The Therapeutic Culture of American Christianity

More often than not, Richard Beck’s posts are way over my head, but I think I understand this one.


I want to expand on and illustrate my observations from my review of Rapture Ready! concerning neurosis and pop Christian self-help. Let’s take, as an illustration, Joel Osteen’s best-selling book Your Best Life Now.

First, I’d like to note how Osteen’s book isn’t a crass “health and wealth” message. Osteen’s book is less material than psychological in nature. Its contents easily parallel pop psychology self-help books only with a theistic twist. (Speaking as a psychologist, much of Osteen’s book is just a watered down version of cognitive therapy, again with a God twist.) This psychological focus illustrates the point I was making in my last post. American Christians are approaching their faith to meet psychological needs. What kinds of needs? I claimed the needs were mainly neurotic, a distress that is largely self-inflicted from rumination, introspection, self-consciousness, worry, social comparison, and idiosyncratic obsessions or compulsions. Osteen’s book helps confirm this diagnosis. Your Best Life Now can be largely seen as a manual to give a neurotic person the confidence, energy, and self-esteem to decisively step out of low self-esteem, lack of confidence, self-defeatism, and emotional rumination.

Take, for example, Osteen’s Seven Steps that help move you toward Your Best Life Now:

1. Enlarge your vision.
2. Develop a healthy self-image.
3. Discover the power of thoughts and words.
4. Let go of the past.
5. Find strength through adversity.
6. Live to give.
7. Choose to be happy.

Psychologically, I’d like to quibble with some of this list (How does one “Choose to be happy”?). Theologically, I’d also like to quibble (although I like “Live to give”). But my point here isn’t to argue with or make fun of Osteen, rather I want to use his book as diagnostic of the prevalent neurosis within Christianity and America generally. Look at Osteen’s Seven Steps and then imagine the person they are offered to. That is, imagine someone with the opposite frame of mind from each of the steps. What does that person look like, psychologically speaking?

Neurotic, that is what they look like. Unhappy, low self-esteem, emotional baggage, negative self-talk, confused, a sense of malaise, and a feeling of underachievement.

Now let’s be clear, this isn’t just a Christian problem. Wander over to the self-help section the secular psychology books and you’ll see that this is an American issue. Osteen’s product is just aimed at a niche. Just add some God-talk to the routine pop psychological offerings found on Oprah and you have Your Best Life Now.

Read all of this post HERE


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