Are you a psychological Christian?

Here is a great quote:

“Once you feel your own personal soul to be distinct from the world out there, and that the conscience and consciousness are lodged in that soul (and not in the world out there) . . . you are, psychologically, Christian. Once you feel sin in connection with your flesh and its impulses, again you are Christian. . . when a hunch comes true, a slip-up is taken as an omen, and you trust in dreams, only to shake off these inklings as “superstition,” you are Christian . . . When you turn from books and learning and instead to your inner feelings for simple answers to complexities, you are Christian. . . If your psychology uses words like ambivalence, weak ego, splitting, breakdown, ill-defined boundaries . . . as negative disorders, you are Christian, for these terms harbor insistence on a unified, empowered central authority. Once you view the apparently aimless facts of history to be going somewhere, evolving somehow, and that hope is a virtue and not a delusion, you are Christian.  . . and you are especially an American Christian when idealizing a clean slate of childlike innocence as close to godliness.We cannot escape two thousand years of history, we are history incarnated.  . .

We may not admit the grip of Christianity on our [psychology]  but the ingrained emotional patterns and unthought thoughts that fills us with the prejudices we prefer to see as choices? We [westerners] are Christian through and through, St. Thomas sits in our distinctions, St. Francis governs our acts of goodness, and thousands of Protestant missionaries . . . join together to give us the innate assurance that we can help [others] see the light.”

I am interested to hear from those of you who don’t think this is a true statement.


21 thoughts on “Are you a psychological Christian?

  1. I’m not sure who will object to the basics of the passage. Historical prejudices even taint the efforts of more sophisticated apologists. The traditional beliefs of the Abrahamic religions prepared the way for Descartes, who did not develop in a vacuum either. Those beliefs exert an undeniable pressure toward interactionist substance dualism. Unfortunately, that philosophical position is incoherent.
    Fortunately, cultural forces can be resisted, or at least reconciled, once they are recognized. My car has a name, and I act like it has a personality, but I understand that my words of encouragement aren’t actually helping it get up the hill. So, “history incarnate” ? Maybe I do object to that part. It has things backwards at least, but that reversal is a Christian thing also.

  2. The statement shows a total lack of understanding of the Christian faith.

    Many Christians also lack the proper understanding due to terrible preaching and preaching.

    This is one Lutheran who is very glad that he doesn’t have to feel saved…to know that he is saved.

    His story (history) is going somewhere. There will be an end to it all. This is biblical and it is accessed through faith. A faith that can only come from God. And He gives that faith when and where He wills.

  3. I think the use of the term Christian is inadvisable. What is being described could be other, non-Christian religions. It could even be many non-Abrahamic religions. While the essence of the idea is basically correct, it is more describing a person of spiritual belief, not necessarily Christian.

  4. I think the point of the quote is to demonstrate that whether we like it or not, a good portion of our own personal psychology is driven by Christianity, Christian understanding of the soul, Christian disapproval of receiving spiritual answers from “superstitious” sources, and Christian archetypes of what it is to be a “good person”.

    I think a lot of people in the West have to come to terms that that have Christianity on the brain whether they like it or not.

  5. At first I was puzzled but once I understood that he was talking about the enduring influence of Christianity on Western culture, I felt like it was right on the money. In fact that thought occurred to me as I read your last post, about explaining Christianity to a 5-year-old. You mention, “Those of us who live among the luckiest of humans, who are filthy rich, have developed beneficial social structures that allow the curious idea of state-protected freedom are not immune to the war.” But these beneficial social structures are themselves a product of Christianity.

  6. Agellius,

    I agree, Western liberalism is a branch off of the trunk of Christianity. Most atheists are unconscious Christians. If you dig deeper into their hopes for a better society and technological utopia you find a weighed-down hope in the liberation that comes from the mystery of the Cross. Their guilt betrays their Christian mindset at every turn.

  7. As I consider the quote, knowing more context would be helpful to giving an ultimate opinion. I can see it two ways: a challenge to Christians to be aware of their psychological state or as an ultimate criticism. The words are quite harsh, which is not necessarily a bad thing.

    As such, I reserve ultimate judgment until I know the context of how and where they were written.

    That said, the words are generally harsh, and I don’t know if I fully agree with certain statements. For example, “When you turn from books and learning and instead to your inner feelings for simple answers to complexities, you are Christian,” is very off in my mind. I don’t believe Christians turn from books and learning to offer feelings for simple answers, at least not all (and there are those who do that who are not Christian).

    I also find the next problematic: “If your psychology uses words like ambivalence, weak ego, splitting, breakdown, ill-defined boundaries . . . as negative disorders, you are Christian, for these terms harbor insistence on a unified, empowered central authority.” Christianity is not a political idea, and further I don’t see how Christians are alone in viewing ill-defined boundaries as a negative ‘disorder’.

    There are others in there that I think don’t accurately portray Christianity. Sure, there are those in Christianity who subscribe, but they are alone. So, not only does the author critique items that I don’t think exemplify Christianity, he also lumps these traits only to Christians who are not the only groups to take them.

