Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Christianity and Psychoanalysis

Max Harris discussed, over dinner, some interesting and intersecting antipathies within religion and within psychoanalysis. He stated that the battle waging within modern Christianity is over who we are: Are we defined by what was put into us, that is, original sin, as many evangelicals believe, or is who we are in relation to God defined by a process we co-create with God, where we are ‘lured’ into a relationship with God through love?  The latter, thus, incurs upon us a certain responsibility in our moment to moment actions.

The current debates in psychoanalysis move along similar lines. There are the traditionalists who define mental life via conflicts brought into play by drives (libido and aggression), that is, by what is put inside us by virtue of being born. Contemporary analysts advocate for the inclusion, perhaps the emphasis, of the relationship between therapist and patient and its co-creation by both. Likewise, here, too, more responsibility is incurred.

The Christian god may have more in common with the Freudian analyst of objectivity and anonymity. Where they diverge from the contemporary relational analyst may be around the idea of authority.  The Christian god is omnipotent and omniscient; the contemporary analyst is fallible and dependent on the analysand for meaning making.  The Christian god reveals, mandates even, the correct path; the relational analyst walks hand in hand with uncertainty, as does the patient with the analyst.

Nonetheless, both the endeavor of psychoanalysis and that of a relationship with the Christian Jesus require a leap of faith: that we are in this together no matter what, and that an abiding love means we are accepted for who we are, no matter what, imperfections and all. And as Max, a psychoanalyst and former minister, noted, his calling was the saving of souls, just no longer through the ministry.

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