My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Where in the world did the positive mental attitude program come from? How wide spread is it? What are its fallacies and potential pitfalls? Does it work? Is there a better way to see yourself that is more solid and sound minded? Glynn Harrison, MD, Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Bristol, UK, where he was a practicing consultant psychiatrist and Chair of the Department of Psychiatry, answers these questions and more in his new 208 page paperback "Ego Trip: Rediscovering Grace in a Culture of Self-Esteem." Harrison's style is easy to grasp, non-technical, and conversational. Most anyone can pick up and benefit from this book.
In the first nine chapters of "Ego Trip," the author walks the reader through the history, cultural backdrop, and “science” of the positive self-esteem agenda, which he calls “Boosterism.” Harrison masterfully describes the process by which we “came to believe that the riddle of human worth and significance, feelings of guilt and shame, inferiority and low confidence, could be solved by the “science” of psychology and the merits of self-esteem” (19-20). He also brings this portion of the discussion around to explain how it has affected, not only the educational establishment, parenting, and child-rearing, but also the Christian Church as evidenced in books, preaching and newer praise and worship music. I found that to have a trained psychiatrist readably unpack all of this, was quite convincing and helpful.
In the last three chapters of the book, along with the postscript, Harrison brings out a healthier way for Christians to deal with self-worth. The author picks up the Bible and brings the Scriptures to bear on answering several defining questions. First, what we are since the Fall. Harrison explains, again, in non-technical language, the concept of original sin, and that we are gloriously ruined. Next, where our worth comes from. The author kindly, and clearly, points out our self-worth is not intrinsic, but bestowed on us by virtue of God’s redemptive work in and through Christ; “God doesn't love us because we are worthy; he loves us and so we are counted as worthy” (143). Finally, how to squarely think of ourselves, even when we fumble the ball and fall into sin.
It is in this final section of “Ego Trip” that Harrison treats the Christian reader to some valuable insights into their own psychological make-up and the Gospel’s remedies. The author explains our cognitive biases and how they function (126-128). He maps out the important distinctions between guilt and shame (130-131). Harrison also shows how to distinguish our own sin from the sin done to us, and the role that our own pride plays in making matters worse (133-135). The author carefully works through the importance of not judging ourselves, as well as what this properly means and doesn't mean (147-152). Harrison similarly tackles attitude, heart issues, and the importance of disputing with yourself (159-163). In fact, this whole final section is primarily focused on change, and the process this will take. As I worked through these last three chapters and the postscript, it forced me to stop, at several crucial places, and take personal account of myself.
“Ego Trip” is something of a critical and historical analysis of the whole self-esteem programme. But Harrison is not satisfied with stripping away, he also is highly concerned to replace and rebuild. This would be a valuable addition to any pastor’s library, for his own personal growth as well as professional use. I also think that Christian parents should consider obtaining a copy and reading it – maybe with other parents. It is with pleasure I recommend this book.
Thanks to Net Galley and Zondervan Academic for the free e-copy used for this review.
[Feel free to post or publish this review. And as always, please give credit where credit is due. Mike]
This edition of the book review was revised by the author 14 April 2014.
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