8th Asia-Pacific Congress on Pastoral Care & Counseling
FORMATION AND TRANSFORMATION
DISCOVERY AND RECOVERY OF SPIRIT AND SOUL:
RELIGION IN CRISIS AND CUSTOM
By Robert Charles Powell
Opening address, The 8th Asia Pacific Congress on Pastoral Care and Counseling,
Tsuen Wan, The New Territories, The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region,
The Peoples Republic of China, August 8, 2005.
Honoring the 18th Anniversary of the Founding of the Pastoral Care & Counseling Association of Hong Kong.
ABSTRACT: Anton Theophilus Boisens first major study, The Exploration of the Inner World: A Study of Mental Disorder and Religious Experience (1936, 1952, 1962, 1966, 1971), and his last, his own case history, Out of the Depths: An Autobiographical Study of Mental Disorder and Religious Experience (1960) are classics. Three other of his works, however, are not to be neglected: Religion in Crisis and Custom: A Sociological and Psychological Study (1955, 1973), Problems in Religion and Life: A Manual for Pastors, with Outlines for the Co-operative Study of Personal Experience in Social Situations (1946), and the hymnal he edited, Lift Up Your Hearts: A Service Book for Use in Hospitals (1926), later re-titled, Hymns of Hope and Courage (1932, 1937, 1950). Boisens research and teachings concerned how persons and societies reorganize for the good or for the bad in response to crisis. He used and encouraged theological reflection to generate hypotheses, then followed a patient stance of co-operative inquiry with those troubled in spirit or soul, toward finding a point of effective intervention that would promote constructive resolution. The current essay aims to demonstrate the special relevance of Religion in Crisis and Custom, a study of the formation and transformation of spirit and soul, to our turbulent times.
There exists today a great need for carrying forward the empirical study of human nature in its various aspects to the higher reaches and broader perspectives with which religion is concerned. [p.190, Religion in Crisis and Custom ; italics mine]
What is needed is the attitude of humility which is willing to put religious insight to the test. [p.202, RCC; italics mine]
I seek the basis of spiritual healing
in the living human documents
in all their complexity and
in all their elusiveness and
in the tested insights of the wise and noble
of the past as well as of the present.
[pp.248-9, The Exploration of the Inner World ; italics mine;
while Boisen maintained some skepticism about the work of
theologian Emmanuel Swedenborg, which he definitely studied,
one has to wonder whether Swedenborgs notion of
inner exploration influenced the title of this book; see p.71-2, EIW]
we turn to the laboratory of life and examine the experiences of
those who are under the strain of moral crisis. [p.41, RCC; italics mine]
Without true understanding
it is impossible to render effective service, and
only as one comes in the attitude of service
will the doors open into the sanctuaries of life.
[p.5, Problems in Religion and Life ; italics mine]
The great opportunity comes not to those who live in cloistered academic seclusion but to those whose knowledge is being constantly tested and increased through actual service to human beings in need. [p.6, PRL; italics mine]
A remarkable book from fifty years ago, Religion in Crisis and Custom , still speaks to us, across place and time. Having some two decades earlier examined personal crisis in depth, the studys author, the Rev. Dr. Anton Theophilus Boisen (1876-1965), now went on to tackle social crisis, observing that religious experience arises spontaneously when men and women are forced to think and feel intensely regarding the things that matter most. [p.xiii, RCC; italics mine] Let me repeat that, that religious experience arises spontaneously when men and women are forced to think and feel intensely regarding the things that matter most.
As your Congress President, the Rev. Dr. Ernest Y. Wu, noted in his letter of invitation, the recent global scenarios of drastic financial ebb and flow, of political bitterness and terrorism, and of wars and aftermath of wars not to mention, of tsunamis and earthquakes have troubled people throughout Asia and indeed throughout the world. That these crises have troubled people must surely stand as understatement. Who among us can forget the chilling images of skyscraper towers crumbling to dust or of tsunami-hit villages swept to sea? Who among us was not forced to think and feel intensely regarding the things that matter most? We may not want to be reminded, but the fact remains that incidents of sudden, catastrophic terrorist and natural destruction far too many of them in Asia have become more frequent over the last five years. [US State Dept, Patterns of Global Terrorism, reports re 1985-2004; the 2004 tsunami rapidly killed about 300,000; the last times devastation of this magnitude and velocity had been encountered were the1976 earthquakes in China, the 1970 floods in Bangladesh, and the astounding 1959 floods in China as noted by The Disaster Center, a private think-tank] Within such context this Congress addresses President Wus question, of how we and our people can maintain our buoyancy and lift up our spirit so that we can continue to focus on a more abundant life of faith, hope, and love.
