IT IS QUITE common knowledge that profound and sudden personality changes can take place in certain situations where there is no reason to believe that Christian conversion is involved. Accident, shock, drugs, despair, disease and surgical techniques are among the factors which may bring such changes about. There are cases where children and adults, having witnessed some devastating experience, have become very different people almost overnight. Communicative, happy, extroverted individuals may thus sometimes be turned into silent, morose, introverted people. Illustrating changes which serious illness may bring, Ernest White tells of an instance of a clergyman and a coarse labourer lying very ill in adjacent beds in a hospital ward. They both became delirious and the clergyman's language became foul while the labourer continually prayed. (41) A quite extraordinary case of personality change is reported by Bruno Bettelheim. (42) In this instance a young girl who developed acute schizophrenia was admitted to a psychiatric hospital at the age of nine, where in a period of three years a remarkable change in personality took place. The breakdown resulted from the loss of her mother at the age of three, her father also having died when she was still an infant. An unusual series of events marked the stages of her recovery. This is not the place to enter at length into the details, but it may be pointed out that at first she considered herself nameless, thereby indicating her conviction that she was not really a person. Her progress was marked by a series of drawings which she undertook entirely of her own accord. In her second year at the school, her self-portraits began to indicate a change. In her third year, she passed through the strange experience of "giving birth" to herself as a new
41. White, Ernest, ref.34, p.17.
person. These events
were accompanied both by drawings and by actual physiological
changes which climaxed one day when she threw herself on the
floor and simulated labour pains. As a newly born creature she
now found a name for herself, and her drawings reflected the
appearance of a completely new personality that was happy, carefree,
and normal for her age.
43. For an effective "survey," see Life, Mar. 3, 1947, pp.93ff. This article gives a useful summary of the technique, theory, effect, etc.
have been for good. In the case of disaster and shock they may be for ill. In the case of drugs, it is hard to say, but certainly where the disposition resulted from some disturbance of a chemical nature, correction of the disturbance must surely be a good thing. In the case of prefrontal lobotomy, or psycho-surgery as it has been called, while immediate associates may be greatly relieved at first, it is difficult to know whether the individual himself has really been changed for the best. H. J. Eysenck, in reviewing a symposium dealing with psycho-surgical problems, remarked: (44)
Superficial though these statements have been, they more or less bring into view the various means by which a personality may be modified without any appeal to spiritual forces outside of the individual.
In considering "internal" changes we might have used the term "supernatural," for this is roughly what we have in mind. However, the term "supernatural" as used in this connection might not altogether be justified, because it makes an assumption with respect to certain types of personality change which many thoughtful people find it difficult to allow. There have been cases, in recent years, of individuals whose behaviour has seemed to closely parallel the pattern which evidently characterized those who in New Testament times were considered to be not merely lunatic but actually demon-possessed. It is necessary to distinguish carefully between the two. Scripture itself acknowledges that not all lunatics are by any means demon-possessed (Matthew 4:24). The behaviour of such people is often indistinguishable. And in some areas of the world where missionaries have encountered demon possession, the distinction is marked in a subtle but unmistakable way by the reaction of the individual to the Gospel in moments of calm as opposed to times of "possession." The violence of the reaction in the latter instance is so marked, so vicious, that it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the individual is no longer expressing his own personality but the personality of an evil being who has taken possession of him. Those who feel such things belong to the Middle Ages and not to our
44. Eysenck, H. J., in a review of Psycho-surgical Problems, (edited by. F. A. Mettler, Kegan Paul, London, 1952), in Nature, Feb. 7, 1953, p.23.
own day seldom take the
time to read first hand reports. Were they to do so, it seems
unlikely that they could any longer honestly dispute the matter.
In the index will be found several references to material which
is written by sane, sensible, and obviously educated persons
who have met these things personally in their missionary work.
(45) It is quite
characteristic of individuals so possessed that when they are
converted, an entirely different personality emerges, although
the complete disappearance of the old personality may take time.
45. Schofield, A. T., "The Forces Behind
Spiritism," Transactions of the Victoria Institute,
vol.55, 1923, p.90ff; Knight, James, "Demon-Possession."
Transactions of the Victoria Institute, vol.63 , 1931,
p.114ff; Embery, Winnifred, and Francis Flanigan, "Demon
Dominion Broken," in China's Millions, Mar., 1947,
pp.36ff; Brown, A. R., The Gates of Hell, a remarkable
record published by the South Africa General Mission, 1957; Hindry,
L. Fitz-James, Is Demon-Possession a Reality?
an 86-page booklet published privately (no date), with a
foreword by Rt. Rev. Bishop Edwin G. Weed; and Rogers, Spencer
L., "Early Psychiatry," Ciba Symposia, vol.9,
Apr.-May, 1947, p.602ff.
with various aspects
of psychology, including a famous textbook entitled The Principles
of Psychology (1890), he became interested in the relationships
between religious beliefs and psychological behaviour. In 1901
he published a well-known volume entitled Varieties of Religious
Experience. In this volume he collected evidence from a very
wide range of cultural backgrounds to show that a large number
of individuals have experienced a remarkable transformation of
personality in response to a sense of defeat, sinfulness, hopelessness,
or some other inner conviction of great need. James thought that
melancholy constituted "an essential moment in every complete
religious evolution." (47) To him, these were simply conversions, as valid and
as real as any Christian conversion, but without any Christian
associations. It is clear from one or two of the instances he
gives that such conversions can go either way. For example, it
appears that Ingersoll was quite suddenly converted from theism
to atheism, and in some ways, became a much better man for it
in so far as his own personal well-being was concerned. Walt
Whitman is given as another example of a man who was similarly
set free from inner conflicts of a religious nature to become
one of the most personally likable individuals in his own generation
-- but quite atheistic.
47. James, William, "Varieties of Religious Experience," Modern Library, New York, 1902, p.25.
person begins, in virtually
embryonic form, by a creative act of God through the Holy Spirit.