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02 April 2009 @ 09:32 pm
Thelemites & Pathology  


I think many people have seen the blurry line between religiosity/spirituality and the pathological (i.e. a "mentally disturbed" condition)... Many have even seen connections between epileptic fits and religious ecstasy. There is certainly a practice of spirituality which is healthy, beneficial, etc. and a practice of spirituality which is pathological, detrimental, etc.

Psychologists have attempted to delineate various ways of distinguishing the pathological religious person from the simply religious person. It would certainly be interesting whether Thelema's tenets tend to lead individuals toward these indicators of pathology. I present two here:

This first list is from R.J. Lovinger who believed these "markers of pathology" should be looked for along with a thorough historical understanding of the individual along with the status of their social and work relationships. This means that an individual's ability to function in the various settings of life need to be taken into account instead of making this list (or others like it) into a simple checklist of pathology. Also, this list is obviously geared towards Christianity. With those small caveats here is the first list:

Lovinger’s (1996) Ten Markers of Pathology
1. Self-oriented display: Narcissistic displays of being religious
2. Religion as reward: Using religion to explain assistance with ordinary difficulties in life (e.g., God helping one find a parking space)
3. Scrupulosity: Intense focus on avoiding sin or error
4. Relinquishing responsibility: Feeling responsible for events beyond one’s control and neglecting responsibility for manageable things
5. Ecstatic frenzy: Intense, erratic emotional expression often containing religious content or occurring in religious contexts that may signal impending decompensation
6. Persistent church-shopping: Suggests difficulties in maintaining stable relationships
7. Indiscriminate enthusiasm: Religious enthusiasm frequently expressed to people who do not welcome it
8. Hurtful love in religious practice: Expressions of love that unnecessarily cause harm to oneself or others (e.g., setting unrealistic expectations for a child out of a notion of love based on strict Biblical interpretations)
9. The Bible as moment-to-moment guide to life: Applying scripture in concrete ways to direct one’s daily experiences (much like a daily horoscope)
10. Possession: May reflect underlying pathology such as hysteria, dissociative reactions, paranoia, psychosis, and borderline disorders

I will go through these numbers fairly quickly to show how Thelema's tenets will lead an individual toward away these various "markers" of pathology. This list certainly won't be comprehensive so each person should think about whether their own beliefs & behaviors might contain some of these "markers."

1. Self-oriented display: Narcissistic displays of being religious
* Individuals often show this; even AC himself
* Thelema itself is not especially geared toward this as being 'religious' simply means doing one's Will - whatever that is - with its corollary of "Mind your own business"

2. Religion as reward: Using religion to explain assistance with ordinary difficulties in life (e.g., God helping one find a parking space)
* Although Thelema is often tied to occultism which tends to hold these beliefs(because A.C. wrote extensively about both and some concepts are shared like Qabalah), Thelema constantly asserts the ability, responsibility, and even necessity of the individual to take charge of their own life, make their own decisions, and rely on themselves. "There is no god but man."

3. Scrupulosity: Intense focus on avoiding sin or error
* "There is no grace, there is no guilt / This is the law: Do what thou wilt!"
*There is no notion of 'sin' in any kind of Judeo-Christian sense in Thelema. The only "sin" is to restrict the Will in some way.

4. Relinquishing responsibility: Feeling responsible for events beyond one’s control and neglecting responsibility for manageable things
* As in number 2, Thelema enjoins us to personal responsibility, self-assertion, self-determination etc.
* Thelema does not engender one to cut off social and personal ties as many other religions and especially cults do, but rather we embrace the world, things "of sense and rapture," etc. We wear rich jewels, etc. (although I allow for the possibility that it may be the Will of an individual to lead a relatively hermit-like life).
* Also as in number 2, many 'Thelemites' are also 'occultists' and so still hold those superstitious beliefs. Occultists often feel like they are responsible for events which are beyond their control or completely unrelated to them.

5. Ecstatic frenzy: Intense, erratic emotional expression often containing religious content or occurring in religious contexts that may signal impending decompensation
* "Decompensation" means "a loss of ability to maintain normal or appropriate psychological defenses, sometimes resulting in depression, anxiety, or delusions." (Random House definition).
* I think that it can be admitted that Thelema encourages religious experiences including "ecstatic frenzy" but it also encourages one to "Be strong" etc. and Crowley counsels often to have a clear, well-read, well-studied, well-prepared, concentrated, elastic mind (Postcards to Probationers, etc.)

