Saturday, March 07, 2009

Thy Life’s a Miracle

Men must endure,
Their going hence
even as their coming hither;

In the great debate between the Franciscan Bonaventure and the Dominican Aquinas, I stand with the Franciscan. St. Francis’s way to God, through vision, through a heart-to-heart relationship with Christ our brother, trumps Aquinas’s system (inferring the existence of God through the contemplation of the natural world) every time. And I have noted that the British writers who came from a nation that successfully resisted the over-legalistic and overly rationalistic Roman system were the most Franciscan of all the great writers. (1) The works of Shakespeare, La Fanu, and Scott, for example, are the embodiment of the visionary, heart-to-heart response to God and to God’s world that St. Francis espoused. The tragedy of the modern European is that he has abandoned the affective, sympathetic way, or what I call the fairy tale mode of apprehension, for the intellectual, Gnostic approach to existence. Even at this late date if we shift our focus and pay attention to our forefathers, those British Franciscans, we can overcome the Gnosticism of the modern age. (2)

Every Christian century has had its Hamlets, men who were willing to risk everything in combating the Gnostic dragon of modernity. But by the twentieth century the Gnostic dragon had grown to such proportion that the combat against him seemed almost hopeless. Boris Pasternak’s character, Dr. Zhivago, is much like Shakespeare’s Hamlet, but Zhivago lacks Hamlet’s vitality. Zhivago faces a world that is in an advanced stage of Gnostic trichinosis. The people around Zhivago no longer even remember what a non-Gnostic world or a non-Gnostic person was like. And we can’t look on Soviet Russia as something separate from the rest of the democratic West. The underlying philosophy of East and West is the same: Gnosticism.
Zhivago is an unlikely hero, being an adulterer and a derelict, but Pasternak is not making a case for adultery or sloth. Zhivago is a moral hero because, despite his sins, he is still trying to hold onto a vision of humanity that holds the particular human person above the abstract principle of humanity. This makes him an unfit companion for the walking, talking, cardboard humans that inhabit his world. He tells them:

"Microscopic forms of cardiac hemorrhages have become very frequent in recent years. They are not always fatal. Some people get over them. It’s a typical modern disease. I think its causes are of a moral order. The great majority of us are required to live a life of constant, systematic duplicity. Your health is bound to be affected if, day after day, you say the opposite of what you feel, if you grovel before what you dislike and rejoice at what brings you nothing but misfortune. Our nervous system isn’t just a fiction, it’s a part of our physical body, and our soul exists in space and is inside us, like the teeth in our mouth. It can’t be forever violated with impunity. I found it painful to listen to you, Innokentii, when you told us how you were re-educated and became mature in jail. It was like listening to a circus horse describing
how it broke itself in."

"I must stand up for Dudorov," said Gordon. "You’ve got unused to simple human words, they don’t reach you any more."

"It may very well be, Misha. But in any case, you must let me go now. I can hardly breathe. I swear, I’m not exaggerating."

The modern world has institutionalized the worldview of Hamlet’s archenemy, Claudius, who thought that the mystery of man could be solved by intellectual dissection. If Claudius were alive today, he would send Hamlet to two psychiatrists called Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
If I were to claim that Freud is psychiatry and psychiatry is Freud, most modern psychiatrists would disagree. They would cite their rejection of the Oedipus complex, penis envy, and Freud’s extreme emphasis on the early childhood years. But Freud’s essential premise, that man is a glorified ape that can be examined, probed, and analyzed like a laboratory specimen in order to be “cured,” is the same as that of all the psychiatrists and psychoanalysts that now say they reject Freud.

And because of Freud’s atheistic rationalism, I do not think it is possible to fuse incarnational Christianity and psychology. I know Isaac Stern, the psychiatrist and Roman Catholic convert, advocated such a fusion in his work, The Third Revolution: A Study of Psychiatry and Religion, but I do not think the Church’s attempt to fuse the two has produced anything beneficial to Christendom. In fact, I think the contrary has been the case. The Church has, under the influence of the psychoanalytic movement, overestimated the healing powers of reason and the conscious mind, which is why the late John Paul II consistently claimed that murderers and child molesters could be rehabilitated.

In addition, the Church’s concept that the individual is responsible for his own sin has been, under the influence of psychology, seriously undermined. Instead of blaming an individual for his sin, we now blame social pressures, and/or family influences. I don’t deny that individuals have gone to psychiatrists and been helped with some personal problem, but those individuals were helped because the psychiatrist or psychologist overcame the limitations of his discipline to reach out and help a fellow human being. But I completely reject the notion that an individual could be helped in any way, except to slide more easily down to hell, by a trained psychiatrist or psychoanalyst using the insights of his profession.

I think we must, when talking about psychiatry, go beyond the essentially evil condemnation we would hurl at the computer or the automobile, and label the science of psychology as intrinsically evil.

