See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of the world rather than on Christ. (Colossians 2:8)
Beginning in the '60s, psychologists mounted the platform being provided them by the media and began demonizing traditional marriage (as toxic to women), traditional child rearing (as toxic to children), and the traditional family (as inherently "dysfunctional," and therefore toxic to everyone). This propaganda was embraced by a generation - the baby boomers - that felt itself anointed to bring a brave new world into existence by first destroying every value held dear by preceding generations. It is on the one hand ironic and on the other a testament to the influence of the media, especially television, that what Tom Brokaw has dubbed The Greatest Generation - through no fault of their own - produced what must be America's All-time Worst Generation.
By the mid-1970's, America's parents were in thrall to what I call "psychological parenting," the central message of which was that producing and protecting the growth of self-esteem in one's children was a parent's primary responsibility. Parents were told that any negative response to a child's behavior or task performance could lower this precious psychic commodity. Praise caused a rise in self-esteem, while punishment lowered it. Success (i.e., high grades) caused self-esteem to go up, while failure and disappointment (i.e., low grades) caused it to go down. Psychologist Thomas Gordon, the best-selling author of Parent Effectiveness Training, went so far as to say that any imposition of parental authority was upsetting to the child's fragile emotional balance. He and his followers, most notably Dorothy Briggs, the best-selling author of Your Child's Self Esteem, argued that families should be democratic; that children, even toddlers, should be allowed to participate as equals in family decision-making. Furthermore, said Gordon and Briggs, a parent should never, ever, "pull rank" in order to end a dispute with a child. Rather, the parent should negotiate the issue with the child and seek a compromise, a solution that produced two "winners," not just one (the Big Sin of the traditional parent). Boy, did that ever sound good to a generation of parents who'd been raised to the tune of "because I said so." And so, off we went, down the yellow brick road to the Land of Parenting Oz. A generation has since passed, enough time to determine whether this grand social experiment is working or not. Is it? One single fact answers the question: Since 1965, when this new-age-parenting propaganda began gaining a toehold in our culture, every indicator of positive well-being in America's kids has been in a state of precipitous decline. Today's children are nowhere near as happy as kids once were.
"Oh, come on John," a psychologist once retorted, "there is no happiness measure. You're just making that up!"
No, I'm not. And yes, there is a happiness measure: the per-capita rate of child and teen depression, which has increased at least (and this is the most conservative figure available) five-fold since 1965. In just one eleven year period, from 1978 to 1989, the suicide rate for boys ages ten to fourteen increased 71 percent! If that's not unhappiness, I don't know what is.
The problem is self-esteem, a "worldly" concept if there ever was one. Let me remind the reader that Jesus has spoken on the subject of self-esteem - several times, in fact. For example, in Matthew, Jesus says to his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" (16:24). Again in Matthew, He teaches that "...the last will be first, and the first will be last" (20:16). In Luke, we hear Jesus warning that "...everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." Listen! Jesus is saying that what we might call "low self-esteem" is a virtue! How about that!
Being a psychologist myself, I can anticipate how a mental health professional would respond to Jesus' words: "But self-esteem, as we meant it, was about feeling proud of one's accomplishments, not just getting all puffed up about oneself for no reason."
In the first place, let me assure you that that is not what they meant. The mental health community took the biblically based concept of "unconditional positive regard" and twisted it to mean that "wrong" was completely in the eye of the beholder; that because children were essentially good, nothing they could do was really bad. They made mistakes, that's all. Furthermore, most of these "mistakes" were the result of low self-esteem. (That sort of circular logic, by the way, is typical of secular humanist philosophies.)
In the second place, the "we were talking about accomplishments" defense, when examined in the light of scripture, falls flat. After all, the Christian term for accomplishments is "works." We Christians know (don't we?) that it is not by works, but by God's magnificent grace, that we are saved. In his letter to the early Christian community in Rome, Paul addresses this very issue. He warns his readers against thinking highly of oneself and reminds them that a person's gifts are not self-produced, but are gifts from God (Rom. 12:3-7). Unfortunately, even though the very idea of self-esteem is anti-scriptural most Christians fell for it, hook, line, and sinker (with particular emphasis on the latter).
Social scientist Roy Baumeister has spent more than a decade studying self esteem. His results, published in the April 2001 issue of Scientific American, are frightening. He's discovered, for example, that people with high self esteem tend to have low self control. They don't handle defeat or disappointment very well. Why? Because they think they're entitled to always be the winner, Number One. Baumeister has also found that hard-core criminals score high on self-esteem inventories, higher, in fact, that the average guy on the street. When I share this with an audience, I point out that Adolph Hitler had high self esteem and, correspondingly, no regard for anyone else. At the opposite end of the "I'm the Greatest!" spectrum is none other than Jesus Christ, who had such love for us, and so little regard for His own self-interests (actually, Jesus had no self-interests at all), that He willingly gave His life so that ours might be saved.
Paul warned us against being deceived by "hollow and deceptive philosophies" that were rooted not in the Word, but in the world (Col. 2:8. It's been nearly two thousand years and we still don't get it. Will we ever?