Superstition and the false god – 4

One of the greatest superstitions is that of an image of God who is exclusive. This is the false god who calls a people just for him and excludes all those who do not fit in some way with what this might mean. This is a greedy God who wants things for himself; the alternative is of a God overflowing with abundance and generosity for all his creatures and creation. A great fallacy is that we all worship the same God because these are two radically different Gods – both of whom have their devoted followers. The image of God that is in us affects the way we behave – exclusively and judgementally or open to the world in all its different forms – or perhaps we alternate between the two. Incidentally according to Neville Symington, the psychoanalyst who was a priest, sees that everyone has such different Gods battling within them – whether religious or not.

Our attitude affects the way we behave, and our psychological approach to the things that we do. Superstition is bound up in this too, so, for example, sacrificial acts that may look wonderful to others may have been done to placate this greedy God and to win approval. If I say prayers then God will save me; if I help this homeless person then God will favour me. In other words this God is can be bribed – I will win his favour and so help myself. Or – there is the other God who loves me for who I am, and doesn’t need to be won over or bribed. Once again – we usually tend to have both views at different times, depending on where we’re at and how we are feeling. Whilst this is spiritual it is also of course psychological in the sense of our emotional orientation to life. At times I will be introvert and self-protective, excluding others, and at other times I can be generous and open trusting in other people.

Symington, writes how looking back he can see that as a priest he consciously changed from the savage God that he saw as external to himself, and who was lodged in what he calls ‘the superstitious church’ to an intellectual understanding of the loving God. He began to understand that all the external piety and rituals implied that God was bribable: ‘You offer God prayers, sacrifices, devotions, and so on, and thus the savagery of God is bought off. This had been my piety.’ He later understood that the idea of the savage God still remained with him, but he projected it in various church people or parts of the church.

‘When the focus is on the outside the reason is very often because the horror of what is within is so awful that it cannot be contemplated, so one flees to the outer for refuge which is prominent. The savage God is part of a self-protective, solipsistic manner of being’.

As Symington wrestled with this inner and outer God he decided to renounce saying the Divine Office and instead become ‘master of my own fate before God’. When he began to understand that the tyrant God came from within his own psyche, he ‘crashes into the most appalling depression’ and turned to psychoanalysis to try to understand, later leaving the priesthood to become an analyst – albeit one who wrote extensively and I think helpfully about spirituality.