In my last post I discussed how we fear becoming monsters. We fear the monster within. In the psychoanalytic literature this monstrous impulse has been identified with Freud's notion of the id, the primitive sexual and aggressive impulses within us that, if expressed, destroy "civilized" society. As David Gilmore writes,
[The monster] embodies the existential threat to social life, the chaos, atavism, and negativism that symbolize destructiveness and all other obstacles to order and progress, all that which defeats, destroys, drawsback, undermines, subverts the human project--that is, the id.One way of defending against the id is to engage in the defense mechanism of projection. Projection is a form of paranoia or fear where the unwanted aspects of the self are projected onto other people. Projection also facilitates displacement. That is, anger or loathing that originates with the self can be displaced onto a despised individual or group.
Jesus was hitting at the mechanisms of projection and displacement when he said:
Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?That is, it's a lot easier to rage about someone else's hypocrisy than confront your own. In fact, my wars against hypocrisy might be allowing me to avoid confronting my own darkness.
There have been a few visible examples of this in the media. Take, for example, this clip from Ted Haggard in the documentary Jesus Camp:
Sadly (because it would be ironic to take glee in this incident given Jesus' admonition above), this clip was in wide release when Haggard's sexual issues were making national headlines. More recently, consider this recent article, now getting a lot of attention, that claims that religiously conservative states are more likely to consume pornography. One line of interpretation for this trend is that we are observing a form of projection: Fighting against gay marriage or sexual immorality is a way of hiding from or failing to deal with one's own sexual problems and addictions. Interestingly, some laboratory studies have shown that arousal toward homosexual pornography is positively correlated with homophobia. That is, those most offended by homosexual persons are those who might be struggling with latent homosexual desires. Again, it's a form of projection.
The point for our reflection on monsters is that monsters are often created by projecting aspects of the self onto others. A monster is created to expel the monster within. This is still a version of the "Self as Monster" thesis noted in the last post, only now the process is blind. As Gilmore writes:
[T]he monster of the mind is always the familiar self disguised as the alien other.But it's worse than that. By expelling the monster from within, by projecting it onto others, I claim the role of hero. Via projection, I expel the bad aspects of the self and what remains is the good, the hero. Rather than seeing myself honestly, as a mix of hero and monster, I get a simpler moral situation: I'm good and you are bad. I'm the agent of righteousness and you serve wickedness. I am hero and you are monster.
The point is, crusades against "monsters" are often paranoid (as projection is a form of paranoia) and delusional. And if you look at most American crusades against homosexuals, or feminists, or communists, or whatever, you can see the delusional paranoia that taints them all. Monster crusades are psychologically complex and dangerous. Churches should be wary. I, personally, would not want to attend a church that is in hero mode fighting off the world's monsters. Why? Well, because I think the "monster war" would be hiding the projective mechanism that is creating all those monsters. Hiding the mechanism in its communal life and in the hearts of its members.
A healthy church embraces itself as monster. It doesn't create monsters or cast itself as the hero or White Knight. And if it does, I'd start running...
Next Post: Monsters & Scapegoats