December 14, 2019

iMonk Classic Series: Christians and Mental Illness (2)

iMonk Classic Series: Christians and Mental Illness (2)
The following is excerpted from part 2 of Michael’s original series.

Because the Bible is authoritative in Christianity, it is often difficult to come to terms with forms of knowledge that ignore the Bible, and especially difficult to deal with systems of knowledge that threaten to transcend or neutralize the Bible. In America, this tension did not fully dawn until the fundamentalist-modernist controversies of the early twentieth century. While Darwin continues to get most of the attention, it is more likely Freud who has created the most perplexing tensions for Christian believers.

Psychology does not appear to be an immediate frontal assault on the Christian view of truth. Many Christians, especially in more moderate communions, have been open to psychology as a way of compassionately understanding human beings. More recently, however, psychology has met with sterner opposition from many evangelicals, who have become aware that the discipline was atheistic, even religiously hostile, from the outset, and that its ways of explaining, understanding and helping human beings have potentially dire consequences for the Christian view of truth.

Today, many serious Christians often reject any and all reference to psychology. (This varies enormously and is an admitted generalization.) A minister may practice Christian counseling, but let him claim to be a Christian psychologist and fully half or more of the Christian community will refuse his assistance. Christian counseling has developed its own alternative approach to dealing with mental, emotional and behavioral problems, with dependence on scripture at the center and a rejection of psychology as mandatory.

This shift has brought the entire concept of mental illness into question for many Christians. Should we be using the categories, vocabulary, diagnoses and treatments of psychology to describe and treat human beings? Many conservative Christians say “no,” and will refuse to recognize common conclusions and approaches of the psychological disciplines. When psychiatric treatment is recommended, these Christians are even more resistant, and often refuse recognized and accepted treatments for mental, emotional and behavioral disorders. As enamored as our culture is with the authority and insights of psychology, many Christians are unconvinced and even belligerent.

This creates conflicts and tensions in the lives of many Christians, however, I believe Christians cannot–and should not–entirely reject or escape the “knowledge base” that exists within their culture, including psychology and the concept of mental illness. These concepts and “namings” of human conditions can, if appropriated correctly, be useful and compassionately helpful.

Psychology, as science, is a discipline largely based on conclusions developed from repeated, careful observations. From observing, listening to and treating millions of individuals over time, a descriptive approach is acquired. These various descriptions are what we refer to as mental and emotional illness, and Christians committed to the idea that truth is the greatest friend to a hurting family or person should always embrace truthful observations, even if they come to us from other sources of understanding the world than our own.

The observations of human beings by psychologists are where we get the language of mental and emotional illness. We should be cautious and careful in appropriating this language, but as much as it is descriptively accurate, Christians should have no fear of it. Calling depression “depression” is not surrendering to the worst assumptions of psychology. Depression is a set of observations. They allow a set of responses. They help us build a plan for treatment. And so on with many many kinds of mental illness.

The persons exist, and their problems exist. It is not wise to reject what repeated observation and treatment have yielded in the quest to help people.

At this point, many Christians will point out that the psychological concept of depression does not contain the Biblical content necessary for a true solution. “Depression,” they will say, is not a disease, but simply a manifestation of sin or loss. This may be quite true in many cases. The Christian vocabulary may be the most meaningful way to approach and respond to an individual case, but when we look at the culture as a whole, this is not going to work. If we insist on refusing the diagnostic language of psychology and using the language of faith, we will have to limit our involvement with people to the Christian community and control the problem so that whatever response we make is understandable.

Mental illness, as a descriptive tool and category, does functionally exist for persons in any culture. Becoming conversant with how a culture describes mental illness is far more useful than rejecting the concept, and it allows the resources of truthful observation to come into the picture.

I will admit that it is not always pleasing or helpful to me as a Christian to be told that Johnny-who-can’t-do-anything-in-school has a syndrome or disorder. This approach seems to shift some of what is needed for Johnny to change into an arena outside of his control. Medication-based treatments have a tendency to minimize responsibility for seeing our emotions, behavior and mental state as part of our own human stewardship. But in the vast majority of cases where mental illness or behavior disorders are diagnosed, these issues do exist, and the diagnosis and the treatment suggested by psychology will most likely be rational and reasonable enough that help can be offered and expected.

