Challenge of Christian Psychology Today

Interview by Jordi Picazo*. Reprinted with permission. PUBLISHED IN SPANISH IN REVISTAECCLESIA.ORG, the online magazine of the Conference of Bishops of Spain. Link to original

“Right now, Christian psychology, philosophy and theology together make a most exciting intellectual challenge”

JORDI PICAZO – In your 1977/1994 book Psychology as Religion: The Cult of Self Worship you argued that psychology under the influence of some contemporary theories and practices can seriously damage people at times, instead of provide support or healing.

PAUL VITZ- Yes, but fortunately the field of psychology, though not our culture, has gotten better and wiser in the years since I first wrote that book. Now, I am working on connections between contemporary psychology and Christian faith, particularly Catholicism. I am part of a team at Divine Mercy University (DMU). We are working to show that psychology and Christianity can be coherently and usefully integrated. We are convinced that valid psychology, and the social sciences in general, and in many ways also neuroscience, are surprisingly supportive of the traditional understanding of the human being as found in many Christian and especially Catholic positions. So, we at DMU are expanding the psychology of the person to include the person’s vocations, virtues and spiritual life. We introduce an explicitly ethical content to replace the often implicitly moral relativity used by most psychologists. We use Catholic anthropology and its understanding of the person as a framework for integrating psychology with theology and philosophy.

Being Christian is not easy in our present cultural and academic climate, but I think that right now Christianity is the only positive and major intellectual worldview that makes sense and it remains un-developed in important ways. In contrast, both the political left and right are based on old, mostly exhausted ideas begun in Europe in the 1800s and culminating with large scale oppression and death in the 20th century.

JP – In your 2013 book Faith of the Fatherless you say that “The enormous cost of the absence of fathers to the society it the most frequently demonstrated finding in social science”.

PV – The absence of fathers has an enormous cost to the society. I would propose that it is the most frequently demonstrated finding in social science. Over the last 60 years there is published research from all around the world showing that boys raised without fathers (or with fathers who are abusive) have a very high rate of criminal behavior. In the United States our prisons are filled with boys without fathers, and the financial cost of that alone is enormous, but nobody is factoring that into our social policies. It is not that it’s just a disaster in terms of the cost of crime and prison, but it’s also a disaster in terms of all these young men who could be otherwise helping the society with work, with being fathers, and having families.

Forget debate, just do it!

«Our neglect of fatherhood is an enormous problem in the United States and in Western society in general. Men must rediscover their importance as fathers and they don’t have to debate this in a feminist world that says this isn’t the case. Frankly, in my opinion, and from both a moral and a psychological stand, it’s absurd to debate this issue. Forget debate, just do it! Just show that you can be a father to your children. And in doing that you will be providing something probably far more beneficial than anything else you do. One related observation is that a big reason why Asian students in America are doing so well, is that they reliably come from intact families, and thus with fathers; and divorced-family kids and other non-intact-family kids very commonly have poorer school records».

The Trans-modern Self – A form of self-creation that turns the book of Genesis upside down

JP – Dr Sha from “The Berkley Center for Religion and Society” at Georgetown University, recently told me in conversation that the current gender ideology is ‘anti-Genesis,’ meaning that society no longer views God as the creator, rather it views the ‘self’ as the creator. Through radical self-transformation it is said that one can become anything one wants to be, for example transforming one’s gender.

In your 2006 book The Self: Beyond the Postmodern Crisis, co-authored with Susan M. Felch, you bring together scholars from the disciplines of psychology, philosophy, theology, literature, biology, and physics to address the inadequacies of modern and postmodern selves. You suggest what an alternative “transmodern” account of the self might look like: the transmodern self, you jointly argue, acknowledges meaning and purpose that transcend the individual. In other words, it reflects an understanding of the human person that rejects the twin delusions of absolute autonomy and cosmic meaninglessness that mark the present age.

PV – «Self-worship is a form of self-creation, it is as though you are God, trying to create yourself not only psychologically, which is what people have tried for a long time, but now also trying to create one’s self biologically. The idea that you are already created doesn’t seem to occur to these arrogant, silly people. I think that this self-worship is clearly a form of both psychological and spiritual narcissism. It has also become so widespread as to be a form of cultural narcissism where all can do whatever they want, and everyone is now God. Of course, this is the oldest temptation of humanity since Satan first proposed it to Adam and Eve: “You shall be as gods.”

The Divine Right of the Self

«We are now in the cultural realm of the divine right of the self. And just as the divine right of the king got promulgated near the end of the French monarchy and aristocratic society, the divine right of the self has been promulgated near the end of our present culture. How it’s going to end I don’t know. Or when. But it’s going to end. I don’t know whether with a bang or a whimper, but it’s going to end».

“Our present textbooks are as anti-religious as our earlier books were racist”.

JP – In your 1986 book “Censorship: Evidence of bias in our children’s textbooks” you showed how “a widespread secular and liberal mindset” within the leadership of the professional education community resulted in the removal of conservative religious, family, and economic descriptions of American life from children’s textbooks.

Even a “noble pagan”, believing in the virtues of hard work, discipline, patriotism, and concern for others, has good reason to reject our state approved social studies textbooks. You claimed that the exclusion of accurate descriptions of contemporary religious, marital, economic, and political commitments, would make millions of Americans who hold traditional views on these issues seem alien. No wonder some black parents claim: “Our present textbooks, therefore, are as anti-religious as our earlier books were racist”. Earlier American textbooks were racist because they left out, excluded all reference to African-American life.

PV – «In the United States there are now about three million children who are being homeschooled, and it’s not just religious parents doing it either. There are legions of secular parents, who are homeschooling because they think the public school system doesn’t teach much anymore, except for progressive attitudes. It certainly doesn’t teach virtues which modern psychology has recently come to understand, appreciate, and advocate. Our public schools don’t even teach much cognitive knowledge. The present school system primarily teaches attitudes and that isn’t very useful. In Detroit, the public school system is being sued because it has failed to teach elementary reading and writing to many students. Thus, secular parents increasingly put their children in Charter Schools or private non-religious schools or home schools or even sometimes in private religious schools which have also been growing in number.

Another reason why people are pulling their children from the public (state) school system is because of their progressive sexual agenda with its emphasis on sex education even for pre-school children and first graders. There is pressure on children to consider changing sexual identity without parental permission. The state seems increasingly to assume that it owns our children and can do with them what it wants»

Home-schooled kids excel

JP – Talking to a father and son, where junior is homeschooled here in Arlington, this kid was telling me that he pursues his education at home because in so many schools they “say weird things about God” …. [we laugh].

PV – «This is, sadly very true. However, partly in response to such anti-religious bias there are now, as I said, lots of homeschooled kids. These homeschooled children are so good that universities are making special attempts to get them as students. Almost always they come from a strong, intact family and with an especially good formation. Home-schooled children usually work with other homeschooling families in a cooperative way. Home-schoolers usually take excellent courses, including college courses, often found on the internet.

Christians, especially Catholics, have always understood that the primary educators of children are their parents. Our learning begins and is established in the family. We must reclaim and emphasize this important belief.

To learn more about the work of Dr. Vitz, see here.