3 Minute Theologian

Words about God and Life for the Attention Deficit Generation

Fromm on the Art of Conformity

Most people are not even aware of their need to conform. They live under the illusion that they follow their own ideas and inclinations, that they are individualists, that they have arrived at their opinions as the result of their own thinking and that it just happens that their ideas are the same as those of the majority. The consensus of all serves as a proof for the correctness of ‘their’ ideas. Since there is still a need to feel some individuality, such need is satisfied with regard to minor differences; the initials on the handbag or the sweater, the name plate of the bank teller, the belonging to the Democratic as against the Republican party, to the Elks instead of to the Shriners become the expression of individual differences. The advertising slogan of ‘it is different’ shows up this pathetic need for difference, when in reality there is hardly any left.

Erich Fromm, The Art of Loving (1957; repr., London: Thorsons, 1995), p.11

John Donne has a bad day

Letter to Sir Henry Goodere

…but mine needed an occupation, and a course which I thought I entered well into, when I submitted myself to such a service, as I thought might employed those poor advantages, which I had. And there I stumbled too, yet I would try again: for to this hour I am nothing, or so little, that I am scarce subject and argument good enough for one of mine own letters: yet I fear, that doth not ever proceed from a good root, that I am  am so well content to be less, that is dead.

From Letters to severall persons of honour written by John Donne, LONDON, Printed by J. Flesher, for Richard Marriot, and are to be sold at his shop in St Dunstans Church-yard under the Dyall. 1651.

The Alphabetised Memoir

Wow… Just, wow…

(HT @MooseAllain @robertrea)

3MT redux

The blog was behaving erratically for the last couple of days, due to a severe shortage of strong and stable leadership. My apologies for the coalition of chaos and my thanks to @banbury_bill for the unpaid and unnecessary maintenance work he has undertaken.

A Socio-Economic Theory of Justice (and good leather boots)

The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money.

Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.

But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that’d still be keeping his feet dry in ten years’ time, while a poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.

This was the Captain Samuel Vimes ‘Boots’ theory of socio-economic unfairness.

Terry Pratchett, Men at Arms, Discworld 15 (London: Corgi, 1993).

On Returning to England

Let me sing of thee, my Lionheart,
O England, of my dreams
Where sodium lights from oil-slicked roads
On factory walls doth gleam.

Where mardy proles speak scabrous prose
In snugs and pub saloons;
Cathedral towns selling tea-towel views
On shuttered afternoons.

Shared spaces and clipped public hedges,
On bus, tube, morning train
Friday evening home for DIY
And washing in the rain.

Thermos flasks, twisted salt, boiled egg,
Picnics in the car park
Union flags salute from lamp-post jacks
Football’s national mark.

What know ye now of England’s story
If only England knows?
Less than half a sixpenny paper,
Less than the sickly rows

Of suburban villas clutched on cliffs,
Double-glazed, aerialled trance,
Corry and Talent, TOWIE, Bake Off,
Lost now in Strictly’s dance.

England’s Dreaming—Kipling, Blake and Rotten,
Modest indifference.
Our Empire’s wealth and expectations,
Understate arrogance.

The ribbons of the Empire poured out
Darlo’s mills, Redcar’s forge,
Rich, black money washed from Rhondda’s vales
To the big house disgorged.

We used to build the world from this place,
Coppered, tinned and steeled votives,
The prayers of navvies, squaddies, joiners,
Firebox locomotives.

The foundry is a shopping outlet,
The pit a flattened park,
Garden centres in the railway works,
Naval-yard a landmark.

England’s Dreaming—Shakespeare, Caedmon, Bede
In moorland, wood and dale,
We buy the postcards of scenic views,
Rustic pubs sell bitter ale.

England! England! Blue remembered hills!
Home of my parents’ choice.
Allow my return to your faithless breast—
Homecoming now rejoice.

