The Crucified God: Moltmann, the Psychologists, and Me

In my post about Jurgen Moltmann’s The Crucified God, I did not talk about Moltmann’s discussion of psychology in that particular book.  I just felt like ending the post where I did!  In this post, however, I will talk about it, since it has caused me to think since I finished my post on The Crucified God.

What I got out of Moltmann’s discussion was that a genuine Christianity can heal the problems that psychologists like Freud have claimed to identify.  We’re beset with feelings of guilt?  Christ’s death brings us forgiveness of sins!  Freud said human males have an innate hatred of their father?  Christ brings together fathers and sons!

Moltmann addresses the charge of some psychologists that Christianity promotes immaturity by encouraging people to take refuge in a nice story rather than dealing with their pain.  For one, Moltmann seems to wonder why people shouldn’t have hope, and what good negativity will do for them.  Second, according to Moltmann, the notion of the crucified God does not allow for one to ignore pain and suffering, for the God of Christianity himself suffered.

On page 292, Moltmann makes a very provocative statement: “Theologians who go over to psychology and give up theology…often corrupt psychology with their repressed and unconscious theological expectations of the substitute.”  What’s that mean?  That the theologians-turned-psychologists are treating psychology as a sort of savior, or are looking to it to bring the change to human beings that God allegedly brings, or see themselves in the role of God, in relation to their patients?  I don’t know.

I think that Moltmann makes good points, especially when he takes on the charge that Christianity is a crutch that keeps people immature.  I have doubts accepting, however, that belief in Christianity is the end-all, be-all, cure-all for everyone.  I don’t think that belief in it automatically heals people of their guilt, or that it automatically reconciles people.  If one can truly internalize it and make it his or her worldview, perhaps it could work.  It depends on what kind of Christianity it is: if it is the type that believes in God’s love and grace, or the type that does not.  (I should note that Moltmann may be a Christian universalist: see here and here.)  But, even if it professes grace, that doesn’t necessarily mean that one who tries to believe in it will be reconciled with others, for there are plenty of people who believe in God’s love and grace who aren’t reconciled with everyone.

There are a variety of reasons that Christianity doesn’t work its magic on me.  I have doubts about its truth-value.  I question whether the God of love and grace whom many evangelicals like to profess is really the God of Scripture, or is rather the product of them believing in some biblical texts, while ignoring or downplaying others.  I’m not even sure if I want to believe it!  I’d like to believe in a higher power who loves me and has a redemptive plan for myself and the rest of the world.  But I have problems believing in a God who conditions his forgiveness of me on my forgiveness of others (which is how I understand what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount), who makes me fear that I will go to hell if I can’t push my grudge out of my system or love everyone on the face of the earth.

There was a time when I was looking to therapy for answers.  Was I looking to it as a savior?  Well, I didn’t see it the same way that I saw religion—-at least not exactly.  I saw religion as a belief system that barked out inflexible commands that I could not follow, whereas I looked to therapy as a forum in which I could talk with someone, get feedback, and receive suggestions (as opposed to commands).  But I think that I was also looking for an authoritative voice to tell me that I was all right, and I looked to therapy for that, as I searched for it in religion before.  My problem with therapy is that, well, I didn’t always like the feedback that I received!  What can I say?  I suppose that I would like a middle-ground between the inflexibility of Christianity (as I understand it), and my tendency to take the easier (yet not particularly pleasant) path, because I’m afraid to take the harder, possibly fruitful path, or I don’t think that I have what it takes to travel it.

But there were times when I got helpful advice from therapy, or constructive ways to look at situations.

I’m leaving the comments on, but I won’t publish snarky or negative comments.

