Thursday, June 19, 2008

Neurosis Isn’t Necessarily Bad

Applying psychological, much less psychoanalytic, constructs to a social group or a tradition is dicey at best. Even when applied to individuals, psychological and psychoanalytic constructs tend to be used reductionistically, that is, they minimize (or even ignore) human freedom. When applied to a social group insights meant to help us understand something of the individual in his or her life situation homogenize a community—it causes us to lose sight of the person for the group.

That said, however, there is still something to be said for identifying personality general styles or traits that are favored within a particular social group. Even as "I" have a preference for certain patterns of thought and action, so to do "we" or even "they" seem to reward and discourage particular ways of engaging the world of persons, events and things. Before I go on, it is very important to emphasize that in the context of this post, "world" is used more in an existential and empirical sense and not as a theological construct. "World," here means a social reality and not, as it does in John's Gospel, the creation as fallen and in rebellion against the Creator.

Earlier I hinted at the idea that Catholic and Orthodox Christians tend to favor different very broadly defined styles of engaging the world. Jesus toward the end of John's Gospel tells His disciples that we must be in the world, but not of it. Especially since the Second Vatican Council, I the Catholic Church, this has tended to take the form of a fundamental openness toward the world of persons, events and things outside her visible boundaries. For the Orthodox Church, the movement has been somewhat different—even opposite. Orthodoxy favors not a movement toward the social world outside her visible boundaries, but more a movement away from it.

Looking around the world of psychology, I think Karen Horney's work of neurosis is helpful here. So before I can look at Catholic and Orthodox polemics, I need to explain a little bit of psychoanalytic theory.

For Horney a neurosis is fundamentally a coping mechanism, it is a way of dealing with conflict. As a way of negotiating conflict—both conflicts with environment as well as our inner conflicts—a neurosis isn't necessarily pathological. Only when the neurosis becomes rigid, that is, only when we pursue some needs at the expense of other, equally legitimate needs, do we enter into the world of the pathological.

In her work Our Inner Conflicts, Horney identifies three forms of neurosis and the underlying needs that they help us meet. There is a summary on Wikipedia (which I think tends to lump healthy and pathological response to conflict together, so I've edited it for my purposes here):

Moving Toward People

  1. The need for affection and approval; pleasing others and being liked by them.
  2. The need for a partner; one whom they can love and who will solve all problems.

Moving Against People

  1. The need for social recognition; prestige and limelight.
  2. The need for personal admiration; for both inner and outer qualities—to be valued.
  3. The need for personal achievement.

Moving Away from People

  1. The need for self sufficiency and independence.
  2. The need for perfection.

Looking through the summary, it is clear that our movements toward, against or away from, others are all attempts to met very specific psychological and social needs. We all of us need both to love and be loved (moving toward), even as there is a legitimate desire for self-sufficiency and independent (moving away).

Horney will later summarize these three movements as compliance, aggression and detachment respectively. And again, these only become pathological when they are not appropriately balanced by the other two movements or responses to outer and inner conflict.

In my next post, I want to look what seems to me to be the different basic styles of Catholic and Orthodox traditions in relating to the world understood psychologically. In brief, I would suggest that in the main the Catholic Church's tradition tends to be one that favors a 'movement toward" the world. The tradition of the Orthodox Church, on the other hand, is one that values more a "movement away" from the world. In the West, grace perfects nature; in the East, grace is what makes possible the transcendence of nature. Obviously these are overly broad categories. One can find easily counter examples in both traditions. That said, I think that it is a helpful way to think about East/West Christian relations.

To be continued…

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Zemanta Pixie

Patriarch of Constantinople Proposes Eastern Catholicism's Return to Orthodoxy

Well, I must say, I'm just gob smacked!

So, what does this mean? Can Byzantine Catholics commune at Orthodox celebrations of the Divine Liturgy? Can Orthodox commune with Catholics?

Has His All-Holiness simply declared victory?

Read on...

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

06/19/2008 Munich (RISU) —In a recent interview with the German ecumenical journal Cyril and Methodius, the Patriarch of the Orthodox Church in Constantinople Bartholomew I invited Eastern Catholic Churches to return to Orthodoxy without breaking unity with Rome. He noted that "the Constantinople Mother-Church keeps the door open for all its sons and daughters." According to the Orthodox hierarch, the form of coexistence of the Byzantine Church and the Roman Church in the 1st century of Christianity should be used as a model of unity. This story was posted by on 16 June 2008.

At the same time, the patriarch made positive remarks about the idea of "dual unity" proposed by the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Archbishop Lubomyr Husar). Patriarch Bartholomew I noted in particular that this model would help to overcome the schism between the Churches.

H/T: Josephus Flavius at Byzantine Texas whose own comments are worth repeating here:

I'm rather at a loss for what to say. The Orthodox response to this should be critical and swift. The "points of communion" idea has been mentioned as the article states by the UGCC, but also by the Melkites and Antiochian Orthodox. It was rejected on the ground that all or nothing is a less complicated and more theologically reasoned approach. Understanding that the Orthodox Church does not often speak una voce on the matter of ecumenical efforts could this in fact be the step-by-step methodology that will lead to reunion? I am in favor, but I am sure many are not (some vociferously so).

Unless noted other wise , everything posted here is © 2008 Gregory R Jensen.
Zemanta Pixie