The Authenticity of Faith: Part 5: Sick Souls, Winter Christians, and Saints of Darkness

The fourth big move of The Authenticity of Faith is exploring the religious experiences of sick souls, Winter Christians, and saints of darkness.

Again, if Sigmund Freud is correct religious belief is involved in providing us comfort and consolation.

And yet, it seems that there are religious believers who seem to be anything but consoled. If anything, these believers find their experiences with God to be searing, wounding, or distressing. God is absent or antagonistic. The believer feels abandoned, betrayed, and even hurt by God.

Anyone remotely familiar with the Bible or church history knows all about this. These dark and distressing experiences with God aren't obscure or hidden. They are quite common. How Freud missed this huge swath of religious experience I can only attribute to his bias and failure as an scientist. The data was there, he chose to ignore it.

Still, many people might find distress and darkness to be antithetical to faith. Consequently, Part 2 of The Authenticity of Faith is devoted to exploring James' sick soul type, what I have described in the research literature as a "Winter Christian."

The whole distinction between Summer and Winter Christians is pastorally useful. The labels and the religious types they describe have been helpful to many churches I've done equipping sessions for. A one-size-fits-all worship style or teaching ministry tends to fail either Summer or Winter Christians, but generally Winter Christians as contemporary worship and teaching is often characterized by Summer Christian spirituality (i.e., optimism, certainty, praise).

But my eye isn't on the church in The Authenticity of Faith. My focus is upon the rival theories of Freud vs. James, about if there are, in fact, religious experiences that don't seem to provide existential consolation. Because if these experiences exist, by definition religious belief in these instances must be motivated by something other than comfort and consolation.

And that observation tips the verdict toward William James over Freud.

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