TRENDS AND TRIAGE The Self-Centered Self:
Contextualizing Conflicting Voices of Freedom
The Fruit of the Spirit in our Prison of Needs: Resisting the Seduction of False Values (S. D. Eyre, Defeating the Dragons of The World (Inter-Varsity Press, 1987).
Scripture: Galatians 5.l6ff; Romans 12.1ft.
The Self: (1) Divided Self; (2) Destroyed Self; (3) Inflated Self; or (4) Crucified Self - is the death of The Self-Centered Self
Introduction: Contemporary humanistic psychologists affirm that The Self is a bundle of needs and that personal growth is the business of progressively meeting these needs. The endless cyclical of Identifying needs and meeting of these needs places us in an inescapable prison. What we often call needs, the scriptures call blessings. Far from basing our life on the needs of The Self, Jesus taught that we should take up our cross and deny ourselves. Concerning The Self, Paul's response to the Galatians is that a "crucified self" (Gal. 6.11-18) is essential for Christian existence.
"In regard to the Western emphasis on the individual, individual selfhood is expressed in the self's capacity for self-transcendence and not in its rational capacity for conceptual and analytic procedures. Thus a consistent idealism and a consistent naturalism both obscure the dimension of selfhood, the former by equating the self with universal reason (Plato/Hegel) and the latter by reducing the self to an unfree nature not capable of viewing itself from the position transcending the flow of events, causes and sequences. (Niebuhr, Nature and Destiny (Gifford Lectures) vol I, p. vii)
Niebuhr is struggling with an epistemological breakdown, where on the one hand, a totally transcendental idealism tends to minimize man's subjection to nature and its biological restraints. On the other hand, an entirely empirical, naturalistic view of reality leads one to deny man's spiritual aspects which allow him to "stand outside of nature, life itself, his reason, and the world." (Niebuhr, Nature and Destiny , p. 3)
Conflicting Voices of Freedom: We live in an age of a pluralism of voices seeking to meet our inner needs. The voices of affluence enable us to graduate from consumption of necessities to a consumption of luxuries. Present efforts seek to free man from work in order to enslave him once more in idolatrous freedom of leisure. Personal growth involves a graduation from the basic needs pyramid (i.e., security, love, food, etc.) to free self-fulfillment. Meeting needs is a growth industry. Hear the voices of leisure needs and recreational needs, each one calling us from the pressures of unhealthiness of factories, office, kitchens, or bedrooms.
The central message of these new voices is NEED. The New Morality finds expression in our prison of need. The justification of our needs is an expression of radical individualism whose voice declares, "I choose," "I want," and "I have decided." Biblical imperatives and mandates are thus displaced by 'I choose,' 'I need,' 'I want.' Our social environment is dominated by psychological needs for security and recognition. Needs are conceived of as 'good things' without which society could not operate. This presupposition has imprisoned psychiatry, psychology, sociology, economics, and much media religion. We are enslaved by the endless cycle of desire and to be in need.
The more recent voice of Sigmund Freud declared that there are fundamental conflicts between the biological needs and desires of the unconscious id and the conscience of the superego, between self and society, between 'I need' and 'I ought,' conflicts that are resolved by the ‘I will’
of the ego. But Freud's voice is Baffled by the outcries of Fromm, Maslow and Rogers whose Ideal Personality is one in which the needs of the individual can be, should be, or are met by society. The personality is a bundle of needs, life's project is the progressive meeting of them, and society is the mid-wife of this gradual emergence of the self-actualized person. One of the Barks of present moral-socio-economico-politico, etc. crisis is that the Church has assimilated the language and behavior of needs analysis. Too often, the Church is an echo of culture, not a voice of God (Romans 12.Iff).
Exposing The Language of Need: The enslaved Church proclaims the Gospel of a God who is some kind of ultimate welfare agency. The language of need is often just a linguistic cover-up for rampant hedonism (cf. 1960's Play Boy decade—The Self-Sentio ergo sua). Liberation theology which voices the mind set of Marx and Engels declares that creating and meeting need is what makes the world go around. "The satisfaction of the first need leads to new needs; and this production of new needs is the first historical act" (The German Ideology, p. 39) Never did the 19th century voice of progress speak more clearly.
Historical Expose: Preventive Education for the 21st Century—20th Century western man is committed to the view that the purpose of society is to meet human needs. Classical Greeks held the exact opposite view. Basic needs were met by non-members of society, namely slaves and women. Society was something different altogether. It was the public arena where citizens, all men and freemen, met to discuss and argue and make political decisions. Society was what happened after basic needs had been met. Far from being central to society, needs were a diversion from it. Cultural development after the first scientific revolution and industrial revolution opened the Western mind to the Post-Kantian presuppositions of Hegel.
