Psychology and Religion
There are people involved in therapies of different kinds who believe it impossible to be a good person except through application of their therapies. This is as ridiculous as the Christians stating it impossible to be a good person except through Christ. There have been wonderful people all through the history of the world, both before the invention of therapy and after invention of therapy. Likewise there have been wonderful people before Christianity and outside Christianity as there have been within Christianity.
If the issue is whether therapy can help people to be better people, then the answer is yes, it can. The same is the case with Christianity, Buddhism, yoga, science, reason, arts and romantic relationships. What is not valid is claiming that being a good person can be accomplished only through therapy - or only through Christianity, or only through Buddhism, or only through yoga, or only through science and reason. In all cases can be realized both improvement and degradation in people's character; and in all cases there are alternative ways to move oneself to a better place.
One widely held recent claim is that positive self-esteem universally makes good people, and that negative self-esteem universally makes bad people. I have reason to challenge that assertion. I had an experience of taking a self-esteem test along with two other people. My score was right in the middle. Also taking the test was a young man from Alabama, who was studying to become a pharmacist. He was a sweet and caring person who was always good to people and loved to help out. His score was extremely low. Another was a horrible woman who kept wrongfully attacking people and making up false accusations. Her score was extremely high. The young man from Alabama was a far better person than the woman; and yet his score was far lower than hers.
Beyond personal example, there are many people who think highly of themselves who are terrible to others. When studs like Charlie Sheen, Alec Baldwin, Eminem and Mel Gibson commit domestic violence, it is obvious that the reason for their behavior is not shortage of self-esteem. The way one treats others is far more the function of how one thinks of the other person rather than of how one thinks of oneself. And if someone esteems himself highly but thinks badly of the other person, then that is a far more likely determinant of destructive behavior than is low self-appraisal.
We see this cross-culturally all the time. The places in which men believe women to be evil, or that man should control the woman, or that man owes it to God or to society or to other men to tramp down on women, feature far worse domestic violence than do places in which people do not possess such beliefs. This goes on regardless of whether the men esteem themselves highly and applies as much to their economic, athletic and political achievers as it does to the people on whom they piss.
One obvious example of this has been escalating rates of domestic violence in Long Island, the home of America's wealthiest investment bankers and Wall Street traders. Clearly these people do not suffer from shortage of self-esteem, or from lack of psychological knowledge, or from being treated like trash. A more plausible explanation for this trend has been a change in their attitudes, from following New Age to following conservative Christianity - and with this replacing beliefs affirming of womanhood with beliefs that are misogynistic and derogatory to womanhood. Most of these people have high self-esteem, and many have had the experience of psychological assistance. Obviously these things have not helped them to be better men.
Misogyny is a much greater predictor of family violence than is low self-esteem, and to understand just how much requires a historical and cross-cultural analysis. Violence against women is worst in places that practice misogynistic beliefs; least in places that don't. We see the worst violence in the aggressively misogynistic places such as Afghanistan, rural Ethiopia, rural India, Greece and Queensland; least violence in the more woman-affirming places such as Sweden and Netherlands. The same can be seen within America, with violence being worst in most reactionary regions such as rural South and least in the woman-affirming San Francisco, Seattle and Northeast.
The same is the case with many other trends within therapy. Once again, therapy done intelligently can be genuinely helpful; but so can any number of other things. And as with all other things, therapy also carries within itself dangers of going severely wrong - if the therapist doesn't like the person; if the therapist does not understand the person; if the therapist has ideas that are destructive to the person, or a dogmatic worldview, or a belief that only his ways can work.
One way for therapy to go badly wrong is to believe one’s patient to be a “sociopath” or a “narcissist.” According to people who have such convictions, a person with such a disorder cannot be a good person and will always be bad, however hard they work, however much good they do, or what work they do on themselves. This of course militates against reality and logic. If people are responsible for who they are, then they can get rid of any trait they deem undesirable; and if they cannot do that, as practicioners of this line of psychology claim, then people are not responsible for who they are and cannot be judged for the outcome. On the social scale, this misdirection of psychology has resulted in a holocaust against people accused of these disorders. But what it has resulted in, on a broader scale, is institution of crimethink – that people can be made criminal by virtue of how they think – and pursuant the same an institution of de facto totalitarianism from which people are not allowed to be free even within the privacy of their minds.
Clearly a therapist who sees his clients in such a manner cannot be a force for their help or improvement any more than he is a force for reason and rationality, and people – both therapists and laymen - who have such beliefs are best avoided entirely, in the same way as best should be avoided the people who think that nobody can be good except through Allah or through Christ. Both are wrong absolutely; and the world owes just as much to its Jeffersons, Rockefellers, Edisons, Freuds, Jungs, Van Goghs and ancestors of all white people now in America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Latin America and South Africa, whom such therapists would describe as “sociopaths” or as “narcissists,” as it owes to its non-Christian scientists, inventors, doctors, industrialists, workers, literary figures, philosophers and stars.
Intelligence is and has always been the best tool that man has against tyranny and delusion, and such must be applied in dealing with any racket, whether it come in the name of science or in the name of God. One useful tool is refutation by counterexample; and counterexamples are plentiful to the claims of both the worst in psychology and the worst in religion. For as long as man has this capacity, he can apply it to defend freedom. And this means freedom from all rackets, whatever their source, whatever their intent.