I’m attempting to reach out to people who were burned by religion. I’ve started a discussion group to facilitate an honest dialogue about how they process life minus religion. I’ve prayerfully put together a list of discussion topics and we attempt to go through them as we are able. We are currently attempting to process the dynamics of social pressure and its ability to either stunt or stimulate our growth.
Since many of the people we are trying to reach do not consider the Bible to be an authoritative source, I went to secular thinkers for some of the material we would discuss. And of course any conversation about human development must include Abraham Maslow and his hierarchy of needs. As I considered the pyramid, it struck me that by the very nature of things the vast majority of all people who have or will ever live cannot reach self actualization. Take a look that Maslow’s hierarchy here:
According to Maslow, each need must be met starting from the bottom and going up for a person to reach the top. A person who is starving to death will naturally engage her energies in finding food rather than reading books. A young man in a gang-infested neighborhood may want to advance in life but the chances are that he’ll affiliate with a gang in order to remain safe and acquire a sense of belonging to boot.
Notice that everyone one of the human developmental needs depends largely on factors outside of the person. At the bottom – the need for food, water, sex for the most part depend on something/someone that is outside of myself to be satisfied. The same is true for safety. I depend on law enforcement and my fellow citizens’ fear of law enforcement to make me feel safe. Though these things come from outside of us, for the most part we, in the developed world take them for granted. Now, consider the next two steps (hurdles?) on the way up to self actualization. In our world of broken family systems and illusory images, most people enter the relational marketplace deficient in their sense of love/belonging and while running a daily deficit of esteem. In order to acquire what is lacking, they end up borrowing against the person they really are.
In other words, for most people in our society, the pursuit of self actualization defeats itself. According to Maslow, a person can’t become the full expression of themselves without first securing love/belonging and the pursuant esteem, yet in a society based on relative worth, a person cannot be loved and belong unless they conform to the expectations imposed on them from outside. For instance, young people in the dating scene are pressured to conform to an artificial image of themselves in order to compete with others in the market for potential companions. This effort requires that they denounce in some way their authentic selves. If at some point in the relationship, they decide to reveal those personal truths, they risk rejection which would just further confirm their need to conceal themselves. A person who lives confined personally in this way can never go on to self actualization. I suppose this is why Maslow expressed his hierarchy as a pyramid since almost no one ever reaches the top.
I’m not satisfied with that state of affairs, though, and I don’t think God is either. God would have every person become their own authentic selves. After all, that’s the person he made. The fact that so few people actually realize themselves as the person that God made validates the doctrine of sin and the fall of humanity. We’re not what we were made to be either as individuals or as a society.
Good news! The very one who created us each unique means to restore us entirely. God the Son took the one we have come to think of as “self” to his cross and killed it there. He did this because he loves the real us just as we are! At the cross we discover that we have been loved all along. We don’t need to cast about to find love. In fact, our casting about causes us to miss the love we already have. We can cherish and own this love forever because the one who loves us rose again never to die. His resurrection inaugurated a new creation and a new society to which we belong. We are loved and we belong, not based on our actions but based on God’s actions in the world. When we accept his acceptance, love, protection and provision through that mystical organ of faith, we can skip straight to self actualization, or as the Scripture calls it, “humility.” This is conversion in every sense of the word.
Having been converted in this way, the people of the restoration can now engage in authentic relationships with each other that affirm the real self and watch for signs of relapse. We need the authentic community as a context where we can exercise the love that is at the very core of our God-given nature. We need authentic community to remind us of the immutable but assailable facts of our foundation. We need the authentic community to correct our wandering back into the pull of this world’s illusions, for sin is as deceitful and subtle as its progenitor.
The authentic community must be protected as well. Not only does the “god of this world” want to pull our members under his sway, he also seeks to infiltrate our ranks. Faith and love in Christ must be the sole basis of our fellowship. Anything more or anything less can only be of this world and thereby tainted with sin. Leaders must be fully accountable not only for their actions but for their aspirations since selfish ambition will poison the whole group even as numbers on Sunday rise. We must guard against institutional identity – that sense of belonging that comes from the group, or ministry, or the logo, or the sign out front. All of these things will send us back to seeking our worth in someone or something other than Christ and so to rejecting our redemption.
So, the love of God has become the basis for our individual identity and the bond that holds us together. Christ really is the answer.