Monday, March 24, 2014

Hope can Kill as well as Comfort

What is the most valuable thing that you can give to someone in pain? Hope! Traditionally, hope was to be found in an all-powerful and all-loving God. In 1978, Martin L. Gross wrote of the advance of a new game-changing hope, one promoted by modern psychology (MP):

  • This change in inner man has taken place quietly, yet it has altered the nature of our civilization beyond recognition. The major agent of change has been modern psychology. (The Psychological Society, 3)
  • For many, the [Psychological] Society has all the earmarks of a potent new religion. When educated man lost faith in formal religion, he required a substitute belief that would be as reputable in the last half of the twentieth century as Christianity was in the first. Psychology and psychiatry have now assumed that special role. They offer mass belief, a promise of a better future, opportunity for confession, unseen mystical workings and a trained priesthood of helping professionals devoted to servicing the paying-by-the-hour communicants. (9)

The hope that MP offers for a “better future” is the hope in ourselves. This hope is reflected in these kinds of statements: “You got whatever it takes.” “You got to believe in yourself!” “You have to empower yourself.” “You have the answers within you!”

As the hope in God began to wane, other sources of hope were sought to fill the vacuum. Various utopian schemes were tried and found lacking. These gave way to a hope in ourselves, a hope that now occupies a pinnacle of almost unquestioned acceptance – a self-evident truth.

But is it a self-evident truth or a destructive form of addiction – a mental rut? Let’s consider some ramifications of what happens when we place our hope in ourselves:

1.    In order to truly hope in ourselves in terms of both our moral status/identity and our abilities to handle the challenges of life, we are coerced to think more of ourselves than we ought. For one thing, we are filled with moral defects and failures. If we are to trust in ourselves, these will have to be glossed over or denied.
2.     Any management requires accurate data. However, if we can no longer clearly regard ourselves, we can no longer effectively manage ourselves.

3.     High self-esteem is positively correlated with anti-social behaviors.

4.     With our unwillingness to truly regard ourselves, self-alienation results – alienated from who we really are!

5.     Relationships require a shared common ground. However, if each party has an inflated view of themselves, that common reality is eroded. Dissonance then undermines intimacy.

6.     We understand life by seeing through the lens of self. If we cannot clearly see ourselves, we cannot clearly see others. If our understanding of ourselves is distorted, this distortion will affect everything else that we observe.

7.     In order to maintain a high self-esteem, criticism must be avoided. However, we require accurate feedback to make appropriate adjustments. This is especially true for relationships – work and otherwise.

8.     If our well-being rests upon a high estimation of ourselves, we will naturally become self-focused and self-absorbed. Where our treasure is, so too will our heart and attention be. Instead of offering freedom, self-trust  imprisons.

All of these raise the question – “Do we actually undermine ourselves when we place all of this weight of self-concern on our shoulders?” Jesus offered a different remedy:
  •   “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

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