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Me, myself and I – A balanced approach makes the most sense

Today’s featured tweet points to a surprisingly good, balanced article about different conceptualizations of the human self. I wrote about this at university but, in all honesty, I don’t think the professor in question understood what I was talking about. S/he immigrated to Canada from a communist regime and the years of military oppression seemed to taint his/her thinking and sense of fair play. Either that, or s/he was just always tainted. I’m not sure.

I say this because I had another professor, quite well published, who came to Canada from the same region, under similar circumstances. And s/he was fair and open-minded.  So it seems some can resist the iron grip of communist ideologies while others don’t really care to—or perhaps they are totally unconscious of it. As Carl Jung would have put it, they’re identifying with an archetype or, if you will, they are children of a lesser god.

But I digress. The point is, politics and psychology may be linked, but not necessarily causally. Natural authoritarians may actively seek out and choose to participate in authoritarianism and not simply be victims of it. Whereas others seem to have a clearheaded openness that acts as an safeguard against authoritarianism.

 


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Another (questionable) side of Carl Jung… and Freud too

Jung…was physically large, selfish, bullying and loud of voice; he cheated at games, had a vile temper and appalling table manners; he thought men should be polygamous but that Emma [his wife] should be his alone. He was also narcissistic and unbalanced, coming from a family with severe mental health problems.¹

English: Group photo in front of Clark Univers...

Group photo in front of Clark University Sigmund Freud, G. Stanley Hall, Carl Jung; Back row: Abraham A. Brill, Ernest Jones, Sándor Ferenczi. Photo taken for Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts publication. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Whew! That’s what my father would have called a “hatchet job.”

Q: Is this a fair assessment of Carl Jung, the psychologist who has inspired many by trying to bridge the gap between psychology and spirituality?

A: I think the tweeted article is important to read, even if definitely slanted. Always good to hear both sides. And, come to think of it, I recall Carl Jung’s son saying much the same thing—that Jung Sr. wasn’t the greatest dad in the world. Also, having studied Jung for several years, I knew about his polygamy. But I hadn’t fully considered – nor heard – that he demanded monogamy from his wife.

While reading the tweeted story I began to think about something I’ve been considering for a while now: Are insights, theories or moral teachings invalidated by the less than admirable behavior of those advancing them?

In the Bible story, if I remember right, Jesus tells others to do what corrupt preachers say but not what they actually do. Jesus is not condemning their good teaching but rather their bad example. I think this is an important distinction to keep in mind. It doesn’t get someone off the hook for being creepy. But it does suggest that, since we’re all ethically imperfect, a realistic and arguably effective approach to life demands a nuanced understanding of how most human beings actually work.

¹ http://www.spectator.co.uk/2016/09/emma-jung-and-her-impossible-husband/


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From stone cold and lukewarm to beautiful flames of love – you’ll find it all in today’s Catholic Church

“Jesus was a radical who challenged the establishment, while Christianity has been so successful that in much of the world it is the establishment.”

This quote stood out as I went through this morning’s news. It’s from the tweeted article, above.

As a converted Catholic coming from a non-churchgoing Anglican past, I can say that my experience of Catholicism has been layered. On one level the Catholic Mass is a social event, even if you don’t say anything to others. Looks and glaces are exchanged, and anyone who knows the ABCs of non-verbal communication will acknowledged that a lot can be said without saying a word.

Monks have commented on the very real, ongoing relationships they have without saying a word. And I think some parishioners would attest to a similar kind of interpersonal (and sometimes) spiritual dynamic at the Mass.

Others would not, of course. These people tend to make up the chattier, socially visible and physically active layer of the Church. When these folks are nice we call them social butterflies, organizers, leaders, and so on. When they are nasty we call them busybodies, gossips, and backbiters. I have met both types (and combinations thereof) in today’s Church.

