Harry Guntrip is interesting about self-delusion and how this applies to spiritual or religious experiences. His belief is that none of us can escape experiencing what we may not be able to explain but the danger lies in how we interpret this to ourselves. He writes: ‘deeply felt needs can persuade people that an intensely believed dogma or an assiduously practised form of worship is a real religious experience, when it may only be a substitute for “real relatedness”. Private experience has to be tested by comparisons and by the stress of life itself.’
In contrast fanaticism is a flight from emptiness within but Guntrip, referencing Jung, sees the one full answer to alienation as ‘the basic religious experience of the universe as not alien to our nature as “persons”, a sense of oneness with ultimate reality akin to the experience of human love.’ We need a sense of connection with ‘God’ not because of powerlessness but rather because of isolation, loneliness, the sense of personal unreality, the answer to which is ‘personal relationship’. Guntrip finishes his lecture with the statement that the capacity to have this experience is intrinsically so important for personally satisfying and meaningful living.
‘Some of us do not have this experience, just as some of us do not have the experience of human love, and probably those who do, only have it imperfectly. We are all only partly free to have the full range of our possible human experience.. I would not dare to claim that I possess any great depth of religious experience, but only to have sensed enough to be convinced that it is a reality.’
This is not to do with professing a faith but rather it is the possession of the experience that matters and that experience is an integrating factor in life. It is the culmination of the ‘personal-relationship essence’ of human living. Guntrip returns to the foundations of such experiences in a paper he wrote on Psychology and Spirituality where he gives an example of a patient who said, ‘I have two problems, first religion and my position as a clergyman. I feel I have lost my faith. Second, from my earliest years I have had feelings of insecurity, and of being unwanted and uncared for, so that it is difficult to have normal relations with other people.’ Guntrip’s response was that these are not two problems but rather two aspects of the one problem. He writes:
The first revelation of God to a human being is not Christ, but in the love of the mother before the baby is old enough to know anything about God and Christ. If the mother evokes the infant’s capacity for loving, then he will be able to return love for love, and will grow up capable of knowing what “Christ” means, of seeing in this human life a manifestation of the indefinable things we mean by the word “God”. …God is met with us in a human life, for “God is love” and love is of God, even the unborn capacity for loving in the psychopath.
If healing love can reach through to the frightened heart then a soul is reborn.