Fawn Brodie’s Richard Nixon: The Shaping of His Character 10

My latest reading of Fawn Brodie’s Richard Nixon: The Shaping of His Character was a summary of Brodie’s psychological analysis of Richard Nixon.  Brodie essentially argues that Nixon was unloved as a child, and she states that Nixon’s father was for winning at all costs, whereas his mother tended to stretch the truth when it suited her.  As a result, Nixon had a hunger for adulation, and he sought that through political success.  In the process of this, he stretched the truth, and he tried to win at all costs.  Earlier in the book, Brodie states that Nixon’s environment enabled him to have the confidence to pursue his political dreams.  Had Nixon been at Harvard, the competition would have made it much harder for him to do so, but Nixon was at Whittier, where his ambitions were more attainable.

Elsewhere in the book, Brodie raises other considerations.  She speculates that Nixon’s lying may go back to when he had to lie or adroitly manipulate the truth in order to avoid the discipline at the hands of his harsh father.  In the endnotes, she cites Bruce Mazlish’s claim that Nixon did not rebel as a youth, and, “as a result,” he did not bow “so totally before authority” (Mazlish’s words, quoted on page 524).  The idea here may be that Nixon was rebelling against his parents’ authoritarianism when he did ethically-compromising things as an adult.  Brodie also states that Nixon may have lied to make himself feel better: when someone prominent criticized him, Nixon went on to tell the story that this person had actually praised him.  Lying made it easier for him to cope, in short.

Another point that Brodie makes is that Nixon felt rather strangled by Quaker Whittier, which was one of the places where he grew up.  Brodie states that Nixon liked the “erosion of even the stoutest Quaker virtues” (Brodie’s words) that occurred when oil was discovered in the 1920′s, and she believes that this sentiment underlies Nixon’s frequent statements as President that America was “the richest and strongest nation on earth” (Nixon’s words), with “richest” coming first.  Brodie states that many in Whittier felt threatened by “the fantasy world of Hollywood” and the “surrounding Chicano society, with its taverns and dancehalls, its well-attended Catholic churches, with its more spontaneous gaiety” (page 501), and she seems to present Nixon rebelling against this protective Whittier mentality.  Nixon was drawn to acting and celebrities, he thought of practicing law in Havana, Cuba, and he enjoyed vacationing in the Caribbean.

Is there anything to Brodie’s analysis?  I don’t rule it out.  Nixon biographer Stephen Ambrose did not seem to find that kind of argumentation overly convincing, for, as he notes, many people feel insufficiently loved by their parents, and not all of them turn out as Richard Nixon did.  The thing is, though, people are different, and thus they respond to situations in different ways.

Published in: on October 20, 2013 at 11:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Fawn Brodie’s Richard Nixon: The Shaping of His Character 6

How do people move forward from a trauma, or from guilt?  In my latest reading of Richard Nixon: The Shaping of His Character, Fawn Brodie talks about Adlai Stevenson, the Democratic candidate for President in 1952 and 1956.  Stevenson accidentally shot a young girl while thinking that a rifle was unloaded, and he felt horrible about it afterwards.  Brodie states that Stevenson had a “pervasive melancholy and self-doubt barely hidden behind his good humor and wit” (page 311).  When a woman wrote to Stevenson saying that her son accidentally killed a friend, Stevenson wrote back to her, “Tell him that he must live for two.”  When Stevenson was complaining to a friend of his about his troubles during his 1948 campaign for Illinois Governor, Stevenson stated, “and so on and on, to the end of time, or until my sins are expiated.”

Stevenson still managed to live his life.  He accomplished things, and he had romantic relationships.  But, according to Brodie, there was a pain within him.

According to Brodie, Nixon, too may have felt guilt after the death of two of his brothers.  Brodie states on page 100:

“Robert J. Lifton, who has done much research on survivor guilt, finds that many survivors suffer from a ‘psychic numbing,’ a diminished capacity for experience, whether of joy or grief.  They fear they have survived ‘because someone else died, or that they have ‘killed’ the other person in some symbolic way by failing to sustain the other’s life with needed support, help, and nurturance.’  This may have been a factor in numbing Nixon’s already warped capacity for elation, especially seen in his election victories.  In a more profound fashion it may have deadened his general sensitivity and self-understanding, and contributed to the sense of meaninglessness and unfulfillment in his own life.”

