Wandering & Wondering: Recanting with Abe Maslow
Preston D. Probasco, Ph.D.,
Professor, Organization & Management Dept.
College of Business, San Jose State University
As a young professor previously exposed first-hand to Abraham Maslow and his humanistic psychologist colleague, Carl Rogers, my search for meaning was limited by similarly humanistic/naturalistic colleagues. Unbeknownst to me then, Maslow and Rogers recanted about over-promoting what overly avid disciples adopted with unwarranted certainty, namely the substitution of secular self actualization and New Age self transcendence for being made truly alive together with Christ (Eph. 2:5).
Self-sufficiency (a.k.a. "illusion of control" by cognitive psychologists like Bazerman, 2001, who warn about unrealistically positive views of the self) along with such derivatives as the illusions of an autonomous and even morally "superior" self, where I did not realize the extent of my need for others much less God, led to my "valley of humiliation" (marriage failure and realizing my need for Christ). "Pre-evangelical" interventions, terrific bible study opportunities, a great post-conversion Christian remarriage, and recent efforts at mapping my fields of organizational behavior and business ethics onto the biblical Christian worldview helps me now see how so many earlier experiences were being used by God as valuable "pointers to ultimacy" foreshadowing Christ's reality. In my previously restless wanderings I was gradually outgrowing the substitutes for the truth about my calling and identity in Christ, a deeper belongingness to God and others, and that sense of wonder and peace that only God Himself could fulfill.
Overview of Conversion's Meaning for Me. After writing my conversion narrative I compared mine with not only C.S. Lewis' but with those from a large sample in late 18th century England who like me were socialized as nominal Protestant Christians prior to the point of their conversion. Since Bruce Hindmarsh catalogued these conversions near the time of Wesley's and Whitfield's revival ministry when there was a strong sense of self determination and an introspective conscience about our own mortality, I sensed that his three generalizations about "Gospel Narrative Identity: The Stories Evangelicals Tell" (1999) would apply to me, a 67 year-old product of "The Book of Common Prayer" as I followed it in my own strength in an Episcopal Parish that had its roots at least in England if not in Methodism.. Consequently, what follows is loosely mapped-onto what emerged as three markers of authentic conversion: (1) specificity, (2) connectivity, and (3) self-transcendence. Specificity refers to how customized our Father's workmanship (Eph. 2:10) is with each of us, such that the gospel connects with our deepest idiosyncratic longings. Amazingly He remakes our identities accompanied by varying lag times between awakening our consciences through breaking us ("sorrowful bewilderment") and redeeming us through His Son ("joyous bewilderment"). Secondly, He connects us to a real community of believers that is bestowed by Him, not constructed by us. This new family exposes the futility of the self-designed, autonomous self as having any lasting value. It also coincides with the gospel being the means of true self transcendence as the third generalization about conversion narratives. "Will there be anything left of me if I give up my life to Him" is one of the questions we have during the aforementioned interval between His awakening of our consciences and the assuaging of our conscience by way of a new, bestowed identity in Christ. Eventually we realize our unique conversion experience is part of a meta-narrative of God's story of creation, the fall, and Christ's redemption waiting to be written on our hearts (Hindmarsh, 2005).
As a young organizational behavior professor who had first-hand exposure to Abraham Maslow and his humanistic psychologist colleague, Carl Rogers, I was tribally reinforced by my colleagues for applying their notions to self-directed teamwork. Unbeknownst to me until well after my own mid-life marital crisis, near the end of his life Maslow and then Carl Rogers both recanted about over-promoting the self-actualization claims that their overly avid disciples adopted with unwarranted certainty (Lowry, 1979). While I am also regretful for teaching as much of Maslow and Rogers' notions as I did and I recant of making psychology and naturalism my religion (Vitz,1977), what I repented of during my sabbatical in the fall of 1976 was my subtly arrogant "I can understand and fix anything" attitude (evident by my favorite childhood expression "I know!"). My nice guy cover-up for this attitude seems just as subtly destructive as my underlying sin of pride.
Raised and socialized as a "hot-house" nominal Christian, my conversion was born out of realizing the futility of self-sufficiency. A gradual process of interiorization of Maslow's autonomous self (largely due to my own efforts, not Maslow's) had led to my "valley of humiliation" to coin a C.S. Lewis (1956) phrase (marriage failure as a supposedly knowledgeable behavioral scientist who didn't admit his need for Christ's life within to fill the vacuum caused by worshiping the created rather than the creator). I further realize now that the secular naturalistic mindset of Maslow and his colleagues Carl Rogers & Richard Farson at the Western Behavioral Sciences Institute had a subtle hand in normalizing my polite willfulness and glamorizing my implicit New Age universalism that prompted further dabbling even in Joseph Campbell's (1949) psychological version of mythology as a dose of "supersaturated truth." Coached by Dyson & Tolkien in Lewis' mythological studies to recognize how myths foreshadowed the reality of Christ, my exposure instead to Joseph Campbell and Maslow obscured or omitted such "pointers to ultimacy." The biblical parallel that comes to mind are the secular life experiments run by king Solomon in Ecclesiastes, written by Solomon as if God had not spoken, just to find out for himself what worked (albeit for the short run and how incomplete and ultimately empty that was for the long run, Probasco, 2004).
While I now love considering my academic discipline from a biblical Christian worldview, my conversion was not a well thought-out worldview conversion. It was triggered by interpersonal realities like my first marriage that needed more attention than the "publish or perish" mill. I can relate to the "sorrowful bewilderment" (Hindmarsh, 1999) of being blind-sided by my wife's rejection of seemingly my very core, in part because she too was sorrowful for falling out of love and knowing that she would miss at least my friendship if she divorced me. Another part of my sorrow, though, was being confronted with the prospect of wondering if there would be anything left of my identity as a husband if I surrendered my life to Christ...I vaguely recall wondering about this before, during, and after the point of my conversion. While I did not cling to my identity as a professor, I was still attached to a narrow, more occupationally determined identity. It would take years for Christ to transform my academic role into something He could use for His glory instead of mine. Too much of my identity had become a mixture of social identities that included not just my occupation but also my leisure affiliations with sailing, gardening, sports fan, body surfing, and the like. There was a lot of ground to be plowed in all of these areas before I realized my need to turn them over to His Lordship.
