Monday, January 25, 2010

the personal touch

Jacinta: Firstly, the notion of the BOO as personal is vital to our understanding of the religiose. Pataki quotes Nietzsche here: So that love should be possible, God has to be a person. This is essential for all the religious, including those theologians who have contributed to the idea of an abstract, metaphysical, logically defined rather than felt deity, because love and intimacy is paramount to religious feeling. This brings us to how the religiose attach to their BOO.
Canto: You’re talking about Bowlby’s attachment theory?
Jacinta: Yes, in infancy we become firmly attached to a protective and nurturing parental figure – sometimes more than one, – something necessary for all mammals whose offspring have a prolonged period of dependence. The nature of this dependence changes over time, however, from clingy anxiety to a less demanding knowledge-of-presence kind of dependence. As the psychologist Lee Kirkpatrick puts it:
This... opens the door to the possibility of a non-corporeal attachment figure with which actual physical contact is impossible. Religious beliefs provide a variety of ways of enhancing perceptions about the proximity of God. A crucial tenet of most theistic religions is that God is omnipresent; thus one is always in ‘proximity’ to God.
It's the idea of a personal relationship to the BOO that's most important to the religious, or religiose, in the US. A reliable attachment. Could it be that the expected attachment figures, mainly parents, are failing their loved ones in some way?
Canto: Yet it's the parents who are suggesting these attachment figures to their kids. There are push and pull factors if you like. The parents are proving themselves inadequate as well as suggesting someone who is more adequate. It's no wonder such attachments are being formed and idealized.
Jacinta: This is the probable reason, Pataki infers, for the triumph of monotheism in the modern world, and for the resurgence of more open, less ritualized worship. Within Christianity, it's the relationship with Jesus that counts. Having on tap, so to speak, a caring protector and friend and guide. Impossible to underestimate the force of this need, which has only increased in a more complex and more individualistic world. Having that special someone to lean on, that has emerged as the primary satisfaction of religion today - at least in the west. But it's always going to be a problematic and complex relationship, given that it connects with the dependent phase of childhood, and interferes with issues of identity and development. Pataki elaborates on these connections in a chapter entitled 'Narcissism and religious development', in which he takes ideas from Ernest Jones, Erich Fromm and, of course, Freud. It's too complex to summarize here, but amongst other things, the personalized deity is a projection of one's idealized self, a self that, in early childhood, one more or less comes to believe in as real. The relationship one has with that deity, and the kind of deity one comes to believe in, is to a large extent dependent on the nature of the 'demise' of that god-like early self, or its transformation into a more normalized social self.
Canto: I'm not sure that I get all that, but anyway how does narcissism come into it?
Jacinta: Well that idealized self is clearly a product of narcissism, and so the projection of that self onto a ready-made deity, a deity offered up by the narcissist's community and family, is a narcissistic variation, you might say.
Canto: Right, and by narcissism you're not talking about anything pathological or aberrant, you're talking about a vital element in all people.
Jacinta: Absolutely, and I think this way of approaching religion and its appeal has a lot to offer. Children lap up gods as they lap up Harry Potter and his magic world. Investigating the psychology of all this will surely enrich our understanding of religious belief.
Canto: Here here.

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