Idolatry and Work in Psychology (1970) No 155

Chairman of the Guild

WHAT I have to say this evening aught perhaps have been said before you elected me as your chairman. When Vera von der Heydt asked me last October to stand for election I said to her that I felt my ideas on psychology and on the kind of work the Guild might do were unknown, and that I would prefer a chance to put these ideas before the Guild first. But that could not be arranged. Instead, thanks to the kindness of Dr. Duddington in holding over his planned talk until July, I am taking this early opportunity to show you what kind of fish you’ve landed.

In outlining same of my own ideas I want also to try to’ focus them on this problem of the name of the Guild. I think the discussion at our last A.G.M. showed that this problem is felt to be a live one. Reflecting on the lectures I have heard here and in Oxford over the last three years, and on the lecture discussion evenings which I have enjoyed leading during the last twelve months, I agree with those who feel we should change our name. But although this question of name is for me an essential one, it is, I believe, secondary to the question of how we see our common interest.

As we saw at the A.G.M. in December, discussion of our common interest tends to turn on either the idea of pastoral psychology as a discipline in its own right, or on the idea of the Guild as an interdisciplinary forum. If I have to choose between the two, I prefer the interdisciplinary idea. But I am not happy with it. It seems to me that if we are to do justice to the spirit of the Guild we need to be very careful with this whole concept of “discipline” in psychology, and in particular to criticise it from the religious standpoint. For the great danger of the interdisciplinary approach is that it can lead us to evade the really hot and uncomfortable problem of how religion and psychology interact in practice, by offering us the easy alibi that religion is “just another discipline “. This is an old trap, against which the great religious teachers have always warned.

If we are to avoid this trap, we need to find a way of talking about psychology and religion that does not place them side by side as two separate kinds of experience within the same order of reality. The Church has argued that though it is in the world, it is not of the world. It aspires to convert the whole world, but knows that, in time, it needs an unconverted world “out there” as the ground for its own existence. Similarly with religion and psychology: religion needs to claim all psychology for its province, but can do so only in recognising that this claim will always be resisted out of a necessity that is vital to both religion and psychology. The work of any psychology that takes religion seriously is an exploration of this necessity.

Now if it is work of this kind that the Guild wishes to do, we have to recognise that it involves a question of authority. Take for instance the word “soul”. It has been said that the Guild is one of the few places where psychologists can talk about the soul–can in fact use the language proper to the science of the psyche– without being laughed out of court. But if we do believe that the theory and practice of psychology require the use of this word–and I do believe this–we must also accept that we have an intellectual responsibility to the secular society which feeds us, a society which cannot fit the word soul into any publicly acceptable frame of reference. How can a psychology that believes in the reality of the soul engage in effective dialogue with social services that reject that reality? Is there any common authority which both sides can agree to accept?

This is the question which I want to open up this evening. It is a question which I believe intimately concerns the life of the Guild, both in terms of its inner constitution and its outer activity. It is a question which the “interdisciplinary” approach to our corporate life could too easily obscure.


Who is to say whether the soul is real or not? How can a secular society develop training programmes for workers in psychology which acknowledge the reality of religious faith, both as something which is affirmed and as something which is denied? By what authority can I, can any “I “, speak of psychology?

The answer I want to propose this evening is circular.

It is derived from marrying concepts at the heart of psychoanalytic practice: projection, resistance, transference, with the religious concept of idolatry. It begins and ends in the conviction that psychology, as the science of the soul, has to do primarily with a making, and only secondarily with a knowing. All that I have to say this evening centres on this distinction between psychology as a making, and psychology as a knowing.

Let me lead into it by generalising this question of authority in psychology. It seems to me that the problem of the religious person–be he clergyman, psychiatrist, social worker, schizophrenic or drug addict–who needs to talk about the soul within a society that has no generally acceptable use for the word, is a special case of a wider problem. It is my problem now with you, our problem with each other in the discussion afterwards, and our problem as a corporate Guild with the world outside. It is the problem of the place of faith within the whole organisation of public knowledge. How can “I” give weight to my inner life without closing up against those who do not share it? How do I stand in relation to others if I insist on the value of beliefs which are not theirs?

