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Need–The New Religion (formerly entitled All You Love Is Need) — Tony Walter

April 28, 2015

AYLINI found this to be a profoundly disturbing book. The first three—quarters of it annoyed and alienated me and then I realised that ‘I protest too much’ and that the reason why I was annoyed was that it called into question the hedonistic lifestyle that I have gradually given up but which still lingers on in my fantasy if not in my ‘reality’. How dare the author, who I’d already been impressed by for his work on unemployment, deny the incarnation by saying that the pleasures of the flesh, cars, washing machines, alcohol, sex or whatever, were part of our ‘lower nature’. Was he some sort of Buddhist, arguing for detachment from worldly things to extinguish desire? A friend’s funeral brought the whole thing to a head. I saw him as one who craved acceptance and who craved several pleasures of the flesh but who was never fully satisfied and whose perpetual seeking led to extinction. I then realised that I had travelled more than a little down many of the roads which he had travelled upon and that if I didn’t actually get hold of many of the things he sought it was because I was, just a little, more discerning than he was, but by no means free of his loneliness, a loneliness which we all share but which we avoid for most of the time.

My success in life has made me escape loneliness but it still comes back and I must learn to welcome it and find God within it. It is only slowly dawned on me that this ‘textbook idea’ is real and that resurrection is not cheaply won but entails costly pain. It’s not the sort of message I welcome on Christmas Eve but I suspect it is nearer to ‘the meaning of Christmas’ than the frothy escapism which many families go in for and which I envy but realise isn’t for me.

I have never really thought before that the Enlightenment ‘I think therefore I am’ leads to I desire therefore I must have’ and ends up in capitalism, creating ever more needs in order to sell more things and employ, at first more and now less, people; in communism, which redefines needs and talks of rights in its liberal variety, or in fundamentalist religion where Jesus is said to meet our every need and we overdose on religion. It seems that churches will become increasingly geared to meet people’s needs because that is the way to fill churches. As churches become ever more and more self—supporting cliques they will grow cancerously until they die, killing off the questioning member who doesn’t speak the right language or perform the right rituals and who insists on being awkward. The minister who loves his flock rather than alienate them by awkward questions will suffer no less than the honest questioner because he will feel guilty at his collusion. I want to come out with my catchphrase that suggests that we shall have to see and to live with the issue but I suspect I can make it go away for long periods of time until it re—emerges in my dreams or propels me back into hedonism. To say that we have to live with the issue and that if we are aware of it then we are better off than the blissfully unaware is one thing but it can be an easy cop out too, an invitation to collusion in the guise of claiming empathy.

The solution seems to lie in living each day as it comes, in walking one step at a time, of doing each job for its own sake and not for reward or escape and in being present fully to people. Intermediate or appropriate technology is a thing that many aid agencies urge for the third world; we shall rediscover its relevance for us in the West before too long as our economy collapses and we have to relearn simple skills in order to do our own jobs around the place without recourse to experts and labour-saving gadgets. living at a more human pace will be good for the body as well as the soul and the ‘solid joys and lasting pleasures’ that might actually arrive if we stop desperately looking for them.

Quotations:

“One mark of the almost total success of this new morality is that the Christian Church, traditionally keen on mortifying the desires of the flesh, on crucifying the needs of the self in pursuit of the religious life, has eagerly adopted the language of needs for itself… we now hear that ‘Jesus will meet your every need,’ as though he were some kind of divine psychiatrist or divine detergent, as though God were there simply to service us.”

“What autonomy is there anyway without money? Self-actualization is no longer plausible as a need, a goal for everyone; once again it becomes a luxury for the rich. This is the context in which I am writing and maybe too in which you are reading this book… both of us are probably limiting our horizons and our purses, and it is easier to become critical of the fad for needs now it is become so obvious that most of them cannot be met. Economic depression has surely made it easier for me, and perhaps for you too, to think critically about the language of needs.”

“Self-actualization … is neither a need nor a goal… but a by-product… growth psychology has to some extent provided a useful counterbalance to the apparent pessimism of Freudianism, and also to the nihilism and determinism of behaviourist psychology which often considers human behaviour to be as manipulable as that of rats… By contrast, there is a certain optimism in humanistic psychology; it tells the person that they can do something about their own situation…”

“I am no supporter of those who say that meeting one’s own needs is selfish and should be discouraged in favor of meeting the needs of others, which they suppose to be more altruistic, loving, or Christian… teachers are in the business of meeting the educational needs of children, yet this is at the very core of their … self-interested disregard for what education is really all about.”

“Clearly there ARE basic deficits/lacks/needs with which we are born and which must be met; nobody can deny that. But are we to make this the basis of social existence… Need is the religion of the religionless, the morality of those who pride themselves on having progressed beyond morality.”

“Early capitalism required investment to get the production process going. Late capitalism requires mass consumption in order to keep production going

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