An Interview Regarding the Psychologist of Faith and the Post-Modern Moment
Special to Virtueonline
April 5, 2013
An interview with Dr. Charles Zeiders PsyD by Douglas Schoeninger, PhD
ABSTRACT. A culmination of experiences leaves me concerned and excited about the current historical situation and the crisis in the Western mind. Sartorius (2009) wrote that "Nothingness" is a new archetype in the Western mind. He argues simply that it is a fact of our Western mass mind that we tend toward an experience of pure materiality and meaninglessness. Pre-moderns looked for God beyond the rational. Moderns idealize rationality with or without God. Post-moderns find both faith and reason bereft. Meaninglessness contradicts human nature. Human beings simply cannot tolerate nihilism.
Giant commercial interests promulgate substitutionary values for ultimate values. In other words economic institutions are predominantly filling the post-modern spiritual void with false gods.
On the other hand, the Christian psychologist understands that human nature has an essence. And that essence transcends science, and historical epochs, and stands out in creation with God's delighted endorsement, because most essentially to be human is to be loved. It is lovability, being loved, that grounds human nature, not dystopia and its discontents.
A Christian psychologist can uphold the pre-modern belief that God is real and that God saves and loves human beings, and practice psychotherapy, and subscribe to the modernist notion that social science can make the individual and the world a better place. Social science can be in a state of grace. Faith and reason combine against the nihilism of the post-modern moment. Rather than leading to pessimism, nihilism, and addiction, this approach opens the way to hope, meaning, and sustainability.
Epigraph."An effective proclamation of the Gospel in contemporary Western society will need to confront directly the widespread spirit of agnosticism and relativism which has cast doubt on reason's ability to know the truth which alone satisfies the human heart's restless quest for meaning. ... The Church in the United States is ....called to respond to the profound religious needs and aspirations of a society increasingly in danger of forgetting its spiritual roots and yielding to a purely materialistic and soulless vision of the world."– Pope John Paul II, Address to the Bishops, May 28, 2004. http://www.beliefnet.com/Faiths/Catholic/2000/01/Whats-Wrong-With- The-World. aspx)
Douglas Schoeninger: During the last two years you have become concerned with the psychological and spiritual problems of post-modernism, of this moment in history. Can you tell the Journal of Christian Healing (JCH) about this concern?
Charles Zeiders: Yes. A culmination of experiences leaves me concerned and excited about the current historical situation and the crisis in the Western mind. For example, a philosophy student I know attended a European conference on philosophy and was surprised that a well respected philosopher flat-out said that there was nothing more to say - that everything that philosophers might say has already been said. This well-respected philosopher further unsettled the student by proposing that their time might be better spent on drinks, instead of seminars, and having laughs. The student left the conference with the unsettled sense that post-modern philosophy was a field that had lost its arable ground and that a culture that cannot grow new ideas about the meaning of life is as doomed as one that cannot grow food. The student drank beer with the well respected authority and suffered the terrible sense that our culture is exhausted.
Schoeninger: Are there particular scholars who have helped to reinforce and solidify these observations?
Zeiders: Around the same time that this student agonized about the death of philosophy, I came across recent Jungian scholars who were writing about our psychological problem of nihilism and the spiritual problem of the death of God. Sartorius (2009) wrote that "Nothingness" is a new archetype in the Western mind. He made the point that in the evolution of our consciousness, we have transcended transcendence. We cannot find any purpose or sense of life within ourselves or in spiritus mundi, the spiritual world. We are metaphysically cut off and marooned. The world of phenomena hangs before our senses without meaning. He argues simply that it is a fact of our Western mass mind that we tend toward an experience of pure materiality and meaninglessness.
Another Jungian, Mogenson (2010) plays with the idea that modern culture transmutes the Holy Spirit into the idols of the current moment, and that as psychologists we must buck up and apply ourselves to sorting out the strange, dispirited life of the Western mind. I have a quote here from Morgenson who sees post-modern consciousness as having emancipated itself from religion. " '...the spirit that bloweth where it listeth' (John 3:8, KJV) has now transformed itself into money, ...technology, and cyberspace. Rather than deploring these uncanny phenomena of our modern situation, the challenge for the psychologist is simply to discern what they say about consciousness or show about the soul" (p. 5).
Schoeninger: How might a Christian psychologist address this reality?
Zeiders: Of course what Morgenson explores is what it looks like to be a psychologist to the citizens of 'dystopia'1. In that project there is a loss of the understanding that human nature has an essence. Unlike the nihilism that Mogenson simply explores, the Christian psychologist understands that human nature has an essence. And that essence transcends
science, and historical epochs, and stands out in creation with God's delighted endorsement, because most essentially to be human is to be loved. It is lovability being loved that grounds human nature, not a dystopia and its discontents. Schoeninger: From your viewpoint, how did the Western mind evolve from anticipating the Kingdom of God to dystopia?
