Thursday, October 16, 2008

Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, Part 2

“Give us this day our daily bread.”
Luke 11:3

Have you ever given thought to what you need to live?

Three years ago during a summer semester, I took a class about hidden messages in advertising. The point of the class wasn’t just that we are bombarded with advertising every single day, but that every ad was trying to make you see a need for something you didn’t already have. One of our major projects was to analyze a 30 second commercial and point out all the messages the viewer would see, frame by frame.

We have a lot of wants in this world. If you lived in a family like mine, you tried to really distinguish needs from simple wants, and maybe you still try to do that. The line between needs and wants is sometimes blurred, though. I heard a conversation in an elevator recently where one young woman was telling her friend that she needed a black coat. Ok, I get that. Then I heard her friend say, “But you just told me you have a brown coat and a grey coat. Why do you need a black coat too?”

The young woman, who was wearing black dress pants, said, “Because I need something to go with all my black pants. I can’t wear brown or grey with them.”

We have a need for warm clothes, yes. But does anyone needs three coats? Really?

In this advertising class, we learned about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and how advertisers use this Hierarchy to get us to buy things.

Physiological Needs
These are biological needs. They consist of needs for oxygen, food, water, and a relatively constant body temperature. They are the strongest needs because if a person were deprived of all needs, the physiological ones would come first in the person's search for satisfaction.

Safety Needs
When all physiological needs are satisfied and are no longer controlling thoughts and behaviors, the needs for security can become active. Adults have little awareness of their security needs except in times of emergency or periods of disorganization in the social structure (such as widespread rioting). Children often display the signs of insecurity and the need to be safe.

Needs of Love, Affection and Belongingness
When the needs for safety and for physiological well-being are satisfied, the next class of needs for love, affection and belongingness can emerge. Maslow states that people seek to overcome feelings of loneliness and alienation. This involves both giving and receiving love, affection and the sense of belonging.

Needs for Esteem
When the first three classes of needs are satisfied, the needs for esteem can become dominant. These involve needs for both self-esteem and for the esteem a person gets from others. Humans have a need for a stable, firmly based, high level of self-respect, and respect from others. When these needs are satisfied, the person feels self-confident and valuable as a person in the world. When these needs are frustrated, the person feels inferior, weak, helpless and worthless.

Needs for Self-Actualization
When all of the foregoing needs are satisfied, then and only then are the needs for self-actualization activated. Maslow describes self-actualization as a person's need to be and do that which the person was "born to do." "A musician must make music, an artist must paint, and a poet must write." These needs make themselves felt in signs of restlessness. The person feels on edge, tense, lacking something, in short, restless. If a person is hungry, unsafe, not loved or accepted, or lacking self-esteem, it is very easy to know what the person is restless about. It is not always clear what a person wants when there is a need for self-actualization.
(from Psychology - The Search for Understanding by Janet A. Simons, Donald B. Irwin and Beverly A. Drinnien, West Publishing Company, New York, 1987)

We have these really basic needs for air, food, and water. Without one of these things, we die. After we have all these needs met, we are free to look for the “higher” needs of shelter and safety. Without shelter and safety, we may or may not live, but our chances of life are better if we have them. After that are the other higher needs, those of love and affection, esteem, and self-actualization. You aren’t going to keel over from a lack of self-esteem or self-actualization, but to have the basics in these departments certainly makes life better. The need for love is a tricky one. As an adult, it’s great to have someone to love and to be loved in return, but a lack of love won’t cause an adult’s death. Children are another story; they seem to have a need for love and affection to flourish and thrive.

Think about the commercials you’ve seen just in the past day. Lipstick? ‘That’s just to help me look pretty,’ you think. But why? Why do you want to look pretty? Do you want to feel better about yourself, or attract a mate (esteem or love)? How about those commercials for cruise ships? Well, they might be trying to sell you love (you could find a mate on a ship), esteem (people might be impressed when you tell them you’re going on a cruise), or self-actualization (hey, you were BORN to sail the high seas!).

Advertisers are trying to get us to meet our wants, but Jesus calls us to live differently. In the Lord’s Prayer, He tells the disciples to ask God for their daily bread. And now we’re back to the first question I asked: Have you ever given thought to what you need to live?

Obviously, we need air, food, and water to physically survive, and a safe place to live to protect us from the elements and those who might do us harm. But even within our needs are a range of things we need vs. those we just want. Let’s start with food, shall we? The three basic building blocks of nutrition are carbohydrates, proteins, and fats (any chemistry book will tell you this). You need protein, but does that mean you need to eat pheasant and steak every night when chicken and hamburger will do? If you want to go to an even more basic level, do you need animal proteins when vegetable proteins will do just as well?

