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Jeroným Klimeš
A Psychologist's Testimony on Christ

Download english translation of the first chapter - Jesus as an (half) adopted child

I wrote this book between 2005 - 2008 as my personal point of view of Christ and Christianity. It covers six areas of my interest:

1) Christ's psyche of an adopted child
          My paper on Jesus' identity from The 3rd Session of the Prague-Princeton Biennale for Jesus Research

2) Human immortality

3) Existence of God and his mental representation

4) Moral and religion as evolutionary compensatory mechanisms

5) Christ, Church and we

6) How to solve the situation of Catholic Church in Czech lands


Aggression, and the naive image of a true believer

A chapter from the first part of the book - Christ's psyche of an adopted child. Pages 76 - 80 of the book were translated by Svato Schützner

There is a thing that one could call a naive image of a true believer. It is the image of a nice person, clearly developed from a childish pre-pubertal idea of a ”good child”. Such good child is never annoying, acts pleasantly toward everyone, has perfect self control, uses no bad words, is always a delight to meet. We can well make fun of this basically primitive ideal but one has to keep in mind that it is formative -- to many, it gives the strength to help others (e.g. many religious sisters, although sticking to the model of exemplary little girl, manage to be great help to hospital patients) -- and what is more important? It is a developmental ideal. It corresponds to a definite, although not final, stage of moral maturing. Every healthy individual has to go through this stage at some time or another. Some do get further, some don’t, but in any case it means that if we criticize this ideal of a ”good boy” or ”nice little girl” we’d better ourselves be beyond the mere loutish revolt that constitutes the next phase of moral development.

What is it that is wrong with this ideal? It is an attempt to live according to a definite set of fixed-in-advance principles. Nothing wrong with that, except that it is not a realizable ideal. Human life is not so predictable that a few principles would suffice to solve all situations that might occur. It is equally preset that an individual would get into situations that he can manage only with a heightened effort. This effort takes sometimes the form of aggression; sometimes the individual will be overwhelmed by emotions produced by the weight of extraordinary tasks or losses.

In the case of Jesus’ aggressive third phase, it isn’t difficult to guess what was the burden that resulted in his reacting in a violent and for him unaccustomed manner: the sight of approaching and unavoidable death. Christ knew the Scriptures, knew also what had been written about the Messiah, so he had to come to peace with the idea that it was exactly he to whom this painful fate was assigned. We have seen from the beginning that it wasn’t something that he would find attractive. He tries at first mildly, then in a sharper way, but on all fronts he sees that his effort to pass on even just a few elementary ideas strikes a wall of uncomprehension, not just among his opponents but, what is worse, among his disciples. As illustrated in the scene (Mk 9,30) where his disciples are on the way arguing which of them is the greatest.

It isn’t easy to imagine the mind of somebody tormented by the realization that his end is impending and who at the same time sees that his disciples are totally off, not understanding at all the most elementary bases of his message. Except for cases of deepest depression, unbearable pains, reactions to acute stress or similar pathological states, human beings do not desire death, rather they find the prospect of it frightening. It was so no doubt also in the case we mentioned before, with the fig tree and Christ’s reaction in the moment.

The question might occur to you why, if it was so, didn’t his disciples put it into context and describe it somewhat closer. Here, as elsewhere, one has to keep in mind that what we have about Christ is only mediated reports. Mediated by other men to such extent as those men were able to understand Christ’s mind. We may illustrate this on how children report the behaviors of grownups. A child isn’t able to comprehend the world and the thinking of adults; its description of what happened cannot reach beyond the level of existing psychological development. It was no different in the case of the gospel writers and apostles.

After their experience with Christ’s resurrected they advanced by a giant step, yet still they did not reach his level. And of course they did not become psychologists, didn’t know about the developmental stages of coping with a heavy loss, so they could not identify it retrospectively when describing Christ’s behavior. They put on record the symptoms but without noticing what preceded or what followed, how the things the had observed were connected. In a similar way the children when they grow up cannot quite reconstruct and identify what was going on in the minds of their parents when the parents were going through their crises. As grownups they might even have sufficient empathy, but they lack the needed recollections -- as children they had not registered sundry relevant details, and did not store them in their memory.