Zeiders: Bottum (2010) wrote a great article about that in First Things. He delineates three stages of descent from faith to reason to post-modern despair. It is premodern to seek beyond rational knowledge for God; it is modern to desire to hold knowledge in the structures of human rationality (with or without God); it is postmodern to see the impossibility of such knowledge. (p.44) What Bottum delineates are stages of consciousness evolving over time in our culture.
Schoeninger: Would you describe these stages of consciousness for us?
Zeiders: Yes. Pre-modern Christian consciousness lives in an awareness of relationship with God who gives life purpose and meaning. The pre-modern Christian idea of the human is that we are loved by God. God has gone out of God's way to provide the vicarious sacrifice of Jesus Christ to give us endless access to mystical love. This allows us to enjoy the goodness of God and the goodness of ourselves. Involved in this state of affairs is a project. The project of Christian consciousness is to work with God to build the City of God, which is the human family in a state of grace.
Christian consciousness might be said to exist relatively unfettered from the Ascension until the Renaissance. Modern or renaissance consciousness dawned at the conclusion of the medieval era. Renaissance consciousness evolved and then accelerated into a crisis that concluded in 1945. Initially bankrolled by the Medici family, Renaissance persons innovated in art and culture. A knowledge explosion occurred.
Then the Age of Enlightenment followed with important scientific discoveries. Our cosmic orientation changed. The idea of the human tended toward the notion that man is the measure of all things. The human project tended toward the idea that science and rationality will enable us to build the perfect City of Man, utopia. The optimism implicit in this state of consciousness, however, concludes in Auschwitz in 1945. The trauma of the World Wars, and the obvious destructiveness of death-obsessed humanity, collapsed the idea that human beings are good for anything other than poison gas, atomic weapons, and mass murder. We proved that more technology will not save us, nor will we create anything that we cannot ultimately destroy. So modernism ends, not with the shining, technically splendid City of Man, but with trauma followed by a cultural trance of numbness. In late modernism the West forgets the City of God and destroys the City of Man with malignant technologies.
Schoeninger: Yet we hang onto the values of modernism, do we not?
Zeiders: From 1945 to the present the West suffers spiritual crises from the death of God and psychological crises from the death of hope in reason. Yet out of the ashes of the death of modernism springs the Cold War. The Rhetoric of the communist and the capitalist nations is the rhetoric of modernism. The rhetoric tries to cook up something that represents transcendence and ultimate value - a substitute for God. But in truth the communist and capitalist projects are power obsessed and materialistic. At core both projects were part of the culture of materiality, death, and metaphysical ruin.
Schoeninger: Then in the mid-eighties of the last century, the communism collapses.
Zeiders: Yes and the next phase of post-modernism begins: the unprecedented rise of the corporation. Following the collapse of communism, the multinational corporation ascends to become the dominant and deafening voice of culture and the arbiter of cultural values. The corporation can be a frightful entity. Late post-modernism might be thought of as a corporate possession state.
Schoeninger: A corporate possession state?
Zeiders: Media has become dominated by the corporation. Corporations interrupt broadcasts and indoctrinate us to value their agendas, to buy their products, to support their commercial and political aspirations. The corporation extends itself into private life, piping itself into the living rooms of citizens via television and internet commercials. The corporation provides limitless propaganda in an endless bombardment of messages for the individual to value and think and feel and worship what the corporation prescribes. The corporation intrudes upon the individual and mass mind to influence the intellectual, emotional, and behavioral action of the mind. In a real sense the corporation strives to order the mind so to possess the mind. It is good for business.
Schoeninger: Talk a bit about how you see the corporate takeover of process.
Zeiders: Globalization refers to the enshrinement of the corporation over the earth, corporate world without end. Corporations are a dominant voice. And the booming nature of this voice grows. In 2010 US Justice John Paul Stevens and President Barack Obama voiced their concern that the Supreme Court decision "Citizens United" put the voice of the corporation "on steroids," making it so loud that the voice of the natural citizen would be drowned out.
Schoeninger: Why is the relationship of the corporation to the post-modern moment of concern to the psychologist of faith?
Zeiders: Meaninglessness contradicts human nature. Human beings simply cannot tolerate nihilism. Giant commercial interests promulgate substitutionary values for ultimate values. In other words economic institutions are predominantly filling the post-modern spiritual void with false gods. Western culture is populated with gods before God. We live in an addicted culture of idolatry that worships image, money, power, status, wealth, sex, technology, etc. The individual microcosm and the mass macrocosm tend toward unsustainability and addiction. This is the fruit of mass psychological and systemic disorder.