Still, even with these observations, I believe the category of mental illness is useful, even essential for Christians in western culture. With a generous allowance for our manifold humanity, we still can look at “collections” of observed behavior revealing to us something that can be called–and treated–as mental illness.

Because the Bible’s description of mental/emotional illness comes in the package of its own culture, Christians have to decide if they are going to reject the contemporary language of psychology and resort to the language of ancient culture, or if they are going to “read” contemporary culture with the Gospel at the center. Can the concept of mental/emotional illness be transformed through the Gospel to be of useful service to Christian compassion?

This same question is present for physical illness as well. The Bible is a pre-scientific book, and most contemporary understanding of human biology and physiology is absent. Science has given us tremendous tools to use in treating disease, and if we reject these in favor of the understanding of disease in the Bible, there is going to be a lot of suffering and death that could have been prevented.

The entire question of accepting contemporary ways of thinking about studying, labeling, analyzing and treating human beings for their mental/physical and emotional illnesses is a question that calls upon Christians to contemplate their view of the Bible and its proper use. If their view of the Bible’s truthfulness includes the assumption that it is a book providing a specific plan for treating illnesses of body and mind, then that commitment will, I believe, take the Christian down a road that is ultimately less compassionate than the acceptance of some form of accommodating the knowledge and insights of science, medicine and psychology.

The Bible is about Christ, and is not a manual for treating mental and emotional illness. The Biblical presentation of the Christian story stands in judgment over psychology and every other form of knowledge because CHRIST IS LORD AND JUDGE, not because the book of Proverbs is the best manual for dealing with emotional illness.

Comments

  1. Once again, ‘power’ and ‘control’ prove to be less-than-humane hallmarks of fundamentalism when you get this situation: ” If their view of the Bible’s truthfulness includes the assumption that it is a book providing a specific plan for treating illnesses of body and mind, then that commitment will, I believe, take the Christian down a road that is ultimately less compassionate than the acceptance of some form of accommodating the knowledge and insights of science, medicine and psychology.”

    Rejecting this truth: “The Bible is about Christ, and is not a manual for treating mental and emotional illness”,
    we see again the ‘mean-spiritedness’ in Fundamentalism rising which ‘is ultimately less compassionate’ in its demands that sick people avoid getting professional help.

    Christ scandalized many Pharisees when He went sat with sinners and tax collectors, and when challenged by the Pharisees, He said, this: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ ”

    So Our Lord did not exclude any wounded soul from His care. In His taking on of people with their burdens, Our Lord modeled one type of counseling wherein the counselor ‘accepts’ the patient unconditionally, without judgement, in order to help them.

    Would be good if Fundamentalism took another look at the Holy Gospel of St Matthew, chapter 9 because this same Fundamentalism rejoices in excluding and shunning and fearmongering in order to control its victims, which seems a sad perversion of the story of the Bible about the Christ Who came and did not exclude any human person from Himself in the act of the Incarnation when He assumed our humanity to Himself in order to heal it:

    “by His Incarnation the Son of God has united Himself in some fashion with every person”
    (John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae, written to all people of good will)

    In the presence of the witness of the Holy Gospels of Our Lord, could it be that Fundamentalism is itself touched with some kind of illness that would deprive suffering people of compassionate help from those in counseling who are trained to help them? Does Fundamentalism itself suffer from some kind of disorder that skimps on kindness and compassion for ‘the sick’ ?
    What is it that Fundamentalism needs to learn about Our Lord’s words, these?:
    “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ ” (St. Matthew 9:13)

    • “Would be good if Fundamentalism took another look at the Holy Gospel of St Matthew, chapter 9 because this same Fundamentalism rejoices in excluding and shunning and fearmongering in order to control its victims, which seems a sad perversion of the story of the Bible about the Christ Who came and did not exclude any human person from Himself in the act of the Incarnation when He assumed our humanity to Himself in order to heal it”

      There’s a reason why fundamentalists tend to focus a lot more on the OT (particularly the 10 Commandments and the Cliff Notes of the rest of the laws of Moses) and selected verses of Paul than they are on the Gospels.

