Mudwrestling Sigmund Freud - Confessions of an Ex-Atheist
The church I went to in High School had a big organ. The instrument is, quite literally, in the national pipe organ instrument database of classic organs. It was a beautiful half circle sanctuary with a big balcony. I would rollerblade down High Drive to church, (It was the 90’s. Rollerblading was new. That’s my only excuse) and sneak into side door and up the stairs to sit in the balcony. And as a kid who hadn’t been raised in the church, it was perfect. It looked and felt exactly as I would expect church to look at feel.
I would sit up in that balcony and look down at the people below as they worshipped and think about whether or not there was really anything to it. Sometimes I’d be moved by it and join in. Sometimes I’d try to and fail. Sometimes I’d be an observer. But I spent a lot of my early time in church as just that; an observer. But not just of other people. I was also an observer of myself.
The first question that popped into my head after my first ever experience with God (which, to prove how powerful God is, was on a senior high disco retreat) was “How do I know that this isn’t just some psychological trick that my sub-conscious is playing on me because I am too weak to deal with the hard truth? What if I am just preconditioned to this?”
This was a question that haunted me. How do I know? At times I would be convinced that I was playing tricks on myself and that I needed to quit, sometimes I would be convinced that these people (to whom I was becoming quite loyal) couldn’t all be deceived. But then I realized something. I was mudwrestling Sigmund Freud, but he was cheating.
If your watch is broken and one of the gears decides that the watch needs to be fixed, it does not help if that gear climbs out of its spot to tromp around inside your watch trying to find the problem. At that point the major problem is that the gear is out of place. It is out trying to fix the problem when the problem is that it is out. Our mind is part of us. It is supposed to be working in harmony with the rest of us. If we let it wander around banging on things with a wrench, then we will never work properly, because our mind is out of line.
I was watching myself live my life. In my search for objectivity, a second person had taken shape up in the balcony of my mind so that I never fully entered into life. Even though my mind was a part of me, it was watching me rather than living with me. About a decade later, I came across a name for it in a sci-fi novel by Walker Percy about a Psychiatrist living through a technological meltdown. In ‘Love in the Ruins,’ Percy calls it Angelism. The inability to act without watching yourself act. It is Jon McCrea, lead-singer of Cake, Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps Going the Distance, singing his irony drenched postmodern geek rock through a smirk. Which isn’t a problem when on stage. But living that way is a psychosis. (Of course now it is just called Facebook).
Freud had me divided up into pieces under the lights on his cold metal table. But then it hit me like an ostrich on stampede. He was cheating. The psychologist who was telling me that I couldn’t trust myself because I was only acting the way that I was conditioned to act was only saying that because he was conditioned to say that, and since he insisted that you can’t trust a conditioned action, then I can’t trust what he is saying. And if I can't trust what he is saying then I don’t know if my actions are untrustworthy after all.
If he was right, then he was wrong, and if he was wrong then he can’t be right, and if he isn’t right, then he is wrong. When I later read an actual biography of Sigmund rather than just his own writings, and learned that his main test subject was actually himself, I found plenty of relief that I had set it aside. Because when he told me to look at myself, he was really inviting me to not live my life. But the Bible said to come live with “Gladness and singleness of heart” (Acts 2:46). The call to live as a single person, not watching myself live, but just living with singleness of heart, was an invitation to freedom.