Returning to the build-up to my conversion, reviewing a Harvard colleague's management text (Athos, 1978) surprisingly espousing what appeared to be the spiritual dimension then nudged me closer. Brief, divinely appointed exhortations from two authentically Christian relatives came next, one of whom was the uncle that raised me while the other was my mother-in-law. There was eventually an incredibly artistic, natural revelation element in a canopy-like desert sunrise. This occurred just days after I had learned how to use a camera for nature photography on a solo sabbatical while also taking time to ruminate about the variety of interpersonal influences that were thankfully calling me homeward like Henri Nouwen describes so well in Rembrandt's painting of the Return of the Prodigal (1992). In retrospect, father God customized this moment to get my attention through two of my interests: nature as aesthetically experienced (especially plant life and landscape architecture) and people as also inherently fascinating (interesting friends, relatives, and colleagues). At that point of conversion I do recall bewilderingly crying tears of bittersweet joy. Since then, tears of joy have somehow signaled gratitude for the divine influence of the kind that the Holy Spirit is capable of. All I knew then was that that was a long, contented drive across the Arizona desert to my hometown of Coronado, thanking my Father for waiting so patiently for me to finally accept the gift of His Son's sacrificial love for me and my pride-stained condition.
By His grace I gradually encountered Him and His perspective in increasing measure with greater connectivity through those who allowed "...the word of Christ (to) richly dwell within" (Col. 3:16). For the first time I felt really free of the old self's subtle compulsions and experienced a qualitative difference in gratitude for life itself now that I was actively relying on the presence of the author of life Himself. Sinking my roots deeper into the exchanged life of Christ a la Galatians 2:20 freed me to rely on His love and power to unselfconsciously fall into more deeply appreciating people in ways that far transcended what my old self had done superficially B.C. (before conversion) in its own strength. The fellowship of believers eventually included an equally-yoked marriage partner who would transform my superficial interpersonal attachments into the kind of true intimacy and sense of adventure that only Christ Himself could broker.
30 B.C. (Before Conversion). I was born and raised in two very wholesomely loving families. The second was born-out of a World War II pact with my mother's sister and her husband should the hazardous South Pacific Navy duty leave either set of kids fatherless. While my Christian upbringing was well-intentioned, for me it seemed like I emerged as a "hot house" nominal Christian; under-equipped to sustain a Christian biblical worldview against deceptively attractive competing world views. I was neither an actively "professing" Christian nor an authentic "possessing" Christian. Nevertheless, Christ patiently waited expectantly at the narrow gate like the prodigal father until I had wandered off alone through an array of much wider, more culturally "hip" gates.
Three and a half decades later I had a born-again realization when I finally acknowledged my need for Him whom I had taken for granted since confirmation as an Episcopalian. Looking back on the intervening lean years I can now appreciate His active involvement in a variety of ways. I also recognize that what was emerging as one of my greatest strengths (self-sufficient perseverance) was bound to become one of my greatest weaknesses that God would use to lovingly break me. This was difficult to see coming because part of that self-sufficient reliance was a determination to not let my post-polio condition get the best of me. Being a high school football player when I contacted the complete paralysis of one leg and over 50% paralysis of the other had made me mentally tough enough not to be held back by braces and crutches. Having friendly, adventurous role models at home, school, and at play furthered the self-sufficiency interpersonally to the point where I was unaware of pending difficulties in developing healthy interdependencies and connecting more deeply with others. I was oblivious of the following "We keep lapsing into ideas of self-sufficiency, or get impressed with our niceness, and so we lose our humility. Those who do not ask do not receive, because they don't know their own need" (Mathewes-Green, 2001).
Undergraduate Pre-Evangelical Tug of War. What I was considering "spiritually" during the lean years was influenced by humanism's chief prophet, Abraham Maslow. This was under girded by four years worth of naturalism's various proponents from Pomona College's liberal arts, Psychology program. During this period of being slowly drawn toward morally relativistic belief systems, there was just enough collegiate exposure to Christianity along with the prayers of faithful family members to prevent me from actively rebelling against the credible influence of at least the social gospel. Prompted by what I thought was just my own curiosity I decided to write my religious studies term paper on the validity of Christ's resurrection. Whatever skepticism I had going into that research was squashed by a vast array of evidence. That came in handy later when I felt I really needed Christ in my life.
Moreover, while doing my homework on a different Old Testament assignment all alone in Honnold Library I recall how contented I was. The subsequent rush of other obligations crowded-out the realization that I was setting aside our Lord's quiet nudging me toward a personal relationship with Him. I would find out that the new covenant could be seen in the old testament many years later through the adventure of being led to inductively examine the scriptures at Peninsula Bible Church here in Palo Alto.
Humanistic Influences: Academic and Personal. After college, I was lured further away from whatever Christian moorings I had by a glamorous summer internship at Western Behavioral Sciences Institute (later renamed the Center for the Study of the Person because of Carl Rogers) in La Jolla, Calif. I was primarily engaged in secondary research on the behavioral aspects of nuclear deterrence and decision making. As a bonus I was invited to attend the informal Friday seminars led by Abraham Maslow concerning his motivational findings on the healthiest, most self-actualizing people he could find. This included pioneering work with a Del Mar electronics firm (Solomon, 1962) willing to scrap their machine-paced assembly line for a self-paced small team approach to increased quality of work life and greater productivity. "Eupsychian Management" (1970) captured these findings and later found its way into the reading list for one of my earlier organizational behavior courses taught at San Jose State.
