What’s In It For Me?

    "I'm just not growing in this relationship," Kevin told his wife, Diane. And after ten years of marriage and two kids, he left his family. And he did it, Diane discovered, with the blessing of his therapist. If Diane had been up on the state of modern psychology, she wouldn't have been so surprised. One Christian psychologist says the spread of what he calls "the selfist philosophy" has gravely damaged many American families. Dr. Paul Vitz is author of a newly-updated book, Psychology as Religion: The Cult of Self-Worship. In it he describes modern psychology's deeply commitment to self-worship, or "selfism." All the major theories of motivation and personality, he says, assume that reward for the self is the only functional ethical principle. These values are hostile to our ability to form permanent relationships, or to commit to such values as duty and self-sacrifice. Instead, he says, "With monotonous regularity, the selfist literature sides with those values that encourage divorce" and the breaking of family ties. Part of the problem is the nature of the therapeutic process. The psychotherapist is typically preoccupied with an individual patient, and he seldom challenges his version of the facts. He doesn't listen to children, parents, or spouses who might be involved. Second, Vitz writes, many psychotherapists are themselves divorced, or alienated from religious traditions. The temptation for them is to affirm their own choices by encouraging their patients to make the same choices. Worse, some therapists encourage divorce on theoretical grounds. They teach that if either spouse feels the relationship has stagnated, then the marriage isn't worth saving. Selfist ideals give some counselors a strong bias against parents. In recovery group settings, patients are under pressure to describe how badly their families treated them. Patients thus become self- pitying "victims" -- with a strong sense of moral superiority. The result, Vitz writes, is a parody of the words of the Prodigal Son: Instead of the son saying, "Father, I have sinned . . . [and] am no longer worthy to be called your son" [Luke 15:21], today's young man is likely to say, "Father, YOU have sinned, and are no longer worthy to be called my father." With its emphasis on treating individuals in isolation, and its hostility to social bonds, modern psychology has caused untold damage to our society. Vitz invites his readers to imagine a different kind of therapy -- one based on love, gratitude, respect, and forgiveness. A therapy that strengthens a patient's family instead of destroying it. This approach follows the biblical vision of human relations -- one that is radically different from that of the therapists. It does not give anyone an "out" if they think they're not "growing" in their relationships. Instead, we're told in First Corinthians to love one another unconditionally -- to be patient and kind, and not insist on getting our own way. The rise of selfism means that Christians need to be cautious of whom they seek counsel. And we need to see how deeply this message has permeated our entire culture. If you find yourself asking, "What's in it for me?" stop and remember the rest of Paul's message: "Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things" -- and above all, "love never fails" [1 Corinthians 13:7-8]. For further reference: Vitz, Paul. Psychology as Religion: The Cult of Self- Worship. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1994. l&Site=BPT&Item_Code=BKPAR


Chuck Colson


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