It is the nature of addiction to be idolatrous, to place a god before God. Individual addiction leads to more and more consumption until the organism becomes unhealthy and dies. It is the same for cultures and economic systems.
Schoeninger: It occurs that persons captive to addictions get well when they turn from a false god to a real God.
Zeiders : This points to the small role that the psychologist of faith can play in the big picture. As Christian psychologists who understand God to be God, we have submitted our psychological practices to the God of the Christian revelation. We know that God loves the human being and provides love. We further know that whenever there is sin and addiction in an individual's life, or sin and promotion of addiction in the structures and practices of society, receiving and absorbing God's favor and goodness are obstructed.
Repentance, turning from sinful, addictive, patterns toward God's presence and grace, by any means, leads to a removal of obstacles to God's grace. And God's grace containing the essence of Love makes well what before was sick.
Schoeninger: The Psychotherapists of the Association of Christian Therapists have long held to this pre-modern view of cure.
Zeiders: In the post-modern moment this is a part of our contribution. We uphold the premodern belief that God is real and that God saves and loves human beings. But we also have a practice of psychotherapy, and subscribe to the modernist notion that social science can make the individual and the world a better place.
Schoeninger: How is it that we provide an alternative in this post-modern moment?
Zeiders : Rather than viewing the City of God and the City of Man as defunct, the Psychotherapists of the Association of Christian Therapists have always understood that social science can be in a state of grace. Faith and reason combine against the nihilism of the post-modern moment. Rather than leading to pessimism, nihilism, and addiction, our approach opens the way to hope, meaning, and sustainability.
Schoeninger: As a Christian professional is there wisdom that we might pass along to our counterparts who are engaged in corporate culture?
Zeiders: We can pass along the model that pre-modern faith combined with modern reason can open the way to doing post-modern business according to God's more perfect will. Just as our consulting rooms are in a state of grace, so can a corporate board room be. This will make all the difference. God is ready to shape our direction in all situations and contexts all of the time. Repentance, that is turning from limited, nihilistic, practices and structures, and toward God, to receive God's ways and direction, is potential in all human situations at every level.
Bottum, J. (2010). Christians and post-moderns. First Things, 201, 43-47. Mogenson, G. (2010). Guest editors' introduction. Spring: A Journal of Archetype and Culture, 84, 1–10. Sartorius, B. (2009). A collective symbolic life of nothingness in post-modern times. Spring: A Journal of Archetype and Culture, 82, 171-183.
Charles Zeiders, PsyD is Clinical Director of Christian Counseling and Therapy Associates of the Main Line and holds privileges in the Department of Psychiatry at Bryn Mawr Hospital of the Main Line Health System, Bryn Mawr, PA. A Postdoctoral Fellow of the University of Pennsylvania's famous Center for Cognitive Therapy, Dr. Zeiders is a member of the Association of Christian Therapists (ACT) and Emeritus Chair of the Psychotherapists Specialty Group of ACT. He is author of The Clinical Christ: Scientific and Spiritual Reflections on the Transformative Psychology called Christian Holism. Dr Zeiders' practice unifies CBT, Jungian Psychology, Integrative Mental Health, and Christian faith. Dr. Zeiders maintains a Christian Counseling and Therapy Associates of the Main Line practice in Havertown, PA 19083. He can be reached here Ph: 610-653-0151 or you can email him here: firstname.lastname@example.org He is author of The Clinical Christ. You can purchase a copy here: http://www.amazon.com/The-Clinical-Christ-Reflections-Transformative/dp/1412092655/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1365189494&sr=8-1&keywords=the+clinical+christ
Douglas W. Schoeninger, PhD, is a clinical psychologist and President of the Institute for Christian Healing in West Chester, PA. He grew up in the American Baptist Church and joined a Presbyterian congregation in 1972, where he was introduced to the baptism of the Holy Spirit and healing prayer. His private psychotherapy practice integrates spirituality and prayer as healing resources and is focused on the healing of persons and relationships within an intergenerational perspective. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin with a PhD in clinical psychology in 1965. Doug studied Client Centered Therapy with Carl Rogers, has extensive training in Contextual Family Therapy with Ivan Nagy and Barbara Krasner, and worked for years with Kenneth McAll in the field of family tree healing. He has been a member of the Association of Christian Therapists (ACT) since 1977, over the years serving as editor of The Journal of Christian Healing, Chair of the Spiritual Life Committee, Chair of the Governance Council, interim Coordinator of Region 3, and President of ACT. He currently coordinates the work of the ACT Healing Manual Team, edits The Journal of Christian Healing and Chairs the Communications and Publications Committee.
The article first appeared in The Journal of Christian Healing, Volume 28, #2, Fall/Winter, 2012. It is republished with kind permission of the author.
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