What is the interrelationship between Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs” and a Biblical Christian worldview? It is all a matter of perspective and priority in today’s American culture.
Maslow and our basic Hierarchy of Needs
Maslow was an American psychologist who wrote a paper in 1943 entitled “A Theory of Human Motivation”. I doubt there is a psychology class in the country that does not include his thesis at some point in the semester. His work has impacted developmental psychology, sociology, education, healthcare, and social work, to name just a few disciplines.
In simplest terms, Maslow postulated that the needs of mankind are based on what we already have, hence a hierarchy.
- Our basic needs are physical (air, heat, water, food, shelter, etc.).
- Once those needs are taken care of, we are motivated toward safety (health, personal, emotional, and financial security).
- The next level is love and social needs (family, friendships, intimacy, trust, and acceptance).
- The following levels are esteem (respect), cognitive (creativity), aesthetic (art and entertainment), and finally, self-actualization (life goals).
Though one can intermingle each of these goals, it is undoubtedly true that if someone is starving, one will likely have only a passing interest in “acceptance” much less the “arts”.
Our Current America
At the risk of making generalizations, today, America, is largely in the self-actualization stage of Maslow’s hierarchy. Recognizing that many in this country are undernourished and in need of the most basic forms of survival, on balance, we are a nation of comfort, perusing our life goals and desiring no one and nothing to get in the way of that. We don’t have a need for God’s intervention or interruption in our lives. We expect the government to take care of our safety needs while we pursue love, acceptance, and entertainment.
Joseph and the Famine – Biblical Christianity
In the Bible, Genesis 47:13-25, Joseph was Pharoah’s overseer of an Egyptian culture in the same state as America is today. They were, by far, the most powerful nation in the known world, and the population generally had all the basic needs of life. The arts and philosophy had become popular in a culture where its agrarian society owned private land, cattle, crops, and other forms of wealth. In addition, because of fulfilled prophecy, the Pharoah, their ruler, had been able to store up an abundance of food…
And then the seven years of drought hit, and everything changed rapidly.
No rainwater meant no crops, so, after the people had consumed all the food they had stored, they came to Joseph to buy provisions, paying in cash (Gen. 47:14). The next season they paid by selling their livestock (Gen. 47:17). Once the livestock was depleted, the people sold their land for food and, finally, became slaves of the Pharaoh (Gen. 47:19). Going forward, the land they farmed as the drought subsided was owned by the Pharaoh who received a fifth of all that was produced.
After all that loss, moving from Maslow’s “self-actualization” of pursuing personal comfort and life goals, down to the desperate “physical” needs of food and basic survival in less than seven years, one would think the Egyptians would be angry and demand that their prosperity be restored. But, instead, they were both complacent and appreciative of the Pharoah and Joseph for their survival as paupers and slaves.
Genesis 47:25 And they said, “You have saved our lives; may it please my lord, we will be servants to Pharaoh.”
Reflecting on the reality of Maslow’s hierarchy in light of America today and our future, within the context of ancient Egypt, I would like to offer 5 points to consider.
- As a nation, Americans have lost our Biblical Christian worldview because we are in the self-actualization stage of life. We see no need for God because our life on this earth is running relatively smoothly under our own control. We wish to pursue our own personal life goals and the rules of a supernatural being and His Book are seen as nothing more than a constraint on our evolving view of morality.
- The reason America, and most other nations, acquiesced to the loss of so much of our personal freedom when COVID hit was that we moved down in Maslow’s hierarchy from “self-actualization” to making “security” needs of paramount importance. We trusted the government and science to have our best interests in mind. It was a logical tradeoff between our personal goals and our safety. As we now have a clearer perspective on what actually took place, it is likely that we will not again be so naive and allow the subjugation of our personal freedoms (self-actualization) to be impinged upon quite so quickly. One can see examples of that resistance taking place in even the most repressive countries (China) today.
- When the anti-Christ comes and begins to take away personal freedoms, it will be as a result of some cataclysmic event that will threaten our safety and likely propel us all the way down the Maslow’s hierarchy to the most basic of needs. We will be just as compliant as the starving Egyptians were under the Pharaoh. Whether it is called totalitarianism or an anti-Christian theocracy, the vast majority will gladly comply, not out of fear of government persecution, but out of the fear of not being part of the protective arm of the evil one. Only the stragglers or outliers will be forced to take the Mark of the Beast. Most will comply as the Egyptians did centuries ago, giving away everything they own to the state in exchange for food and security.
- At the end of time, the Bible predicts there will be an eternal theocracy with the Creator of the universe as our Lord and King. There will be no challenge to His rule as there will be no sin in the heart of mankind. There will be rejoicing in a Heaven, stripped of all sin, pain, hatred, greed, and all the other negative thoughts and behaviors that we see today.
- As individuals, we are sadly so caught up in our own desire for comfort and personal life goals that so many of us are unwilling to look beyond our day-to-day struggles. Each of us will live a life on this earth, not knowing the date of our death and, for many, its impact on our personal eternity. As individuals, we need to set aside where we are residing on Maslow’s hierarchy. We need to recognize that we are all truly at the bottom, the basic survival stage… from an eternal perspective. Basic needs like air, water, food, and shelter may seem such a given in the affluent world in which many of us live. However, we are on this earth, in comfort, for a very short while (James 4:14) relative to eternity. What may seem a comfortable life today will not determine the status of our afterlife. Each of us must make our own personal decision on our trajectory beyond the grave. We must accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior and make a public confession of that heart change.
Truly our most pressing need is not even on Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs” list. God places a vacuum in the heart of mankind. We may try to fill that emptiness with a life full of toys, safety, entertainment, and relationships. However, the only One who can truly fill that void is Christ. And, all we have to do to bring Him into our lives is to ask Him and accept His Lordship.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. – Ephesians 2:8-9
If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. – Romans 10:9
What I neglected to include in this post was a clear picture of the world in which this complacency is described.
I am talking about a world/America in total crisis, far beyond what we experienced with COVID. For example, a nuclear war, or a widespread EMP, an asteroid, etc. These and other broad, life-ending events, similar to what those faced back in Joseph’s time in Egypt, will bring mankind down the hierarchy of needs, making us accept any loss of property and freedoms, just to survive. The Bible predicts a catastrophic event such as this.
The worse the trauma, the faster and farther we will be willing to blindly become servants. COVID clearly demonstrated both the speed and trajectory.