Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Open Wide ... (Part 2)

An introductory petition:  Dear Father, have mercy on us.  Being desirous to enter your kingdom of heaven, as was your  blessed servant Martin Chemnitz, help us to know and be firmly persuaded that the approach and entrance is not given except through the keys identified by your most excellent and gracious Son [1,2].  And that if we come to notice that something is lacking in our repentance, faith, new obedience, and so forth, then help us to remember that the Holy Ghost earnestly wants to supply and increase what is lacking in such by this means and instrument [2].  We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Ghost, One God, now and forever.  Amen!

Dr. Paul E. Meehl (1920-2003) was a Regents Professor of Psychology at the University of Minnesota.  He is known, importantly, for outstanding contributions in the field of clinical psychometrics and the development of the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI), especially its k-subscale (which factor succeeds in catching the fibbers without their [k]lothes on, so to speak).  In 1973 he penned a book which contains the delightful Why I Do Not Attend Clinical Case Conferences.  The piece eventually came to nudge a very green Herr Doktor along the path of (unworthily) enlightened curmudgeonry.

And if there are any Department Chairs lurking within our audience, who might be outraged by the use of the term "delightful" ... well, let me just say that many a time there was, laddies, when I wanted the pager to propitiously sound off, as much as I did the presenter to shut up.

There.  I said it publicly, as a "general" confession.  Harrumph.

To proceed, then.  Dr. Meehl has mused:

"One of the facets of confession which is often viewed superficially in pastoral practice, or even ignored, is the detailed or specific confession of actual sins.  Many of the Lutheran clergy do not minister to the needs of their parishioners adequately because they are content when their people participate in general confessions instead of insisting upon the health-giving function of specific confessions, as the Lutheran catechism and standard works in Lutheran pastoral theology recommend.  The result has been that the act of confession has become secularized.  Educated people especially seem more often to feel that their needs are better met by psychoanalysis than the Word of God.  Our pastors ought to re-examine both the healing power of the Gospel and the apparent self-sufficiency of their parishioners.

If the non-Christian psychotherapeutic effort has become vastly greater in our society and has enormous recognition among our own people, it is in part the consequence of superficial pastoral care.  Though it must not become exaggerated, so that it confers upon the pastor the role of grand inquisitor, there is nonetheless such a thing as penitential discipline to which all Christians ought regularly to submit.   Self-knowledge really exists only to the extent that one does, or is able to, communicate it in speech to another person.  The psychotherapeutic value of making specific, or even detailed, confessions is therefore very great." -- In:  P.E. Meehl (ed.)  What Then, is Man? A Symposium of  Theology, Psychology and PsychiatryConcordia Publishing House (St. Louis, MO), pp. 68-69, 1958

Comment:  It is necessary, I think, to be clear about all this.  The Rite of Absolution in the Lutheran Church, first and foremost, is a true Sacrament which employs material stuff (i.e., a properly called and ordained man, made of dust and equipped with vocal cords) to shower the Word of God upon a poor, miserable penitent for the forgiveness of sins.   In so doing, the man of God acts "merely" in and by the stead of his Lord Jesus Christ, who as usual, deigns to be Present at the Lutheran ceremony properly followed.  The pictorial illustration which introduces this commentary is a superb and stunning summary of a divine sacramental reality, therefore.

But can "psychotherapeutic value" be derived ... as, say,  a secondary fruit ... from a faithful following of the Rite?

Answer:  very possibly.

Dr. Orval Hobart Mowrer (1907-1982) was a clinical and experimental behaviorist who headed the American Psychological Association (APA) in 1954. While recognizing a heredo-biological contribution, he maintained that much of mental illness (including depression, anxiety and even schizophrenia) was cultivated by "pathogenic secrecy."  Mowrer was a fierce opponent of Freudianism, which in essence argues that neurotic behavior stems from "inappropriate" guilt instigated by an insufferably overbearing superego.  Mowrer hypothesized instead that real (not "imagined") guilt, resulting from some sort of actual sin, was largely responsible for the onset and persistence of psychopathology.

He wrote, for example, this [3; p. 148]:  "The condition which we currently label as neurosis or psychosis is the same as that which an earlier era knew as a state of sin or disgrace; and the defining character of both is the presence in one's life of shameful secrets.  When Havelock Ellis was once asked what he thought of Freud's ideas, he dismissed the question by saying that, in his opinion, personality difficulties are due, not to the unconscious, but to the unuttered ..."

 Mower further noted [3; p. 152]:  "In a recent study, Cressy (1953) points out that a part of the embezzler's 'problem' is that it is 'unsharable.'  This state of affairs, it seems, characterizes many other situations which get human beings into emotional or legal difficulties,  It is an essential feature of the present argument that no one ever goes to prison or to a mental hospital who has (or had) nothing 'to hide.' "  [emboldened emphasis, mine]

Not surprisingly, Mowrer [3; p. 191] saw great wisdom in Bonhoeffer's pleading reminder to his Church [4; p. 112]: "In confession the break-through to community takes place.  Sin demands to have a man by himself.  It withdraws him from the community.  The more isolated a person is, the more destructive will be the power of sin over him; and the more deeply he becomes involved in it, the more disastrous is his isolation.  Sin wants to remain unknown.  It shuns the light.  In the darkness of the unexpressed, it poisons the whole being of a person.  This can happen even in the midst of a pious community.  In confession, the light of the Gospel breaks into the darkness and seclusion of the heart.  The sin must be brought into the light.  The unexpressed must be openly spoken and acknowledged.  All that is secret and hidden is made manifest.  It is a hard struggle until the sin is openly admitted.  But God breaks gates of brass and bars of iron (Ps 107:16). "  [emboldened emphasis, mine]

Acknowledgment must be further afforded Mowrer [3; p. 155] as he brilliantly ties together the plaintive verses of  Ps 139 with the observations found in the haunting lines of  Francis Thompson's poem ("The Hound of Heaven"):

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the midst of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
Up vista-ed hopes I sped;
And shot, precipited,
Adown Titanic glooms of chasm-ed fears,
From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
But with unhurrying chase,
And unperturb-ed pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat -- and a Voice beat
More instant than the Feet --
"All things betray thee, who betrayest Me."

Sin betrays God, lancing His flesh yet again; and should I choose to run away from that sin and that truth, then all things ... community, body, spirit, and mind ... are prone to betray me in turn.

Or, to re-phrase things another way:   "The real evil in mental disorder is not to be found in the [Freudian] conflict, but the sense of isolation or estrangement ... What is needed is forgiveness and restoration to the fellowship of that social something which we call God."  -- from a personal communication of Dr. Anton T. Boisen (Worcester MA State Hospital) to Dr. O. Hobart Mowrer [3; p. 64]

And so we'll close for now, praising the revealed Name of that ineffable "social something:"

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost,
As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever.  Amen!

[1]   Chemnitz, M. :  Ministry, Word, and Sacraments.  An Enchiridion, "Absolution," Sec. 283, p. 133,  Concordia Publishing House (St. Louis MO), 1981 translation
[2]   Mt 16:19
[3]   Mowrer, O. Hobart :  The Crisis in Psychiatry and Religion, D. Van Nostrand (Princeton NJ), 1961
[4]   Bonhoeffer,  D. :  Life Together, Harper & Row (New York NY), 1954 translation

Next (Deo volente) :  Part 3.  Case studies, from the files of Dr. Meehl (courtesy of CPH) and Dr. Boise (courtesy of The American Psychologist)

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