At one Friday session Maslow was asked about the relevance of his interviews of transcendent self-actualizers' "peak experiences" with the claims of authentic Judaism or Christianity. Maslow (1971) seemed to dismiss the seriousness of the inquiry by answering (approximate quote) "you can call it evidence of divine revelation if you must, or, better yet as an expression of your own creativity without any necessary dependence on a godhead." Tragically missing was the deeper realization that peak experiences could be pre-evangelical "pointers to ultimacy" such as the hope of the "exchanged life." "While he took seriously mystic experience, at least a secular understanding of it," (Vitz, 1977), Maslow seemed to settle for the human potential movement as a sufficient belief system without testing its sustainability, nor the sustainability of his atheistic bent at the time.
Maslow Recants. Unbeknownst to me until I contacted William R. Coulson's work (Matzat, 1996, Coulson, 2006) well after my own mid-life marital crisis, it was near the end of Maslow's life that he, and later Carl Rogers (1977) as Maslow's colleague, both "recanted" in their latest writings (reluctantly at first and never in public settings where it would have counted) about over-promoting what their disciples adopted with "an almost paranoid certainty of their own absolute virtues and correctness" (Lowry, 1979, Dec. 5, 1968 entry, The Journals of A. H. Maslow). Admitting that they had underestimated the power of evil and downplayed the importance of tradition, authority structures, community, delaying immediate gratification, etc. they both (Maslow more than Rogers) wished they could pull-back their rash assertions about how that self-actualization "stuff" was possible for everyone rather than the .5% Maslow found later. "History and current events ... must make my lectures sound like rosy dreams and wish fulfillments, no matter how often I warn that I'm talking about the best one half of one percent." (Lowry, 1979, Journals, entry of August 11, 1966). Moreover, in the preface to the second edition (1970) of his "Motivation and Personality" he states"...self-actualization does not occur in young people...they have not achieved identity, nor have they found their calling (the altar upon which to offer themselves)...nor have they learned enough about evil in themselves and others."
Maslow recanted of over-promoting self-actualization in part to encourage his students at Brandeis to return to intellectually more viable pursuits (Lowry, 1979). Maslow may have also been nudged back toward his empirical roots by Carl Rogers who earlier had admired Maslow for his new ideas but questioned Maslow's dedication to testing these ideas beyond whether they just rang true as self-evident (Hart & Tomlinson, 1970). To his credit, Maslow (Lowry, 1979) was dismayed that his hierarchy of needs developed in the forties had been so little field tested by others before such wholesale adoption, particularly by practitioners in the business community. Amongst the subsequent modifications of his hierarchy, the work of Goble (2004) in 1970 at least reflects the complexity and time Maslow intuitively knew was required for true maturity.
Finally, in the last article written before his death (1970 and reprinted in the Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 1979, as well as his journals (Lowry, 1979) commenting on the severe authority crisis pervading all institutions, Maslow said "...particularly intellectuals, must remain ambivalent about power whoever wields it, even (and especially) when they themselves have authority." In an earlier May 28, 1967 journal entry (Lowry, 1979, pp. 794-95) he admitted to at least himself the following: "Self-actualization? I realized I'd rather leave it behind me. Just too sloppy...going through my notes brought this unease to consciousness. It's been with me for years. Meant to write and publish a self-actualization critique, but somehow never did." This was the same time period when Maslow privately admitted he had conflated goodness with being self-actualized by "smuggling in" or reducing "ethics" to being characteristic of the healthiest, most self-actualized people. He was also having private misgivings about Carl Roger's client-centered therapy, worrying that his colleague Rogers was in the grip of 'democratic dogma'. (Lowry, 1979, p.848).
Recently elected president of the American Psychological Assoc., he wanted too much to remain a member much less leader of the club. Oct. 23, 1967, he was asked to give a luncheon talk at the Plaza Hotel in New York City on "The Self Actualizing Manager." His journal entry of that date passed the judgment that he "felt like a swindler." But he added, "they thought it was good." (Lowry, 1979, p. 832) He had his wife Bertha and a Christian psychologist at a major University hide his journals for 9 years after his death ostensibly because he was afraid of disillusioning followers who had adopted the self actualizing worldview. There is further hope by a few of his Christian colleagues that he may have even converted to Christianity or at least theism near the end of his life. As we can see with Judah in Genesis, there is always the possibility of recovery in the program of God. While Maslow as an avowed atheist would have to wade through more cognitive dissonance than most, I too see such hopeful signs as the way his conscience was being weighed down by the responsibility of having misled others, his return to an earnest search for the truth including an admiration for the work of Polanyi (1958), and seemingly an identity-driven yearning for the "ultimate" in himself and others with the added pressure of never having enough time to do it all in his own strength.
Given that Maslow himself did not lead a profligate lifestyle, he was disgusted by those who sought such self indulgent short cuts to true self actualization as the ring leaders at Esalen Institute (the Big Sur facility that he had helped found to promote the development of the whole person). "They tend to be short-term, here now, impatient, and do not realize that education, persuasion, becoming a good person, and developing a good society, are all lifetime tasks requiring a large segment of time." (Lowry, 1979). Soon after joining the faculty at San Jose State in 1967 I signed-up for one of the Esalen seminars using video taped feedback for their encounter group in the meeting rooms and hot springs atop the craggy cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. I can attest firsthand as to how seductive this kind of environment was for a bachelor like me at the time. It would be easy to substitute self-indulgence as a short-cut to becoming a fully functioning, self-actualized person and rely on the rhetoric of self actualization as a cover-up. To think that Maslow, 3 years later, was seriously questioning the likelihood of attaining self actualization by 99.5 % of the population was unheard of by my colleagues in the organizational development field (which is in part a derivative field of psychology). If Maslow had gone public with how he was fast distancing himself from his Marxist Brandeis colleague Herbert Marcuse (1955) at that time, it may have set back the cause of the anti-establishment, socialistic demonstrations led by my more demonstrative colleagues the summer after Maslow's recanting.
