Consider a number of facts that together make an interesting point.

First, 70 per cent of the people entering mental hospitals become well enough to go home within eighteen months, even without any medical treatment.

Second, the alcoholics that come for treatment to the neuro-psychiatric institute where I am chaplain seem to lose their compulsion to drink within about ten days. By this time their active treatment program has hardly begun. When they are discharged, however, the compulsion to drink usually returns with the force of a hurricane.

Third, the various schools of psychotherapy all seem to be about equally effective. The widely divergent Freudians and Rogerians, for example, claim about the same rate of success.

Finally, the number of self-help groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Weight Watchers, Synanon, Recovery, Schizophrenics Anonymous, and Come, has grown astonishingly. There is no reasonable doubt about the effectiveness of these groups in helping people find relief from their symptoms.

This collection of data seems to point to a conclusion that may be somewhat humbling for those of us who work in hospitals. Could it be that voluntary submission to an authority-structure is the means by which one finds his emotional illness arrested?

Let us first think specifically about authority-structures by thinking of them as professional roles, institutions, and laws. We see the three in operation when a doctor (the role) in the hospital (the institution) says to a patient: “Take these pills” (the law). A pastor preaching in a church on the Ten Commandments is another example of an authority-structure. These roles, institutions, and laws are intended to represent Ultimate Authority—God. The structures have no authority in themselves; “there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (Rom. 13:1).

Authority-structures have no choice but to represent God. The custodians of authority do have to choose, however, whether they will use the structures to point to God or for their own advantage. If those charged with the care of an authority-structure have not themselves come to a recognition of Ultimate Authority, they will surely encourage those under their care to adopt an egocentric style of life, thereby nullifying the benefit of surrender to the authority-structure.

Egocentricity is the source from which all human problems flow. The great human tragedy is that each of us is in conflict with the true No. 1 (God) for his ultimate position. I, as a human being, arrogantly pretend I am No. 1. Today we might call the disease god-itis; formerly it was known as original sin.

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The diagnois of god-itis seems to be well supported when we consider few of our incessant aspirations to be like God.

1. We aspire to be completely free in life. Most of us have as our motto: “Nobody is going to tell me what to do.” This may lead one young man into a life of crime and another into a business in which he can be his own boss (because he cannot work for anyone else).

2. We aspire to be omnicompetent. “All it takes is will power.” This motto is mouthed by dieters, alcoholics, and neurotics. I have even heard it from the lips of a dying woman! What is the advice given to an alcoholic by his family? “Use your will power!” This is not good advice because it assumes our ability to transcend all problems—something only God can do—and also adds fuel to the compulsion.

3. We incessantly aspire to be right. Our consistent belief in our own veracity is incredible. We even admire some very intolerant people who “stood for what they thought was right.” Perhaps they would merit our admiration more if they had listened to the superior wisdom of others.

4. We also feel we are basically good. Occasionally I ask a self-righteous parishioner if he can think of any faults in his character. Not infrequently I hear: “My biggest fault is that I am too good to others.”

5. We want to be a law unto ourselves. Each of us likes to create his private code of ethics that transcends the laws of God and man. This may lead to criminal acts; but most of us, not wishing to spend our years in prison, make a deal and agree to live as close to the edge of the law as possible. Where possible, we live above it. It is a great satisfaction to our egoism to be able to “do what I think is right for me.”

6. We constantly tend to be judgmental—a drive so strong in us that it may reach a point of violence toward others. The egocentric, self-appointed judge raises himself up above his fellows and invariably slams down a harsh judgment. This leaves him with the delicious feeling that he is righteous while others deserve only condemnation.

7. Finally, we persistently aspire to compete and to win at one-upmanship. Our motto seems to be: “If you have it, I want it.” To obtain what we want, we climb over our fellows. This maneuver positions us over and against people and leads them to complain, rightly, that we are playing god.

When we repeatedly misposition ourselves with reference to God and man by playing god, something happens to our wills and feelings as a result of the guilt we feel. “Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin” (John 8:34). Guilt results in the bondage of our wills, a bondage that allows our feelings to go out of control. Thereafter, the emotions run wild. We can become hooked on hate, procrastination, aspirin, nail-biting, money-madness, sex, status, stealing, suicide, homicide, over-eating, overspeaking, resentment, drugs, and so on.

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To become well, we must do business with God. We need to die to our phoniness if we are to become free to live.

The first word of the Kingdom of God is repent. We must resign as the Manager of the Universe—resign as the No. 1 person in this delusional world we have created. Is it not time for us all to trust God’s power and leadership, to become a No. 2 (but God forbid that we should distinguish ourselves in that sick game of one-downmanship by becoming No. 3!) along with all the rest of God’s No. 2 people? As our egocentricity dies, we can begin to live in loving relationships with people.

How? By a surrender to the real No. 1—God. This is best done through a serious, continual use of confession—a confession that, after pardon from God, includes suggested deeds of restitution, apology, and reconciliation. This will deal a murderous blow to our egocentricity, but it will also mark the beginning of our common life under God, a life of inner freedom and peace.

—EARL JABAY, chaplain, New Jersey Neuro-Psychiatric Institute, Princeton.

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