Saturday, October 23, 2010

One of The Coolest Papers I Have Ever Written!

Patricia S. Taylor
12 October 2010

Tryout 4: Idolatry and Displacement: Redefining the Oedipus Complex
          In essence, a psychological literary criticism is a study of how psychological theories can be applied to better understand a literary text. Frequently, psychological criticisms make strong use of Sigmund Freud’s theories when investigating literary texts. This is probably a result of the extensive use of literary texts by Freud himself to test and prove his theories (Lynn 196). Historically, the Holy Bible has been a literary text that has been difficult for the average reader to understand. I wish to illuminate the much debated interpretation of the word hate in Luke 14:26 by redefining the Freudian theory of the Oedipus Complex in terms of projecting one’s yearning for God onto one’s mother.

          I would have liked to have found a better secondary source for this particular tryout, but unfortunately, psychological criticisms of the Bible are difficult to find and I was unable to find one for the specific topic or passage that I had chosen. However, I did find a journal article by Carson Brisson that was written to try to reconcile the word hate in Luke 14:26 with the Biblical concept of honoring and loving one’s family. I personally found his article to be insufficient at maintaining the Bible’s integrity, which is vitally important to me, and I feel that I have a much stronger argument. His article seemed to pit the gospels of Matthew and Luke against each other, destroying any semblance of consistency. I do not agree with the nearly deconstructive interpretation he uses. By this, one can clearly see that there is a problem with interpreting and reconciling that particular scripture. It has historically been a major basis for skeptics who wish to debunk the infallibility of the Bible. Though the imperfection of text will not allow for an accurate interpretation, one may glean understanding by taking a psychological approach instead. Whereas my secondary text only served to further confuse and disorient me, when I constructed a psychological analysis of the text, my understanding of it became much more clear. This proved to me that not every type of criticism can be efficiently applied to a given text.
          Displacement, as defined by Lynn, “…inserts a safe object of emotion for a dangerous one.” (198). Freud believed that all people also had an unresolved internal conflict due to avoidance of emotions and objects of emotions that were dangerous to the individual. He believed that in response, people would displace that emotion onto an object that was perceived as less threatening by them. The Oedipus complex, as theorized by Freud, is the drive for a child to do away with his father and be with his mother. Freud generally believed this process to be based on sexual attraction to the mother and jealousy toward the father. He believed that the father and the son would vie for the mother’s affection and that the strength of the father could cause the son to be fearful of acting on his impulses, causing an internal conflict that must either be resolved or would cause significant neuroses.
          At first, one would think that the Oedipus complex could not possibly be applied to Biblical text. That is, until one sees the whole theory in an unconventional light. As stated above, Freud based his theory, like most of his theories, on sexual impulses. However, if one will look at the basic premise of the Oedipus complex and apply it to a displaced yearning for God rather than a sexual desire for one’s mother, it sheds a whole new light on the highly contested word hate in Luke 14:26.
          Taking into account the popular quote by William Makepeace Thackeray, “Mother is the name for God in the lips and hearts of little children”, one can redefine the Oedipus complex as the displacing of a desire for God onto one’s mother. Keeping in mind that because they are displacing their spiritual yearnings onto their mother, they will undoubtedly apply the first of the ten commandments, “You shall have no other gods before Me.” to this displacement as well. It is logical to surmise that the desire to do away with the father would only be a result of their displaced emotions and serves as an attempt to avoid idolatry and have one ultimate supreme being that meets every need of ultimate concern. It would make sense, then, that the child would want to do away with not just the father, but anyone and anything that would come between themselves and the object of their displaced emotions; their mother. When one makes all these connections and effectively redefines the Oedipus complex, it sheds a lot of illumination on the Biblical concept of idolatry.
          At first glance, Luke 14:26 would seem to be in conflict with other verses that promote honoring one’s parents. Though the passage in Luke does seem to tell us to hate our parents, the argument against contradiction is that shock was an important rhetorical tool that Jesus frequently used and it was not intended to be taken literally, but as a relative term. In the Amplified Version of the Bible, it explains this concept quite well within the brackets it provides for its amplifications. “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his [own] father and mother [in the sense of indifference to or relative disregard for them in comparison with his attitude toward God] and [likewise] his wife and children and brothers and sisters, [yes] and even his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.” (Luke 14:26). Going back to the redefined Oedipus complex, it becomes clear that although a child does not truly hate his father, he may remove him as if he hates him in order to preserve the mother’s role as god in his life. This observable phenomenon directly correlates and supports the concept of Luke 14:26 describing hate as a relative term rather than a literal one. Certainly, if a child does not truly hate his father but still seeks to remove him from the mother-child relationship, then one would not need to truly hate, but rather remove all interferences from the Jesus-disciple relationship, thus removing any risk of idolatry.
          Interestingly, another confirmation of this theory is in the parallels between the consequences of a child failing to remove the father from the mother-child relationship and the consequences of one who fails to remove interferences from the Jesus-disciple relationship. According to Freud, an unresolved Oedipal conflict can cause a plethora of neuroses and mental health issues for the duration of a person’s life. Those problems will theoretically not be resolved until the internal conflict has been resolved. According to Romans 1:28, when people committed idolatry, God “…gave them over to a depraved mind…” Clearly, the result of both idolatry and an unresolved Oedipal conflict are one in the same because the struggle between the id (drive) and ego (drive-control) gives rise to problems in the superego (subconscious).
          Trying this form of literary criticism has not only given me a new insight into my text, but it had been quite an enjoyable experience. I never would have thought that I could use a Freudian theory to illuminate Biblical text. This was certainly the first time I have ever thought of an Oedipus complex in that way. It was also very interesting to see how a psychological criticism differs from the practice of psychology. I did not think that I could do one without the other. As I worked with this tryout, I even began to wonder about the conflicts and complexes that might have been within Freud himself that would have contributed to his own neuroses and altered perceptions. I wondered if perhaps he was displacing his own yearning for God by putting everything in a sexual slant. Perhaps sexual urges were less threatening to a logical man because they were scientific and quantifiable as opposed to spiritual urges which may confuse and threaten a scientific person’s entire world view. Needless to say, there was certainly a lot for me to think about.

Works Cited
The Bible. Print. New International Version.
The Bible. Print. Amplified Version.
Lynn, Steven. (2011). Texts and Contexts: Writing About Literature with Critical Theory. New
York: Pearson Education, Inc.
Brisson, Carson. "Luke 14:25-27." Interpretation: A Journal of Bible & Theology 61.3 (2007): 310-312. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 10 Oct. 2010.

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