From a Christian perspective, introversion could point to a Christian for whom the faith is largely a matter of delving into himself to explore spiritual depths, whereas extroversion denotes a believer who directs his faith into activity aimed at the world and man. I suppose the ideal Christian would be both introverted and extroverted – turned inward enough to be attuned to internal spiritual guidance but also turned outward enough to engage with the world and other people positively and creatively.
Nikolai Berdyaev was among those who believed that a blend of Christian introversion and extroversion was desirable. At the same time, he also discerned the danger of distorted introversion and extroversion. After acknowledging the positive characteristics of Christian introversion – turning within to plumb spiritual depths – and Christian extroversion – going out in creative activity to the world and man, Berdyaev highlighted two potential risks inherent within the two “turns.”
To what extent may introversion mean egocentricity and extroversion mean estrangement and exteriorization?
For Berdyaev, egocentricity, estrangement, and exteriorization all stand as examples of objectivization (also translated as objectification), which he defined in the following way:
In objectification there are no primal realities, but only symbols. The objective spirit is merely a symbolism of spirit. Spirit is realistic while cultural and social life are symbolic. In the object there is never any reality, but only the symbol of reality. The subject alone always has reality.
Therefore, in objectification and its product, the objective spirit, there can be no sacred reality, but only its symbolism. In the objective history of the world, nothing transpires but a conventional symbolism; the idea of sacredness is peculiar to the existential world, to existential subjects.
The real depths of spirit are apprehensible only existentially in the personal experience of destiny, in its suffering, nostalgia, love, creation, freedom, and death.
Spiritual disconnection lies at the heart of all objectivization. A particular orienting tendency of the subject causes the disconnection, which occurs when Christians enslave themselves to symbols and shut themselves off from primal reality and spirit to which the symbols point. Symbols are objects but also intermediaries, bridges connecting a subject and primal reality. Objectivization occurs when a subject walks onto the bridge but does not cross. Or when the subject regards the bridge as the other side.
Concerning Christian introversion, egocentricity occurs when the individual turns away from the world within himself and becomes enclosed, engulfed by his ego, and focused only on himself without taking note of the world or other people. Within such an egocentric state, the inward turner fails to align with internal spiritual guidance or plumb spiritual depths.
In the end, he also turns away from the divine. He steps onto the bridge, encounters himself – his ego as an object – and mistakes this for the primal self, the core subject of his subjectivity. Confined to his ego, he also refuses to engage with subjects in the external world. Thus, he alienates himself from the divine within and estranges himself from the divine beyond him.
The other extreme – extroversion – involves Christians ejecting the spirit exclusively into the external world and regarding that exteriorization as the culmination and pinnacle of spirituality, thereby overpowering and enslaving human subjectivity. By refusing to turn inward, the subject remains fixated on religious objects, ceremonies, rites, social aspects, and traditions, not as intermediaries or symbols pointing toward primal reality but as primal realities within themselves. Authentic, spiritually creative activity in the world and with others is substituted with mindless obedience and “going through the motions” that pose as faith.
Berdyaev referred to these distortions of introversion and extroversion as “breaches between the subjective and the objective” whereby the objective either entirely washes out the subject and enslaves human subjectivity or arouses such repugnance and disgust within the subject as to imprison subjectivity within itself. Berdyaev considers both to be slaves. The subject consumed by his ego is a slave to himself, and the subject consumed by the world is a slave to the world. Both are examples of unformed or disintegrated personalities.
As mentioned earlier, the source of the breach lies in a “certain directing tendency of the subject” or, more simply, an orientation of consciousness. The directing tendencies of the subject outlined above worked in the past when man was at an earlier stage of consciousness development but neither serves to connect man to primal reality now, as Berdyaev outlines below:
In the primitive stages of civilization, the ejection of the subject into the object, the social group, into a horde, into a clan, predominates. At the summit of civilization, the engulfing of the subject by his ego prevails. But at the summit of civilization there takes place also a return to the primitive horde.
Free personality is a flower that blooms but rarely in the life of the world. The immense majority of people is not made up of persons. In this majority, personality is either potential or else already disintegrated. Individualism certainly does not mean that the personality is rising into prominence. Or it implies that only as the effect of an inaccurate use of language. Individualism is a naturalistic philosophy, whereas personalism is a philosophy of the spirit.
Berdyaev uses personalism and personality to define his belief in the subject as the ultimate center of primal reality. Objects (symbols) are meant to serve as intermediaries between subjects; a means through which one subject (a unit of primal reality) may approach, apprehend, and relate to another subject (another unit of primal reality).
Objects are not subjects within themselves. When they are treated as such, they become bridges to nowhere. The reality they are meant to identify is obscured, and a false or partial reality settles into its place, leaving the subject (as a primal unit of reality) disconnected from primal reality.
The withdrawn, egocentric Christian cannot connect to reality because he is too ensconced within his false self to approach primal reality. The outgoing, external Christian cannot connect because he has turned away from himself as a unit of primal reality in favor of religious objects, which he regards as the very epitomes of spiritual reality rather than merely as bridges to spiritual reality.
Neither approach works anymore. Some blend of the two seems to be required to attain Berdyaev's "philosophy of spirit", which addresses another question concerning the “crisis of symbolism” — Which has experienced the greater disintegration? The symbol serving as a bridge to primal reality or man’s consciousness of primal reality as primal reality, starting with himself as a unit of primal reality?