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:: Thursday, September 09, 2004 ::

Is "Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs" Orthodox?

A reader sent this email:

An interesting topic came up in my Human Development class. We were discussing different theories of development including Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs... just a brief review and it was viewed as "pretty common sensical" and discussion was about to close, and I raised my hand. I've always viewed Maslow's model as very fair, and again, as making sense. But I had to ask: then how do the Saints fit into this model?

They didn't have all of their basic necessities met such as food, shelter, and belonging, but they were/are more "self actualized" then the highest functioning therapist/clergyman/doctor...

I believe that [the saints'] basic needs were met and so they were able to climb the ladder of needs to self actualization, but their needs were not met by mere material provision, they allowed God to intervene and provide miraculously outside the confines of Maslow's model. What would be a more accurate model? I am interested in making a truer pyramid (if you will) but still within the vocabulary of modern psychology.

Here was my response (slightly edited):

There are many scholars who agree that Maslow's Hierarchy doesn't answer some fundamental questions about human nature.

"There are people who are willing to suffer hunger and thirst ... even to die for values Maslow assumed are less potent than the physiological needs."
Richard M. Ryckman, "Theories of Personality" (pg362)

As Paul Vitz notes in his well known book "Psychology as Religion: The Cult of Self-Worship", Maslow's theory assumes a linear progression of human development rather than an interdependence of needs.

"Love is inextricably linked to bodily health", and it does not follow that the needs of the body must be fulfilled before one can either love or "self-actualize." Of the Maslow pyramid Vitz states categorically, "there is no such reliable order" when we consider human beings as communal rather than simply physiological. (pg38)

This leads us to a simple observation: Like most of our models, theories and systems (whether they be legal, psychological, sociological etc), Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs is a useful, albeit limited and ultimately flawed, way of understanding fallen man and society. It does not describe human nature as it was and is intended to become with God's grace.

I think this is key because much contemporary Christian philosophy and educational theory make the often hidden assumption that "what you see is what you get"; i.e. that man is not to "partake of the divine nature" and be divinized but simply to be "self-actualized." He is not to "become god by grace", as St. Athansius and St. Gregory note, but simply to be "a good person."

Thus, the way the modern world looks at human life is seen within the closed system of fallen man's capabilities and vision rather than that of the God-Man, Jesus Christ. It is, in the end, atheistic because it does not allow for the miracles of God; whether they be physical, psychological or whatnot.

In one of the hymns for Nativity we proclaim that the Theotokos, through God, "overcame nature" by giving birth to Christ. So I think you are correct--the saints, while fully human and fallen, work with God to transfigure fallen nature; including what we consider to be the "natural" or "normal" processes of life.

:: Karl :: 8:05:00 AM [Link] ::

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