So here’s part of my point: sometimes we confuse our standard of living for our basic needs, but only when it comes to ourselves. We have a much easier time telling others what their basic needs are.

Sider has a different view of a person’s basic needs. In Rich Christians, he talks about the life of the ancient Israelites and how they lived. They weren’t poor farmers struggling to survive. On what God thought as “necessary for life,” Sider says, “ ‘Necessities’ is not to be understood as the minimum necessary to keep from starving. In the non-hierarchical, relatively egalitarian society of small farmers... Families possessed resources to earn a living that would have been considered reasonable and acceptable, not embarrassingly minimal” (67). Later, he says, “Proverbs 30:8-9 is a marvelous summary: ‘Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full, and deny Thee, and say, ‘who is the Lord?’ or lest I be poor, and steal, and profane the name of my God’” (98).

While our most basic needs are for air, food, and water, what I’ve read over the past two months leads me to believe that God doesn’t want us to survive – He wants us to live and thrive. He wants us to have not just what it takes to survive, but a basic level of comfort that allows us balance, so we neither deny nor profane Him.

He doesn’t just want you and I to have that level of comfort though. God wants every other person He created to have that same level of comfort. Sider asks, “Are we not guilty of greed when we demand our ever-higher standard of living while neglecting millions of children who are starving to death each year?” (96). So when we give blankets to the homeless, when we ourselves have a spare bed at home, we’re being greedy. When we stockpile food so that we don’t bore our palates, but put only generic rice and dried beans in the food drive at work, we’re guilty of greed (I’m guilty of this one). We need to help others get to this basic level of comfort, but it’s going to take some sacrifice on our parts to do it:
“God’s people must practice self-denial to aid the poor and share the gospel. But we must maintain a Biblical balance. It is not because food, clothes, wealth, and property are inherently evil that Christians today must lower their standard of living. It is because others are starving. Creation is good. But the One who gave us this gorgeous token of affection has asked us to share it with our brothers and sisters” (98).


Eric Hadley-Ives said...

Your discussion of the needs identified by Abraham Maslow reminded me of Bentham's ideas about motives, which I'll list here as a comparison for human needs. Bentham included:

* Physical desire or sensuality
o Love of the pleasures of the palate, hunger, thirst, greediness, gluttony, voraciousness.
o sexual desire, lasciviousness, lust.
o curiosity, love of novelty, love of experiment, sport, play.
* Pleasures of wealth
o pecuniary interest, avarice, covetousness, rapacity, economy, frugality, parsimony.
* Pleasures of skill
* Pleasures of amity
o desire of ingratiating one's self, servility.
o love of getting along well with others, harmonious social relations.
* Pleasures of moral sanction (Pleasures of good name)
o love of reputation, honor, love of glory, pride, vanity, love of fame.
* Pleasures of power (also, the love of liberty and love of freedom)
* Pleasures of religious sanction
o religious zeal, fear of God, love of God, sympathy or good-will toward the Deity, devotion, piety, enthusiasm.
* Pleasures of sympathy
o good-will, benevolence, philanthropy, brotherly love, humanity, charity, pity and compassion, mercy, gratitude, tenderness, patriotism, public spirit, partiality, esprit de corps.
* Pleasures of malevolence
o Antipathy, displeasure, dislike, aversion, abhorrence, indignation, ill-will, anger, wrath, enmity, hatred, malice, fury, cruelty, tyranny, envy, jealousy, revenge. (For example, the grim satisfaction underlying the penalty phase of criminal prosecution when long or harsh sentences are given.)
* Self-preservation,
o Death-avoidance, love of life, necessity.
o Pain-avoidance, fear of poverty, fear of pain, fear of ridicule, fear of shame, so forth.
o Love of ease, desire of avoiding trouble, indolence.

Eric Hadley-Ives said...

This point got my attention:

When we stockpile food so that we don’t bore our palates, but put only generic rice and dried beans in the food drive at work, we’re guilty of greed

I noticed that Food Fantasies (the local organic health food supplier) is having a sale on cans of organic vegetarian soups, so that a can costs just $2 (about a 30% discount). I think I'll get a few just to give away in the food drive our UIS community is holding for the holidays. I had been considering to do this, but your post has pushed me from considering to actually doing.