Pastoral Psychology (2009)
Dialectical Displacement and Redeployment of Attachments In the Kenotic Mode of Conversion: The Leaving Behind of Anton Boisen in Psychosis
Douglas B. Olds
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Dialectical Displacement and Redeployment of Attachments in the Kenotic Mode of Conversion: The Leaving Behind of Anton Boisen in Psychosis Douglas B. Olds1 Abstract This paper introduces a kenotic theory of conversion that builds from simple attachment to childhood experience of peak states to encompass dialectical stages of development: Priming, Decentering, Reflection, Encounter, Denucleation, Emplacement and Discipline. Thereafter, the dialectical mode has run its course, giving rise to the mature phase of conversion--the continuing integration of the religious worldview through Metamorphosis and Embassy. The conversion theory is illustrated by an interpretation of a dialectical set of experiences of Anton Boisen. I interpret Anton Boisen’s conversion from a 19th Century Christianity that was wedded to religious and racial manifest destiny to that of a reborn Christian living with the 20th Century’s experience of evangelical and evolutionary universalism. Boisen's clinical desolations (“psychosis”) and adoption of vocation (“change of allegiance”) suggest his conversion counterposed the instinctual with the higher order ideals he struggled to embody--a dialectical negation of his younger static and triumphalist Christian cultural identity that developed into a more integrated, expansive, and inclusive view of the human family and deepening allegiance to the ordinary, underserved, and growing population of the mentally suffering. Keywords Conversion Boisen Dialectic Attachment Psychosis
D. B. Olds San Francisco Theological Seminary/Graduate Theological Union
Introduction: Dialectical and liminal agency in conversion (the kenotic theory) Encompassing both history and psychology, conversion might be most productively explored as a dialectical phenomenon because of the dualisms perceived by the convert that involve choice and commitment--where a mode of worldview and ethic is left behind so that new traits and potentials are discovered, shaped and internalized through repetition and the avoidance of antithetical acts. Recent converts to a new mode of allegiance that shapes belief and praxis may report feelings of release, reawakening, redemption, rebirth that suggest developmental mechanism, mystical experience, and suffering, decentering, or separation that disrupts homeostatic modes of embodiment and psychic stability. These events may seem “otherworldly,” i.e. dualist, for the duration of the disruption. From the biographies and writings of mystics such as John of the Cross and from melancholics like Kierkegaard and Wiesel that may act as negative examples (see Frost, 1992; May, 2004; Havens and Ghaemi, 2005, p. 138), it appears that there is a manifold relationship between mood disorientation, affective crises, and later reawakening to the possibilities and joys of life. This reawakening may seem a profound psychological respite that is in many cases best described as religious (Greider 2002) because it both mirrors experiences of exemplars in religious traditions and realigns allegiance to a higher center of value than the self. In an earlier paper (Olds 2008), I proposed that acute psychotic distress may result from a dialectical (dis-)engagement from the divine that is initially pathological but ultimately productive of religious maturation and growth. In this sense, I find support in those mystics and theologians who have proposed that God’s prerogatives includes the temporary and partial withdrawal of God’s living presence that is then adapted by the self to separate out what is from
God from that which is from “not-God.” Earlier, Jewish kabbalists had considered zimsum, a speculative moment of God’s displacement of God’s own essence through concentration and contraction that serves to withdraw God whence God was previously (self-emptying), creating a null space wherein what is not-God gains freedom to develop novel traits (Moltmann, 1985, pp. 86-90). This creative, “kenotic” dialectic, because it binds and unbinds freedom within sequences of historical time, results in an individual’s reaction and counter-reaction along two paths: toward one’s engendered appreciation of what was lacking during the moment of God’s self-emptying, and as a counterreaction that favors self-love prompted by the desolation experience: This dialectical separation of self-with-God from self-without-God is a temporary negation, withdrawal, or suppression of one portion of a capacity that gives the consciousness a strange and empty freedom from wholeness for a time. These moments are pathological, as dualism is perceived by the self where an instinctual wholeness once was perceived (Olds 2008, p. 599). By these kenotic experiences, a new creation is experienced and shame and fault identified and evaluated through the rational lens of the transformed worldview. A multiplicity of these negation experiences followed by release and rational reflection may in the positive case weave emotional assurance with an intellectual confidence in the dynamic mechanism of the new creation. This experiential assurance and rational reflection provide the double foundation for a religious understanding of the desolation moment of kenosis. When the double foundation accords with traditions and community-authenticated scriptures, the religious understanding will be reintegrated by the self into the framework of an organized religion.
Part 1: A Phenomenology of conversion as neurological adaptation--with psychosis as kenotic waypoint in the detachment from instinct Conversion involves a change in what may be termed the logos of the person, the governing neuro-cortical structures that determine allegiance to an epistemology and ethics.2 The manner, mode, and mechanism of the new allegiance appear to “overlie” and tentatively incorporate the earlier worldview structure, then progressively displace its non-adaptive elements and attachments. The progressive exercise of faculties of the will that support the overlain worldview strengthens and actualizes the developing logos, while certain pre-conversion neural structures are disestablished through avoidance and disuse, attenuating those facultative motor operations now recognized by the conscious self to be “vice.” As the will redirects voluntary neuro-motor operations, practice integrates with belief as the conversion overlay takes on a more central function in consciousness. In this way, motor habits and worldview adapt through positive feedback mediated by the voluntary will. The call of the “old human” attachments is relatively and increasingly disestablished at the synaptic and cortico-structural level though disuse. As the logos of the new worldview restructures the sensory and motor cortices, we expect a gradual though occasionally fitful (and sometimes violent) retirement of old motor operations and beliefs as the conversion overlay of connections and operations take hold of and establish within the brain. The experience of conversion suggests that the neural pathways that might host the logos of higher allegiances than the ego's instinctual desire is an inborn and epigenetic capacity of the human mind but one that requires external activation and, further, the cooperation of the conscience to develop and strengthen the faculties associated with it. Activation of the logos is thus experiential: the capacity to embody the logos is “primed” or triggered by experience that 2
By logos I mean the neuro-motor matrix of epistemology and ethics that is both plastic and conscious.