One answer that is influential in our secular society is that faith is something essentially private and therefore we must not insist on our personal beliefs. The more strongly we hold them, so it is argued, the more careful we must be to insulate them from our work, in order to maintain that objective attitude which our culture has come to value so highly. For the administrators of a secular society this objective attitude is a primary virtue. So they react to the intense subjectivity of faith with the hope that if left to itself it will die a way, and that in the meantime it can best be dealt with by pretending that we can draw a line between our private and our public engagement with reality.

But in the Guild we are unhappy with such a solution.

Too many of us have experienced how close to madness and breakdown the pretence of such a dividing line can bring us. Yet have we any alternative answer to the very pressing problem: how can I stand to my faith in such a way as to encourage you to stand to yours?

I think we have, and I think this answer may well be what we mean when we talk of the life of the Guild. But it is elusive, not easy to define. I want to try and get at it by enlarging on this question of the authority of faith in a secular society.

In the discussion after Dr. Howell’s paper last month we heard the voice of the Church insisting that the secular claims to an objectivity in matters of faith is quite literally nonsense. The Church tradition derived from prophecy and revelation represents a contrary conviction: that if we believe, for instance, that the world is created that man sinned, that man is saved from his sin, then we’ve got to say so. If we believe that such realities are part of the make up of the world with which we have to deal, we undo ourselves if we pretend we can insulate such belief from our work.

But Jews and Christians are not alone in insisting that faith is what we have to stand on. It is a conviction shared by other religions that are active in this country, and it has been argued, in agnostic terms that have had great influence, from the existentialist and phenomenological point of view. It is an argument which some Marxists can understand, if not accept. And as far as the organisation and growth of scientific knowledge is concerned, the central significance of faith has recently been argued with great force and over a wide range by Michael Polanyi and his followers.

Yet even though there may be wider agreement than we sometimes recognise that faith is what we stand on the problem remains that there is no agreement on how to approach that faith. Until we can resolve that block. I see no way in which a secular society can include the dynamism of faith as an integral part of the training and operation of its psychological services. It is here that I find this concept of idolatry valuable, because it places the distinction between what we believe, and what we know, in a much wider context: the context of creation.


I suppose for most of us here this evening the word idolatry will conjure up a picture of the children of Israel worshipping a golden calf, while an angry Moses breaks the tables of the law at the foot of Mt. Sinai. The sin which the Israelites had committed was to make an image with their own hands, and then to worship it as a god. It is a sin that derives its horror from a belief that the God whom one should worship is the maker of the world; so that in worshipping a man-made image in the place of the true God we equate our own power to make with the power that made both us and the world. In making that equation we collapse the distinction between maker and made, treating a creature, man, as a creator.

It is with that inner collapse that I am concerned.

And the first point to emphasize is that it is a collapse that will go unnoticed unless we are able to entertain a belief in creation. To talk seriously of idolatry is to assume an absolute distinction between maker and made as our starting point in appraising our situation in the world.

Now merely to say this is to recognise that we live in a world given over to idolatry. For to most of us, to talk of the distinction between maker and made as implying anything so radical as belief in creation, is almost–never quite–meaningless. Evidently I can’t argue the pros and cons of belief in creation this evening. But what I do want to emphasise is that creation isn’t something we know. It is something we believe. So once we allow the distinction between maker and made to enter into the theory and practice of psychology we allow faith to take precedence over knowledge.

This of course is something very shocking to people who profess no faith. They react strongly away from it, as something that cannot be proven. Nor can it be proven, if we start from a position that has already collapsed the distinction between maker and made; for then the only kind of proof open to us is in terms of the knowledge we have of what we have ourselves made. But where I find the concept of idolatry so valuable is that it leaves us with a reverse way of looking at this problem of proving faith. Because by emphasising the connection between faith and creation, the idea of idolatry reminds us that the way to “prove” faith is not by knowing, but by doing. In learning to exercise our sense for idolatry we do something that enables us to enter into the making of the world we know. We can share faith even with those who profess no faith, precisely because faith is not an inferior, second class kind of knowing, but a form of making in which we are all necessarily engaged–an act of creation that precedes knowing.