  2. senecagriggs says

    Ah, the “tolerant” commenters of I-monk continue their attack on people who view Holy Scripture as the anchor for “How shall we then live?”

    Really people; your attempt to pain Evangelicals/Fundamentalist as the most loathsome people on the planet is way over the top.

    “According to a poll by the Barna Group, among the most generous U.S. population segments were evangelicals (24% of whom tithe); conservatives (12%); people who pray, read the Bible and attended a church service during the past week (12%); charismatic or Pentecostal Christians (11%); and registered Republicans (10%). Among the least generous are people under the age of 25, atheists and agnostics, single adults who have never been married, liberals, and downscale adults. One percent or less of the people in each of these segments tithe. Among all born-again adults, 9% contribute one-tenth or more of their income. Protestants are four times as likely to tithe as Catholics (8% vs. 2%). From ’00 to ’04, an average of 84¢ out of every $1 donated by born-again adults went to churches. Since ’05, that proportion has declined to just 76¢. “

    • Klasie Kraalogies says

      A discussion for another time Seneca. Non-contextual stats can be misleading.

      Michael’s posts address a severe problem in many religious communities. As addressed elsewhere, I grew up in a fundamentalist sect. As a young adolescent, I suffered bouts of depression. My mother took me to the head pastor. I was given a choice between prayer or having it beaten out of me. I chose the former, not surprisingly.

      I am not alone in this type of experience. Michael was addressing this problem. It is a serious problem. Please don’t try to derail it with irrelevancies.

      • senecagriggs says

        Klasie; we’re both older gentlemen. Psychological treatment for the common man was pretty much a new thing in my young years.

        When I was growing up, it really wasn’t an available option.

        True?

        So your Mom took you to the pastor; so did mine.

        We are WAY PAST that era K.K.

        BUT the vast majority of commenters write as if Bible following individuals would never refer to a psychologist/psychiatrist.

        That’s no longer true; hasn’t been in decades

        • Klasie Kraalogies says

          Define “older”. I am 45.

          And that is beside the point. If you had said that when you were young, you got sick and your parents took you to the witch doctor, and therefore modern doctors are to be questioned, it would make the same amount of sense. Wrong in ignorance is understandable, but still ignorant. Perpetuating the error in spite of better knowledge is evil and inexcusable.

    • Make yourself comfortable on the couch Mr Griggs. Now tell me, when did you first notice these feelings of persecution?

      • senecagriggs says

        The day I began to read Internet Monk – you do know they really do not like Evangelicals don’t you. The attacks are consistent but not particularly based upon facts; they simply repeat the narrative.

        • Good Morning senecagriggs,

          There is a reason I did NOT use the word ‘evangelical’ in what I wrote. There is a kind of ‘Fundamentalism’ in many religions that is not wholesome, nor does it represent the best of what that religion teaches, no.
          It is the ‘aberrant’ Pharisee in us that would wonder why Christ would heal on the sabbath day . . . . the person who would attempt to keep someone who needed help from getting it because of ‘pride’ and their own interpretation of sacred Scripture that Our Lord came to confront, and He did. And they saw His wisdom.

          For some long time now, there have been people calling themselves ‘evangelicals’ who are really basically fundamentalists, I guess because of people like me who see in ‘Fundamentalism’ the mind and heart of the Pharisee who would deny a sick person help because of a religious rule . . . . a rule that has no place for ‘mercy’.

          I’m sorry if what I wrote offended you, but there must be some confrontation of those whose own understanding of sacred Scripture would deny mercy in the form of the attentions of a physician to someone in distress, when the Lord Christ Himself intervened in another case of human understanding that also denied mercy.

          I wrote that comment in memory of someone who didn’t make it. I meant no harm.

          • senecagriggs says

            Very well said Christiane. Forgive me if I mis-interpreted you.

