Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Morality and Psychoanalysis

Okay, no lie this has been sitting in my queue for almost a month. I started it on November 11th. Things happened, okay?

This chapter was just what it says on the tin. Morality, specifically Christian in tone of course, and psychoanalysis. I have to say, flat out that I know next to nothing about psychoanalysis. I don't trust psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, etc. whatever they want to call themselves. I have Issues with them. So basically all I know of Freud and Jung and their ilk is pop culture/random information. Oh. And there's a movie with Freud being played by Viggo Mortensen and Jung being played by Michael Fassbender. And it's all about sex. The movie I mean. Or that's the impression I've gotten from the articles and I'm okay with that. Because...well. Hello? Michael Fassbender.

Go Google him. Go on. I'll wait. I'd have included a pic here but I couldn't decide on just one. *wipes drool from keyboard*

Moving on. I don't think my lack of specific knowledge of psychoanalysis makes any real difference here but I'm just laying it out there. If Lewis says something that is outdated or incorrect I might not catch it because I don't know about these things.

Lewis starts out with saying that while he says we will never get a 'Christian society unless most of us become Christian individuals', that doesn't mean that the current crop of Christian individuals can sit on their butts about issues they have with society until that mythical population tipping point is reached.

Basically it's another instance of common sense. If you want an 'x' society then you have to work toward it in the society you currently find yourself living in. What's the saying, God helps those who help themselves? Along with something about God not changing the condition of a people until they change their condition. Same thing. If you sit around waiting for God (or someone else) to change the things around you that suck you're going to be waiting a long time.

"since Christian morality claims to be a technique for putting the human machine right, I think you would like to know how it is related to another technique which seems to make a similar claim—namely, psychoanalysis."

Lewis wants people to make a distinction between two parts of psychoanalysis. The 'actual medical theories and technique' and 'the general philosophical view of the world which Freud and some others have gone on to add to this'. In the first case Lewis says that it is sensible to treat the mental health professional as an expert - a specialist in his own field. However whenever they start to talk about the second, the philosophy of the world then they can be discarded because it's not their area of expertise. And that makes sense. Someone can be a neurosurgeon or a professor of pretty much anything and be brilliant and well learned in their field and then proceed to be wrong about something else. Of course they can also be brilliant in their chose field and be *right* about something else as well.

"I am all the readier to do it because I have found that when he is talking off his own subject and on a subject I do know some-thing about (namely, language) he is very ignorant."

Personally I think that Lewis has a thing about Freud. Was Freud particularly anti-Christian in his world view?

"But psy­choanalysis itself, apart from all the philosophical additions that Freud and others have made to it, is not in the least con­tradictory to Christianity. Its technique overlaps with Christian morality at some points and it would not be a bad thing if every person knew something about it: but it does not run the same course all the way, for the two techniques are doing rather different things."

I think that religion and any science can be compatible. It's all a matter of reconciling two things in your head. There are plenty of religious scientists of any discipline so being religious does not preclude being a scientist or vice versa. I think people who take their religious texts extremely literally have a much harder time of reconciling what the texts say to what science says, of course.

"When a man makes a moral choice two things are involved. One is the act of choosing. The other is the various feelings, impulses and so on which his psychological outfit presents him with, and which are the raw material of his choice. Now this raw material may be of two kinds. Either it may. be what we would call normal: it may consist of the sort of feelings that are common to all men. Or else it may consist of quite unnat­ural feelings due to things that have gone wrong in his sub-conscious. Thus fear of things that are really dangerous would be an example of the first kind: an irrational fear of cats or spi­ders would be an example of the second kind. The desire of a man for a woman would be of the first kind: the perverted desire of a man for a man would be of the second."

I keep telling myself that it was the thinking of the time and that we know better now. That we know that homosexuality is not a disease or a 'flaw' in the mind and personality of a person. Then I remember that there are people who still think that way today and I get pissed all over again.

"Now what psychoanalysis undertakes to do is to remove the abnormal feelings, that is, to give the man better raw material for his acts of choice; morality is concerned with the acts of choice themselves."