Expressed in such abstract terms, this is an idea that is not easy to grasp. Let me therefore repeat it in the form of an image that may mean more to you, one of the oldest images both of the soul and of idolatry. It seems to me that in talking of our inner lives, all any “I” can do is to peer into the pool of life and describe what it sees there. Whether the world confirms itself as reflected in what this “I” describes, depends on whether world and “I” agree to break the spell of Narcissus and stoop to drink. For in the last resort it is only if we agree to trust this thirst that we can find out whether that which reflects is the glass of idolatry, or water that lives. In matters psychological, this thirst is the final authority.

But the problem of psychology–the central problem, so it seems to me–is that we are prevented from trusting this thirst by a contrary authority, an authority that orders us to resist this thirst, lest in drinking we break the “reflector” which in some way sustains both our consciousness and the world of which we are conscious. Psychoanalysis has taught us to take this resistance very seriously indeed, as an energy that originates in that unknowable act by which we share in making the reflector that both stimulates and frustrates our thirst. At the pool of Narcissus, the only way to reconcile the authority of our thirst with the voice that bids us resist that thirst, is by learning the way into, not through, the looking glass.

I am sure that society needs such learning, and that those who are committed to a religious communion have a unique contribution to make to this work. There have been signs in the past that the Guild would like to develop into an institution doing work of this kind. But there are good reasons why it is not easy to agree how this can be done, reasons which have more to do with the elusive connection between soul and idolatry than with any peculiarity of the Guild.

So I want now to look at some of these reasons, by saying something about two of the three critical problems round which I think disagreement most easily develops in psychological work: language and time. I want to say enough about the language and time of psychology to show where my idea of idolatry touches on arguments with which the Guild is already familiar in other contexts. You will then be able to judge how much your own experience at the pool of Narcissus has in common with mine.


Does language make, or is language made? It is a question that goes back to the origins of our European civilization, and which divides us not only into warring schools, but also against ourselves, challenging as it does one of the most pervasive and persuasive of all idolatries.

I suppose for most of us here in the Guild the most famous statement of the belief that language makes is in the prologue to St. John: “In the beginning was the Word …and without him was not anything made that was made.” But though the Christian religion has given this belief an exceptional emphasis and a penetrating vitality that has transformed the face of the earth, it is a belief that is by no means confined to Christianity. The way in which words are involved with the reality of the things they describe has fascinated and disturbed European philosophy since long before Christ, and in our modern world the work of such controversial innovators as Lévi Strauss and Noam Chomsky opens the way to fresh appreciation of the generative mystery of language.

But the idea of language as making a reality that cannot be thought of as existing without language has always been hotly disputed. For the English mind, the contrary philosophy, that holds that language is made by man as an instrument with which to designate a reality that exists prior to and independently of language, was articulated with a fateful precision and elegance three hundred years ago by John Locke. Contrast the opening verses of St. John with this passage from Locke’s Essay on Human Understanding, where he is describing the origin of language.

“One of Adam’s children, roving in the mountains, lights on a glittering substance which pleases his eye. Home he carries it to Adam, who, upon consideration of it, finds it to be hard, to have a bright yellow colour, and an exceeding great weight. There, perhaps, at first, are all the qualities he takes notice of in it; and abstracting this complex idea, consisting of a substance having that peculiar bright yellowness, and a weight very great in proportion to its bulk, he gives the name zahab, to denominate and mark all substances that have these sensible qualities in them.”

This is the philosophy that holds us spellbound today

The thing is there first, the word follows. For most of us, for most of the time, it is so obvious that the world exists independently of language that we do not even know that this is a belief that has been passionately denied. Yet unless we are able to join in questioning this belief the word idolatry, and everything I have to say this evening, will remain nothing but–hot air.