Preston Recants. Before my conversion there was a part of me that held onto the lure of the autonomous self that was being celebrated by the 60's counter culture. It helped fill the God shaped vacuum in a counterfeit way by involving me in causes larger than myself which inoculated me against the need for the real thing, substituting, e.g., self-righteousness pleasantness for inclusive goodness, cleverness for wisdom, glamour for dignity, and personality for character. Moreover, there always seems to be a kernel of truth in naturalistic observations such as Maslow's. Particularly so was his prophetic evaluation of our increasingly self-entitled society where he despaired of the lack of gratitude. "People's lives were getting better and yet most seem to take their blessings for granted and concentrate on finding new complaints" (Easterbrook, 2003). In retrospect, though, what he did not grasp or transmit well enough that I needed was the distinction between the false self that we need to let go of and the true self that we are to actualize. It would take me years to resist living out of a false center based on possessions, actions, or the esteem of others...as well as realizing the self that needed to be actualized was "the unique self that is found only in Christ and in the fullness of His life in and through me." (Benner, 2002).
Also I was considered special by my colleagues at San Jose State's College of Business for having studied with Rogers for even one course and having been a Maslow groupie in the Friday seminars at the La Jolla research institute for at least the summer of 61. Consequently I was spring-loaded to arrive on campus as a pagan champion for a variety of humanistic applications to management, many of which survive to this day in a morphed New Age, Zen, or ultra-naturalistic way as can be seen by the renewed interest in Maslow's "Eupsychian Management" (1970). Even though the model company he used is bankrupt for a variety of reasons, Maslow's practical observations about the application of trust, teamwork, and recognition led Peter Drucker, one of the foremost management authorities (only recently deceased), to say "this is by far Maslow's best book...it had an enormous impact on me" (1997). As contrasted with purely individual autonomy, here one can see the more sustainable advantages of autonomous work groups within the constraints of accountability for bottom-line results, access to a floating technical resource person, and up-line authority structures.
Consequently, I need to be careful about what I recant of just as Maslow himself was selective about the subjects of his recanting, e.g., self-actualization without being responsible to others (even if he never intended to foster the license and licentiousness that so shocked him years later at Esalen). Csikszentmihalyi's (1997) in his continuing work with more relationally responsible "peak experiences" is apparently unaware of Maslow's recant since he summarizes the glory days of the mid 20th century as those where "...an optimistic haze blunted all edges, and we permitted ourselves to believe that the only evil came from not fulfilling one's potential."
Meanwhile I was accruing a fair measure of guilt for joining-in on the fun of debunking the military industrial state and adopting uncritically the views of the 60's academic heroes like John Kenneth Galbraith and adding the creative but somewhat rough community organizing tactics of Caesar Chavez's mentor Saul Alinsky to the negotiating game lectures in my organizational behavior course. Like Maslow I enjoyed too much being a member of the club of mostly liberal colleagues (housed in a College of Business with thankfully a few conservative professors who were patiently waiting for me to run out of gas). Thankfully also my eventual conversion was not conflated with socialistic or capitalistic beliefs, as even my presently conservative capitalistic bent is just a judgment call based on what I construe as the lesser of two flawed systems and the one most amenable to the development of a more ethical organizational culture. The then liberal, utopian bent was furthered by getting caught-up in the social engineering projects and Master's theses as an advisor in the interdisciplinary Cybernetic Systems Program originating in the School of Engineering. Since I was on loan for the equivalent of one course as well, I was prompted to ill-advisedly advocate at least part of the agenda of general systems theory as a worldview that kept me light years away from the Jesus movement taking place in "my backyard" at Palo Alto's Peninsula Bible Church. While I was involved in intrinsically worthwhile systems analysis and systems modeling efforts by Jay Forester, the Club of Rome, and the like, too much was expected of these tools in terms of solving mankind's larger problems of war, poverty, quality of life, and workplace compromises on quality and cover-ups of those compromises. At least they put a lid on the hysteria surrounding Paul Ehrlich's overly simplistic projections regarding population growth.
Finally, Dember's (1991) conclusion after decades of research on complexity shows that when faced with the need for sustained attention to excessive complexity with little perceived likliehood of changing the circumstances responsible for the complexity, people tend to adopt an unexamined ideology to attempt to regain some semblance of control. The ideology that I uncritically adopted was general systems theory. It inoculated me temporarily against the need for a more sustainable worldview like authentic Christianity.
I regret not seeing then what Dallas Willard in "The Spirit of the Disciplines" (1988) refers to as the illusion of our age, i.e., that, rooted in an undisciplined and unsatisfying life, searching for new information or social arrangements is bound somehow to significantly reduce ethical lapses, "while letting us continue to be and to live as we have since Adam." Instead, some of us enrolled in E.S.T. (Erhard Seminars Training) to get "psyched-up" with warmed-over self-actualization approaches to further such endeavors as organizational development consulting; simulated problem solving efforts at Bucky Fuller's (1971) World Games; and architect Paolo Soleri's (1969) visionary new ecologically-advanced city "construction" with "sweat equity." All along the way I remained oblivious to the importance of abstinence and engagement "disciplines" as the age-old missing link in attaining such a deeply satisfying life that distracting and potentially unethical temptations lose their hold on our attention and we are freer to choose which projects are most edifying. In retrospect none of this "wandering" was inherently wrong, but the motivation to honor God and have Him guide me into greater "concentric diversification" was missing in action. I am sure He can use these experiences to connect with those students or colleagues who seem to be drifting and may be looking for involvements that have lasting value.
