One of the great advantages of walking the Spiral Path in fellowship with God and your guardian angels is that you’re constantly being encouraged to learn new things and meet new people. You’re constantly being encouraged to let go of belief systems that are holding you back in your quest to know your full potential as a child of God.
“Living your full potential” is another way of saying “living your soul purpose.” It’s a positive, hopeful concept, one that Jesus son of Joseph taught his own followers 2,000 years ago. Jesus described the quest to know yourself and live according to your soul purpose as “entering the kingdom of the heavens.” It’s not really God’s kingdom you’re entering (though parts of the Bible describe it as such). It’s your own little kingdom — your own little corner of God’s spiritual kitchen. It’s the truth about yourself you have to understand so you can better help other people.
The Apostle Paul hated and feared Jesus’ teachings about “the Kingdom.” He was determined to snuff out Jesus’ teachings on the nature of the soul because he (Paul) wanted to help preserve the status quo. The status quo protected the rights and privileges of the people at the top of the social pyramid — the priests, the kings, the lawmakers, and the chosen bloodlines of their families.
Things haven’t changed much since then, eh?
The danger in Jesus’ teachings was — and is — the lack of “fuel” for people who are addicted to status. By that I mean people who are physiologically addicted to status. People who are biologically addicted to status. People whose dopamine receptors and orexin receptors (to greatly simplify) respond in imbalanced ways to an ingestion of “status points.” (You can read more about this in the post called “The Corruption of Free Will Through Addiction.”)
Unfortunately, not much useable research has been done on this topic, but I’m hopeful that, in time, researchers in cross-disciplinary studies will come together to discuss the reality of status addiction from all angles: neuroscience combined with psychiatry, education theory, sociology, parenting skills, and Twelve Step programs.
Status addiction, like any other addiction disorder, isn’t a black-or-white psycho/social/medical issue but a spectrum of need. At one end of the spectrum are the people who only occasionally use the substance. Sure, they have cravings, but other factors in their lives help them keep a lid on their using.
At the other end of the spectrum are the full-blown addicts, the ones who can’t get through a few hours let alone a few days without a fix. The behaviour of a full-blown addict makes sense only to the addict himself or herself. To everyone else, the status addict’s behaviour is cruel. Lacking in empathy. Intolerant. Judgmental. Perfectionistic. Demanding. Controlling. Angry. Abusive. And in a constant state of denial.
Sound familiar? Everyone knows a person who’s chosen the path of status addiction. They’re the bullies, tyrants, narcissists, and psychopaths of the world. They’re the ones who thrive at a biological level on the idea that they’re better than other people. Better or smarter or faster or stronger. Nicer. More generous to others or more obedient to God than you. More deserving of praise, reward, health, and wealth than you.
It’s not in a status addict’s best interests to agree in principle with the idea that God doesn’t play favourites. Nor is it in a status addict’s best interests to agree in principle with the idea that human beings are responsible for their own choices, including the choice to be angry, cruel, and abusive.
It’s important to understand that the Apostle Paul was convinced God plays favourites. Paul’s Letter to the Romans explains in gory detail who will be saved by God and who won’t (or who won’t be saved at first, anyway). For Paul, there’s no question that Christians are better than other people. There’s also no question, when you read Paul’s convoluted thesis about “Sin,” that he himself was trapped by the selfish behaviours of status addiction.
If you find all the places in Romans where Paul talks about cosmic “Sin” and replace the word “Sin” with “status addiction,” you’ll quickly realize that Paul was a man in a state of denial about his own addiction issues. He didn’t want to take responsibility for his own choices, and he was prepared to invent ever more status-soaked theologies to explain why he wasn’t responsible for the way he felt inside his own head.
I want to emphasize an important point, though. Paul knew what he was doing. He wasn’t mentally incompetent in a legal or moral or medical sense. He maintained a grip on many of his mental faculties, including his ability to write cogently and logically; his ability to manipulate and coerce others in subtle, sophisticated ways; and his ability to stay clearly focussed on tasks and goals. He wasn’t dysfunctional in the way that a person with a serious, untreated psychotic disorder is dysfunctional. He knew what he was doing and he wanted to do it so he and his followers could acquire more status points.
