Secular Shortfalls

  One of the best tests of a worldview is how well it stands up to the challenges of real life. When tragedy strikes, does your belief system meet the challenge -- or does it let you down? Christian psychologist Dr. Paul Vitz says that how Christians handle suffering can reveal the truth of Scripture -- and expose the shortfalls of the secular worldview. Vitz is the author of a newly-updated book called Psychology as Religion: The Cult of Self-Worship. In it he says that modern psychology is deeply committed to narcissism, egoism, and worship of the self -- a phenomenon he calls "selfism." This commitment has turned psychology into religion -- a form of secular humanism based on the rejection of God in favor of self-worship. Selfist theories assume that self-gratification is the only ethical principle. The idea is to "actualize" ourselves through creativity and self- absorbed focus on our own needs and desires. But selfist philosophy falls apart when its followers begin to experience any kind of suffering. And that's where we find one of the starkest contrasts between Christianity and selfism. Christians, you see, acknowledge the reality of evil, with all of its attendant agony, heartbreak, and death. But Christians also believe that when we commit ourselves in obedience to Christ, suffering can actually bring us into a closer relationship with him. This view, Vitz says, is "at the very heart of Christianity, as represented by the passion of the cross followed by the joy of Easter." By contrast, "selfist philosophy trivializes life by claiming that suffering" and death lack intrinsic meaning. Suffering is treated "as some sort of absurdity, usually a man-made mistake that could have been avoided by the use of knowledge to gain control of the environment," Vitz writes. This view seems plausible enough when life is going well -- but it becomes less and less convincing when people begin to suffer sickness, decline, or the loss of loved ones. Then, Vitz writes, the "ancient lessons" of life "puncture all superficial optimism about the continued happy growth of the wonderful self," Vitz writes. After all, what do you say to the ambitious man who discovers, at age forty, that he's dying of cancer? What do you tell an aging woman who will never have the children she so desperately wants; what do you say to the couple whose only child was killed by a drunk driver? As Vitz puts it, "Does one say, 'Go actualize yourself in creative activity'? For people in those circumstances, such advice is not just irrelevant, it is an insult." Selfist-humanism begins optimistically enough, but it ends in misery. Christianity, on the other hand, offers understanding of the human condition that accounts for the reality of suffering -- and holds out hope for a joyous future. For years, psychology as religion has wreaked havoc on our culture, with its facile justification of divorce, promiscuity, and our fanatical focus on self-fulfillment. As our neighbors discover the shallowness of a life lived for personal glory, Christians must be ready to lovingly offer the true source of life filled with meaning. And that begins by focusing, not on ourselves, but on the God who sent his only Son to suffer and die so that we might be forgiven and live in peace with him. 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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