Flashback to Remaining Academic Preparation. Programmed for intellectual and experiential exploration I started under Carl Rogers & others @ Univ. of Wisconsin's clinical psychology program. What followed in grad school after switching out of clinical psychology with its lucrative fellowship, now seems like a number of forays into increasingly multi-disciplinary attachments in the fields of Social Psych & then the Industrial Relations doctorate that eventually made me eligible for appointment as an assistant professor at San Jose State's College of Business. My thesis advisor came from the experimental psychology tradition that took great issue with any of the clinical psychological tradition. Research-wise I began to distance myself professionally from what the experimentalists called "pop psychology" painting clinical psychology as suspect with too wide a brush. Unfortunately, the thesis work I completed at the Behavioral Cybernetics Lab did not have legs enough at least for me to see its relevance for my eventual academic assignment in a College of Business. Hence I did not experience the customary bounce in terms of an ongoing stream of research that would facilitate meeting the "publish or perish" demands of tenure and promotion. This would sow the seeds for an eventual marriage failure due to the time-consuming process of starting a research program from scratch without ready mentors.
Self-Actualizing Marriage Burnout. As I chose to spend more time pursuing tenure and promotion to associate professor at San Jose State, I was gradually losing touch with the wife whom I had met, a seemingly good pagan like myself, soon after joining the faculty. One of our first dates included attending a lecture by Rollo May (1969, part of the same club that Maslow belonged to, albeit from more of an existentialist origin). Too much emotional capital had been burned through by all of my "self-actualizing" projects, and her free-spirit jazz vocalist background did little to preserve what capital remained.
By the time I realized the problem, it was too late according to one of the secular psychotherapists we had been seeing. My wife's secret infidelity and subsequent filing for divorce and remarriage, in spite of my last ditch efforts to win her back, had left me confused, empty, and wondering where the self-actualized life had led us. What added insult to injury then was the stereotyped impression left on my wife by another counselor she saw at San Jose State that I was a typical egg-head academic driven by the need to methodically test every possibility in his research and this was bound to turn me into a dry and tedious person who would be hard to warm-up to. This now seems more like a convenient rationalization that she could hold onto to justify her departure since gratefully under her influence I had become more spontaneous and in-touch emotionally. However, at a deeper level my greatest strength (self-reliance and perseverance) had become my greatest weakness as it had spawned too much autonomy and too little dependence on her. Our marriage counselor during her affair privately told me that if she ever changed her mind and came back to me it would take 10-15 years!
Pre-Conversion Beckonings. During a subsequent professional conference I visited my boyhood home in Coronado. Homecoming has always been special with my uncle and his wonderful Proverbs 31 wife. This time was helpfully confrontational. My uncle was the first one to challenge the illusion of control that I had bought into over the years. He simply reminded me that none of us were designed to live alone without the God who had created us in the first place. Soon after, I was asked to review a text by a leading figure (Athos, 1978) in my field from Harvard whom I had just met at another secular academic conference. While he too had been heavily influenced by Rogers & Maslow, I was amazed to find he had included an actual account of how a manager found relief from the unnerving, subtly self-destructive compulsion to "do what was right in his own eyes" by facing his issue as two of the 7 deadly "sins". I noticed that in the galley proofs that I reviewed, he had placed this account right smack in the middle of the book, while this was later placed in the appendix before publication. If my memory serves me right it also seemed that the individual had been "born again." No matter that Anthony Athos apparently died recently as a Zen advocate, God used him mightily to nudge me closer to a genuine conversion!
Conversion. In this time period in the mid-70's I had tentatively begun going to a beginners' class at a non-denominational, Bible-centered church, due in part to the gentle nudging of my authentically Christian mother-in-law. It made sense rationally but it would take a number of years for me to fully appreciate the startling coalescence of God's inviolate justice with His mercy and grace in the person of His Son. My commitment to respecting His lordship (albeit in addition to mine instead of in place of mine) was building. The pastor in charge of the adult elective had been on staff at Campus Crusade for Christ. What I took away then was his analogy of conversion as sometimes a rear-view realization, much like driving through a new town without seeing the city limits sign. Since my imagination had not been fully engaged yet, this analogy was at least a start in getting me intrigued.
About a half year later, I visited an old air traffic controller friend of mine in Flagstaff, Arizona. He introduced me to photography as a hobby and let me borrow his camera while he and his wife were at work. There was plenty to explore with the drama of fall colors, contrasting patches of newly fallen snow, and the play of light on a river bed that was coming alive again with recently melted snow. On my way home as I drove down the last time through Oak Creek canyon to the floor of the desert I spotted through the sunroof of my old 504 Peugeot an early morning sunrise as I drove out of Sedona that seemed to provide a complete canopy of varying color and shape as far as the eye could see. Imagining God's redemptive presence in that sunrise, as well as viewing earlier examples of His intricate design in my recent nature photography, finally prompted me to welcome His saving work on the cross and His sanctifying presence. I committed to living my life for Him as well as with Him, keenly aware that something was different but still not altogether sure how to articulate it all. A bittersweet sense of bewildering joy brought tears of relief and hope for someone who could capture my attention in ways far vaster than what I had settled for up to now and who could direct me in ways far wiser than I could muster on my own.