    Its not as if Christians are the only group to take predispositions towards the world around us. So I do largely disagree. However, if the author is concerned with how others perceive Christians and uses this language to get the attention of the Christian church, especially in America, then perhaps his (her?) words are useful, if not overstating the case.

  8. Just a correction here:

    “Sure, there are those in Christianity who subscribe, but they are alone.” This sentence should read: “Sure, there are those in Christianity who subscribe, but they are NOT alone.”

  9. The quote is from James Hillman, a psychologist and expert in comparative mythology. The context of the quote is less important than its observation — in a very strong sense we are Christian whether we like it or not because Christian doctrine is deep in our unconscious. Most other religious traditions do not see the world in the way Hillman describes.

    This worldview is deeply political, and it dramatically altered history, dramatically shaped our law, and has bent human minds to see that the world is not at peace, but teaches an obstinate hope that peace and unity is possible through struggle and faith. Our intuitive mythology betrays us as Christians, whether or not we recognize that our salvation is immediately before us, the product of self-discipline, the product of the institutions we build, or the technology we develop. We don’t have to consciously believe anything to be shaped by these forces.

    The importance in recognizing this in the LDS/Evangelical conversation because it is critical for both parties to recognize that we are in the same boat, we have the same hope, that somehow the sun will rise on the dark night of this world. The hope that, in Christ, we are radically free because we can have joy while eating and drinking as well as joy in our own crucifixion.

    The LDS revolted against the political institution of the catholic church, and believe that we must politically affect the world by forming Christian communities based on sacrifice and participation in one Church in order to prepare for the bright morning of the resurrection and the second coming. Low church Evangelicals claim the sun has already risen and we are free to walk any path illuminated by the Light of Christ.

  10. The quote reminded me of somethings said by Francis Schaeffer about how Christians have built a second floor onto the house of Western Civilization and secularist are always jumping upstairs to borrow stuff all the while denying the second floor exists and if it did if it were “good”.

    As a description of a disciple of Jesus, it’s not a good definition, but as a summation of how influential Christianity is to Western thought I think it’s a pretty good start.

  11. It seems the conversation has moved on, but I wanted to point out that Christianity can in a broader sense include the political. The Judeo/Christian tradition certainly has left a political legacy in the west. I would include Mormonism in that tradition.

    However, in a more narrow sense, Christianity is very much a religion and not a political framework. Christianity is the belief in Jesus Christ, and has very specific meanings. Mormonism is outside of this framework.

    We need to be careful to describe what sense we use the word.

  12. I think it is pure Christian pride to worry about boundaries. The point of the post was to show that to someone who can see the difference between a true pagan and a Christian, WE ALL ARE CHRISTIANS, we just don’t all have Christ. I don’t see the benefit of maintaining the boundary.

    When we do wrong, and ARE guilty of breaking the Christian law, we will either look to Christ, or flounder around for a pagan god that will satisfy the wrath in us. Most Christians sacrifice to Dionysus, Ares, and Apollo, etc. but only Christ can appease them. Mormons focus on sacrifice to Christ to appease Him. This is a simple enough mistake. They need to be shown the Light of Christ.

    The reasonable question Mormons can ask protestants is, to what do you sacrifice? Does it do the world any good? Mormonism is about building a community to answer that question. They can’t answer it correctly without Christ, but they are sincerely asking.

  13. In all due respect, I am not surprised in the least to hear you say that. But make sure you are putting adequate emphasis on my words and not assume things that are not there.

    I would urge, though, the benefit is when someone looks at the broad sense of Christianity they need to know that not everyone within that broad framework is a religious Christian. Why is that important? To ensure they get an accurate picture of the world they look at.

    Consider: are all Muslims terrorists?

  14. Let me clarify a bit more, I think Mormonism is simply spiritual Christianity. They are trying to soothe their Christian brains with sacrifice and spirituality. This is the method of pagan religion. The “dream” is as important as the illusion that is the world. The Mormon religion is one of Christian spirituality. This is why Cal thinks Mormons are also Christians.

    The method of Christian religion is capitulation to Christ (the ultimate judge) and recognize that salvation is at hand, in our midst, in our hearts, etc.

  15. Jared, we’ve been through this before. I am not sure you fully grasp the significance of the right Jesus to true Christians.

    I’m actually listening to an audio CD on Christian Theology, and in it they talk about the orthodoxy of the early Christian church. It sounds a lot like what I am saying now. God is a single, triune God who is fully different from us. Anything different from that would be labeled heretical (which did not have the negative tint the word does now). Those believing and teaching these heresies would be excommunicated. Further, orthodoxy was very important to the early church fathers in that they went to great pains to ensure correct doctrine about Christ was taught. Doctrine, by the way, is a very Christian idea, as it is not really present in other faiths, arguably even Mormonism.

    I don’t think Mormons are Christians, spiritual or otherwise, in the slightest. I think they are their own faith molded off of Christianity. They have taken many Christian ideas and terms and transferred them to their own usage. Their Jesus is different, their mode of salvation is different, their view of the afterlife is different. At best, they can claim “nominal” Christianity.

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