Friday, August 12, 2011

Hillman's Pathologizing and The Book of Genesis:

James Hillman describes pathologizing as "the psyche's autonomous ability to create illness, morbidity, disorder, abnormality, and suffering in any aspect of its behavior and to experience and imagine life through this deformed and afflicted perspective" (Re-Visioning 57, italics mine). By viewing pathologizing as archetypal, necessary and "central to the soul" (55), Hillman expands our perceptions of suffering beyond the usual notions of anthropocentric mental illness and a sinful human will. Hillman says that suffering, revealed through symptoms, reminds us that each "I" is a "personification whose reality depends on something other than my own will and reason," and that pathological symptoms give me "the sense of being an automation, or--in Plato's words--in the hands of the Gods" (49). For Hillman, all pathologies may provide soul-making perspectives:

"Were we able to discover its psychological necessity, pathologizing would no longer be wrong or right, but merely necessary, involving purposes which we have misperceived and values which must present themselves necessarily in a distorted form." (57)

I will argue that the general biblical view of suffering accords well with Hillman's description of pathologizing, focusing especially on the story of Genesis which contains the idea of pathology as being divinely and purposefully "created". I stress the word "create" because, as we shall see, not only does Hillman use it in his description of pathologizing, but it is used in Genesis and throughout the biblical literature.

Biblically, the first case of created disorder is found in Genesis 1:1-2: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the waters" (NIV). Simply put, God created the disordered depths out of which emerged the ordered cosmos. In the biblical myth, a disordered watery abyss often precedes order: Noah's flood before the re-creation of humankind, Israel crossing the Red Sea and Jordan River into the Promised Land, and Jesus being baptized before he begins his messianic mission of the new covenant.

After the void is created in Genesis, we find an image of the Spirit of God moving over the surface of the unformed depths. The Hebrew word for "moving" is merachefet (מְרַחֶ֖פֶת), and is used of an eagle flapping her wings over a nest of eaglets, forcing them from the nest (Deuteronomy 32:11). This image implies that God scatters the contents of a pregnant shell, coaxing forth the nesting dualities of light and darkness, sky and water, fish and fowl, dry land and seas, beasts and fish, male and female—the fragments of an evolving creation. Yet the Genesis myth of creative fragmentation has more pathologizing to come, specifically in relation to the newly hatched humans, Adam and Eve.

After the humans are created, God places them next to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil "in the middle of the garden". Augustine (400 C.E.) viewed this tree as a symbol of ungodly desire to which the humans succumbed, plunging the entire human race into original sin. However, other interpreters before Augustine held that eating from the divinely created tree of opposites was a necessary experience for the initiation of human consciousness, a view supported by the fact that the crafty enticing serpent was "fashioned by God" as part of the original "very good" creation (Genesis 1:31). In this latter view, eating the fruit symbolized the onset of suffering, the painful yet indispensable educational experience of stark-naked alienation prior to maturation.

The second century C.E. theologian Irenaeus believed the Edenic fiasco was anticipated in Genesis 1:27: "God made man in His image, and in His likeness" (NIV). The Hebrew word for image implies potential while the word for likeness implies actual, hinting that the divine intention had always been to transform the potential "image" into the actual divine "likeness" through the expulsion from Eden and subsequent pathologizing, symbolized by pain in childbirth and sweaty manual labor. The remainder of the Genesis story, and the entire Bible for that matter, narrates the often painful unfolding of the Adamic seed into the Last Adam or Christ who is called the first-fruits of that original seed (NIV I Corinthians 15). Much of Jungian depth psychology holds to a similar view, summarized by Edinger: "...the first half of life [requires] ego-Self separation; the second half of life: ego-Self reunion" (5).