Without silence there is no theology; with silence there is no popularity

James Alison on why silence is unpopular:

Here I  fear that I  will have to say something rather unpopular, for we are inclined to become tireless parrots of chatty theological verborrhea. But this process of letting go of being the bearers of group values and desires so as to become a theologian, is a process bathed in silence, the silence of one who does not know how to speak. The silence of those who have been caught out in an act of false witness, and who know that their only way out is to go back over their story so as to learn to articulate the non- official version, the inconvenient one in which the wrinkles haven’t been ironed out, nor the shortcuts painted over. And for this I need a good chunk of time in which I don’t say anything, and in which I pray hard to receive the light of the truth concerning what was really going on in my life. Where I have to learn to prefer the truth that comes from the Other to every lure from a more comfortable truth.

The problem is this:  No one rewards silence. Rapid response is prized; the one with sure-footed opinions or ready answers in a stormy situation is respected. There is no reward for the months and years of silence necessary for us to give up lying and make headway in telling the truth. However, that silence, and the non-reactive capacity to tell the truth with no concern for convenience, is worth much, much more than what any of us could earn by saying a lot with very little background silence. And this means that an essential part of the shape of how we receive a theologian’s vocation is learning to survive without immediate recognition. In other words, without a capacity for deferred recognition, there is no theology. And that means that without the poverty that goes along with being someone who doesn’t have anything immediately useful to offer, there is no theology.

James Alison, ‘Oracles, Prophets, and Dwellers in Silence’, in The Practice of the Presence of God?: Theology As a Way of Life, ed. Martin S. Laird and Sheelah Treflé Hidden (New York: Routledge, 2016), 1–7.

The delights of group working

In its search for a leader the [small therapeutic] group finds a paranoid schizophrenic or malignant hysteric if possible; failing either of these, a psychopathic personality with delinquent trends will do; failing a psychopathic personality it will pick on the verbally facile high-grade defective. I have at no time experienced a group of more than five people that could not provide a good specimen of one of these.

W. R. Bion, Experiences in Groups and Other Papers (London: Tavistock Publications, 1961), p. 123

Change and the Brigadier Belt

How do we experience change, in society and its groupings? Wilfred Bion, with his experience as an officer in the First World War, and his training as a psychoanalyst, had some ideas:

Change can take place, but society needs to defend itself from change that takes place too rapidly, the catastrophic rate of change. The new ideas have to be appropriately contained and represented so that they can become accessible to the non-geniuses who represent the vast majority of any society. They have to pass the test of what Bion called the Establishment, persons whose established rôle it is to preserve the existing status but at the same time to allow for the slow incursion of new ideas. In the church this would represent the assembly of bishops, in the army what has been called the brigadier belt, that is, those persons whose ability does not fit them to rise above this relatively high rank but whose experience and capacity for testing new ideas is relied on to protect the army from wild ideas but at the same time foster steady change.

Malcolm Pines, ‘Bion: A Group-Analytic Appreciation’, Group Analysis 20, no. 3 (September 1987): 251–62,. p. 253

Trammelled by the otherness of the others

My last post was Gregory of Nazianzus’s advice to avoid assemblies of bishops. Carl Jung was even more pessimistic. He thought we should avoid all assemblies of any kind:

When a hundred clever heads join in a group, one big nincompoop is the result, because every individual is trammelled by the otherness of the others. There used to be a funny question: Which are the three largest organizations, the morale of which is the lowest? Answer: Standard Oil, the Catholic Church, and the German Army. Especially in a Christian organization one should expect the highest morality, but the necessity to bring into harmony various factions requires compromises of the most questionable kind. (Jesuitic casuistry and distortion of the truth in the interest of the institution!)…

Real virtues are relatively rare and constitute usually the achievements of individuals. Mental and moral laziness, cowardice, prejudice, and unconsciousness are dominant. I have behind me fifty years of pioneer work and, therefore, could tell a few things about these: there is, perhaps, scientific and technical progress. However, one has not heard yet that people in general have become more intelligent or morally better.

Individuals can be improved because they let themselves be treated. Societies, however, let themselves be seduced and deceived, temporarily even for the good.

Hans A. Illing, ‘C. G. Jung on the Present Trends in Group Psychotherapy’, Human Relations 10, no. 1 (1957): 77–83.

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