A Higher Psychiatry?
By Audrey Stallsmith
It seems that psychiatrists are finally beginning to acknowledge that God is necessary to human happiness. They just don't like calling Him by name!
I recently read The Tools by Phil Stutz and Barry Michels. The book is frustrating, because it veers very close to the truth at many points, and then beats a hasty retreat from it.
The authors acknowledge that most patients don't really need to know what caused their hang-ups. They just need some way around those hang-ups. Or, perhaps, through them.
The authors also contend that, because we've all experienced pain in the past--not just physical suffering but anything difficult--we've also learned to steer clear of it by living as much as possible in our comfort zones. They hold that we only advance in life by pushing through the pain instead of avoiding it.
Most of us Christians will agree, as we know adversity brings us closer to God and makes us more dependent on Him. In fact, if you change "the Source" in the following quote to "God," you will get something very close to what our pastors tell us. "It [the Source] brings events into our lives that we don't want and can't control. . .The pain of these events brings us to our knees, forcing us to admit we're not the most powerful force in the universe." (Barry Michels)
The authors point out as well that, once you stop being afraid of it, pain tends to shrink like the characters who chase you in your nightmares. When you quit running and confront them instead, they often turn into friends.
That reminds me of Thompson's famous poem, "The Hound of Heaven," where the relentless pursuer is actually divine. He, of course, doesn't shrink. But He becomes considerably less terrifying too when we discover that He has been pursuing us out of a desire to help--not punish--us.
But, although Stutz and Michels talk constantly about our need to align ourselves with the Source or higher powers, they refuse to actually name that Source as God. They admit that it can be God for people who follow Him, but they don't think it has to be. In other words, they seem to feel that any higher power or powers will do, as long as you believe in it--or them.
Granted, they aren't the first to endorse such amorphous faith. Many anti-addiction programs also advocate belief in a "higher power," which is purposely left vague.
But any reasonable person is going to want to know exactly what a power is before he taps into it. We've all heard, for example, about the recent ruse where people who thought they were connected to the Internet through legitimate sources had actually been diverted onto servers set up by scammers. And those scammers obviously didn't have the deceived ones' best interests at heart!
Not all the so-called "higher" powers in the universe are good ones. As Paul writes in Ephesians 6:12, "For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places." (NLT) And evil has always been very good at masquerading as light.
Although Michels complains about the "new age mysticism" which is "as unrelentingly sunny and without substance as Los Angeles, the city that spawned it," his own philosophy doesn't seem much more concrete. We Christians know Who our Source is, because we have seen Him "acted out" in the accounts about Jesus. Therefore, we can test any vague impressions we receive against what Jesus actually said or did. But the higher powers touted in this book remain frustratingly (and dangerously) vague.
Stutz and Michels also talk about active love or outflow which, again, seems very Christian. "Most of us think of love in its lower form," Michel writes. "You feel this type of love only when the other person is pleasing you. . .This form of love is weak because it's a reaction to outer circumstances."
Although we Christians would amen that, we would have some problems with the idea that "active love trains you to accept others as they are." (Michels) God does love us as we are, but He doesn't just accept what we are. Instead, His Spirit constantly works in us, to change us for the better.
God, as C. S. Lewis points out in Mere Christianity, forces the Christian on "to a higher level, putting him into situations where he will have to be very much braver, or more patient, or more loving, than he ever dreamed of being before." If we are really going to copy God, we will love everybody, yet not be satisfied with them until they become the best they can be.
One of the most problematic parts of this book is its reference to the shadow self--our "evil twin" or the part of us of which we are most ashamed. Surprisingly enough, Stutz and Michels recommend that we embrace and unite with our shadow selves.
I would guess that, in Christian doctrine, the shadow self would be roughly equivalent to the original sin we are born with--the self-centered part of us that always wants its own way at the expense of everybody else. In that case, we are definitely not supposed to accept it. Rather, we must strive for its death!
As Lewis stresses in Mere Christianity, "the feeling of resentment, the feeling that wants to get one's own back, must be simply killed. I do not mean that anyone can decide this moment that he will never feel it anymore. That is not how things happen. I mean that every time it bobs its head up, day after day, year after year, all our lives long, we must hit it on the head."
In some ways, I like The Tools very much. It reminds me that many of my own problems have been caused by sticking to my comfort zone--which, for us introverts, can be a very narrow one!
But the book could have been so much more. By advocating a "lite" version of religion, the authors actually practice avoidance themselves. They circumvent the difficult process of finding out who God really is, by averring that any higher power will do. We Christians, on the other hand, hold that you'd better be certain it is really higher!