October 1, 2009

Psychology & Pneumatology

The Oxford English Dictionary defines Psychology thusly: "The science of the nature, functions, and phenomena of the human soul or mind. b. A treatise on, or system of, psychology." The academic discipline of Psychology, more properly defined, is the study of behavior, because clearly researchers cannot measure, analyze or look at a soul. The scientific method demands concrete data, such as observation of human behavior, scans of neural activity, or records of intimate personal testimony.

Now look at how the OED defines Pneumatology:
1. a. The science, doctrine or theory of spirits or spiritual beings; in the 17th c. considered as forming a department of metaphysics... b. The science of the nature and functions of the human soul or mind, now commonly called PSYCHOLOGY. 2. Theol. The, or a, doctrine of the Holy Spirit. 3. The science or theory of air or gases; pneumatics...
Please note: definition 3 has been jettisoned from our usage, while Theologians focus on 2, but most Theologians virtually exclude 1.a, and remain largely confused about 1b. (That confusion trickles down, too. Lots of christian spirituality is just pop psychology sprinkled with God flavoring. But I digress.)

What is the difference between soul and spirit? I have a better question. What is the current difference between the study of the soul and the study of the spirit? Psychological research upgraded itself academically in the early 20th century with a focus on concrete data, but far too many Pneumatologists remain stuck in an age when ideas held sway over actuality.

Calling the human spirit the same thing as the human soul has some linguistic precedent, but it leaves [human] Pneumatology with theories every bit as superstitious as the theory of the four humours. (Worse, really; at least the humors had been actually observed coming out from human bodies.) It was dissection and autopsy that finally ended that centuries long medical superstition, but today many authorized Theologians still tend to resist experientially-spiritual vivisection. (Seriously, can there be spiritual science? Perhaps. But I fear that we fear to discover.)

I have three points. First, Pneumatology should spend more time on the human spirit. Second, if the human spirit actually exists, then our understanding of it should not be theoretical, vague or practically meaningless. Our study of the human spirit should be actual (ontological) and practically scientific. We may or may not be able to create controlled experiments, or do spiritual CT scans, but (at the very least) we can choose to assess personal accounts from a phenomenological standpoint - and yes, that should include of course I mean primarily those accounts found in the testimony of scripture.

Third, if we truly accept the scripture's accounts as reliable, then all types of spirit in the New Testament should be treated as historical phenomena, not as theological concepts. I'll leave point three at that, for now. Points one and two are my focus at the moment, but suffice it to say I suspect the way we deal with all these points is ultimately interrelated.

The series of posts that follow this one are merely a sketch of the distinctions between the human soul and spirit as I understand them, and some reasoning in support. I offer what follows, in addition to this post, as an initial challenge to jettison pure theoreticism from the proper study of pneumatology.

The first post in my 7 part 7 day series, The Human Spirit, will post at Noon today, EST.

1 comment:

RevLindsay G. King said...

In the early 1960's I concocted the term pneumatology--meaning the study of the Spirit of GOD in all that is, including us--not realizing that it was already in many old dictionaries. Was this a work of the Holy Spirit in me? I sincerely feel so.

Based on my studies, I gave a series of lectures, including demonstrations, using what I called pneumatherapy--hypnosis without the hocus pocus--which went on for over 30 years. I still use pneumatherapy to help myself and others, no charge. It is so simple, it can be done over the phone. I have a URL.

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