It’s not easy to question anything so obvious as the assumption that this glass exists independently of the word that describe it. But there is one area of experience where precisely this question is of absorbing and intimate concern for us all: the experience of being I. What is it on which the word “I” can be pinned in the same way as the word glass on this “it” that I hold in my hand?

It is here that psychoanalysis has given a fresh incarnation to this old problem of the philosophy of language. For it leads us to explore how the language by which we know ourselves is grounded in a language that enters into our making. The analysis of the psyche works within a field in which I experience myself as both a subject that makes by naming, and also as an object that is made by being named. In the grammar of the soul, “I” is contrarily both the source of predication and also a being predicated by a source outside itself. What in the case of this glass may seem to be nothing but a dry as dust philosophical quibble, is incarnated by psychoanalysis as the question which divides the child from the adult: to what extent am I called on to make sense of my body and of the world as I find them, as artefacts, as things ready made; and to what extent am I called on to share in their making?

What we make of this question depends for each of us on how far we need or are able, to trust our thirst at the pool of Narcissus. For some, this thirst leads into involvement with those great traditional problems of creation that underwrite the reality of both consciousness and matter. An involvement like this is, however, very dangerous, for it brings us close to the central fascination of idolatry. If we are to maintain our limited, but blessedly human, standpoint as we approach the hugely superhuman energies of creation, we need some concept which links these energies directly with the strength and weakness of human nature. The concept which I have developed in my own work is an awkward one, but it is one that I have already used in a previous talk to the Guild and it may therefore be familiar to some of you–“semantic original sin”.


Semantics is the fashionable modern word for the study of meaning. The idea of psychoanalysis as a semantic discipline has recently been given wide currency in this country as a consequence of an influential paper read by Mr. H. J. Home to the British Psychoanalytical Society in 1964. It is an idea with a deep resonance among the existential and phenomenological analysts.

But though many analysts may agree that their work has to do with language as the vehicle and source of meaning, much depends on our attitude to the rival traditions represented On the one hand by the creative Logos of St. John’s Gospel, and on the other hand by Locke’s language that signifies what is already there.

In using this term “semantic original sin”, I want to align myself deliberately with the Jewish-Christian religious tradition. I want to argue that in the analysis of the psyche we are involved in a field of meaning which is divided against itself both originally and necessarily, in the same way as Christian theology has taught that human nature is divided against itself. And I want to argue that this fundamental contradiction within the semantic field of the psyche can be explored only if we are prepared to involve ourselves in the fault of creation.

“To involve ourselves in the fault of creation.” What does this imply for the work of psychology? It implies work in which the dilemma of the soul is experienced as the need to sustain a contrary obligation to a Word that both makes, and describes what it has made; to a Word that is broken against itself and in whose breaking stands creation. To use a pregnant image from Jewish mysticism which has been taken up into the work of Karl Marx with fateful effect for the whole world, we need to sustain an obligation to a Word which suffers Exile from itself. My own belief is that the soul can sustain such a contrary obligation only by learning to trust its own sinfulness. For me, this learning is the proper work of psychology.

Let me try to explain what I mean by reference to the work of Freud and Jung.

Round about the year 1900 many people, in various walks of life, were beginning to recognise, and to say, that the flow of meaning which they had believed made up their consciousness, was not a flow at all, but something discontinuous, broken and liable to quite unexpected reversals. Freud and Jung were doctors who recognised this phenomenon in converse with people who came to them as patients. They were fascinated by it, and particularly by what they came to feel as a sort of incestuous reversal within the flow of meaning. It was as if what they had expected to be a stream of predication flowing in one direction only, with its source in the self awareness of the patient, turned back on its own origin; as if the field of significance polarised in the encounter between two persons was endowed with a life of its own, and as if this life wanted not so much to say something, as to get back to a reality that exists before human speech, before the distinction between subject and object, between I and it. It seemed as if the language of the psyche had as its primary affirmative sentence not the I AM of consciousness, but a more mysterious IS I.