Phenomenologically, Hegel noted that man is not self-sufficient. He creates his own sufficiency by struggling to meet his needs in the process of struggle with the external, natural world, man becomes aware of himself. Without the struggle, they would have no self-awareness; and without the needs, there would be no struggle (cf. Hegel, Darwin, Marx). Hegel foreshadows those existentialists and humanists who see the development of the personality as a process of 'becoming' (G. Allport, Becoming), and Marx's concern for identifying our true needs was rediscovered in the 1960's (cf. recovery of 1844 economic manuscripts—Marx as a humanist rather than an atheistic materialist). The post World War II world radically developed the language of need. Since ca. 1945, five features of our needs contour have developed; (1) Absorption of psychological ideas into everyday experience; (2) The welfare state; (3) The United Nations as a vehicle for transmitting the voices of need; (4) The Consumer Society; (5) Development from Industrial to Service Society (ca. 57% of all jobs in the USA are service-oriented; and ca. 60% of the work force work for state or federal governments).
The history of psychological thought does expose the conflict between the natural and the artificial, i.e., needs and conscience, the conflict between personality and civilization. Freud's fundamental notion that the gratification of our needs is what motivates all human behavior was also crucial for the sexual/morals- revolution of the 1960's. Freud's concept was combined with a belief in progress to produce the humanistic psychologies of Maslow, Rogers, Fromm, et. al. These fundamental issues were fused into pop psychology and many theories of counseling. Need implies lack. Self-actualization, realizing our full potential, becomes the goal of life. All forms of the Human Potentiality Movement, so inseparable from the New Age Movement, is based on the naturalistic, humanistic secularistic, pantheistic world-view. It represents the most radical paradigmatic revolution since the first and second scientific revolutions (cf. Post-Newtonian/Post-Einsteinian science; see my work. The Christian Faith and Scientific
Revolutions; Christian Faith and The Development of Social Sciences; and Christian Faith and Biological Revolutions).
The welfare state has been in full swing since the 1930's in the USA. Central to its effectiveness is the assumption that civilization is the progressive meeting of human needs (egs. tax-supported health, social security, schooling, abortion and other welfare services). With religion no longer providing any national purpose and with liberal capitalism having shown itself bankrupt in the depression of the 1930's, what universal values were there that could direct national life? The answer became progressively clearer, "The universal satisfaction of vital needs and, beyond it, the progressive alleviation of toil and poverty are universally valid standards." (H. Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man. Paternalistic Socialism).
International Needs and The United Nations (UNESCO): In 1948, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was set forth as the justification and safeguard for basic rights to have all of your needs met. The problem in a century marked by the Gulag and the Holocaust was how to find a common and universally acceptable basis for human dignity on what would Human Rights rest? Clearly not (Christian) religion, as most of the world's population was not open to the classical Judaeo-Christian heritage. The most obvious fact about human nature in the post-Lockian, post-enlightenment paradigm is that we are all born with needs; needs with must be met if we are to have any chance of living a decent life and fulfilling our potential. Therefore, human dignity, and ultimately world peace, had been reduced to a technical problem for megatrends to resolve. The voices expressing 'needs' as our supreme value intensified as our consumer society produced the 'need' for 'Big Education,' 'Big Business,' and 'Big Government.' At the center of the Consumer Society is the language of need. The New Left of the 1960's was completely unprepared for the world of the 1970's/1980's (see M. Ignatieff, The Needs of Strangers (London: 1984; P. Springborg, The Problem of Human Needs and the Critique of Civilization (London: 1981); and A. Heller, The Theory of Need in Marx (London: 1976); Ivan Illich, Towards a History of Need (New York: 1977). Other than Christian theism, the main alternative to finding direction to life in human needs is to find it in the universe itself. All species of New Age Movements, Process Theologies, Ecological Movements, etc., express the pantheistic/ panentheistic paradigms source and justification for finding direction within the universe in process.
The history of the needs movement entails: (1) Material needs, (2) Personal needs (V. Franki, Man's Search for Meaning; D. Yankelovich, New Rules (Eerdmans, 1979); P. Vitz, Psychology As Religion); (3) Needs in Work and Leisure (T. Walter, Hope on the Dole (London: 1985); (4) Needs of The Sexes (Hite, The Hite Report (Macdonald: 1981); (5) Children's Needs (A. Dally, Inventing Motherhood (London: 1982, esp. chp. 5); (6) Welfare Needs (G. Smith, Social Needs (London: 1980); (7) The Price of Needs (C. Lasch, The Culture of Narcissism (New York: 1978); (8) Needs and Materialism; (9) Needs and American Activism; (10) Needs and Radical Individualism (Bellah, Habits of The Heart); (11) Needs and Commitment; (12) Needs and Conformism; (13) Needs as Ultimate in a Relativistic Universe; (14) Needs and Secularism; (15) Needs and Humanism; (16) Needs and Naturalism; (17) God's Presence and Glory; (18) Blessings/Fruit of The Spirit as Liberation from Need (T. Walter, Need: the New Religion (Inter-Varsity Press, 1985).
Conclusion; The Self-Centered Self and The Voyage of The Dawn Treader (Eustice Scrubb, a self-centered and insufferable person in the magical land of Narnia). "Man doesn't need a pat on the back; he needs a new heart." T. S. Eliot.
Dr. James D. Strauss, Lincoln Christian Seminary, Lincoln, IL 62656