Thursday, October 16, 2014

Open Wide ... (Part 3)

Our Lord's Hands Heal Blindness of All Kinds

In this latest post, a clinical case study first discussed in Dr. Meehl's CPH publication [1] is revisited.  A few comments by this writer are herewith appended; these are in close sympathy with Dr. Mowrer's own earlier estimations [2].

"A young woman confessed that she had broken the Seventh Commandment by pilfering ribbons and socks from a dime store.  She was obviously contrite about the transgression, and the pastor assured her of God's understanding and gracious forgiveness.  In a few weeks she was back in the study to confess that she had stolen again, this time a few cents from her mother's purse.  Again absolution was pronounced.  When, not too many days after this, the girl again came to tears, the pastor began looking more deeply.  Professional help was called in to assist the girl.  Serious deficiencies in her home life were uncovered.   It became apparent that she had unexpressed misgivings whether God had actually forgiven her after her previous confessions.   While she had repented of the sin that she knew, she recognized her inability to straighten herself out; this created internal doubts about her confession.  As these feelings were brought out and she began to understand them, the urge to steal waned -- and the absolution was accepted and believed." [1]


1.  The commentary "Professional help was called in to assist the girl" is particularly telling, as to the existing disheveled state of clerical authority (and confidence) these days ... although that blip about a "dime store," admittedly points to a long-standing chronicity.  Mowrer dryly remarks that if the hypothesis that "moral issues are nuclear to every neurosis" is valid (and he thinks it is), then the real professionals in such matters are, most assuredly, the ordained clergy; and that the general flow of mental health referrals should be more in the direction of secular clinician to the pastor, than in the reverse [2].

2.  A major discovery in the therapy, it seems to me, is the girl's strong conviction of a personal helplessness in arriving at a solution to her personal failings.  That belief is presented, in the case study, as less something formally catechized into her (although that likely happened, but was at best superficially grasped), than a subliminally stabbing "awareness" of a damning concupiscence.   Of note here: Dr. Mowrer, although having a short flirtation with Presbyterianism at one point in his life, was never able to accept the reality of original sin, which he reasoned to be a threat to a full assumption of personal responsibility for misdeeds.   One could speculate that its rejection may have contributed to the ultimate and tragic unhappiness of Dr. Mowrer, himself, in significant part.

3.   This case is exceptional in that, generally speaking, most secular psychotherapy will readily accept that benefits are derivative from following  the Davidic plea "Cleanse Thou me from secret faults" (Ps 19:12) ... but with certain reservations.  It will be treated as a poetical truism, since the unconscious is not hotly disputed, given recent findings in experimental neuroscience.  Secrets indeed there are, most will agree.  However, the capitalization of the "T" will be pooh-poohed; and the existence of "faults" will be summarily dismissed.  Thence, to be substituted for with the "ego defenses," things not necessarily evil in themselves, but rather stuff to be burnished and scrubbed up a bit so as to help the "client" move along.

If this all sounds suspiciously like "car wash psychology" to you, dear reader, then you aren't far from the human-centered kingdom of Carl Rogers.  Which is not that distant from King Friday's tuneful trolley, derived from the cardigan-bedecked Mr. Fred Rogers' brain.    "Oh, it's a wonderful day in the neighborhood, a wonderful day in the neighborhood ... won't you be my analysand?"

Maybe I don't have that quite right.

Sure sounds catchy, though.  Frankly, I (and my wallet) wish I had thought of this, years ago.  But I digress.

4.  Although penance is certainly not overly-emphasized in Lutheran theology and practice (because of a strong reaction to certain medieval abuses and exaggerated cheapenings, some of which continue to this day by the church of Rome), perhaps one might justifiably wonder whether the outcome of the case study could have been hastened through means of appropriate restitution.  "Make dish-washing plans to restore Mom's coppers," or "Sweep the floors of the dime-store dutifully, for a month" ... these things could have provided a measure of healing to the mind and soul.  And they are not foreign to the Christian conscience, in the least:  witness the cheery and Lord-blessed recompensatory act of Zaccheus (Lk 19).

Not so curious, perhaps, is the fact that the name of the great little man means "pure, i.e., he was made just in the presence of God," according to Cruden's Complete Concordance, copyright 1968, p. 803.  And so are we all, very literally, in participating in the rite of Absolution.


1.  PE Meehl et al. (1958)   What Then Is Man?, Concordia Publishing House (St. Louis MO), p. 284
2.  OH Mowrer (1961)  The Crisis in Psychiatry and Religion, D. Van Nostrand Co. (Princeton NJ), p. 197

Next (D.V.):   Dr. Anton Boisen shares an illuminating case from his files.

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