Medium 9781855755918

Where the Waters Meet

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Where the Waters Meet offers the reader a new way of viewing an old subject. So often psychology and counselling therapies have been, and still are, seen as competitors, or even enemies, vying for supremacy as the true religion. This book invites us to take a fresh look at these two fields, each with their own experience and dogma, and view them in a different light. We are introduced to complementarity, an approach through which vital common factors begin to break through the barriers of convention and jargon. This book is written from deeply held convictions about faith and about therapy and emerges from several decades of experience in ordained ministry, and of working as a psychodynamic counsellor. David Buckley is passionate about both the healing process of therapy and the life-giving inspiration of faith. He sees the two not as enemies but as intrinsically linked.

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CHAPTER ONE: Differing approaches

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There is a wealth of literature on the subject of psychology and religion and it is not my aim to offer anything approaching a review of this enormous field of study; to do so would require a book in itself. However, it will be helpful to indicate how this subject falls into several differing but overlapping categories.

Within this literature there are those who openly set out to demonstrate that religious belief is a colossal self-deception and who use psychology or psychoanalytical concepts and insights in an attempt to expose the fallacy of religion. Sigmund Freud, the commonly recognized father of psychoanalysis, is frequently quoted as the touchstone for this confrontation (sometimes referred to as the “warfare” model, reflecting the battle royal between science and religion). If Freud and his views are to be cast as the arch-enemy of religion we should at least recognise the nature of his opposition, especially since it is often misunderstood and misrepresented.

Although Freud is quoted – not least by many ardent adherents of religion – as the prime example of those who question the credibility of religion and find no usefulness for it in the lives of individuals or in society, he did in fact acknowledge the value of religion. By that I mean he recognized that it performed a function within society. Freud saw religion as an unconscious resistance to the intrusive and prohibitive presence of a human father, who unwittingly threatens to destroy the idyllic relationship of mother and child. Religion and particularly the concept of a heavenly father is, for Freud, our creation of a father-god, on whom we can be totally dependent. Although Freud regards this “projection” as a neurotic symptom, he argues that it has a usefulness in defending us against the realities of what he sees as our harsh existence. The following quotation demonstrates both Freud’s attempt to expose religion as an “illusion”, in the sense of a fallacy, and at the same time his understanding of religion as an illusion which has a usefulness for human beings facing the harsh realities of life. The italics are mine:

 

CHAPTER TWO: Complementarity

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The vast amount that has been written about religion and psychology in the past and the differing ways in which the subject has been explored might suggest that there is little need for anyone, let alone one who is essentially a practitioner rather than a professional academic, to write more. It could be that what appears to me to be a current dearth of material on the subject is an indication that little more needs to be said. My only justification for offering a further contribution to this debate is that the dearth may suggest the need for a significantly different emphasis; one that can make a meaningful contribution. The distinctive emphasis in what follows is the methodology used, and the way in which this methodology shapes the subject matter.

In the dialectic between religion and psychology, I want to suggest that alongside both the traditional discipline of the psychology of religion, and the psychological interpretation of biblical material or characters, there is a closely related but distinct area which focuses on the complementarity between the two. Psychology can be used as a tool, in an attempt to understand the phenomenon of religion. It can analyse, in a more or less scientific way, the psychological and emotional factors at work in a person’s religious experience, or which lie within the great doctrines, myths and rituals of religion. Used in these ways, psychology either seeks to discredit religion by exposing it as a neurosis (dangerous and destructive or useful only as a coping mechanism and a self-deception, in face of the brutal reality of life) or to bring secular, psychological understanding to a sacred realm. In the latter sense we have given some examples of how this has been done by comparing (often similar) developmental models of psychology with their suggested counterparts within religious and/ or faith experience. Although highly descriptive, these models have a specific framework, often related to faith-development “stages” and use psychological interpretation of faith phenomenon to make their point, rather than being led by a complementarity approach.

 

CHAPTER THREE: Tributaries

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Before I attempt, in the second part of this book, to lay down my own perspectives of theology and therapy, there is a subject that I want to address. It requires attention at this point because it considerably informs and shapes those perspectives. It is a subject which of itself indicates a fascinating complementarity but it belongs here because it is an example of how a third discipline complements the other two. It is, so to speak, a tributary; a powerful tributary which over time has flowed into other waters and made its contribution. This tributary is the discipline of Literary Criticism and although for many generations it has had a kindred stream in the world of biblical studies, within what is commonly referred to as Biblical Interpretation or Hermeneutics, it has a life and tradition of its own, beyond religion. Margaret Davies helpfully points out how this similarity-come-difference can present itself as confusion. She refers to early (late 19th century) attempts by biblical scholars who “[reached] behind the texts to their sources, and the events which gave rise to them. (This type of scholarship has often been referred to as “literary criticism”, but is more appropriately described as “source criticism”…)” (Davies, 1990, p. 402).