may involve a certain course of kenotic suffering followed by release from that suffering. After being activated or primed, the voluntary faculties may take the lead to strengthen (or oppose) religious feeling through traditional motor acts of religious expression based on the norms and ethics of the imparted religious tradtion. In some cases, this process of kenotic challenge followed by strengthening of virtues appears dialectical. As an example of dialectical phenomena, C.G. Jung wrote, “[s]uffering is not an illness, but a normal counterpole to happiness” (quoted in Fairchild, 1980, p. 24). After prolonged anguish, release from anguish cascades through the neural capacities of the convert. Kenosis as discontinuity in the perceived experience of reality may in the best case redeploy what was formerly believed to be true from what begins to take precedence in the person’s worldview. This displacement of homeostatic modes of truth claims mirrors Luther’s experience (Begalke, 1982) of the phenomenology of Aufhebung (English: “sublation;” suspension), “Hegel’s technical term for a negation that, far from consigning what is negated to the null class, proves to be ultimately a self-negation, absorbing itself and its complement in a unifying, ultimately selfreflective process” (Dahlstrom, 2002, p. 4; see also Lavine, 1988). My theory is that after a negation experience (“kenosis”) of the birth parent/child epistemological attachment, the incarnate logos preveniently situated in human capacity for receiving and reflecting family lovingness “resurrects” to reassemble the attachment moiety with changed conditions, incarnating an increasingly dominant, higher family or social allegiance structured by the religious tradtion. In such a case, the person is subjected to a choice. In the negative case, the recoil from what is offered by new allegiance is honored through praxis as the person withdraws into protective covering of the earlier, instinct-driven attachment. In the positive (and in Reformed theological teaching, irresistible) case, the conscious ego reflects upon the
developments resulting from kenosis and participates actively in the renewal of the logos with changed conditions through the mechanisms of vice avoidance (“Adamic kenosis”) and humility (”reciprocal kenosis”), seeking out relationships on renewed theological, ethical and moral terms. What Anton Boisen (1936, p. 53) terms the “nucleus of purpose” may be that formed around a first experience of release imparted from the depths of an inner world crisis thatreplenishes or renews the bereft self. According to the Reformed Christianity to which Boisen belonged, purpose-quickening grace (the activation of the human capacity for forgiveness by the divine agency) precedes any action by a person to repent or adapt to the Gospel-tradition’s hope. As religious feeling appears to be activated in neural networks (Azari, Missimer, and Seitz 2005), the cognitive adaptation to the experience of forgiveness may be abrupt for certain individuals, a radical leap between differing neural facilities. Like a river that in the case of turmoil jumps its banks, later to find a new stability in due course, the inner networks of consciousness may quicken and leap between active cortical states and capacities as new aspects of reality are comprehended. During psychosis, cognitive and emotional nervous systems seem to accelerate their processing of stimuli in order to bring them to bear upon that which has stunted the growth of personality. As such, the mind is imperiled and struggles to adapt to a world that suddenly seems fraught with danger from every corner because the erstwhile epistemological adaptation to reality has been recognized by the conscious self to be useless and false: Anxiety, self-blame, and a sense of personal failure and shame diminish perspective on accumulating personal problems. Yet as the mind impels toward psychosis, wherein the majority sensory and cognitive input are reflected back upon the self, self-awareness goes into overdrive. In the case of psychosis, it is as
if within every event in consciousness looms some occult danger for the self. Psychosis thus appears to be “narcissistic” because of the obsessive concern with the self’s flourishing. However, this automatist “quickening” may instead redeploy the cognitive and emotional apparatus toward the solving of problems posed by [a kenotic challenge] that heretofore have prevented the eschatological [logos] from emerging. (Olds 2008, p. 599) The jump or adaptation seems to have counteractions associated with it, which may include psychosis or self-negation (see also below). This phenomenon demonstrates the cortical manifestation of dynamical first laws where for every action (toward the development of a new, overlying cognitive network) there is an opposite reaction (recoil from the overlain network into a more atavistic or instinctual neural network). Repentance applies the voluntary will against the reactions of the previous, instinctual psychosocial complex. This set of reaction and counteraction may appear to outside observers to spread automatically but chaotically through the system of personality. In the most profound experiences of repentance and kenosis, the most explosive recoils appear to observers as disorganized and psychotic. Following the challenging encounter with the Awesome, the river of consciousness gradually recoils to settle into a new course of daily ethical habit and worldview, settling in the worse case into a deepening channel of deadness focusing on instinctual desire with melancholy that abides. In the best case, however, it flows into the constant meditation on the higher allegiances (Deuteronomy 6: 4-9, esp. v. 8) that repentance was intended to solicit. What was sought is found.