Boisens research, spanning fifty years, argued that as one stands face to face with the ultimate realities of life and death, religion and theology tend to come alive. [p.3, RCC] By religion he meant not a system of beliefs and values, but, in its creative stages, those experiences that
(1) are characterized by the sense of identification with a fellowship that has the capacity to be universal and abiding and that
(2) are preferentially promoting unification with the finest potentialities of the human race. [p.100, PRL; p.305, EIW]
By theology he meant the attempt either individually or collectively to organize and scrutinize these experiences and the associated beliefs regarding
(1) the end and meaning of life,
(2) the spiritual forces which operate within us, and
(3) the relationships which exist between their various manifestations . [p.306, EIW]
Notice how, instead of speaking in terms of his own religion, an evangelical liberal version of Christianity, Boisen, viewing himself as an explorer and investigator, attempted to find objective terms that could apply to any religion and to any theology. Following St. Thomas Aquinas, he considered theology itself to be the queen of the sciences. [St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, 1 question 44 article 2] Boisen further held that
(1) by examining the beliefs of troubled individuals, each in its own context amid the complex entanglements of actual life, and
(2) by taking into account the consequences which have followed from particular choices and reaction patterns, it would be possible to arrive at some valid generalizations
(1) regarding the nature and function of religion, and
(2) regarding the conditions under which maximum self-realization is
likely to be achieved. [p.191, EIW]
In Religion in Crisis and Custom , a masterpiece of extended theological reflection, Boisen tried, as empirically as possible, to delineate to what extent and under what conditions crisis experiences standing face to face with the ultimate realities of life and death are associated with religious awakening maximum self-realization and under what circumstances [crisis experiences are associated] withdisaster. He recognized that crises may break as well as make both individuals and groups. [p.4, RCC; italics mine] That the impact of crisis could go either way he considered to be the price we have to pay for being human with the power of choice and the capacity for growth. [p.5, RCC]
Religion in Crisis and Custom . What did Boisen intend to imply by the juxtaposition of those words crisis and custom? Spirit and Soul. What do I intend to imply by the juxtaposition of the words spirit and soul? These issues are, I believe, connected. It might go without saying that neither term in the two pairs can easily stand alone: the recognition of crisis lies within the context of appreciating what has become custom, and the value of spiritual awakening may depend somewhat on having experienced soulful repose. While for most of us, let me hope, custom is normative and crisis unusual, we must strive hard to grasp that for some persons and some societies at some times unfortunately crisis has become normative and custom unusual. For the small child both of whose parents died from terrorism or a tsunami, which has become more real, the critical trauma or the customary life? In contrast, most of us, let me hope, have lived long enough in what Boisen would call the static phase, a time of habit and custom, that we are ready to be jolted into the creative phase, a time of reorganization albeit through crisis. [pp.33,38, RCC] He viewed, for example, established churches as products of custom and upstart sects as products of crisis, with the interaction between churches and sects as accounting for the development of religion. [p.239, RCC] While meeting and resolving crisis,assimilating lessons learned into custom, is ever a task of organized religion, Boisen pointed out that the door should always be left open for the prophet when he comes. Social crisis may provoke the prophetic, and the prophetic may provoke personal crisis. Perhaps we are fortunate that the troubles of the world have, as Dr. Wu noted, troubled people around us. Have you and I been troubled enough?
