The Contemporary Error of Criticizing Criticism

Of course, no one wants to be around the person who is critical of everything. Not only do we quickly get tired of hearing it, but also something basic is amiss with that type of personality.

But our society tends to err in the opposite direction, tending to view all criticism as misguided and inappropriate. Carl Rogers, in On Becoming a Person, conveys that orientation.

The more I am open to the realities in me and in the other person, the less do I find myself wishing to rush in to “fix things…. So I become less and less inclined to hurry in to fix things, to set goals, to mold people, to manipulate and push them in the way that I would like them to go. I am much more content simply to be myself and to let another person be himself…. What is life for if we are not going to do things to people? What is life for if we are not going to mold them to our purposes? What is life for if we are not going to teach them the things that we think they should learn? What is life for if we are not going to make them think and feel as we do?[i]

It is frustrating to read Rogers because he tends to paint himself as a superior human being, portraying those who take a different position in a negative light. In this quote he views himself as this magnanimous person who refrains from imposing his ideas and agenda on others as compared with bigoted, self-oriented people who believe that they know better than everybody else and view others as objects that exist for them to dominate and mold.

Through the influence of Rogers, our society has picked up on the same perspective. I recall a very successful pastor asserting in a sermon that he had grown spiritually to the point that he no longer viewed his role as “straightening people out.” Of course, this expression of the case contains loaded terminology, describing the attempt to help a person needing a course correction as “straightening him out.”

However, the fact is that we find Jesus and Paul and Peter and John addressing people who are headed the wrong direction with the goal of sparing them the disaster to which they are headed, and frequently in Scripture we are encouraged to do the same. Consider this passage:

Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins. (James 5:19-20 NKJV)

One reason people in our society are critical of all criticism is that we no longer believe in the existence of truth. We find such skepticism in this statement by Rogers: ”If there is such a thing as truth, this free individual process of search should, I believe, converge toward it.”[ii] Here we find him doubting the existence of truth but speculating that if it does exist the best we can do is “converge toward it,” that is, it is not actually attainable. The same attitude exists among some evangelicals, reflected in assertions such as “No one has a corner on the truth.” Though that perspective is technically correct, the underlying implication is that no one has a right to speak as if they actually know the truth. If we can’t determine truth from Scripture, then it is of no value.

A second reason people are inclined to criticize all criticism is that loving criticism is difficult both for the giver and the receiver. If we can just criticize all criticism we have absolved ourself of the scriptural responsibility to approach others when they are headed for trouble. Doing so represents a major expression of agape, one of those manifestations that is very uncomfortable for most of us. The person who is never critical is displaying negligence in one of life’s most important responsibilities. Therefore, being critical of all criticism is not an expression of love but of selfishness.

[i] Rogers, Carl (2012-07-20). On Becoming a Person: A Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy (p. 21). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.

[ii] Ibid p. 28.

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