Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Psychology 101

Merold Westphal wrote a book that aims to help Christians learn from three of the most influential thinkers in history: Freud, Marx and Nitzsche. I only read the Freud section, but there was enough in that to keep me preoccupied.

One of the areas that Westphal critiqued using some Freudian analysis was our focus on the death of Jesus. Now of course this is sacred ground for Christians, but Westphal wondered if perhaps there is something deeper (and more sinister) going on as we fixate on the crucifixion to the exclusion of almost everything else, including the resurrection.

A dead god is one we can control. A dead Jesus provides a beautiful memory of love and sacrifice, fills an emotional need within us, but does little to shape our present and future. As Westphal highlights, we're quick to "proclaim the Lord's death" but we tend to leave out the "until he comes" part. Of the love that we express toward God, Westphal writes through the mind of Freud:

...where that love is unusually intense, it may very well be the mask behind which our envy of God's privilege and power and our revenge against his authority come to expression.

I think the problem for Christians is that we live in a two-world dichotomy. There is the world of our theology and the world of our experience, and the twain don't often meet. The first world asserts the upside-down character of reality, a reality in which self-giving love makes ultimate sense. The God of this world appeals to us very much. We don't want to live like this reality is true for us, however, so our "lived" world still operates under the old structures, where the strong dominate the weak, where love is taken rather than given, and where the rich and powerful inherit the earth.

Perhaps this is another reason we hold an "unusually intense" love for the cross: It is where we seek the forgiveness we so desperately need for living lives that go against the grain of its world-shattering message.

If some unorthodox Christianity wants the crown without the cross, it might be fair to say that much orthodox Christianity wants the cross without the cross.

There are further arguments and counterarguments aplenty, but that's enough quack psychology for now.

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