Before examining the notions of spirit and soul, as well as their correlates, spiritual formation and pastoral care, let us take a closer look at the word crisis. In the medical sense and indeed the concept originated in the era of the great physician Hippocrates crisis is seen as the turning point in disease, a bad time that is coming, but whose coming is accepted, even encouraged, for, if the patient does get through this inevitable difficult period, health does lie ahead. [Epidemics, Prognosis, Regimen in Acute Diseases] It is in this sense that Boisen viewed crisis, whether personal or social: as an experience to be embraced. He considered that it is ever religions task to disturb the consciences of men and women to induce crisis, if you will regarding the quality of the life they are living, and regarding their failure thus far to achieve their true potentialities. [p.41, RCC] He observed that in periods of normality, men and women do their thinking in an accepted currency of ideas, and their attention is free to apply itself to the commonplace duties of life. Boisen went on to explain that, and I quote,
In time of crisis, however, when their fate is hanging in the balance, [men and women] are likely to think and feel intensely.
Under such conditions new ideas come flashing into the mind, often so vividly that they seem to come from an outside source.
Crisis periods have therefore creative possibilities.
They are also periods of danger. [pp.68-9, RCC]
Whether it be terrorism or tsunami, the deep emotional stirring provoked may serve as a stimulus for either beneficial or malignant reorganization. According to Boisens studies, and I quote, when the process is induced within a social matrix and follows accepted patterns, the danger of personality disorder is at a minimum.
When, however, the intense emotions generated in such experiences comes under wise leadership, then an important and vital religious movement is likely to result.
In either case a leveling process [eventually] takes place.
The eccentric and regressive movements are leveled up and become respectable, while the forward-looking prophetic movements are leveled down and become conventionalized. [pp.93-4, RCC; italics mine]
That is, as Boisen noted, whether regressive or progressive, a sect, a new group, under a slightly new belief system, ultimately, under wise leadership, becomes or rejoins an established church, an established religion. The religiously quickened ultimately find words to instruct the next generation, and the new entity born of crisis becomes part of custom.
Boisen's earlier research regarding personal crisis is far better known than his later research regarding social crisis, and our current task is to focus on the social response to sudden, catastrophic terrorist and natural destruction, but it may be worthwhile to review quickly his writings on disorganization the discovery of special insight and reorganization the recovery of equilibrium. Crisis periods are characteristic of normal growth. [p.42, RCC] That must be accepted. Worldwide, the normal crises of personal development are integrated socially through religious ceremonies, such as weddings, funerals, etc. Personal character and social culture develop through the overcoming of difficulties. [p.43, RCC] Boisen distinguished four main reactions to crisis. Ponder these, as they are reviewed, in terms of how this or that society might respond to the abnormal crises of sudden and catastrophic events:
Surrender an embracing of the unacceptable, leading to a loss of self respect; Withdrawal seeking satisfaction in avoidant fantasy, leading to a loss of hope; Concealment depreciation of others, substituting minor for major virtues, escape into beliefs unshared by others, and bids for undue attention; Frankness accepting responsibility for ones shortcomings and for ones failures.
Without naming specific societies as all have erred at some point in time it can be recognized that each of these responses surrender, withdrawal, concealment, and frankness has been employed at different stages of social crisis in recent years. To adopt Boisen's phrases, we are called upon to seek the tested insights of the wise and noble of the past as well as of the present. [pp.248-9, EIW, italics mine] The challenge is to bring these social crises under wise leadership, such that an important and vital religious movement [might be more] likely to result. [pp.93-4, RCC; italics mine]
Within chaplaincy, such leadership manifests itself, at times of custom rather than crisis, through everyday ministrations to parish congregants, but also through patient supervision of younger theologians. In both cases there is a complex task at hand. Let us now examine the phrases spiritual formation andpastoral care. Across this last decade there has been an accelerating trend toward dropping the phrase pastoral care and counseling in favor of the phrase spiritual formation and care as if the two notions could be either equal just a change of words or entirely opposed the one being clearly not the other. [See the following caveat re spirituality; while spirituality is all too often viewed as unambiguously positive, one must recall that, as Boisen would have admonished, there can also be negative manifestations in some people, in some societies, at some points in time. Raymond J. Lawrence, The Trouble with Spirituality.] Perhaps a not unreasonable solution was that of one chaplaincy group which renamed itself the Association of Pastoral and Spiritual Care and Counseling supposedly toward satisfying both the primarily western contingency that identified with the pastoral, nurturing aspect, and the primarily eastern contingency that identified with the spiritual, awakening aspect of chaplaincy work. [Emmanuel Y. Lartey, Global views for Pastoral Care and Counseling ] While the stereotypes are more likely provocative than accurate, it may well be that the more chronically over-stimulated and scattered West is longing for a recovery of soul just as the more habitually calm and reserved East is seeking an invigoration of spirit. It would be easy enough to argue that all of us could benefit from both. Just as Boisen taught down to earth pastoral care to young clergy through their supervised encounter with living human documents, so that they might develop into mature living souls, one could also say that he encouraged transcendent spiritual formation through orchestrating their supervised encounter with the divine, so that they might experience the quickening spirit. [1st Corinthians 15:45 And so it is written, the first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam [was made] a quickening spirit. 1st Corinthians 15:47 The first man [is] of the earth, earthy: the second man [is] the Lord from heaven.]
