The Rise of “Psychological Man”

Nov 11, 2020 by

by Carl R Trueman, Public Discourse:

The notions that human flourishing is found primarily in an inner sense of wellbeing, that authenticity is found by being able to act outwardly as one feels inwardly, and that who we are is largely a matter of personal choice not external imposition have become common intuitions that lie at the heart of our society’s many ills. The first of a two-part essay.

If the election of Donald Trump in 2016 made manifest the fact that the United States is a deeply divided country ill at ease with itself, then the COVID crisis and the protests and riots of this last summer have served merely to emphasize the fact. Chaos and turmoil are the order of the day. Even the most solid things appear to be melting into air, and all that was once sacred seems to be profaned, from the importance of the nation-state to the boundaries of sexual morality and the definition of the family. And in the midst of all this, matters such as freedom of speech and of religion—so long considered basic for the well-being of society—are now being decried as tools of oppression and instruments of hatred.

Is there anything that ties these varied phenomena together? Is there some underlying condition or set of conditions of which these problems are symptomatic, or are we simply living at a moment in time when there is a perfect storm of unrelated conflicts that have combined to destabilize those things that previous generations simply assumed to be as constant as the north star? The answer to that question is surely necessary both to understanding our times accurately, and developing thoughtful and constructive responses.

I want to suggest that one key factor behind the transformations we see all around us is the normative notion of the self with which we operate. In this first installment of a two-part essay, I sketch in brief compass the rise of the modern western way of understanding the “self.” Tomorrow, I tease out some of the ways this has reshaped—and continues to reshape and even destabilize—western society, before offering a few brief concluding thoughts on how Christians might respond.

Read here

Read Part 2 here

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