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CHAPTER SEVEN: Religion and science in psychoanalysis

Symington, Neville Karnac Books ePub

This chapter is an adaptation of a lecture given at the Freud Conference in Melbourne on 2 April 1995.

The crisis within psychoanalysis

There is, I believe, a crisis within psychoanalysis and within the psychotherapy schools that derive from it. Hardly a week goes by when our enemies do not assail us in the media. This is healthy. Criticism and challenge can only sharpen our minds to think more clearly and reflect more deeply upon our practice and its methods. What worries me are the replies to these taunts by our own practitioners, rushing, as we usually do, to our own defence. Many of these criticisms are prejudiced assaults that do not deserve much attention, but there is a common theme running through much of the critique that has some basis: it is that the “talking cure”, as it was called by Freud, is not producing any results; that patients visit their analyst or therapist year in, year out, with no visible change in their condition. I know from my own experience that this criticism is frequently verified. I have heard clinical presentations where a patient has been visiting an analyst or therapist for four, five, six, even ten, years without any change that I was able to detect. I have heard this not just on isolated occasions but frequently. These are the obvious cases where no change has occurred and where a malingering situation has set in, but even in cases where it looks as though change has occurred, it is often a case of subtle accommodation to the analyst or therapist, and the patient remains with the same mental structure within. Most frequently, this consists of a mentality that is paranoid. I am not, here, supporting many of the burgeoning therapies that claim to cure mental disturbance in a quicker, more efficient, cost-effective way. Many of these only give the appearance of cure. The criterion here is if a patient “feels cured” or “feels better”. Experienced clinicians know that such feelings are an insufficient criterion. We have all seen the case where such a statement is made with confidence one day, and next day the person has committed suicide. No, I am not criticizing psychoanalysis alone but the whole psychotherapy movement. In fact, I believe that in a sick situation, psychoanalysis is probably the healthiest patient.

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CHAPTER THIRTEEN: Religion and spirituality

Symington, Neville Karnac Books ePub

The purpose of detachment is to uncloak spiritual action in all its nakedness. Only when this action is revealed is it possible for the mystic to distinguish good from bad. The founders of the great religious traditions were men who had devoted themselves to this inner scrutiny with the goal of triumphing over the bad and establishing the good. The good was then an internal possession, the light of which they followed, and they were thus able to abandon the religion of the culture in which they had been brought up. However, they never abandoned it completely but retained elements of the religious tradition in which they were socialized. So, for instance, the Buddha maintained the doctrine of reincarnation and built his theory of karma into it.

The internal possession of the good is what guides these mystics who were founders of the great religious traditions. They all founded institutions, and the institution then embodied the good in a scriptural canon, the function of which was to encapsulate the teachings of the founder, and then a responsible body the job of which was to guard the doctrine. The moment the good is made incarnate in these two components, the institution is born, and this marks the transition from spirituality to religion.

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7. Towards a Definition of Religion

Symington, Neville Karnac Books ePub

Religion is the opium of the people.

(Karl Marx)

Primitive religion began at that point when humans started to bury their dead and mature religion began with those great spiritual masters who arose in the Axial Era. These are two phylogenetic milestones in the history of human consciousness. We are equating religion, then, with consciousness of selfhood.

What had humans become conscious of that led them to bury their dead? The burial of the dead was a sign of an inner change and realization. Until then, a member of the tribe was just a unit in an organization – there was no autonomous determining part. Using the analogy of the body for the tribal group, the individual member was equivalent to a limb. Guy de Maupassant has a short story where a sailor loses an arm in a naval accident and they bring the arm to shore and give it a burial. This gives the reader a weird feeling: we do not bury an arm because it has no selfhood. In a similar way, at an early stage in hominization the human tribe did not bury an individual member.

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CHAPTER SIX: The unconscious as an amoral construction

Symington, Neville Karnac Books ePub

This paper was the keynote address at a Psychoanalytic conference in Melbourne in 1992. The chapter sets out to demonstrate that the unconscious is constructed in order to hide from the individual his own immoral activity. The title may be misleading unless one realizes that the chapter challenges Freud, who tried to construct a metapsychology on principles derived from natural science and therefore amoral.

Each man must look to himself to teach him the meaning of life. It is not something discovered: it is something moulded.

Antoine de Saint Exupéry, Wind, Sand and Stars, p. 37

Socrates said that if I know that what I plan is evil, I cannot do it. He said that therefore the key to good living, to moral action, lies in knowledge. I cannot know that something is evil and yet do it. It is, said Socrates, a psychological impossibility. He believed that if it was possible to show to someone through rational argument that a project or way of behaving was wrong, then the person would be unable to do it.

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CHAPTER FIFTEEN: The murder of Laius

Symington, Neville Karnac Books ePub

The story of Oedipus is a myth. A myth functions as a dream in the social group. It also has this function for the individual within the group. Laius, then, represents an inner psychic reality. This is a detective story, but one that is a bit different from the usual format. We know there has been a murder; we do not know who the murdered person is; we want to know why the murder is hushed up.

When the people of Thebes saw the royal carriage ride past, carrying along their king and queen, Oedipus and Jocasta, all looked well. How fortunate it was that Oedipus, this knightly prince from Corinth, had sallied forth into Jocasta’s bedchamber and so had made up for the untimely death of Laius. All looked well in Thebes that day.

Of course, this knowing reader knows better than did those innocents in Thebes. Yet do we? What was so dreadful about Oedipus being bound in wedlock to his mother? Oh, incest, the reader will say. We all know there is a taboo against that. We all know that is wrong. All societies have condemned it. This is factually not true, however, because there are exceptions—for instance, in the royal house of Hawaii before it was colonized by white Americans. But the question is, “Why is incest wrong?” or, “Is it wrong?” Is it perhaps a taboo that we should long since have abandoned in this scientific age?—in this age of liberal values? Let us address ourselves to the first question: why it is that there has been such a far-reaching taboo on incest and then see whether that answer suggests lines of approach to the other question.

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