The courage to be 1

Quite early on in my first psychotherapy my Jungian analyst gave me a copy of a book by Paul Tillich called The Courage to Be. It was an immensely important gift – it was her copy and some time later I bought a copy of my own to keep. For many years I carried around this small paperback. It was partly the title that was so important as it was very much an affirmation about my place in life and what it might mean to really be alive. When I did get round to reading the content it also had great meaning because essentially the book is about the anxiety of being human. Humanity in the anxiety of its finitude faces the terror of life and asks for the source of its courage to be. Paul Tillich asks for the source of human courage in the face of the three great negators of life, namely, death, guilt and meaninglessness.

Tillich gives the sense that the opposites that make up human life have only a tenuous unity and therefore may disintegrate and in that state life falls to pieces, into a state of nothingness. The only answer is to reverse this in a move towards balance, relatedness and vitality through the spirit- worked flow in the divine life.

There are three polarities or binaries that he describes: the first is individualisation and participation. Either to excess leads to illness for if you cannot participate in the environment and community then an isolating solipsism is the result. But with too much participation one can be swamped and there is a loss of self. The second is the binary of dynamics and form. In other words you need a structure to shape one’s life potentiality but if it’s too tight creativity becomes extinguished and the life goes out of the person. The third binary consists of the opposites of freedom and destiny where freedom can be used to abuse or lose one’s destiny. Being born into unfavourable circumstances can be a destiny where freedom is greatly limited, the alternative is to be sacrificed to people or institutions who promise some sort of realisation of destiny. Again there needs to be an interplay and in this interplay Tillich locates the reality of religion or self transcendence. He believed that every life is involved in responding to the draw of its essential self and so to God and is thus destined to be confronted in eternity with the extent to which this essential truth has been realised in time. Without this there is loss of the sense of life’s sublimity.
He argued that without a spiritual centre all these opposites tend to consume one another or fall apart from each other which leads to disintegration.