The Burgeoning Religion of Psychology | Part Two

Ronnie Rogers | Pastor
Trinity Baptist Church, Norman, OK

Psychology and psychiatry have been and presently are on a path of ever-expanding their domain. This is done by developing new syndromes to explain certain behaviors or constellations of behaviors. Psychiatrist and philosopher Irwin Savodnik of UCLA wrote an article for the LA Times entitled, “Psychiatry’s Sick Compulsion: Turning Weaknesses into Diseases.” This highlights the American Psychiatric Association’s ever expanding list of “illnesses.” He says, “IT’S JAN. 1. Past time to get your inoculation against seasonal affective disorder, or SAD — at least according to the American Psychiatric Assn. As Americans rush to return Christmas junk, bumping into each other in Macy’s and Best Buy, the psychiatric association ponders its latest iteration of feeling bad for the holidays. And what is the association selling? Mental illness. With its panoply of major depression, dysthymic disorder, bipolar disorder and generalized anxiety disorder, the association is waving its … flag to remind everyone that amid all the celebration, all the festivities, all the exuberance, many people will ‘come down with’ or ‘contract’ or ‘develop’ some variation of depressive illness.”[1]

This may seem somewhat humorous, and that is the way it is perceived by many, as well as the Christian community, at least at first. Actually, it is another move to bring human behavior under the ever-expanding domain of science. If all of the troubles associated with mere human weaknesses, or problems in behavior or thinking are treated as a mental illness or disorder, then that falls under the domain of science, and science affords only natural explanations and cures; therefore, the rampant secularizing of every truly spiritual issue results in the perceived absence of sin that can only be addressed spiritually. The spiritual truth is, if people are sad after Christmas, it may be that their sadness is because of a spiritual need, loss of love, guilt of sin, missing family, etc., which can only be thoroughly addressed by Christ.

Savodnik then shows how the association has capitalized on turning normal human weaknesses, some of which we might label as sin, into medical diseases. He says, “The association specializes in turning ordinary human frailty into disease. In the last year, ads have been appearing in psychiatric journals about possible treatments for shyness, a ‘syndrome’ not yet officially recognized as a disease. You can bet it will be in the next edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM-IV, published by the association. “As it turns out, the association has been inventing mental illnesses for the last 50 years or so. The original diagnostic manual appeared in 1952 and contained 107 diagnoses and 132 pages, by my count. The second edition burst forth in 1968 with 180 diagnoses and 119 pages. In 1980, the association produced a 494-page tome with 226 conditions. Then, in 1994, the manual exploded to 886 pages and 365 conditions, representing a 340% increase in the number of diseases over 42 years.”[2] The DSM-5 has expanded to 947 pages.[3] The number of conditions does not seem to have increased even though new ones have been added. Robin S. Rosenberg explains, “One way to add new diagnoses…but not increase the total is to make a disorder in a previous edition into a ‘subtype’ of another disorder in the new edition, thereby keeping two diagnostic entities, but with one subsumed under another.”[4]

The Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) is a mental health watchdog. The following quotes from CCHR regarding the lack of objective criteria for diagnosing mental illness serve as a reminder that while there certainly is a place for psychiatry, its ever-expanding presence is more philosophical than scientific.

Despite more than two hundred years of intensive research, no commonly diagnosed psychiatric disorders have proven to be either genetic or biological in origin, including schizophrenia, major depression, manic-depressive disorder, the various anxiety disorders, and childhood disorders such as attention-deficit hyperactivity. At present there are no known biochemical imbalances in the brain of typical psychiatric patients—until they are given psychiatric drugs — Peter Breggin, psychiatrist.

[While] there has been no shortage of alleged biochemical explanations for psychiatric conditions…not one has been proven. Quite the contrary. In every instance where such an imbalance was thought to have been found, it was later proven false — Dr. Joseph Glenmullen, Harvard Medical School psychiatrist.

The theories are held on to not only because there is nothing else to take their place, but also because they are useful in promoting drug treatment — Dr. Elliott Valenstein, Ph.D., author of Blaming the Brain.

No claim for a gene for a psychiatric condition has stood the test of time, in spite of popular misinformation — Dr. Joseph Glenmullen, Harvard Medical School psychiatrist.[5]

Expanding the definitions of disorders or mental illness results in what was normal becoming abnormal, and therefore, more and more people are classified as needing psychological treatment and prescriptions. The most alarming thing about this trend is that Christians seem to be largely unaware of the pervasiveness and consequences of such changes in culture, their perspective, receptivity to the gospel, and the church.

Regrettably, I am quite aware that many pastors are equally unaware, or at least uninterested in countering it, because many of them have incorporated the terminology into their sermons or counseling, or have simply ignored the issue except for occasional jabs or quotes. They have unfortunately underestimated the constant erosion of the believability of the gospel and God, or even a context to consider God’s relevance. The disastrous effect of shifting from the moral model to the medical model as the cause and treatment of behavioral problems emanates from expanding science beyond its legitimate domanial authority, the supposed adequacy of science to know what needs to be known or can be known (epistemic naturalism), and Darwinian descent as an all-encompassing paradigm for life; as a result, it leads us further down the road of practical determinism, shunning responsibility, and curing behavioral problems pharmacologically. For example, today in many circles, the answer of choice for troublesome, overactive little boys is not discipline, but rather medication-induced docility.

This excessive application of the medical model goes hand in hand with sociology’s reductionistic view that every norm, moral, or spiritual concept is merely a social or human construct, is based on man as an animal, and is, consequently, merely matter generated and instinctual. This view has a profound impact on education, politics, law, and the place for religious faith and answers. I am not arguing against the diseasing of sin out of a fear of Christianity losing its place in culture; rather I am arguing against it because it is wrong and because the eternal impact of not dealing with sin, regardless of popular opinion, is of immeasurable consequence.

State education molded by the influence of men like Herbert Spencer, Edward Thorndike, G. Stanley Hall, and John Dewey (the latter influenced also by child-centered education in Rousseau’s didactic novel Emil) has been ostensibly based on science; although, more truthfully, it has been (is) based on scientism and the natural order of things. We are simply seeing that basis become the basis of everything through the primary influence of progressive education.

This redefinition of both the problem and the cures changes the conscience of a nation because it changes the conscience of individual human beings (the latter being our primary concern). The conscience does not seem to be absolute, but rather it is developed by the standards and knowledge that are deposited into it. If one is taught the Scripture and God’s love and law, the conscience convicts (although inconsistently because of the fall) based on that standard. If the conscience is built upon other standards of right and wrong, good and bad, or defining behavior, it will respond to that input. The eventuation of which is not merely that people do not feel that stealing or divorce is wrong but that they don’t believe it is and therefore, they experience little or no guilt from such behavior. Without the bad news of sin, the good news of the gospel is at best diminished and for many it is unintelligible.

 

[1] Abstract or full text can be found at www.AlbertMohler.com, under “The Reign of the Therapeutic—Someone’s Asking Questions” also www.latimes.com, accessed 9/18/14.
[2] http://www.latimes.com/news/la-op-psych1jan01-story.html accessed 12/1/15
[3] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/17/dsm-5-unveiled-changes-disorders-_n_3290212.html accessed 9/17/14. This article also includes the lack of biological science behind the diagnosis and other problems.
[4]Http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/medical_examiner/2013/04/diagnostic_and_statistical_manual_fifth_edition_why_will_half_the_u_s_population.html accessed 9/18/14.
[5] http://www.cchrint.org/psychiatric-disorders/psychiatristsphysicians-on-lack-of-any-medicalscientific-tests/ accessed 9/18/14.