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Table of Contents

Part I

Part II

Part III


Part V

Part VI

Part VII



Part IV: The Development of Personality: The Old and the New

Chapter 5

Change of Personality

Changes Due to External Factors

     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.
42. Bettelheim, B., "Schizophrenic Art: a Case Study," Scientific American, April, 1952, pp.30-34.

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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.
     We have already spoken of the profound effects of so-called tranquilizing drugs. It is not known yet how permanent such changes can be made. But changes of a truly permanent nature have now been effected many times by the operation of prefrontal lobotomy. Here there are difficulties of interpretation, and it is still not clear whether the changes so induced are as desirable as they seem to be. Superficially these changes in personality seem to be entirely for the good. People who are so distracted by unresolved conflicts at a very deep level that they are almost impossible to be with and can scarcely live with themselves, are set free from their conflicts and restored to society as sociable, poised, and self-confident individuals.
(43) Part of this self-confidence, however, and part of their poise, is due to a disregard of the feelings of others akin to that of the slightly inebriated. The sociability which characterizes them tends to follow the same pattern and can be a source of real embarrassment to others. It almost seems as though the connection between conscience and soul has been severed completely, hence the resolution of the conflicts. Nevertheless, the operation serves to show how profoundly personality can be modified by natural (as opposed to supernatural) means.
     The influence of diet on personality is difficult to assess. If cats can be said to have personality, animal lovers will often say that a diet of milk builds a gentler pussy than a diet of meat, and for some reason this seems to apply particularly to liver. In human beings there is some evidence for the commonly accepted belief that vegetarians tend to be gentler by nature and somewhat more soft-spoken than people who eat a great deal of meat. Whatever may be said for or against this view there are good grounds for maintaining that fasting from meat may for a time strengthen the life of the spirit by reducing to some extent animal energies. As far as I know, no detailed study has yet been made of modal personality in relation to cultural food habits.
     In summary it may be said that without making an appeal to spiritual forces, good or evil, outside of man, profound changes in personality may take place. In the case of the little girl they appear to

43. For an effective "survey," see Life, Mar. 3, 1947, pp.93ff. This article gives a useful summary of the technique, theory, effect, etc.

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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)

     It is, of course, possible that surgical interference with the frontal lobes has only very slight and negligible effects on personality, but it is doubtful if such a hypothesis would be seriously entertained by most workers familiar with the field.

     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.

Changes Due to Internal Factors

     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.

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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.
     It is customary nowadays to view reports of persons whose behaviour clearly parallels these instances of demon-possession, but who are ordinary citizens in one of our own communities, as misinterpretations of facts. Complicated names are invented to explain their behaviour without reference to any supernatural agencies. The individuals are said to have a "multiple personality" (a fact which is rather obvious), and it is said to be a form of hysteria. In recent years, several cases of multiple personality have been reported, some of them in popular magazines. One such case history gives the story of a woman who had three distinct, indeed contradictory, personalities which changed places with each other kaleidoscopically.
(46) Even her handwriting was fundamentally different as each personality took over. In reading this account one is tempted to adopt the simplest solution, namely, that this is supernatural possession by more than one spiritual agency. It is dangerous to make such assumptions, however, for it may well turn out that such things will be shown to have a natural explanation. For this reason we avoid using the term "supernatural" for this section of the Paper.
     There are numerous cases of individuals who have come to a crises in their lives and whose personalities have apparently been profoundly changed for the better -- better from a social point of view. A very important figure in the history of experimental psychology, although he was not by temperament nor in fact an experimentalist, was William James (1842-1910). Having written a number of works dealing

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.
46. Katz, Sidney, "Three Women: One Body," MacLeans, Toronto, Sept.15, 1954, pp.14ff.

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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.
     We come now to specifically Christian conversion, the kind of experience which unites a man with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, and which is in no sense the work of the individual, but is a creative work of the Holy Spirit. Christian conversion is unique. It is fundamentally different from any of the transformations of personality which we have been reviewing. And yet, many of these previous considerations are found to throw light upon it.
     Though the form of the actual experience of regeneration differs in a marked way for different people, the actual transaction which has taken place between God and the soul is the same in every case. This does not make all those who have been born again little images of one another, although superficially it may sometimes appear to outsiders that this is so. There is a part of the personality which is left untouched and part which is completely displaced. These two can be identified, and Scripture has names for each of them. The following may serve as an introductory statement.
     Jesus Christ is born individually in the heart of every believer like a seed that is vital and strong, planted as a living entity in the soil of his innermost being, to grow into a new man whose nature is Christ-like because the seed is Christ. This is a kind of virgin birth in which a new

47. James, William, "Varieties of Religious Experience," Modern Library, New York, 1902, p.25.

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person begins, in virtually embryonic form, by a creative act of God through the Holy Spirit.
    Its growth is from then on by its own power, because this is the Lord Jesus Christ reincarnate in the individual. But man has a part to play, which determines the degree of maturity which the seed will finally achieve. Whatever the level of maturity achieved at death, the new personality because of its nature, will be perfect. The seed which was Christ, was holy and perfect as an embryo (Luke 1:35 and Hebrews 10:5 -- Greek has "body perfectly prepared"); holy and perfect as a child approaching manhood (Luke 2:40); and holy and perfect as a full-grown and glorified man (Luke 9:32,35). In the same way the new person in Christ Jesus is perfect in God's sight at every stage of its unfolding, as it begins, develops, and finally matures. This statement will be elaborated subsequently.
    The new personality is nothing less than the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, distributed to the individual in a way that guarantees it will still be his personality, though it is divine. How is this achieved? In the light of what we have studied thus far, Scripture gives us a remarkably clear insight into the ways of God with a man.

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Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights reserved

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