UPDATE: Later in the book, Brodie talks about how other people’s deaths paved the way for Nixon to advance.  His brother Harold’s death from tuberculosis freed up money for him to go to law school.  The deaths of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., may have propelled him to the Presidency.  In the case of MLK, Brodie states, his assassination drew more people to the law-and-order candidate, Nixon.  Brodie wonders what Nixon must have felt about this.  On page 507, she says: “What one does not know is whether or not Nixon suffered an anxiety that the fate helping him was demonic and not divine.”  Brodie also mentions the suicides of two authors who were writing books about Nixon, books that were not particularly negative about him.

Published in: on October 16, 2013 at 11:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Book Write-Up: Young Man Luther, by Erik H. Erikson

Erik H. Erikson.  Young Man Luther: A Study in Psychoanalysis and History.  United States of America: W.W. Norton and Company, 1958 and 1962.

Erik Erikson was a psychologist, and this book is his psychological profile of Martin Luther.  There were a couple of reasons that I decided to read this book.  For one, I remembered a professor of mine saying in her Christianity class years ago that Luther may have been a manic-depressant.  I don’t recall if she mentioned Erikson’s study, but her statement stayed with me for many years, especially when I read Luther’s writings.  Luther in his writings vacillates between inner peace and spiritual depression, and he seems to be trying to reassure himself on a continual basis that God loves him, and that his standing with God is secure.  I doubt that I fit the category of manic-depressant, but I could identify with Luther’s struggle with his negative emotions, such as religious obsessive-compulsiveness, self-doubt, and a belief that his flaws kept God from loving him.

Second, I will be preaching at my church on Reformation Sunday, and the topic of my sermon will be Martin Luther’s life and legacy.  Erikson’s book was on my shelf, and so I figured that reading it could help me in terms of my preparation of my sermon.

Martin Luther, in Erikson’s depiction (and probably in most depictions), was a man who was on a quest for spiritual inner peace.  Luther was spiritually insecure as a monk, for he felt that God was wrathful, but he found more peace when he concluded that people are justified by faith in Christ, apart from works; at that point, he believed more in God’s love.

Erikson believes that important aspects of Martin Luther’s life had their roots in his childhood.  Luther as a monk believed that God was wrathful, and Erikson traces this mindset back to Luther’s experiences with his harsh father, Hans, as if Luther projected onto his heavenly father the characteristics of his earthly father.  Luther’s mother was superstitious and rather mystical, and Erikson seems to believe that Luther’s quest for a close relationship with God, as well as his alleged sightings of Satan, have their roots in that.  According to Erikson, Luther had more peace back when he was a really small child, under the care of his mother, and his life would become an attempt to recapture that peace.  Erikson states that the Bible would become Luther’s mother: a nurturer, if you will.

Erikson discusses Luther’s study of philosophy, which did not help Luther because of its uncertainties.  But Erikson notes that there were Catholics in the monastery and in Luther’s study who encouraged Luther to trust in a God of love.  Luther would recognize his debt to them, and yet Luther did not always find convincing some of the Catholic attempts to help him feel better.  Luther was told, for example, that he shouldn’t be so preoccupied with feeling bad about his venial sins, since mortal sins were the serious ones.  Luther was puzzled by this, however, for is not a sin a sin before the just and holy God?  Some of the things that Catholics told him would move him towards greater assurance, and yet there were elements of Catholicism that clearly did not assuage his troubled conscience.

Erikson states Luther was helped on his journey by two factors.  First, Luther in the monastery was able to talk with Johann von Staupitz, his mentor, a Catholic who was encouraging Luther to believe in a God of love and forgiveness.  Johann von Staupitz would remain a Catholic even after Luther launched the Reformation, although Luther acknowledged his debt to him in terms of his journey towards peace.  Johann von Staupitz was someone Luther could talk to.  Second, Luther would become a teacher of the Bible at a college, and, according to Erikson, that provided Luther with an opportunity to work through, develop, articulate, and confidently accept his own beliefs.

