Key Philosophical Theologian of
the Mid-Twentieth Century
by Richard M. Dubiel
The German theologian Paul Tillich, one of the leading philosophical theologians of the mid-twentieth century, was forced to leave Germany by the Nazis in 1933, and came to Union Theological Seminary in New York City, where he became a colleague of the great American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. Union was considered one of the three top graduate programs in the United States during that period. Tillich remained at Union until he reached their mandatory retirement age and accepted an offer from Harvard University in 1955. Niebuhr taught at Union from 1928 till his retirement in 1960.
These two thinkers dominated the theological scene in New York City from the 1930's through the 1950's, the period when the Alcoholics Anonymous movement was being formed and organized. Both emphasized the great truth expressed so clearly by St. Augustine, that the beginning of all real spirituality had to lie in the realization that I AM NOT GOD. Repeating St. Augustine, Tillich and Niebuhr both emphasized that Pride is at the root of all our other character defects. Until I quit trying to play God, and surrender to God, I will be able to make no progress in healing the dreadful sickness of my soul.
Other than Niebuhr's Serenity Prayer, there is no indication that the early A.A. people had read either Tillich's or Niebuhr's works directly. But the theological popularizers whom they did read were certainly affected by both theologians, and the leading New York pastors, like Sam Shoemaker, were very much aware of both men's ideas.
So to fully understand the deep background of the New York City theological milieu in which A.A. spirituality was being developed during the formative period, it is necessary to have at least some passing acquaintance with Paul Tillich's theological positions on various issues. And he is an excellent choice for any A.A. member wishing to study a truly modern theologian -- one who was totally in tune with the modern world -- in order to work out an understanding of a higher power which will be compatible with the scientific and philosophical ideas of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
Paul Tillich (1886-1965) is one of the great theologians of the twentieth century, along Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and the Niebuhr's, both Reinhold and H. Richard. My selection of Tillich as the one whom I would choose as the most important of this group is based on various reasons, but one of the main ones is that Tillich transcends most categories. He is resolutely Protestant yet traverses, according to some, into Catholicism; he was neither a positivist nor a rationalist; neither a supranaturalist nor a naturalist. If these terms do not resonate with the reader, it is sufficient to recognize that he transcended the usually categories in developing his system of thought. In this Tillich can be regarded in one of two ways. The first would be as a theologian, a person attempting to relate the message of Christianity to the current age. The second way to regard Tillich is that of a philosopher, attempting to find a comprehensive interpretation of the religious dimension of life. Here Tillich would be a speculative scholar seeking to understand the various phenomena of religion.
For this book we can borrow from Tillich in either capacity, though we will favor Tillich in the role of theologian. This allows us to more easily compare his views of humankind to those of the other religious thinkers who figure so prominently in the development of various attitudes and approaches to the issue of alcoholism and its treatment.
A primary reason for Tillich's selection beyond his transcending the usual categories is his deep concern for culture and society. To know the state of a culture is to be able to fathom its questions. The appropriate answer is found in the question. Each age must re-ask the essential questions of its time. And the task of the theologian in each age is to (1) state the truth and (2) relate the truth to the age. This is an instance in which Tillich uses his method of correlation. "The dynamics of actual religion are determined in Tillich's thought by the interplay of the two sides of a correlation."
For Tillich an essential task of the theologian is to analyze the culture in terms of its concerns, a type of spiritual inventory. The central questions that the age confront becomes vital. The second task is to address those questions through the revealed word, the Christian message. This study takes a look at three traditions Tillich directly addresses them in terms of how they fulfill the theological task at hand. The first is the tradition of liberalism, a tradition represented by Walter Rauschenbusch, Henry N. Wieman, and later Harry Emerson Fosdick. On the secular side John Dewey would be the foremost proponent. Liberalism for Tillich adequately assessed the age and its problems, but misrepresented the truth; God was made tantamount to human ideals, human goals, and natural processes. God becomes immanent in natural and social processes, allowing a quasi-revelation to be extrapolated from these studies. For Tillich the truth is lost, as we shall see.
The fundamentalist tradition, again with apologies to generalizing, is another force that plays a major force in the subject of this study. For Tillich, fundamentalism fails at both aspects of theology. The truth for the fundamentalist is expressed and understood through its appearance in the Bible, a time-bound manifestation that needs further interpretation. Because the answer the fundamentalist provides is based on a historical period that does not reflect the religious situation of the age, it cannot relate the truth to the present time. Tillich acknowledges that fundamentalism appears during periods of anxiety and turbulence, but he distinguishes this from the religious situation of the theologian, a matter we will address shortly.
