Life of Brian, Death of Saul, Confessions of Augustine
On Christmas eve we attended a children's mass, in which the priest gave a sermon -- or is it a homily? -- on this very subject. With all the children gathered around him -- at least a hundred, of all different ages -- he distributed puzzle pieces to each of them, in order to bring home the point that every piece is utterly unique, and yet, a necessary part of the whole.
In turn -- he didn't exactly say it this way, but it was my tykeaway -- the whole is Christ, for the second person of the Trinity didn't just become "a" man, but rather, becomes mankind, here and now. Or better, mankind as such is ultimately "the body of Christ," at least in potential. But I'm not sure the children would be able to assimilate it on that abstract a level, for which reason it was transmitted to them in concrete form.
Difference creates tension, as it involves separating oneself from the group, which can be interpreted by the group as aggression, e.g., "rejection," or "superiority." For Rank, the space opened up by difference can often end up being filled by angst, which has a different connotation than anxiety, as it is more existential, or even ontological, in nature. Animals do not experience angst, since it is a direct consequence of individuation, of difference, of standing apart.
Last night I came across a vivid example of angst in the new Beatles biography, having to do with their manager, Brian Epstein. In addition to being homosexual at a time it was still a crime in England, he was just plain different from the rest of his family. He had no interest in joining the successful family business, but rather, was an artistic type, especially drawn to the theatre (there's lots more, but I'm condensing).
Long story short, he received zero support from his exasperated parents, when the very job of a parent is to assist a child in discovering and articulating his identity. Thus, as predicted by Rank, Epstein interpreted his difference in a self-loathing, angst-ridden manner. After his death, an adolescent diary was discovered, in which he had penned the following:
Help me. I am lost. Help me. I am lost. Help me [if] I am to stop. Give me peace, rest. That world, it's too big for me. O Lord God, I've asked these questions before. Where is the answer? Why am I here? Help me. What am I to do? O Lord God tell me where is my faith? Give guidance. This is hell. A hell of madness.
No doubt his homosexual impulses were a factor in his pain, but in this context it is difficult to tell if they are a cause or effect of his identity disturbance -- for clearly, at the root of his trouble was an absolute rejection by his father, which can set the stage for a later search for one's missing masculine identity via sexual relationships.
Thus, in Epstein's case, he spent the rest of his adult life in compulsive pursuit of violent, sado-masochistic homosexual encounters, in a kind of simultaneous attraction to, and rejection by, primitive manhood. And of course, he ended up doing himself in from a drug overdose at the age of 32.
But the suicide (supposedly accidental) was just the concrete expression of a death that had occurred much earlier. Long prior to that, he had been denied permission to be, even (or especially) from earliest childhood. When being is lost that early, it is difficult to recover it, virtually impossible if one doesn't later find an environment to support and nurture it.
So, that's an extreme case, but in psychology, extreme cases are sometimes helpful in illuminating processes that are more subtle in the "normal." You could say that they are somewhat like the microscope is to the biologist. It can be difficult to know what makes human beings tick until they stop ticking, or are prevented from ticking.
I suppose this is no different from how medicine developed. No one gives much thought to their heart, or lungs, or stomach, until something goes wrong with them. But by studying illness, we learn about how to prevent it, and about the proper function of the organ in question.
As we've discussed before, the mind is an organ. Okay, but what is it for? Depending upon your answer, you will have an entirely different conception of man, and of the purpose of life. For a Darwinian, for example, the "purpose" of the mind is adaptation to the environment in furtherance of the Prime Directive, reproduction. Everything else is just genetic window dressing.
Let's forget about tenured fairy tales. What is the mind really for? What I would say is that the mind is an organ for the perception of reality. However, I would add that this involves the perception of both exterior and interior realities. Humanly speaking, the most important interior reality is the self, and the case of Brian Epstein shows what can happen when this perception is systematically thwarted, suppressed, denied, and rejected.
Ironically, Rank traces the emergence of individuality -- i.e., of interior perception -- to the Judeo-Christian revolution, which brought about "a consequent change in the human psychological type" (Menaker). That is,
"The old world of antiquity was disintegrating at this time, and the standards for social conduct were being modified from a communal behavioral code to a more individualistic one. The new code gave the individual more responsibility for his own actions and his destiny than had previously been the case."
This had the added effect of lifting man out of the stream of fate and predestination, "to a plane spiritually much higher":
"The emergence of the idea that through faith and one's own efforts an individual can effect a change in his or her personality is a new development in the psychological history of mankind."
To cite just one dramatic example, "the possibility of a change through inner experience... was testified to by Paul's conversion on the way to Damascus.... It is the juxtaposition of two differing self-experiences that elicits the awareness of both self and of the possibility of change."
Thus, we are ultimately talking about a death-and-life experience -- i.e., the death and rebirth of the self (so much so that he has a new name for the self reborn: Saul is dead. Long love Paul).
It is said that Augustine's Confessions is the first real autobiography ever written. I suppose this would explain why. However, even if we never put pen to paper, we in the Christian west are always cowriting our unique autobiographies -- unless some unholy-ghostwriter is forging our biography with a hammer, gun, or ideology.