A recent cover of Newsweek magazine jarred me. In bold type across the face of the magazine cover were these words: “Freud Is Not Dead.” Just being reminded of Sigmund Freud, the Viennese psychiatrist who redefined modern psychiatry and dismissed God as the figment of our imaginations, gave me cold chills. Here was the man whose influence has ushered in the age of therapy — excusing anyone’s behavior because they sucked their thumb too long as a baby. He’s also one of the great intellectual influences that led to the sexual revolution of the 1960s, for which we pay dearly to this day.
Newsweek placed Freud on its cover to mark the 150th anniversary of his birth — May 6, 1856.
I was reminded how tragically true the Newsweek banner headline is when I read an analysis of the decision made by the jurors in the Moussaoui terrorist trial. When asked for the mitigating factors in the case that caused them to give this terrorist a life sentence instead of execution, the top two factors cited by the jury were, first, Moussaoui had an “unstable early childhood and dysfunctional family” life, and, according to the New York Times, “a hostile relationship with his mother that led to his being placed in French orphanages.” And second, that Moussaoui’s father had a violent temper and physically and emotionally abused his family.
No other reasons were cited by more than five jurors, but these two points were cited by nine of the twelve.
There you have it. Freud is not yet dead.
In the book How Now Shall We Live?, written with Nancy Pearcey, I devoted several chapters to the consequence of the Freudian revolution, the development of the excuse mentality — the blame somebody else and refuse to take personal responsibility syndrome. What’s really tragic about this is that I’ve seen it face-to-face as I’ve worked in hundreds and hundreds of prisons over the past thirty years. The thousands of Prison Fellowship volunteers encounter it every day: inmates justifying their behavior, excusing their crimes on the basis that they had an abusive childhood (at least, that’s what they define it as).
Yet sociologists are scrambling all over themselves trying to find an explanation for America’s soaring prison populations. When I got out of prison thirty years ago, there were approximately 230,000 people in prison in America. Today there are 2.3 million.
I believe crime is not caused by environment or poverty or race or any of the other factors sociologists for generations thought it was, but instead — as the latest scholarly studies show — it is caused by people making wrong moral decisions and the lack of moral training during the morally formative years. If that’s so, the worst thing we can do is tell people that they are not responsible for their own behavior. What they need is a bracing dose of biblical realism — that we are fallen creatures and are responsible for our sins — not more of the Freudian excuse mentality.
This month we celebrate, if that’s the correct word, the 150th anniversary of Freud’s birth. And we saw him alive and well, sitting in the courtroom, when the jury decided to send Mr. Moussaoui off to life in prison instead of sending him to the executioner, not because of what he did or his knowledge of right and wrong — he was determined perfectly sane — but because of his lousy childhood.
(This update courtesy of the Breakpoint with Chuck Colson.)