The third tradition that Tillich refers to in terms of the theological task is the neo-orthodox movement, perhaps best presented by Karl Barth. Tillich also refers to this movement as neo-Reformation and "kerygmatic" theology. Both Barth and Tillich agree that the Bible contains the Eternal Message but the message must not be confused with its temporal and finite expression, which is the Bible itself. But Barth asserts that the Christian message does not have to relate to reason, to philosophy. The Christiab message is in itself an "affront" to human reason. As a kerygmatic theologian Barth runs the risk of denying that there is any common ground with those who are outside the "theological circle." Hence Barth loses sight of the importance of the "situation" and the need for an apologetic theology. His position has been characterized as one which makes no concessions to the modern age. In entering into a dialogue with those outside the "circle," kerygmatic theologians fear that the uniqueness of the message will be destroyed. If indeed the neo-orthodox theologians do not acknowledge the situation, they are in danger of having their kerygmatic message being swallowed up in the "relativities of the situation." In other words, without recognizing and acknowledging the cultural situation of the world in which the message is going to be delivered and then setting that message against the culture, as an opposite pole, the message is in danger of being identified with the age and the situation. The situation in this sense consumes the message . Tillich offers the examples of the religious nationalism of "the so-called German Christians and the religious progressivism of the so-called humanists in America." We can see where he stands with regard to many of the traditions this study has and will examine.
For Tillich an understanding of the situation is crucial in the task of theology. Such an analysis reveals modern humanity's sense of separateness (from God), sense of lostness, and search for meaning in the face of nonbeing. Our situation is not that of the middle ages. We can never and will never return to the Age of Faith, where humankind could understand faith as intellectual sacrifice. Rather our situation reveals the questions which must be addressed to make a discussion of faith possible. Each age will raise questions in a different fashion, owing to changing conditions and the development of new issues in all the areas of human endeavor. Even a "universal predicament" of humankind will have that predicament expressed in terms of different questions.
The method of correlation, once again, will unite the message with the situation. The analysis of the situation will reveal these critical questions. As a theologian, Tillich affirms that the answers to these questions cannot come from the situation itself but will be attained through the message contained in the symbols of the Christian message. "The situation to which theology must respond is the totality of man's creative self-interpretation in a special period." In the same place Tillich adds other critical statements regarding this important concept:
"'Situation' ... does not refer to the psychological or sociological state in which individuals or groups live. It refers to the scientific and artistic, the economic, and ethical forms in which they express their interpretation of existence .... Theology is neither preaching nor counseling; therefore the success of a theology when it is applied to preaching or the care of souls is not necessarily a criterion of its truth."
He further states: "The 'situation' theology must consider is the creative interpretation of existence, an interpretation which is carried on in every period of history under all kinds of psychological and sociological conditions .... [For example] theology is not concerned with the spread of mental diseases or with our increasing awareness of them, but it is concerned with the psychiatric interpretation of these trends." Interpretation and understanding the meaning of events leads to knowledge of the situation.
Paul Tillich Memorial Park in New Harmony, Indiana
For Tillich religion is defined "as the dimension of depth in all of man's life functions, rather than as a special function of his spiritual life." The "dimension of depth" leads to faith, which for Tillich "is the state of being ultimately concerned." It is the state of ultimate concern that reveals the "element of infinity in man. Man is able to understand in an immediate personal and central act the meaning of the ultimate, the unconditional, the absolute, the infinite."
Thomas Merton Memorial in New Harmony,
right next to the park dedicated to Tillich
Religion and culture are both grounded in the experience of ultimate concern and belong together. Both can become perverted and become demonic and perverse. The danger in any society is idolatry, which is a misplaced ultimate, a finite symbol or object which has wrongly taken on the characteristics of the ultimate. This takes us to sections of this study where we have discussed various modern religious movements as instances of the demonic.
The importance of culture for Tillich and his great concern for art is related to the power of these objets, to reveal the nature of the religious situation and the understanding of the human condition. The artistic evidence, so to speak, allows the theologian to see the situation that faces the age. In fact one of Tillich's early works was entitled The Religious Situation (1926), an analysis of Germany, but not only Germany, at a time when he was an influential figure in both the academic and religious areas of life in that country. An irony is that this very culture later forced him to emigrate to the United States 1933.
