The personality theory postulated by psychologist Carl Rogers described in the previous post has become the foundation stone for contemporary American culture.
At first blush this model, with its centerpiece of unconditional acceptance, seems to provide the ultimate path to personal fulfillment and healthy relationships. Accept people unconditionally and they will be able to accept themselves unconditionally, freeing them to be guided by their self-actualizing tendency to become the person they were meant to be. (The previous post explains this theory in more detail. I would urge you to read it if you have not already.)
Not only does this theory seem to embody the ultimate good, but also the alternative seems to be self-centered, authoritarian, and ugly. For one person to impose his conditions of acceptance on another seems to be the height of egotism. Why should I presuppose that I know better than someone else what is best for them, or who am I to demand that they adopt my designs for their life?
In addition, we feel comfortable with these concepts because they represent the cultural waters in which we have spent our lives swimming. Though Americans of all ages embrace these perspectives, those born since the 60s feel an even greater affinity toward these ideas because they have never known any other cultural orientation. For most Americans, but especially for Baby Boomers and beyond, these concepts represent truth.
What could possibly be wrong with this theoretical construct?
The foundational problem resides in Rogers’ assumption about human goodness. As we noted in the previous post, Rogers’ theory starts with the assertion that we all possess a self-actualizing tendency, which is followed will lead us to become a fully functioning person. This perspective presupposes that people have an innate inclination toward that which is best for themselves and others.
This position leads us to ponder the record sales realized by Grand Theft Auto 5, which grossed $800 million during its first day on the market. This videogame has come under criticism for requiring players to torture a helpless victim in order to finish the game. It also calls for players to grope women in a strip club.
Record sales in the face of these perversities and others make a statement about human nature. It would seem that the self-actualizing tendency of millions of people motivated them to spend $59.95 so that they could experience the fun of torturing a helpless victim.
Maybe if Carl Rogers were alive he would claim that this inclination exhibited by so many stemmed from the failure of their parents and others to accept them unconditionally. This rational doesn’t work because the theme of unconditional acceptance has dominated our culture for the previous half-century. Therefore, a more compelling argument can be made that the influence of unconditional acceptance has made our society more susceptible to this type of perversity and not less.
Which brings us to the crux of the problem. If human nature were as Rogers postulated, the theory would work just fine. However, if human nature has a bent toward depravity as the Bible teaches, granting unconditional acceptance only gives free reign to human perversity.
Or to make the application to Grand Auto Theft 5, if Rogers’ theory worked, we would expect to find sales of video games of this nature on the decline. However, if a biblical perspective on human nature is accurate, we would expect that unleashing human perversity through unconditional acceptance would lead to increased sales of a videogame appealing to degradation. Grand Auto Theft 5 provides just one indicator, though a graphic one, that unconditional acceptance is not producing the promised outcomes in American society but instead just the opposite.
The theory as presented in the previous post sounded innocent enough. Don’t force your child to be an athlete when academics constitute his natural inclination. But we don’t need Rogers to tell us that. Common sense makes that case.
The problem with unconditional acceptance is embedded in the breadth of its application, which mandates that we accept unwise and even immoral inclinations of others. Taking the term “unconditional” seriously, which the theory calls us to do, mandates that we accept regardless of the attitudes, values, and behaviors of another.
Some might contend that the solution resides in accepting the child or other person but not his inappropriate behavior. Our next post will explain why that formula does not work.