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Three False Saviours

Category Articles
Date August 15, 2000

‘Good old Archbishop of Canterbury! Well done, Dr George Carey!’ So said the Times in London on August 1st, 2000. Dr Carey is speaking at the Netherlands’ conference organised by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, ‘Amsterdam 2000.’ Ten thousand people are at these meetings from 185 countries, and Dr George Carey is one of the speakers. In his paper he spoke of the obsession in Western culture with three alternative saviours, therapy, education, and wealth. None of these, he asserted, can provide lasting healing for a broken world.

What is wrong with therapy? ‘Our age is fascinated with the healing of the body and mind. Its unspoken assumption is that if we can but keep in tune with the well-being of our inner selves, all will be well.’ Dr Carey recognised the help that some therapies can give, but, ‘therapy can easily fail to face up to the reality of sin in our lives. When therapy replaces faith and when therapeutic techniques are seen as the total answer to humanity’s deepest needs and longings, another idolatry is introduced.’ In fact it replaces the gospel with a focus on ‘my happiness, my needs, and my desires.’ Dr Carey attends churches today and hears preachers. His conclusion is this: ‘Listening to many sermons this therapeutic approach is uppermost–missing is the appeal to a holy God and his call to us to turn to him in repentance and faith.’

What is wrong with education? The obsession with schooling as the answer to all the world’s problems. The adulation of education was compared by Dr Carey to the early church heresy of gnosticism. The nations which are the most advanced in education are also the countries in which crime, vandalism, and family breakdown are endemic. The Archbishop said, ‘Once again, as with therapy, when education is seen as an alternative to the Gospel it introduces a different kind of saviour, an enlightened teacher who can lead us from ignorance to knowledge.’

What is wrong with the pursuit of wealth? It also becomes a pseudo-saviour. ‘It is a false god when wealth, riches and possessions, become the ultimate aims of life.’

The Time’s Response

Michael Gove is the columnist who responded to this message, and he not only agreed with it but developed this theme with more focus and pathos. He recognised that there was a glimpse of the heroic in the Archbishop’s speech where before there had merely been the banausic. To criticise the pursuit of wealth is an enduring Christian message. Growth in factual knowledge does not, in itself, confer virtue: ‘The more empowered mankind feels himself to be by learning, the greater the moral danger consequent on such arrogance. It was the scientific certainty of the Stockholm eugenicist and the statistical mastery of the Whitehall economist which led to the belittling of the individual, and the robbing of his moral choice, within our lifetime.’

It was in the critiques mounted by Dr Carey against therapy that Gove judged the Archbishop to be most challenging. ‘In identifying therapy as a false god of our time Dr Carey recognised that it is not a path to enlightenment but an emotional cul-de-sac, one of the most pernicious cults of our time.’ These were Michael Gove’s observations:–

The hold of therapy on our national life goes well beyond the consulting rooms of Hampstead. It language drenches our culture. Naomi Campbell excuses her rudeness on television at the weekend by claiming she suffered from ‘low self-esteem.’ … The paramilitary parties welcoming their terrorists out from the Maze protest that ‘we are all victims’ and talk about the need for ‘healing’ and ‘closure.’ In every case the individual hopes the therapy will provide the consolation that religious faith once might have offered them. But nowhere does therapy provide the necessary precondition that faith demands before consolation can be assured–responsibility for one’s own actions. Therapy makes everyone a victim in their own drama, and no one the author of their own fate. It encourages egotism, privileges, the satisfaction of one’s desires. It makes the refusal of others to accord you ‘respect’ the prime explanation of personal failings.

The conclusion of the reporter’s piece was this:–

Therapy’s hold on our national life springs from its appeal to the under-nourished soul. But, because it treats the soul as an indulgent father does a spoilt child, as a thing to be pampered not stiffened, it perpetuates childishness rather than stimulating growth. An assault on its claims, and the culture of infantilism it fosters, is a necessary part of restoring our society our society to health. But such assault involves kicking away a prop on which so many, especially of the fashionable, have come to rest. Which is why it takes a certain degree of courage, why Dr Carey deserves to be called brave for making his address.

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