Dabar [theme]

He shall cover thee with His feathers, and under His wings shalt thou find refuge: His truth is a shield and buckler
Psalms 91:4

Be it ours,when we cannot see the face of God, to trust under the shadow of His wings. C.H. Spugeon

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Needs,Wants and Faith

Christians come to their faith with a host of needs, needs for stress-relief, better parenting skills, business strategies, and sex advice.

Some Christians approach their faith as need-satisfaction. I need and God steps in—via some Christian product—to satisfy that need. This is consumerism, but it is more psychological than economic. In the end, God satisfies me, fills me, supports me, completes me, guides me, encourages me, and fulfills me. This is how many Christians envision their faith, God as a uber (super, mega)-product, the Divine Snake Oil.

Where does this neediness come from? Freud had the answer when he noted that to exist as a human is to exist as a neurotic animal; to exist existentially, with fears, doubts and questions; to be human is to be neurotic. If we were not neurotic we’d be living without an internalized conscience. To have a conscious awareness is to be human, which means we live neurotically, we feel shame, guilt, and remorse. We obsess with how people feel about us and if our breath smells bad. We check our hair in the mirror and wonder if we are living up to our potential. We evaluate and castigate; we fret and bet; we sell our shame to buy our fame, exchanging who we are and can be for a perception of who we want or wish to be by use of our purchasing power; we try to take the humiliation out of humanity; and all this is just pride, disguised.

As Christians enjoy more of our leisure time we begin to think, and as we think we grow progressively neurotic, obsessing over our sex-life, our home decor, our socio-economic status, our parenting skills, the intelligence of our children, and, most ominously, our "relationship with God.” As a consequence, neurotic Christians seek solace in a faith aimed at the managing of our neurotic obsessions and compulsions. Shopping, consumerism, the expectation of product satisfaction, needs- vs. want-based purchasing, the best bang for my buck mentality, has crept into the church and is being exposed as just a way to fill time and soothe oneself. The church becomes a crutch that is gilded and its value is esteemed by the carat content.

A missional church understands all of its life, focus and vision as mission and subsequently, possibly idealistically, congregations practice simplicity in the name of Jesus, they resist the spiritual power of consumerism that dominates our culture. Simplicity is defined by many thoughts; unmixed, consisting of few parts, freedom from cunning or duplicity, freedom from artificial ornament, pretentious style or luxury, clearness in explanation and demonstration (I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time, Blaise Pascal), purity and clarity. There is no OR in Christianity.

"Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away." — Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Matthew 8:20, "...and Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head."

The seeking after prominence; the desire for worldly possessions, material assets (your career belongs to Him He owns your family, your home, your car, your ability with numbers, your grasp of complex concepts, your ease with people, your eye for design, it is all His, and He calls you to use it all, not in a self-serving way but in a God-serving way, toward the fulfillment of His purposes); the transient notions, fads and fallacies of this current culture capturing the hearts of Christians (William Law talks about "the expulsive power of a new affection", the adventure for which we have been made, that something-bigger-than-ourselves for which we have longed all our lives); the improper motivations of faith-based living (what matters to God is what you do with what you have and His measuring stick is this: recognizing that what you have does not belong to you in the first place, but to God); the delaying of action, the failure to promise and fulfill in order to attend to the pressing needs of life (many things consume us: stock prices, sports stats, IQ scores, our latest relationship, our newest job, our most difficult teen, our most ailing parent); and the other loves affecting devotion and the 'do unto...as you would have...' are the things which possess our focus and create the many compulsive behaviors which Jesus is addressing in this passage of Scripture.

Christians are approaching their faith to meet psychological needs. What kinds of needs? The needs are mainly neurotic, distress that is largely self-inflicted from rumination, introspection, self-consciousness, worry, social comparison, and idiosyncratic obsessions or compulsions. The Bible, most current Christian literature (loosely defined use of this word in this context) and popular Christian teaching is focused on giving a neurotic person the confidence, energy, and self-esteem to decisively step out of low self-esteem, lack of confidence, self-defeatism, and emotional rumination.

Being neurotic meaning, unhappy, suffering from low self-esteem, carrying emotional baggage, listening to negative self-talk, feeling confused, experiencing a sense of mental depression, or feelings of underachievement are all symptoms and conditions requiring some level of therapy. The Christian approach seems to be currently focusing on faith as that therapy. (In my estimation a new and improved version of the prosperity Gospel) Therapy is a fine thing, but there are consequences for this focus on faith as therapy. Marketing Christianity as a therapeutic culture creates a dilemma. A therapeutic environment has tendencies to be ego-centric and faith in that setting reduces the cross of Christ to a feel-good, psycho therapeutic intervention (Jesus Loves Me!, 1 Cross + 3 Nails = 4 Given, and the parable of Jesus' footprints).

There does exist great therapeutic value to every aspect of the Gospel, however, the problem lies in the incarcerating effect, the consumer-driven mind-set, the marketing and media presentation of faith that only addresses need and is unable to move beyond that point to instituting change. We are stuck as a church applying salves and ointments but never healing, always dealing with scabs and sores but never closing up the wounds. People come to church broken and wish to stay broken and when challenged to discipleship, when challenged to comfort others as they have been comforted, when encouraged to pass on the story of their victory, we find ... What?

The anxieties, fears, existential phobias, coping and defense mechanisms and the human condition in general are part of the "...contemporary man and [he] is blind to the fact that, with all his rationality and efficiency, he is possessed by "powers" that are beyond his control. His gods and demons have not disappeared at all; they have merely got new names. They keep him on the run with restlessness, vague apprehensions, psychological complications, an insatiable need for pills, alcohol, tobacco, food, [religion]– and, above all, a large array of neuroses. (Jung, 1964:82).

Up this way, therefore, did burdened Christian run, but not without great difficulty, because of the load on his back.
He ran thus till he came at a place somewhat ascending; and upon that place stood a cross, and a little below, in the bottom, a sepulchre. So I saw in my dream, that just as Christian came up with the cross, his burden loosed from off his shoulders, and fell from off his back, and began to tumble, and so continued to do till it came to the mouth of the sepulchre, where it fell in, and I saw it no more.

"Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Is that what the Faith has come down to, a commodity less substantial than a fluoride deliverer?

Either most Protestant denominations/congregations have reduced traditional doctrine to a mere short-listed Statement of Faith -- the most fundamental of fundamentals that can be summed up neatly on the inside back page of the weekly bulletin -- and folded those beliefs where there was traditional conflict under the rubric "adiaphora" ...

Or most Protestant Christians don't care much about doctrine to begin with and go to whatever church meets their personal/social needs.

Some would say the new maleability is a good thing, that it's all about Jesus anyway, and that institutions are secondary.

But do all institutions teach the same thing about Jesus? Or about discipleship? Or about what the sacraments do or don't do to strengthen faith and invigorate our union with Christ?

It should be noted that this new phenomenon is not the victory of ecumenism, which maintains doctrinal distinctives but pursues dialogue and a commitment to work together on common social goals. Rather it's the victory of indifference. We can't all be right about baptism, about the Real Presence, about the extent of the atonement, about church polity. But that doesn't mean these things are of no consequence. It means we have to continue to dig deeper into Scripture, into church history, into the creeds, and see where we may have erred -- and where we must stand firm.