 

CHAPTER FOUR: A theological perspective: panentheism

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In this chapter I want to make a brief journey along a particular theological stream. In the following chapter I shall take a similar course with psychology. The first stream is my own theology, or less ambitiously, my theological perspective. I cannot assume that others will feel at home in this stream, though some may. Nevertheless, the streams others travel may have some similarities to mine, since all streams share similar properties. Perhaps our streams intersect at several points and for a while flow into each other. Perhaps they converge to form a broader, well established river, which in turn converges with other rivers, and eventually flows into the sea, and into the vast ocean of religion. In proposing this perspective, I cannot disown or ignore the accompanying myriad of tributaries, streams and rivers with which I mix along the way. I need to connect with other, larger experiences than mine; to know and feel part of the greater whole. In the context of this book this will not seduce me into attempting a definition of religion but I will have to demonstrate how my theological perspective can be supported as a genuine expression of what religion, at heart, is about.

 

CHAPTER FIVE: A psychological perspective: psychodynamic therapy

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As far as I know, unlike the subject of our last chapter, no blood has been shed over the differences within psychotherapy and counselling during its relatively brief history, although rivalry and wrangling has long since left its mark. For a good overview of the turbulent history of psychoanalysis in Great Britain see Peter Fuller’s “Introduction” to Psychoanalysis and Beyond (Rycroft, 1985, pp. 1—38). The contemporary scene of counselling services and of counselling training courses accessible to the general public, can be confusing to say the least. I shall resist the temptation of attempting to offer an overview of this complex array of counselling therapies since to do so would lead us away from the main aim in this chapter which is to indicate a psychodynamic perspective for using alongside the theological one of Chapter 4. It is as though a pair of spectacles were being made; a religious lens has been created and now a psychological one is needed. I have already prescribed a distinctive tint for this lens – the theory and practice of psychodynamic therapy – but that tells the reader little about how the lens is actually constructed. I shall now turn to this task, accepting that it will be just as much a personal prescription as the theological lens.

 

CHAPTER SIX: Responding to evil: splitting and projecting

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Every human being in every age, whether religious or not, is faced with the reality of destructive experiences and evil forces. Accident, illness, war, persecution, injustice; these and more, constantly remind us that within all the enjoyment that life can offer, we are fragile, vulnerable creatures, whose lives can be devastated or wiped out within seconds. Further more, we are capable of numerous forms of wickedness, and vulnerable to being on the receiving end of such wickedness. In the world and belief system of the religious person there is an added challenge: if I believe in a loving, sovereign God, how do I respond to the presence of these destructive forces?

At this point I am aware of the need to recognize the distinction between the question of why evil exists per se, and the question of how we respond to the presence of evil, and at the same time to recognize the way in which those two questions overlap. To give a satisfactory answer to the first question is considerably more difficult – we might say infinitely so – than to give one to the second. The different nature of the two questions does not mean that we cannot and should not ask why evil exists but the second question is more urgent and pragmatic; our response to evil will have a profound effect on the way we live our lives and how our living affects others, negatively or positively. It is virtually impossible however to say anything meaningful about the reality of evil and the way we might respond to it, without giving some attention to the question of why evil exists and in the following comments I will not attempt to make a rigid distinction between the two. The question of evil needs to be considered theologically but always in a way which enables us to respond to the presence of evil in our world and in our lives. There is a fascinating story in the New Testament which if read imaginatively – we might again say, using a reader-responsive critical approach – demonstrates this point:

 

CHAPTER SEVEN: Responding to evil: integration and ambivalence

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In Chapter 8, I shall look more closely at some questions around sin and salvation which will resonate with points touched on in this chapter. For the present, I shall pursue the question raised in the previous chapter of whether we can make sense of a God who is ultimately responsible for evil as well as good.