Lewis gives the example of three young men called up for war. One has the natural fear of danger that any person would have but overcomes it by 'moral effort' and becomes a 'brave' man. The other two are incapable of overcoming their greater fears and 'manning up' as it were. So they go to a psychoanalyst who cures them. Fine. Now they have the same starting point as the first, 'good and normal' man who went to war. But they still have to make the choice to go and fight. One does because that's what he's always really wanted to do if only he wasn't so psychologically crippled. The other says no thanks, I like all my limbs where they are and continues to live his life in relative safety. That's where the moral choice comes in.

Though I guess I'd have to question whether anyone is *morally* bound to go off and fight a war. I sure as hell wouldn't given a choice and it's not that I'm paralyzed with fear over it or anything. I just have no desire to put my life in unnecessary danger. All that being said I have nothing but respect for the people who do and I do understand that we couldn't have a country without them. I just know I'm not cut out to be one of them and I think we're all happier with the arrangement as it is.

"The bad psychological material is not a sin but a disease. It does not need to be repented of, but to be cured."

So there's that. *eyes Lewis with distaste anyway* I know, I know. 'The times. Not his fault.' Maybe. Or maybe he'd be one of those people who think that anyone who doesn't fit the current societal definition of 'normal' is defective in some way even today. I don't know and neither do you. So.

"Human beings judge one another by their external actions. God judges them by their moral choices."

I think the best part of this is that Lewis makes a point out of the fact that we can't see all of the background noise that leads up to a person making a moral choice. Someone who does some tiny act of kindness that the rest of us would think nothing of may be doing something greater, morally, than someone else making a larger gesture. Because it may have been harder and more against their 'nature' for that person who does the tiny act of kindness. And that's what God sees and judges by.

"People often think of Christian morality as a kind of bargain in which God says, `If you keep a lot of rules I'll reward you, and if you don't I'll do the other thing.' I do not think that is the best way of look­ing at it. I would much rather say that every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innu­merable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing either into a heavenly creature or into a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow-creatures, and with itself. To be the one kind of creature is heaven: that is, it is joy and peace and knowledge and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impo­tence, and eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other."

I really like this paragraph as you can tell by how I've included all of it! I think you could change a few words or take out religious references all together and it would still be a good paragraph. Everything we do, every encounter that we have leaves a mark. It changes us. It can change us for good or for bad and we make the choice to accept the changes or change in the other direction. We're not static, though I think that most people never really do complete 180s.

"One last point. Remember that, as I said, the right direction leads not only to peace but to knowledge. When a man is get­ting better he understands more and more clearly the evil that is still left in him. When a man is getting worse he understands his own badness less and less. A moderately bad man knows he is not very good: a thoroughly bad man thinks he is all right. This is common sense, really. You understand sleep when you are awake, not while you are sleeping. You can see mistakes in arithmetic when your mind is working properly: while you are making them you cannot see them. You can understand the nature of drunkenness when you are sober, not when you are drunk. Good people know about both good and evil: bad people do not know about either." 

I like this for the poetic imagery of it but I'm not sure it's accurate. Personally I know I'm drunk when I'm drunk. I know I'm doing something bad when I do something bad. And I've done some relatively bad things. Not murder or rape or anything of that level but still worse than stealing a pack of gum when you're 6 or something. I think many people who are 'bad' do understand what good is. Then again, I also think that very few people who are truly 'bad' think that they are bad. I think there's a quote (from somewhere, probably the Dresden Files since that's what's on my mind lately!) that everyone is the hero of their own story. No one thinks of themselves as the villain of the piece.


  1. *sigh* Psychoanalysis. Ok, I do know something about it. My undergrad degree was in psychology. The first mistake here (which again, Lewis can't be blamed for) is calling psychoanalysis a science. It's not. It's a method of treatment heavily wound up in Freud's psychology and beliefs. Also, Jung's brand of it was much more based on mythology and the idea of a collective unconscious that included archetypes common to all cultures. He provided the "science" side of Kerenyi's mythological analysis, and together they were trying to turn mythological studies into a science. But in any terms we would think of it today, pschoanalysis is not science. Psychology is, and it focuses much more on experiments and study about the actual brain rather than the mythological frameworks of our minds, which is of course highly subjective and individual, and would make a rotten subject for any kind of scientific study.