Luther’s father was disappointed with his son for becoming a monk, for Luther’s father wanted for Martin to become a lawyer, a husband, and a father.  Erikson makes the point that Luther eventually achieved his father’s dreams for him, for Luther (while he did not become a lawyer) became a prominent figure who debated issues, as well as a husband and a father.  But Erikson notes that Luther was not satisfied, for Luther looked back and wondered if he had done the right thing in terms of launching the Protestant Reformation.  Erikson also may have been arguing that Luther had highs and lows in his life, periods of great productivity, but also times of little or no productivity.

The book was not always easy for me to understand, and I can tell from wikipedia’s article about it that I missed some points, and that I did not always see the forest of which some of the trees were part.  But I found the book to be helpful to me in terms of exposing me to key aspects of Martin Luther’s life, as well as reinforcing my knowledge of them.

Two issues that I was thinking about when reading this book were the impact of our earlier experiences on our later life, and the role of writing or teaching in the shaping of a person’s identify.

The first issue overlaps with my reading of Fawn Brodie’s Richard Nixon: The Shaping of His Character, for Brodie argues that events in Nixon’s earlier life would shape his character.   I do believe that events in our earlier life influence our views and our outlooks, but I shudder to think how fragile human beings are, such that events outside of their control could have an influence on how they turn out.  What parents do or do not do, or say or do not say, can arguably have dramatic repercussions on their children’s outlooks, decisions, and lives.  That puts a lot of pressure on parents, doesn’t it?  I wouldn’t go so far as to be a complete determinist on this issue, however, for people still can make their own decisions, regardless of what their upbringing was, plus there have been people who have had less-than-ideal upbringings, yet they turned out all right.  Perhaps they are able to cope with their issues, or they can bracket them out when they need to function in society.

The second issue inspired me to think about my blogging and how that has shaped my identity.  Before I blogged, I had my doubts, my resentments, and my beliefs, but blogging was what enabled me to step forward and to establish and articulate an identity in terms of my beliefs.  Before I blogged, I had my disdain and my resentment about certain features of Christian evangelicalism, but they became more a part of me after I started blogging about them.  Erikson seems to make a similar point about Luther: that teaching the Bible enabled Luther to become firmer about his beliefs and his identity.  Speaking for myself personally, I’m not sure if that was a good thing, in my case.  Before I blogged, I could actually dialogue with conservative evangelicals, and I was open to asking them questions about their beliefs, and maybe even to learning from them.  I was on a quest, looking to them for answers.  After I started blogging, however, I was putting myself out there as one who had problems with evangelicalism, as I articulated why I had those problems, and dialogue with evangelicals became more difficult for me.  I also think that, around the time that I started blogging, I was beginning to become firmer in certain convictions: that God can work with people outside of a Christian context, that biblical inerrancy is grossly problematic, that universalism has a fairly decent case, and the list goes on.  I lost something when I started to blog, and blogging, incidentally, has made me lonelier.  But my beliefs are my beliefs, whether people like them or not.

Published in: on October 15, 2013 at 7:00 am  Comments (2)  

Ambrose’s Nixon: Ruin and Recovery 5

On page 134 of Nixon: Ruin and Recovery, 1973-1990, Stephen Ambrose says the following about Elliott Richardson, who would serve as President Richard Nixon’s Attorney General:

“But Richardson was also a D-Day veteran.  He was one of those junior officers at Utah Beach who had led the way up and over.  No man who had been through that experience ever again had anything to fear.”

Someone with Asperger’s one time said something similar to me: that he is not afraid of most things because of all of the bad experiences that he has already gotten through.  It’s probably a variation of the “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” platitude.

Do I agree with it?  I wonder if war can make some people even more afraid, rather than eradicating fear, as it supposedly did for Richardson.  There is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), but I’m not sure to what extent that entails fear.  In any case, there are people who become scarred by trauma, not made stronger by it.

