Psychosis and Theology

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Famed french psychoanalyst Julia Kristeva once said, “Psychosis is a crisis of truth in language”. While, modern research clearly demonstrates the there is certainly an organic, genetic aspect of psychosis (i.e. schizophrenia) one cannot help but recognize the importance of such an idea. One subtype of schizophrenia called disorganized schizophrenia often shows positive symptoms of word salad. Here the patient has essentially lost the ability to communicate in a cogent manner. If one overheard someone afflicted with this symptom it sounds like sheer non-sense. But for a second, imagine if the signifiers one was using to describe a given referent were no longer recognized in the Symbolic Order (i.e. laws of culture and language). For example, you point to a kitten and say ‘cat’ and the person to your left shakes his head in confusion. Language itself is no longer to be trusted. Madness would inevitably ensue.

Clayton Crockett draws an interesting parallel between psychosis and philosophy and theology in his excellent book Interstices of the Sublime. Another thought disorder that often occurs in psychosis is called delusion of reference. For instance, a person might see a picture of a celebrity on the front of Time Magazine and believe that this is a special message intended just for them. To put it simply, they abstract the concrete. Interestingly enough, Crockett recognizes that philosophers and theologians reverse this habit by concertizing the abstract. For example, philosophers treat idea such as ‘ontology’ or ‘God’ as real tangible objects when in fact they are just abstract notions. It’s odd that philosophers and theologians are lauded and giving tenure for this ability, while the person employing similar but reverse thinking is institutionalized.

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