Paul, in fact, was so shrewd in his observations about human nature that he understood what tyrants such as Pol Pot have failed to understand. Paul understood that if you want to build a stable social structure to support the status needs of those at the top of the pyramid, you have to put an effective leash on the status-seeking behaviours of everyone, even the people at the top. Otherwise, chaos runs rampant as countless individuals seek a “hit” of status at the expense of their neighbours.
Paul’s leash is humility. And it’s as effective a scam today as it was 2,000 years ago, judging by this quote from Rick Warren’s book The Purpose-Driven Life (Rick Warren, The Purpose-Driven Life (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002)):
“Cultivating community takes humility. Self-importance, smugness, and stubborn pride destroy fellowship faster than anything else. Pride builds walls between people; humility builds bridges. Humility is the oil that smoothes and soothes relationships. That’s why the Bible says, ‘Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another.’ The proper dress for fellowship is a humble attitude.
The rest of that verse says, ‘. . . because, God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble.’ This is the other reason we need to be humble: Pride blocks God’s grace in our lives, which we must have in order to grow, change, heal, and help others. We receive God’s grace by humbly admitting that we need it. The Bible says anytime we are prideful, we are living in opposition to God! That is a foolish and dangerous way to live (page 148).”
Humility and humbleness. Are they the same thing? I argue they’re not the same. Humility is what Paul and others have taught as a leash on the selfishness of status addiction. Humbleness, on the other hand, is what Jesus taught as a tonic for the wounds caused by status addiction.
Warren says, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less. Humility is thinking more of others. Humble people are so focused on serving others, they don’t think of themselves (page 148).”
Danger, Will Robinson, Danger!
(I loved the TV show Lost in Space when I was a kid.)
If you try to always think of others, and never think of your own needs, you’ll become one messed-up puppy.
I tried this whole dissolve-yourself-in-service-to-others gig for three whole years in the “middle phase” of my spiritual journey, and guess what happened? I ended up being an enabler for status-addicts.
There’s nothing a status-addict loves more than having an obedient, admiring, selfless acolyte to kick around. (Well, having a whole group of acolytes would probably be better than having just one doormat to wipe his/her feet on, but even one servant is better than none.)
Humility is not the oil that smoothes and soothes relationships. Forgiveness is the oil that smoothes and soothes relationships. Forgiveness and tough love are closely linked to each other because both require you to dredge up your own soul-given courage. Knowing yourself and trusting yourself also require great courage.
Being a doormat and an enabler of status addicts may be the easy way out, but it’s not the divine way out.
Did you know that Paul almost never discusses forgiveness in his known letters? Yeah, that’s because if you tell people they have the power within themselves to forgive themselves and each other, they may discover on their own that we’re all equally amazing children of God and nobody — but nobody — is “chosen.”
Couldn’t have that, now, could we?
P.S. After I posted the body of this article, I was prompted by my guardian angels to look closely at the index of Rick Warren’s book. His book is divided into a preface plus 40 chapters (one chapter for each day of the “journey”). There are many footnotes. Most of the footnotes give scriptural references to support Warren’s argument, and a few refer to recent Christian publications he admires.
Of the 787 footnotes in this book, only 7 refer to the biblical Gospel of Mark (with one footnote listing 2 different verses in Mark). (There’s a ninth footnote reference to Mark, but this is for Mark 16:15, which is generally believed to be a later addition to the gospel).
The Gospel of Mark is a troublesome book for evangelical and conservative Christians because this is the story of a physician-scholar who gives up his status and breaks a lot of religious rules in order to help the poor, the disenfranchised, and the sick. It can also be called the Gospel of Forgiveness, ’cause that’s what Jesus does throughout.
As I said, it’s a troublesome book. (You can read more about the dispute between Mark and Paul at “Choosing Between Paul and Jesus,” “The Case for Mark Versus Paul,” and “Mark’s Themes of Understanding and Strength.”