This is a guest post by by the Rev’d Dr Gavin Ashenden.
During the General Synod debate on homosexuality I took to twitter. It’s like sitting up in the gods of a theatre. You are with the rowdy crowd. Shakespeare’s groundlings elevated to the grandstand of the internet. I chose my 140 characters with care. I tried the ‘critique without caustic’ approach – dignified and factually accurate.
Soon, very soon, the accusations began to flow in. “Dr Ashenden, you are a man filled with hate and bile” was the first. And then they came, a trickle at first, accusing me of hate, hate and even more hate.
I tried the parry. “You do know that for 15 years I was a passionate LGBT supporter until…” But the ‘until’ galvanised more energetic ad hominem internet detritus.
I was stopped in my tracks by this showering of accusation. Why always this accusation of hate?
It’s true, I do, in the jargon, have ‘anger issues’, in that I get cross from time to time. I strongly suspect they lie within the scale of ‘normality’. I look at my anger… I embrace my anger. I accept my anger and allow it to energise me rather than become depression.
For I, too, have had counselling. Twice. Once I submitted to four years at the hands of a brutal Kleinian psychotherapist; and once to a more gentle and almost wholly ineffective Jungian. I think both women are dead now. I learned some interesting things about myself from both. But, to continue the lingua franca, ‘here’s the thing’. Whilst it was the clear intention of allowing me to encounter such covert anger issues as I had, managing the anger was less clear, less obvious and turned out to be a much more subtle task than I thought either therapist properly achieved with me.
By all means blame me as a difficult client. But both experiences left me wondering if I had trouble working out how to creatively harness my anger after losing it from Pandora’s Box, where it lay bound and tethered on account of it being potentially very dangerous. Perhaps others did too?
There is an excellent book called The Death of Christian Britain by Callum Brown, which locates the death in 1963. Those born and nurtured before lived in one cultural era; and those after in a wholly different one. Christianity did not survive the watershed of transition from pre- to post-1963. Before 1963 lay Victorian or Edwardian culture, running out of energy until it succumbed, and after 1963 came the existentialist indulgence of narcissistic decadence. Before, Stoicism and Christianity; after, counselling, therapy and New Age. Before, restraint and self-control; after, anger and blame.
I straddled this cultural divide – just. Much more at home in the former; uncomfortably mistrustful of the latter.
I remember my first encounter when being taught Rogerian counselling techniques when I trained for the priesthood. There were two core elements: unconditional positive regard, and self-actualisation.
The implications of this non-directional counselling approach were that the client would flourish if provided with limitless affirmation and minimal direction, criticism or moral interference.
Self-actualisation, which overlaps with Jung’s promotion of something very similar which he called ‘individuation’, replaced any external criteria of expectation (God for example) with the trust that the internal needs of the person would make themselves known and, in the right affirming environment, grow and flourish. The highest levels of self-regard were crucial to this process.
Rogers was born into a faithful Pentecostal family and, as a bright young man, became an atheist. He exchanged an anthropology which saw humanity as flawed by sin for one which saw it flawed only by external and internal criticism.
Jung’s idea of individuation – wholly untested and empirically evasive – also looked for the goal of self-development as the main aim of the human journey. He looked to the opposite poles of good and evil, male and female, rationality and feeling, and prescribed a route of integration of opposites as the fuel for the full development of the inner god-like potential of the Self.
His theory of the Self was that it replaced any external God with an innate sense of the inner divine. We did not need to be transformed by a God out there – because we had the inner god of the Self, in here.
These wholly un-Christian maps of the psyche and mind required unlimited self-regard, and replaced external moral agency with internal self-serving. They challenged, undermined and replaced the old Christian world view and language.
In this new world of uncritical affirmation, ‘love’ took on a new meaning. It became the insistence on accepting someone ‘as they are’, with no preconditions and no criticism. What, then, does criticism of the demanding and emerging ego constitute? Why, the opposite: ‘hate’.
In Christian vocabulary, ‘hate’ is a very terrible thing indeed. It is anti-God; the disposition of all evil. But in the psychotherapeutic landscape of neo-ethics, where the god is the ego and emerging self, ‘hate’ is anything that is anti the self.
Imagine the scenario where there are external moral demands from an external ethical source that challenged the ego’s agenda and perceived sense of need. Why, this would be anti-love; it would be hate.
And suddenly it all falls into place. If, in the name of an external morality, a Christian voice were to challenge the demands the therapised ego insisted made it happy or actualised, this Christian, or the Bible whose words the Christian was calling upon, would become ‘hate speech’.
Of course, ‘Dr Ashenden is full of hate’. Because he is not offering unconditional affirmation to the self-identified needs of the emerging ego. If love means ‘to capitulate to the demands of the ego and self, in its chosen area of need, of sexual gratification, sexual exploration, or sexual self-expression’, then failing to do so becomes hateful. Because, by definition, (therapised) love does uncritically affirm, and Dr Ashenden, in the name of the revelation in the Law, prophets and the Gospels, does not.
We discover that to the narcissist and his or her culture, all criticism is hate.
As we place these two worlds in contrast with each other, the world of Christian revelation on the one hand and the world of self-revelation on the other, key words, whose meaning we thought that we thought we all agreed upon, begin to signify very different values and meanings.
God becomes not Yahweh, or the Holy Trinity, but the primacy of the Self.
Holiness morphs slowly into wholeness; the integration of perceived ethical and gender polar opposites.
Love becomes not unending mercy, charity or forgiveness, but uncritical regard of the other, or of the Self.
Hate becomes not a diabolical anti-love, but any criticism of the Self’s proclaimed agenda of uncritical self-regard.
There is something alarmingly narcissistic in the homosexual love match: the male self, finding erotic and romantic adoration by looking in the mirror at the male self; of female gazing adoringly at the female. It is a kind of sexual and romantic extension of the narcissism of unconditional self-regard.
No wonder the prevailing therapeutised culture looks so favourably on the homosexual adventure. It is one form of narcissism protecting another.
It seems entirely possible that the children of the Culture of Limitless Self-Regard have no idea of the real meaning of Christian vocabulary.
Time and time again the Synodical proponents of CLSR bleated “but Jesus welcomes everyone”.
This Jesus, of course, is not the Jesus of the Gospel of Matthew chapter 25, who divides sheep and goats, light and dark, wheat and tares, good and evil. He is Jesus the fake therapist – fake because this Jesus never heals.
The children of this culture, having repudiated repentance and forgiveness and a universe with ethics built into its core, not only find themselves not healed, but turning on anyone who notices or challenges the narcissistic bubble with a reality check. For criticism must, by definition, be ‘hate’.
The Culture of Limitless Self-Regard has mined its memory and unconscious to release its anger and harnesses it as hate, which it directs towards any agency that suggests stoic or Christian restraint. It identifies any refusal to accept its demands for self-realisation or self-satisfaction on its own terms as hate.
The struggle in the Church is not one of compassion versus hate: it is one of revelation versus narcissism. It is astonishing that the narcissist, steeped in the language and values of uncritical self-regard, has chosen homosexuality and transgenderism as the field on which to fight authentic Christianity. But perhaps if the root of homosexuality is a form of eroticised narcissism, then perhaps there is more congruency that first appeared.
Authentic orthodox Christianity will continue to challenge this shallow heresy of self-regard and self-indulgence, not in the name of hate, but quite the opposite – in the name of the holiness and mercy of the God who came in the chaste person of His Son to set us free from the tyranny of the self and wash us clean from self-preoccupation.
The reason heresy matters, and must be fought with passion and intellectual clarity, is because heresy does not tell the truth about God or the self. And only the Truth can set us free.