Freud and Jung were convinced that they had discovered something of epoch-making significance, but they were left with the problem of how to talk about experiences that were literally un-thinkable. They resolved their problem by invoking the hypothesis of ‘the’ unconscious. But it soon became evident that Jung’s understanding of ‘the’ unconscious differed critically from Freud’s. The famous break between the two great pioneers constitutes one of the most fruitful divorces of our century, opening the way as it does to a new apprehension of the self-contradiction of that Act in which language enters into the make up of reality.

For instance, if we study Freud’s thought from the 1914 essay on Narcissism to the 1923 publication of The Ego and the ld–that is, during the years immediately after the break with Jung–we witness an extraordinarily moving attempt to speak of our experience of being both I and it in such a way as to get behind the dichotomy of subject and object on which our everyday consciousness and its linguistic vehicles are based. But, throughout, Freud’s thought remains true to a conviction that the language of science refers to a reality objective to itself.

Jung, on the other hand, committed himself to a position which Freud (and many others) felt to be contrary to the scientific tradition of our civilization. He insisted that the incestuous grammar of the soul, in which I experience myself not only as a speaker but also as spoken by a tongue which under-stands my own use of language, belongs naturally to a reality which the philosophy of thinkers like Locke fatefully ignores. He developed the hypothesis of the collective unconscious and of the archetype as the framework for a grammar of a kind unknown to the positive sciences, a grammar whose truth and error are baptismal rather than predicative. We shall never understand the work of our founder patron unless we recognise that for him the reality of the soul presupposes an act of creation before the separation of I from it, of subject from object, of word from thing. In Jung’s psychology, the question of making under-stands the question of knowing.

Which is one good reason why the Guild is true to his spirit in remaining open to all psychological beliefs. For if the ground of the soul is a Word that is both maker and made, an instrument made by an I to designate an it and also a source that predicates both I and it, what we require of psychology is not a proliferation of new “disciplines” but a method of access to that Word. And as all the great analysts of the soul, from long before Jung and Freud, have insisted again and again, we can experience such a Word broken against itself only when we experience ourselves as necessarily broken. It is this conjunction of our personal life with the theology of language that I am trying to express in the awkward phrase semantic original sin.

I am interested in the problem of how to institutionalise psychological work that takes account of this semantic sinfulness. Only when it can be seen as effective in a corporate setting will such work have the social influence it deserves, and the experience of our necessary sinfulness be recognised as the key to how human action can participate in the creation of reality. But before returning to this institutional question I want to look at the problem of time: not only because the language and the time of psychology are inseparable, but also because any attempt to distinguish between maker and made begins and ends with the enigma of time.


Christian theology has taught that the Act in which the Word constitutes both the subject and object of knowledge takes effect within a time other than the sequential time of our ordinary consciousness. Whether or not we accept this Christian teaching, there is much evidence in other traditions that the question of time is intimately involved in any attempt to understand creation. If we are to overcome the idolatries associated with language we must also overcome those that cling to our experience of time, and learn to make what has been called “the infinite qualitative distinction between Time and Eternity”.

When I was finishing my Zurich training I had to write up six case histories of work I had done. It was while I was working on these that the question of time in psychological work began to intrude itself more and more insistently. To begin with, the question went something like this: Here is someone who is relying on me heavily. Yet I know next to nothing about his life before he came to me. I may know rather more–say one half of one per cent.?–of his present life while he is coming to see me once or twice a week, but of his future, which is what he is most concerned with, I know absolutely nothing. In terms therefore of knowledge, what is the status of the work we do together? Within what public tradition can I explain my method? Either what I do is totally haphazard, sheer intuitive guess work, or else some principle of selection is operating which gives to the time of our weekly meeting a quality which justifies me in claiming to know what I am doing in spite of knowing next to nothing of the life with which I am professionally concerned.

