A bird's eye view of psychology today shows three major fields, each headed up by three major psychologists. They are Sigmund Freud's Depth Psychology, with its id, ego and superego; B. F. Skinner and Behaviorism, teaching that humans are conditioned by their experiences like the rats Skinner experimented on; and Carl Rogers of the Third Wave Psychologists, who believe in the basic goodness in the human heart and the importance in finding yourself by looking within.
Far from being objective theories based on unbiased scientific studies of the human mind, each of these beliefs is based on the differing perspectives of their founders. Freud, Skinner and Rogers had various opinions of the human condition, the root of psychological distress, and how to solve that distress, and their worldviews shaped their psychological theories on how the mind works.
Freud was convinced that the human mind has three levels. The id is the most natural, and since he believed us all animals, he considered this the most important one. The superego is the most unnatural, artificially created by parental training, cultural education, and other social pressures. The id pushes a person towards primal urges (e. g. eat, drink and be merry); the superego curbs those desires with a culturally constructed conscience. The ego, the third level, is the conscious area of a person's psyche and is where these two pressures are balanced. If there is too much discord between the two, psychological problems result.
So Freud didn't see anything inherently wrong with human nature, except in that we may be inclined to sometimes listen too much to our superegos (i. e. conscience). Guilt, he believed, is not our problem. Society is. The solution to healing a psychotic patient is to realize and free the id and its desires. According to Freud, this would solve people's problems.
This idea of man as an animal whose most base and primal instincts must be released, for psychological health, is a dangerous one. Though Freud believed that the ideal society was one free of religion and subject wholly to the "dictatorship of reason," he witnessed the horrors of a country run by the most ruthlessly rational group of elites in the most educated society in Western Civilization in its time. Led by people who were as grounded in Darwinism as Freud himself, that country was Nazi Germany. It is impossible for everyone to live out their innermost, basest desires without infringing on (or taking away from) the desires of others.
The next fellow on our list is B. F. Skinner, head of the Behaviorist department. He agreed with Freud on humanity's animal status, but fussed over the details: we are not primarily instinctual, but primarily primed. After experimenting on how rats learn by conditioning in a maze, Skinner designed the idea that humans are nothing but culturally conditioned animals. Molded in our preferences, attitudes and thinking patterns by our unique set of circumstances, everyone is, so to speak, a victim of their past. Whether you are at the top of a multi-billion dollar industry or in prison for dealing cocaine to highschoolers, your success or failure is due to the unique way in which your culture and relationships have conditioned you.
For a cultural expression of this, see lyrics of Behind Blue Eyes by The Who:
No one knows what it's like
To be the bad man
To be the sad man
Behind blue eyes
No one knows what it's like
To be hated
To be fated
To telling only lies
* * *
No one knows what it's like
To feel these feelings
Like I do
And I blame you
No one bites back as hard
On their anger
None of my pain and woe
Can show through
* * *
When my fist clenches, crack it open
Before I use it and lose my cool
When I smile, tell me some bad news
Before I laugh and act like a fool
And If I swallow anything evil
Put your finger down my throat
And If I shiver, please give me a blanket
Keep me warm, let me wear your coat
Okay. What is being said here? The bad guy is ill-fated and misunderstood. We just don't feel his pain! He needs care from others; it could be said, from society, and that that care should be given instead of punishment. This is actually a relatively popular notion today, and the line is fuzzy when it comes to responsibility for a person's actions. Another consequence of this belief is that every child is born a "blank slate" ready to be written on. These things obviously twist the Biblical view of human nature and the responsibility of our actions in a way that sounds scientific but is really based on Skinner's evolutionary beliefs.
Finally we have Carl Rogers, with his psychology stressing the importance of looking in your heart, finding yourself, loving yourself first and foremost, having a strong self-esteem, and just the general affirmation of the primary goodness of human nature. Again, these are worldview opinions, not scientific facts. It is impossible to know how people around the globe think and behave, and whether they are inherently good or evil. To assume that mankind in general is basically good or sinful by nature is to assume something based on your presuppositions.
But I'd like to place the real focus here on comparison to Scripture. Third Wave Psychology says look within you heart; Jeremiah 17:9 says the heart is deceitful above all things. Carl Rogers says find yourself for happiness; Philippians 4:4 says to rejoice in the Lord in all circumstances. Modern psychology says that we need to love and respect ourselves before we can love and respect others; Mark 12:30-31 says that the greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength - and then to love your neighbor as yourself. In other words, you already love yourself - now go and love everyone else the same way!
What does the Bible have to say about psychology? A great deal, actually. We are not animals, but people made in the image of a very great God. Our hearts may lead us astray at times, but the solution is most definitely not to obey those inner tendencies. Instead of blaming our circumstances for our problems and distresses, we need to find an outer source - Jesus Christ - who redeems our souls, washes away our guilt, sets us free of our baser inclinations, and loves us more than any person or community ever can.
*For more information see Counterfeit Counseling by Brad Bigney