The central role of suffering in this process of human development is also revealed in the Genesis preface, chapters 1-11, which supplies a protracted encounter with pathologized images: The Eden characters are all alienated from one another, Cain kills Abel, God floods the sinful earth, Noah's son is cursed for mocking his drunken father, the Tower of Babel is toppled as humans are separated by language, and there is a sort of final pathologizing epithet found in Genesis 10:25: "In the days of Peleg...the earth was divided" (NIV). This preface provides the set up for Abram's call to heal the earth (NIV Genesis 12:1-3) and the evolution of human consciousness through conflict.

The idea of God-created pathologizing shows up again when JHWH calls Moses to free the Israelites from Egypt. Moses excuses himself by complaining about his speech impediment. JHWH asks, "Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the Lord?” (NIV Exodus 4:11). The Hebrew word for make is sum
(שׂוּם), which can be translated "to assign or appoint" (Theological Wordbook II.872-73). The Hebrew God gives people pathologizing assignments, recalling the poet John Keat's example of the suffering heart as the school-child's hornbook replete with soul-making assignments (Keats Letters). Jesus also taught an "assigned" view of suffering when a crowd suggested that a man born blind was in his mess because of personal or familial sins. Jesus responded, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him" (NIV John 9:1-2). Jesus knew the Hebrew Scriptures—pathologizing sometimes came from God. Seven hundred years prior, the prophet Isaiah wrote, "God says, 'I am the Lord...there is no other. I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things'" (NIV 45:5-8).

Any Hebrew account of pathologizing would not be complete without mention of Satan (שָׂטָ֣ן), a word which began as a verb meaning "to oppose," referring to any antagonist, whether human or spiritual, with an oppositional and/or adversarial mission. Even the Angel or messenger of the LORD could "shatan/oppose" in behalf of JHWH (Numbers 22:22). The verb Shatan was later personified, designating a spiritual character who presented tests that could disintegrate a person with a view to future reintegration. The pervasiveness of this notion in the Hebrew psyche is evident in Jesus' words to Simon Peter: “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you...that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back [reintegrated], strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31-32). Here Satan creates pathologizing with divine permission and with a purposeful, soul-making, intention.

It's worth noting that the word JHWH was also originally a verb meaning "to be," sometimes translated "I am". From a phenomenological perspective we may view the eventual personification of these two verbs, Shatan and JHWH, as an attempt in Hebrew culture to understand human nature as it is--one part of the psyche says, "I am" (JHWH) and another enigmatically says "I am not" (Shatan). A kind of spiritual isometrics is integral to Hebrew psychology--the name Israel means "he who strives with God" (Biblos Israel). This notion corresponds with Paul's struggle between his two natures in Romans 7:15-20, and with Freud's theory of the Eros and Death drives. The Hebrews recognized the irony of evil—with it we have unspeakable pain, without it, there is no consciousness. William James, in Varieties of Religious Experience, writes, "In the Louvre there is a picture by Guido Reni, of St. Michael with his foot on Satan’s neck. The richness of the picture is in large part due to the fiend’s figure being there—that is, the world is all the richer for having a devil in it, so long as we keep our foot upon his neck. In the religious consciousness, that is just the position in which the fiend, the negative or tragic principle, is found; and for that very reason the religious consciousness is so rich from the emotional point of view." (52)

Finally, it is important to see that the Hebrews viewed suffering as necessary for the human maturation process as stated by the Apostle Paul: "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose..." (NIV Romans 8:28-29). The book of Genesis and other biblical images view pathologizing, similar to Hillman, as psyche's autonomous ability to create suffering. It seems to me that a psychological understanding of the Bible, rather than sectarian theological views, can bring us to a conclusion similar to Hillman's words, "Were we able to discover its psychological necessity, pathologizing would no longer be wrong or right, but merely necessary, involving purposes which we have misperceived and values which must present themselves necessarily in a distorted form." (Re-Visioning 57)