Conversion's Meaning for Me. Initially I simply languished in the relief and warmth on that painted desert that my soul had finally come home...just a contented impression of more completeness than I could possibly get my mind around. I was also feeling a great deal freer, just for letting Him take the wheel. Back then I did not know the full meaning of how the truth of His redemptive work set me free from the power of sin and its deceptively enslaving ways. I had lived for so long without the far healthier dependence on the transforming power of Jesus... that self-sufficiency had inoculated me against even wanting the truly abundant life. This self-sufficiency and how it had subtly undermined my relationships with my former wife and others was a major besetting sin that I repented of. Christ was the one whom I thanked for deep-sixing the guilt also about over-promoting some of the same self actualizing "stuff" that Maslow (1979) regretted near the end of his life. I had been using enough subconscious energy to repress this guilt that conversion was a welcome relief from dragging around undiagnosed guilt (i.e., "dead in my trespasses and sins" Eph. 2:1).
The third impression I had was just an adventurous curiosity ...life as God lovingly intended it to be was within my grasp. I wanted to know more about what had been happening to me and I knew that this search was going to go beyond the normal confines of naturalism and that I could trust that this search for meaning and my place in all of this had a ring of authenticity. I had just enough faith that life's meaning was grounded in the real thing, i.e., the creator and sustainer of life itself. This of course was well before discovering in Hebrews and elsewhere that Jesus Himself co-existed with the Father as co-creator of the entire natural splendor I was soaking-up! The sense of wonder that I yearned for beyond worshiping the creature was being fulfilled by the creator Himself.
It's a little overwhelming to realize that God was so tuned into me that he could wrap the gift of His Son with just the artistic flair that would speak to my previously dormant visual sensitivities. As an academic I was fearful that if I ever started conventional artistic pursuits like the oil painting I enjoyed as a youngster I would get so consumed with it that there would not be enough time to squeeze in what little research I could muster with such a full teaching load plus the master's thesis advising I was doing then for the Cybernetic Systems program. God had blessed me with at least the opportunity to do my own landscape architecture around the home. He just caught me by surprise with the scope and majesty of His desert landscape/skyscape.
It is also interesting how he reached me professionally with my academic interest in the behavioral sciences. It seems like He knew I was headstrong enough to want to pursue psychology and its derivatives in organizational behavior unfettered by what I misconstrued as unproductive restrictions on my academic freedom. As an academic I was unknowingly being set-up by the world, the flesh, and the devil to accept yet another counterfeit. This time it was the illusion that my academic freedom was justly married with a commensurate amount of responsibility as measured by little more than my workload. Instead, academic freedom needed to be accountable for "true truth" in the sense that Art Lindsley (2004) and others have articulated so well over the years. Fear before a righteous and all-knowing God that I was off-base and may lead students astray
as well was another way He changed my desensitized heart.
Our Lord knew also that I would learn the hard way that the idealistic promises of the 60's that life would get better because of less restrictions of most any kind would backfire, and that the autonomous, "self-actualized" economically improved life would produce about a 40-year decline in real happiness (see Easterbrook's "The Prosperity Paradox", 2003). Consequently, even though today I am a big fan of worldview analysis, I cannot claim that my conversion was fundamentally a well-thought-out worldview conversion because I was largely unaware of how the decline of the secular university (Sommerville, 2006) had hollowed-out and truncated socially acceptable worldviews into a parody of academic freedom. Dominated by the secular humanism of avowed atheists like Abraham Maslow and the reductionistic experiments of a Harry Harlow (whom Maslow had worked with earlier @ the Univ. of Wisconsin's primate lab), my understanding of what it means to be human did not freight enough meaning for me professionally or personally. As a result I wandered away from much of the distracting academic input until I could see that Jesus was the leading figure in my field (to roughly paraphrase Dallas Willard) as well as a very present hope personally. Jesus knew that to be truly human I needed others at a deeper level than I had allowed up to that point, and he brought me someone as a wife who needed me as much or more than I needed her as a companion spiritually and every other way. Moreover, the Christian colleagues that were popping-up around me as I got further into worldview research were complementing the ultimate sense of belonging that I had with Christ Himself.
Finally, it seems that the nature of my conversion holds the clues as to the nature of God's calling on my life. I have struggled off and on with what God has uniquely called me to do, with an increase in uncertainty as I approach retirement. Given the artistic aspects and the relationship between psychology and biblical truth that accompanied my conversion, it is becoming clearer as to God's specific calling. While I don't want to sidestep God's desire to have me ask for specific guidance every day, there does seem to be a pattern that others have recognized as well as me. So far, it seems to involve roles that involve a fairly high degree of interpersonal interest and a desire to facilitate constructive dialogue and teamwork. It seems that any artistic involvement in especially gardening helps restore my batteries for the interpersonal facilitation and the occasional writing I have done...although I might be receptive to changing from an academic career to that of landscape architecture if I could find a feasible work-around for my post-polio weakness in both legs. Writing itself does seem to float my boat but since I have not been able to find a way to make it pay and I seem to linger over word choice and construction longer than many, as a calling it seems to require more of a service request...and a patient one at that. More generally, there seems to be a sense that the closer I am to His Word the closer I get to understanding myself, as well as vice-versa.
Post-Conversion Personal Changes. Getting back on the path that has His heart was both a relief and an adventurous adjustment. It would take God 15 years to prepare me for the right next marriage partner. What I sensed right away with Cynthia was the thrill of living with a true sense of shared purpose. It was almost too easy relating to someone I enjoyed so much. Given her other calling as a elementary school teacher one of the greatest areas of "shared dominion" has been in the area of integrating our Christian biblical worldview with various aspects of the curriculum we serve in both secular and Christian settings.
I am just very thankful for a prodigal father God patient enough to let me wander around like some spoiled son searching for what would meet my deepest longings for meaningfulness. I am also eternally grateful that He gracefully intervened with His shepherd's crook as I continued to allow the world's mesmerizing menu of pursuits to so distract me from any full consideration of God's claim on my life ("You're Not Your Own, You Were Bought With a Price") that I had become numbed to the need for any ongoing redemptive intervention by our Lord.
