The previous post in this series is here.
In an earlier post in this series, I said that, “If an idea or perspective can be shown on historical grounds to have arisen from sources which are anti-Christian (something more than merely non-Christian), we are correct to look with great suspicion on its current manifestations, regardless of how much God-talk we surround it with.” It is not necessary to claim that all of what is normally called “humanistic psychology” is “anti-Christian” in order to demonstrate that a great many of the philosophers and thinkers whose work provided its foundations were certainly anti-Christian. Further, the value-neutral orientation of humanistic psychology (including extreme non-judgment as a therapeutic tool) is an implicit denial that there is such a thing as right and wrong, other than socially constructed norms. All too often, the biographies and writings of innovators in the field of humanistic psychology make it clear that they were explicitly reacting against Christianity, along with its moral expectations.
Here is Carl Rogers:
Experience is, for me, the highest authority. The touchstone of validity is my own experience. No other person’s ideas, and none of my own ideas, are as authoritative as my experience. It is to experience that I must return again and again, to discover a closer approximation to truth as it is in the process of becoming in me.
In humanistic psychology, it really is all about you. In the Christian tradition, it isn’t. There are certainly a great many Christian therapists who borrow this or that modality from secular humanist therapeutic approaches, but one might wish they exhibited a bit more fear and trembling as they did it. It is playing with fire to attempt an integration of therapeutic approaches, devised by people hostile to Christian values, with true Christian counseling. It’s not impossible to do, but it’s safe to say that just because your therapist is “a Christian” and has a degree in psychology, it doesn’t follow that you’re getting “Christian counseling.”
Here is a particularly grim presentation that details the deliberate use of psychological therapeutic techniques to destroy faith, and religious institutions built on it. The “therapists” didn’t hide much, didn’t pretend too carefully. All anyone had to do was simply read what they said in print, read the philosophical underpinnings of their work, and their intent should have been crystal clear. The ability of the leaders of these Christian institutions to delude themselves was remarkable. (Then, they sometimes said that they were “deceived.” But it takes two people to tell a lie, one to tell it, and one to want to believe it.)
One mother pulled her daughter out of a failing Catholic school for girls before it closed, saying, “Listen, she can lose her faith for free at the state college.“ The school was failing specifically because it had turned therapeutic Rogerian wolves loose on the sheep. Sadly, something similar might be said of some of the Biblical and theological training on offer at some Christian institutions.
It is very common at Christian universities for a course in the “social sciences” to be required of all students. Often, it can be chosen from a list that includes an introductory course in either Psychology or Sociology. Is this a value-neutral enterprise, merely revealing a commitment to the liberal arts? Or are other dynamics also at work?
The leftist slant of the entire discipline of sociology has been well documented. Do you doubt it? Start knocking on doors at Christian university sociology departments, and see if you can find anyone who voted for the Republican slate for the last few elections, or is a constitutional originalist, or is a biblical inerrantist, or thinks Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided and should be reversed, or thinks global warming fears are overblown, or believes that government is far less trustworthy than the free market, taxes are too high, and redistributionist programs create more problems than they solve. If you find one sociologist who shows any leanings to the Right, can you find two? Better bring your cell phone… because you’ll soon be calling for driving directions to the next Christian college down the road, somewhat like Diogenes with a GPS lantern. Don’t even bother looking at secular schools. The GPS satellites’ orbits will decay before you find a right-leaning sociologist. Unless you know one of these guys, maybe.
Are all approaches to psychology specifically anti-Christian? Of course not. But it is a huge mistake to think that all therapeutic approaches are “value neutral” by definition, or that Christian therapists can just pick and choose from the smorgasbord of techniques taught in secular graduate schools. Psychological therapeutic techniques can’t fix the damage done by sin. Only Jesus can. Approaches that direct patients away from understanding that their own sin may be part of their problem can’t be mainstays in the arsenals of Christian therapists. That way may lie the acclaim of the world, and easy acceptance by professional organizations. But it is, by definition, based on a lie that Christians, therapists or not, must not tell.
Psychology is a baby science. It is very, very young and undeveloped. It is just too new. In particular, aspects of it that involve theories of personality seem to change about every other decade… or more often. Bluntly, we know as much about the psychology of human beings as scientists knew about physics before Isaac Newton. There were some good observations, scattered examples of brilliance, and a beginning had been made, but none of it made much sense yet, because there was little in the way of a unifying theory that pulled together all the various observations and allowed the making of successful predictions. (Unless, of course, you take the New Testament approach that the human problem is sin, and those who don’t acknowledge that and deal with it in Jesus’ name are going to have more problems…. always a successful prediction. And yes, I hear some of the shrinks sneering in the background. Imagine, sin causing personal adjustment problems…. how quaint and unsophisticated!)
A therapist friend tells me that too much that passes for “therapy” these days is the moral equivalent of fastening a leech on the patient and hoping for the best, but doing so with a sympathetic expression and non-directive attitude. In fact, he tells me that some Christian therapists seem to believe it is an ethical breach to make any kind of moral judgment or statement to a patient, even to let it be known that the therapist is a Christian.
Is there any evidence that taking a course in Psychology or Sociology, as an undergraduate, results in a happier life, a better adjusted life, a more moral life, a less conflicted life? Well… no. I asked several psychology faculty who had a vested interest in making the case, but they admitted there is none. Such an admission “against interest” carries great weight. Of course, there are those who claim that their particular way of teaching is just so spectacular that their students DO become better adjusted because of the course. I remain skeptical. But I have actually heard this claim made as justification for requiring all undergrads to take a psychology course. The therapeutic model of education seems to be in full flower.
Can we be reasonably sure that the content of a course in “Introductory Psychology” will be about the same in 30 years? That would be the sign of a stable discipline with a solid foundation… like physics, or chemistry, or calculus, or English, or music theory, or whatever. Advanced courses will show advances in the discipline, but intro courses won’t change so much in terms of actual content, though pedagogical approaches may change. If the last 30 years are a guide, I have my doubts that psychology is there yet.
None of this means that psychology isn’t a valid discipline, that people should not enter the field, etc. It does mean that a little humility is in order. It means that the value of a single introductory course is probably somewhat less than an intro course in a more stable area of study. And given the apparent ideological proclivities of too many in the fields of psychology/sociology, administrators of Christian universities will be well advised to start by reading the articles linked above, and assessing their own institutions.
There are some great therapists out there. I know a few, and know of a few more.
But denying moral truth cannot be a successful therapeutic technique in the long run, and it is damaging in the short run and long run.
And it is simply a lie that Christians cannot tell, even by implication.
The next post in this series is here.