On a deeper layer, I always have indisputable spiritual experiences within the Catholic Church. A worldly person might attribute these to “memory,” “association” or “social belonging” but they are dead wrong. The Holy Spirit is strong in the Catholic Church. And it almost instantly enables me to see myself better. But not only only see. The Holy Spirit is also a healer and purifier. Moreover, the heavenly beauty of the Eucharist is something that, sadly, I don’t think all Catholics experience to the same degree. I would venture to guess that it’s their own worldliness, status seeking and the love of prestige that blocks their reception of this heavenly gift.

In a nutshell, if we keep our noses to the ground like animals grubbing in the dirt, we won’t be able to receive gifts from above.

And this is where today’s tweet comes in.

I see humanity as an evolving species. And worldly attitudes, ideas and behavioral routines are a large part of that. I think it was the philosopher Santayana who spoke of well worn paths or psychological channels that humanity trudges along. Almost like rats in a maze or, if you will, horses with blinders, many individuals have erected high walls around their minds. They plod along in the same old direction without thinking about it too much.

This might be necessary to keep things moving in an orderly fashion. But as time goes on, the psychosocial walls, that is, the conventional order, must either fall down or, less drastically, be rearranged or transformed. Otherwise society and the people who comprise it will become blocked, stagnant and fall short of their full potential. — MC


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A good, penetrating article about mysticism, insanity, and a possible socio-cultural connection

The psychotic drowns in the same waters in which the mystic swims with delight. – Joseph Campbell

This Joseph Campbell quote comes from the tweeted article, above. Campbell was a great popularizer of mythology whose work was, for the most part, in line with Jungian psychology. But in my view neither of these men fully understood Christian mysticism. Sure, they talked about numinosity and the experience of grace. And Jung talked about relationships as being somewhat “alchemical,” meaning that different personalities interact a lot like two chemical substances. On contact both are transformed.

However, there is a lot more to Christian mysticism than a mere mingling of elements. At best, Christian mysticism and the interpersonal dynamic that goes with it entails an inner ascent. But it’s an ascent that is not without its pitfalls, stumbling and backward steps.

St. John of the Cross, Doctor of the Church.

St. John of the Cross, Doctor of the Church. He wrote about the “dark night of the soul.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Contrary to what the Campbell quote seems to imply, Christian mystics are not always free from suffering. In fact, suffering – and even momentary confusion – can be part of the purification process.

So to say that mystics “swim with delight” is only partially true. And this is not really a great metaphor because any graces that the Christian enjoys come to him or her. He or she doesn’t induce or control them, as a swimmer would consciously jump into a lake and take purposeful strokes.

As the dedicated mystic goes deeper and deeper, all they can really control, to varying degrees, is their reaction to what God subjects them to, which is usually a mix of wonderful and difficult internal states and external situations.

Unlike the psychotic, however, the Christian mystic does have an overall sense of personal meaning that can be grasped by qualified others. If she or he is genuine and not fooling themselves, the overall logic and coherence of their quest should become apparent to, again, qualified others. So in Catholicism, we have the spiritual director.

The genuine mystic rarely goes it entirely alone. There is often another person who can understand what they are going through to some extent and suggest so-called course corrections. And this makes genuine mysticism to some degree a social phenomenon.

However, the notion of a spiritual director has its own difficulties. Possibly we have two or more insane people who share the same delusions. Alternately, in Catholicism we have the possibility of immature or even corrupt priests unable to understand a true mystic because their minds are so darkened by sin and worldliness.

Some see the medical psychiatrist as the answer. However, the last I checked, the psychiatric manual tends to recognize major religious beliefs but not so much individualized spiritual paths. So there’s a potentially significant problem there too (unless I’ve missed something present in the latest DSM update).

Portrait of Martin Luther as an Augustinian Monk

Portrait of Martin Luther as an Augustinian Monk (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sociologically, we can say that psychiatry remains in a monolithic stage of institutional development, not unlike the Medieval Church. Licensed practitioners who dissent within or deviate from APA norms could find themselves under professional review and, perhaps, lose their legal right to practice.