As I have discussed at length elsewhere, there is a vast literature regarding the spiritual in contrast to the soulful aspects of religious ministrations to those who are vulnerable or broken. [see Matthew Cohn, A Brief Review of Biblical Psychology, 2003, on the web at http://www.mattcohn.net/history.html] Boisens student, colleague, and mentor, Dr. Helen Flanders Dunbar (1902-59), at the outset of the movement for a clinically trained chaplaincy, conducted a classic program of inpatient research on healing, comparing the invigorating role of spiritual stimulation, attempting to connect with the transcendent, to the quieting role of induced soulful repose, attempting to connect with ones own essence. She ultimately concluded that the spiritual and soulful approaches used together offered the most promise for mobilizing and restoring the healing processes as we know them. She recognized that there was a time for new insight and awareness just as there was a time for tranquility and equanimity. [compare the complementary Buddhist meditation techniques of Vipassana and Samatha] Dunbar was herself most intrigued by the therapeutic values of the various forms of worship liturgy and hymnody, the exercise of private devotions, and the contemplation of religious symbols and architecture, [her only manuscript regarding this, however, was lost in the flooding of the basement at Union Theological Seminary, New York, NY; see her classic volume, Symbolism in Medieval Thought . . . ; yes, this is the Flanders Dunbar, BD, PhD, MD, MedSciD who is generally considered the founder of the American Psychosomatic Movement parallel to Boisens movement for clinical pastoral training, which she shepherded to its success; see Powell, Healing and Wholeness ] She also encouraged Boisen in the continued refinement of his chaplaincy hymnal, that first carried an inspiriting title, Lift Up Your Hearts . . . , but later reflected the merged soulful plus spiritual approach under the title, Hymns of Hope and Courage . . . . In one of his later books he spoke of the attitudes of calm reassurance that make it possible for the healing forces to operate, and of the message of joy that triumphs over pain, of life that springs eternal, which has untold power to help. [p.86, PRL]
Again, while these distinctions between soulful and spiritual today may seem more provocative than entirely accurate, they were quite meaningful years ago, and they may help us grasp some otherwise unexplained trends in the worldwide responses to terrorism and the tsunami. After 9/11, the Western emphasis, it would seem, was on containing potentially retaliatory fervor. After the tsunami, the Eastern emphasis, it would seem, was on stimulating regional awareness of ones neighbors. One part of the world sought a reconnection with the depths of the ordinary; the other a contact with the heights of the extraordinary. May their souls rest in peace was a prayer for those who died on 9/11. May our spirits seize the occasion was a hope of those who survived the tsunami. [pp.135-6, 157-8,196-8, RCC on East versus West; Thomas More, Soul Talk, 2003] The resting in peace being sought was not one of slumber but of the peace that passeth understanding, the sense of wholeness within. [Philippians 4:7] This seizing the occasion being sought was not one so much of action as of seeing face to face interfaith relationship. [1st Corinthians 13:12] Those in the West, it would seem, were called upon to look inward, to consider the mote within ones own eye.[Jesus, as recorded in Matthew 7:1-5; compare this with the Buddhas similar admonition, as recorded in the Dhammapada 4 (50)] Those in the East, in would seem, were called upon to look outward, to consider the broader ramifications. This is a very complex area of thought, but it is clear that soul and spirit have very different implications, both in the scriptures of the various religions and in common usage. [According to the Jewish Kabbala, the ruach (literally, wind), the distinct personality, so to speak, is viewed as an intermediate entity, flitting back and forth between alliance with the nefesh (literally, rested), the earthy, soulful essence that keeps one physically alive, and alliance with the neshama (literally, breath), the transcendental, spiritual essence that pulls one toward God. During moments of specifically religious observance, while there is an aspect of rest (nefesh), there is predominantly spiritual expansion (neshama). Jews consider themselves spiritually connected to all peoples of the world, because they believe that all humans, whether they know it or not, share neshama, this potential for an awareness of God. Simcha H. Benyosef, The Additional Shabbat Soul] In either case, however, soulful and spiritual suggest purposeful, mindful engagement.
