On Psychology

Psychologically, “God” or “the sacred” can be understood as the highest values/goods and goals/ends that a person organizes and orients his or her life around. This does not mean a person’s God/god is ultimately desirable in the long run—worshipping some gods can be very destructive. And it’s not to say anything theologically about the existence or nonexistence of a true God who alone would be worthy of human worship. But as inherently self-transcending, goal-oriented creatures who instinctively pursue valued goods in life, we human beings inevitably organize and orient our lives around long-term visions of our highest values and goals—otherwise known to as “spiritualities”—that we consider to be most important and most worthwhile.

Let’s illustrate this with some examples. Take an artist who is highly devoted to the continual development of his artistic skills and the improvement of his creative works. He may value the ability to see hidden beauty or significance in apparently ordinary things, and as a result, he organizes and orients his attention and energy towards capturing his observations in his artwork to then share with others.

Or take a person with a bad drug addiction. Her “god” has become so powerful that she has lost nearly all of her ability to resist its intense attractions. As a result, her whole life may become dreadfully organized and oriented around using her drug of choice above all else, to the detriment of her health, relationships, finances, housing, employment, and even possibly her survival. Her time, energy, and money are all directed towards fulfilling the demands of her insatiable god, always reaching for that next experience of short-term relief, which provides ever-diminishing returns.

Or take a businessman who wants nothing more than to accumulate wealth and power. His desires are organized and oriented around being successful in his business ventures, even if this means neglecting his family and destroying his competitors in the dog-eat-dog struggle to gain more money and control. Greed becomes an appropriate attitude for worshipping a god who always requires more, since what the man has is never enough.

Or take a religious devotee who has dedicated her life to serving those who are poor and marginalized. Perhaps she believes in a God of love who values all people indiscriminately, granting them inherent dignity and worth, and so she has organized and oriented her life’s work around supporting those who have been neglected and left out. As a result, she strives to be motivated by genuine love and a desire to find the good in all people. And she may sacrifice many material comforts and conveniences for the sake of pursuing her higher calling of worshipping God by practically serving people in need.

steepleThe symbol of the cross at the highest point

bullseye1The image of Christ at the highest point

Each of these illustrations of lived spiritualities are stereotypes to some extent. None of them capture the full picture of a complex individual life. However, they help show the universal nature of human spirituality, since every person necessarily organizes and orients his or her life around certain ultimately desired values and goals to varying degrees of success.

Very rarely is someone’s orientation perfectly unified in the pursuit of a single god. More often than not, individuals are subject to the competing demands of conflicting gods that each call for their ultimate allegiance, which results in psychological and spiritual confusion, division, and disorientation. Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” It is true that one god generally wins supremacy over another in the overall scheme of a person’s life if two gods find themselves in competition. However, if a person nevertheless tries to maintain a commitment to multiple competing gods at once, he will experience some degree of internal fragmentation and division.

And then there’s the issue of whether or not a god is worthy of a person’s worship. Organizing and orienting one’s life around a drug is clearly a form of spirituality that has destructive longterm outcomes, despite the short-term pleasures it offers. Ancient Judeo-Christianity referred to such things as “idols,” which are low-quality false gods that eventually lead their followers to ruin, since their limited goods cannot support human flourishing over the long-term like pursuing the unlimited goodness of the true God.

So what God is worthy of our worship? The answer that Christianity and other religions arrived at was that only a transcendent God—which is to say, the highest possible Good and best possible Goal that continually exceeds human comprehension—is worthy of human worship, since only such a God can support continual upward movement, growth, and flourishing over the long-term, as we continually evolve in our understanding and embodiment of God’s infinite goodness.

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