Love necessary for spiritual health

One the most powerful books I read in my life was Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning.  Within the narrative Frankl chronicles his struggles to survive in Nazi prison camps. Despite horrific treatment by the concentration camp system directed at him and other prisoners, Frankl manages not to succumb to hatred towards his guards and internment staff. As he observed life taking place inside the death camps, he came to many insightful conclusions concerning what motivates individuals under extremes of emotional, physical and psychological trauma. He noticed that, over time, some prisoners would become so overwhelmed by the insanity of their treatment that they would eventually collapse psychologically and give up. They lost the will to fight on and attempt to survive. Yet some inmates, despite everything, chose to live and continue to persevere. Frankl attributed this will to live to a decision by the prisoner to adopt a kind of attitudinal stance against adversity based on love.

Somewhere inside the inmate’s psyche the individual had to base their core determination to exist on a foundation to understand reality, however cruel, against a backdrop of hope and love.  Prisoners that found a higher purpose behind their meager desperation tended to last longer and do better than inmates who had no moral compass to assist them. Frankl understood that an individual’s belief system was essential not only to sort out reality, but also to give spiritual fuel to the person when everything was stripped from their freedoms and ability to choose. The concept of love was foundational to mankind’s spiritual hygiene.

Another powerful writer I stumbled upon was Erik Erikson. He was a psychologist that specialized in development psychology by understanding an individual in terms of identity. He noticed that people tend to pass through identity crisis at certain stages of their lives. At these stages a central issue would arise for the individual to grapple with and struggle through in order to have a healthy outlook upon life. Erikson was born of a Jewish mother and a Gentile father in Denmark.  Later his family moved to Germany as Hitler was gradually coming to power. Erikson was chided at synagogues for being Nordic and at German schools for being Jewish. He understood how one’s environment can influence one’s conception of reality. Erikson eventually settled on eight stages of psychological development that a healthy person deals with and overcomes.

I found his first stage of an individual’s development to be very profound. During the first 18 months of life a child is confronted with his/her first identity crisis: trust vs. mistrust. A child is exposed to parental care during this stage that either supports a reality worldview that is predictable and consistent or the opposite. Does the primary caregiver (I love such psychological lingo) change the infant’s diaper in a timely manner? Does food arrive in a time sensitive manner?   Does the child have a schedule and routine that infers care? Somehow the infant understands if it is a priority to the adult or adults looking after its needs. Erikson explained that criminality arises from these first 18 months of life by the treatment of the child’s physical needs. If nourishment is unpredictable and chaotic then the infant has a better chance of starting out life mistrusting the landscape of reality unfolding around him or herself.

Here we are Christians, and look at what two insightful men came up with by observing human behavior. Both Frankl and Erikson realized how utterly necessary and central love is to mankind’s spiritual and psychological health. How powerful is that? And yet we live in this Hollywood culture that promotes shallow, self-absorbed values. Values that are entrenched in greed, power and lust. In my opinion, contemporary Western values have been best summed up by three writers: Aleister Crowley, Friedrich Nietzsche and Ayn Rand. Crowley said, "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law, there is no God but man. Thou art God." Nietzsche proclaimed God was dead and that a "will to power" was man’s only purpose, and Rand espoused rational self-interest over altruism of any sort. If my assumptions are correct about the philosophical underpinnings of our western Hollywood-based culture then our collective values are anchored in selfishness and little more. Is it any wonder that mankind is about to have a colossal showdown between love and selfishness? Is it any wonder that a great controversy is necessary to settle universal issues once and for all? Frankl said that every deed we commit has historical significance. Love is that important. Our lives have such profound import. The universe is watching. What will we do? How will we conduct ourselves?