Friday, August 06, 2004

Owen Thomas on "sin" & "neurosis"

A philosophical interlocutor writes:
Owen Thomas, in Theological Questions: Analysis and Argument, defines sin as "estrangement from God resulting in estrangement from neighbor, self, and the world." He defines neurosis as "an unconscious emotional conflict arising from repression which inhibits the functioning of the persona-lity" (page 63). Lastly, Thomas depicts complementarity as that logical relation which deals with two different aspects of a unitary reality (e. g., essence and existence). With these definitions in mind, it is not difficult to see how neurosis could be a complement (i.e., another aspect) of the phenomenon that Christians label "sin." It is logically possible to suffer from neurosis and sin simultaneously. They are possibly two aspects of one reality.
Reply: I see your point, and I think there's truth in it. I also see this as an area of hazardously subjective and speculative proposition. It's just as possible that neurosis exists apart from sin, as the blindness of the man in John 9, according to Jesus, had nothing to do with sin. And I've read enough psychology to see an extremely dangerous tendency to REDUCE sin to a psychological disorder. Remind me that I have a photocopy of an article by a Rogerian psychoanalyst for you, someone who was instrumental in destroying (through his therapeutic treatment) a whole religious order of nuns in California, as well as many individual Jesuits and others.

I do not think that neurosis vitiates human responsibility for "trangressions." As Owen Thomas expresses matters: "Since sin is a matter of the will, it cannot be caused by something else without ceasing to be sin. Something similar is usually asserted about neurosis, namely that it cannot be externally caused and still be neurosis, that a neurosis is always caused by repression which is in some sense an act of the person and not anyone else" (page 65).
Reply: But Freud himself wouldn't necessarily accept that, being the biopsychic determinist that he was. For him, as I think I said, "repression" is distinct from "suppression" in being an unwitting defense mechanism of the mind, something distinct from an "act" (in the Aristotelian sense) which one "performs."

In other words, neurosis is still compatible with a view that places the locus of control within the individual. Remember that we're also talking complementarity and not identicalness.
Reply: What you've been saying here about neurosis I have no quarrel with. But it's all been "cleaned up." It's not what you find in Freud. Freud would not accept the kind of characterization of neurosis you're giving here, at least if I've understood him correctly. He's a DETERMINIST, after all.

I think what brought this all up was your insistence that, like Heidegger and others, Freud had many profound insights from which we can stand to benefit. Maybe so. But I'm not sure I agree that these were "insights" simply as he stated them. I think they involve profound distortions and what Herman Dooyeweerd would call "antinomies."

If these thinkers are useful when "cleaned up," then we must have some other sets of criteria by reference to which we do the cleaning, which can't be found within their theories.