Paul Tillich has meaning for us in our task in at least three areas. The first is his analysis of the role of anxiety in modern society and how this is related to the loss of depth in religion and culture. The second is the meaning of meaninglessness is our time. The third is his thought regarding the issue of conversion. In each case Tillich has a side of his thought which relates to the mood of the period(s) we have been and will be examining. His insights tell us much about the situation of the alcoholic as well as humankind in general. The alcoholic has an added insight, an appreciation if you will, of Tillich's insights. The depth of being of which he speaks is something that the alcoholic has come to recognize, acknowledge as lost, and reclaim in the process of recovery. It is the feeling of this author that much of Tillich's orientation speaks well to the quest of the recovering alcoholic, a kindred soul in facing the anxiety of nonbeing, the loss of depth, and the ultimate affirmation of meaning in life.
The basic threat to man is the threat of nonbeing, a condition which produces ontological anxiety. This anxiety is not fear, a condition rooted in psychological causes. Tillich distinguishes three types of anxiety: an anxiety of fate and death; of emptiness and meaninglessness; of guilt and condemnation. Man cannot escape anxiety, it is the inescapable condition, omnipresent, and " independent of any special object which might produce it." Anxiety of this type (ontological) is based upon our human condition of finitude, the threat of nonbeing. Unlike fear, which is psychological, ontological anxiety cannot be "treated" by psychology or medicine. It is the human condition itself. For Tillich, humankind cannot stand very much of this anxiety and constantly seeks to focus this more generalized feeling on a specific object. This sharp focus is the nature of fear. Tillich explains:
"The human mind is not only, as Calvin has said, a permanent factory of idols, it is also a permanent factory of fears -- the first in order to escape God, the second to escape anxiety .... ultimately the attempts to transform anxiety into fear are vain .... It [anxiety] belongs to existence itself."
For Tillich religion is a sense of being grasped by the infinite, often when we are confronted by the possibility of meaninglessness. The awareness of the infinite is the essence of religion but is a sensibility that we seem to have lost in our age. Yet this sense of connectedness to the infinite is the thing we seek above all. What Tillich says about the anxiety of meaninglessness, then, is the aspect of his thought that is perhaps most meaningful for us in our search in the present study. The dimension of depth according to Tillich has been lost. And most recent religious activity, some call it a resurgence, has been a "mostly futile attempt to regain what has been lost." These churches in themselves have produced a type of conformism which is an attempt to deny the lost dimension of depth, a refusal to accept the condition of anxiety. "Twentieth-century man has lost a meaningful world and a self which lives in meanings out of a spiritual center. The man-created world of objects has drawn into itself him who created it and who now loses his subjectivity in it. He has sacrificed himself to his own productions." Humankind becomes the servant of the instruments created to serve. This idea is not novel, but Tillich expands this to comment on how we have literally become focused on the horizon. Our sense of depth, of verticality, has been lost. Our concerns are with going farther, faster, with greater productivity. But the questions of why and for what purpose eludes us. The tragic dimension could well be that even the question may have become lost.
Paul Tillich (right front) and Albert Einstein
(on the left, standing behind the young girl)
But the anxiety, a fact of human finitude, stays with us. Many churches attempt to discuss God but create God as a being amongst beings, not the ground of all being, the God above God, to use Tillich's phrase. Granted, these are not easy concepts, but what Tillich is evoking from us in the fact that most religion avoids the true nature of depth and the persistent question of ultimate meaning. In too many, if not all our churches, God is made out to be a comfortable being amongst us, not the source of our meaning and indeed our own being.
Tillich writes in several different places concerning the sense of loss that we can see in so much twentieth century art and architecture. His writings here are vast and can easily take us far beyond our current task. But let us acknowledge that current day novels of despair and contemporary paintings portraying disunity and fragmentation abound as the artistic legacy of the modern and post-modern age. "In its artistic style, a society, more than anywhere else, betrays its ultimate concern, its spiritual substance." The despair and confusion of the "existential literature" reveals one dimension of this sense of loss. Tillich spends a good deal of time discussing the works of the existentialists and the material this study considers in its section on Jean-Paul Sartre. This section reformulates much of what Tillich had to say concerning the sense of meaninglessness in modern life, a situation which supplies the background for a breakthrough of the saving religious presence. Indeed, "we are perhaps at no time more deeply aware of what Professor Tillich calls 'the Unconditional' than in those moments of our profoundest unsettlement by the indigence and transitoriness of finitude." In the examples of the modern novel, say "a Conrad or a Kafka or a Malraux or a Faulkner," it is often the case that the hero "through the grace of some power that is unnamed and perhaps unknown," is delivered from dehumanizing skepticism and despondency by what Tillich refers to as "'the courage of despair' -- the courage, despite everything problematic and uncertain in his world, to affirm his humanity." Professor Scott reminds us that this grace comes to us in what Tillich refers to as "the state of being grasped by the power of being-itself."
