Graham Higgins Illustration - Literate Graffiti Dept.


February 22, 2010

22-2-10 Connections

Taking a break from arm-wrestling with the dense text of ‘Conceptual Issues In Psychology’, an exhausting but enjoyable read that’s more philosophy than psychology, I turn to a book on Christian Counselling which I picked up in our Oxfam bookshop.

The bits about counselling practice are pretty sound and commendably clear, predictably primarily about Rogerian person-centered counselling. Given Carl Rogers’ theological training it’s not surprising that he encourages the counsellor to ‘play God’, being a compassionate attentive non-judgemental listener and adviser. Exercising these qualities shouldn’t present any problem in principle to the altruistic humanist.

My problem with the handbook is at those points where the author takes line-break and thwacks the ball into the long grass of Biblical reference. Fair enough, that’s what he contracts to do on the cover, which is why I’m not naming the book to single it out.

The prompt to write about it is that I was reminded of the ‘method’ of The Alpha Course, hours of which I watched on-line after I was invited to attend one. I’m not even going to put up links to these vids because if I could find them anyone with sufficient interest can. I was reminded of George Carlin’s line ‘If there really was a God, would he let a guy like that explain him?’

What the book and the course share is a consistent confusion between similarity, parallel, connection and proof. The counselling practice is designed for its particular faith-community who are primed to see connections between practical solutions to mundane difficulties and What The Book Says. If the client-group wasn’t self-selecting you’d spend more time clarifying the theology than addressing the psychology. The subtext is to demonstrate that The Bible is, in addition to history, poetry, theology and injunction a handy counselling manual featuring the Arch-Counsellor. The sleight-of-hand occurs when the usefulness of the chapter-and-verse reference as an illustration is zingo!bingo! transubstantiated into proof of truth. In lieu of a priori truth-conditions to satisfy, this dot-to-dot correspondence between counselling session and Gospel study is equally open to descriptions such as tautologous, teleological, self-referential,  perhaps even disingenuous.

A striking example in Alpha of the theological cart obstructing the philosophical horse is the final invitation to speak in tongues. The Biblical authority for this is that the Disciples in transports of grief after the crucifixion spoke ‘in tongues of angels’, i.e. incomprehensibly. Set aside possible secular interpretations of this phenomenon, the exercise is rather like inviting students to sit in a wheelchair and ‘speak’ through text-rendering software in order to understand A Brief History Of Time.

In this rapture-taster one is encouraged to simply begin to voice syllables such as ‘Aaa… Baaa’ – hear what they’ve done there? – and see what happens. I suspect that a spontaneous run of phonemes such as om-biddle-ting-tong yip-bam-boo would be deemed insufficiently reverent.

More rigour, vicar?

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