[a couple in a restaurant]
She (moving towards him the dish with the remaining salmon): I had enough, would you like to finish it?
He: Are you sure? Thank you. (half-finishing) Are you sure you don’t want it?
She: Sure, sure, eat.
He eats it all and moves on to dissert. Her eyes are slowly flooding with silent tears.
He: What’s the matter?
She: I cannot believe that you finished all salmon and did not even offer it to me!
He: But you offered it to me yourself…
She: It doesn’t matter; a truly loving man would never do that.
I constructed this ridiculous example some time ago, for the purpose of giving the reader a feel of how borderline personality disorder is experienced in a relationship. This is a classic double bind, “whatever you do you lose”. A double bind can be recognised intuitively by its effect on a person; the mind, constrained by two opposite messages incorporated in one, usually goes blank. The example above is very obvious and simple, especially for a normal healthy psyche. “She” is mad, a healthy outsider (i.e., someone who is not emotionally involved with “her”) may say; she offered “him” to eat and then turned it against him; she is senile – forgot what she was saying or she is just a nasty sadist. It is very natural, I repeat, for a healthy outsider, to conclude those things but there is one factor that changes the whole picture, a personal involvement with “her”. She blames him for the lack of love for her, and her reaction (tears) convinces him that “there is something there”, he is guilty otherwise she would not be so upset. The seed of doubt is dropped into the psyche, the tiny “what if?” And, if his psyche has some suitable cracks the seed will begin growing, suffocating him and changing his picture of himself and of the world altogether into her pathological one.
The double bind above has multiple sub-mechanisms which make it work; one of them is a subtle swap of a cause and an effect. “I am guilty because she is upset” is an aberration of “I did a wrong thing – she is upset”. Note, the second phrase is legitimate if the person indeed did something wrong. The first phrase is legitimate as a pretext for self-examination; to be able to consider the possibility of one’s own fault is a quality of a normal psyche and the basis for normal living with others. Hence “I may be guilty because she is upset” sounds as if it is a normal, habitual line of thought, and this habitual normality of the thoughts, unchallenged by logic and unverified by the facts, is what makes a double bind work, to the point that even the irrationality of the stated reason for feeling guilty (eating the offered fish) cannot remove the self-doubt. Next this self-doubt is strengthened by the maxim which anyone in a relationship probably heard at least once: “a truly loving man (or woman) would never do that”. Would never do what? – Never eat what was pushed upon him? – No, cause tears. And, since he indeed caused her tears – it does not matter how – he is “not loving” and his guilt is proven, over logic and over reason.
It is probably clear now that a double bind always relies on a very strong primordial emotion, typically guilt, shame or fear, especially something to do with the self-image, for example, the fear or shame of appearing to be non-loving, non-likable, egotistic, rude etc. Being considered without the constraint of an immediate emotional involvement, the story boils down to the following: “Even if you offer me something you do not want I should never accept it because you then will blame me for what I accepted; you set up the traps; you do not want to give me anything; when you are giving you do that only for the purpose of taking it back and even more, to rob me off myself, to destroy me, to make me a non-person”. Here we can see how the double bind, being stripped from emotional covers, encapsulates the very essence of the relationship which is nothing, zero, an illusion.
It is necessary to state that, despite the sheer irrationality of a double bind, the only person who is completely immune to it is one who absolutely does not care about others and their opinions i.e. a psychopath – or a saint who cares but is not affected by manipulation because there is nothing in his psyche that such manipulation can use.
I recalled the example of a double bind while trying to place myself in the position of someone who believes in “something there” i.e. not God the Person of Christians or Jews but “something”, “a higher power”, “the force” etc. That was a deliberately non-intellectual exercise similar to one of those found in ‘Schema Therapy’ but in reverse mode. ‘Schema Therapy’ uses a strong [supposedly misplaced] feeling which one is experiencing to locate a situation in the past where it belongs, I used the situation, “me and an impersonal god” to produce the feeling. That feeling was of coldness, emptiness and futility. It was impossible for me to see any attraction or benefit of such a god – and the double bind came to my mind, of agnostics and of believers in an impersonal god, “the Christian God is a self-construct of those who need a personal god”.