Still, I can see some rationale to Richardson’s experience: if something really horrible is thrown at me and I live to tell about it, then perhaps that can influence me to be less fearful when less horrible things are thrown at me.

Published in: on June 12, 2013 at 11:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Peck on the My Lai Massacre

In this post, I’d like to talk about M. Scott Peck’s discussion of the My Lai Massacre in his book, People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil.  Wikipedia defines the My Lai Massacre as: “the Vietnam War mass murder of between 347 and 504 unarmed civilians in South Vietnam on March 16, 1968, by United States Army soldiers of ‘Charlie’ Company of 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 11th Brigade of the America[n] Division.  Most of the victims were women, children, infants, and elderly people.”  The American troops did this because they believed that these South Vietnamese civilians were helping out the Viet-Cong, which the U.S. was fighting.

To what does Peck attribute this act of group evil?  Peck says that the American soldiers had become accustomed to bloodshed on account of their experience in war.  He also states that they were under an extreme amount of stress, for they could be unexpectedly injured or killed by booby-traps, plus the enemy was hard to find.  Peck also notes that the massacre occurred in 1968, which was before the U.S. military forces in Vietnam consisted largely of draftees, and so the Americans in the Vietnam War at that time were mostly people who wanted to be there (the implication perhaps being that some of them gravitated towards a killing role), or they may have included people who were sent there because they were troublemakers.  Another consideration is the emphasis on following orders within the military culture.

But Peck also condemns U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War in general.  He believes that it was narcissistic, as the U.S. became more deeply involved in order to save face.  Peck also disputes the narrative that we needed to contain Communism, as if Communism were an expanding empire, for Communist nations were not monolithic and often acted against one another.  Moreover, the U.S. was disingenuous to criticize Communism for its repressive regimes, when the U.S. itself supported oppressive regimes.  On a similar note, on pages 286-287 of The Different Drum, Peck portrays Ho Chi Minh as a nationalist up-riser against colonial imperialism, and Peck avers that the U.S. pushed Ho Chi Minh into the arms of Communist Russia by siding with Vietnam’s colonizers rather than Ho Chi Minh’s nationalist movement.

Another issue that Peck discusses in his chapter on the My Lai Massacre in People of the Lie is the avoidance of responsibility.  For one, compartmentalization passes the buck and thus enables people to avoid responsibility, for it’s ambiguous where exactly the buck stops.  This is especially the case in governmental institutions.  Second, a number of Americans prior to 1969 were not invested in the Vietnam War, for they were not paying a significant amount of taxes to support it, plus not many of the American forces in the region consisted of draftees, but rather of volunteers.  According to Peck, it was when the draft became more of a looming force in people’s lives that anti-war activism entered the mainstream.  Peck’s point may be (and I’m open to correction) that the American people themselves bore some responsibility for the war in Vietnam, but certain factors enabled them to avoid recognizing their responsibility for it.

What are my reactions to Peck’s analysis?  First of all, I could identify with Peck’s statement that extreme stress can encourage people to compromise their morality.  Peck talks about when his wisdom teeth were pulled and he was especially self-centered and temperamental immediately after that experience!  It’s a challenge to be considerate to others when one is under stress or in pain, physically and emotionally.  Consequently, I admire people I know who do not feel well, yet they still manage to be kind.  I stand in awe of that kind of strength.

Second, would I label the Vietnam War as evil?  I don’t consider it to be an entirely narcissistic endeavor on the United States’ part, for the U.S. was fighting Communism, which was a repressive force, and it also sought to assist South Vietnam’s economy.  But there were evils that came out of it, the deaths of Americans and Vietnamese people perhaps being the greatest.  I agree with Peck that we were staying in the Vietnam War for a questionable reason, namely, to save face.  I can understand the argument that we need for other countries to respect us if we are to successfully stand up to evil and be a peacekeeper, but I often wonder if saving face is really worth the cost and sacrifice.  In The Different Drum, Peck says in his discussion about the arms race that someone needs to be the bigger person and back down (or Peck says something to that effect, if my recollection is accurate).  When I read that, I thought about Gorbachev, who was willing to dismantle the Communist empire in Eastern Europe.  Gorbachev probably had ulterior motives: he realized that Russia couldn’t continue its involvement in the Cold War and sustain its economy at the same time.  But I admire Gorbachev for being a big person (which is not to say that I believe that leaders should always back down).

