I recently discussed the importance of aligning ourselves to God before getting too carried away with our own plans for economic restoration. We should instead seek to supplant the personal for the divine, embracing a transcendent framework through which we can pursue what we already recognize to be transcendent ends.
This is particularly difficult in a society that persistently glorifies a misguided conception of the self, and it’s not much better in broader Christian culture, where an increasing number of pastors promote a brand of self-help largely indistinguishable from that of the gurus gracing Oprah’s sofa.
In a fascinating article on the various philosophies driving today’s “self-help” movement(s), Kathryn Schulz helps outline the competition. Schulz, whose book, Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error, is a fun romp of a read, would likely reject my proposed orientation for Christians, yet she does point to it —albeit a bit inaccurately—even giving slight credence to its results:
In self-help programs that draw on religious or spiritual practices, the locus of control is largely externalized; the real power belongs to God (or a supreme being, a universal consciousness—whatever you care to call it). But these programs also posit a part of the self that is receptive to or one with that external force: an internal fragment of the divine that can triumph over human weakness.
This is pretty much the oldest kind of dualism in the book: your sacred soul against your mortal flesh. You can see it at work in 12-step programs, where addicts begin by admitting they are powerless to control their addiction and then make “a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God.” But think about that for a moment: How do recovering addicts simultaneously exercise and abdicate their right to make decisions? How do they choose to let a higher power do the choosing—not just once but every time temptation comes along? Twelve-step programs are reputed to be one of the more effective ways to treat addiction, yet how their followers pull off this sleight-of-self remains a mystery. (more…)