My answer...was, in brief, that neurosis seemed at its core, and in its beginning, to be a deficiency disease: that it was born out of being deprived of certain satisfactions which I called needs in the same sense that water and amino acids and calcium are needs, namely that their absence produces illness. Most neuroses involved, along with other complex determinants, ungratified wishes for safety, for belongingness and identification, for close love relationships and for respect and prestige.Basic needs, said Maslow, possess the following characteristics:
- The deprived person yearns for their gratification persistently.
- Their deprivation makes the person sicken and wither.
- Gratifying them is therapeutic, curing the deficiency-illness.
- Steady supplies forestall these illnesses.
- Healthy (gratified) people do not demonstrate these deficiencies
Maslow grouped needs into five levels that stood in a hierarchical and developmental relationship to each other. Beginning with the foundational level they are: physiological needs (e.g., food, drink, air, etc.), safety needs, love and belonging needs, esteem needs (respect from others and for oneself), and the need for self-actualization (the ability to make the most of one's potential). Maslow proposed that we are most immediately aware of lower level needs but once they are satisfied, upper level needs become more apparent and have greater motivational force.
In that Maslow was seeking to construct a humanistic model of personality and motivation, it's no surprise that the concept of "sin" is absent from his system. Sommers and Satel write in One Nation Under Therapy:
From the beginning, Maslow's aim was to displace moral philosophy and religion with a science of man. Traditional religion, in his judgment, had proved inadequate. He proposed a "religion-surrogate." He said, "Throughout history [humanity] has looked for guiding values, for principles of right and wrong outside of [itself], to a God, to some sort of sacred book, perhaps, or to a ruling class." Maslow believed that he had found the basis for ethics and personal fulfillment in human nature itself.Behavior and attitudes that are, from a biblical perspective, sinful, are not, according to Maslow, evidence of a morally corrupt nature but of frustrated needs. Assuming Maslow's diagnosis, the appropriate cure is not a new heart with redirected desires but satisfaction of the natural heart's yearnings. Neither the objects nor the intensity of our desires are the cause of the conflicts among us. Nancy Pearcey notes in Total Truth that "Every worldview...offers a counterpart to the Fall, an explanation of the source of evil and suffering. What has gone wrong with the world? Why is there warfare and conflict?" For Maslow, unfulfilled psychological needs are what bar us from Paradise.
This assumption about human motivation is deeply entrenched in the American psyche even among those unfamiliar with Maslow's work. What I find so astonishing (not to mention disturbing) is how influential and pervasive this perspective on human nature and behavior is among Bible-believing Christians. You don't have to search hard for it. It's propagated in sermons and popular Christian books, particularly those having to do with marriage. It's the lens through which we view life and even the grid through which we interpret Scripture.
Maslow was well aware that his motivational model was part of a larger worldview. In the preface to the second edition of Toward a Psychology of Being he described Humanist Psychology as "one facet of a general Weltanschauung, a new philosophy of life, a new conception of man...." Why, then, do Christians so readily accept and even defend this way of thinking about the human condition? Why does so much Christian teaching about why we do the things we do sound more like Abraham Maslow than Jesus, the seed of Abraham, the patriarch? I share the curiosity David Powlison expresses in his essay in Care for the Soul: Exploring the Intersection of Psychology and Theology:
Why does one or another secular theory of human motivation almost inevitably control the Christian counseling theory at the punch line, where counseling engages the details of life as it is lived? In particular, why have "need" theories that define significance, love and self-esteem as the standard needs been so prominent when they are so alien to the gaze of God and the psychological experience of Jesus? Why has the most typical, and apparently the most vital, external contribution of psychology been secular motivation theory, the very thing that wrenches human life out of its true context and drains psychological experience of its essential characteristics? Why do integrationist theories fail to take seriously the specific, omnipresent nature of sin as the chief and most immediate problem in the hearts of those we counsel?I'll devote future posts to further exploration of the influence of Abraham Maslow on the children of Abraham, including examples of this influence in Christian literature. Go to Part 2