The Psychological Man

Last week, we started exploring the idea of living in the future armed with ideas from the past. Specifically, understanding that something has caused our culture to leave us behind. We, Christians, need to start thinking of adaptations to deal with that. First, let’s start diagnosing.

In the 1960s, sociologist Philip Rieff was dealing with the same questions you and I have. Though not a Christian, his work involved trying to discover why, and criticize how, a culture develops without God. His conclusions revealed that people have generally cycled around a few versions of the individual self as they engage with our culture. He defines these “selves” as “the political man”, “the religious man”, and “the economic man.” As these “men” engage their culture, their culture forms their individuality. For the political man, as Aristotle would define him, a view of self is gained from his fellows at the Areopagus, the senate, or the town council. The religious man sees himself through his peers in the medieval monastery or liturgical services. The economic man sees himself through his profession or his union/guild membership. The culture in these various institutions shaped the individual, and the individual lived responsibly in the culture.

Reiff would go on to say that a new “man” has emerged which is completely the product of our modern times. This new man is “the psychological man.” He derives his view of self completely from within himself. His feelings and fulfillment are not supplied from the outside, but are overlords of the external, bending the culture to meet him. If you asked people who they were in times past, their first answer would have been “I’m a millwright”, “I’m a monk”, or “I’m a philosopher.” Now, the common answers tend toward gender, sexuality, and individual psychological/physical diagnoses. Concerning cultural institutions, they are now “places where one goes to perform, not to be formed.” Thus their modern value has dissolved.[1] Unfortunately, the psychological man is completely unreceptive to the gospel, thus many of our woes. “A natural [psuchichos- psychological] man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one” (1 Cor. 2:14-15). It is an unworthy, lost cause to try to restore the credibility of the State, the Polis, or the Guild. But there is an institution that can offer the only viable alternative to self-definition. It is Christ. “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Gal. 2:20). We need to show people how Christ has defined us and made us into something more than ourselves.                      


[1] Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, Trueman, pg. 49