Post-Conversion Academic Changes. One of the most notable academic changes was a shift toward teaching and publishing in a new field of business and professional ethics. While I was able to fuse my organizational behavior background into a field largely dominated by philosophy, nevertheless I still needed to acquire some understanding and skill in the application of human rights, justice, and utilitarian to a myriad of ethical dilemmas. Eventually, I grew weary of how these approaches were designed to just minimize the collateral damage occasioned by the wrongful actions of a few. It was then that I turned back to my organizational behavior background to find ways to build a climate that would reward more ethical behavior. The surprise was that some of these approaches opened the possibility of even larger breakthroughs by way of a biblical Christian worldview. However it took Christ almost 15 years to prepare me for this with His own incredible curriculum.
Inductive Bible study, principally in small groups, guided sometimes by Precept Bible Studies (Kay Arthur), other times by Bible Study Fellowship, and initially by a God-given mixture of married folk from Peninsula Bible Church, two of whom had an academic background, was God's gift that I treasured most. Later, two older, former elders of the same church helped further disciple me in fledging attempts of my own to co-lead a single's Bible study. Christ Himself also discipled me through the imaginative and caring pastorship and their men's morning bible study "Road Crew" as well as through a host of radio pastors familiar to all of us.
The most exciting adventure had just begun with my attempts to integrate business ethics, organizational behavior, and a biblical Christian worldview. I didn't realize until my first conference with Dallas Willard and other Christian academics at the Christian Leadership Ministries conference in Chicago 4 years ago that I had been indirectly doing this in my classroom lectures, by, e.g., mapping societal and organizational changes on the same basic template found in Judges, Kings, Chronicles, & Nehemiah and later by those investigating the rise and fall of civilizations such as Edward Gibbon, the Durants, C. John Sommerville, Victor Davis Hanson, et.al., but without explicit reference to the God of the Bible in this thoroughly secular university. Another point of integration were the fairly recent findings in cognitive psychology (Bazerman, 2001) concerning such motivational biases as the illusion of moral "superiority" (the findings that most of us judge ourselves as more ethical than the average person...not a holier than thou, but just ethically OK enough to prompt moral drowsiness) and other unrealistically positive views of the self. As applied to business ethics this has to be balanced against the media bias regarding business leaders who are judged guilty of serious ethical lapses almost because they are proponents of free market capitalism. Those who do have often overestimated the efficacy of legislating morality to prevent "perfect storm" episodes like Enron & Arthur Anderson's ethical lapses and have missed the real opportunities for improving the internal climate with better board governance attention to rooting out the self-entitled executives who have a perverted sense of individualism that Maslow wished he could have corrected (Sayles & Smith, 2005) and championing a healthy supply of trustworthy leaders, some of whom resemble what Jim Collins ("From Good to Great", 2001) calls level 5 leaders who model personal humility and professional will.
I wonder if those who champion instead the move toward a more socialistic version of business have not implicitly bought into the old humanistic illusion (e.g., Rogers, Maslow and his early colleague, Herbert Marcuse) that most people are basically good and that with a better environment moving in a more socialistic direction we would see a better business world. Moreover, Rodney Stark's "The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success" (2005) demonstrates that elements within Christianity actually gave rise to the development of capitalism as early as the fifth century...with due allowance for earlier forms under the Roman Republic. For our purposes of understanding conversion amongst academics, it is noteworthy that Christianity stands alone amongst other great belief systems in embracing logic, reason, and an innovative, future orientation as the path toward enlightenment, freedom, and progress. For academics, then, the more likely contender for their belief system is not a religion other than Christianity but secular naturalism (which seems to require a great deal more faith than the evidence from Christianity requires) with the addition for some of political involvement as a means of filling the God-shaped vacuum inside them.
Personally, I was being buoyed up over the typical disappointments of life by what I would understand later as a quixotic blend of gratitude, trust, and an abandonment of myself to serve Him. The source for this personal growth spiritually came initially in 1977 from Pastor Ray Stedman's adventuring through the bible (see his "Authentic Christianity," published posthumously in 1996) here in Palo Alto as well as Oswald Chambers (1963), Scott Peck (1978), Paul Vitz (1977) and later from Henri Nouwen (1992) while I was pouring over various attempts to reconcile psychology with Christianity. Both personally and academically I found my growth in Christ accelerated as I took on the task of integrating my biblical Christian worldview with various constructs and issues in my academic disciplines of originally organizational behavior and then later professional preparation in business ethics coast-to-coast from, e.g., the Institute for Global Ethics in Camden, Maine to Michael Josephson's Institute of Ethics in Marina Del Rey, California. It certainly intensified my appreciation for His guidance in my effort entitled "Managing Organizational Behavior "Under the Sun": Dealing with Our Errors of Omission in Personality & Motivational Constructs and in Their Application even by Solomon Himself", National Faculty Leadership Conference, Washington, D.C., June 24-27, 2004. Here the limits to an "internal" locus of control were compared with Solomon's omission of an abiding "eternal" locus of control. Earlier I was challenged by the monstrous evils at Enron and the more common ethical lapses of compromising on quality coupled with cover-ups of those compromises to discover identity-driven motivations to behave more ethically (Probasco, 2002). The author's collaborative research on social identity maintenance-driven groupthink (1992) amplified by Kierkegaard's (Moore, 2002) prophetic examination of the futility of post-modernists' attempts at self-validation both presented stern challenges to an authentic sense of identity in that research. "Despite the absurd counterfeiting of the Silicon Valley culture of craftsmanship, creation, and meritocracy by self-entitled tourist entrepreneurs, we are seeing some signs of greater disclosure and hopefully a return to company identities that shelve impersonal acronyms and names of processes and products for the birth names of those entrepreneurs who will think twice about a quick exit strategy that hollows out 401K retirement accounts."
