Oneself Changes

4 April 2017

God image’ is the subjective emotional experience of God. It is shaped by our experience of our parents and enables us to continue earlier learned relational patterns. The term, God Image is used to refer to one’s internal, intra-psychic, emotional representation of God. The God Image develops during childhood as the children are confronted with their limitations, and recognizes powers beyond their own work in their environment. This essay will focus on the ‘God image’ as it will be trying to explain ‘how Rizzuto show that as the image of one changes, so too, does one’s image of God change’.

Before that, this paper will start by briefing a history of Rizzuto. Ana Maria-Rizzuto was an American psychoanalyst who began her interest in looking at Religion through the eyes of her discipline in 1963 when she was asked to teach a course in the seminary on the psychological foundations of belief. She was inspired by Freud’s insights into the role of parents in search of project with patients admitted to a private psychiatric hospital. Twenty patience were studied, ten men and ten women. The goal of her project was to study the possible origins of the individual’s private representation of God and its subsequent elaborations.

Rizzuto took her basic hypothesis from Freud who had connected the individual’s ‘father in flesh’ with God. Freud claimed that all people create their own gods on the basis of early relationships shaped in childhood. In doing his project, Rizzuto had each one fill out detailed questionnaire and then she interviewed each to gain a comprehensive life history. In order to understand her subjects thoroughly, Rizzuto asked them to talk about themselves at the different stages of their growth, about their relationships, conflicts and problems.

Her end goal was to be able to make a complex assessment and come to a clinical interpretation of the quality of each subject’s relationships in those private and subjective areas of experience which do not lend themselves easily to statistical analysis (Graham13-5). Rizzuto focused on the formation of an individual’s private representation of God during childhood, its modifications and uses during the entire course of life. She calls this process of formation the “Birth of the Living God”.

As the image of one change, so, too does the one’s image of God change. Rizzuto says that the images and experiences from the earliest years, before oedipal struggles, seem to play a key role. The child alone does not create a God. According to Rizzuto, the development of a child throws light on the way the image and the concept of God come into being and interact. The new born baby has no interpersonal experience. The infant has the experience of the mother, the father and the siblings. The child has a multitude of interpersonal experiences.

It is at age of three when the child becomes consciously curious about God. “A three year old oedipal child, for instance, has great curiosity and wants to know the why of living” (208). The child is especially interested in the causes of things like, ‘why do trees move? Where does the wind come from? The child ceaseless chaining of causes or animistic notions of causality will inevitably lead her/him to think of a superior being. The idea of God suits a child well because her parents and adult are already in her mind superior beings of great size and power. The child easily moves to an anthropomorphic understanding of God as a powerful being like her parents”(Rizzuto qtd in Winnicott 97) The child soon discovers that God is invisible; therefore, he is left to inner resources to fill the image of God as a living being described for him as a person. The powerful fantasy of the child has to ‘create’ the powerful being. As a result, as the image of one change, so, too does the one’s image of God changes. Also, an image of God can be created for a new human being through parental and societal devotion to God as like its parents.

The child observes its parents and adults giving devotion to God. Since the child’s parents are like God to the child, the parent’s devotion to someone even greater than themselves is a mystery to the child. The parents and God then become associated and not clearly distinguished. The parents as objects become internalized, form the self and become symbolized by God image (Rizzuto qtd in Nelson 35). Horowitz writes, Rizzuto claims that, it is not known what psychic processes take place inside the child at that early age or the selective procedures that bring him/her to use one type of interpersonal experience and reject nother to form his/her image of God. What is known is that, the child has an image of God which he/she spontaneously uses in his/her questioning about him and in his own religious behavior? This early image may, to be sure undergo changes in later life. “This does not alter the fact that the child has formed his image of God out of interpersonal experiences before he is intellectually mature enough to grasp the concept of God”( Horowitz 63). When the time comes for the child to receive formal religious teaching, his image of God and the concept of God will also change just as the image of one change (64).

Furthermore, Rizzuto acknowledges the idea of Winnicot who says that, when a child grows and matures, he/she will come to his intermediate area of experience, which constitutes the greater part of infant’s experience, and “throughout life is retained in the intense experiencing that belongs to the arts and to religion and to imaginative and to creative scientific work” (14). At this stage, “instead of God losing meaning, his meaning becomes heightened by the oedipal experience and all other pre-genital events that have contributed to the reelaboration of his representational characteristics” (Rizzuto 178).

Sometimes, however he may seem to lose meaning, paradoxically, on account of being rejected, ignored, and suppressed or found temporarily unnecessary. Lawrence broadened the understanding of what influences the development of the God Image in line with the idea of Rizzuto. It is now more commonly recognized that other relationships and experiences also impact the development of the God Image. One may again ask that, “Does young people who have not received any kind of religious education in general develop images of God? ” This question can be answered with the findings of Rizzuto.

She claims that in a very early age every child begins to form its image of God through parental messages about God. The image of God gets a clearer shape when the child begins to create so called fantasy companions, which help the child till adolescence to master inner conflicts. Amongst others, the fantasy companions can take over the role of a scapegoat, which allows the child to repulse negative impulses or they can help the child to strengthen their feelings of omnipotence or they can become caring companions of the lonely, neglected or rejected child (Lawrence 119 and Winnicot 140).

Moreover, Rizzuto claims that even if a child is to be brought up in a religious or unreligious way, he/she will create God as a fantasy companion, whose existence is formed from his/her personal experience with parents and what he/she will learn about God in the environment he/she grows up in. he goes on to say that, nothing can be predicted on how the child will use the information which he/she gets about God. This means that no general statements can be made about the childlike image about God and its further development.

For some children God may become very meaningful, for others God might have an evil, destructive character and for some he might not be of any importance at all. Nevertheless, the bottom line is that the as the image of a child or one changes, so, too, does the child’s or one’s image changes (Winnicott 143). Rizzuto agrees that Freud was basically correct in suggesting that God has his origins in parental imagos and that God comes to the child at the time of resolution of the oedipal crisis.

That implies that all the children in Western world form a God representation- one that may later be used, neglected, or actively repressed. In all cases the type of representation the child has formed as a result of his personal experience with his self-perception. This is not because the God representation can exert any influence of its own but because the child actively uses his God representation and his transformations of it as an element in maintaining a minimum sense of relatedness and hope. Sometimes this is best archived by totally rejecting God; at other times ‘closeness’ to God offers a better solution (208).

To sum up, Rizzuto tries to show that as the image of one change, so, too does the one’s image of God change. He does that by focusing on the development of a child. He writes that, the child create God image through experience and fantasy. Freud believes that only the father provides the imago for an ‘exaltation’ to Godhead but Rizzuto would then argue saying that it is either the father or the mother or both who helps in the formation of the God’s image in the child which can also affects his/her ideas and images of God later in life.

Other primary objects like grandparents siblings may also provide some representational components. The entire representational process occurs in a wider context of the family, social class, organized religion and particular subcultures. All these experiences contribute a background to the shape, significance, potential use and meaning which the child or adult may bestow on their God representations.

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