Can the Incarnation of Christ Be Explained by Multiple Personality Disorder?
It is interesting to note that modern Christian philosophers, in seeking to make sense of the doctrine of the Incarnation of Christ, have seen it appropriate to speak of their ‘God’ as one with a multiple personality disorder. One such philosopher, Thomas V. Morris writes:
And then there are numerous, powerful, partial analogies available in the literature dealing with human cases of multiple personality. In many such cases, there seem to be different centers or spheres of consciousness standing in an asymmetric accessing relation to an overarching or executive self, and ultimately belonging to one person. Of course, human cases of multiple personality involve severe dysfunction and undesirable traits starkly disanalogous to anything we want to acknowledge in the Incarnation. But this just helps us to see where the specific limits of this sort of analogy lie. There are also certain phenomena having to do with hypnosis, brain commissurotomy, self-deception and akrasia, or weakness of will, in which there seem to be operative different levels or spheres of awareness, information retention and processing, or, in general, mentality which are, in important metaphysical ways, analogous to what the two-minds view recognizes in the case of the Incarnation.1
He goes on to state:
Again, it must be stressed that the negative aspects of these extraordinary, worldly cases of multiple mentality are not meant at all to characterize the Incarnation, and in fact can be argued decisively not to cloud Christ’s case in the least. These are only partial analogies, which provide us with some imaginative grip on the two-minds picture. One of the best analogies may be provided by the claim of twentieth-century psychologists that every normal human being partakes of a variety of levels of mentality. Consider for example the very simple distinction of the conscious human mind, the seat of occurrent awareness, from the unconscious mind. In most standard accounts of such a distinction, the unconscious mind stands to the conscious mind in much the same relation that the two-minds view sees between the divine and human minds in the case of Christ. God the Son, on this picture, took on every normal level or sphere of human mentality, but enjoyed the extra depth as well of his properly divine mindedness.2
In another work, he also spoke about this analogy:
As a matter of fact, in some cases of multiple personality, there exists one personality with apparently full and direct knowledge of the experiences had, information gathered, and actions initiated by one or more other personalities, a sort of knowledge which is not had by any other personality concerning it. In other words, there seem to exist asymmetric accessing relations in such cases, interestingly though of course not perfectly parallel to the sort of relation claimed by the two-minds view to hold between the divine and human minds of Christ.
Does the two-minds view then present the Incarnation as a case of split personality on the part of the son of God? And if so, should not the recognition of this alone suffice for a rejection of of the view as an unworthy, demeaning characterization of Christ? Does what initially can appear to serve as a partial explication of orthodoxy end up amounting to no more than a gross impiety?
First of all, the reference to some phenomena of multiple personality here is intended only to provide a partial for some of what the two-minds view claims to be true in the case of Christ. It is no more than to have the limited but, I hope, helpful function of providing some understanding of, and imaginative grip on, the central elements of the two-mind view. It thus is intended to serve the same function as the computer analogy, the dream analogy, and the reference to the classical distinction between the conscious and unconscious, or subconscious mind. It is not intended to be a complete modelling of the noetic features of the Incarnation.3
Is this an isolated author, whose use of multiple personality disorder to explain the Incarnation been condemned? No. In fact, Thomas Morris stands among Christianity’s current greatest apologists. Morris has been published alongside Christian apologists and scholars such as William Lane Craig, J. P. Moreland, Peter Forrest, Peter van Inwagen, Brian Leftow, Richard Cross, Jeffrey E. Brower, Michael C. Rea, Craig A. Evans, Stephen T. Davis, Daniel Howard-Snyder, Marilyn McCord Adams, Eleonore Stump, Richard Swinburne, David Lewis, Steven L. Porter and Philip L. Quinn4.
There is no doubt that most lay-Christians would find offense with such an analogy, yet these same lay-Christians would readily use the works of many of the aforementioned Christian scholars who have seen no issue with using this mental illness as an analogy to explain the Incarnation. Many of whom have defended and used the multiple personality disorder analogy themselves. If the most educated of Christians scholars and apologists have to resort to using a mental illness to explain Christian doctrine, what does that tell us about the state of modern Christianity?
and God knows best.
Morris, Thomas V. Our Idea of God: An Introduction to Philosophical Theology. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1991. 170-171. Print.
- Morris, Thomas V. The Logic of God Incarnate. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell UP, 1986. 106-107. Print.
- Rea, Michael. Oxford Readings in Philosophical Theology Volume 1 : Trinity, Incarnation, and Atonement. Vol. 1. Oxford UP, USA, 2009. Print.