Third, do I agree with Peck on whether Communism was a real problem?  I don’t know.  I’ve long heard the leftist narrative that we pushed revolutionary forces in other countries into the Communist camp through our own failure to support them.  But then there are right-wingers who come back and say that some of the revolutionary leaders made pro-Communist statements before we supposedly pushed them into the Communist camp.  Some attempt to correct me when I call certain revolutionaries Communists, for they tell me that the revolutionaries were nationalists, not Communists.  Whether they’re entirely correct on this or not, they may be on to something, for I doubt that people became revolutionaries simply because they desired the expansion of the Communist empire; rather, there were serious problems in their country that they wanted to redress.  Do I agree with Peck that Communist nations were at odds with each other?  There were right-wingers who argued that Communist nations also cooperated on projects.  And yet, a significant assumption behind Richard Nixon’s foreign policy was that Communist countries were not necessarily on the same side, so he could use them against each other in conducting the Vietnam War.

Peck on Exorcism

In my latest reading of People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil, M. Scott Peck talked about exorcism.  I did not finish Peck’s chapter on this subject, so I will be commenting on what I have read so far.

Peck distinguishes demonic possession from multiple-personality disorder.  One difference between the two is that, in multiple personality disorder, “the ‘core personality’ is virtually always unaware of the existence of the secondary personalities—-at least until close to the very end of prolonged, successful treatment” (page 192).  When people are possessed by demons, by contrast, they are often aware that there is an alien presence within them.  Another difference is that, in multiple-personality disorder, the personalities usually are not evil.  In demonic possession, however, the alien presence is evil.

I had to think about Peck’s distinction between multiple-personality disorder and demonic possession for a second, for I wondered if his characterization of multiple-personality disorder was correct (not that I have the knowledge or credentials to challenge him, but I have the right to ask questions).  I vaguely recalled that, in the movie Sybil, in which Sally Field played a woman named Sybil who had multiple-personality disorder, at least two of Sybil’s personalities were carrying on a conversation with each other, and that made me wonder if personalities within multiple-personality disorder were indeed unaware of each other.  But then I took a closer look at what Peck was saying: Peck didn’t say that none of the personalities was aware of the other, but rather that the “core personality” was unaware of the “secondary personalities”.  And, indeed, in Sybil, the two personalities who were talking with each other were secondary personalities.  But Sybil herself, if I recall correctly, was unaware of the other personalities, and it was like a black-out for her when another personality was taking over.

But back to Peck’s discussion of exorcism.  Why do people get possessed, according to Peck?  Peck listed at least three factors: loneliness, selling out on one’s morals, and involvement with the occult.  This made me think about an episode of Touched by an Angel called “The Occupant”, in which a man named Lonnie is possessed by Gregory, a demon.  How did Lonnie become possessed?  Lonnie grew up in a troubled home, so he was lonely.  A woman he met got him involved in the occult, and that’s when he met Gregory, who promised never to leave him.  Reading Peck worried me somewhat, since I myself have difficulty establishing relationships and can easily find myself becoming lonely.  At the same time, lonely people can reach out to God, so perhaps loneliness can have positive spiritual outcomes.  And yet, oddly enough, Peck says that some whom he knew who were possessed by demons had an extraordinary potential for holiness.  So what can I do?  Probably seek God’s protection, stay away from the occult, and nurture whatever healthy relationships with people that I have.

