Wednesday, February 20, 2008


It seems to me that a Relationship with God™ has for many Christians come to serve as a convenient psychological panacea for all of the deep issues people struggle with, which promotes not a healthy maturity but an infantile dependence. Let me explain...

Without God, Christians say, you won't be able to live with any purpose, meaning, or significance. You'd be just a seething mass of proteins slithering toward oblivion. Without God, you'll feel empty inside in the God-Shaped Hole™ in your heart. Unless you've got an active relationship with him through prayer you'll never be able to find a car park when you need one, a great job that perfectly suits you, or a house that's just what you were hoping for. Nothing in your life will fall into place smoothly, since God reserves that sort of Blessing™ for Christians and gives non-Christians Wrath™. You'll feel unhappy and incomplete without God, and never be able to mature as a person without having him Work in You™ and knowing his Perfect Plan™. And in case you're looking for why, he is The Reason™.

The problem with selling God and the full God product line like this is that these claims are untrue. Just because God had an intention in creating us it doesn't give us purpose. He could have made you to be a paperweight, but that wouldn't mean you'd get a warm fuzzy feeling whenever you stood on loose paper. Significance and purpose is something that comes from the nature of what people do. Being a paperweight is not as significant as saving a child from the clutches of fearsome death. Whether or not you were created to save children from angry bears doesn't have any bearing on how meaningful that act is. A person's sense of significance, meaning and purpose is determined from their mental map of the world - and for many people that map doesn't include God. Anything can feel significant, meaningful and purposeful if people deem it to be so, based on their values and ethical compass. People don't need God to tell them their True Purpose™ to live purposefully in positive ways that are meaningful and significant even by Christian standards.

The God-Shaped Hole™ of unhappy incompleteness is a dangerously ambiguous name for the implacable but deeply felt shortcomings in people's lives. If people feel an emptiness in their life Christians all too quickly assume it's because they're disconnected from God rather than because they need to learn to build deeper friendships. If they're feeling depressed, they don't need to deal and resolve the underlying issues, they just need to rest in God's loving grace and allow Him to resolve it. In fact, you can adopt a very harmful mental map of the world, and think the problems in your life will all go away if you have a good Relationship with God™ without dealing with the actual reasons you are making your life into suffering.

What I'm saying is that many Christians have a paradigm that prevents them from maturing into healthy people. Rather than addressing and leaning to competently deal with some of the deep issues in life, some Christians look to their personal Relationship with God™. I have learned that many of the issues I've discussed above are caused by poor mental maps of the world and patterns of thinking about life, and that these can be corrected through very down-to-earth means. Christians, though, seem to dismiss such ideas and instead misdiagnose the cause and cure of these kinds of problems as revolving around their Relationship with God™. A common Christian mindset is that we should be dependent on God. We should not learn to stand on our own two psychological feet as mature and capable adults; instead we should learn to be as dependent on God as possible, because that's allegedly healthy. So it comes as no surprise to me that many Christians give away their own Relationship with God™ when after several years the reality dawns on them that it isn't a cure-all that will exempt them from having to deal with the issues of life like everyone else.

So where does this little foray into the psychology of religious belief leave me, as someone who chooses to think that God does somehow exist and that he is benevolent towards us? Well, I can't help but think about the courageous examples of Christians who chose to serve others rather than be served by God. It is this kind of faith that inspires me, not religious consumerism. I think that's the kind of faith God wants too. As an analogy, I think about my biological parents. They are wise and helpful in many ways. But while I'm away from them I recognize that they want me to be strong and mature enough to live without needing them to feed me, clothe me, attend my every need and shelter me from real life. Rather, they want me to mature in a way that I too can deal with life and enjoy living as well as they can as I build friendships with those around me.

That's how I think about God. I think he is able to help and sometimes does help me in ways that perhaps I don't have to understand, but I think he also wants me to be a mature human being who experiences the full depth of friendship with other human beings. He doesn't want to simply fill up the space in my God-Shaped Hole™; he wants my heart to grow big enough to fill it with the same kind of love and kindness that he has. He doesn't want me to think my life has purpose and meaning just because he says it does; he wants me to live purposefully as I learn to value the same things he values, and see significance and meaning in the same kind of things he sees as significant and meaningful. He doesn't want me to focus on what I get from a Relationship with Him™, but to serve others and be helped by them also in a loving community of people who recognize that love is precious not because God says so, but because it really is.

I freely confess that I may consider myself too independent from God, perhaps like an adolescent who foolishly thinks he's old enough to look after himself. Perhaps I should pray for more Blessing™. Perhaps I should worship him more in case that's my True Purpose™ in life. Perhaps I should just learn to better comprehend his complete iWork™ package that is somehow operating somewhere in the background of my mind. But I would rather risk being too independent from God than being so immaturely dependent on him that I don't develop into the kind of person he'd want me to be. I'll let him give me the benefits of as many of his spiritual products as he'd like to give me while focusing instead on living in the way he would want me to. I'll follow Jesus' teachings and example, and those who have exemplified how to follow in his footsteps. I'll use all the tools I can find to become a mature and joyful person, even if they don't have his official trademark. And if he wants me to give him more attention in this life before I die, then he couldn't be more welcome to get it. Otherwise, I'll trust he is patient enough to wait until then.