Thursday, June 27, 2019

Confession vs. Therapy

Beatrice,

Of course psychotherapy is better than Confession.

I know why you say otherwise, and I know therapy cannot offer absolution, while Confession can.  But practically speaking, if you want to change you life, you need both.

Take, for instance, a firm purpose of amendment.  The priest in the confessional grants absolution if he hears the penitent confess a firm purpose of amendment for avoiding future sins - but he has no real way of assessing if this is just lip service or not.  It's not the priest's fault: confession by its nature is impersonal and brief; while therapy is intensely personal and lengthy.  But penitents are thereby able to work the system - to fool the priests and themselves.

When an addict gets out of rehab, if he slips right back into his old circle of friends, even if he says, "Well, they'll all be using drugs, but I won't!" he does not have a firm purpose of amendment.  He is not prepared to avoid the near occasion of sin.  His circle of friends is just that.  And so if he doesn't change that environment, he will use again.  Changing your circle of friends is painful and takes effort; and who wants to do that?  Even if it means getting better?

If, for instance, Malcolm knew that every time he's alone with his phone or laptop in the den, after you've gone to sleep in the bedroom, chances are better than 50 / 50 that he'll access porn, he's a fool to leave himself alone with unfiltered internet devices in those conditions.  He might feel guilty afterwards and confess his sin, and if he tells the priest that he plans on avoiding near occasions of sin in the future, he'll get absolved - and yet, if he isn't willing to take the steps and make the sacrifices necessary to avoid whatever leads him to sin, he's not really serious and he should not be readmitted to full communion with the Body of Christ.  Would he let you install filters?  Would he let you keep the laptop and phone in the bedroom so he can't sneak in and get them without waking you?  Would he let you monitor his internet usage with a tracking program?  (I know, Malcolm does not have a porn addiction, but most guys do these days, and my point is the same.)

This goes along with what I said in my last letter.  Cut the hand wringing and just do it.  Stop lying to yourself; stop rationalizing your sin.  A good therapist can help a client with that.  But even a good priest in the confessional typically can't.

This is why calling the modernist mess in the Church "moralistic therapeutic deism" is a misnomer.  What we hear in homilies in not the least bit moralistic.  There is no moral content whatsoever.  And Catholicism is not deism, as our God (though emasculated in most parishes) is still personal.  And one thing's for sure: there is nothing "therapeutic" about the typical "church experience".  A real therapist is willing to confront you to help you heal.  Very few priests I've known are willing to do the same.

It's not moralistic.  It's not therapeutic.  And it's not Deism.  But lots of people call it that anyway.

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Confession vs. Therapy

Beatrice, Of course psychotherapy is better than Confession. I know why you say otherwise, and I know therapy cannot offer absolution, w...