Once this question had lodged itself in my mind I found that my reading, and my case discussions with colleagues, came to centre on it with growing insistence. 1 began to realize that if there were indeed such a principle of selection at work in the analytic meeting it must be grounded in a time other than that of our “life time”. Furthermore, it was surely most improbable that such an “other” time was something which psychoanalysis had discovered “for the first time” around the year 1900. It became more and more clear to me that to demonstrate the source of such a time, and to place it in a wider context of publicly shared experience, were necessary parts of my duty to establish the social relevance and intellectual authority of the work on which I was engaged.

So I started looking around for other disciplines that seemed to “make” time in the same way as I felt my work “made” time. I became interested in the time of the novel, of the theatre, of the film. Nearer home, I started thinking about the differences between the various schools of analysis in terms of different underlying philosophies of time. It seemed to me that Jung’s early insistence on what he called “the aetiological significance of the actual present”, and his later interest in such apparently esoteric things as the Chinese Book of Changes and those phenomena to which he gave the name synchronicity, all began to fall into a new perspective, a perspective that lent itself to public argument. As someone whose university training had been in one of the great “time filled” disciplines of our civilization, history, I found myself returning to books on the philosophy of history which I had put aside twenty years earlier. And through them I returned to the time of theology, which seemed also to return me to my starting point. For was not one answer to my question about the methodological status of my weekly analytic hour already there, in the one source to which all who reflect on time have to return again and again: the eleventh book of Augustine’s Confessions?

“Who is he that will tell me how there are not three times, as we learned when we were boys, and as we taught other boys, the past, present and future; but the present only, because the other two are not? Or have they a being, but such as proceeds out of some unknown secret, when out of the future, the present is made; and returns it into some secret again, when the past is made out of the present?”

Thus a conviction has grown within me, that if we are ever to develop a public method of psychological work that does justice to the human situation, we must be willing to open up the great traditional arguments as to the nature of time; and I came to recognize in the simple minded acceptance of sequential time as the only time one of the principal idolatries with which our work has to wrestle.


The immediate practical relevance of time in psychological work, or indeed in any work, needs no demonstration. Time is money, as they say, and the question how much time can one afford to give to a situation or a person is implicit in everything we do. In this connexion I think, obviously, of the drastically different weight which I, with my Zurich training, attach to the question of time in analysis, as compared to the theories and methods that dominate psychoanalytic practice in this country. The reasons why I work towards a rhythm of once a week analysis, and feel so uneasy at talk of four or five visits a week, have a deep connection with my relative lack of interest in the time of infancy and my willingness to believe that the future, although unknown, nevertheless contributes to the making of the present.

These reasons are grounded in the belief that time is not only a medium into which I wake on birth, but also a destiny which I make. Time is not merely a principle of abstract progression but is fulfilled in each of its moments. It is an effective agent not only in which reality is enacted, but which also acts on reality and brings it to completion. In the analysis of the psyche the time of biology is cut at right angles by the time of destiny.

There are various ways of talking about the social relevance of such a belief. For this evening, I have chosen the role of chance and accident in human life. What cognisance does our psychological work take of this all-pervasive determinant of human fate?

One of my most vivid recollections of the Guild is of a remark by Father Marteau at, I think, the Clergy Conference three years ago. There had been some discussion as to whether the dying should be told that they are going to die. Comparing his position to that of the doctor, Father Marteau said that of course it was different for him, because he did not know whether they were dying or not.

It may seem a small point, but for me much has grown out of that passing remark. For I believe that the position which Father Marteau recognised as his in the hospital is that in which we all find ourselves all the time. We don’t know either our end or our beginning. The logic of chance and accident in human life is grounded in that unknowing, and we can enter into that logic only when we recognise that the problems of making life are prior to the problems of knowing life.

We may choose to order our lives as if the quality of time is consistent like that of water in a river. But we can do so only by ignoring the accident of our end and of our beginning. For most people today the risk of death by accident on the roads is more constant than that of death by disease. An angel of death can attend us on any blind corner, and the time of his annunciation is, for I, absolutely discontinuous with the time that went before. Equally, I have my conception in an accident that falls between the beat of any clock. If the beginning and end of my life time are grounded in accident, surely it is reasonable to give at least the same weight to the accidents of daily life as we do to the continuity by which one day follows another.