This statement rings familiar. It sounds habitual and yet very strange; in fact it reminds me of something I heard once, that some artist diagnosed with manic depression “invented” his disease because he read that all great artists were “mad” so he “did it” for the purpose of belonging to the great crowd. Actually, why not? Maybe he did. Maybe he did not; in both cases manic depression does not make him great because it is his art which does or does not make him great. In any case, this strange construct cannot hold on anyone’s straight mind because it swaps the cause with an effect, a real reason with an imaginary reason – and even more, it is not even swapping a cause and an effect but entirely separate unrelated things. Anyone, artists and non-artists, can have manic depression; there are artists with and without it and so on. Why not then to propose that if someone would cut off his ear it would make him Van Gogh? Also, does cutting one’s ear prove that Van Gogh does not exist, that he is a self-construct made for the purpose of justifying the desire to cut off one’s ear? It is the same with the personal God: if Christians constructed the personal God out of their need it proves neither his existence nor non-existence. Because, if someone constructed anything out of his need – for example, arithmetic or the personal God – the very fact of constructing something that suits his need does not prove the non-existence of that construct. The number two is handy to count two carrots; the existence of neither carrots nor the number two are questioned [usually], probably because they are useful. Or, more correctly, one can question their existence and his own existence as well, but this is another issue.
Carrots, the number two, and the personal God differ in the objective evaluation of their usefulness I think. Objectively, carrots are evidently useful so as the number two; furthermore, “the belief” in the existence of both does not involve emotions or ethics or morals. Even more important, they do not involve a personal relationship. Developing this line logically, I should say then that the difficulties with the recognition of something as “objectively existent” grow proportionally with the increasing degree of personhood of that phenomenon. The more the degree of personhood of the phenomenon, the more the person of the observer is involved i.e. the more it is the mechanics of the observer’s own soul which make him recognize or deny the existence of the phenomenon. In the case when it is impossible to deny the existence of another one, a human being, her of his features may be denied, effectively rendering her less than she is. This is a partial denial of existence. The same mechanics I believe work with God. A person denies in God what he does not want to deal with. In the case of the adept of an impersonal god it is the Person which is denied.
What I am proposing here is the following. Let us tentatively agree with the notion that God – any god – is a self-construct. Whether God exists or not the god which a human being creates says a lot about his psyche, about his person. In this paper I will consider several self-constructs of God and see how they match various types of human psyche. My purpose is to locate the metaphysical origin of the double-bind which was considered above, purely out of my personal interest in the phenomenon which appears to me to be entirely alien to a normal human psyche.
Speaking about a double bind, the statement “you believe in God because you are too weak to endure without it” has a certain similarity to “if you loved me you would never eat that the fish I offered you” because both employ very strong shaming. No one wants to admit that he is weak; the objective fact that every human being is weak by himself, pathetically weak in fact and every one can be broken down if he does not hang on to something else (self-construct or reality) is missing here. The difference here is that the one who is shaming appears to be “strong” because he does not have an affiliation with a personal God but this fact does not make him stronger because in reality he does hang on to “something else” instead of a personal God. So, it is all the same – a person who accuses an adept of believing “a self-construct”, the personal God, is himself hanging on to a self-construct. If he does not then it is a case of clinical pathology: narcissistic or antisocial personality disorder. In this case the person is god himself however even in this case the person holds on to a self-construct, on to himself inflated to the mad degree entirely separated from the reality.
It is important to stress again that all the irrational statements considered here, despite their diversity, use the same method of imposing a very strong negative emotion on another person, mostly shame and self-doubt. Because the emotion of shame is very strong in human beings these tactics usually work: the stronger the emotion the less noticeable is the irrationality of the statement. This is what makes the statement above somewhat resemble a double bind: the enforced strong primal emotion which targets self-perception covers the flows of the logic; the whole situation has a flavour of absurdity and the person is left feeling bad, with some vague sense that he has lost and is somewhat deficient – and there is no rational and objective ground for this whatsoever.
I have never come across a person who wishes for immortality if such a thing could be given to him only – all the rest including those whom he loves would die but he would live forever. The only theoretical exclusion from this rule would be the already mentioned narcissist or psychopath, theoretical because the former needs the reflections of his glory and the latter – victims. I conclude from here that a normal human being most of all desires not personal immortality as such but the immortal relationship, with the ones whom he loves. It is logical then to conclude that, for a normal human being, to have relationships with others is a necessary condition for worthwhile existence. This may sound banal – everyone knows that a person in solitary confinement has a very good chance to run insane – but this banality is necessary to state here, for the sake of establishing another banality: the Personal God i.e. the God with whom a human being can have a two-sided relationship is a normal and highly desirable phenomenon whether it is real or not. It appears that the existential despair of honest atheism derives exactly from the realization, by an individual, of the impossibility of having such a relationship, or any permanent relationship, with anyone, including oneself.
