Psychological Testing and Liberty of Conscience
Dr. Paul Dean is a pastor, cultural commentator, and author. He serves as a Regional Mentor with the International Association of Biblical Counselors, speaks at several conferences throughout the year, and provides training for ministers and churches on a regular basis. Paul resides in the Upstate of South Carolina with his wife and three children.
- 2006 May 02
People face multi-colored difficulties in this psychologized culture in which we find ourselves. The difficulties lie not so much in the so-called psychological problems plaguing individuals but in the problems foisted upon individuals as the result of a cultural, psychological mindset and its concomitant practices. One such difficulty lies in the area of psychological testing as it is often forced upon individuals against their wills and in violation of their consciences. This practice poses both practical and philosophical problems.
Practically, psychological testing may deal with areas including self esteem, coping skills, optimism, extroversion, sex personality, and so much more. These tests are used in a variety of ways. Primarily, as individuals are tested, a determination is made as to whether or not an individual is psychologically suited to a particular job. Even theological institutions require personality testing for admittance into advanced degree programs. Individuals who may be very well equipped to handle particular jobs or degree programs may be excluded by virtue of a highly subjective test which could never assess an individual's true personality, capacity, or potential. Less suited individuals may be advanced over more effective individuals. While other problems emerge in this regard, suffice it to say that the multitude of variables that constitute an individual's ability to perform could never be taken into account with such testing.
The philosophical problem with psychological testing lies in at least two areas. First, the presuppositions upon which secular psychology rests are diametrically opposed to the Scriptures. Dr. William Kilpatrik, Associate Professor of Educational Psychology at Boston College, notes that "It is true that popular psychology shares much in common with Eastern religion: in fact, a merger is well under way. But if you're talking about Christianity, it is much truer to say that psychology and religion are competing faiths. If you seriously hold to one set of values, you will logically have to reject the other (Psychological Seduction: The Failure of Modern Psychology, p. 14)." Additionally, Dr. Paul Vitz, Associate Professor of Psychology at New York University, affirmed that "...contemporary psychology is a form of secular humanism based on the rejection of God and the worship of the self (Psychology as Religion: The Cult of Self-Worship, p. xii)." Christians are warned to beware of worldly philosophies that appear to be grounded in truth but in reality oppose Christ (Col. 2:8).
Second, many informed Christians shun psychological testing as a matter of conscience based upon their understanding of psychology's opposition to the Scriptures. Liberty of conscience is an all but forgotten cardinal principle of Protestant thinking and indeed American thinking. As religious freedom was affirmed in America's formative period, the bill of rights emerged and served to shape American thought in terms of liberty for a hundred years. Sadly, a slow erosion in understanding and commitment to liberty of conscience has jumped to warp speed in our day. The fact that persons are willing to impose psychological testing upon others with no regard for individual conscience is but one example.
In 1689, London Baptists penned these words: "God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are in any thing contrary to his word, or not contained in it. So that to believe such doctrines, or obey such commands out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience; and the requiring of an implicit faith, an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience and reason also." In a nation that purports to be "under God" and is committed to the concept of God-given unalienable rights, the reality that God alone is Lord of the conscience is non-negotiable in our dealings with one another. When persons are forced to submit to testing grounded in a faith, religion, or worldview contrary to their own, not only is their conscience violated, but reason itself is destroyed as the London Baptists noted. It is illogical and unreasonable to subject persons to a violation of their conscience in a free society.
The current Baptist Faith & Message of the Southern Baptist Convention states: "A free church in a free state is the Christian ideal, and this implies the right of free and unhindered access to God on the part of all men, and the right to form and propagate opinions in the sphere of religion without interference by the civil power." That right to religious opinion without interference by the civil power applies to individuals as well.
It should be pointed out here that submission to personality testing would itself be a matter of an individual's conscience, particularly if the requiring entity is a business. A Christian may be opposed to psychology and psychological testing on biblical grounds. At the same time, he may recognize that undergoing such testing in his own case to obtain employment is not in and of itself sin. He may figuratively eat meat sacrificed to idols as long as he does not engage in idol worship (1 Cor. 8:1-13; 10:19-33).
With the above two areas serving as foundational support, we must make it clear that requiring psychological assessments or personality testing is not something we would affirm as the foundation upon which said testing is built is contrary to the Scriptures. Personality testing results in persons being unduly labeled and thereby hindered in terms of career advance. Again, too many variables are impossible to factor into such testing and thus we regard said testing not only to be unfair but downright misrepresentative of an individual's true personality, capacity, potential, etc.
Further, while we would assert that the state (civil government) has no right to impose or require such testing on or from individuals, we would, however, affirm the right of individual employers to do so. We would certainly disagree with their rationale, practice, conclusions, and actions resulting from such testing. We would regard such action as unjust. But, we also affirm the individual's freedom to operate his business without state intervention prohibiting him from exercising personality testing. We affirm liberty for all. An individual may not be forced by the state to undergo psychological testing but another individual may certainly use such testing in the operation of his business. Those who object to the testing can seek employment elsewhere. The state may not violate the liberty of either of the individuals in question.
From a full-orbed biblical perspective, while the Christian would never put stock in personality testing, if required to undergo such testing by his employer or some other entity, he should not feel that he is dishonoring the Lord in that undergoing the testing is both benign and irrelevant. If however, submission to such testing violates his conscience, he should abstain from the testing as he alone must answer to God for his actions. While we regard a Christian's submission to personality testing for the purpose of gaining or maintaining employment as an issue of liberty for him, we personally could not recommend anyone to violate his own conscience. He should entrust himself to God's providential provision for him in that instance.
Our hope and prayer is that the state and indeed companies and/or other entities will not unfairly hinder an individual's career path or cause an individual to violate his conscience. In a free and civil society, respect for the rights and freedoms of others is sacrosanct. This commitment enables persons of all faiths and/or value systems to live together in harmony.
Sign up free for "Christian News and Views," a weekly e-mail newsletter highlighting relevant news stories affecting Christians. An editorial by Dr. Dean is included as well as a link to his comments on selected stories. The e-newsletter goes out each Friday and is sponsored by "Calling for Truth," a daily, live, call-in radio program co-hosted by Dr. Dean and Kevin Boling. Simply e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org to receive your first issue this Friday.
To listen live to "Calling for Truth" each day from 1:00 pm to 2:00 pm eastern time, go to www.callingfortruth.org and click on the "Listen Online" button. You may listen to archived shows as well. They are uploaded each day after the broadcast.