Today is Good Friday. If today could be summarized in a word, a good choice would be:
Great battles have raged in academia over that word, that idea, the degree to which humans exercise autonomous judgement and action. In psychology, Sigmund Freud theorized in his Psychoanalytic Theory that man’s behavior is shaped by subconscious forces, rooted in a past that is no longer directly accessible to memory, but can only be accessed through the interpretation of dreams and behaviors.
The father of Behaviorism, B.F. Skinner wrote his book, Beyond Freedom and Dignity, in which he advanced his belief that humans are driven by nothing more than stimulus and response, that there is no such thing as human freedom. Our “choices” are really nothing more than complex response patterns.
Freud and Skinner are often seen as opposing points of view; thesis and antithesis. In one sense, Freud and Skinner do represent opposing points of view. In another, they are horrifically the same. Neither posits in the individual the caphttps://m.mg.mail.yahoo.com/hg/?.intl=us#/mail/list?fid=Inboxacity for free will. Both see the individual as hopelessly driven, and never able to consciously become aware of the rationale for their behavior. As such, they both take us, “Beyond Freedom and Dignity,” not forward as Skinner believed, but backward to a pre-Christian, pre-civilizational animal existence.
The tension between the two opposing views would find its resolution in Cognitive Therapy, advanced by Aaron T. Beck. Cognitive Therapy sees behavior as rooted in past events which shape current behavior, but it also sees those precipitating events as accessible through therapy. Further, it seeks to help the client be able to reinterpret the event with the help of the therapist and to free the individual of the shackles that came with the original trauma.
There is no free will in either world of Freudian Psychoanalytic Theory, or Skinnerian Behaviorism. Beck’s cognitive approach has rescued psychology from two powerful schools that, in their purest form, have done great damage to Christian Anthropology. That anthropology has at its core the understanding that we are made in the image and likeness of God, being endowed with the capacity to choose freely. We make acts of will. Free will.
Yes, psychology teaches us that there are powerful forces that shape human behavior and the antecedent choices for that behavior. Freud and Skinner had it partially correct where that is concerned. We can employ Skinner’s system of rewards to reinforce desirable behaviors with humans, and we in fact do this to great effect in teaching autistic children. It’s called Applied Behavioral Analysis, and it’s a good first step in shaping behavior.
Unfortunately for Skinner, that’s where he ended. He and Freud set generations against their faith. So did renowned psychiatrist Dr. Karl Menninger. Many are familiar with Dr. Menninger’s famous 1973 book, Whatever Became of Sin?. That work was an act of atonement, as Dr. Meninger did much to ridicule the notion of sin in his lesser-known 1931 book, From Sin to Psychiatry.
Indeed, with the exception of Beck, these men did much to corrode the idea of sin, which has the misuse of free will at it’s core. In attempting to construct their brave new world, they simply neglected a great deal by dismissing opposing views with the back of their hands. They neglected the overriding power of grace. They neglected the overriding power of forgiveness. They neglected these things because they rejected God. They rejected God because they believed their hypotheses to contain within them the fullness of truth regarding human nature.
Today as we meditate on Jesus’ sacrificial death, the very nature of His sacrifice stands as a rebuke to those who would deny humanity’s free will. Were our behavior merely the result of unknowable antecedents and not freely chosen, then there would only be a need for therapy, but not redemption.
Today, we recall the beauty of forgiveness, which is redemption. In the garden, Jesus prayed to the Father an earnest prayer:
“Let this cup pass me by, yet not as I will, but as you will.”
He knew what was coming His way, and though He was God, His human nature gripped Him with ice cold fear. From Mary’s, “Be it done to me according to your word,” to Joseph’s obedience to a vision when he wanted to put Mary away quietly, to Jesus in the garden, we see the triumphal and transforming power of submission to God’s Will.
It requires sacrifice, and the first thing to be sacrificed is our pride. That’s not an accident, as pride is what leads us into sin every time.
In his pride, Karl Menninger rejected the notion of sin.
In his pride, Skinner rejected the notion of sin, as he rejected the concepts of freedom and will.
In his pride, Freud rejected will and rejected God.
They were powerful shapers of twentieth century thought and played a significant role in shaping the atrocities of the last century which arose from the “God is Dead,” movement in which they participated. Only Menninger saw clearly the effects of rejecting the concept of sin and all that goes into such rejection. If it’s true that he lived to regret where he led people, it’s doubly true that he spent the rest of his life trying to lead people back.
An act of obedient will.
An act of redemption.