Boisen's phenomology of psychosis The progenitor of the Clinical Pastoral Education movement, Anton Boisen himself was a
sufferer of multiple episodes of acute mood disruption with psychotic features (see North and Clements 1992). As Boisen (1936) explored, certain spiritual crises that mimic or manifest clinical psychiatric illness may be part of the conversion process, a dialectical stage that in certain cases follows intentional acts of personal repentance: “a radical change in the concept of self” (Boisen 1960, p. 202). Psychotic displacement from normatively agreed upon reality, as Boisen so profoundly grasped, may be adaptive toward the worldview that is emerging in persons suffering severe mental illness. It is this adaptive displacement (liminal or kenotic withdrawal of the divine) that may prime conversion’s onset. As Boisen (1936, p. 54; see also Fairchild 1980, p. 21) discovered, these crisis experiences of mental trauma and despair “make or break”; psychotic traumas are perilous attempts by the self at re-adaptation from the selfcentered to the Other-centered world, from allegiances that exalt the self and its instincts to allegiances in a higher, communal sense (Hiltner 1992, pp. 139-40). Boisen describes these challenging episodes of re-organization and re-adaptation of the structure of selfhood as manifesting “nature’s healing power” (Boisen 1936, p. 53). Throughout his published works, Boisen shows an awareness of positive and negative cognitive adaptations to reality involved in religiosity. As inadequate methods of coping that act as barriers to maturation become challenged by events in a person’s life (Boisen 1936, p. 46), first anxiety and then crisis from built-up anxiety may develop. Crisis in the mood-disordered person--extreme anxiety, to the point of panic (Boisen 1936, p. 54)--has the potential to shatter a person’s self-confidence as cognitive and emotional networks respond "to assimilate hitherto unassimilated masses of life experience” (Boisen 1936, p. 54). The stages of maturation that may trigger crisis include adolescence, marriage, birth of children, aging, bereavement, and the approach of death (Boisen 1955, pp. 42-3). Frustration by external factors in the achievement of
stability in the value centers of one’s life (i.e. divorce, career, etc.) may also spur crisis (Boisen 1955, pp. 43-4). Personality under crisis readapts to reality by sequences of changed behavior that, in Boisen’s analysis, “make or break:” either hope or despair triumphs in a sufferer. At the point of crisis, a resolution toward either prolonged despair maintaining focus on the mortal self (see, e.g. Havens and Ghaemi 2005) or a reorganization of personality with a higher center of allegiance than the self is attained. Boisen described this latter achievement of the personality as a religious resolution (Boisen 1955, pp. 3-4; 67-69). The religious resolution is dependent "upon the presence or absence of an acceptable nucleus of purpose around which the new self can be formed” (Boisen 1936, p. 56). This is to say, when newfound or transformed religious understanding result after mental delusional and suffering, and such understanding manifests engagement with and commitment to serve contextually-accepted purposes and norms, the delusional trauma has “resolved acceptably.” Psychotic, self-centered despair in such a case may ex post facto be recognized in the dialectics of religious epistemology, the creation of a more productive understanding of what has limited or halted personal maturation in hope and now discovers sympathy and harmony with the heights of hopes and the depths of fears and traumas of others. The conclusion follows that religion is not an “escape from reality.” On the contrary it represents an attempt to deal with those loyalties and values which [sic] are regarded as ultimate. Where it does figure in a delusional reconstruction it tends to produce an interpretation of the life situation which is [relatively] socially acceptable….Religion…is an attempt to raise one’s values to the level of the cosmic or universal and to establish and maintain right relationship with those
Comment [NC1]: I think you should add a sentence to introduce the following quotation.
to whom one looks for response and approval, those whose composite impress is represented in the idea of God. (Boisen 1936, p. 53)
Part 2: Mode and scheme in kenotic conversion The “kenotic” theory of conversion3 expands upon my earlier presentation of the dialectical phenomenology of mental stress (Olds 2008). Kenosis is developmental and evolutionary, the sequential, episodic, and fitful involvement of consolidation and stasis--or rejection—through learning and religious, moral choice. This model of conversion is presented in brief followed by a discussion. After the discussion, the theory of conversion as a radical, self-negating and liminal challenge is applied to an interpretation of Anton Boisen’s change of theological and vocational allegiances. The stages of conversion in kenotic challenge and displacement of worldview is schematized as following: 1)
PRIMING I: Activation of an inborn capacity for experiencing “peak states”
mediated through the primary attachments in infancy. 2)
DECENTERING I: Second-order activation of prevenient capacities by inchoate
sensations of “awe” and “poignancy.” 3)
REFLECTION (Integration I): Critical and rational reflection on these
attachments and decentering moments that suggest human dependence on a transcendent creation and the possibility of a greater personal connection with and understanding of the transcendent. 4)
ENCOUNTER (Priming II): A period of neophyte seeking and catechesis by an
authoritative mentor of a tradition purporting to provide a pathway to the transcendent. That 3
Non-Kenotic modes of conversion may follow steps 1-4, 6, and 9 (perhaps also 8).
