Tag Archives: Viktor Frankl

Jewish psychologists and the God within

9 Jan

 Rabbi Joshua Liebman says in his “Peace of mind” that religion is “at its best” merely “the announcer of the supreme ideals by which men must live and through which our finite species finds it’s ultimate significance.” If people were honest, says Liebman, “they would admit that the implementation of these ideals should be left to psychology.

Psychology can say much, obviously, about the psyche, but nothing about the God of the Bible. For Liebman, part rabbi, part psychologist, the ultimate aim of religion is peace of mind, which results from the discovery of ”ultimate significance.” To whom must a Jew run to find this ultimate meaning? No, not to the rabbi, says Liebman, but to the psychologist, preferably a Freudian psychologist. Oh the irony! Freud, the Jewish atheist is going to tell us how to find ultimate meaning.

The heart of religion is, says Liebman, “something outside ourselves.” I understand by that the existence of a transcendent being greater than ourselves. Alas, Liebman brings us back us back to earth that it is the job of psychology to make this something (someone?) outside ourselves incarnate. If that is so, religion then has little to do with the Bible, and everything to with the “Varieties of religious experience” (William James). Whereas the Scripture (Hebrew and New testament) says ”look up” Liebman says, “look within, because without’s within.”

If Liebman had been a Messianic Jew, he, firstly, wouldn’t have shackled religion to psychology, and second, he would have said that this making something outside ourselves incarnate is not the psychologist’s job but God’s; and this something made incarnate would be Someone, not something. (Some Messianic Jews, sadly, do not believe that God had a divine Son; so they don’t believe in THE incarnation)

Where Joshua Liebman speaks of ”ultimate significance”’ Viktor Frankl speaks synonymously of “ultimate meaning.” In “God in Viktor Frankl’s Logotherapy,” I concluded that Frankl did not believe in God as a distinct divine being. I wrote there:

In 2000, an update to Frankl’s “Man’s search for meaning” appeared called “Man’s search for ultimate meaning.” What is the difference between “meaning” and “ultimate meaning”? Here are two excerpts from Frankl’s “Ultimate meaning.”

“… God, is not one thing among others but being itself or Being (capitalized by Martin Heidegger). (P. 147)

So Did Frankl, ultimately, come to believe in a transcendent Being called God? No.

“… whenever you are talking to yourself in utmost sincerity and ultimate solitude — he to whom you are addressing yourself may justifiably be called God” (p. 151).

To add to what I said in “God in Viktor Frankl’s Logotherapy”:

God, for Frankl is, ultimately, me – and you. And, to take it where you may not want it to go: you are me and I am you – absorbed into the Universal Soul, where – to use Rabbi Akiva Katz’s terminology – undifferentiated oneness in the higher world comes into this world through specific differentiated channels like you and me. See “Jewish mysticism and Absorption into the Universal Soul.”

Here is the Lubavitcher Rabbi Tuvia Bolton’s response to “God in Viktor Frankl’s Logotherapy” followed by my reply:

Rabbi Bolton:

It seems to me that Frankl was not talking in terms of absolutes but rather what ‘works’. His god is very similar to the one realized by addicts in the seconds of the 12 steps of AA; god as we understand him. A Meaningful god works to fill man’s need for meaning.

But Frankl seems to have discovered a need much greater and more basic than that of the addicts…. and correspondingly a much ‘greater’ more ‘infinite’ god to satisfy it; man NEEDS ABSOLUTE meaning that only an absolute, totally meaningful god (or G_d) can produce. As evidenced by the several times he mentions the Ten Commandments as the absolute value.

But again; Frankl only seemed to be interested in what works to supply man’s needs; not the Jewish (Chassidic) idea of supplying G-d’s needs (Nachat Ruach l’mala)

My (shortened) reply:

Rabbi, as you no doubt know, Abraham Twerski, a Chassidic rabbi (like youself) adapted the originally Christian 12-step Alcoholics Anonymous method and made it Jewish. Judaism preaches that man is essentially good, where people are regarded as “much better than we think we are” (Twerski), and “knowing that they are able to enjoy a more productive life” (Twerski). So, the solution to inner turmoil for Twerski, for Frankl, for Joshua Liebman, and indeed most Jewish psychologists was to learn how to get rid of one’s negative self-image.