In more contemporary literature, the playful cynicism, the ironic detachment, the death of literature at the hands of deconstructionists, all toy with a vacuous nihilism or smirking confidence, a type of whistling-in-the-dark bravado. But beneath this lies an element of fascination with the productions of humankind, the technology we build or the scientific discoveries which we hope will somehow lengthen our earthly existence, prolonging our finitude through medical advances. Our faith in the "system," whether capitalism or the hope of its reform into some other equally comforting and sustaining economic structure, seems to have become our ultimate concern.
The contemporary scene might also congratulate itself on the attempts to be politically correct, to extend to disadvantaged peoples everywhere the gifts that our middle-class culture has accumulated. But even this is yet another form of liberalism, of social work which has a good intent but does not address the issue of depth. Contemporary condemnations of racism, sexism, abuse, inequality, and all forms of unfairness are certainly laudable, but still keep our concerns on the horizontal level. Verticality, meaning, and depth are ignored, but for Tillich can never be ignored for long. The nature of finitude will bring the return of anxiety.
While some theological literary critics have found the redeeming moments of "being-itself" in the modern novel, our contemporary fiction and art seems to be gliding along with a repressed anxiety and a multitude of social concerns and protests filling our days with activity and a type of quiet acceptance that hints at a calm before an existential storm. The necessity to work longer and harder, despite the computer revolution, leaves little time for the type of reflection that prompts the intrusion of a sense of meaninglessness and its attendant anxiety. Yet vague hints of the enduring "existential despair" of the Beat Generation seems to have curiously resurfaced amongst contemporary youth, the Generation X'er's, with tie-dyed shirts, espresso coffee, and a resurgence of an interest in poetry. The "beat" poet Allen Ginsburg died [in the Spring of 1997] during the writing of this article, a figure who (so it seems) did not mark the end of a generation, but rather was instantly resurrected as a seer and sage of a new generation of alienated youth. Perhaps their disaffection will constitute a reframing of the religious situation as Tillich saw it forty and fifty years ago.
Another aspect of contemporary life includes our present concern with religion. We cannot make any comprehensive study of this area, but must make a comment or two, if for no other reason than to see a similarity between our contemporary situation and that of which Tillich spoke. At the current time our society is concerned, to be sure, with religion. But if one had to comment on the focus of this concern we would note a rise in the number of fundamentalist and Pentecostal churches, as well as a fascination with cults and the outright occult. Much of this can be seen as a constant factor in American society. But the coming of the year 2000 promises to bring a resurgence in the number of apocalyptic-oriented faiths as well as Millennium-induced cults. The unfortunate incident concerning the Heaven's Gate suicide cult is an example. Another phenomenon that is indicative of a religious impulse is Scientology, a movement that has even earned the official opposition of the German government. The thrust of religions like Scientology and much of the "self-esteem" preaching of contemporary Protestantism is directed towards societal accommodation and worldly success. Given our review of several religious movements in this book, we might be forced to sadly proclaim that little has changed. Indeed, mesmerists seem to have gone out of fashion, but the promise of health and happiness is being offered by a variety of therapists, "psychic readers" (on television no less), personal management consultants, personal trainers, palm readers, and homeopathic practitioners of a variety of stripes. Further there is no shortage of health clubs, spas, and diet and exercise plans and programs to cause us to doubt the legacy of John Harvey Kellogg. A further note: New Thought is currently on-line. The legacy of Phineas Parkhurst Quimby lives.