mentor may be a text, a teaching authority, or an interpretive community of texts, tradition, and shared experiences. 5)
DENUCLEATION (Decentering II): Assignment to a liminal challenge by a
mentor for testing the neophyte’s commitment to the religious habitus and for application and creative exercise of faculties in novel situations. Alternatively, the neophyte may die in the challenging liminal space or abandon the community, in the latter case drawing out from the liminal challenge an alternative world view with more pragmatic value. Christian denucleation is experienced as the partial, kenotic self-emptying of the divine presence where the “self-without God” is “cored out." These experiences of kenotic negation and challenge may be multiple. 6)
EMPLACEMENT (Priming III): A return to the mentoring community with new
insight and commitment to new virtues that embody insight for the recontextualization and improvement of the communal tradition (e.g. Boisen), or entrance into another community tradition with leadership faculties that the community recognizes as valuable (e.g. the Egyptian prince Moses to the Hebrew slave community; Apostle Paul to the honor/shame cultures of Hellenist communities). 7)
DISCIPLINE (Decentering III): Rejection of old values and practices and the
embodied embrace of transformed virtues. Progressive development of the faculties that embody the new worldview and detachment from previous coping structures. Inward faculties develop the relationship with the logos of the re-centered allegiance (“wisdom,” “prayer”) while outward faculties are practices and excellences designed to spread the worldview through catechesis of neophytes (Paul’s rationale for Torah in Galatians 3), to minister to people caught in liminal states of physical or mental desolation (Mother Theresa, Boisen’s original conception for Clinical Pastoral Education), and/or to assess the vocation and theology of those who have
successfully endured denucleation. 8)
METAMORPHOSIS (Integration II): Expansion of the subjective4—subjectivity
becomes "other-in-the-Self,” reducing ethical distance between the self and the tradent community (Levinas 1998). Evolution from the person one once was (“Adam”) into the agent of the survival and flourishing of others (“sanctification”). Incarnation of the tradition through identification, development of habits and worldviews of the founder of the tradition (e.g. “truebelievers,” Bodhisatvas becoming incarnations of the Buddha, “deification”). 9)
EMBASSY (Decentering IV): Through modeling behavior, priming others for
encounter. In living Christian religion, the Holy Spirit’s imparting of the missio Dei that expands the circle of the subjective outside of the foundational community.
Discussion Conversion Stages 1 and 2: Activation of capacity through PRIMING AND DECENTERING Conversion of the kenosis type may be foreshadowed by a “priming” stage of release (Brown and Caetano 1992, p. 154) that activates pre-existent epigenetic structures (“capacities”), which in Christian conversion activate or mirror childlike experiences of parental forgiveness that are greatly prized. As a phenomenology of conversion, such experiences have been analyzed by psychiatry and attachment theorists (Kirkpatrick 1992; Brown and Caetano 1992). Experiences of familial love in early childhood may reflect a capacity both genetic and environmentally activated, instinctual, and developmentally malleable. These experiences become encoded in 4
“Metamorphosis” in the Pauline sense of the expansion and integration of a living tradition
in conscience, making up a subjective moiety: “Becoming clothed with Christ and letting him live within.”
structures of memories and habits that provide the material for a later neural overlay of facilities. After an experience of a higher order love the convert may interpret it as reflecting the agency of a transcendent creator—an agent modeled by the self on the ever-present and perfect parent (Kirkpatrick 1992, 12f). As a result, the religiously-activated self will consciously seek out such experiences (through the exercise of “faculties”), paying close attention to those communityauthenticated texts, rituals and traditions that valorize and purport to explain the onset, source, propagation, and development of these prized peak experiences. My theory regarding the mode and scheme of conversion, summarized above, goes beyond attachment theory’s assignment of the human infant’s instinct as the foundation of religious sentiments. Attachment appears dialectical and developmental, not a simple transfer of static commitments or valorized images. This developmental or evolving re-attachment occurs inside a living tradition that transforms and develops parental image into a contextually revitalizing, life-sustaining, and energizing tradition of witnesses and ambassadors. In contrast, the “compensation” hypothesis of attachment theory proposes that a parental figure (e.g. the birth mother) has somehow failed the child, who compensates in the development of a worldview that substitutes a perfect protecting parental deity for the imperfect birth mother. The “correspondence” hypothesis proposes that ethological structures that dominated in the preconversion individual are retained post-conversion, with the individual’s developmental history determining the range of post-conversion religious attachments and ethics (Kirkpatrick 1992).5 Whereas Kirkpatrick (1992, pp. 14-18) wishes to distinguish between alternatives of religious attachment as “compensation” versus attachment as “continuity,” my theory is that conversion is 5
Ethology is the study of animal behavior. I am using “ethological” in the sense of the
instinctual behaviors that humans share with other mammals, especially other primates.
one of “progressive displacement” of socially non-adaptive epistemological structures and the redeployment of instincts toward the expansion of the subjective—toward a universal attribution of ethical value to persons . Attachment theory as outlined by Kirkpatrick (1992) appears essentialist and static. It suggests that the convert maintains continuity with the essence or formal image of the attachment agent, or alternatively compensates by shaping the memory of the performance of the attachment agent (parent) to conform to an essentialist version of the good parent. On the other hand, conversion in the mode presented in this paper as a progressive process recognizes that there is a period during which the previous worldview attachment has beenrecognized as maladaptive, yet the development of the new worldview develops nuance and robustness through ongoing (and sometimes fitful) dialectical challenge, growth and reintegration.
