No, I have not yet abandoned this series of posts. My university had spring break last week and I, fortunately, had quite a lot of time traveling in cars to finish reading Searching for God Knows What. SPOILER ALERT: It’s well worth reading to the end. But you already knew that. Anyway, so I fulfilled my promise to my sister and now only have to make good my promise to you, dear reader.
Last time (I don’t want to think about when that was), I left off by addressing Miller’s personality theory on humanity’s need for identification. A short refresher: Everyone is looking for someone to love them and give them an identity. The catch is only God can love us in the way that truly satisfies.
Okay, so we are living in the aftermath of the Fall, knowing something (or someone) is missing but not quite sure what, and looking for identification and affirmation from the world around us. Don Miller wondered what an alien would see if he visited Earth. He believes the alien would describe what defines human personalities as constantly comparing ourselves to each other. Think about our sports, games, competitions, even television shows, that pit people against one another and judge who is “best.”
Children are not spared from this mentality. Remember your days in elementary school? Even then, there were the kids everyone wanted to be friends with and there were the kids everyone would avoid if not bully. Just like the rest of known societies, school children have hierarchies.Miller describes it:
“From the first day of school the conversation is the same as it would be if hundreds of students were told to stand in line ranging from best to worst, coolest to most uncool, each presenting their case for value, each presenting an offense to the cases of others, alliances being formed as caricatures of reality television (or vice versa).”
We don’t outgrow the social ladder. It stays with us and expands from a playground to the whole world where every person we meet is ranked as above or below us in value. The higher you rank in value, the more love and value you feel, which is why it is important to reach as high as possible to get at what we used to get from God. That is, so we can get what we had before the Fall.
We’ve made a ladder of other people to try to escape this pit we fell into with the forbidden fruit. The problem is this ladder doesn’t reach the top of our pit, so even with endless climbing, we will never make it out. We feel a bit more daylight the farther we climb, but we are still plunged in the darkness.
Miller relates the social ladder to the problem of people in a lifeboat arguing why they deserve to stay in the boat. Have you ever confronted the hypothetical lifeboat problem (or a variation)? It goes like this: there’s a lifeboat with a bunch of people (let’s say a mom, lawyer, policeman, teacher and rich businessman) and someone has to leave the boat (i.e. drown) if the others are going to make it to safety. Other variations always force you to choose someone to die.
These kinds of problems make me feel like a horrible person, so I usually just claim it’s all hypothetical, which makes the point moot, anyway. There’s no way something like that would happen in real life. Miller disagrees, because we’re already living it. Just like the people in the boat, we all need to prove our worth in order for other people to accept and love us. We argue our value to save our lives, because if we don’t feel others affirm our value, we might as well die.
Miller draws this story to a point:
It would be prudent to summarize a few ideas that have brought us to this dilemma. If a human being is wired so that something outside himself gives him life, and if a separation from that something would cost him his life (physically, but also spiritually), then a human personality would seek a kind of redemption from a jury of his peers, and a lifeboat mentality would ensue across all cultures.
Isn’t it interesting that the “jury of peers” redemption seeking does occur around the world? And funnily enough, we can find in Genesis this idea of separation from the original something that gives life. Maybe the Bible explains the state of the world even more than we know. Just a thought.