            • I would always forgive you, senecagriggs . . . . I apologize for not being more clear in what I was writing, I have to take responsibility for that.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            But these days Fundamentalists call themselves Evangelicals which further confuses the issue, hence the composite word “Fundagelical”.

        • Yes, very interesting. It seems like you know yourself pretty well and have thought a bunch about what you would like to talk about here. People who show up here have courage galore, perhaps even a tad bit of exasperation. If you don’t mind, I’m going to ask you some questions, and take notes about what you say so I can keep it fresh in my memory. Oh, and feel free to interrupt me at any time or steer the conversation to where you need it to go.

          Have you ever seen a counselor before? If so, how many meetings did you attend and for what issues? Did you achieve the results you sought, and did your results ‘stick?’ What one thing do you remember most that your previous counselor/psychologist/social worker told you? What went right, or what didn’t turn out the way you would have liked it to?

          How often do you experience the problem? What do you think causes the problem to worsen? Have you ever not had the problem or noticed that the problem went away altogether? Have you tried certain tools, read books or pursued avenues in the past that have worked well to solve the problem? How does the problem affect your self-esteem or your sense of guilt?

          Everyone who comes here expects something different. I believe you are paying me to help you achieve your positive goals as quickly as possible. Some people like to receive homework, some clients like to vent and have me listen, and others want a high level of interaction. How do you think you learn best? Do you think of me as your communications and relationships coach? What do you expect from the counseling process? How many meetings do you think it will take to achieve your goals? How might you undermine achieving your own goals? Do you blame anyone for your problem? Do you use good advice to grow on? How will you know when we are done?

          Thanks our hour is up. That’ll be $250, please. See you next week.

          • senecagriggs says

            I actually saw a psychologist for over a year; some other interactions with professionals.

            I found out my psychologist had some inappropriate interactions with a female [ while I was a client] and had to deal with the state board. When I told him what I knew, he was pretty keen for me to terminate psycho-therapy.
            ___________

            Not sure how helpful he every was though he was a bright man, had all the degrees and honors of the profession.

            You know, that’s life.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            SenecaGriggs (under the handles Seneca, Jimmy, and SenecaGriggsYahoo) used to be The Wartburg Watch’s regular troll. He kept getting banned there under handle after handle.

        • Seneca, your comment is simply ridiculous. Please.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Besides his background as Wartburg Watch’s persistent troll, he is a type example of why Uber-Christians cannot be trusted when it comes to mental illness.

        • –> “Now tell me, when did you first notice these feelings of persecution?”

          –> “The day I began to read Internet Monk – you do know they really do not like Evangelicals don’t you. The attacks are consistent…”

          Is it an attack and persecution when you voluntarily read something you know will offend you?

          Me-thinks NOT.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Rick, there are some who read something SPECIFICALLY so they can get in a Righteous Snit about it.

            It’s one of the reasons Christianese fiction (whether written, graphic, music, or movies/video) always Plays It Safe — Don’t Dare Offend any Church Lady.

    • –> “Ah, the ‘tolerant’ commenters of I-monk continue their attack on people who view Holy Scripture as the anchor for ‘How shall we then live'”

      Not sure anyone is attacking people who view Scripture as the anchor of how people live.

      What we WILL challenge are the people who SHAME OTHERS for considering things other than Scripture to help them get through this thing called Life.

  3. senecagriggs says

    John MacArthur’s Church – IN THE SEVENTIES PEOPLE.

    On March 11, 1979, Nally took an overdose of the antidepressant prescribed by Dr. Milestone. Plaintiffs found him the following day and rushed him to a hospital. At the hospital, Dr. Evelyn, Nally’s attending physician, advised plaintiffs that because their son “was actually suicidal,” she could not authorize his release from the hospital until he had seen a psychiatrist. The record indicates that plaintiffs, concerned about their friends’ reactions to their son’s suicide attempt, asked Dr. Evelyn to inform other persons that Nally had been hospitalized only for the aspiration pneumonia he suffered after the drug overdose rendered him unconscious.

