Saturday, December 20, 2008

Psychology and Unity

One of our commenters posted this fine observation in another thread where it doesn't really fit. These thoughts are too valuable to let them be thus obscured.

"My interest in ecumenical dialog stems partly from the point of view of psychology. It seems to me that ecumenism, as practiced today, concentrates on stating our beliefs at each other, and sometimes supplementing such statements with historical data. Usually, that's as far as it goes.

I wonder to what extent denominations shape the psychology of their members, and how this plays into the area of ecumenical dialog. I wouldn't claim to understand all the ways Traditional Roman Catholicism has shaped my own psyche, but I suspect it has, at a deep level. I'm sure it's the same for everyone else who's serious about religion. But neither am I suggesting that we psychoanalyze each other - that would be a terrible mess."

Has anyone noticed how dramatically different are the thought processes of people from different backgrounds? We have different styles of expression, different esthetic sense, different emotional reactions, different 'hot buttons', and even somewhat different sense of logical progression. One's family background and one's subsequent associations probably have a profound effect on how one thinks, how one reaches theological conclusions, and how one discusses these with others.

Some of us (probably most of us) represent a more or less eclectic fusion of various backgrounds. I was raised in a conservative Lutheran background, and can recognize in me thought processes quite unlike those of my later Episcopalian, then Pentecostal, then centrist Evangelical, then Anglican Traditionalist milieux, all of which I have inhabited and adjusted to. I am very much aware of never entirely 'fitting in' and of being a bit out of sync with those around me.

Is "stating our beliefs at each other, and sometimes supplementing such statements with historical data" really sufficient for real communication? Is achieving unity merely a matter of convincing one another to believe the same things, or is unity really something deeper? In thinking about this I am drawn to Revelation 5:9 ...hast redeemed us to God out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation... and to a realization of what a motley group Our Lord has called to Himself.

What this comes down to, I think, is that we need to really listen to one another - not just to words and logical constructs, but to one another's hearts, as best as we can, to grapple with the necessity of figuring out what the other guy is actually trying to say, and to figure out what it is that he hears in our words - it may not be what we thought we said. I know. I'm forever needing to backpedal to try to restore suddenly failed communication.

He called us to be one. Now it's up to us, with His guidance, to find out what that means in practice.

These thoughts may seem sketchy. They are. I'm not sure what I'm talking about, but I am sure that many of our divisions have been exacerbated by whatever it is. Let's move on from here ever closer to the goal He has set.



Anonymous said...

That is why it important to me to try and see a disputed issue from the other's perspective.

Sometimes when I do that I see that we are both looking at and stating the same thing, but from a different perspective.


Fr. John said...

This the challenge of our times. Anglicanism was supposed to be a possible answer to the scandal of our division, and look what happened to it.

It seems to me that in many ways some branches of Christianity are more hostile to other Christians than to other religions. I find this especially prevalent in some protestant groups towards "Catholics."

Canon Tallis said...

And, Father John, is it not equally true of some "Catholics" of those so like themselves, but possibly lacking some of their faults?

I had an architect friend who used to say: "First we design and build the building, but after that the building shapes us." It is for thiis reason that I have always tried to find out just what a certain interpretation of Christian faith, especially the faith of the one Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church has done to those whose culture it has shaped. Why are Russsian and Greek Orthodox Christians different from Romans and Romans different from Anglicans?

I am sure that I am no where near the answers, but when I look at the history of Europe over the past century I begin to believe I see something of their shadows. But answer the question of what we think and why we think it is much deeper than its surface appearance. I had a Russian Intellectual History professor who reported in class that he could not break the arguments of one of the chief of the Slavophiles and I asked him why, if he could find no fault in the man's argument, he had not adoped his views? I don't think I have ever seen anyone become so incoherrent so quickly or so completely? It was like watching an emotional as well as a mental breakdown at the same time. I was never forgiven for the question.

But I am sure that Ed is very much on to something here. And the more so, when I watch new converts to Romanism become completely devoted to the celebration of the mass in Latin when they have absolutely no understanding of the language and don't even want to follow it in the missal. I would very much like to understand what is happening and why, but also very sure that this is a path which I will never follow.

Was it even thus when the tower of Babel was destroyed and we could no longer understand each other's speech?