Stepping outside what has become customary, uninvolved existence, allowing the challenge of potential crisis, and the time to engage, is a prerequisite for personal and societal growth. What do I intend to imply in the title of this essay by the juxtaposition of the words discovery and recovery, as well as of the wordsformation and transformation all of which relate to this notion of growth? These issues are, I believe, connected. It might once again go without saying that neither term in the two pairs can easily stand alone: the longing for recovery lies within the context of appreciating the past joy of discovery, and the nature oftransformation depends somewhat, quite obviously, upon the nature of ones original formation. Notice how both discovery and formation seem to hark back to an earlier time in life, while both recovery and transformation seem to speak to a later period. Most important for us is that we consider that societies as well as persons both form and transform -- discover new truths and recover old ones sometimes through their own conscious intention and sometimes through being provoked.
Getting involved, while appreciating the risk of rejection, is exactly what Boisen would advise and did. Viewing himself as a sociologist, he read widely about other cultures, and throughout his life he could strike up a conversation with anyone. More than read or talk, though, Boisen listened. Despite his many social anxieties, he had a way of helping individuals and communities to convey their real concerns. Let us take a quick look at some of the prompts that made up the clinical interview used by Boisen and his theological students with patients on the hospital wards. The right question sincerely asked might start someone thinking and feeling and talking for quite a while. Imagine yourself having several days to engage with an individual or a community about even one of the following questions:
Have you been worrying about something?
Have you ever felt that you were different from others?
Have you been having any unusual experiences?
Have you felt that something strange was going on,
something you could not understand?
Did it seem to you that something was about to happen?
Have you ever felt that God was displeased with you?
What is your idea of why we are in the world?
Have you ever thought of dying?
What is your idea of this universe in which we live?
What reasons do you have for believing in God?
There were other questions and Boisen had no qualms about eliciting a complete sexual history or asking about almost anything, for that matter but you might admit that his questions were probably more interesting and more productive of meaningful conversation than those asked by the average physician, the average ward attendant, or maybe even the average minister. [Powell, 1977, ATBs Psychiatric Exam] Within this interactive process, Boisen tried to bring patients to that sense of social support which gives peace in the midst of conflict that is, he tried to calm them down, but he also tried to reinforce those tendencies which make for progressive unification on a basis conceived as universal and abiding that is, he tried to spur them onward. [p.268, EIW] He viewed this engaged rather than sterile interview as co-operative inquiry beneficial to both parties, but also as part of an overall empirical theology, an effort to build up a body of organized and tested experience relating to the religious life and the laws that govern it.[p.157, The Present Status of William James ; Boisen always used the spelling co-operative rather than the spelling cooperative, and that convention will be followed in this manuscript] He viewed this engaged, sincerely questioning approach as a means of helping patients carry through their attempts at reorganizing their lives in response to disintegrating crises, but also as ultimately advancing the cause of society and religion.