    On the afternoon of March 12, Pastors MacArthur and Rea visited Nally at the hospital. Nally, who was still drowsy from the drug overdose, [47 Cal. 3d 286] separately told both pastors that he was sorry he did not succeed in committing suicide. Apparently, MacArthur and Rea assumed the entire hospital staff was aware of Nally’s unstable mental condition, and they did not discuss Nally’s death-wish comment with anyone else.

    Four days later, Dr. Hall, a staff psychiatrist at the hospital, examined Nally and recommended he commit himself to a psychiatric hospital. When both Nally and his father expressed reluctance at the thought of formal commitment, Hall agreed to release Nally for outpatient treatment, but warned Nally’s father that it would not be unusual for a suicidal patient to repeat his suicide attempt. Nally was released from the hospital by Drs. Hall and Evelyn the next day.

    On his release from the hospital on March 17, 1979, Nally arranged to stay with Pastor MacArthur, because he did not want to return home. MacArthur encouraged Nally to keep his appointments with Dr. Hall, and arranged for him to see Dr. John Parker, a physician and Church deacon, for a physical examination. Parker’s testimony reveals that Nally told him he was depressed, had entertained thoughts of suicide, and had recently taken an overdose of Elavil. After examining Nally, Parker believed he was a continuing threat to himself, and recommended Nally commit himself to a psychiatric hospital. Nally, however, immediately rejected the advice.

    Parker testified that after Nally left his office, he telephoned Glendale Adventist Hospital to determine whether any beds were available. He then informed Nally’s father that Nally needed acute psychiatric care and that he should contact Glendale Adventist Hospital for information concerning the psychiatric facilities. That same evening, Nally’s father telephoned Dr. Hall and told him that Parker had recommended psychiatric hospitalization. Hall offered to come to the Nally residence and arrange for Nally’s involuntary commitment; the offer was rejected by plaintiffs.

    The record shows that Mrs. Nally strongly opposed psychiatric hospitalization for her son, saying, “no, that’s a crazy hospital. He’s not crazy.”

    Eleven days before his suicide, Nally met with Pastor Thomson for spiritual counseling. According to the record, Nally asked Thomson whether Christians who commit suicide would nonetheless be “saved.” Thomson referred Nally to his training as a seminary student and acknowledged “a person who is once saved is always saved,” but told Nally that “it would be wrong to be thinking in such terms.” Following their discussion, Thomson made an appointment for Nally to see Dr. Bullock for a physical examination but did not refer Nally to a psychiatrist.

    Several days later, Nally moved back home. During his final week of life, he was examined separately by Drs. Bullock and Evelyn. Dr. Bullock testified [47 Cal. 3d 287] that he was concerned with Nally’s physical symptoms. (Nally complained of headaches and of the fact that his arm was paralyzed because he had slept on it while he was unconscious following the Elavil overdose.) Bullock suggested to Nally that he admit himself to the hospital. Bullock, however, did not refer Nally to a psychiatrist; instead, he subsequently conferred with Dr. Evelyn, and both doctors agreed Nally needed further physical and possibly psychiatric evaluation.

    The day after his visit with Bullock, Nally encountered Pastor Thomson in the Church parking lot. Nally told Thomson that he was thinking of seeing a psychologist. Thomson recommended Nally contact Dr. Mohline, director of the Rosemead Graduate School of Professional Psychology. The following day, Nally spent approximately 90 minutes with Mohline, who in turn referred him to the Fullerton Psychological Clinic. Nally and his father went to the clinic the next day, and Nally discussed possible therapy with Mr. Raup, a registered psychologist’s assistant. Raup testified he believed that Nally was “shopping for a therapist or counselor or psychologist” and that he was not going to return to the clinic. At the end of the week, Nally met with a former girlfriend. She turned down an apparent marriage proposal by telling Nally, “I can’t marry you when you are like this. You have got to pull yourself together. You have got to put God first in your life.” The next day, Nally left plaintiffs’ home following a family disagreement. Two days later, he was found in a friend’s apartment, dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
    __________

    BOTTOM LINE: even in the 70’s MacArthur’s church was recommending psychiatric hospitalization for a young man who they feared would kill himself. Nally – refused; ended up taking his own life. Case dragged out in the courts for more than a decade.