Peck also makes the point that those conducting the exorcism must be loving and compassionate people.  They’re not necessarily perfect, for one participant Peck mentions said that he had a cold element of his personality until helping to perform an exorcism cleansed him of that.  (Peck was saying here that exorcism not only cleanses the possessed person, but it also has a positive spiritual impact on those performing the exorcism, even though the activity is draining enough to them that they usually don’t want to conduct an exorcism ever again.)  Peck also says that God can use people’s imperfections amidst the exorcism.  Moreover, Peck denies that one has to be a Christian to conduct an exorcism successfully, for he knows of participants in exorcisms who were atheists, plus he notes that exorcisms occur in non-Christian contexts.  What is important is that one be loving and compassionate.  Not only does that create a proper atmosphere for an exorcism, but it would also help the person who has just been cleansed of the demon, for he longs for community, so it’s good when he has loving and compassionate people there to support him.

I doubt that I would be qualified to conduct an exorcism, for, although love, compassion, and empathy are within me, I can see myself getting puffed up when attempting an exorcism.  What’s odd is that I hear stories from people who claim to have cast out demons, and they sound pompous, self-promoting, and spiritually proud, so I wonder how they succeeded in performing exorcisms, if Peck’s criteria are true.  Maybe they’re just shooting off their mouths! 

Charlene’s Story

In my latest reading of People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil, M. Scott Peck talked about Charlene.  Charlene was a lady in her thirties who played by her own set of rules, regardless of how that affected others.  She played by her own set of rules when she was in college, which meant that she did not fulfill assignments in the way that they were assigned.  The same went with the jobs that she had.  Moreover, she wanted Dr. Peck sexually, even though he told her that this was inappropriate because he was responsible for her growth as a human being, and a sexual relationship with him would hinder that.  She also came to Dr. Peck’s house (which was also his workplace) even when she did not have an appointment.  For years, she came to Dr. Peck for psychotherapy, and she told him that this was for her own amusement because she liked to see how he’d react to what she said and did.

Charlene appeared to be fearless, in the sense that she was not afraid when she started a new job, but Peck concluded that this was because she played by her own rules anyway, so, of course, she wouldn’t care whether she was successfully meeting others’ demands or expectations.  But Peck speculated that she must have a great deal of fear: she desires control, and that’s why she seeks to dominate situations.

She was in a church for a while, even in a position in which she taught Christian doctrine, but eventually she left Christianity and joined a cult.  Peck asked her what Christianity says the goal of life is, and she replied that it’s to glorify God.  But she didn’t care for that doctrine because she wondered where the room for her was in that.

One day, she came to her therapy session, behaved herself, and then remarked that this was her last session, and she was simply behaving herself to show Dr. Peck that she could.  Dr. Peck was flabbergasted and felt like a failure.

Peck says that he speculated that at least part of her problem was Oedipal.  I won’t go into the details of that, but, essentially, in Peck’s description, many kids at a young age go through the Oedipus complex and come to learn and accept that they can’t have their cake and eat it, too.  But Charlene did not go through that stage because her parents really were not there for her when she was growing up.  Consequently, she retained a belief that she could live by her own set of rules, that she could have her cake and eat it, too.

Looking back, Peck says that he wished that he simply recognized when he was treating her that Charlene was evil.  This was why Charlene gave one of Peck’s other patients the creeps whenever Charlene went through the waiting room!  At some point in his conversation with Charlene, they talk about exorcism.  An issue that comes up in this book is the source of evil.  Is it a medical condition?  There is another person whom Peck discusses, a lady named Sarah, who continually put down her husband, and there was a time when she was speaking to Peck that she did not manifest a continuous stream of thought.  Peck speculated that she may have had mild schizophrenia.  Is there a biological cause for evil?  Is evil due to poor nurture?  Or are there times when it’s due to demons?

Peck does not think that Charlene was thoroughly evil.  She did, after all, refrain from getting married and having children.  Had she gotten married and had kids, Peck speculates, she would have been an evil mother like Mrs. R., and an evil wife like Sarah, in that her narcissism and desire for her own amusement would have harmed the lives of others.  But, through her avoidance of marriage and motherhood, she did not allow herself to do harm within a family context.