Whether or not the contemporary scene has this busy agenda of activity and seeking offset by what has been a marked interest in things spiritual complicates the foregoing. But is this interest in things that are "New Age" truly new or truly spiritual? Or merely offshoots of the occult? Do these panspiritual programs provide for "being grasped" by being-itself or offer palliatives and a vague sense of otherworldliness? Similarly he ecology movement seems to have brought about some genuine interests in the spirituality afforded by the natural world. But this is an experience that once again, may be misleading in terms of what Tillich would regard as a true mysticism that brings us to Being. Tillich has much to say concerning religions that offer the ultimate without denying their own ultimacy, as we have noted in our discussion regarding the holy and the demonic. Many "faiths" that arise are misplaced ultimates and lead to what Tillich terms "existential disappointment." They do not deliver what they proposed to provide. The natural world may allow us a space in which to reflect and appreciate the grandeur of creation, but the natural world is in its concreteness not being-itself. Too often the perceived spiritual is the merely nostalgic, the sentimental, the purely emotional. "If religion is mere feeling it is innocuous." True faith as ultimate concern will possess the entire person and not allow itself to be relegated to the "corner of subjective feelings."
Contemporary religion for Tillich meant Billy Graham and Norman Vincent Peale, one a representative of the fundamentalist tradition (at that time) and the other a continuation of the liberal tradition in a general way. For Tillich, Graham exhibits "propagandistic methods" and represents a "primitive theological fundamentalism." And Graham, "in spite of all his seriousness, ... does not take the radical questions of our period seriously." Graham misses both the message and situation. Of course, the appeal of his message, as for all fundamentalisms, is partly due to the needs of the audience, as considered earlier. Norman Vincent Peale, on the other hand, is a bit more complicated in terms of our interests in that he is in a direct line with New Thought, and regarded even by Tillich as a "counseling and healing minister."
The "power of positive thinking" and "you can win" attitude of Peale was enormously successful. His book The Power of Positive Thinking (1952) "hit the two million mark during the Eisenhower years." A master of all forms of media, Peale became well-nigh a spokesperson for Christianity, to the dismay and embarrassment of a wide range of other Christians from liberals to conservatives. For Tillich, Peale is popular because he confirms the situation "which he is supposed to help overcome. He heals people with the purpose of making them fit again for the demands of the competitive and conformist society in which we are living." Rather than making people aware of the lost dimension of depth, of trying to put people in contact with God (as Tillich would interpret the divine), or attempting to address their fundamental anxiety, Peale readies people for another day in the conformist and secular world of the state. Churches, in fact, become socially approved organizations in which there is a "religious consecration of a state of things in which the religious dimension has been lost." The opinions of Tillich regarding the other forms of harmonial religion can be extrapolated from that quote. Wherever there is an acceptance of the secular world in such a way that contact with the dimension of depth is rendered difficult or impossible, there Tillich sounds quite the opponent of the status quo. Whenever the religion claims to accomplish secular goals at the hands of an institution or person, there Tillich is going to raise doubt and invoke the charge of idolatry or a misplaced ultimate.
Tillich and Alcoholics Anonymous
While Tillich never discusses theological issues from the standpoint of Alcoholics Anonymous, there are a number of ideas in his complex thought that lend themselves to our analysis of the dynamics behind the success of A.A. and its allied movements, such as the Jacoby Club. As we have seen, humankind is faced with anxiety, an anxiety that has its basis in nonbeing, the nothingness that we all dread as members of humankind. When we affirm ourselves in a spirit of courage -- in the face of this anxiety and threat of nonbeing -- we are concerned with the truly ultimate, the question of our being reunited with the source of our being, something we may wish to call God, something Tillich at times calls being, being-itself and at other times the God above God.
We first realize this need for God when we are faced in some sense with the religious situation, which for us today is one of meaninglessness, often despair. In this state we may rise to courage, we may experience the holy, we may affirm ourselves in what Tillich calls the "courage of despair." "The courage to be is an expression of faith and what 'faith' means must be understood through the courage to be .... The power of this self-affirmation is the power of being which is effective in every act of courage. Faith is the experience of this power." [my italics] What Tillich calls faith in this passage is a state, not an opinion.
People who are not of a religious persuasion might wince at Tillich's use of God and being and faith. But to the recovering alcoholic this language may evoke meanings that are profound, personal, and powerful. The despair and sense of meaninglessness that the alcoholic experiences coincides with the conditions described by the various writers to whom Tillich alludes --but without any aesthetic distance. The recovering alcoholic knows this from personal and otherwise immediate experience. Even in the grips of a hopeless condition, the fact of hope, or the fact of recognizing one's pain, despair and sense of meaninglessness is an indication that one is aware of the problem and has the power of being [God] to overcome the situation. In other words, the ability to recognize the situation reveals the power to overcome that situation by the power of being within us. "The faith which makes the courage of despair possible is acceptance of the power of being, even in the grip of nonbeing. Even in the despair about meaning being affirms itself through us."
