Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Bonhoeffer and psychology

“In the former (the spiritual community) unsophisticated, nonpsychological, unmethodical, helping love is offered to one another; in the latter, psychological analysis and design.”—Bonhoeffer, Life Together
When I read through Bonhoeffer, as well as CS Lewis, I often am struck by the genuine fear of psychology expressed by these Christian thinkers. For that matter Thomas Merton sort of dismisses the unconscious as just not as important as the moderns seem to think it to be.
I wonder, initially, why that is. Some of me just assumes it is a generational thing. At the time utter belief in psychology as a cure for sin—the way to sanctify and perfect humankind—was a genuine dream of some. Further, fascist regimes, using the power of suggestion and the appeal of mass communication and mass propaganda, seemed to be successful in changing masses of individuals into collective mobs. So, in that sense I can see where there is a real fear, if not hatred, of psychology.
Additionally, accepted too readily psychology can have a way of dismissing individual powers and rooting out mystery.
Finally, especially regarding Merton’s tradition, I have heard Catholics claim that all psychology does is invert the “right” understanding of humans, assuming base passions are subtler, and therefore impossible to control.

Oh, on a side note some readers may have noticed a lot of Bonhoeffer lately. I am currently using "A Year With Dietrich Bonhoeffer" as part of my daily devotions.

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