Christians’ Denouncement of Psychology
A few weeks ago, I was searching online for an article that I thought a former teacher had written on the integration of theology and particular aspects of psychology. Along the way I kept running into web sites that were denouncing him for everything from bad theology to downright heresy. It still catches me by surprise, the number of people who adamantly affirm that psychology and Christianity are incompatible. Some of the arguments that I see I’ll give credence to. Others… not so much.
A little background, perhaps, might be in order, though I realize that it might be a bit much for a blog post. C’est la vie. The average guy on the street would likely state that psychology was started by Sigmund Freud. This isn’t actually the case. Most historical accounts of psychology begin with Wilhelm Wundt, Edward Titchener, and William James. Freud showed up a bit later to father the psychoanalytical school of psychology, though even he was basing his ideas on those previously published by Ernst Wilhelm von Brueck. His unorthodox (at the time) ideas are what garnered him such notoriety down to the present, and thus that renown is what starts part of the problem. A not insignificant chunk of Freud’s ideas were based on contemporary evolutionary theory, and there’s the rub. One of the major arguments I have heard for the denouncement of psychology is that ideas based on evolutionary theory, in this case psychology, must be incorrect and heretical because their starting point is incorrect and heretical.
As a high school teacher, that line of thinking makes me want to cry. I cannot tell you the number of times I have run across students coming up with the right answer using a methodology that baffles the heck out of me. Just because you start from a wrong place doesn’t mean that you end at a wrong place. It was once assumed that all matter was made up of indestructible particles (atoms, from a word meaning indivisible if I recall correctly). All of enlightenment science was based on this idea. Then, the 19th century proved that nope, even an atom has pieces to it. But this discovery did not invalidate all that came before it. Sure, some of Freud’s ideas were wrong because they were based on a wrong footing, but that wrong footing doesn’t guarantee that everything he said was wrong. Nor was he the only voice anyway.
Another argument I’ve heard is that Freud’s ideas are all sexual, and we’re not just sexually driven beasts. Granted, we aren’t just sexually driven beasts, but we are sexually driven. That’s part of our design. Those making this argument make too little of our biological makeup and are distancing themselves from part of their humanity, cutting off part of themselves. And not everything Freud said was about sex; that’s just the stuff that gets most-often publicized… which might say something about how sexually driven the average schmoe is…
Another argument I’ve heard is that psychology leads towards altered states of consciousness that either permit the influence of the demonic or are simply unnatural. Thing is, we all experience an altered state of consciousness. It’s called sleep. It’s normal. Getting really engrossed in a book or the television can be an altered state of consciousness. I’m missing the unnatural or evil aspect. And if altered states of consciousness open us to the influence of the spiritual, why must the spirits in question always be unclean? I’m not arguing in favor of transcendental meditation here, but couldn’t an openness to the spiritual mean that we’re more open to the Holy Spirit?
Those that argue that psychology is bad or even heretical may be simply told this or live in an environment that exudes the idea and never reach beyond it. Others, however, I fear are trying to escape from something else, perhaps without realizing it. Psychology can lead one to look inside one’s own heart, and it’s a mess down there. It’s deceitful and sick (Jer. 17:9). It’s born with foolishness in it (Prov. 22:15). It’s a bastion of sin and memories of suffering, pain, and regret. Whose knee-jerk reaction isn’t to get away from that? To accept psychology can lead to the acknowledgment that one has to go in there and look at that, handle it, maybe even accept it and risk losing everything from respect to the very foundation of one’s way of life.
Yet we’re called to go in there (Ps. 139:23-24). We’re just not called to go alone. And thank God.