You say Frankl’s “god” goes beyond what works to an “absolute” meaning. I think his god is merely one that absolutely WORKS. As I said in my last two paragraphs of the article:

In 2000, an update to Frankl’s “Man’s search for meaning” appeared, called “Man’s search for ultimate meaning.” What is the difference between “meaning” and “ultimate meaning”? Here are two quotations from Frankl’s “Ultimate meaning.”

“… God, is not one thing among others but being itself or Being (capitalized by Martin Heidegger).” (P. 147). So Did Frankl, ultimately, come to believe in a transcendent Being called God? Let Frankl answer: “… whenever you are talking to yourself in utmost sincerity and ultimate solitude — he to whom you are addressing yourself may justifiably be called God” (p. 151). END OF MY REPLY.

Frankl’s “God is self” (my term) has much in common with Gerald Jampolsky’s (Yogic) “transformation of consciousness” that leads to inner peace. Deep below the dark regions of discord and strife lies the treasure without price longing to find you, the real you. Transform your consciousness and you will find your true self. This “transformation of consciousness” is the “foundation for inner peace” (which is also the name of the publisher of “A course on miracles” on which Jampolsky’s book is based). The “transformation of consciousness” is, of course, also the foundation of Eastern thought systems such as Buddhism and Yoga, which has become a key ingredient in Western psychotherapy. “Hatha Yoga brings about the Unity of the mind, body and spirit. Through this practice, the body is toned, strengthened and healed so that a transformation in consciousness can occur.”

Liebman says go within to find your true self, the real you; but not before you go outside – to Freud. For Jampolsky, in contrast, look within, and that’s good enough to find inner peace.

Rabbi Bolton said above: “Frankl only seemed to be interested in what works to supply man’s needs; not the Jewish (Chassidic) idea of supplying G-d’s needs.” That is true not only of Frankl but all Jewish psychology. A Chassidic psychologist may talk about you (if you’re a Jew) being a piece of God, but what it may turn out to mean is that God is a piece of you – of your needs.

Frankl’s view of God as someone who supplies one’s needs is taken to it’s extreme form in Reconstructionist Judaism, and much of Reform Judaism, where “God” is another name for community, for love, for a matrix of love wherein a positive self-image is nurtured – and where the image of God is possibly also dénaturé (distorted).

What (nasty) piece of work is man: The typical Jewish view of salvation

19 Oct

Many of us have been reading about the rescue of the miners of Chile. Words like “redemption,” “born again,” “resurrection,” are the order of the day. The President of Peru told the President of Chile: Christ Made the Earth Open. He said “I allowed myself to take advantage of the New Testament and say that, just as Christ opened up the Earth to give back Lazarus, Christ was also there and made the Earth open so that it may give back the 33 miners.”

This was only one of a sepulchreful of comments, speeches and sermons on death, rebirth and resurrection to emerge from the Chile rescue. In the “Resurrection” of the miners in Chile and the Second Death, I argued that in Christianity the “first” death (the death of the body) was far less significant than the “second” death:

“I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that have no more that they can do. “But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him! (Luke 12:4-5).

In this post, I focus on the typical Jewish view of “salvation” in the context of the Chilean miners’ rescue.

Many Christians have the idea that the after-life (HaOlam Haba) is part and parcel of Judaism, as is the idea of eternal life in Christianity. Far from it. Only a minority of Jews believe in the after-life. (On the after-life, see here and the very good Haolam haba—salvation of man from the rabbinical point of view part 1). These generally are Orthodox Jews who fulfil the 613 laws (Mizvot of Moses). Not all Orthodox Jews believe or care about the after-life. If the most famous American Rabbi in the US today (dubbed so by Newsweek), Orthodox Rabbi Shmuley Boteach doesn’t care about the after-life, then it may be true that less famous Orthodox rabbis – and many of them – have similar views.

Here is Orthodox Rabbi Shmuley Boteach pronounced “Botak”) speaking on the “Unbelievable” Christian Radio programe (24 May 2008 Jesus & Jewishness):

“Righteousness is not about what you believe, it’s about what you do. The principal difference that separates Judaism and Christianity is …we Jews don’t care about where we’re going (that is, Jews don’t care about salvation. We focus not on personal salvation but on world redemption. The question is: “Did you leave the world in a better state than what you found it, did you clothe the naked, feed the hungry…I don’t care where I go when I die. It’s not about me. Since when is religion some sort of ego-centric self-absorbed trip? Where am I going, where am I going? I just don’t care.”

Said like a good modern Roman Catholic with this difference; the Roman Catholic does care where he is going.

