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Jesus the Liberator of Desire. Three Perspectives - II

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 September 2014

Elisabeth Koenig*
General Theological Seminary


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Review Symposium
Copyright © The College Theology Society 1991

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1 Mary Schaldenbrand expands the difficulty when she notes the “quasi-eclipse” of imagination as a philosophic problem in her Metaphoric Imagination: Kinship Through Conflict” in Reagan, Charles E., ed. Studies in the Philosophy of Paul Ricoeur (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1979), 5960.Google Scholar Her remarks are indebted to Paul Ricoeur's “Recherches phénomenologiques sur l'imaginaire: Séminaire 1973-1974,” Centre de Recherches Phénomenologiques, Paris, 1974, 1-8.

2 The Swiss psychoanalyst, Alice Miller, who is a major influence on Moore's thought, describes the process this way: “The discovery of their own subjectivity gives analysts access to the subjectivity of their patients, from whom and with whom they learn about the latter's lives. It is only the (limited) acquaintance with my own unconscious and the recognition of the repetition compulsion that makes it possible for me to understand the subjectivity of another person. This subjectivity is then revealed to me in everything this person says, does, writes, dreams, or flees from. The analyst's ability to be aware of his or her own subjectivity is a prerequisite for understanding the patient, and the resulting insights into the patient's life are anything but subjective speculation.”

To grasp what Miller means in this passage, it is important to note that what she calls subjectivity includes the memory, awakened from the unconscious, of one's own victimization as a child, with its accompanying desperate feelings of abandonment, isolation, and worthlessness. She goes on to say: “… it is clear that insights of this nature can be tested for their validity. Feeling does not necessarily exclude scientific accuracy. I even believe there are fields (such as psychoanalysis) whose scientific nature would be enhanced by the acknowledgement of feeling. … Only a feeling person can grasp the way an empty theory may function as a means to power, for he or she will not be intimidated by incomprehensi-bility” (Thou Shalt Not Be Aware: Society's Betrayal of the Child, trans. Hildegarde, and Hannum, Hunter [New York: Farrar-Straus-Giroux, 1984], 8Google Scholar).

3 The evolution of Christian teaching on discernment is fascinating in this regard. Essentially, the process moves from a focus on influences that are perceived as external and objective (angels and demons, as in Athanasius' Life of Antony) to a focus on influences that arise from within, as in Evagrius Ponticus, John Cassian, and, ultimately, Ignatius Loyola, who develops the teaching in the most sophisticated way. See Lienhard, Joseph, “On ‘Discernment of Spirits’ in the Early Church,” Theological Studies 41 (09 1980): 505–29CrossRefGoogle Scholar, and Sweeney, Richard Joseph, Christian Discernment and Jungian Psychology: Toward a Jungian Revision of the Doctrine of Discernment of Spirits (Ann Arbor, MI: University Microfilms International, 1983).Google Scholar

In the twentieth century, the discernment tradition has just begun to be seen as having application, not only to personal decision-making, but also to political vocation; see Libanio, J. B., Spiritual Discernment and Politics (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1982).Google Scholar

4 Merton's thoughts on the true/false self are “rambling and relatively unsystematic.” Although he had read Karen Horney, Merton was drawn to Jacques Martain's neo-Thomism to provide the philosophical language for his early writing on the true and false self. Later, he was attracted to Buddhist categories. All these reflections are based on an unpublished paper, Phillip C. Bennett, “The Spontaneous Gesture: the ‘True Self’ in D. W. Winnicott and Thomas Merton and Its Implications for Religious Experience,” May 1989. Phillip Bennett is a doctoral candidate in the Psychiatry and Religion Department at Union Theological Seminary. In all fairness, it needs to be said that Moore's descriptions of the true/false self are not systematic either.