Conversion Stage 3: Critical and rational REFLECTION on those states that suggests transcendence Conversion builds upon the foundation of memory, especially upon evaluation and (dis)satisfaction with parental attachments and of the decentering and mystical moments (the sensus divinitatis). The judgment implied by dissatisfaction suggests that a static model or archetype of the good parent is located within the inborn capacities of the human being. This precritical capacity to intuit good parenting suggests that humans are endowed with a superinstinctual capacity to receive the overlay of positive care and love. However, the instinctual faculties of family attachment become degraded by specific environments and collective cultures that valorize social disharmony and self-centered desire. Instincts that ensure an infant’s survival and attachment to the birth parent eventually must be disciplined for the peaceful harmony of
social groups.6 As such, conversion through kenotic challenge suggests that a process of divine negation gradually crowds out those pre-conversion epistemological and behavioral structures that create dangers for the self and threaten the creative projects that the newly emergent logos intends. Conversion in my theory establishes those faculties that are adaptive yet also allows for the development of new faculties that exemplify through internalization and expression the logos-wisdom of the creative projects that the self intends. Such wisdom discerns and embodies the harmonious and stable community that nurtures vitality and creative purposes. Conversion, after being activated at a point in time by kenotic challenge, progressively displaces ethological instincts that promote disharmony so that the self begins to organize around what Boisen identifies as the self’s higher purpose.
Conversion Stages 4 and 5: ENCOUNTER and DENUCLEATION. Neophyte seeking and catechesis by an authoritative mentor; Consignment to a liminal space by a mentor for testing the neophyte’s commitment and for the development of new skills and insights Following reflection upon the possibility of a new creative project and higher purpose, the new convert begins to seek out a habitus (practical community) that supports the goal of creative happiness. The religiously-activated neophyte will consciously seek out (through the exercise of 6
This preference is adaptive as it alerts a witness to those others who make natural allies.
When antisocial behavior takes place a child will act out of a biological imperative to disaffiliate from antisocial groupings. Even “infants know the score…There is an inborn preference to affiliate with people who help strangers; infants prefer individuals who help others to those who either do nothing, or interfere with others' goals.” (Hamlin, Wynn, and Bloom 2007).
“faculties”) community-authenticated texts, rituals and traditions that valorize and purport to explain the onset, source, propagation, and development of the happily creative community. In the case of Christianity, divine self-emptying (“kenosis”) challenges and allows the divine agent’s creature a novel venue for self-assertion and the maturation necessary for creative living. This abandonment by a protector (or community) is exemplified through liminal rites of passage where the neophyte is consigned to the wilderness by his or her mentor so that the neophyte might discover through the exercise of faculties whether the training by the mentor solves social and survival problems. In this liminal challenge, there are three possible results: 1) the neophyte dies in the wilderness, in which case the worldview adaptation of the group is unchallenged and continues, or 2) the neophyte abandons the group in disgust at the poor training in survival and understanding that he or she received by the group, with the same result that he or she usually does not act to challenge the continuance of the worldview in situ. Alternatively, 3) the neophyte returns as a mature practitioner of the culture’s adaptation to the world, buttressing the mentoring tradition’s claim to truth, a return that increases prestige for both mentor and the returnee. With the insight and confidence gained by passing through the liminal challenge, the neophyte returns to take up or modify the cultural and epistemological scheme that, upon reflection, the returnee considers to have ensured his or her passage to safety. This process is pathological where the agency of survival through the wilderness danger is interpreted by the self to be the personal excellences of the instinctual self outside of a tradition or community, thereby expressing the narcissist’s disturbance. The ego valorizes the adaptive faculties thought to be intrinsic and particular. At the other extreme, when the liminal state is crossed and the mentor/guide is considered to be divine, the surviving returnee is endowed with charismatic confidence in the divine agent and feels divinely “called” to return to
the habitus. Such confidence can be redirected by the community to reforming traditional teaching, adapting it to a changed historical context. In the case of the ultimate metaphysical danger poised by a near death experience, the character of the divine agent takes on the role of protector of the ancestral and living community. In the attested case of return from an “actual” death experience, the divine protector is interpreted to be the ultimate creator of the universe, seen and unseen.
Conversion Stage 6: EMPLACEMENT in a mentoring community with pragmatic insight The challenging space devoid of the creator by self-emptying (negation; zimsum) may be the very mechanism of conversion’s onset—the painful displacement of the new birth, the method by which the creator allows for the free development of novel traits through reflections upon the ontological nature of the creator and upon the inner demonic nature of post-adaptive instinct revealed by the kenotic trauma. In the case of the convert, pre-traumatic, pre-liminal reflective commitments are determined to be useful in discerning truth and value after such challenge. In the useful cognitive adaptations that may emerge from this reflection, we recognize wisdom; alternatively, in atavism that rejects the tradition, we recognize nihilism. The “wise” convert assumes a role within the habitus, while the nihilist abandons it (Cf. Gooren 2007, p. 347).