6. Persistent church-shopping: Suggests difficulties in maintaining stable relationships
* This is certainly not encouraged by Thelema but it is not discouraged either - There is no law beyond Do what thou wilt
* This may apply to individual Thelemites but it does not apply to Thelema in any meaningful way.


7. Indiscriminate enthusiasm: Religious enthusiasm frequently expressed to people who do not welcome it
* This can obviously occur in certain individuals but Thelema does not actively encourage or discourage this. There is the general idea of "Mind your own business" which comes from the idea that "Thou hast no right but to do thy will."
* Thelema's law is "Love under will" and although we love all things, the expression that love changes with its particular object. Crowley gives the example that if we want to interact with Cholera (one might say perform "love under will" with it) then one should do so at a distance, with a microscope, etc. One doesn't love it by hugging it up close (if you value health). Other ideas include that one loves the sun by viewing it and the world it reveals, feeling its heat, eating the food it helps produce, etc. On an interpersonal level, one loves a friend in a different way than one loves a parent and those are both different from a lover, a work colleague, an academic peer, etc. Essentially, love must be fit for its particular function in any particular case. The point of this side-note is that doing anything to another who "do[es] not welcome it" is basically by definition interacting with another in an unfit way. It also sets up an easy answer for the next "marker:"

8. Hurtful love in religious practice: Expressions of love that unnecessarily cause harm to oneself or others (e.g., setting unrealistic expectations for a child out of a notion of love based on strict Biblical interpretations)
* This is basically the exact opposite of what was explained above as the nature of "love under will." "Hurtful love" is an imperfect term for expressions of love (interpersonal, in this case) which are not fit - they produce "unnecessary harm," etc. The love here is not natural and coming from the genuine feeling of the parent, but "love" coming from dogma.

9. The Bible as moment-to-moment guide to life: Applying scripture in concrete ways to direct one’s daily experiences (much like a daily horoscope)
* Thelema has one law: "Do what thou wilt." It is "the whole of the Law" and "There is no law but" it. Thelema is not about imitating Crowley like Christians attempt to imitate Christ. Each person is engendered to find their own Law, their way, their own path, their own interests, etc. This is naturally antithetical to applying scripture to all daily life - Thelema's Holy Books often speak generally or abstractly although a dogmatic interpretation could be

10. Possession: May reflect underlying pathology such as hysteria, dissociative reactions, paranoia, psychosis, and borderline disorders
* Thelema does not encourage or speak much about possession. Some exceptions could obviously be found such as A.C. supposedly being possessed by Choronzon while scrying the Aethyrs with Neuberg.


* * * * * *

The second list was created by M.H. Spero who wanted to be able to distinguish between when an individual's religious/spiritual beliefs & behaviors are expressions of the needs and conflicts of the psyche or whether they're expressions of genuine religious phenomena. Here is the second list:

Spero’s (1985) Criteria for Religious Pathology
1. Person integrates religious beliefs and practices into overall lifestyle (not pathological, but a necessary criterion).
2. Relatively rapid and recent onset of religious affiliation or increased religious fervor with associated severing of significant social and professional relationships.
3. Person’s religious history includes frequent and repetitive spiritual crises and changes in religious affiliation or degree of belief.
4. Person demonstrates fixation or regression to early stages of object-relations
development marked by decompensation in psychosocial functioning, predominant primitive thematic material in dreams, fantasy, and thinking, and conflict between religious expression and adaptive ego functioning.
5. Person preoccupied with fear of backsliding (consciously or unconsciously) and reaction
formation of overly rigid and scrupulous religious expression.
6. Person displays continued depressed moods and lack of productivity following religious
conversion or awakening.
7. Person inappropriately idealizes religious leaders or movement and applies this to
resolving psychological issues such as autonomy, identity, and impulse control.
8. On occasion, an analyst’s carefully interpreted countertransference may indicate the
client is using religion to manage neurotic impulses.

While I won't go through these criteria individually, everyone should look at these and understand that even Thelemites are liable to fall into any of these categories.