Anything finite is pointless (ultimately futile); only something that continues truly has a point. That “something” of a person who has produced “something” must be able to be observed otherwise there is no point. It is often argued, by an intellectually dishonest atheist, that he is perfectly satisfied with being dead providing his life was useful to others – he forgets though that he is saying it now, he evaluates his life now while being alive, and only his ability to observe and recognize the value of his life gives it a sense and a flavour of continuation = eternity and thus meaning. I observe now – it is “the eternal now”. But, as soon as he dies – providing that he is finite indeed – the observer disappears and the whole seemingly selfless self-construct falls apart. Interestingly, even if we play this intellectually and psychologically dishonest game in imagination, it always involves the notion of a continuing relationship, of him and those who appreciate his life. This picture is quite far from the world of a pure [honest] atheist.
I suspect that a pure atheist realizes the futility of everything, first of all of his life (however noble it may be) because everyone eventually would die and our planet and universe would die as well. He is intellectually honest and cannot allow himself to postpone his “absolute and final death” via hanging on others’ lives, memories, or humanity as such. All that does not make sense because any life is a relationship; a relationship is a two-sides process and cannot exist if one side is being destroyed. It is very simple. The example in the beginning, with the fish, stripped from all pathological complexity, is essentially spiritual death – spiritual, before the death of the body. But this is just a side-thought, association which came to a mind.
Objectively speaking, ethics and morals while walking the green mile do not make much sense. An atheist has a choice: to commit suicide because of the sheer pointlessness of his life or to carry on, out of stoicism, for the sake of virtue. The latter choice, one may argue, is a self-construct which enables him to carry on.
I respect pure atheism because it is honest and because it demands a serious intellectual effort. An atheist usually goes through an extended period of labouring with the concept of God; he is not indifferent to God the Person – God the Person does not make sense to him, for various reasons but he does not swipe Him into the rubbish as something not worthy of a second thought. He may hate God or the concept of God but he is not indifferent – cold or hot but not lukewarm. Here is the self-construct of existential emptiness but the emptiness which is full of a pain, along the lines “it will never happen”.
Hence it appears that the pure atheist who commits suicide out of their inability to live a meaningless life is probably the only human being who refuses to have a self-construct of eternal relationship. Hence any such self-construct has something to do with a life and the attempt to live without the means to die. And the only intellectually honest way out of this dilemma is into suicide or into a search for the personal God i.e. the real eternal relationship.
One may argue that there is a pointless circle here and that there is no difference between making a self-construct of some impersonal “relationship” and claiming that one has a relationship with the personal God. It is not so because the self-construct of a substitute for a personal relationship (a life “for the goodness of life as such”, usefulness for the human race or “there is a something there so it will be all right eventually” etc) does not require a response from the “human race” or from “something there” but a relationship with God the Person requires nothing less than the response of God. This is probably why the first option looks very safe and requires very little maintenance effort.
I am sure that others had already said something similar to what I am going to say here because it is so obvious, that the vague faith in “something there”, faith in “mother-nature” or something benevolent that “gives energy” etc is very reminiscent of how a newborn baby sees his mother. A mother, just like “something there” is supposed to protect and feed her baby, now an adult; all that is required of him is to know that she is there and to accept the fact that she cares. However, in the case of a baby this situation quickly changes because he is developing and is demanded to learn certain things, “good” and “bad”, desirable and undesirable behaviour and so on. Those aspects of self-discipline and progressive personal development are usually absent in those believers in “something there” which tends to “love them as they are”. The faith in “something there”, new age ideas and so on appear to be very infantile, intellectually extremely undemanding and very much on the “consumerist end” meaning that a human being receives without giving anything back. “Something there” does not demand that a believer would learn about “it”. It is like someone would stand under a nice, warm shower being miraculously poured upon him without a slightest desire to learn where it comes, why, and what all that is about. Hence here is the second self-construct, of a love of some benevolent mother-like “thing”, an impersonal mother principal who’s “outpouring” a believer simply accepts, just like a baby accepts the love of his mother. The big difference though is that a baby seems to be much more interested and involved with his mother than the “believer” in such a “something”. A baby is compelled to learn to see his mother as a person while an adept of “something” is not. Hence this self-construct, “something there” is actually a regression from the mother-baby relationship precisely because it does not encourage a human being to develop himself as a person = see others as persons.
What puzzles me here is the adamant rejection, by the adepts of “something there”, of the concept of the Christian God i.e. a God who is extremely personal and demanding. One would think it is more interesting, so to speak, to deal with Him (or with such a self-construct) as an adult, being much more involved, but it is somehow not the case here. The only explanation I have is that the God which demands two-sided relationship is “too much” for the adepts of the impersonal, for a variety of reasons. I must add however, that in the realm of human beings such a preference, for the impersonal to the personal, would be qualified as retarded emotional development, pathology. This is said not to offend anyone but simply to state a fact.