Conversion Stage 7: Progressive DISCIPLINE of the faculties that embody wisdom When release from kenotic trauma is followed by a) practical or religious insight, b) an emotive charge of being restored to life with a higher purpose, and/or c) the recognition of fellowship in suffering/release shared by an historical or prototype community (through its norms of rationality, emotion, and tradition), the escape from the liminal “snares of Sheol” are recognized
esoterically and exoterically as having proceeded from religious foundations. A richer epistemology encompassing subjective, objective, and historical interconnections is consciously accepted. In authentic conversion of this type, the ego commits to virtues that exemplify, propagate, and witness to the changed ontological understanding. We thus expect to discover in the convert to an established religious community a commitment to the mechanism of the changed allegiance, with the rationality/experience/tradition of the allegiance (logos) incarnated through the actualization of capacities of the human nervous system by means of changed ethical behaviors and focus. We expect that the embodiment of living belief is mirrored in a change in the cortical structures that incarnate the belief structure in neurons, synaptic qualities, and holographic patterns and canalization of anatomical sensory and motor centers. We would expect that belief capacitated by experience feeds back upon praxis to habituate and establish the structures of the new epistemological adaptation, progressively developing in the brain the (possibly inborn yet previously degraded or unactuated) capacity of the human mind to meditate constantly on the higher allegiances promoted by the survival experience, thereby actualizing in consciousness a sense of being filled, becoming whole, and of being re-clothed against the potential shame at failure that is part of the human condition. Shame is here conceived as the faculty that recognizes how and when it has fallen short of its inchoate capacity for higher allegiance, while prevenient neural activation of the capacity for appreciation of the logos is suggested by the otherworldly (“decentering” [Bulkeley 2005, p. 4]) experience of “awe” and the appreciation of “poignancy.” Awe is the recognition of something otherworldly in the powerful and the grand scale (“wonder” [Ibid.]), while poignancy the recognition of the otherworldly in the vulnerable and the minor scale.
Conversion Stage 8: Incarnation of the tradition through identification with the founder as Logos-bearer in METAMORPHOSIS As the former way of perceiving reality as governed by chance or by necessity is recognized by the self to be (at least partially) false, the possibility of a more expansive understanding of ontological truth focuses allegiance toward the divine. That prospect may be liberating or deadening to the outlook and worldview of the person undergoing dialectical challenge and crisis because it requires great courage to relearn, readapt and subordinate one’s instinctual desires to the mechanism of the higher allegiance. That mechanism in Christian anthropology is familial forgiveness, and the convert to that mechanism of the divine character is required to exercise the faculties of forgiveness through the virtues which embody and proclaim that forgiveness: patience, asceticism, equity/righteousness, disinterestedness, unselfishness, gratitude, charity, recollection, acceptance, truthfulness, and reverence. By such practices, the human capacity for a personal, incarnated relationship with the logos overtakes the shame reflex, resulting in the progressive sanctification that heals, filling a sympathetic and cognitive abyss in the human mind. As humans act out their capacity for worship, service, creativity, and relationship with God and other human beings, the logos begins to fill up the empty sores of the human soul and cast out the atavistic, instinctual faculties that previously had been accepted by self to have provided the basis for one’s security and achievements in the world. Reflecting the mentoring tradition, the logos engenders the promise of new family relations among humankind. This combination exerts in Christian converts an especially anthropomorphic identification with the founder of the worldview logos, who becomes Brother
Part 3: Boisen’s case study read through the lens of dialectic It is clear that from the epilogue to his biography that Boisen struggled to make what he called, “sense from the nonsense,” to understand what was “valid religious experience and which was at the same time madness.” (Boisen 1960, pp. 9; 206) While Boisen never labeled the biographical details preceding his desolations as embodying “shame,” the most obvious and prevalent characterization of his own “case record” reflects the multiple instances of loss of self-respect that he felt at the absence of sexual self control (Boisen 1960, pp. 9; 198) and the prolonged difficulty he had at establishing his vocation. Thus Boisen described his “unassimilated sex problem” (Boisen 1960, p. 50) which involved a decades-long courtship of Alice Batchelder, a woman who did not share Boisen’s desire for marriage but felt called to maintain a friendship with Boisen because of Boisen’s fragile vocation. Boisen indee had laid at her feet the role of stabilizing and inspiring his sense of pastoral call: “I realize that my love for her was really a desperate cry for salvation and an appeal to a beloved person stronger than myself” (Boisen 1960, p. 55). Yet while Alice repeated rebuffs Boisen’s proposals of marriage, she acted as someone who felt responsible for Boisen’s course in life. Boisen recognized personal “failure” and “despair and weakness” in this abject relationship which were in his analysis manifested in recurrent non-masturbatory emissions (Boisen 1960, p. 57) that brought shame. The flat, seemingly quaint description that Boisen gave of these events 50 years after the fact obscures the link between Boisen’s putative sense of shame and his vocational struggles. Yet there seems to be no doubt that Boisen linked his romantic failure with his vocational
problems. “The failure to find employment immediately after graduation was a terrific blow to me” (Boisen 1960, p. 45). While reading a novel by Zola in preparation for employment as a French tutor, he experienced a non-manual, “psychic” orgasm--in his recollection “cross[ing] a line I had determined not to cross” (Boisen 1960, p. 46). Obscene words would jump out at him from the pages of his foreign dictionaries; all this led him to conclude, “Something was seriously wrong” (Boisen 1960, p. 47). His mentors and friends advised that he should continually fight the instincts and seek the help of a “good woman.” When Boisen entered his first adult Bible study during this period, he encountered the first of his ten psychotic breaks (Boisen 1960, pp. 60, 202). By the time of his first hospitalization for psychosis in 1920, Boisen was engaged in the sixth temporary job he had held since graduating from seminary in 1911. Even prior to seminary, he had worked as a language tutor, a school teacher, a forester, was unemployed, and felt a vague call to seminary, after which he described his “years of wandering.” During the run up to 1920’s hospitalization, he worked on a statement of belief that showed unusual thinking (Boisen 1960, pp. 79-80), the most intriguing to him as it recurred in later years was the symbolic obsession with “the family of four” (Boisen 1960, pp. 79-80; 204ff). This obsession was fueled by crisis when Boisen felt that Alice was “betraying” him, thereby robbing him of his “sense of purpose.” As he re-entered the “little known country” of psychosis (Boisen 1960, p. 103), his rational faculties were overwhelmed trying to solve an unseen but cosmic danger, and the symbolic took hold of his overmatched mind. The “family of four” was the symbolic representative from which he gained insight and some hope. His future psychoses would repeatedly return to the “family of four” motif. Boisen (1936, p. 53) came to conclude that the psychotic delusions were part of problem-