If a dualistic view is not an acceptable theological response to the problem of evil, how do we respond to the further question of believing in a God who not only knows of evil and is obviously responsible for allowing it to occur but who also appears to act, on occasions, in evil, contradictory and vengeful ways? To put the question somewhat differently, “Are we content to think and speak of the God we might place our faith in as one who acts with anger or jealousy, who at times chooses to punish people and who casts those who refuse to acknowledge him into the eternal flames of hell?” I have deliberately slipped in the words “anger” and “jealousy”, since it is fair to say that they are frequently included in contemporary discussions of those characteristics which might be seen or experienced as, at best, a bewildering and dark side of God or, at worst, a seemingly evil side. Of course it is relatively easy for blood and thunder passages, especially in the Old Testament, to be understood as the best way in which people of an ancient faith could make sense of life and then for such passages to be dismissed as having no contemporary value. That argument holds good only so far and then begins to feel suspiciously as though it is dodging important questions. It would be to misjudge and discredit those ancient people of faith simply to disregard these uncomfortable aspects of God’s nature. These ancients are conveying their experience of God and it needs to be taken seriously and reinterpreted rather than dismissed. However, I am left with a feeling that there are many serious contemporary attempts to avoid a dualistic view of God which fail to come to grips with such a reinterpretation and therefore leave the problem unresolved.

 

CHAPTER EIGHT: The self, salvation and unconditional positive regard

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Sermon illustrations are a powerful means of communication when they do the job well; used naively they can be seriously misleading. The preacher began his “Children’s Address” in an arresting fashion. Without a word, he set in motion a vacuum cleaner (which lay conveniently close to hand.) He told the children, and reminded the older generation of adults, of an early television advert in which a door-to-door salesman was allowed, by an alarmingly obliging housewife, to decorate her hitherto clean carpet with a variety of prepackaged dirt. This dirt was then comprehensively despatched by the cleaner which, some may remember, “beats as it sweeps as it cleans”.

My worst fears were realised in the preacher’s interpretation: as with the sweeper, so with Jesus our Saviour; he sucks up the entire “dirt” (sins) in our lives. End of message. Of course the fact that the lady’s carpet would probably never experience such a severe soiling and that the all-powerful “hoover” was needed only because the salesman had introduced the dirt in the first place, was conveniently overlooked. However, it provided me with a picture of much preaching and theology, which effectively sabotages the radically startling and often offensive thrust of the ministry and teaching of Jesus, as he is encountered in the Christian testament.

 

CHAPTER NINE: The presence of God and the capacity to be alone

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In the last chapter a significant and perhaps to some, surprising area of complementarity was highlighted; psychotherapeutics and the Christian process of salvation have a great deal in common regarding our lack of self-esteem and our corresponding need for acceptance in which we are treated with positive, unconditional regard. That is not to say that therapy and religion offer the same pathway in seeking to resolve this need but that there is a significant convergence and a strong complementarity in what they have to say about what makes people healthy.

Having made use of one of James Mann’s Universal Conflict Situations in the last chapter, that of adequate self-esteem versus diminished or loss of self-esteem, I shall now turn to another of Mann’s areas of conflict to support the next illustration of complementarity, namely, Independence versus dependence. This conflict situation is already familiar to the reader in the context of these pages and not least in the last chapter. This is not surprising when it is remembered that Mann derives all four of these “situations” from the same Substantive Base of the recurring struggle, throughout life, of growth from separation anxiety to individuation. It is virtually impossible to speak of one of these four without exploring the relationship to the others. However, when we are considering areas of complementarity, one of the four will have a leading role and will provide the main concept for interpretation.

 

CHAPTER TEN: The Holy Spirit and introjection

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The task of Christian apologetics is to make faith more intelligible and therefore less prone to the accusation that it is obscure, magical or bizarre. It cannot – nor should it attempt to – make faith more palatable but it can reduce the possibility of misunderstanding.

One area of Christian theology which is frequently called into question by opponents of religion as well as some affiliated to religion is that which centres around the “Third person of the Trinity” – The “Holy Spirit”, (which hereafter, I will refer to as the Spirit, with certain exceptions where the longer title is required.) The fact that the “work” of the Spirit and an experience of the Spirit are considered vital to Christian faith makes it all the more important that the doctrine is presented in as understandable and accessible a way as possible. This is not (in the psychoanalytical sense) reductionism, or (in the theological sense) a form of liberal rationalising. Indeed, it may legitimately be regarded (using Jungian terminology) as an amplification, since as I will argue, like all previous areas I have focused on, it lends itself to an interdisciplinary approach. Once again we thankfully recognize that the social sciences together with the thought-forms of the 21st century have an important role in illuminating and making contemporary, an ancient faith.

 

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