Religion an Issue Between Dogmatic Dad and Searching Son


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This is a story from my book, The Enneagram of Death. Tom’s father is a skeptical and mistrustful 6-Questioner personality type and is motivated to protect himself. He trusts his church and the afterlife but he’s pretty grumpy about life on earth. He’s Tom, however, is a 9-Peace Seeker who looks for commonality among people and is seeking the truth.

 

Death Will Be Graduation Day

 

 

 

By Tom Purcell.

 

 

 

             My father died a month before his 94th birthday. He was a social subtype Questioner through and through. He often complained about “the powers that be,” yet enjoyed socializing with them; he was instrumental in the campaigns to re-elect our local Member of Parliament, yet refused to run for office himself; he was friendly with everyone he met, especially the underdogs of society. Yet he often said he was unable to trust anyone.

 

            My loving father maintained his intellectual faculties until the last few months. During his last ten years, following a few minor surgeries, he experienced brief periods of memory impairment, but bounced back quickly. The official cause of death was old age.

 

He was a devout Roman Catholic with an unshakeable belief that he was going to heaven. His concept of heaven wasn’t elaborate, but he did expect to see predeceased friends and family members there when he arrived. He never disclosed to me what they were, but in his later years he expressed regret about mistakes he had made in his life.

 

            Overall, he was accepting of his fate. He didn’t believe the world was such a great place with all the moral corruption, poverty, wars, and suffering. Life on earth was a test of faith, and death was graduation day.

 

In light of the current health consciousness and the focus on physical well-being, I found it interesting that my father ate red meat daily, drank alcohol, smoked, never exercised, carried at least 70 extra pounds, was always worried about something, had high blood pressure and cholesterol, and was never particularly happy or relaxed. However, he was proud of the fact that he never ever missed Sunday Mass. Perhaps he was onto something.

 

            A major theme of his stories was a mistrust of authority figures and an inability to express emotion. He felt powerless to change any aspect of the world. As a skeptic, he believed politicians were skillful liars and the news media were the mouthpieces of rich and powerful interests, but he was loyal to his wife, his family, his employers, his religious faith and his political views.

 

He was afraid of losing his job, although he held the same position for over 23 years, and he often expressed suspicion of other managers at his workplace. His co-workers wouldn’t listen to him when he said their employer was headed for bankruptcy, but his fear of being out of work inspired him to seek out another job. Three months later he found out his former employer had indeed gone out of business. My father had landed a much better position, even though he was already in his mid-fifties. He attributed his success to prayer and God’s work—never giving himself credit for his own virtues. I wished he’d take pride in his reputation for scrupulous honesty and loyalty to his employer.          

 

 

I questioned his blind faith in a belief system that had evolved through many centuries. In its highest expression, through the example of the loving kindness of Christ, it commands its followers to “love thy neighbor as thyself.” My father, however, divided the world into members of his club and nonmembers. It bothered me deeply as a young man when he spoke negatively about people who did not agree with his beliefs. I became even more frustrated when he refused to discuss religiously based beliefs at all. Now, however, I can understand my youthful desire to seek the essential truth in all religions as rather threatening to my dogmatic father.

 

            When I was a teenager, I would try to engage him in theological debates about other religious traditions, but he would dismiss anything that didn’t conform to his own narrow and rigid interpretation of official Catholic dogma. Later in his life, he softened somewhat and relaxed his rigid views when he acknowledged, “good people of all faiths go to heaven.”

 

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right doing, there is a field. I will meet you there ~ Rumi

 

 

 

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Young People Talk about the Enneagram and Death, Part IV (final)


 

Death gets some attention, from “The Enneagram of Death.”

Death gets some attention, from “The Enneagram of Death.”

 

Continuing what Claus, the 8-Asserter on my panel of mostly young Enneagram types had to say about death, “I freaked out when I was a child and my mother and father were about to get divorced. I had a bad relationship with my father. I was afraid and wanted them to stay together. I said if they get divorced I would find a way. But I wanted so badly for them to wait until my younger sister was older.

 

“My worst case senario is if someone had a funeral and there was only a priest, the undertaker, and the photographer. What kind of life did I have if no one showed up? I’d rather be dead. When I die I want it to be spectacular.”

 

Brita, the 9-Peace Seeker, said, “Death was always a present thought, not necessarily a fear. I always loved staring at the stars. I see myself floating around them after I die, in and out. I remember thinking when I was little I wanted to be buried in an Egyptian sarcophagus. If I were to lose anyone so close to me—it’s okay if it’s me, but if it were one of my siblings, it would leave such a hole in my heart. It’s okay to talk about it and I do with friends.

 

“I was filling out a life insurance thing and my dad was a cosigner. This was a good opportunity to approach my death with him. My dad said, ‘Do you think they make those Egyptian urns?’ I didn’t know but I said, ‘Make it happen.’”

 

Defenses

 

Mark Epstein (in his article, “The Trauma of Being Alive,” New York Times 8-4-13), “In resisting trauma and in defending ourselves from feeling its full impact, we deprive ourselves of its truth.” The young people on my Enneagram panel were willing, however, to tackle the subject of death and to discuss the defenses they use. Some said they’re likely to worry about something else rather than what’s really bothering them; others said they get busy doing as a defense.

 

Brita, the 9-Peace Seeker, has the defense of spacing out to avoid the unpleasant. “Part of what I struggle with is narcotization. I can see myself having warning signs, like chest pains or something, and ignoring them. Being here and speaking about it, I can call myself out on it. I don’t want to space out. As a 9, I work on showing up and having deep heart connections. If I allow myself to be numb to the world, isolate, and withdraw, when I do pass on I won’t have experience life and touched the lives around me. It will be as if I was never here. I’ll be damned if I’ll let that happen.”

 

Defense mechanisms are normal and useful, Epstein says. His article ends: “The willingness to face traumas—be they large, small, primitive or fresh—is the key to healing from them. They may never disappear in the way we think they should, but maybe they don’t need to. Trauma is an ineradicable aspect of life. We are human as a result of it, not in spite of it.” An undercurrent of trauma runs through ordinary life, shot through as it is with the poignancy of impermanence.”

 

That we all share in these mysteries brings us together as humans.

 

A Peace Seeker talks to Death from “The Enneagragram of Death”

A Peace Seeker talks to Death from “The Enneagragram of Death”

 

 

 

 End of series. See part I Sept. 24, Part II Oct. 8, Part III Oct. 22.

 

Read my blog about healing psychotherapy’s image in Psychology Today Oct. 15. 

 

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Visit http://wagele.com to check out my books, CD, cartoons, and essays, and Famous Enneagram Types.