Both Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and the Hall-Tonna Inventory of Values are derived from man studying man. When man studies man, he normally intends the study to be from a scientific perspective and to offer empirical evidence to support his findings. These studies result in models of naturalistic systems. This can be seen from Maslow’s observations of the “healthiest” individuals:
”...a naturalistic system of values, a by-product of the empirical description of the deepest tendencies of the human species and of specific individuals. The study of the human being by science or by self-search can discover where he is heading, what is his purpose in life, what is good for him and what is bad for him, what will make him feel virtuous and what will make him feel guilty, why choosing the good is often difficult for him, what the attractions of evil are.”
While I clearly see value in these models, I wonder if they actually help clarify or obscure the Kingdom of God. In reading the gospels, I’m often perplexed by the things Jesus said, many of which, through the eyes of man, seem to defy empirical evidence. John Stuart Mill in his essay “On Liberty” said, “The sayings of Christ co-exist passively in a Christian’s mind, producing hardly any effect beyond what is caused by mere listening to words so amiable and bland.” Could it be that by studying man we lose the meaning of Jesus’ words? A favorite anthropology professor may have captured what I’m trying to say when he said, “the study of man by man – leads man to move away from an understanding of God.”
Anxiety and Greed to Milk and Honey, a recent article in Sojourners Magazine by Walter Brueggemann, seems to flip our man made hierarchies on their head. I’ll summarize the main thoughts here, but the article is worth a more in-depth review.
Brueggeman shows that empirically, man is destined to follow a hierarchy that works through the stages of autonomy, anxiety, and greed:
AUTONOMY, “An ‘individualism’ that resists communitarian connectedness and imagines the individual person to be the primary unit of social reality.”
ANXIETY: “Without the restraint of God, one is also without the resource of God. The self-sufficient person knows down deep that self-securing and self-satisfaction finally are unachievable, because they represent life in a world where no gifts are given.”
GREED: “The autonomous person, beset by anxiety, can only resolve to do better, to get more, to arrive at full control of the future by full control of the present.”
Brueggeman, goes on to show how believing Jesus’ words lets us envision a new kingdom. A kingdom with a new hierarchy that works through the stages of covenantal existence, abundance of God, and generosity.
COVENANTAL EXISTENCE: “Biblical faith is an invitation away from autonomy to covenantal existence that binds the self to the holy, faithful God and to neighbors [both global and local] who are members in a common economy.”
ABUNDANCE OF GOD: “Biblical faith, having vetoed autonomy, is an invitation away from anxiety to the abundance of God. The God of the gospel is the God who keeps giving.”
GENEROSITY: “Biblical faith is an invitation away from greed to the neighborly practice of generosity.”
This new hierarchy demonstrates one that is not always apparent to man. It reflects the Kingdom of God on earth. It is one where we build a relationship with our community (our nieghbors) through our connectedness with the God of the Kingdom.