Tillich approaches the nature of faith and the courage to be in a variety of ways. The "courage of despair" seems the most fruitful for those who are familiar with the experience of substance abuse. For Tillich this road to faith, through the experience of meaninglessness and despair, leads to a higher degree of faith than one could have attained by adhering to the content of a specific religious tradition. To be sure, not all suffering alcoholics or addicts have experienced what Tillich describes as the experience of meaninglessness or despair. But the process and impact seems to be very much like that of "hitting bottom." At some point one experiences a version of Bill W.'s "hot flash" or their own state of "being grasped," as Tillich might have it. This is not to suggest that the two are similar. The point for us now is that Tillich regards this conversion as an important aspect in entering into a new life, what he calls New Being. It is not our intention to pursue Tillich's theology in all its ramifications, but rather to make some observations regarding his concepts of conversion, to see how they might shed light upon the experience of the alcoholic. Further, his remarks regarding community are an important contribution to understanding the nature of fellowship as it appears in A.A. as well as in some of its most significant predecessors, such as the Jacoby Club.
Tillich's answer to the situation has been discussed in terms of the state of 'Being grasped," another way of regarding conversion. This experience, nonetheless, is not necessarily sudden; it can be cumulative, yet will have the critical element of decision. There must be a moment at which something happens, a changing, a surrender. "Conversion is not a matter of prevailing arguments, but it is a matter of personal surrender." A sore point for many people who dislike the very idea of churches is that for Tillich being "grasped" and then surrendering, and ultimately recognizing that one has been "converted" involves becoming a member of a Spiritual Community. More on this in a minute.
Conversion is an experience that "is effective in all the dimensions of human life because of the multi-dimensional unity of man." Whatever may be said of the abstract notion of the New Being, it is essentially the same as the Biblical "new birth" or "regeneration." "Both point to the same reality, the event in which the divine Spirit takes hold of a personal life through the creation of faith." In his discussions of the New Being Tillich notes that the new state is a process, something that occurs out of the old and deserves the prefix "re-" as in re-newal, re-conciliation, re-union, and re-surrection. The event of this New Being comes from the Old, which will be recast, but was never destroyed entirely. The nature of this process is described in several places, most notably in the third volume of the Systematic Theology. There are a few points from this materials that we should note. Some of the similarities to the "new way of life" of alcoholics are striking.
A first point is that New Being involves a reconciliation. This event is expressed as a command: "Be reconciled to God. Cease to be hostile to Him, for He is never hostile to you." This act is easier than trying to please, by taking an active role. We cannot achieve this end by trying to accomplish some set of specified activities because God, as infinite, makes an infinite demand upon us. Acknowledging that we all carry a hostility towards the existence into which we have been thrown, Tillich reminds us that there are moments when we all feel rejected by God (Higher Power) and that we then feel our separation from Him. This rejection becomes a hostility, not only towards God but towards ourselves and others. We attempt to achieve acceptance by others, but this is related to our desire to be accepted by God, to feel that we must appease Him in some way. The process of New Being requires no such grand attempt but rather a surrendering. "To enter the New Being we do not need to show anything. We must only be open to be grasped by it, although we have nothing to show." Thus, New Being means being reconciled to God and to ourselves. And with this will come a sense of reunion. Not only with God, and self, but also with others. "Nothing is more distinctive of the Old Being than the separation of man from man." With he New Being comes membership in the Spiritual Community.
The basis of our relationship with others is our own self-acceptance, which is emphatically not even remotely similar to self-satisfaction or pride, which were indicative of the Old Being. Rather, this reunion with self brings about a profound healing [Tillich's word, my italics]: the "reunion of one's self with one's self. Where there is real healing, there is the New Being, the New Creation." The New Being of a person is not a conquering of passions in the sense that a person does not feel, but rather an awareness of the ambiguities of one's self, a knowledge of the demonic as well as the divine. The person accepts selfhood as "being eternally important, eternally loved, eternally accepted. The disgust at one's self, the hatred of one's self has disappeared."