    • David Cornwell says

      Griggs, you remind me of an oppositional teenager. Whatever anyone says, you find fault. Your statements are a mix of paranoia (the made-up kind — or not), anger, defensiveness, passive-aggressiveness. You stomp into the room, then you stomp out slamming the door. If mom doesn’t believe you or attempts to refute something you say, you come back with a list of footnotes to prove your points. Then finally in your exasperation, you pull the phone off the wall, throw it, stomp out of the room and pout the rest of the day.

      I’m sure you think this is unfair, and it may be. But still, this is what comes to mind. An old angry teenager with failing hormones.

      But maybe you are just old and lonely. This isn’t so difficult for me to understand.

  4. Mike the Geologist says

    “The day I began to read Internet Monk – you do know they really do not like Evangelicals don’t you.” Who is this “they” you speak of? Me? Chaplain Mike? Dan Jepsen? Dan is the pastor of an evangelical church. Both CM and I have many close friends who still identify as evangelicals– and we like them — a lot!! And we fellowship with them often. Or maybe you mean Michael Spencer, the original Imonk. Criticism of the weaknesses of evangelicalism is the foundation of this website. That is why Michael Spencer coined the term “post-evangelical”. Maybe you think there is nothing to criticize?

    And as for the post and resistance to treatment of mental illness — you are quite wrong. Yes, it is better than when Klasie and you were younger, but the stigma of treatment for mental illness still persists among conservative evangelicals. It is still considered a lack of faith to have depression and bipolar sufferers still are encouraged to “resist the devil, and he shall flee”. It is still a problem and still deserves to be addressed whether you think so or not.

    “The attacks are consistent but not particularly based upon facts; they simply repeat the narrative.” That is pure, unadulterated bullshit. There are no “attacks” just deserved criticism based on facts. Nobody repeats “the narrative” there is no narrative unless you think that when evangelicals veer off into the nonsense of fundamentalism they shouldn’t be called out.

    • senecagriggs says

      I respectfully disagree Geo Mike. I’ve been an Evangelical all my life. The things that so many commenters seem to believe go on in churches like mine simply doesn’t.
      _______

      The underlying argument is ALWAYS about the authority of Scripture – the very words

      • The things so many commentors say go on in churches like yours DO happen. Because we have seen them happen. You seem to think that just because things don’t happen within your POV in churches you attend, that those things don’t happen. To put it bluntly, you are wrong.-

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Remember Duck Commander (of “Rally Round the Beard, Boyz!”) fame?

          His famous open-mouth-insert-foot comment about never seeing any racism when growing up in rural Louisiana during the days of Jim Crow?

          Sometimes you’re too close to it to see it.

      • Mike the Geologist says

        It doesn’t happen at your church (or so you say), big deal. It most certainly does happen, I’ve had friends and family members experience it and recently. Authority of scripture– what? What does what Michael Spencer was saying in the post have to do with authority of Scripture? Nothing. You like to wave that flag around as if you are some great defender of the bible, when all you defend is your particular interpretation of an English translation. And in this particular post authority of scripture is irrelevant to the point.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          SCRIPTURE(TM) becomes a meaningless buzzword after over-exposure.
          Especially when it’s been weaponized.

  5. Burro (Mule) says

    This is tangential to the discussion, but to me the entire existence of the subconscious mind is both bothersome from an exegetical point of view, and inescapable from a close observation of human behavior. I say it is bothersome from an exegetical point of view because the Bible seems to take for granted that we as humans are more unified in our psyche than modern psychology gives us credit for being.

    The only chickenbone I can throw out to a Biblical understanding of an unconscious mind is Paul’s observation that ‘that which I would do, that I do not, and that which I would not do, that I do’. That isn’t much, but maybe the ancients were more unified than we are. If so, it would have to be that they were more ‘preconscious’ than we are. The process of individuation, of feeling oneself as an individual apart from warm-puppy-immersion in the clan or the tribe, appears to me to be less advanced in the ancients than among we nervous moderns.

