Jesus and Object-Use: A Winnicottian Account of the Resurrection Myth
Hopkins, Brooke, PSYART
This paper accounts for the power of the resurrection myth in terms of Winnicott's theories of early development, particularly the "development of the capacity for concern" and the idea of "object-use" that grew out of it. The myth of the resurrection allows those who participate in it to reenact basic developmental processes, beginning with the infant's relation to its mother and extending to transference relationships of other sorts, which can lead to the capacity to "use" objects (persons or things). For the believer, Jesus represents the object of destructive attacks who has, somehow, miraculously survived those attacks and has in the process become the symbol of "object-constancy." He can be "used...can feed back other-than-me substance into" those who have attained the capacity to "use" him. The myth enables believers to acknowledge their own destructiveness while at the same time enabling them to live life more fully in "a world of objects...a world of shared reality." The sacrament of the Eucharist is seen as partly reenacting this process.
keywords: Winnicott, resurrection, Jesus, object relations, Eucharist
"The key to the reading of the gospels is that it is necessary to project in order to receive."
Dolto and Severin, The Jesus of Psychoanalyis
No one will deny, I think, the centrality of the myth of the resurrection in Christian theology. To be sure, accounts of Chistianity are as various as the spectrum, but if Christians can be said to be united in anything, it is in the belief that Jesus of Nazareth was crucified, died, buried, and rose again in the flesh, both to forgive men for the sins they had committed and to proclaim his eternal love.1 This is the central event in Christian history, the event that is commemorated and reenacted in an endless variety of communal and private contexts by Christians throughout the world. Regardless of the objective truth of this account it would be hard to deny its deep emotional and psychological appeal for millions of believers. That appeal, however, has never been adequately explained in emotional and psychological terms, and this is what I would like to try to do here.
The purpose of this essay, then, will be to offer an account of the resurrection myth. The terms of that account will be psychoanalytic, largely Winnicottian, in character. This is not only because Winnicott's work tends to be far more sympathetic to the role played by cultural and religious phenomena in human development than Freud's does (Meissner 1984). It is also because Winnicott's writing, particularly his writing on the paradoxical role of aggressive and destructive impulses in human development, sheds direct light on the processes dramatized by the myth itself-specifically, the destructiveness embodied by the act of crucifixion and the central fact of Jesus' reappearance, his acceptance of the world that tried to destroy him. These seem to reflect developmental processes Winnicott describes as leading to the capacity to "use" objects (1969: 86), that is, the capacity to experience them as separate from oneself, as reliable and constant despite their separateness. Of course, Winnicott's work itself does not stand wholly outside the circle of cultural influence. And, while he tends to disapprove of many aspects of Christian morality, particularly that which "continues to create and recreate God as a place to put that which is good in [man] himself, and which he might spoil if he kept it in himself along with all the hate and destructiveness which is also to be found there" (1963a:94), it might be the case that his underlying conception of infant and adult relationships is formed and influenced by-perhaps even drawn out of-a tradition in which destructiveness, rejection, aggression, and yet survival and forgivenmess are central themes. If so, this is simply another version of the hermeneutic circle. …