By Oswald Sobrino, J.D.; M.A. (Econ.); M.A. (Theo.); M.L. (Master of Latin), doctoral student, University of Florida.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

When "We" Make God an Ineffective Drug

I recall the comment of a friend that coffee is really used as a sort of "drug" --frankly, for the record, I do not see anything harmful in coffee at all when used within reasonable limits (in addition more and more medical research seems to be saying that coffee is in fact beneficial to one's health--but, then again, just wait for the next round of studies!). The offhand coffee comment led me to think how so many of us use "God" himself as an ineffective drug in the sense of something we use to make us feel and appear good without actually making us good or better. We may tend to use "God" as a placebo that gives us the illusion that we are admirable people when we in fact persist in living as very unadmirable, disordered personalities.

And so you have people who view themselves (and even may have some close to them confirm it who also share the same illusion) as very compassionate persons but whom many others experience as tremendously arrogant or even as just plain nasty in personality. They and their close followers are in a state of denial. Others view themselves as very close to God but practice a rudeness and lack of respect for others that many a civilized atheist would not dare to practice. Still others strongly condemn alleged "self-will" in others while, ironically, becoming angry and intolerant when others freely express their honest views and opinions, as is their right and often their obligation.

If the Church is a hospital for the sick, then it is incumbent on the sick who enter the hospital to get treatment. In a medical hospital, it would be silly for the sick simply to loiter around in the lobby or vestibule without checking in for treatment. Yet, we have not a few people in churches and other religious places who are in but never really check in for treatment, for the healing offered by Jesus. To make matters even worse, some who simply come in to loiter in our churches without getting treatment seek to become, to continue the hospital analogy, the heads of the hospital or of some important medical department in the hospital. They are using a self-created "God" as a false drug that makes them think that they are better and that makes some naive others also share that illusion, when in fact the "loiterers" are persisting in their personality disorders.

How can we know if we are in the same boat or not? All the pious practices in the world fall in the face of a personality that is not gradually becoming more humble, less arrogant, less controlling, less focused on self-promotion, less focused on seeking the applause of others, less possessive. If the trend is toward more humility, less pride, and less of a need to be the center of attention, then we are following the real God who has revealed himself as the God who humbled himself to become human, to give up and cede power, and to die on a cross. If that trend is non-detectable by others who are not under our thumbs, then we may very well be as irrational as the sick person who says that he is in the hospital but who never actually checks in for treatment and yet may even seek to become the head of surgery.