    All of this is prologue to any understandings of dream-states, mystical experiences, or the torrent of images pouring forth due to the ingestion of psychoactive chemicals. All of this in the Bible would be subsumed under the activity of ‘demons’ in a favorable or unfavorable sense. Indeed, I can think of no better map of the human psyche than the Apocalypse of St. John which grows, rather than diminishes, in importance to me as it severed from its accustomed role as a predictor of future events.

    Orthodoxy, as usual, is far more helpful than Evangelicalism and its “my recently developed frontal lobe and this Book” approach. “You are not your divided and chaotic psyche”, says Fr Freeman, in concert with many others. “You have to push much deeper than that to a place where you are always, and always have been, at rest in Christ”.

    • Iain Lovejoy says

      Did not the church fathers make the distinction between the “rational will” and the irrationality, delusion and animal instincts to which humans are subject and which cloud, confuse and distract the rational mind? What are they but a pre-psychology notion of the subconscious. Just as psychological problems are said to stem from the subconscious mind, so also it is the marred operation of human instinct that the church fathers saw interfering with a person’s ability to follow his natural will towards the good. Even “demons” might in some cases be less conscious beings and more unseen neurosies squatting in the subconscious mind.
      Similar phenomena, different conception of the same thing.

      • Burro (Mule) says

        Something that helped me a lot was discovering that St. Maximos posited a ‘gnomic’ will [whatever that means] and a ‘rational’ will. Thus, St. Maximos explains, as far as I can follow him, Adam and Eve never ‘chose’ in the way we choose, deliberating between a number of competing ‘goods’. They merely obeyed their ‘gnomic’ wills and thus lived in unbroken communion with God. If this is what you mean by “the irrationality, delusion and animal instincts… which cloud, confuse and distract the rational mind”, then modern psychology is revealed as another sin-management project, and one which is, to my mind, not even as successful as that of the much-despised Puritans.

        I am old enough to remember the first faint siren-tones of the Sexual Revolution, which promised healthier. more authentic, and less neurotic relationships. As Dr Phil woold put it; ‘How’s that working out for you?’

        There is something I vaguely remember from the Taoist literature to the effect that the bestial man does that which gives him pleasure; the mediocre man does than which appears to him right and seemly; the wise man simply does.

        in meditating upon this it dawned on me that one of the purposes of monastic vows was to reduce the number of choices the monk had to make, until he was content with ‘the one thing needful’.

        • Forgive me, Mule. You have it backwards, if I understand rightly; the gnomic will (from gnome, “inclination” – as in, we generally have lots of inclinations) is the one that deliberates between the various choices. So it was the serpent that introduced the “choices” to A&E. Our true will is that which doesn’t need to deliberate and choose; we simply do what our human nature (as originally created, before it was darkened) knows to be good and in keeping with our logos, with our acts oriented toward our telos. Thus St Maximos called it our “natural” will.

          It sounds like the Taoist literature you remember would point to this.

          Dana

          • Burro (Mule) says

            Thank you for the correction, Dana. I believe you are right.
            Reading Maximos is like swimming in the ocean out of sight of the shore.

        • Iain Lovejoy says

          Modern psychology focuses on understanding the habits and functioning of the mind, and has some decent insights into it, which can help with bad mental habits , hang ups and difficulties. Psychiatry is (like a lot of medicine) a bit trial and error but has discovered that a lot of “unclean spirits” of the mind turn out to be soluble in medication. Do not knock either as useful and often essential emergency first aid and / or crutches for the wounded soul, even if a medical route to the eternal perfect sunshine of a spotless mind is, I would agree, a fantasy.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Going entirely with one and denouncing the other is equally out-of-balance, just in opposite directions.

            Does anyone remember the 3rd Season Original Series Star Trek episode “Let This Be Your Last Battlefield”?

      • Burro (Mule) says

        Could we also redirect the discussion back to concepts of mental health, psychology, and Christian faith?

