Thursday, May 07, 2015

From Children to Maturity

I'm reading Intimacy by Henri Nouwen currently.  He said something I read this morning that really jumped out at me:

"When Sigmund Freud wrote his Future of an Illusion, he irritated and deeply disturbed the faithful, by saying that religion is the continuation of infantile life and that God is the projection of the ever-present desire for shelter.
Freud's task was to cure people, that is, to make them become more mature.  And looking at the many people in his office in Vienna who suffered from their religion more than they were saved by it, he tried to unmask their projections.  The psychiatrist Rumke summarizes Freud's position when he writes: 'When man matures completely he realizes that his God image, often a father-God image, is a reincarnation of the infantile worldly father, loved and feared.  God is apparently no more than a projection.  If that which blocks his growth is taken away, the image fades.  Man distinguishes good from evil according to his own standards.  He has conquered the remainder of his neurosis, which was all that his religion was.'  What is important in this context is that Freud was not altogether wrong.  We often stay in this magical and infantile world in which God is as nice to have around as the comforting blanket of Linus in 'Peanuts.'  For many, religion is really not very much more than Freud found it to be, and for all of us, so many of our religious experiences are clothed in images of childhood that it is often very difficult to say where our infantilism ends and our religion begins."

He then follows with a challenge:

"In one way we have to agree with Freud: in so far as our God is a pure surrogate for our conscience and a  preventative to the development of a rational mind, a mature self and an autonomous individual, it is only a sign of good health and insight to throw God out as a disease called neurosis.  It is even sad to notice how few have the courage to do this."

Would you allow me to attempt to say what Nouwen has said in that last paragraph in my own words?

Dear Self-Proclaimed Christian, if God is merely a figure that makes you feel better about yourself -- if God is merely your comforting binky, if God is merely a loving figure that makes you feel warm and fuzzy, if God is merely a crutch, if your prayers are tools to manipulate God in your direction, if God is an excuse for you to deny the hardships of life -- than perhaps you should have the courage to consider getting rid of this God.

It is so easy for those of us in self-identified Christian circles to fail to obtain true faith and maturity, and instead we settle into a childish, stunted one.  So many of us have settled for a life based on "Biblical principles" and "Truth" (with a capital T!) and completely forgotten that the God we proclaim to worship is living and mysterious and present and free.

We self-identifying Christians become completely flustered at new scientific or historical discoveries and theories and lack any autonomy and/or ability to revise our positions or integrate new insights into our life of faith.

We religious people tend to identify ourselves with cleanliness and purity and the perfect life, and then find that within we find desires so base that they would make other people's mothers blush -- strange sexual urges, cruel fantasies, and aggressive desires, hatred and envy in spades.  We tell ourselves, "No!"  And then we walk through life like we have a colloquial stick up our rear-end, rigid and straight.  Yet we're always afraid that these desires will get out of hand.
Maturity would require us, I think, to say: "Sure, I have some base, crooked, horrible desires.  I'm filled with hate and envy and rage and jealousy.  But that does not make me a crooked horrible person!  It makes me human.  My ugly thoughts do not make me ugly."

I find myself drawn to Freud's desire to cure people, I just think he went about it the wrong way.  He said, in essence, "Your religion is making you miserable.  Your need for shelter and safety is causing you to create a God."

I think it's the other way around.  We are created, by our creator, as beings needing comfort and safety and shelter and relationship.  We were created to need and want and desire Him, rather than He being created because of our needs and desires.

And this creator is alive and free.  He is loving and life-giving.  It is in intimate relationship with Him that we find our true home.

Maturity is living with open eyes to this reality.

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