5 A most fascinating analysis of the kind of false desirousness which arises from unsatisfying relationships in early childhood can be found in the writings of the Scottish psychoanalyst W. R. D. Fairbairn. For an illumination of what Sebastian Moore is describing, I recommend the analysis of Fairbairn's concepts of the “libidinal-ego/exciting object; anti-libidinal ego/rejecting object; central ego/ideal object” in Greenberg, Jay R. and Mitchell, Stephen A., Object Relations in Psychoanalytic Theory (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1983), 151–87.Google Scholar

6 The writings of St. John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila are, of course, primary loci for descriptions of the nature of contemplative experiences. For contemporary understandings of this growth process in the context of one's love-relationship with God, and relationships with other people as well, I suggest reading two works: Nemeck, Francis Kelly O.M.I., and Coombs, Marie TheresaContemplation (Wilmington, DE: Michael Glazier, 1982)Google Scholar, and Tyrrell, Thomas J., Urgent Longings: Reflections on the Experience of Infatuation, Human Intimacy, and Contemplative Love (Whitinsville, MA: Affirmation Books, 1980).Google Scholar Both of these are responses to St. John of the Cross. The latter is very helpful for discovering how relationships with other human beings can become contemplative rather than controlling.

7 Williams' words on the crucifixion of Jesus offer, I think, a necessary corrective to the tendency to identify all human suffering with that of Jesus on the cross. He shows how “the cross can be made to serve an ideological purpose. God is identified with my cause, because he is identified with my suffering: the cross is the banner of my ego—or the banner of a collective ego. If I suffer I am in the right, because God ‘endorses’ my pain.” A more accurate vision would hold that, even when we are victimized, we are also at the same time victimizers. Jesus is the only “pure victim,” which is why his suffering and death have a significance different from ours (Williams, Rowan, Resurrection: Interpreting the Easter Gospel [New York: Pilgrim Press, 1984]).Google Scholar

8 In the area of politics, Vamik D. Volkan gives a most important analysis of the psychological need to create enemies. Operating from the viewpoint of object relations theory, he demonstrates how the need to blame others arises, what kind of leaders it asks for, and what sort of followers will constitute the political movement. I think the motivation behind a certain type of pseudo-politics in theological circles receives considerable illumination from Volkan's work. See Volkan, Vamik D. M.D., The Need to Have Enemies and Allies: From Clinical Practice to International Relationships (Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 1988).Google Scholar

9 There is a very useful discussion of how a life of desire, which is given order through its love for Jesus, can inspire social justice movements, when justice is understood as right order. See Clarke, Thomas E. S.J., “Jesus at Table: The Ignatian Rules and Human Hunger Today” in Schner, George P.. ed., Ignatian Spirituality in a Secular Age (Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1984), 92112.Google Scholar

10 A more extensive analysis than Moore gives, but one that comes to a similar conclusion regarding Augustine, is Capps, Donald, “Augustine as Narcissist: Comments on Paul Rigby's ‘Paul Ricoeur, Freudianism and Augustine's Confessions,’Journal of the American Academy of Religion 53/1 (03 1985).Google Scholar

11 Helpful for understanding the worth of an approach to theology like Moore's is David Tracy's claim that poetic speech is more adequate, “even for truth,” than necessary, nonpoetic, abstract metaphysiqal speech; see Tracy, David, The Analogical Imagination (New York: Crossroad, 1981), chaps. 4 and 5, also p. 86, n. 34.Google Scholar

Also important in this regard is Paul Ricoeur's work on metaphor. In his discussion of the “split reference” of the metaphorical statement, Ricoeur describes how poetic language is about reality, just as much or more than any other kind of language. Poetic language “suggests, reveals, unconceals—or whatever you say—the deep structures of reality to which we are related as mortals who are born into this world and who swell in it for a while” (“The Metaphorical Process as Cognition, Imagination, and Feeling,” Critical Inquiry 5/1 (Autumn 1978): 153.Google Scholar

I think poetic language is “more adequate for truth” over non-poetic language because, while giving sharp observations of external reality, it at once reaches deep into the structures of subjectivity and the unconscious.

12 Elizabeth Ann Liebert's doctoral dissertation explores how the Ignatian rules for discernment can be correlated with stages of ego development; see The Process of Change in Spiritual Direction: A Structural Developmental Approach, Graduate School, Vanderbilt University, 1986.Google Scholar Joann Wolski Conn's discussion of Kegan's, Robert theory of development in her Spirituality and Personal Maturity (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist, 1989)Google Scholar is also very helpful for understanding how the world can look different to people at various levels of spiritual and emotional development.