When I was a student at Gettysburg Lutheran Seminary and taking courses in the history of Christian spirituality at Catholic schools in the DC area, one of my professors, Tom Ridenhour, asked with disdain, “Spiri-CHALL-ty? Wot the HAIL is that?”

At times I’ve had an easy answer–it’s simply reflection on practical Christianity, how we live our relationship with God and others.

But then I’m reminded of all the practices and disciplines and teachings in the world that are grouped under that heading, and that are practiced and defended by many diverse people–and that this was what lay underneath Tom’s question.

Consider this article in “California Catholic Daily” about former Jesuit Don Riso, a founder of the Enneagram Institute. He sees “spirituality,” in contrast to “religion,” as something that is “nondenominational,” that crosses even boundaries between Christianity and other world religions. These disciplines, he argues, are about self-discovery.

That reminded me of an article by Thomas Long in Theology Today (1992): “Myers-Briggs and Other Modern Astrologies,” in which heasked of the popularity of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator,

Why is it that so many in the Christian church, with its long and rich history of understanding persons in the most profound way possible–as living souls and as creatures made in the image of God–should fall into the trap of allowing for a moment those theologically enduring and wondrously mysterious understandings to be displaced by something as superficial as a grid of sixteen suspiciously artificial personality types woven out of a questionable and all-too-fashionable theory of human temperament?

He answered,

Uncertain of who we are, we are all too ready to have an outside expert tell us. In this regard, the MBTI is well-matched to our age. A few minutes spent answering a set of relatively simple questions and there you are, your personality unfolded and displayed in seemingly intimate and intricate detail. … Add to this Isabel Myers’ tendency to describe each personality type in unfailingly optimistic terms and the possibilities for self-flattery abound.

…In short, the MBTI profiles read like horoscopes from Camelot. Taken too seriously, they can be perilously close to fortune cookies for the human potential movement. In contrast, running through the Christian theological tradition is a view of humanity that is far more complex, at once far more sober about human failings, far more truly hopeful about the human prospect, and far more infused with mystery, featuring a landscape of exhilarating peaks of communion with the holy and also valleys of tragic denial of our humanity. The gospel does not, of course, contain a psychology of human development. Such knowledge must be sought elsewhere, and welcomed when it is found. But any psychological portrait of the human condition must be placed into critical interaction with what we do know about human life from the gospel. Placed alongside the robust doctrines of human sinfulness and of divine grace and human blessing, the view of personality operating in the MBTI seems to spend much of the time floating lazily in the shallow end of the pool.

Compare this with Fr. Mitch Pacwa’s article, “Tell Me Who I Am, O Enneagram (1991).” Pacwa underscores the occult origins of the Enneagram; Long’s short article doesn’t get into the background of the MBTI, though he notes it is a popularization of C. G. Jung’s views, which also had occult roots (see the works of Richard Noll, one of which I reviewed here).

And this brings me back to the question of the occultic dabblings of Hans Urs von Balthasar, specifically, his apparent enthusiasm for the tarot. He has been passionately defended on other blogs by folks who claim the tarot can be used safely by Christians as a tool for self-discovery–the very purpose behind use of other “spirituality resources” with occult origins such as the MBTI and the Enneagram. “I’m not trying to discern the future,” the occult apologist declares, “I just want to know myself.”

Then study the Word of God and examine yourself before its mirror.

The ease with which these occultic methods are excused and defended frightens me. I used to laugh at those who loved to quote Pope Paul VI’s warning that the “smoke of Satan” had entered the house of God. I laughed when folks like Malachi Martin talked of Satanic ceremonies in high places. I laughed at attempts to connect the sexual abuse crisis with such spiritual darkness.

But when conservatives defend a “conservative” who endorsed an occult tool for “self awareness”–this stops me dead in my tracks and makes me wonder what we have come to–and where we are heading.

We have the Word of God–why turn from that to the words of men … or worse?

I’ve ordered a copy of Meditations on the Tarot to read von Balthasar’s essay, of which a portion is on-line. He describes this work thus:

A thinking, praying Christian of unmistakable purity reveals to us the symbols of Christian Hermeticism in its various levels of mysticism, gnosis and magic, taking in also the Cabbala and certain elements of astrology and alchemy. These symbols are summarised in the twenty-two so-called “Major Arcana” of the Tarot cards. By way of the Major Arcana the author seeks to lead meditatively into the deeper, all-embracing wisdom of the Catholic Mystery.

I think that should make any Christian tremble.

3 thoughts on “Spirituality

  1. For an extended discussion of Meditations on the Tarot check out this forum.

    I have read parts of the Meditations. Some pages made me think, “Wow, how amazing and true.” Then the very next page had me wondering if the book was even being written by the same guy, so bizarre and scary-crazy were the things he was saying.

    I’m always amazed by the pet heresies harbored by theology geniuses. Within the context of wonderfully insightful truth you will sudden find a weird stinky nugget of blatant falsehood. “Call no man father,” I think applies here.

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