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My father’s tale

I’ll be busy for a few days and won’t post articles until I finish a course. But I would like to leave these lines during my absence. The thing is, when reading Karlheinz Deschner’s chapter on Pope Gregory I came across this sentence:

Archbishop Maximus did public penance in July 599, prostrate after hours in a street and shouting: ‘I have sinned against God and blessed Gregory’.

The anecdote reminded me of a story that my father told me decades ago. A king had to humble himself for days at the doors of the pope’s residence because he feared for the salvation of his soul: begging the Vicar of Christ to forgive him (I think the pope’s name was Gregory). Finally the pope deigned to open the doors and forgive him. My father told me this with enthusiasm, in the sense that even the most powerful king had to humble himself before the headperson of the Roman Catholic Church. The lad I was didn’t like that story, but only much later did I begin to understand my father’s mind.

One of the milestones in understanding why he was so destructive to me was Silvano Arieti’s book that I have already talked about in Day of Wrath. In Father, the sixth book of my series of eleven I quote some passages from Arieti that astonished me and I’m going to explain them with my own examples. Think of the baby monkeys that are sold as pets, how they cling to the owner as if she were a mother (the instinct is hard-wired in the creature as it’s vital not to fall from the trees). The point is that some adults deal with childhood trauma like these young pets do with their owners: by desperately clinging to authoritarian figures.

Arieti mentions his patients who, to use my example, hung themselves like little apes onto substitute images of their parents: a church, a political party, and even their own spouse. In Father I analyse how, in repressing his childhood traumas, he clung to no less than three defensive mechanisms: religion, nationalism, and his wife. But we are talking about pathological levels of hanging onto the surrogate parent, like an ape who never grows. The example that comes to mind is a biographer of Mary Baker Eddy who recounted that one of her most faithful disciples declared that even if she had seen Mrs. Eddy commit a crime, she wouldn’t believe her own eyes!

That is the level of co-dependent subjugation my father wielded regarding his church, the nationalist myths of the country where he was raised, and his wife. So when in my adolescence my mother went crazy my father went crazy too: what in my books I’ve called the captive mind or folie à deux.

I am not going to explain here everything I said in my sixth book in Spanish. The English speaker can order a copy of my first book to get an idea (see Letter to mom Medusa on the sidebar). What I want to get to is that some insecure people tend to fall into a state of folie à deux not only with the wife, but with the church or political party to which they belong. Analogous cases of Eddy’s disciple are endemic, for example, when I try to argue with those who cannot conceive that Mesoamerican Indians ate their children despite the overwhelming evidence from the first ethnologist of the American continent.

Once the defence mechanism is established, for instance the nationalistic pride of some Mexicans, the subject is capable of the most irrational scepticism before the evidence for the simple fact that what he is doing is protecting a worldview, his ego or substitute parent. From this angle we can understand why even some Jew-wise racialists, as we saw in my post yesterday, don’t tolerate that one fails to honour the god of the Jews. That powerful archetype functions like a surrogate parent.

Arieti’s book is entitled Interpretation of Schizophrenia and, although it deals with psychiatric cases, as I read it I realised that it could apply equally to an enormous number of people who have never been diagnosed psychiatrically.

My father comes to mind. He was enthusiastic about the pious tale of the pope who made a king humble himself in Rome. Now many Americans, equally childish, desire a powerful father in the form of the State and are excited that the country of the First Amendment will soon repudiate that amendment. It doesn’t matter whether the defence mechanism is religious or political: the psychological need is the same. Just as Eddy’s disciple wouldn’t believe her eyes as Mrs. Eddy became a god-like figure, I have met people who deny the historicity of Lenin’s and Stalin’s crimes.

The drive that compels us—to quote the lyrics of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony—to believe in ‘a loving Father behind the starry vault’ means that Beethoven had a drunken father who, as a child, often beat him. We are mammals and, as the monkey of the anecdote, the unconscious need to have a surrogate father once our dad fails is infinite: a Christian attempt to heal childhood traumas. But it is deceptive magic because Yahweh is not our father, he’s our enemy.

Those who haven’t read my essay ‘God’, a page from one of my eleven books, could read it now.