When Christianity was strong in the West, the concept of God answered both the need for external physical protection and the interior need for something to account for that sense of the numinous most of us sense now and then. That is, God was, at the same time powerfully immanent in the cosmos and the comforting “God within our bosoms.” One could say that God was continuous across a boundary of objective outer and subjective inner life. People quite naturally felt a greater kinship with the world – or even the cosmos, if one included the crude conceptualization of the heavens extant at the time. Everything, including the human race was part of God’s Creation. The concept of the individual was not particularly well-developed.
God once provided both physical security and inner comfort. Now our needs are divided between the state and psychology. (Photo: public domain)
Austrian doctor and pioneering psychotherapist Alfred Adler made the inferiority complex central to his thinking. He believed that, “When the individual does not find a proper concrete goal of superiority, an inferiority complex results. The inferiority complex leads to a desire for escape and this desire for escape is expressed in a superiority complex, which is nothing more than a goal on the useless and vain side of life offering the satisfaction of false success.”
Pioneering psychotherapist Alfred Adler recognized our innate need to feel superior in some legitimate way. (Photo: public domain)
Adler’s “concrete goal of superiority” is a shorthand way of describing the authentic struggle for self-discovery and self-realization, which always plays out as a determined quest for various life goals. Failure to pursue self-realization (what life is all about) results in self-alienation. I can personally testify that this mental state does lead inevitably to feelings of gross inadequacy and inferiority. These negative feelings in turn prompt the formation of a monstrous vain and supercilious false persona, Adler’s “goal on the useless and vain side of life offering the satisfaction of false success.” Builders of false personas chase ego-enhancing goals with little in the way of usefulness, substance, or relevance to their authentic selves. Empty flash and glitter triumph over meaningfulness and emotional gratification.
In my earlier post, “Outrunning the Hound of Heaven,” I described how repressed material in the unconscious mind might drive the religious impulse. I used (among others) the English writer C. S. Lewis as an example. Today I want to present the idea that religious conversion may be an evasion, a way of avoiding the psychologically rigorous journey of self-discovery. I have drawn the material from my diary. To show what an individuation diary can look like, I have left the entry in its original form and appended a more recent commentary to elaborate on the ideas.
Sudden religious conversion may be a way of avoiding the much more rigorous process of self-discovery and self-acceptance. (Image: Wikipedia)
Simone de Beauvoir believed that, “The programme laid down in our childhood allows us to do, know, and love only a limited number of things; when the programme is fulfilled and when we have come to the end of our possibilities, then death is accepted with indifference or even as a merciful release – it delivers us from that extreme boredom that the ancients called satietas vitae.” The notion that our childhood defines us is sound. Our genes (character, behaviour) interact with our environment, we form a sense of how the world works, and we build a set of values. The development of this unique set of emotionally important ideas lays down the foundation of what will or will not motivate us as adults.
Simone de Beauvoir thought our lives are programmed in childhood with a limited set of possibilities. (Photo: Wikipedia)
From time to time, people ask me where I find so many and such varied post ideas. I always answer that I have been a steady reader for most of my life, and since 1990, I have had the habit of writing down my thoughts about whatever it is that I am reading. I also copy out a few quotes now and then. Over the years, those thoughts and quotes have accumulated in paper diaries, journals, notebooks, as well as their digital counterparts. Taken as a whole, they form a loosely structured representation of an ongoing attempt to understand the world around me and my own way of relating to it.
Working out a thorough understanding of my writing had the alchemical effect of illuminating and solidifying my entire worldview. (photo: Pdphoto)
Depression is becoming a pandemic in the West. Perhaps surprisingly, hardship and want are not always – or even often – the source of our misery. The problem is more likely to stem from our comfortable standard of living and secure social safety net. Having it easy makes us passive and complacent – and that leaves us vulnerable to mood disorders such as depression and anxiety. Looking at some famous examples of the more chronic forms of depression will illuminate the modern experience.
Winston Churchill often battled depression calling the dark mood his “black dog.” (Photo: Wikimedia)
Depression often assailed Winston Churchill who referred to the wretched emotional state as his “black dog.” Like a loyal hound, depression has a habit of following the sufferer around. Rather than Churchill’s black dog, I use the image of a black pit when contemplating my own troubles with depression. To remain free of this gloomy curse requires constant clawing at the sloping lip of the abyss. Even a moment’s lapse in the desperate struggle results in a nasty tumble into despair, from whence it can be difficult to regain the precarious, yet greatly desired, perch on the edge. Depressive types live their whole lives in this manner. (Manic-depressives such as me get some respite during manic episodes.)
Every culture has its own way of accounting for reality. These explanations are necessary to enable the culture as a whole, and the individuals within it, to act and to justify those actions. We cannot come to grips with anything until we have some way of understanding and explaining what we are dealing with.
Legislation enforces the ideology of those who elected the government, but may quash the ideology of those who voted another way. (Photo: Wikimedia)
Unfortunately, there is a huge problem here. The scheme works best if our explanation of reality is sound. In some areas, we may indeed have adequate accounts of reality (e.g. engineering), but human knowledge is limited, and in many more cases (e.g. medicine), our explanations do not coincide with actuality. In these situations, we must act within inadequate frameworks. So tenuous is our conceptual grasp on reality that sometimes we are aware of the damaging shortcomings of our explanations while at other times we remain in the dark.
We revere Robert Louis Stevenson for his adventure novels, but he was not a genre writer in the modern sense of that term. While Black Arrow, Kidnapped, The Master of Ballantrae, and Treasure Island may seem like straightforward romantic picaresque yarns, Stevenson was always deeply concerned with the moral aspects of his story. Among his fiction, the famous novella, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde most vividly reveals his other side. The story deals with Stevenson’s understanding of the subconscious mind and the idea that good and evil can reside in the same person. Issues of morality so vexed Stevenson that he called ethics his “veiled mistress.”
Questions of morality so concerned Stevenson that he called ethics his “veiled mistress.” All of his works carry his moral values. (Image: Wikimedia)
He may have acquired a theoretical concern with morality from his fiercely Calvinist nanny, but ethical concerns literally overwhelmed him when his artistic ambitions prompted a serious clash with his conventional and practical father. Unable to sway his obstinate parent, Stevenson had to justify to himself his decision to pursue art rather than a more realistic means of earning a living.
We humans have various ways of orienting ourselves in time. Some people seem to live in the past while others are oriented towards the future. Then we have the “live in the moment” types who believe we should look neither backward nor forward but concentrate only on the here and now. Because prestigious philosophies such as Buddhism promote this “being here” attitude as a form of great wisdom, the latter group often see themselves as uniquely enlightened.
Father Time may relentlessly march on, but people relate to time in different ways. (public domain image)
People of all kinds and ages fall into each of the orientations, but there are some groups where folks are more likely to have one preference or another. The elderly are most likely to spend a lot of time thinking about the past. They love to look back on their long lives and fondly remember the good times or shed a tear over some lasting sorrow. Reminiscing at length with anyone who will listen is a favoured pastime. You know, chatting about “the good old days.”
I am a conservative, and like many people on the right, I have a problem with the leftist propensity for taking everything over. Leftists are against boundaries for the simple reason that they love to overstep them and meddle where they have no business getting involved. A case in point: In a recent local dispute between teachers and parents, a school spokesperson casually claimed that teachers were “co-parents” to the children who attended school. He seemed blissfully unaware that the courts have consistently recognized the primacy of parental authority in the rearing and education of children. Teachers were startled and offended by the public outrage that followed the spokesperson’s remark.
Teachers have become toxically self-important at the expense of their hapless pupils. (image: clipartpal.com)