A Depth Psychological Examination of the Evangelical Gospel Pamphlet, The Four Spiritual Laws
I embraced this evangelical explanation presented in the pamphlet by placing my trust in Christ's life, death and resurrection as the means to bridge the gap between my alienated self and Almighty God. Within a year I was a full time student in a Bible College spending my Saturday evenings on urban street corners distributing the Four Spiritual Laws to a lost generation. Many of those who read the pamphlet responded to the message of the evangelical version of the gospel contained therein. After several years I eventually left the evangelical movement due to differences of belief and practice, but I have never lost my fascination with the ability of the Four Spiritual Laws to awaken people to a dynamic connection to a Power greater than themselves.
In this paper I will explore the phenomenon of this simply formulated evangelical gospel as found in the Four Spiritual Laws pamphlet. I will suggest that each one of the four laws presents an archetypal solution to basic universal psychological human needs. Whether one loves or despises this tract--agrees or disagrees with the four "laws" presented in it--an objective observer must inquire into the fascinating manner by which these images have affected so many souls. Even the very liberal existentialist theologian Paul Tillich threw his support behind this version of the evangel or gospel. Tillich, a presenter at the Eranos conferences, was the only faculty member at the very liberal Union Theological Seminary to attend the Billy Graham Crusades which routinely preached these four spiritual ideas.
My approach in this paper will be phenomenological--that is, from the point of an observer of the religious psyche. I will write neither as a detractor nor an advocate, not as an apologist for or against the pamphlet and its message. My curiosity lies in wondering why so many tens of thousands if not millions worldwide have responded to these "four laws".
God knows there’s a chance
God knows you can rise above the darkest hour
Of any circumstance
God knows it’s out of sight
God knows we can get all the way from here to there
Even if we’ve got to walk a million miles by candlelight (God Knows)
My aim is not to argue for "the" right solution to the problem of alienation, but to demonstrate that the experience of estrangement has been a recurrent human concern. Bill Bright's pamphlet once again brilliantly taps into this widespread human experience--offering a solution to psychological alienation.
"Tragedy, then, is an imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude; in language embellished with each kind of artistic ornament, the several kinds being found in separate parts of the play; in the form of action, not of narrative; through pity and fear effecting the proper purgation [catharsis] of these emotions." (Poetics, para. 7)
Each member of the audience is allowed to vicariously project his/her actual or imagined wrongdoing or negative emotions onto a designated scapegoat. Taboo and shadowy issues such as incest, abuse by a family member, despised politicians, or other dark impulses are enacted and experienced vicariously--allowing the observers to be cleansed by a vicarious involvement in the emotions and actions of the actor as victim. Most modern Americans find this to be ancient superstition, yet our movie theaters, and our system of periodic elections and free political speech, allows us to join with others in order to load (project) our sins and dissatisfaction on our agreed upon villains.
Carl Jung speaks of this as the participation mystique: "The mass is swayed by a participation mystique, which is nothing other than an unconscious identity" (Archetypes 87). Both Aristotle and Jung recognize the prevalent human psychological need for "katharsis" via vicarious identity with someone who represents our dark crimes, guilty sins and shadowy fantasies. Such cleansing experiences are often accomplished in and/or with a group that witnesses the public spectacle--hence Jung's term participation mystique. There is some enigmatic psychological effect that occurs when all are present, ensconced in some troubling life spectacle, while heartily approving of the ultimate destruction of the evil perpetrator. Individuals in the party or crowd experience themselves in the despised images--and somehow they are cleansed and "made right" by scorning the surrogate sinner. The publicized event becomes what Jung calls an individual and "collective experience of transformation" (ibid.).
The emphasis on "the blood of Christ" mystifies most moderns. But blood is often a metaphor for life in general, or the entire soul of a person. When the Divine Blood pours forth and is captured in a cup (grail) and swallowed during Communion (common union), a psycho-spiritual transfusion occurs. Edinger writes: "...the container for Christ's blood, the Grail carries the divine essence extracted from Christ..." (Creation 22-23). D.H. Lawrence once observed: "The religious function of the Bible is not so much to inform the mind, as it is to ‘change the blood.'" (Brown 26). This third spiritual law offers not only release from failures and guilt, but the transfer of the blood of God--the divine soul--onto the recipient. Those who place their faith in Christ exchange mortal human "blood" for divine "blood", finite life for eternal life, corruptible blood for incorruptible blood. The old limited life may now assume a transcendent aspect, which brings us to the forth law in the pamphlet.
A second group of Americans, at the other extreme, are the progressives who tend to dismiss the Four Laws as simplistic and shallow--as wishful thinking or delusional fiction--claiming superior "liberal-mindedness" free of sectarian intolerance or supernatural childishness. They most often seek their catharsis and meaning in some form of therapeutic system, socio-political solution, or some mishmash of New Age spirituality. They are just as intolerant and dogmatic as the Christian fundamentalists they accuse of those traits. They become intractable anti-religion fundamentalists!
Both of these extreme groups tend to simply dismiss the other as stupid and wrong This paper suggests that the ideas in the Four Spiritual Laws are to be neither rationally systematized nor superficially dismissed, but rather to be seen as archetypally effective. Like them or not, these laws have facilitated experiences of the numinous Presence. Their souls are radically altered, their feelings of alienation are healed, and they live with a new sense of cosmic meaning and personal purpose.