I have come to suspect I was wrong in a previous post on this blog; specifically, I thought I could justify W. Paul Jones’s fivefold model of theological worlds despite how natural or obvious a sixfold model appeared. Now I think that my work–however tenuous, perhaps misguided, it might be–strongly implies that there is a sixth theological world which Jones does not mention concerning community and social integration.
It might be the case that this work has already been completed. For my post on autism and masks I had been on Google searching for a particular passage in Jones’s Theological Worlds (which I could not find online, alas), and during this search I discovered that there is at least one article, Jeanene Reese and Amanda Pittman’s “Theological Worlds Investigation” in the Journal of Youth and Theology 12(1), describing a sixth world identified among female students. As it happens, that article is behind a paywall which this ex-academic can’t easily pass. I would like to see it sometime but right now I think it might be useful that I can’t: if my work comes to the same conclusions as that paper but independently of it, that should suggest that we are all on to something. Therefore I’m going to press merrily on in the hope, but not the conviction, that this will all be productive.
To review my argument, I suggested that Jones’s five worlds are specific cultural expressions of truly universal perspectives that can be identified by perennial sources of anxiety.1 I began with a twofold view of human needs: there are external material needs that can only be satisfied by the environment and there are internal psychological needs that can only be satisfied by the individual. Between these two is the social world, which is organized to make satisfying either the material or the psychological needs less difficult or more reliable. That gives us three places in which anxiety, and a corresponding satisfaction, might be centred. Each of these sources of anxiety will have two expressions: a negative expression, in which problems are perceived as an absence of something salutary (for instance, the indifference of the environment to our needs), and a positive expression, in which problems are perceived as a presence of something obstructive (for instance, the hostility of the environment to our well-being). This gives us six places for deep-seated anxieties to emerge and six corresponding places to find an adequate response to those anxieties. However, I argued that one of those six places is untenable and would necessarily resolve into one of the others: specifically, since social organization provided nothing unique but rather helped (or hindered) our attempts to meet material or psychological needs, its problems would only have a positive aspect. Anything that social organization failed to provide was ultimately a failure on the part of the environment or ourselves, and would be experienced as such. Therefore problems with social organization would only have a positive expression in the active presence of a social obstruction to our needs (ie. injustice or persecution).
I now think I was wrong. There is a negative expression of problems in social organization.
Something nagged at me about my conclusion: it seemed like it might have a strong Western bias. More specifically, my accounting of the social world did not seem to capture the way I imagined a hypothetical Confucian might represent it, though I knew that my knowledge of Confucianism was far too imperfect to guess precisely what any particular Confucian thinker’s objection might be.2 My gut feeling came to be that people do experience a positive expression of problems in social organization. However, to be wrong about this, I would need to be wrong about the role of social organization.
I think it only takes a moment’s reflection to see where I was wrong. Humans are social creatures; we have evolved to need company and relationship on a deep psychological level. I won’t mince words: our sanity depends on there being a society. Therefore we should expect society to be able to fail us in this regard, and for the possibility or reality of this failure to loom large in some people’s psychological landscapes.
What would this sixth theological world look like, then, if this is all correct? I think it would look a lot like Jones’s World 3, in that it has something to do with the self, and like Jones’s World 1, in that it has something to do with that self’s orientation toward a larger whole. But rather than an anxiety of abandonment in an alien universe and rather than an anxiety of personal insufficiency, it would be an anxiety about incomplete integration into one’s society, experienced perhaps as there being no place for oneself or perhaps as one’s being improperly constituted for that society. In a sense this resembles World 2’s emphasis on a disjoint between the individual and the society at large, but rather than seeing something in that society which needs to be combated, a person in World 6 would desire to build (or find) something that is not apparently there. (Another way to say this is that World 6 is to World 2 as World 1 is to World 5 and World 3 is to World 4, or that World 6 is to Worlds 1 and 3 as World 2 is to Worlds 5 and 4.) I therefore suspect that Jones has been sorting World 6 people into Worlds 1, 2, and 3.
So my provisional classification, based on but adding to W Paul Jones’s, is as follows:
Obsessio: Abandonment, cosmic alienation, absurdity
Epiphania: Holistic inclusion, promise of transcendent unity
Obsessio: History, conflict, injustice, oppression, death
Epiphania: Vindication of the oppressed, promise of justice in history
Obsessio: Personal insufficiency, stunted self
Epiphania: Personal growth, promise of unconditional validation
Obsessio: Guilt, propensity for sin, arrogance, idolatry
Epiphania: Forgiveness allowing the promise of redemption
Obsessio: Suffering, overwhelming burden of life
Epiphania: Solidarity, companionship, satisfaction in work, humour
Obsessio: Solitude, social alienation, social disintegration
Epiphania: Promise of participation and inclusion in true community
I would take it as provisional confirmation of my theory here if the aforementioned article found that the sixth world has an emphasis on social relationships or the failure to adopt or find a defined social role; I hope that under those circumstances others might find my work to be some marginal support for the article, though I recognize that I do not follow academic standards on this blog and so any such support would be limited.
- “Universal” and “perennial,” here, mean that these perspectives will occur in all human societies, not that all human individuals will experience them. Indeed, the theory is that each individual will only experience a few of them to any significant degree; this is, after all, a typology.
- I wish I had some citations for this; alas, I was mostly working off the memory of dozens of undergraduate texts mixed into a slurry of recollection. My argument does not rest on any understanding of Confucianism, however, since I am only discussing how I came to second-guess myself, so I hope I can leave the matter here.