The above may look to you like fancy psychologizing, but it is interesting that Christ took it into account (J 16,12.13): "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” This hangs also together with Christ’s further conscious plan: to put his teaching entirely into the hands of the disciples, however weak, limited or bigmouthed they may be. Christ needed his disciples to start thinking in his ways but saw them instead dragging after him like steam behind the pot. This was true of his followers both remote and close. He reproaches the anonymous crowds that they are following him for selfish reasons (J 6,26): ”Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled.” And the close disciples he warns that their bigmouthed total dedication is merely an illusion they themselves would like to believe true (Mk 14,27sq):

Jesus said to them, "You will all fall away, because it is written, `I will strike down the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered.' But after I have been raised, I will go ahead of you to Galilee."

But Peter said to him, "Even though all may fall away, yet I will not."

And Jesus said to him, "Truly I say to you, that this very night, before a rooster crows twice, you yourself will deny me three times."

But Peter kept saying insistently, "Even if I have to die with you, I will not deny you!" And they all were saying the same thing also.

Here we find one of the main reasons why Christ himself had to accept, step wise, the idea of inevitable death. If he didn’t die, his disciples would never get out of their present phase of development -- mindless follower of a great master. He even found a parable for it (J 12,24): ”Truly, truly I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal.”

Presence of aggressive impulses is attested also in the previously mentioned curse on the fig tree and in the associated expulsion of the sellers from the Gentiles’ Court. The instructions he gave about the swords, shortly before death, confirm the presence of fantasies about a violent solution to what was about to happen (Lk 22,35sq):

He said to them, "When I sent you out without money belt and bag and sandals, you did not lack anything, did you?" They said, "No, nothing."

And He said to them, "But now, whoever has a money belt is to take it along, likewise also a bag, and whoever has no sword is to sell his coat and buy one. For I tell you that this which is written must be fulfilled in me, ‘He was numbered with transgressors'. For that which refers to me is reaching its fulfillment."

They said, "Lord, look, here are two swords."

And He said to them, "It is enough."

We may feel in the background a thought somewhat like this: ”If I am to be numbered with criminals, couldn’t I defend myself with sword in my hand, like an insurgent or a sicarius?” (The sicarii of the time were killing with their daggers the Jews who collaborated with the Romans.)

To present Jesus as a man totally lacking aggression does violence to his human nature. The right sort of man is not a man without aggression; it is a man who has his aggression under control. Here belongs e.g. his refusal to call down fire on the village in Samaria that throw him out, along with the disciples, apparently in a rather humiliating manner (Lk 9,54-56):

When his disciples James and John saw this, they said, "Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?"

But he turned and rebuked them: "You do not know what kind of spirit you are of. The Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them." And they went on to another village.

Of interest here is also the change in Jesus from before to after his prayer at Gethsemane. Before, he suggests to the disciples to take along swords. After the prayer, we hear something quite different (Lk 22,49-51 and Mt 26,52-54):

When those who were around Him saw what was going to happen, they said, "Lord, shall we strike with the sword?" And one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear.

But Jesus answered and said, "Stop! No more of this." And He touched his ear and healed him.

Jesus said to him [to the disciple]: "Put your sword back into its place; all those who take up sword shall perish by the sword. Or do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he would at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then will the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must happen this way?"

Something similar, then, is true about aggression as about miracles. Just as Christ progressively realized that extraordinary powers were practically useless, that they did not convince the Jews about his mission, so he came to understand that violent solutions, either, wouldn’t lead to the goal he intended. Everybody who wants to consider himself Christian has to go through these two processes. It is not just the matter of rejecting aggression, one has also to free oneself of pointless desire for a miraculous omnipotence.

The goal is to make use of, and in the case of aggression, even to overcome one’s natural tendencies and abilities, such as the nature of each one of us has given us. The point is not to turn into an angelic superman, to have supernatural powers, not either to lose one’s ego, to cease being oneself or to dissolve one’s identity. Christians aim at a perfect, i.e. saint human being, not to metamorphose into a different being. Each seeks and continues shaping himself with those givens that had been allotted to him. In this we follow our Lord, who himself was seeking, in complex ways, his identity of God’ son, and who had a lot that was by no means easy or enviable.