What Boisen in his era would have called conversion or spiritual awakening, frequently sudden, via religious quickening, is perhaps what in this era would be called spiritual formation or spiritual transformation, frequently viewed as the endpoint of a process. In the best of all worlds, Boisen envisioned all of us both personally and socially as making an honest and thoroughgoing commitment to what he called the heroic way of life. [p.206-7, RCC] Notice that this is not a static but rather a dynamic notion commitment to an ongoing way of life, to a becoming.This was a key concept in the theology he felt most useful to persons and societies in trouble that they be viewed not as they are now but as what they are in process of becoming that they be honored for doing the best they can with the resources at their command. [p.51, RCC, referenced to John Dewey, Reconstruction in Philosophy. New York: Henry Holt, 1920, pp.176ff] The yesterdays demand attention only insofar as they are influencing the todays and determining the tomorrows.[p.99, PRL] Boisen, focusing on the becoming, viewed transformation of the personality as the end of all vital religious experience, and he viewed support for the re-creation of religious faith as a special task of the clergy. Thus he might set out to help the troubled in their formation of spirit and soul, but his real focus would be on their ongoing transformation across time. [p.178-9, RCC]
Let us take a closer look at Boisens comment about the re-creation of religious faith. While usually we view this in terms of personal spiritual formation and transformation, is this not what has happened across millennia, centuries, decades, and even just a few years as different societies, different faith groups have struggled with their own internal crises? Despite the fact that we do not generally stop to think about it, there has been a continual, global re-creation of religion. In virtually all cases, the splinter sect has caused the original church todiscover new insights and to recover old ones, with a net benefit to society. That is, this re-creation of religious faith is both
(1) the effect of men and women feeling forced to think and feel intensely regarding the things that matter most, as well as
the things that matter most, as well as
(2) the cause of further personal and social spiritual transformation.
It could well be that a persons initial spiritual formation and later transformation are quite different perhaps better, perhaps worse according to whether that personsreligious tradition itself is in crisis or custom. Historically, as we have noted, the trend has tended to be positive, but that does not guarantee a positive outcome for the recent re-creation of religious faith occurring as Islamic Jihad. Surely this could bear a great deal of further study now, and not in the distant future. In any case, Boisen viewed the guiding of this transformation of religion as a responsibility of the clergy. While it would be easy to argue that each faith group should tend its own garden, perhaps it is worth asking if the current religions have any responsibility for assisting all of the worlds people toward what Boisen spoke of as identification with a fellowship that has the capacity to be universal and abidingand toward what he spoke of as promoting unification with the finest potentialities of the human race. [p.305, EIW; italics mine]
Let me give but two examples, while fully knowing that each is imperfect. When the United States government, after the liberation of Afghanistan, found itself with detained combatants who turned out to be underage, illiterate, and ignorant of the religious tradition that nominally provoked their carrying of arms, it accepted the responsibility to protect them as children, to teach them to read and write, plus to bring in Moslem clergy with whom they could study the Koran. Surely such outreach must be rare in the annals of history. Perhaps it may help build a bridge later between the religions of custom and this religion of crisis this sect of a church in crisis. A second example would be the work of the Mennonites, a branch of Protestant Christianity. Before, during, and after the main thrust of the recent struggle in Iraq, this faith group, itself opposed to participation in all wars, has continued its valuable work helping Iraqi farmers. While the chance of Mennonite relief workers converting Muslims theologically is remote, their chance of having positive effect on the development of a Muslim sect is great. Chaplaincy work in general, of course, stands as one of the rare and notable situations in which practitioners of one religion might be called upon to assist the adherents of another religion in the practice and perhaps deeper understanding of their faith.
While the initial tendency is to view growth and transformation, whether personal or societal, as uniformly positive, the fact is that growth does not always proceed steadily in one direction. Growth frequently involves taking two steps forward, then one step backward. Keeping this in mind, we need to allow ourselves and our religions some room for misunderstanding the true nature of things and for losing the intended path. To not allow this is to set up ourselves and our religions for a potentially devastating sense of failure if the choices made later turn out to need some correction. Boisen wrote extensively about this problem of disintegration in response to self-perceived failure and threatened isolation. [Personality Changes ]
One of Boisens core observations was that the sense of personal failure was the driving force behind many crises. While he focused primarily on the personal, he recognized that this factor might also apply to the social. Boisen emphasized that the sense of personal failureis not necessarily an evil. When frankly recognized and intelligently handled, it becomes a precondition of growth. [p.46, RCC] Of course, frankly recognizing and intelligently handling it is most of the problem. We could say that the Western world failed to protect itself from terrorism or that the Eastern world failed to protect itself from the tsunami, but we could also ask, are these not worldwide responsibilities? Is it not now becoming clear that the West needs the help of the East and that the East needs the help of the West? that the East can help the West dissipate the powers of terrorist destruction just as the West can help the East dissipate the powers of natural catastrophe? What if the East recognized the terrorist attacks of 9/11 as their problem to solve? What if the West recognized the washed away towns of 2004 as their problem to solve? What if the East and the West forgot which is East and which is West? There is a need for all of us to begin thinking more globally. Boisen called for an effort at mutual understanding and helpfulness in the pursuit of a common goal. [p.260, RCC; italics mine]
What if, however, no one or no group frankly and intelligently tried
(a) to understand things as they really are and
(b) to promote transformation of all toward their finest potentialities?