Monday, August 8, 2011

Living in Fear is a Bitch: A Bitch is a Mother Dog

A friend recently wrote regarding the contemporary western fear of Muslims in general as a result of the various acts of Islamic inspired violence in America and abroad. He went on to say, “Living in fear is a bitch and does not set us up for good mental health - or our best behavior.” He then suggested that bin Laden and others trying to terrorize the West are “winning” because they have succeeded in causing us to “live in fear”. I do not disagree with him altogether, however, as is my nature, I like to consider other ways of viewing the matter. This is my response:


Again, as I see it, "good mental health" is not only a bad metaphor, but an impossible and unwanted goal. This is another of our American unquestioned assumptions--that mental health is ideal, or that it even exists or should exist. As I see it, physical health cannot and should not be equated with the mind or soul. They are two very different entities operating by very different principles. This is true of all systems in Systems Theory; for example, a brain surgeon most likely cannot repair a car transmission, and an auto mechanic typically cannot do brain surgery. While related, the two systems function very differently and must be considered according to their own unique principles of operation. Never assume a metaphor is acurrate until you have thoughtfully examined the correspondances. Unfortunately, the late 19th century reinvention of psyche as parallel to, if not synonymous with, the body is not only wrong, but dangerous.

The mind and soul (two different but interrelated phenomena) are not identical to the body, and medical terminology must be used very cautiously. Anxiety, fear, "paranoia" and most of what has been assembled in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual as mental illnesses are normal human psychological functions and responses. Just as an undeveloped baby encounters a world of troubling gravity and hard, sharp objects for the purpose of developing muscle and skeletal structure--so the mind provides all of these "unhealthy" emotions and responses for developing soul.

As you said, “living in fear is a bitch,” and a bitch is a female dog, a raging mother who gives birth. Fear is the womb or container that gives birth to an evolving psyche, and bin Laden can be seen as the "mother of new psychological development". Neurologist Andrew Newberg explains this simply and yet profoundly in his bestseller, Why God Won't Go Away. He explains the neurology of anxiety as the mechanism that drives evolution, and moves the mind/brain to seek a unitary experience of being (God).

I call these normal and necessary experiences of anxiety, fear and all so called "negative emotions," psycho-spiritual isometrics which is defined as “increase through resistance”. On the physical level, if you remove the material and gravitational resistance from a baby's life, you end up with a flaccid, atrophied, dead baby. On the psychological level, if you remove the troubling "material and gravitational" psychic resistance from a human soul, you end up with an atrophied and dead soul.

Remove pain, suffering, and difficulties from a child's life, you end up with middle class kids who kill their classmates because their peers do not recognize how cool they really are—i.e., Columbine and the rise of "well adjusted" middle class kids joining gangs. Experiencing difficulties works as a sort of psycho-spiritual homeopathy--the cure is in the dis-ease, to use a medical metaphor carefully. If you want to see a fascinating study on this phenomenon, read Allan Guggenbuhl's The Incredible Fascination of Violence, or James Hillman's The Terrible Love of War, or his Suicide and the Soul. Or click on this link and read the July/August 2011 article by therapist Lori Gottlied, "How to Land Your Kid in Therapy" which examines how the cult of self esteem is ruining our kids by not allowing them fail and feel fear, rejection and sadness.

This point was beautifully stated in a recent issue of The Week, by Katie Roiphe in The Financial Times:

"One sometimes sees these exhausted, devoted, slightly drab parents, piling out of the car, and thinks, is all of this high-level watching and steering and analyzing really making anyone happier? Can we, for a moment, flash back to the benign neglect of the 1970s and 80s? I can remember my parents having parties, wild children running around until dark, catching fireflies. If these children helped themselves to three slices of cake, or ingested the second hand smoke from cigarettes, or carried cocktails to adults who were ever so slightly slurring their words, they were not noticed; they were loved, just not monitored. Those warm summer nights of not being focused on were liberating. In the long sticky hours of boredom, in the lonely, unsupervised, unstructured time, something blooms; it was in those margins that we became ourselves."