The Psychology of Religious Mysticism

By James H. Leuba | Go to book overview

CHAPTER V
THE MOTIVATION OF CHRISTIAN MYSTICISM
WHAT do the Christian mystics want ? Were we to ask them that question, they would give us the traditional answer. But it should not be assumed that it would name fully and exactly the forces that drive them on. The motives assigned for action are often mere justifications for promptings very imperfectly understood. We are all distressingly like the unfortunate asylum patient impelled in and out of season to wash his hands. He washes them " because they are dirty." Yet, the psychiatrist is aware of other promptings hidden to the patient.The mystics say that they want " God." That is a convenient traditional way of naming their goal. But what is it that urges them on, what do they really want when they want " God " ?That is our present problem. We began to seek an answer to it in the first chapter where we inquired into the effects of drugs used by the non-civilized to make him divine. We shall continue in the present chapter, and here with special reference to Christian mysticism.* * *The behaviour of the mystics, like that of everybody else, is instigated by innate tendencies to action and by needs1 that express themselves in forms determined mainly by experience. The tendencies and needs that come to expression with especial intensity in our group of mystics may be listed as follows:
1. The tendencies to self-affirmation and the need for self- esteem.
2. The tendencies to cherish, to devote oneself to something or somebody. These tendencies come to their most perfect expression in the parents' relations with the utterly dependent child but, strange as it may seem, they appear even in man's relations with God.
____________________
1
" Tendency to action means here an impulsion to behave in a particular way, while the term " need is used to designate a striving restlessness without specific direction. Experience soon teaches us, however, how our ordinary needs can be relieved, and, then, definite tendencies become connected with them. The feelings due to lack of nourishment and to moral isolation constitute respectively the need for food and the needs for social relationship.

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