* * * * * *

References

Lovinger, R. J. (1996). Considering the religious dimension in assessment and treatment. In E. P. Shafranske (Ed.), Religion and the clinical practice of psychology (pp. 327-364). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Spero, M. H. (Ed.). (1985). Psychotherapy of the religious patient. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas.
 
 
 
Jamesjbarros on April 3rd, 2009 07:54 pm (UTC)
pathology implies mental disorder. What we're talking about here though, for most of these, is a non-normative level of dedication, or obsession if you want. Is this inherently a bad thing?

What is the goal of avoiding pathologies? What is the goal of the intentional practices which are classified as such?
IAO 131iao131 on April 3rd, 2009 09:36 pm (UTC)
93,

"pathology implies mental disorder. What we're talking about here though, for most of these, is a non-normative level of dedication, or obsession if you want. Is this inherently a bad thing? "

Pathology is based on the abnormal behaviors and thoughts of people, and abnormality is based off of a conception of normal which means 'middle of the bell curve' i.e. statistical average.

The problem isn't 'non-normative level of dedication' but a debilitating level of dedication in that it implies severing social-business ties etc. or lack of attention to hygiene, etc.

"What is the goal of avoiding pathologies?"

A more harmonious, fully-functioning life without neuroses, anxieties, etc.

" What is the goal of the intentional practices which are classified as such?"

To attain to that harmonious, fully-functioning life without anxiety, depression, psychosis, etc. To get beyond the defense mechanisms so people can be integrated, honest, strong, genuine, authentic, etc. which are natural outgrowths of working through pathology and various defense mechanisms. The goal is the same as a lot of Buddhist/other practices: more control over your life, more satisfaction and joy in your life, etc.

IAO131
جوزيف زكريا ابن أحد: Crowleyihateswine on April 4th, 2009 12:41 am (UTC)
I like most of this, but I think you kind of blow off #6. The interpersonal dynamics of Thelema (stars moving on their holy inviolate orbits etc) are hard to implement when there is old aeon programming still embedded deep in the consciousness (individual and social). The problem is that in order to transcend the old social system, both extremes of the spectrum must be realized so that a synthesis may result that is better than both (think RHK+HPK=HRH in terms of hegel's dialectic). So I think that a lot of people in their Thelemic quests will only be able to negate the social rules of their upbringings, and not be able to take it to the next level. We see this when people simply act as if being Thelemic is just being the opposite of the perceived social order, instead of a transcendence of the dualities of the old order. Just my two cents; that the process of Thelemic reprogramming basically includes a period like this. Even Crowley (especially Crowley) went through this. The point is to grow out of it eventually, and figure out how to act right and not fuck up other peoples' shit.

Thelema does not encourage or speak much about possession.

Then why does the EGC have an exorcism ritual?
IAO 131iao131 on April 4th, 2009 02:33 am (UTC)
93,

Regarding exorcism: good question - one would have to lookat the intent and not just the outward appearance or name for the reason...

As for people simply re-acting and opposing, see the see 'Thelemic Values: a new view of morality'

IAO131
(Deleted comment)
IAO 131iao131 on April 4th, 2009 06:33 am (UTC)
93,

"Great post and one that I think a lot of members of our community should read, if only to identify problematic elements in our community at a far earlier time than we usually are able to and to cultivate that people overcome these obvious defects in their personal make-up."

Thanks, and yes that would be a good use for this information.

"At times I feel that the O.T.O. would be far better off if it taught classes in home-economics and basic fiscal responsibility as a preliminary to membership."

Scientology does similar things along with quite a few churches I've seen especialyl lately with economic downturns and such... and from an objective standpoint their business model is quite successful.


"What do you think of the exclusion criterias in ICD and DSM which basically exempts members of stable religious communities where what would otherwise be deemed as psychotic delusions are accepted?"

Im not specifically aware of those but that seems a bit silly. There are many veins in psychology obviously, with abnormal psychology being the one strongly influencing the DSM which is in turn strongly biological or psychosomatic at least. There are many strands of psychology which would frown on certain classes of experience as abnormal and certain strands which would welcome it (humanistic, transpersonal, jungian, even certain individuals in cognitive behavioral traditions etc since the movement is just an abstract generalization)

IAO13!