        Prior to becoming an active Christian in the 70s I was very intrigued with the writings of the depth-psychologist Karl Jung, especially his concepts of the Archtypes and the Collective Sunconscious. Now, without descending into namecalling [“Platonist!” “Fascist!”} I’d like to know if there is anything useful in his writings that might help Christians make sense of their interiors or not.

        • The work of Carl Jung is rather like the work of Plato – important in the history of their particular fields but nobody really takes their actual ideas seriously. I think Jung has been more influential among artists than among medical practitioners. That said there are Jungians just as there are still Platonists. But that’s not where the center of gravity is, in the field. I suspect it would be regarded in many ways as “pre-scientific”.

          I don’t think anyone disputes that much of human behavior has a pre-conscious aspect. But these days you’re more likely to be subjected to a fMRI or a PET scan than dream analysis. That’s not to say dream analysis can’t be very interesting. But then so can having your horoscope cast.

          • From what I’ve read, Jung did a lot of thinking based on his personal experience, but not a lot of research to substantiate his theories. He seemed to think that his personal experience and the conclusions he drew from it were sufficient to warrant calling his psychological theories scientific.

    • “Orthodoxy, as usual, is far more helpful than Evangelicalism and its “my recently developed frontal lobe and this Book” approach.”

      Well, there ya go Seneca…even Mule has something critical to say of Evangelicalism.

      • Come to think of it…Mule has something critical to say of whoever is under discussion. ;o)

        • Not to say that I’m never uncritical myself…

        • Burro (Mule) says

          In Seneca’s defense, I will say that the majority of people here at IMonk who have stumbled out of the Slough of Despond that is modern Evangelicalism are following Pliable back to the City of Destruction. That said, I cannot think that I could rejoice in the mud or see it as a final destination.

          • Heading back to the city of destruction? More like waiting for any kind of path at all to make itself apparent. And no, Orthodoxy isn’t the absolute answer either. 😛

            • Burro (Mule) says

              Well, if anything here is evident it is that you and I are moving in different directions. The probability of either of us effecting a course correction in the other is effectively nil, so as you once put it, we shall leave it as an exercise for the lurkers.

      • I’ve always thought it unfortunate that Southern Baptists don’t have a monastic tradition.

  6. Burro (Mule) says

    I am locked in moderation.
    Dunno what happened to my post.

  7. I think the thing about psychotherapy that has put some Christians off is that, rather than being a tool of sin management, some types of it, especially Freudian therapy, tell people they should not feel guilty, because the things they have done (or thought) are not sins. This can be true in some instances, particularly for people who have been abused. However, some people can’t draw that distinction, and end up thinking that if a Christian goes for psychotherapy they are trying to get themselves off the hook regarding their sin, or are unwittingly getting involved with something that will not lead a person to repentance (as repentance is understood among those Christians).

    Dana

    • ” rather than being a tool of sin management”

      And that is the problem right there – the idea that psychology is only legitimate insofar as it assumes sin is the root cause of all mental problems, and thus the only legitimate course of treatment is “sin management”.

  8. senecagriggs says

    I spent 7 years working in psychiatric hospitals. I actually have significant first hand experience with mental health treatment, patients, professionals etc.
    _________

    I am not against treatment for mental health issues but I would encourage I-monkers to not be naive about the field and the treatment and the professionals and the medications.

    As noted earlier, I experienced psychotherapy first hand, I’ve had family members on psych meds; I have siblings that have struggled with some issues. Neither I nor my extended family has escaped the brokenness of the human condition.

    Decades after Freud, Jung, Pavlov, Rogers; there is so very much we DO NOT KNOW about the “inner man.”

    A couple of final thoughts.

    I heard a Licensed psychologist say; “Do you know what I actually do? It is this. I am the keeper of people’s stories.”

    I really, really like that. She’s admitting to limitations in the ability to heal but she’s acknowledges the very real confusion, hurt and poignancy of people’s life stories who have sought her professional help.
    ________________

    Finally here’s 6 minutes of therapeutic insight.
    It was meant to be humorous, and is; but it also savagely brilliant.

    Bob Newhart and Mo Collins
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ow0lr63y4Mw

    I spent 7 years working in psych hospitals. I think I’ve pretty much seen it all.