Thursday, July 20, 2006

Repression of the Spirituality of Man: Three Reactions

Paul Tournier was a wise and compassionate Christian psychiatrist whose practice in Switzerland led to a series of popular books in the middle decades of the 20th Century. Those books continue to have a profound influence on many, including even those who disagree with Tournier on certain issues, like myself. I began reading Paul Tournier 35 years ago and his books fill a shelf in my upstairs "Library of Favorites."

Below I print a page taken from The Whole Person in a Broken World that I was reading last night and which I found of particular relevance to today. (By the way, the lines in bold are of my doing.)

“Today we can observe three kinds of reactions to the repression of the spiritual. And all three of them remind us of the psychology of the adolescent.

“I have already mentioned the superstitious reaction. ‘Chase nature away, and it returns at a gallop.’ Take away from man the true faith, and he falls victim to the delusion of the illuminati. Thus in our time, which has supposedly rejected all belief which is contrary to reason, there flourishes a superstition that reminds us of the decadence of Rome. And this occurs even in scientific circles. Dr. Paul Dubois jeers at ‘the scholars, often illustrious’ who fall ‘into the snare of the gross superstitions of spiritualism.

“Beyond this there is a superstition about science, about medicine, technology, and progress. When the ‘values’ are disavowed, men come to the place where they unconsciously ascribe absolute value to the simple productions of man.

“Also a false symbolism flourishes. Men reject the biblical myth of the Fall of man as an outworn naïveté, but they trump up national myths, like Nazism, and even international ones.

“The second from of reaction is that of skepticism. Like the adolescent in revolt, modern man hides his inner confusion beneath a skeptical cynicism. By this I mean not merely religious unbelief, but also the bitterness of disillusionment with man himself and with life. ‘There is no human nature, because there is no God to have a conception of it,’ writes Sartre. And Nietzsche, reviving Heraclitus’ theme of the eternal and fruitless flux of all things, cut out the abiding factor of the Logos which Heraclitus opposed to this perpetual flux. Included here also is the attitude of Gide, with his ideal of detachment and nonengagement. And finally it is that strange god Chance in whom modern scientists blindly believe. ‘Chance,’ writes Franck Abauzit, ‘explains nothing; it is merely the negation of the spirit, the opposite of reason, the destruction of all intelligibility.’ And yet it is the last word of every scientific explanation of the world. ‘The classical theory of science,’ writes Lecomte de Noüy, ‘simply replaces God with chance. It is nothing more than playing with words.’ Here again, the psychoanalysts will say is ‘the return of the repressed,’ disguised as in a dream.

“Finally, there is the sectarian reaction. Just as the revolting adolescent professes revolutionary doctrines and suffers no contradiction, so modern man throws himself into one contradictory system of thought after another, all of which are marked by the same dogmatism. Dr. René Allendy humorously refers to the preacher who thunders loudly from the pulpit in order to drown out his haunting doubts. I believe that we find a similar mechanism of compensation at work in our modern world. That is to say, the confusion of minds today is such that many men, in order to reassure themselves, cling with cramped fanaticism to some curious doctrine. In order to still the voice of their inner illness they cast themselves into that sectarian intolerance which involves opposing parties in strife and controversy in all domains of life. When a man is not sure of himself, he pretends to be the man who is unshakably convinced.”