the person of the convert with the statement:
Once Jew, now Catholic. One
Friday evening the priest visited the convert at home.
He approached his new brother and confronted him with the fact that there
was a smell of chicken in the oven.
The convert denied the allegation. When
the priest opened the oven door and saw a delicious looking brown roasted
chicken baking, he confronted the convert with the falsehood.
The convert turned on the water in the sink and sprinkled it on the
chicken roast, stating “Once chicken, now fish, once chicken now fish, etc”. Another example of taking rights / self determination away is
by persuasion against the will of a person to move away from his home in his old
age. Children, out of alleged and
most often “good will” or good intentions, have persuaded an octogenarian to
leave a city in which she has lived all of her life so that she may live near
them. The adults are occupied with
their own lives, their jobs, and their duties, and have little time to visit
“Mom” (or dad) in the assisted living facility.
The person feels very much alone. She
feels robbed of her friends, her small home, her dog, and all the objects and
people that were familiar to her. She
is uncomfortable and out of her element and daydreams of home, where she knew
her hairdresser, the neighborhood grocery store, her synagogue or church, and
all that which had meaning in her life. She
is unhappy and inadvertently hastens
her own demise. It is better to live one's own dreams than live another person's
edicts and well meant directives.
another in carrying out his or her realistic decisions is a “mitzwa”, a
blessing, a good deed. Except for
unusual circumstances and the preservation of life, self determination is an
essential aspect of both the practice of religion and the practice of social
Dr. Ursula A. Falk is a psychotherapist in private practice and the co-author, with Dr. Gerhard Falk, of Deviant Nurses & Improper Patient Care (2006).