    So...yeah. A lot of what he says about it is problematic. Trying to separate the "science" of psychoanalysis from the philosophy is impossible. It's all based on subjective philosophy/mythology. The reason it sometimes overlaps with Christianity is because Freud and Jung were looking at the philosophical/ideological framework of the people around them, which were mostly Christian. They had similar worldviews, goals, and ideas of what behaviors/beliefs needed to be "fixed."

    So, anyway. :D I'll try to leave off this particular topic now, but just saying from the perspective of a psych student that the fact that he's even talking about things like the subconscious and Freudian/Jungian psychoanalysis makes the whole argument a bit outdated and ridiculous. I know it was a different story at the time, but the percentage of people who actually believe in this anymore is pretty small. And even among the people who still do it, it's not a science in the same way as contemporary psychology, biology, etc.

    Moving on. I said in my last post that everyone wants to talk about morality lately. :D Thanks for being my little nudge for the day, I guess! I just finally started my own post on it after seeing yours. And I have kind of a lot to say about it, enough that it's hard to cut it down and have a coherent comment here. So I'll just say that once again I find Lewis interesting, but can't really agree with him on much.

    everyone is the hero of their own story. No one thinks of themselves as the villain of the piece.

    My favorite statement of the whole post, and pretty much the core of my ideas about morality. I love the way you worded it (even if you were paraphrasing something else), and I like the post as a whole. Thanks for sharing! :)

  2. drooling over for now girly, he is in a box set of dubious supernatural elements called Hex. he looks super hot in that. And if you watch Vampire diaries Nicklaus is in it as a spoilt boarding school brat.

  3. sanil,

    Good to know! Thanks for enlightening me a little here. :) I thought there was something off about what he was saying - it didn't really match what little I do know but I know so little I didn't know if it was me, him or just a difference of time like so many things are.

    *laughs* Well the next chapter is about sexual morality so here's another nudge for you since I can't guarantee when I'll get that one up! I'm working on it now though.

    Since you like that line so much I'm just going to pretend it was all my idea. *rewrites reality*

  4. Sol,

    I've heard of that show but never seen it! One of those things I'm going to have to get on Netflix some day I think. Pretty, pretty Fassbender...

    They're going to be doing a second X-Men movie with him which makes me exceedingly happy!

  5. 1st...I googled the guy. Cute!

    2nd...I like that same paragraph that you did.

    Really interesting thoughts in this post and I enjoyed what Sanil had to say as well.

    Thanks to you both!

  6. Fassbender is absolutely wonderful. *goes to stare at him some more*

    Great minds think alike? :)

    I'm happy someone who knew what they were talking about chimed in. Sanil is a font of knowledge!

  7. Viggo Mortensen.... I love him. I will watch any movie he's in, even if it's not usually my kind of flick. I mean, I watched "Eastern Promises" for him alone. That movie was painful. He was yummy. : P

  8. Heather,

    You speak only the truth. I would watch that man in anything. Eastern Promises was not my favorite of his films, but it had it's moments.

    Now I really want to break out my Super Special Extended Lord of the Rings dvds and watch them in a caffeine fueled craze. :D

  9. I luuuuuuurve Viggo Mortensen. I went to the premier for Eastern Promises in Denmark where he came to introduce it!!!! Of course it doesn't hurt that he's half Danish, lived in Denmark for a while in the early 80's and speaks fluent Danish :P

    I'm with Sanil on the psychology stuff (even though I only took a few classes and not a whole degree). Also, I loved the same passage: "everyone is the hero of their own story. No one thinks of themselves as the villain of the piece."

  10. Viggo...ah...Viggo. He's delicious and the man can *act*, which is not always true of handsome actors. The only reason Fassbender gets higher billing in this post is that my crush on him is new. Viggo has stuck around and is a tried and true darling. :)


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