Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Perpetration-Induced Traumatic Stress: the effect of violence on the violent

The Apostle Paul and Post-Traumatic Stress,
From Woundedness to Wholeness

It is an observation made by the many. At particular times in your life the Scripture comes alive in particular ways.

When I was a pastor in the South during the Civil Rights disturbances I lived in the Psalms for two or three years. I never did before and haven’t since. They came alive to me. I lived in them. Thankfully.

Now I have been thinking of trauma. It is not a new interest. We used to have a dear friend who once confided to me he had been a very young officer in Italy in the last days of World War II. If I ever asked him something or other about those times, he would simply shake his head. “Let the death rest in peace, Bob.” He drank. A lot. Annelie and I have talked a lot about how PTSD can be modified.

I was reading today in the Book of Luke, the section on Jesus’ confrontation of a committee of Pharisees and his even more blunt rejoinder to some lawyers. He reminded them their ancestors had murdered the prophets. The Jewish tradition emphasizes suffering, as in Hosea and Jeremiah, but the latter was badly treated, too, as you may remember. Jesus saw himself as a Suffering Servant as in Isaiah, but he certainly was highly sensitive to the suffering that at times his people had imposed on others - and each other. Interesting balance.

Recently I have been thinking along with Rachel MacNair in her book, Perpetration-Induced Traumatic Stress, The Psychological Consequences of Killing. In the first chapter a number of her points struck me as applicable to our thinking about Saul of Tarsus.

One was that socially sanctioned violence the consequences – and that would include religiously – may actually be more severe to those who commit it than those who just experience a trauma. The awakening is a jolt; it was to Saul. The various “Veterans Against…” members of the different groups undoubtedly agree. It took Saul about twenty years to work through it, but he did: God be praised and God be thanked. If he could, we can.

Another point is that the stress that the violent may experience need not be the ordinary stresses everyone feels. It can be thoughts, as well as events. The way – now even as “Paul,” rather than “Saul,” – Paul exploded in such an exaggerated fashion in the beginning of his letter to the Galatians would be a good example. 

A relevant third point that MacNair made was that emotional cycling is much a part of the PTSD experience, and perhaps even more so in that of a perpetrator’s experience. Paul’s early letters certainly show that. 

Annelie and I get into all this in our book, of course, but I will admit to a certain amount of relief when I am reading the work of such and such researcher and have a confirmation of the direction we take. Not that I am insecure, but we authors, you understand… Well, I hope you understand. We certainly felt at first we were going off on our own.

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