The New Being will also bring about a greater sense of freedom and an over-coming of "self-seclusion." Now a person can experience a sense of relatedness. Having one's self grounded in a reconciled relationship with God (the vertical dimension), one can realize the relatedness with the world and others on the horizontal plane. Being reconciled and reunited, one can overcome "loneliness, introversion, and hostility."
A moment ago we spoke of the Spiritual Community into which the New person enters following conversion. Perhaps the negative connotations of that word can be lessened if one uses the term fellowship and then thinks of A.A. as a model. But yet the Spiritual Community, while a part of the life of the person who has accepted New Being, is not the exact same thing as formal membership in a church (or fellowship). We know the exact date and time of new membership in the case of our physical joining with a group, but can never be sure when we joined the larger Spiritual Community of those who share our faith. A formal organization may indeed be a part of the person's life, but this is different from the Spiritual Community itself.
The point is that the New Being experience will necessarily bring about this new openness, this new feeling of freedom for others. The bondage of the self has been broken by the reunion with God. This is not an outpouring of fraternal feeling, an "emotional outburst without consequences." This is a part of the gradual process which has been taking place, but yet does have a decisive character.
Tillich acknowledges an "aversion to organized religion," something seen quite frequently in A.A. He sees this as a desire to "eliminate the communal element from religion." But he adds "this is self-deception." More sternly Tillich states, "there is no such thing as 'private religion.'" Even the prophets who went into the desert did so in order to return. Religion itself depends on language, which is communal by nature. And man can only be a person in personal encounters. Yet, Tillich allows for "the personal response to the religious community," even if this is revolutionary. But ultimately the necessity of the organized church as well as the more ethereal Spiritual Community is upheld. The person who is a New Being will experience "mature freedom," and with this these feelings the criticisms of organized religion may well appear as vestiges of the Old Being, self-seclusion and self-separation resulting in animosity towards any fellowship with others. In fact the New Being experience echoes "the promises" of A.A. in more ways than one. With regard to the issue of community and an organized church (fellowship), "the promises" tell us that "we will see how our experience can benefit others" and that the "fear of people ... will leave us." The promises further refer to "happiness," whereas Tillich speaks of joy, going A.A. one better. He reminds us that there is a place for exuberance in the life of New Being. He speaks of joy as more than happiness. "For joy is the expression of our essential and central fulfillment." This is an element of the New Being that the glum, solitary and isolated creature of the Old Being frequently has a difficult time accepting.
Self-transcendence is a further state that is a part of New Being. For Tillich self-transcendence is necessary in order to realize fully a mature state comprising awareness, freedom, and relatedness. Self-transcendence means "The continuous transcendence of oneself in the direction of the ultimate -- in other words ... participation in the holy." This will involve an increase in one's devotional life, that is, prayer, both private and organized. The totality of one's spiritual experiences will in turn lead to more intense devotion "to the ground and aim of our being," that is, to God. Self-transcendence, then, is not used by Tillich in the manner of the psychologist (Tillich refers to that usage as simple self-knowledge or the result of being reconciled to one's self as the result of human interaction, such as therapy). Rather, self-transcendence in the way we have used it belongs to the "principles of sanctification" and is "actual in every act in which the Spiritual Presence is experienced." Prayer, or self-transcendence in this sense, can take place in all forms of human activity, "in the midst of labor or rest, in private counseling, in church services. It is like the breathing-in of another air, an elevation above average existence." Tillich's consideration of self-transcendence leads to a rather spiritual tone in his writings. But he allows for our human finitude.
"We claim spiritual progress rather than spiritual perfection." So states the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. And Tillich reminds his student that "the Christian life never reaches the state of perfection -- it always remains an up-and-down course." The text of the Big Book could be placed next to much of Tillich's writings on the subject of New Being and the overcoming of self. But such a close reading is not our purpose. Surely there are similarities that might help us understand the one or the other, Tillich helping us understand A.A. or the other way around. Our purpose is to show that the enduring realities and "situation" of humankind that Tillich has attempted to demonstrate are at the very least evident in the structures of much A.A. thinking. The writers of Alcoholics Anonymous and Paul Tillich wrote much during the same period of time yet under different circumstances. They both were addressing the same problem of understanding the complex being of the human person and how this person can save himself or herself by surrendering to a Higher Power. Tillich's frequent use of synonyms for God brings a smile to this author's face. It is as if he just hadn't thought of "Higher Power," yet.
return to Dubiel's Road to Fellowship
return to Hindsfoot Foundation home page