Nor do I think Jung is a psychologist who is “friendly” to Christianity. He was a Freudian, who studied under Freud and then broke with him. And the cause of the break was interesting. It was on the subject of religious dreams and imagery. Freud maintained that all religious belief, especially belief in the Jewish or Christian Faith, was a sickness. He developed this point brilliantly in his book Moses and Monotheism. As a story, the book makes for an incredible read, but it so obviously intentionally malicious and lacking in rationality that one stands aghast and asks, “How can a man who claims to believe in scientific objectivity have written such an emotionally charged, fictitious critique of Judaism and Christianity? This man obviously needs psychoanalysis himself.”

You know the thesis that Freud put forward to explain away Judaism and Christianity: A tribe of young men, existing in the primeval mists of time, got together, killed their father and then slept with their mother.

The Jews, Freud contends, repeated primeval man’s sin by killing their father, Moses, in the desert. Christianity was successful, again according to Freud, because it allowed for the relief of the guilt complex from which mankind suffered for the primeval killing of the father. The son died at the request of the father, thus making up for the initial murder of the father.
Of course, Freud’s whole theory falls apart when one simply asks the question, “Why the initial guilt? Why, if man is only a glorified ape, should he feel guilty about killing his father and sleeping with his mother?” When Freud projects a feeling of guilt onto primeval man, he assumes a spiritual dimension to man’s existence that is derived from the religion which he says is a sick delusion.

While still accepting most of Freud’s theories, Jung rejected the notion that religious belief was necessarily a neurosis. He found in his study of dreams that all people had dreams with religious symbols in them. Was everybody then neurotic? Yes, Freud said. No, Jung said.
On the face of it, it would seem that Jung is the friend of religious faith, and that the believer and the seeker can cozy up to him for warmth and protection. “There, there, you are not neurotic or sick like Grandpa Freud says. It is perfectly all right to believe what you believe. Just trust Papa Jung. Here is a candy bar.” And indeed, many Catholic priests and Protestant ministers have cozied up to Jung.

But I would rather have an enemy like Freud than a friend like Jung. I’ll never forget the excitement with which I read Jung’s book, Modern Man in Search of a Soul, and that by his disciple, Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Nor will I ever forget my disappointment – actually ‘depression’ would describe it better – when I finished the books. Jungian psychology is just pantheism. “Your religion is okay, Mr. Hindu, and yours, Mr. Christian, and yours, Mr. Moslem, and everybody else’s. We are all part of the great cosmic force...” Blah, blah, blah. Just another form of atheism, but more dangerous than Freud’s because it presents itself as benign. I remember screaming at Jung, after reading Modern Man in Search of a Soul: “Are you not man like me, subject to death and decay like me? What think you of Christ and His claim, ‘I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die’?
And to Campbell: “If Christ is not the Hero, above all other heroes, the one to whom the rest of the heroes point, of what use is the hero’s journey? For what purpose does he sally forth?”
Jung and the Jungians are a pantheistic dead end.There is no personal element in their ‘cosmic force,’ and hence no real religion either; nor is there any real religion in all of the psychiatric desert.

It’s all a closed world if we allow the Claudiuses of psychiatry, of philosophy, of theology, of science to assign us a part in their kingdom of the dead. The purveyors of modern Gnosticism come in diverse colors. But they all come from the same multi-colored, seamless garment. The propositional Christian, the Jew, the neo-pagan, and the black barbarian are all united in their hatred of incarnational Christianity, which was not only the religion of St. Francis and Shakespeare, it was the religion of the ordinary European for thousands of years. I don’t see what new revelation the current bred of Gnostics are in possession of to make me or any other European reject the God who took flesh and dwelt among us. __________________________________________
(1) And, therefore, once the Roman conquerors had glutted their first rage for plunder, their main effort was to induce their Western subjects to assimilate Latin life in all its aspects. Their success with the Gauls was permanent, and became the starting point of modern European history. But in Britain, after a great initial success, they had complete ultimate failure. ‘From the Romans who once ruled Britain,’ wrote Haverfield, the great student of the archaeology of the occupation, ‘we Britons have inherited practically nothing.’

(2) I love the British Franciscans because they seem so focused on Christianity as an incarnational faith rather than as a dialectical philosophy. So many seemingly insoluble problems of dialectical philosophy, such as how God can be both universal and particular, and how He can be both God and Man, are resolved in the person of Christ. Le Fanu expresses this so well in his novel Uncle Silas:

Next day was the funeral, that appalling necessity; smuggled away in whispers, by black familiars, unresisting, the beloved one leaves home, without a farewell, to darken those doors no more; henceforward to lie outside, far away, and forsaken, through the drowsy heats of summer, through days of snow and nights of tempest, without light or warmth, without a voice near. Oh, Death, king of terrors! The body quakes and the spirit faints before thee. It is vain, with hands clasped over our eyes, to scream our reclamation; the horrible image will not be excluded. We have just the word spoken eighteen hundred years ago, and our trembling faith. And through the broken vault the gleam of the Star of Bethlehem.The psalmist reminds us that we walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death. The saints and poets of incarnational Europe show us that He walks with us through that Valley to the Mountains beyond it.

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