I would argue therefore that a central problem for the public theory and practice of psychology is to relate this time of accident with the homogeneous linear time by which our waking day, our institutional organisations, and the financing of our social services, are measured; and I don’t see how we can begin to develop a method that does justice to this problem unless we take our stand, on the publicly argued belief that man, in being thrown into time, is simultaneously called to make time.

Now to stand up and argue this is not easy. For it is an argument that threatens one of the most deeply entrenched positions of our contemporary idolatry. Let us look for instance at the relationship between the generations in terms of the metaphors we use in talking of time. If we reflect carefully on the way we talk about past and future from the standpoint of the present, we can recognise a momentary hiatus, so incidental, so like an echo, that it is all too easy to ignore. Thinking spatially about time as we do, we switch without concern from metaphors that show us moving through time, to metaphors that show time moving through us. We speak of the future as lying in front of us, yet also as coming after us. The past is behind us, but comes before us.

How seriously should we take this hiatus in which our metaphor changes? My own belief is that if we want to do justice to the agency of accident in our lives, we must take it with an absolute seriousness. For it is in this hiatus that time is made. As I grow up, I realise that my father has been here before me, and that my son will follow in my steps; yet there comes a time when I have passed my father, and when my son overtakes me. What is the nature of that moment in which the two generations pass each other? If our consciousness is confined to a sequential time, we will think in terms of some kind of overcoming within the biological order of being: of conflict, of killing. But if we make “the infinite qualitative distinction between Time and Eternity” we will think in terms of the creation of time itself in an act of initiation, of beginning, that synchronises the presence of the father and the presence of the son.

It has been said that we grow up in the moment when we take responsibility for the accident of our birth, thus converting what we could dismiss as accident into the ground on which we stand. It is an idea that contains a great truth of the soul. Yet if we are to assert this truth we must appreciate its implications for the whole structure of our public knowledge. To take only one aspect of that knowledge; the logic of accident in human life requires of Darwinian biology a self-reappraisal as drastic as that which Newtonian physics has gone through in the last hundred years, a reappraisal that gives to the time of chance an ontological significance that is altogether lacking in such concepts as natural selection and mutation. Perhaps it is precisely this reappraisal that is needed if we are to remain masters of the vast new potential for genetic control which biology is placing at our disposal, if our calling to make life is to retain its precedence over our calling to know life.


I hope I have said enough to show that questions of time and language can open up huge problems for the work of psychology. To take my argument further, and show how language and time interact in sustaining a world in which consciousness and matter refract each other, would require that I invoke the third problem area to which I earlier referred. And for that there is no time now. It must suffice to say that for me psychology discovers itself when we learn how it feels for the self-consuming time of biology to interact with the fulfilling time of that present which is always both once and future; and when we learn to attend to our broken experience of language as both a tool with which an “I” can manipulate any number of its, and also as a power that exercises a baptismal authority over both I and it at a level of experience that understands their separation.

So much for my own ideas. Have they any conceivable social relevance? Can ideas such as “semantic original sin” and the distinction between the time of biology and the time of destiny, have any application to the social services of a secular society?

I believe they can, but only if we are willing to open up this question of authority in psychology. A theory and practice of psychology that takes for its starting point the distinction between maker and made, will be able to understand self-contradiction and accident as rational determinants of human behaviour. This is a substantial contribution to offer to the social services. But it needs to be demonstrated how it wou1d work on an institutional basis, and here we come up against a snag. For such a theory and practice will have a very different attitude to its own professional authority compared to those sciences with which our administrators feel at home, sciences which derive their method from the distinction between knower and known. It can work only within an institutional setting that recognises that the proper source of authority in psychology is the human calling to establish an interaction between maker and made.

