Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Chris Jones' Comments on The Psychological Roots of Jurisdictionalism

Thursday and Friday of last week, I posted a two-part conclusion to my reflections on the Orthodox Church and American religious culture. Those post (The Psychological Roots of Jurisdictionalism Part I and Part II) resulted in some interesting, and substantive, responses from Chris Jones and James the Thickheaded (their comments can be read here).
In this post, I want to offer my own thoughts in response to Chris's comments and questions. God willing tomorrow I will respond to what James had to say.

Chris writes,
An interesting thesis; but you have not given us the evidence that leads you to your diagnosis. It would be helpful if you would describe the behaviors and expressions that are symptomatic of avoidant personality disorder.
It is not uncommon to find people in positions of ordained or lay leadership who are motivated in their actions by the dread typical of people diagnosed with avoidant personality disorder.. What in both cases is feared is that that they will be found out to be a “fraud.” I would add to that the often crippling fear that if they move outside of a fairly narrowly drawn circle of Church concerns they (or the Church which seen as an extension of their own wounded ego) will be “put down, demeaned, or rejected.” Consequently, fear based individuals adopt as their “main strategy” the avoidance of “situations in which they could be evaluated.” To avoid being evaluated, or if you will judged, “they tend to hang back on the fringes of social groups and avoid attracting attention to themselves.” As well in a professional or work situations, “they tend to avoid taking new responsibilities or seeking advancement because of their fear of failure and of subsequent reprisals from others” (see Beck, Freeman, David, et. al., Cognitive Therapy of Personality Disorders , 2007, p. 38)

One way of avoid all this is to adopt a formal, aloof, overly intellectual or intentional or quasi-intentional eccentric style of engaging the world of persons, event, and things. In this sense, the formality and theological richness of the Orthodox Church, for example, serves as a screen behind which the person or community can hide and deflect challenges much as does the Wizard of Oz hides behind the curtain when Dorothy first “mets” him. Orthodoxy becomes for the person (or community) a distracting curtain, a way of self-concealment rather than self-revelation. When this happens life is characterized not by peace and joy but by “a combination of anxiety and sadness”(see Beck, p. 38). It is precisely this sense of anxiety and fear that has come to dominate in the lives of at least some Orthodox Christians. To broaden my argument beyond my own observation, let me borrow from recent comments by Dr. Sr. Vassa Larin, a nun of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia's Diocese of Berlin and Germany.
Responding to criticism that Fr Robert Taft, SJ, a Russian rite Catholic priest should not have been invited, but less given, a presentation at ROCOR women's conference, Sr Vassa said “It seems that some of our faithful experience Orthodoxy first and foremost as fear, while their faith remains largely uninspired, uncurious, and hence uninformed.”

She continues that “ At the same time, a fearful Orthodox is often willing to spend hours in the Internet, feeding on church politics and dulling the theological senses all the more. To such a culture of ignorance and fear, even the most brilliant non-Orthodox scholars of our Byzantine liturgy are seen as threats, rather than a humbling admonishment to our own negligence of Orthodox tradition.”

Fear of being rejected by those with whom we share a common creed but not a common culture (and for that matter, a common culture but not a common creed) is I think at the psychological foundations of not only jurisdictionalism but the common polemical attitude one encounters in Orthodox circles.

While this is certainly a theological problem, it is not simply a theological problem. Nor is it, for this reason, a problem of “translating” theological scholarship to the faithful.
It is rather a question of personality of how our character influences our approach to Holy Tradition so that our lives are personal and shared lives are characterized not of trust but fear. Theological scholarship as such cannot undo the fearfulness. In fact, as Sr Vassa's comment suggest, theological scholarship is being taken up by those who twist it to the sustain a “culture of ignorance and fear.”

While I see why Chris said it, I am not advocating here a model in which theological scholarship is translated “and given to the people,” resulting “in good psychological health.” I am rather arguing that we have in our midst a vocal, but strident, minority of individuals (cradle and convert, lay and ordained) who are themselves suffering from from a broken sense of self, substituting Holy Tradition for a health sense of self and others.

These broken individuals (and again they are a minority) are not guided by the Church's Tradition. Instead they apply the Tradition ideologically—cookie cutter fashion if you will—to life, rather than allowing the Tradition (which is to say the Holy Spirit) to illumine and guide their life circumstances. Pastorally, these wounded individuals whose lives are motivated by fear need to be restored to wholeness in Christ. But they cannot be allowed to set the Church's agenda.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory