(Disclaimer: This post may not be for everyone, but for students of 20th century history, psychology, sociology, marketing, media and politics, who are also believers in Christ, it think this documentary provides vital lessons. It should be watched through a filter of scripture, a few angles of which I have provided below.
Remember that “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever”.
If you don’t want to be bombarded with all the worldly ills of “The American Century”, then you may want to invest your time elsewhere.)
“We must shift America from a needs to a desires culture. People must be trained to desire, to want new things even before the old have been entirely consumed. We must shape a new mentality in America. Man’s desires must over shadow his needs.”
– Paul Mazer of the now bankrupt Lehman Brothers in the 1930’s
In 2002 the BBC aired a documentary series on the influence of Sigmund Freud and his family (and one of his students who rebelled against him) on America, via mass marketing, over the last hundred years. I watched it this week and it is one of most fascinating sociological documentaries that I have ever seen. If you are someone who has ever bought anything or had a worldview, you need to watch this.
I am a therapist, and was one long before I ever went to school. I naturally started falling into that role somewhere in junior high, and figured along the way that I should either stop it or learn how to do it right so I didn’t screw with people’s heads or their spiritual lives.
So I got a BS in Psych, with a concentration in child development, and an MS in clinical counseling with a concentration in adolescent and family therapy. During my upbringing under a good youth pastor and my education by good, ethical professors at Johns Hopkins, I had the same basic principle drilled into me:
That my skills and abilities were not to be used selfishly, to get what I wanted, but in the service of others, to meet their needs.
It was the message of Christ who gave up all his rights and power in order to serve sinners, and it is the message of good ethics in psychology where a therapists uses his power over his client to serve him in helping him to become more healthy, aware and functional. In both cases, stern warnings were given that those in power over another person were to tread very lightly as using the power that had been entrusted to them for selfish gain was wholly immoral and in the case of Christ, proof of being lost and bound for hell. (Matthew 23, Matthew 25:31-46).
As a result, it has always been difficult for me to watch those in power, both in the church and those in the mental health arena, abuse their power to serve their ego or their wallet. Watching this phenomena from the bottom of the societal food chain in my youth, (the best perspective for discerning who is who, but the worst place to be if one of the “wolves” are in power) it became clear that if you sat quietly and watched those in power closely enough, you could see who was who by their fruit. (Unfortunately I kept forgetting this lesson; failing to sit quietly and pay attention, put me to task to relearn this lesson a few times in life).
Which bring us to the BBC series, “The Century of the Self”.
It examines Freud’s basic thesis, shows us how his nephew Edward Bernays and his daughter Anna Freud, used them to control a nation and ultimately the western world. It explains how one of his brilliant former students, Wilhelm Reich rebelled against him, and gave birth to the movement of overt narcissism that has personified the character of our country for the last 50 years. It also introduces us to Matthew Freud, Sigmund’s great-grandson who currently heads Freud Communications, an international PR firm based in the UK.
I am embarrassed at how much I underestimated the influence of Freud while I was in school. I considered him someone that was only half right, and someone who clearly had sexual issues that he was projecting on all of society, but since he was the first in his field, gave him props for getting some of the big brush strokes on how the human psyche worked. I could do so because I really thought that the damage he had done with his wrong and misapplied ideas was long over by the time I was born in the late 1960’s. Watching this I could not believe how much I had underestimated Freud’s influence on the world, and on ME!
As you watch this, consider the principle that Christ taught that we were made to serve God, and that spiritual gifts were meant to serve the Church. Consider that the core ethical principle for psychologists is, from the moment that someone walks into your office, or even knows that you are a therapist, is that you are to know you have power and influence over them, to know when you are using that influence, and to always be checking yourself to make sure you are using it for their benefit and not your own.
And keep in mind that if you love someone with the love of Christ, and the wisdom given to you by the Holy Spirit, that you will naturally do what Christ was described doing in Philippians 2:
Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.
Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.
Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.
Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.
And watch how, in a very real sense, Sigmund, Anna and Edward functioned in very tangible ways as ‘anti-christs’. Note the comments made about their personalities by other family members, how cold they were, and how they didn’t like people. Note that Edward Bernays’ daughter tells us that he thought people were contemptible and he called his own children stupid.
And watch, how a powerful understanding of people and how they worked, combined with contempt for them, lead to powerful men using persuasive means to meet their own selfish goals brought on most of the worst ills of the 20th century and beyond.
I can trace my own sin, the worst episodes in my life, back a century, because I listened to the world who listened to brilliant men who hated them. I have been played and I let it happen still.
I have so much to repent of, and so much to learn to do and not to do.
As you watch, notice that one bright, shiny lie threads through the century, taking on different shapes and different permutations, but still remains the same lie told in the garden… that man is god.
And as you watch, consider your own power, because we all have some power and influence over someone, and how using it for selfish means (“Do what thou wilt” to quote Aleister Crowley the founder of modern Satanism) can start a chain reaction of destruction that can be traced for a hundred years and beyond.
As you watch, consider Christs call for us to be the church, the “Ecclesia”, the “called out”, and note that you are watching what it is we are to be called out fom.
And think of all the times you are right there with the crowd… and repent.
The Century of The Self