The Christian God does not just demand a reciprocal relationship – He is the Relationship, of Three Persons, the Holy Trinity. All that I am about to say is written plainly so I feel awkward to write it because it is so… normal and even banal in its utmost health and normality. Perhaps this is exactly what makes some reject His existence or, sorry, the self-construct. Nevertheless, God is the Person, He is Love, He wants to be loved, He wants to be in relationship with humanity and each single person. He can be angry, jealous, enraged even but never manipulative. He loves tenderly as a mother but in a very demanding way, as a father or even as a spouse. He is faithful forever, saddened and even heartbroken when the object of His affection goes for someone else instead of Him but He also forgives because He understands our limitations. All what was said is an ideal of normal human relationship and this is why I suppose it must be a self-construct – it is far too well-crafted to suit us to be true. Let it be so; my point here is that all this is profoundly normal and “designed” to lift an individual up, to improve him. Hence this must be a very satisfactory fake for those who wish to grow as persons. But why then that they cannot stand it? – Is it because it is so “humane”?
And then comes another self-construct, of sheer absurdity which Christ embodies. Here God demands human beings to “reject themselves” and to follow Him, even to death and many other, completely unnatural, things. A believer in such a self-construct is supposed to spit on his own interests, for the sake of being with the self-construct, Christ. The sense of the absence of that self-construct, of the Person of Christ, indicates that he is failing (the absence of the self-construct of the presence of Christ in the self-construct of Christ as such, of God, to be precise). This situation is completely the opposite to the self-construct of “something there” which does not demand the personal experience of that “something”. The experiential reality of the personal relationship with Christ is the only real criteria of the correctness of the path. This effectively makes Christians totally deluded individuals, idiots who use their self-construct, delusion, wishful thinking as the criteria of reality – if it is indeed the delusion. What I am saying here that it is far more difficult to maintain such a radical absurd, faith in the existence of personal relationship with God the Person than the faith in “something there” because it rests on one thing only, the actual relationship which cannot be proven or explained in the way that “something there” can be explained. Because it is personal to the extreme it is extremely offensive for those who reject it. The self-construct, the Person of Christ is so absurd and so outrageously extreme in all – in love and in demands that it cannot be simply put aside as “something there” without the need to do something with it.
I would go so far and say that the Person of Christ when allowed to speak to a human being does a thing somewhat similar to a double bind, similar only in the ability to change how one’s brain works. The difference is in the direction and quality of the movement of a mind. In the case of a borderline double-bind the mind shrinks like a scared person: “I am guilty, always guilty, I must shrink from my existence, become unnoticeable, nothing”. The paradoxical words of Christ when He, for example, proclaims implicitly (in the parable about the good Samaritan), always leaving room for a person to make his own conclusion, that all are our neighbours, expands the mind and the soul. The words of Christ widen the circle so to speak, the circle of relationships and the scope of sight. There is an audible sigh of a relief there, of being let out of the mental prison.
I got carried away; it is difficult to be non-passionate about one’s own experience. Nevertheless, returning to the non-passionate area of clinical psychology it is safe to say that although this self-construct, the Person of Christ is extreme in its goodness it appears quite harmless, to normal humanity. It is the ideal of a human being made extreme. Similar ideas of self-sacrificial behaviour are held in high esteem by many regardless of their faith or the lack of such. I conclude then that the self-construct of the God of the Old Testament is an ideal of good two-sided human relationship and the self-construct of the God of the New Testament is carrying this ideal as high as humans are able to understand, stretching them to the extreme of the superhuman. However, there is no pathology here, as long as these good qualities are perceived by our society as such.
The question arises, if this self-construct embodies the normality of the adult relationship which encapsulates them all: of parent and child and of spouses why then does it cause much more rage than the self-construct of “something there” that is a regression to the mother-baby relationship? Would it be that those who rage do not want an adult relationship? Perhaps modern falling out of the Christian faith is reflecting the growing lack of need or even disgust for highly personal relationship, that is, for highly personal involvement with someone else? I do not know but it appears that those who attack Christianity while sticking to an impersonal “something” actually deny the personhood in themselves. Because, if one does not deny own person (at least a part of it) how he can be satisfied with an impersonal “something”?