solving adaptations that promote growth around an acceptable nucleus of purpose. The “family of four” and the related delusions were evaluated by the maturing Boisen as part of a universal principle of human relationship. Such a collective relationship would host Boisen’s desires for salvation through family life while preparing him for vocation. While recognizing the “automatism” involved in the psychotic delusion (Boisen 1960, p. 203), Boisen upon reflection attributed meaning to the symbolic intellect that operates when the rational faculties are overwhelmed by crisis (see Csordas 1997, pp. 257ff). The family of four involved twin life cycles and the embryonic eternal family that Boisen so desired to nurture. Boisen, frustrated by his inability to obtain salvation through the establishment of a (Victorian mode of) family life, was instead primed by psychoses to entertain personal growth that accepted his membership in the embryonic eschatological family manifested everywhere theological devotion and struggle were present.
Conclusion: Interpreting Boisen’s theological and vocational development employing the kenotic theory of conversion Boisen’s acknowledged contributions to 20th Century theology include his appreciation for the adaptive value of psychosis in solving problems of a religious nature and for his universalist perspective that all humans regardless of “mental health” are witnesses to theological reality through their case history and in their relationship to a higher center of value than the self. From the visionary hopes he derived from his “family of four” delusions, I discern that Boisen came to link the symbolic reality of personal salvation to the whole of humanity. I term this a conversion, because (at least) three conditions are fulfilled. First, Boisen shows vocational commitment to a higher allegiance than the self after denucleation—after first hospitalization for psychosis in
1920. Second, his theology evolved. Third, he understood the changes to be growth in the positive sense. All three of these conditions act in concert for the new convert. Boisen, born a Christian, experienced dialectical negation of his younger static and triumphalist Christian cultural identity in psychosis, then reflected upon and reintegrated the cognitive distortions of those through the lens of a more authentic and mature Christianity--one that included an increasingly expansive and inclusive view of the human family incarnated with the capacity for perceiving and embodying the Christian logos of consciousness and act. Prior to the 1920 crisis, Boisen’s autobiographical reflections demonstrated little evidence of theological subtlety or critical self-understanding. “The faith of my fathers was, for me, at one with the authority of science…My own problems were not theological. They had to do with my inner adjustments” (Boisen 1960, p. 39). This is a surprising set of statements, as the late 19th Century theology of Boisen’s father and grandfather was steeped in the “ladder of being” ideology developing in harmony with Herbert Spencer’s popularization of evolutionary science. At that time, many scientists who were committed Christians accepted that God acted in history to scale “upward” the genetic achievements of “the race.” Theology all too easily found support in the new biological and social sciences that were rapidly being structured on normative foundations under the influence of Spencer and Galton, the cousin of Darwin. It is this “great chain of being” religion that marginalizes the supposedly unfit and provides a theological rationale for the status quo governance by the powerful. If, as his mature statements suggest, Boisen found a universal principle of human relatedness through the eschatological family, we see evidence that Boisen converted from this 19th Century triumphalist theology to one based on regard for the ordinary and the unspectacular representatives of humanity’s relationship with God. This, then, is the substance of Boisen’s conversion, mediated by the symbolic intellect and
its deep metaphor of the four-fold family. Boisen fitfully left behind the 19th Century and its values of eugenic family and Christian exceptionalism and, by the time of his founding of Clinical Pastoral Education after his hospitalizations in the 1920s and 1930s, came into the fold of 20th Century Christian universalism. In this difficult journey, Boisen was confronted with episodic loss of identity attendant with a belief in his intellectual health and sanity. From this biographical interpretative outline, we begin to discern the paths Boisen would take as mentor, minister, and exemplar of a constructive theology that links religion with the struggle to detach from relationships based on a false understanding of family, shame, and human connection. Boisen was primed by his psychoses to reattach to the symbolic locus of value--the family of four—which is humanity itself. “As I understand my own case…, [m]ay it not be the destruction or sublimation of the transference relationship…?.... The Christ personality has been imprisoned and crippled by the selfish demand which had been essential to some weaker person’s salvation” (Boisen 1960, pp. 104-5). Boisen now left behind the selfish search for a personal and particular salvation and grew into the disinterested and unbiased role of a mature and constructive vocation. He has crossed, and will cross again, a series of challenges in the deepest recesses of human symbolic understanding, returning to take on a role of mentor and guide to the 20th Century Christian community’s chaplaincy of presence. Modern psychiatry explains the etiology of psychosis and mood disorder through a mix of Ancient Greek myths, Platonic dualism, and normative science derived from the selfreflections of authoritative figures.7 Boisen’s theology, anthropology, and biography suggest an alternative. Boisen’s journey of conversion involved the psychic struggle between what is and 7
An example of a normative, “scientific” characterization of conversion is Salzman’s (1966,
p. 13). He assigns psychopathological involvements in religious life to “regressive” features.