I thought about Leland Gaunt in Stephen King’s Needful Things when I was reading about Charlene.  Gaunt liked to set people against each other for his own amusement.  Charlene didn’t go that far, but, like the other “evil” people Peck discusses, she was narcissistic.  I don’t think that it’s so wrong to be an individual, to be creative, to be unique.  What the herd wants me to do is not right just because the herd is expressing its exalted viewpoint, and heaven forbid that I should disagree with the herd.  But I should not take these thoughts in the direction of narcissism.  If I’m working on a team, for example, then I should be a team-player.  If my boss wants me to do a job, I should do it, for I’m there to serve the company, not to fulfill whatever I may desire at the moment.  

Introversion and Loneliness

In my latest reading of People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil, two issues that stood out to me were introversion and loneliness.

Peck tells a story about a young woman named Billie.  Her Dad was a bank clerk who was really introverted and distant.  Her Mom had several affairs and  was dead-set on preventing Billie from attaining her independence out of fear of being alone.  Billie herself was promiscuous, and she was inhibited from having a committed relationship because she alienated men by being clingy.  Billie was also afraid of spiders, and, in therapy, she arrived at the insight that this was because her mother, and even she, were like spiders: they trapped their prey.

The reason that Billie’s father stood out to me was that, although he was introverted and distant, he unexpectedly supported his daughter when she moved out of the house into an apartment of her own.  He helped her out and gave her gifts.  This disrupted Billie’s relationship with her mother, for Billie and her mother had bonded over running the man down, and now they couldn’t bond over that because Billie liked her father.  I appreciated this story because it showed that even an introvert can show love to somebody else.

I could identify with Billie and her mother’s fear of being alone.  I lived alone for years.  It had its strengths, but it was, well, lonely.  I like being around people who love and care about me—-people with whom it’s not an uphill battle to become accepted—-and that’s what I have now.

Published in: on May 9, 2013 at 7:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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Roger’s Parents

In my latest reading of People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil, M. Scott Peck talked about another case study in the area of human evil: Mr. R. and Mrs. R., the parents of Roger.

Unlike Bobby’s parents, whom I discussed in my last post, Mr. R. and Mrs. R. were sophisticated, urbane, glib, economically comfortable, and socially adept.  But Peck concluded that, for whatever reason, they were seeking to undermine their son Roger.  They disregarded Roger’s request to go to boarding school.  And, when Roger’s work with people who had mental retardation earned him a trip to New York City for a conference, his parents did not let him attend because his room was messy.  Moreover, rather than admitting that they themselves needed counseling, they proposed that perhaps Roger had an incurable condition.

Peck mentioned a letter that Mrs. R. sent him after his final session with the Rs.  Mrs. R. said that she and Mr. R. were following Peck’s suggestion that Roger go to boarding school, for they were sending Roger to a military school that worked with troubled youths.  The thing is, while Peck in an earlier session said that the Rs should have been more sensitive to their son’s desire to attend boarding school, Peck in the last session recommended that they keep Roger in his Catholic school rather than sending him to boarding school, for Roger was happy and well-liked at the Catholic school, plus a dramatic change was not what Roger needed.  This reminded me of people I know who have, well, odd “memories” of things that did not happen.  Whether they’re evil or not, I cannot say.

One insight that Peck communicated in a footnote was that Mr. R. and Mrs. R. worked as a team, as did Bobby’s parents, and as do a number of parents who are evil.

I can’t say that I fully understood my latest reading—-the motives of the Rs, why evil parents work in teams, etc.  But it was intriguing.  And I have to admit: I somewhat enjoyed reading the Rs’ back and forth with Dr. Peck, since Peck sometimes strikes me as rather condescending and arrogant when I read him, and it did seem that the Rs were baffling him with their smooth, well-crafted comebacks.  It was sad that their actions were negatively affecting Roger, however.

Published in: on May 8, 2013 at 7:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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