Reinventing Sin


February 12, 1993|By A. ZOLAND LEISHEAR

It is time for the psychiatrists and psychologists to fold up the tents, take down the marquees and go home, taking their theories with them. Psychology doesn't work.

When I was a child, I went to a convent school run by nuns whose order was cloistered in the 13th century. When you crossed their threshold, you covered not distance but time. I went to school in the Middle Ages.

It was a place where the world worked if you looked deeply enough. A world of microcosm and macrocosm. This world mirroring the next. The other world visible in this. We learned to look. I learned to see. We had good and bad angels on our shoulders. They were small and light and very vocal. I can describe them to you. We had sin.

When I was in graduate school in psychology, I was exposed to a variety of theories. It was intellectually exciting, something the mouth of the mind could wrap itself around in endless mastication. I favored Jung and Maslow, hated Freud, thought Beck had his moments. It occurred to me even then, those many years ago, that there was something wrong in a field that had so many theories. If there is such a thing as depression, e.g., an internal psychological malfunction that we can define as this, this and this, then should there not also be a cure or palliative effect that works in most cases?

I was told psychology was a young field. I was told I was simplistic. I was told to learn all the theories, to be flexible and eclectic, to use what worked. I left school and went to work, in a drug-abuse clinic, where the theories did not obtain. And yet, sometimes, something worked.

It was late in my childhood when I first heard a discussion of sin. Perhaps the nuns did not believe small children capable of such a thing. Small children simply listen to the bad angel and eat too many sweets. But older children can go off in the wrong direction. Older children can harm themselves and so we learned about sin.

Sin had two dimensions. First, it offended God and second, it harmed us. It offended God because it harmed us, made us less than God had intended us to be. God intended us to be happy. Sin prevented us from being as happy as we could be. It limited and stunted us. It was often subtle, offering a lower good or nTC seeming good while costing us a higher one. We had armor against this. We had God, whose voice with in us was always discernible. We must learn to listen. And we had will. We could choose how to act.

From there I went through what seemed a thousand years of Catholic education, where no matter what the topic, sin had a major role. Sin evolved. It was God and the Devil fighting for my soul: ''There is no neutral ground. Every inch is claimed by Satan and counter-claimed by God.'' Sin was the result of evil, of man's fallen nature. We were wretched and miserable, helpless without the church. Listen to us. Do what we say. It is the only way.

It got on my nerves. I turned to psychology. There is a remarkable similarity between psychology and religion. I believe they are the same and we do not need both. Actually I don't believe we need either. Not as institutions. Not as repositories of authority and dogma. What we need are avenues of healing.

Psychology and religion technically do not exist. They are merely words we use to describe certain ways of thinking or viewing the world or life. As they stand, they are limited and short-sighted and yet we tend to subscribe to one or the other. Religion is no longer fashionable. Psychology is. But they speak to the same condition. They speak to our need for more. They speak to our need to be happy, to be whole.

I am going back to the Middle Ages, back into a full cosmology. I am going back to psychology, but armed this time with my first concept of sin. I take with me no theory or dogma. I seek neither cures nor salvation. I simply assume that those who come, come because they are not happy, that their unhappiness lies in their sin, their choice of a lesser god, for whatever reason, over a higher one. I can help them listen to that inner voice, by whatever name they call it. When they hear it, they can choose to abandon sin, unhappiness, pathology, whatever. This is simple, holistic, difficult and possible. This may be the avenue of healing.

A. Zoland Leishear writes from Baltimore.

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