Seeds of discontent are out there. But still, the power and, in many countries, the legal power of the APA continues to dominate the hearts and minds of many.

This might change, not unlike how Protestants split away from the Catholic powerhouse, as it were, back in the days of Martin Luther, John Calvin and Huldrych Zwingli. Or possibly things might not change so dramatically and the future will evolve into, for better or for worse, an increased state of ideological homogeneity.

Philosophically, we can ask: Do some people see or hear things that simply do not exist in the way they believe they do? With this question, it seems that the issue of mysticism and madness cannot be fully resolved through a mere socio-cultural lens. Some folks might really be insane, and no sociological theorizing about “cultural relativity” or “observer bias” will change that fact.

If genuine insanity does exist in some individuals, its causes probably involve an interplay of physiological, psychological, social and, in some cases, negative spiritual influences. This last aspect is often overlooked in Western culture. And I think that’s a serious mistake, one born of ignorance and spiritual immaturity.

I apologize if my writing here is a bit technical and not as accessible as in other places. This is an area I’ve been thinking and writing about since my undergraduate days at university. And it would be too time consuming to dumb things down and maintain the necessary level of detail. Simple sentences may leap off the page but they rarely do a topic justice.🙂


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Vacation over — Oh well, I enjoy writing about psychology, spirituality and religion

Last night I was pooped and went to bed unusually early. Waking up unusually early, I felt it was a good time to update earthpages.ca. I enjoyed working on the above. As I research and revise these entries, I’m not only brushing up on my general knowledge but also on my ability to (hopefully) communicate fresh ideas to as many people as possible.


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Tit for Tat – One silly scientific claim gets an amorphous religious response

Many scientists do not seem realize that they are influenced by a tremendous bias having to do with two related ideas: The principle of parsimony and  Occam’s razor. Basically, the bias prevalent among scientists today is: If something can be explained with less, this is better than using more.

Cartoon about a fortune teller contacting the ...

Cartoon about a fortune teller contacting the other side. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In a way I can understand this. Consider the sham fortune teller who is dead wrong with his or her prediction so creates all sorts of ad hoc explanations to try to explain their goof. But in another way, I think this reductive bias can lead to problems, especially in the area of mental health.

I have discussed the topic of science elsewhere and really don’t feel like going into it all again. A lot of effort usually gets met with blank stares. So I’ll just link to my entry about science at earthpages.ca and add the following quote which doesn’t really solve the problem of making religious experience scientific, but does point out that the current scientific attitude is based more on fashion than fact.

The medieval formula ‘philosophy the handmaid of theology’ and the associated idea of theology as ‘the queen of the sciences’ are seldom taken seriously today…Yet neither philosophy nor science have ever refuted the claim during the past seven hundred years. It has been dismissed by fashion, not by reason. If God is, and is our ultimate end, then the science of God must indeed be the queen of the sciences.¹

¹ Source, and a few more paragraphs explaining what this quote is about: https://javipena.com/2015/04/29/theology-the-noblest-science-thomas-aquinas/


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Seekers’ reality check – We all need one

Looking back on my life I see a funny dynamic. Many times I thought I’d found “the answer,” either through a partner, a job, a scholarship, a religious affiliation. And usually when I have found the apparent “answer” I’ve become a bit full of myself and maybe overly enthusiastic about my new path. God and life, however, have this way of auto-correcting. Stuff happens… and what a great way to regain humility.

Deep thought

Deep thought (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today I’m thinking it’s nice that I don’t take myself as seriously as I once did. Yes, if someone steps on my toes I will still let them know. I don’t believe God wants us to be doormats.

But at the same time, getting older means that I can appreciate all the twists and turns my life has taken, and just as importantly, how everyone else is just as “valid” as me. Are just as valid as me? Whatever. I don’t feel like checking out Grammar Girl right now.🙂

The tweeted article spells out some of the reflections I’ve had over the past few years in this area. I think it does a good job.