Whatever the actual personal or societal response to crisis, one of Boisens main concerns was that there might be no constructive response. Let me repeat that: one of his main concerns was that there might be no constructive response thatno one and no group might get involved. He considered that the real evil for a person or a society would be the failure to grow, the failure to obtain ones true objectives in life. [p.207, RCC] He had no illusions about what he called the herculean task, but his approach was just to get started with the person or society at hand which he did. Boisen assumed that everyone was capable of theological reflection, and that everyone had some kind of beliefs, perhaps not well formulated, regarding the end and meaning of life, the spiritual forces which operate within us [as well as] the relationships which exist between their various manifestations, . . . . [p.306, EIW] He had no qualms about arousing the sleeping conscience as long as one recognized that an individualized task of reconstruction must then begin. [p.281, EIW] While Boisens research used a standardized set of provocative questions that he and Dunbar devised, as noted above, he was quite adept in any case at just sitting down with someone and drawing out his or her views about the things that matter most the ultimate realities of life and death. He did this within a respectful atmosphere of what he called, co-operative inquiry a kind of blending of the two parties into a research team regarding the problem at hand. Boisen taught his students to try to get involved with others active or latent curiosity about their beliefs amid the complex entanglements of actual life[pp.191,182, EIW; see, John Dewey, A Common Faith. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1934, p.32, "There is but one sure road of access to truth the road of patient, cooperative inquiry operating by means of observation, experiment, record and controlled reflection"; perhaps also of interest: John Dewey, The Field of Value, in Raymond Lepley, Values: A Cooperative Inquiry. New York: Columbia Univ Press, 1949]
The question is, can this drawing out of others views about the things that matter most the ultimate realities of life and death be carried out on a societal as well as on a personal level? Can one society or one religion successfully engage another society or religion within this atmosphere of co-operative inquiry? Boisen thoroughly believed that through suffering together, getting down to work on real problems, the strain is shared and social support is afforded, with the net result being steadying and constructive. Can this tried and true approach to persons be applied to societies and religions? Preliminary research on the recent incidents of sudden, catastrophic terrorist and natural destruction, shows that those persons immediately wrestling with the task have fared the best which is exactly what Boisen would have predicted. Could this hold for societies or religions that those immediately tackling the real problems, open to assistance among equals toward resolving the problems, would fare best in the near future? Crisis experiences, in Boisens view, reveal hidden elements of strength and of weakness. [p.45, RCC]
Boisen maintained that cultures developed best through the overcoming of difficulties [p.43, RCC] Some of the difficulties currently facing the world, however, are of an unprecedented magnitude. Boisen observed that war, for example, as a personal and social calamity, seemed to be an exception to the rule that crisis could stimulate useful religious concern. [1945, What War Does to Religion] As he asked, What important religious movements have grown out of a war ? [p.5, RCC] He concluded, however, that religious growth of a personal and social nature might occur when the reaction to national disaster was self-blame rather than hating and blaming the enemy that examining the beam in ones own eye had to precede considering the mote in the others. [p.6, RCC; see note above] In his view, war, like an acute psychosis in an individual is an attempt at reorganization which may either make or break, depending on the honesty and fair-mindedness which we face and eradicate the long-standing evils the complex forces common to us all which have been responsible for the problem in the first place. [pp.7,97, RCC] That is, we must strive to maintain perspective and a self-critical stance during the current global war on terrorism. Even a natural phenomenon, such as the 2004 tsunami, brings its own challenges especially to the extent that there are contributing non-natural factors and complications. When the reaction to catastrophic terrorist and natural destruction brings excessive self-blame or excessive acceptance, that can derail useful religious concern, discouraging an engaged response.