There is another side to it, paradoxical and very reminiscent of a double bind. It is the words already mentioned above, that Christian faith is ridiculous because God is anthropomorphised there and such a concept of God is “degrading” and “ridiculous” to human dignity. Implicitly it means that a person considers himself “degrading” and “ridiculous” because he is human. To be a human is shameful otherwise it would not be shameful to see some human qualities in God. And yet it works, for many; the reason for this may be the strong emotion of shame expressed by this statement which strikes a familiar cord in a psyche of the listener. Interestingly, such people do not turn the sentence upside down i.e. they do not state something like “I have these qualities; the proposed God has them as well albeit in perfect form; thus I am God-like”. Is it the unconscious disgust with their own person and projecting that disgust onto the possibility of God the Person? To deny own person = to deny the Person of God is a safe way to exit the problem of self-disgust, by avoidance. It may be also that they do not want to be “made in someone’s image” but would rather think of themselves as the by-product of some activity by “visitors from space”? It is very interesting: it appears that to be created by someone on purpose, even for mutual love, is somehow much more degrading than to be “an accident”. I must admit there is something here I can relate to, thankfully less and less though. To admit that I was created is to admit the existence of a creator, someone who is more than I. It is painful. To appear from nowhere is easier for my pride and also does not oblige me to do anything. It leaves my narcissism (or infantilism) alone. The price for this is progressive metaphysical depersonalisation.
And here comes the most outrageous thing about Christianity, the Atonement, the Sacrifice of Christ the Creator because he loves the creatures so much. While I agree with the theological explanations for this mysterious fact I believe one cannot satisfactory explain or understand them intellectually – they may be only felt through. I feel somehow that, apart from many other reasons, God sacrifices Himself so it would be easier for us to believe that He truly loves us. And the second: He became a human not only because He had to pull human nature through death and resurrection but because by becoming a human He can desire our love as a human being, as the Son of Man does, not as a remote God the Father. It means that it is easier for us to understand that we can give something to Christ, the Son of Man and therefore to relate to God. The Love which does not want a response is somewhat cool and patronisingly-offensive, I speak for myself. Only the love which desperately wants a response can make a human being forget his inequity and make him equal with God, in love. It is logical then to say that the incarnation was necessary although God could do something else, precisely because humans are very proud and the only thing that could make them “go for God” in a real sense, meaning for relationship with God, is mad love for the Person of that God. Hence, very contrary to the authors of double binds, purely human or metaphysical, Christ does not take anything from human beings but offers all, Himself and also wants all. He gives Himself to an individual freely and demands the same; nothing will do but a free gift of oneself, out of love for Him.
There are two important notions here, “to give all = oneself” and “freely, out of love”, the desire to be loved selflessly that is very normal for a normal humans and, apparently, for the Christian God. And those are completely alien notions for the “upgraded” faith in “something there”, occultism that is essentially buying what one wishes, in exchange for something else. Other aspects of such relations like the nature of the forces and how they influence the human psyche belong to the metaphysical reality; here we speak of the self-construct which is all about using some ritualized actions for the purpose of acquiring power. There is no need to expand on this topic here; it is enough to say that the relationships, in this case with some spiritual forces which is based on a buy-sell principal is essentially a relationship of non-persons or those who wish to act as/ refuse others to be persons. Paradoxically, such a relationship is often viewed as “less degrading” than the highly personal but “too human” relationship with God the Person. Here the absurd flavour of the double bind is felt again.
What else can I add? Only that Christianity does not make any sense outside of the context of personhood, of God and of humans. It does make sense if one reads the Old and the New Testaments as they are, being nothing more than the record of the relationship of God the Person and human persons. One would see there the progressive personification of the human beings, a movement from the tribes and peoples with only prophets and kings speaking directly to God the Person to everyone being called to such relationship. All this is simply the invitation of God into relationship with Him; such a relationship is the means and the reward in itself.
But what does all that means in the context of the stated topic, the metaphysical double bind? Probably only that abnormality is abnormal and normality is normal, and that Christianity or its self-construct appears to be quite normal and with a hope, atheism – also normal but hopeless, but faith in “something there” is not really normal or very infantile at least, something that leaves its adepts in a state of childish narcissism. Furthermore, the fact that Christianity makes a sense only in the context of the two-side relationship somehow makes it more difficult to believe that it is just a self-construct – it is really difficult to deny the reality of something if the only thing that can satisfy the believer in this “something”, especially if that something is not just an object of observation but the Person and furthermore, even the Person is not enough – what counts is me dealing with that Person and the fruits of that dealing. It is hard to fake the Person, an object with a soul, his reactions and actions, together with my own and maintain an endless dialogue with the fake.
However, I have zero desire to use this conclusion as a “proof” that Christian God is real and not just a self-construct. If I did it would be not a proof but a failure of apologetics because the move from a self-construct to the reality requires nothing but the leap of trust, beyond “normal” or “abnormal” categories, straight into the experience. And this is a highly private matter.