I’d like to consider the typical Jewish view of “salvation.” From the Israeli newspaper Haaretz (“The Land”):

Israel invites Chilean miners for a ‘spiritual’ Christmas in the Holy Land.“Tourism minister invites the 33 rescued miners and their spouses for a week-long all-expense paid sightseeing tour of Christian holy sites” to experience “a spiritual journey in the Holy Land.” The Tourism minister said: “Your bravery and strength of spirit, your great faith that helped you survive so long in the bowels of the earth, was an inspiration to us all,” the tourism minister wrote in his invitation.” The invitation is to experience “a spiritual journey in the Holy Land.”

Here is another piece on the mine rescue from another issue of Haaretz (my italics and bolding):

“How good it is every hour to meet another person emerging from the depths, born again and proving that you don’t have to die to be a hero – you can live. How good it is, although it is not very pleasant, to follow clergymen humiliating themselves, haggling, as if they were in the market, over who had drafted God into producing the miracle; who had pulled God’s beard to arouse his mercy on the miners in the bowels of the earth. Religions, of all things, with the various churches so similar to one another, stop at nothing, not even at themselves. And how good it is, and how pleasant, to remember the original purpose of the existence of every country in the world: to save people no matter what, and not to abandon them to their fate” (my italics).

The above article in Haaretz – one of the most popular Israeli newspapers – describes religion – especially Christianity – as “pulling God’s beard to arouse his mercy.” What does “salvation” mean to the typical Jew (Israeli, or any other Jew)? It means “emerging from the depths, born again and proving that you don’t have to die to be a hero – you can live.”

Viktor Frankl (1905 – 1997)

In my “The Light shineth in the darkness, but did Viktor Frankl comprehend it?,” I described Frankl’s Logotherapy as, in essence, the “will to mean.” In Logotherapy, there is no outside Force (personal or impersonal) pulling us up when we fall. In Logotherapy, we pull our own strings and pick ourselves up by our own bootstraps. For Frankl, a typical Jew, there is no meaning – ethical, epistemological or ontological, or religious – outside man.

Modern Jews, like Frankl, have greatly influenced the shaping of modern Western “soul,” (others are

Night

Night (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sigmund Freud, Rabbi Harold Kushner, Mordecai Kaplan, Elie Wiesel). Many “Westerners” don’t regard their rejection of God (as revealed in religions such a Judaism and Christianity) as the root cause of their unhappiness. If it only stopped there. For example, Eli Wiesel‘s narrative of suffering in his bestseller “Night” has had a tremendous influence on his fellow Jews and on the rest of the world. Wiesel said, “God may still live but if he does, He has much to answer for.” (Heinze, A. R. 2004. “Jews and the American Soul,” p. 328).

I’d now like to compare the Jewish view of the miners’ rescue with the blog article “Jesus Christ And The Chilean Miners: Prayer and Victory” (“The Spine”).

The article begins: “Almost everyone has noticed and many have commented on the “69-day ordeal,”of the 33 Chilean miners. For most it was the heroism and fortitude of the miners and the skilled dedication of the rescue team.” (My italics). The title says: Jesus Christ AND the Chilean miners. But, “for most” it was not Jesus Christ but the miners and the rescue team that did the job.

It is this kind of doubletalk of, on the one hand, pulling “God’s Christian beard to arouse his mercy” (Haaretz article above), and trying to be (typically) Jewish, on the other; where Jewish means to “remember the original purpose of the existence of every country in the world: to save people no matter what, and not to abandon them to their fate.” In other words, if you want salvation, you must rely on the ingenuity of man alone. This is also the message of modern Western psychology, where Jews have played a pivotal and central role (Freud, Adler, Erikson, Frankl, Fromm).

Here is a comment posted on The Spine blog mentioned above:

“The engineers and technologists who pitched in to pull off the near-impossible. The rescue hole was devised by Greg Hall, an American mining engineer who figured he could find a way to turn a 5.5-inch drill hole into a 22.5-inch one – just big enough for a man. But that was just the start. The angle of the hole, the composition of the rock and the danger to the men below made it the hardest hole anyone has ever drilled. …”

What the Chilean miners’ rescue has shown above is that both the typical Jew and the pseudo-Christian agree at least on one thing:

What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how
infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and
admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like
a god! the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals

If, though, you were an Elie Wiesel or a Viktor Frankl, you might not want to generalise but would want to rephrase Hamlet:

What a piece of work are some men, and

what a nasty piece of work are others.