And that’s where idolatry stops us short. For it seems that the strength of idolatry is always such that only a few persons at anyone time feel the need for work which establishes this distinction between maker and made. Here I think the history of this Guild has an interesting lesson for us all. So let me end with some observations on the relevance of idolatry for two kinds of authority that have been influential in the Guild: the authority of the analyst, and the authority of the clergy.

The problem of authority for anyone setting up as an analyst of the psyche was well described many years ago by H. G. Baynes m his preface to Jung’s Psychological Types:-

“No psychological formula can ever explain life. At the best, it can only present the living process in a thinkable form to our reason. As soon as it claims to have explained a living process, its effect is destructive, since it interposes an authoritative, ready-made explanation between the individual and the real problems life presents.”

“As soon as it claims to have explained a living process its effect is destructive. By what authority then does the analyst claim to speak? My argument this evening has been that this authority is of the order of making, and not of knowing. It seems to me that as long as the method of analysis gives precedence to making over knowing, it is taken up into the reality of the life with which it is concerned. But if we allow ourselves– and it is all too easy to do so–to get caught in an attempt to know rather than to make, then the analysis of the psyche perverts itself into the manipulation of a glass that is magically both transparent and reflective.

I would say therefore that the authority of the analyst denies from the overcoming of idolatry. If the relevance of this “overcoming” for the social services is to be demonstrated, we analysts need to discuss our case work in contexts that use such critical working concepts as projection, resistance and transference, not as defences against an “unanalysed” public, but as opening our method into those wider areas of public controversy in which knowing and making contest the order of precedence.

Here the interdisciplinary life of the Guild, and especially the active and self-confident participation of the clergy, could make a real contribution. For what would emerge from such discussion, so I believe, is that these concepts of projection, resistance and transference, do not so much define a new science, as the method of creation; a method in which the work of our bodies can share, in so far as we learn to enter into the “fault” that distinguishes maker from made. The exercise of this method is something which not only our social services, but our whole society, urgently need.

But what does the encounter with the secular analyst of the psyche imply for the authority of the clergy? Here I believe we touch on a mystery to which I referred earlier, when I said that although religion needs to claim all psychology for its province, it can do so only in recognising that this claim will always be resisted out of a necessity that is vital to both religion and psychology.

Here I speak very much subject to correction. I am one of those who found their way back to religion through psychology. I was baptised into the Anglican communion in my early thirties from a need to share with strangers something I had discovered in myself through psychological analysis. One of the things I value in my membership of the Guild is the opportunity to meet those who have come the same road in the contrary direction.

I think we share a consciousness of the Word of God as “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” But where I think I differ from many clergy–though not perhaps from those attracted to the Guild–is when I say that there is a very profound sense in which psychology works against the authority of those who preach this word (and this is a main reason why I dislike the name “pastoral psychology”). For it seems to me that psychology teaches us why it is that the flesh and the world must always resist the Word of God. Without such resistance, there would be no distinction between maker and made, no soul, and no creation. For just as there is a sense in which “sin is behovely”, so also must we find that idolatry is necessary to its own over-coming.

Here evidently we are moving on ground where angels might fear to tread. But I think that at this stage in our history we should at least ask ourselves whether it may not be, for all its dangers, our ground.

My predecessor, Bill Kyle, in his valuable study of the history of the Guild, has quoted one of our most influential founder members, Dr. Kathleen Kitchin, as saying in 1938:–

“I am really doubtful whether the Guild’s vitally important creative work would be possible at all if we were a large, important and popular movement … The real work of the Guild is to arrange a marriage between religion and psychology. We believe that the children of that union may easily prove in the end to be of world significance, but, like any movement that has a real and deep value, it must begin in a very small way with a very few people who have a profound vocation, and it must spread very slowly.”

With Dr. Kitchin’s emphasis on the value of being small and concentrated, rather than large and diffuse, I agree. But when she speaks of arranging a marriage between religion and psychology, I am afraid, and I find myself in conflict with what the Guild may well feel is its true tradition. Because, for me, a marriage between religion and psychology would collapse that distinction between maker and made in which I believe my soul acts.

© DAVID HOLT, 1970