By Ben Swift
“Don’t ever let someone tell you that you can’t do something. Not even me. You got a dream, you gotta protect it. When people can’t do something themselves, they’re gonna tell you that you can’t do it. You want something, go get it. Period.” (Chris Gardner)
The above quote taken from the book and sequential motion picture, ‘The Pursuit of Happyness’, could well be what lies at the core of the postmodern worldview held by much of today’s society. You don’t have to travel far to find it being repeatedly echoed throughout our daily lives. In fact, you only need travel as far as your TV remote and tune in to any number of reality shows dominating our screens. “Stay true to yourself,” they say and “This won’t be the last we hear about you, just keep positive and follow your dreams. Don’t let anybody get in your way.”
While this all sounds positive and certainly may feel good and even right while the delusion lasts, where has this way of thinking come from? Since when is humanity’s ultimate goal to pursue dreams and personal happiness at any cost?
I suggest that many of the roots of this way of thinking grew from the teachings of those who have sought to bring about the death of God from our understanding of life. One such well known father in this school of thought is Nietzsche. For him, the only self worth living was the self of the ‘Overman’, the one who has risen above the conventional herd and has fashioned himself. He suggests that only few are capable of this because most of us have ourselves constructed by the conventional language of our age and society. (James W. Sire)
For one to rise above the herd, under the power of the self, requires one to delve into the subconscious so as to overcome personal shortcomings, problems from the past, making positive steps towards fulfilling personal desires as dreams are chased and stumbling blocks broken down. It’s here that we enter the realm of Psychology.
Possibly the most well-known of psychologists, the cigar-smoking, silver-bearded Sigmund Freud, believed and suggested that humanity’s deepest problems can be dealt with through talking them through, (Anne Rooney). But this conversing, in the absence of God our creator, fails to address the real problem in which all of humanity’s problems are rooted. That is our inherited, depraved sinful nature.
A song by the band Switchfoot sums up our dilemma well with the following lyrics: “I am my own affliction, I am my own disease. There ain’t no drug that they could sell. Ah, there ain’t no drug to make me well…The sickness is myself!”
Those who claim Christianity as objective truth can’t have it both ways. We can’t claim that we seek the narrow path while aligning ourselves with philosophies that deny our need for a saviour outside of ourselves, pointing us towards a personal pursuit for self-fulfilment. Consider the words of Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount. What contrasting words in light of postmodernist thinking.
“How blessed are the poor in spirit! For the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs. How blessed are those who mourn! For they will be comforted. How blessed are the meek! For they will inherit the Land! How blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness! For they will be filled….How blessed are those who are persecuted because they pursue righteousness! For the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.” (Matthew 5:3-6, 10)
While the influences of Positive Psychology on modern Theology subtly make their mark, the message of the Cross is watered down and the serving of self climbs its scaffold. This is because the worldview brought about by Psychology in the absence of accurate biblical Theology is based on the belief that human beings are primarily the product of their DNA code, naturally selected by chance in the process of the survival of the fittest; a notch on the evolutionary timeline.
The question begs to be asked. Is the infiltration of Positive Psychology into mainstream Christianity an indication that The Church has embraced postmodernist thought? Is the light in the darkness losing its glow and fading into the world as just another personal preference in secularism?
Gary Gilley, in his book, ‘This Little Church Went to Market’, provides the following insight:
“Psychology, being man-centred, has as its highest goal the happiness of the individual. This is the foundation for the current emphasis on felt need. If mankind’s greatest goal is his own happiness, then all other things in life, including God, become a means to secure that happiness…..This worldview is completely at odds with the biblical worldview. Since this is true, to offer God or salvation as the means whereby our felt needs are satisfied is a perversion of biblical teaching at best, and more likely a false gospel.” (Gilley)
It would however, be ignorant to ignore the fact that there have been many important and beneficial discoveries in the area of Neuroscience and Psychology. For the Christian, the important consideration is how to harmonise and apply the positive aspects of these discoveries in light of biblical teaching. The Gospel message must never be compromised and neither should the biblical teaching of who we are as people created through and for Christ. As Lutheran pastor David Schmidt once suggested to a group of primary aged students, “It’s impossible to pick yourself up in your own strength. Just take hold of your ankles and give it a try.”
The Christian, embracing the many good elements within Positive Psychology, must be careful that the focus on self does not supplant the focus on others and their wellbeing, and on God as the ultimate source of our wellbeing, the ultimate source of which each individual ‘self’ is able to achieve. (Stuart Traeger & Dr Mark Worthing)