In psychological circles, “humanism” refers to man’s innate goodness. In contrast to Christian theology, which posits man as a naturally depraved, sinful creature, secular psychology prefers to assume that man is essentially good. Data interpretation, then, is carefully gerrymandered to protect this claim.
Why secular psychology has taken this route is interesting, since historically psychologists did not generally believe this way. From the foundation of Freud, psychologists believed man was inherently evil, just as the Bible says. Darwin actually supplied the teeth to this supposition, since the individual was seen to be the product of selfish genes, looking after only themselves and their survival in a hostile world. Neither Darwin nor Freud believed in a benevolent Creator, or absolute morality, so the early psychological picture of man was of a beast locked in a cage where he was told to be good but could not be. His constant falling short caused trouble in his mind, or neurosis, and he tried all his days to live up to something that he couldn’t. The answer, said Freud, was liberation from this paradigm, or freedom. Freedom from rules, freedom from societal restraints. Not advocating will to power as Nietzsche did, Freud still believed in the essence of that reasoning, and aimed in his therapy to set people free from the condemnation they felt, especially about sexuality. So early psychology, or at least counseling, was in stark opposition to humanism.
Freud’s disciples, however, did not take to this so well. Adler, and the Neo-Freudians proposed that Freud was right about a lot of things, but not innate depravity. The new humanistic psychologists proposed, instead, that man was essentially good but was being corrupted by an evil society, evil influences. If left alone, he would self-actualize to the highest potential, but plebian influences were foolishly getting in the way and had to be cast down. Thus the Superman of Nietzsche’s desire was sublimated into a new benevolent form: the Superman of Maslow, who had risen to the top of the hierarchy of needs. By this time, psychology was becoming more scientific and empirical. They had no need for the theology and metaphysics of Freud (who was essentially religious and theological, not scientific). They were seeing the importance of environment and circumstances, and were doubting anything innate such as genes, personality, or “nature,” as having deterministic influence on an individual. Man could master his environment, become anything he wanted to be. So went the humanistic psychologists in a new age of progressivism.
Generally, this sentiment caught on. Distancing itself from Judeo-Christian belief was a goal worthy in itself, thought the secularists, and scientific psychology felt no need to justify the existence of God, sin, evil, choice, accountability, afterlife, or anything of the like. They could do away with it all simply by announcing that man was built good. Interestingly, they started using evolution to support this thesis. Whereas evolution once perfectly justified deviance and immorality, because of the selfish gene and survival of the fittest, now humanistic psychologists found evolutionary support for empathy, altruism, and sacrificial love. They studied “good” behavior in animals and decided that “bad” behavior was just a glitch in a calculus of what was best for the tribe. They studied “good” instances of child behavior and decided that distrust and socialization from parents was really what corrupted children. “Crime” became something abnormal, something to probe, as though foreign to normal human nature. Everything was turned on its head, and just-so stories were invented to explain trickier situations of how evolution could dictate both altruistic and selfish behavior.
It should be clear to the Christian at this point how humanism, as just one assumption of secular psychology, is able to twist a field around so much. Everything about authority, morality, and self-direction is polluted if one believes man is essentially good. Counseling, teaching, and parenting change. Politics, social programming, and media change. Everything changes because man is now wise, powerful, and good enough to direct himself. He still needs freedom, as Freud insisted, and he still needs freedom from rules and constraints. But he is now able to self-actualize, to become anything he wants to be, to be powerful and healthy and good, just by looking within himself and being unguided. This is why authority is so evil, and why religion and rules set a society back. This is why everything traditional needs to change and why scientific elites hold the key to progress.
A Christian in this field is going to have to hold strong against these sentiments and others. He or she is going to need to have a strong faith that the Fall really did occur, and that sin exists. Nothing could be more prideful than to say that man is self-sufficient and godlike within. Nothing could be more devastating to tell to clients bound up in addiction and dysfunction. A Christian in psychology who can hold fast to the truth of human depravity, and the deceitfulness of our own hearts, is going to have a key to unlocking the interpretation that real psychological experiments reveal all the time. Just one look at social psychology, with its bystander effect, Milgram experiments, and groupthink — among others — will be enough to convince an undergraduate that human nature is essentially selfish and deceived. The quest will be to not bury our heads in the sand and let the evidence which so clearly suggests the Truth be overlooked.