Transformation without Repentance

A murderous Mafia don is having an unexpected emotional crisis. He finds himself crying for no reason. Things he once did without thinking, like pulling the trigger on an enemy, have become nearly impossible. What's a confused mobster to do? In a new comedy called Analyze This, the troubled mobster doesn't talk to a priest; no, he goes to a psychoanalyst. It's another example of how psychotherapy has replaced biblical faith as the religion of choice in American culture. Analyze This—which is currently one of the top box office hits—stars Robert DiNiro as a mobster named Paul Vitti and Billy Crystal as the psychoanalyst whose help Vitti enlists. The movie is undeniably entertaining, taking hilarious jabs at the world of organized crime. But one thing it takes very seriously is psychoanalysis. In fact, it takes it so seriously that by the end of the movie the murderous Vitti actually experiences a dramatic psychoanalytic breakthrough. Vitti realizes that all his life he's been saddled with feelings of guilt because at age 12, when he saw his father gunned down in a restaurant, he did nothing to help. By understanding this and forgiving himself, Vitti has a cathartic breakthrough. After a good cry and a few words of apology to his dead father, Vitti is a new man. Suddenly the murderous anger isn't there anymore--thanks be to psychoanalysis. Of course, this would never happen in real life. Much of psychoanalytic theory has been totally discredited. As the Los Angeles Times put it, "psychoanalysis' moment of triumph appears to have turned to ashes." But you would never know this by going to the movies. In addition to Analyze This, the Academy Award-winning film Good Will Hunting, also has as its lead character someone who successfully put his hopes in the hands of an analyst. Why does Hollywood insist on putting faith in a discredited theory? In his book The Triumph of the Therapeutic, sociologist Phillip Rieff writes that psychotherapy has become the modern world's new sacrament. We once viewed life through a lens shaped by biblical religion, Rieff writes. But now the lens reflects the values of psychotherapy—like the importance of self-esteem and inner peace. This new sacrament has no place for sin. It's a worldview that teaches that people are not responsible for their actions. The evil they commit, whether it's lying to their spouse or killing a rival, is the result of unresolved inner conflicts, usually brought on by some childhood trauma. That's why the emphasis in psychoanalysis is on insight, not repentance. But of course, if nothing is our own fault, then we have nothing to repent of. This is nonsense, as even secular critics of therapy acknowledge. And more than 20 years of working in prisons has taught me that only an encounter with Christ—one that leads to repentance—can turn a predator's life around. If your nonbelieving friends watch this new film, and they probably will, invite them to come up with even one instance where psychoanalysis has turned a murderer into a nice guy. And then tell them about the one thing that can transform the worst among us: the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ.


Chuck Colson


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