Insights from C. S. Lewis. As I became more involved in worldview research, I also became intrigued by pre-evangelical work being done in philosophy, literature, business management, and psychology by others such as Tom V. Morris (e.g., "If Aristotle Ran General Motors", 1997, & more recently, 2006, "If Harry Potter Ran General Electric") as well as his prior work with his son on philosophy and superheroes such as Spiderman. I sensed that C. S. Lewis' vision of being air-lifted behind enemy lines for at least lifestyle evangelical purposes was important now more than ever given the growing apostasy of mainline Christianity since the 60's. As in Amos' prophetic times the challenge has extended beyond the pagan world to those who profess to be Christians as well. What energized me the most was reading George MacDonald's stories, initially those abridged by Michael Phillips and more recently the originals such as "The Marquis of Lossie" (2004) written in 1877. Unlike C.S. Lewis my imagination was sanctified not by MacDonald's fantasy works, but by MacDonald's highly personable novels of the wholesome adventures of ordinary people encountering the rigors of making an honest living, discovering more truth by obeying well, etc., while gradually appropriating the reality of the New Covenant in their relationships with each other and with the Lord. Again, the role of the moral imagination became as important as the role played by the more rational and analytical approaches of such apologists as Norm Geisler, Peter Bocchino, Randy Newman, Chuck Colson, Alistair Begg, Ravi Zacharias, and Glenn Miller (christian-thinktank.com) to name just a few (most of whom usually mix-in illustrative stories that engage our imagination and emotions as well). I resonate to both and I sense that one without the other does not quite reach even egghead academics who also have a heart longing to be stirred.
By surfacing the inspiring stories of George MacDonald as well as those of C. S. Lewis I am aware that some still think that both are "universalists" and as such sometimes omit clear conversion points in their stories. It reminds me now of the analogy of driving into a town where you missed the city limits sign and only realize you're in the town when you see the name on some place like the city library building. Hearing this analogy before my time of finally yielding in a sublime desert sunrise paradoxically made me freer to let God do something more pointed. From what research I have done so far I think that those who claim that C. S. Lewis and his avowed "mentor" George MacDonald were guilty of the heresy of universalism are in error. Whether MacDonald was trying to counteract the excesses of Calvinism in his day or was respectful of the private, reverential nature of our relationship with God, I think we have to leave it to God to do the converting while we help by just sowing seeds. I also think that C. S. Lewis' brother was off-base in judging that C. S. had given his life to Christ as a youth and merely suffered a long bout of "mental illness" in the interval between then and 1931 when he returned to his senses at Oxford. Personally, I can relate to his brother's assertion because my godmother claims I was fully converted during my Episcopalian confirmation. As it turns out my brother's confirmation accompanied true conversion, in part because a visiting bishop presided over the confirmation proceedings instead of our local rector whom I may have not taken as seriously. Certainly earning a twelve year ribbon around my neck as an acolyte (in a liturgical church that lacked the teaching emphasis of Peninsula Bible) is not itself proof of authentic conversion and growing in Christ as a result.
Reaching unbelieving academicians today benefits from the twin roles of reason and the imagination as previously described. In addition, I would like to recommend gardening or an analogous means of returning to the land God created for us to take care of. I'm sure Lewis and his brother's weekend time in their garden accompanied the realization that an earthly garden is never just earthly, since God Himself is in the garden just like that little sign says "We're never closer to God than when we are in His garden". For this to be true in the ultimate sense God would have to approve of honoring Him by gardening the place of our lost innocence. Gardening then becomes symbolic of our labor to reclaim our first home. As Vigen Guroian observes (March 21, 2006, Breakpoint), "...we garden because we are created in the image of the Master Gardener in whose likeness we grow in measure as we garden."
As academics we sometimes get too removed from the sensate world that God created. "Through sight, sound, taste, smell, and touch God meets us in the Garden—for He never left it, not even after Adam's banishment. He has invited us back in. "I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise" (Luke 23:43) in the garden that you grow." Finally, to trade on the metaphor of plant roots, it would be foolhardy to blithely proceed (like Maslow and I did early-on) as if sin had no roots, just as it would be hopeless to again buy the lie of the autonomous self...for we're wholly dependent upon God to save ourselves. Then we can be eternally grateful for His subsequent sanctification as we sink our roots ever deeper "in Christ." Thus stripped down to the bare root essentials, we can actively rely on the power of the gospel as the meta-narrative to do its work in even the post-modern era with all of its claims of rendering obsolete the only Truth that sets one free.
Conclusion. Thanks again be to God that "...even when we (myself and other self-important academics) were dead in our transgressions, (God) made us alive together with Christ (by grace we have been saved)" Eph. 2:5. My gratitude for what Col. 3:12-17 explains as my "new self" and what Romans 1:17 summarizes as "...the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith" is a far more realistic and adventurous way to live than what Maslow initially thought about "roaring off the face of the earth" in his tragic suppression of the truth that all have sinned and need the righteousness that only God can provide (Romans 1:18). Only God Himself knows the specificity of a secular Jew's heart like Maslow's so He could have reached him after he recanted and hopefully was on the verge of conversion himself as a Christian colleague surmised just before his death. It just takes God Himself to show nice, gregarious guys like myself our camouflaged sin condition and the underlying need and longing that only God Himself can satisfy...along with the bewildering peace and joy that our Father God through His Son can give us once we accept in fear and trembling His sacrificial death on our behalf. Then true self-transcendence and an identity bestowing process ensues in the midst of authentic "body life" community. As such, we come to appreciate more fully the meta-narrative (Hindmarsh, 1999) detailing God's redemptive process of uniquely encountering each of us as He facilitates a far more robust identity rooted as it is in Christ rather than in the narrow, shifting sands of occupation and any number of superficial social identities like class, ethnic roots, leisure pursuits, geographical locale, and the like.
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