what should be, a dialectical history that involves psychosis, kenotic self-emptying, negation and detachment from relationships built on instinct: Regarding my own identity…I surrendered my claim to [be a representative human type] and became a zero quantity. …I became confused. I was a zero quantity but I was also its opposite…I was a representative of the sex instinct. It was in this role that I attempted repeatedly to eliminate myself…Is it not possible that our minds are the scene of a struggle in which universal issues are at stake? (Boisen 1960, p. 105, emph. added)
Boisen's vocation as post-conversion construct Boisen came to construct a theology of ministry out of a particular set of biographical experiences. From an empirical and metaphysical commitment to abjure the casting of blame for personal failings onto others, Boisen came to construct a theology of vocational chaplaincy that de-attaches from metaphysics of race or birth family. Instead, Boisen comes to focus on the universality of theological witness and suffering. In Boisen’s (1945) famous phrase, the Christian’s s task is to “stud[y]…the living documents…as the primary sources for understanding human nature.” These “living theological documents” are the basis for empirical conclusions regarding religious experience of the ordinary person. In Hiltner’s (1992, p. 139) assessment, Boisen’s concern with and promotion of the ordinary “living documents” is Boisen’s “theological heritage.” Boisen laid the groundwork for a reverent encounter with mental suffering, separated from the world that exalts cool calculations of utilitarian self-interest. Boisen focused instead on crisis and the repentant common person. After reading these living theological texts, Boisen’s care giving process was not at its foundation based primarily on
reciprocity; rather, it is based on mutual encounter, harmonic (counter-) transference and the gradual, coordinate reduction of distance between persons: the care giver and the care seeker and their gifts are [equal] in the eyes of God (cf. Olds 2008). After becoming a clinician, Boisen (1936, esp. p. 56; see also Ryan and Kumar 2005) was especially inclined to discern positive prognosis and restorative power in the psychiatric patient’s ability and willingness to accept personal failings as well as to put an end to selfdeception through the casting of blame onto others. Only such self-acceptance (and acceptance of the limitation of others), painful as it is, can lead to the kind of “breakthrough” conversion that brings about authentic spiritual growth and personal maturity of the kind that recognizes the equality of humankind in the context of the reformed, higher allegiance. Foreshadowed by Boisen’s delusional focus on the symbol of the ecumenical family structure, this empirical insight leads Boisen toward his living religion. He progressively matured by pushing outward the circle of theological subjectivism--with the ecumenism, inclusiveness, and mutuality implied thereby. In this, then, we can see that Boisen “took a step beyond [William] James, studying abnormal people in order to illuminate the healthy minded” (Aden 1989, p. 15). Unlike the founders of psychiatry who determined that one first had to be fully healthy of mind and soul to have authentic religious experience (see e.g. Salzman 1966), Boisen discerned in psychological crisis the dialectical pull of the eschatological life that God was calling into being in order to heal the sick and the troubled. Boisen thus presents the first psychodynamics of religion. His emergence from the undertow of the depth attachments reveals something that the journeying of Freud’s or even Jung’s unconscious perhaps never attained. Boisen discerned in deepest psychological crisis the dialectical pull between the old man Adam and the (re-)new(ed) Christ
consciousness of the whole family of God. Boisen's psyche was pulled apart all the way down to the foundation of the old creation of chauvinism and racialism and all the way back up to the foundation of the new, resurrection creation. He traverses the depths of the primeval family and symbolically grasps some part of the universal principle of the eschatological family. Boisen’s psychodynamics is not deep or of the “depth;” rather, it is of the heights. The autobiographical case record Boisen presents in Out of the Depths surveys the transcendent and the eschatological only discernible through contrast with the negated, the fallible, and the incomplete. This discernment is possibly most completely realized through what I have been calling the kenotic mode and scheme and suggests that a blessing accompanies the person who has survived Christian denucleation in a psychic “wilderness.” By contrast, Dittes (1989, pp. 226; 231) laments that Boisen brought out of his depths of experience no “depth of interpretation.” Dittes wishes that a mature Boisen could discern what Dittes clearly sees: Boisen’s unresolved grief and incomplete detachment from his mother. But that interpretation normalizes and valorizes the old order, the old family, the old creation. Boisen does not return to society from his psychoses and kenotic challenges in order to refocus society on the birth mother attachment—to re-anchor tradition on the depths of the instinctual---but rather he reports on the highest bounds and bonds of the new community exemplified even (if not most especially) among those crushed by crisis. To retread over the birth mother-infant attachment would be to construct a “compensatory” divine parent, an exercise that a priori attributes failings to the birth parent. One of Boisen’s greatest religious achievements was his emerging from crisis to locate fault solely in the self, not in others—thus to minister to individual and social dysfunction through the prospective vision of God’s eschatological family. Boisen was an ambassador of and from that reality, bringing good news that does not help the world just cope. Rather, it is an
embassy that helps the world heal.
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