Alienation was one of the “buzz words” of the twentieth century and a key idea in Marxist communism. Karl Marx held that a fundamental problem with the world was the deep alienation between the working classes and the fruits of their labor. He believed that if only we could set the worker free to enjoy ownership in his labor, a foundational element of the world’s ills would be dissipated. This was part of the central message of communism.
Marx failed to take account of what became obvious behind the iron and bamboo curtains: human greed, pride, and the lust for power. It became increasingly clear in communist states that there was deep-dyed and high-reaching corruption. Instead of bringing reconciliation, communism simply continued to sustain human sinfulness. Alienation remained.
With the rise of psychiatry and psychology, not least in their “pop” versions, we have now become a therapeutic culture—patients who need inner healing, victims who need a better self-image. Our deepest problem is now seen to be personal alienation—whether from those around us or from ourselves. Thus, many therapists set out to deal with those alienations as if they were “sicknesses” without any moral dimension, behavior patterns for which the individual bears no personal moral responsibility.
In so many instances, however, this is what the philosophers call a “category mistake.” It treats as illness behavior patterns that properly belong to the category of moral disorder. It should not surprise us that such therapy cannot solve the world’s ills. Neither should we expect it to. Therapy that takes no account of man’s deepest problem—sin—can never resolve man’s deepest alienation—his broken relationship with God.
A socioeconomic theory cannot bring world-scale or individual reconciliation when the basic problem is moral. Treating sinful behavior as a medical category and prescribing chemical therapy will not solve alienations that are not caused by chemical deficiency. The problem is not ultimately economic, biological, or chemical.