THE MONASTIC CYCLE: WHAT USUALLY COMES AFTER PROSPERITY AND SUCCESS
One day a friend of mine called me up from the U.S to ask me a question. He had something that was bothering him, he said, and he needed to discuss this with me.
He had a friend of his who had lived in Nigeria for a little while before heading off to the United Kingdom. While he was in Nigeria he was reportedly “close to God”, but after staying in the U.K for some years he found himself going down a more “rational” path. He began a series of soul searches and came up with questions he began to ask this mutual friend of ours.
Our mutual friend called me and this was more or less what the questions were about-
“If God exists how come He seems to be doing more for people that don’t know Him than He is for those that do?”
It seemed to Him that those who had no need for God were those that had more prosperity and success than those who did.
He asked a pertinent question about many members of the Church in the developing world when he said, “Assuming some rich fellow who owned a dating agency walked into a Nigerian church and offered all the people who needed a job automatic employment, and gave brand new houses or cars to those that were in need of them, gave a salary increase to all who wanted it, and hooked every unmarried person to the man or woman of their dreams, what percentage of people would remain in the church? How many people would still serve God after they had their needs met?”
He also said how, going from home to work everyday, he would notice how the social welfare system worked and how the disabled and elderly were treated. He couldn’t help but think there really was no reason for God in a society that worked so seamlessly. His logic essentially was that the British that had continuously tended to an impious and godless position where they referred to themselves as post-modern and post-Christian actually had a valid point.
So he came out with the conclusion that people are only religious because they have needs. God is only relevant because people have needs, so the more needful a person is the greater the tendency is of his being religious.
My friend was perplexed that his friend had adopted this line of thought and wanted some reassurance from me.
I might have shocked him a little more after I immediately said to him-
“There is a grain of truth in that…
This is because N-E-E-D is a four letter word that keeps man constantly motivated to seek God.”
Then I told him that although his friend’s assessment of “needs” was not incorrect it was incomplete.
Material needs are the lowest level of human needs according to Abraham Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Human Needs”
HIERARCHY OF HUMAN NEEDS
/ \ (1) FULFILLMENT
/ \ (2) RESPECT
/ \ (3)LOVE & BELONGING
/ \ (4)SAFETY
/ \(5)BASIC NEEDS
I said to him, “Even when material needs are met there will still be several others. At what point in time, for instance, would a person ever get to where he can say with all certainty that he can provide all the protection he and his family need?” I continued, “If he had all the guns and skills he needed to stave off armed hoodlums how much exactly would he have to protect himself in the event of an automobile accident, or plane crash?”
“If he had all the money in the world and could hire the best bodyguards, afford to buy the most sophisticated planes and employ the most experienced pilots he still wouldn’t have enough to buy up love and get everyone to like him. If he had everyone like him he would still not have everyone respect him. And even if he had everything in the world he would still not be able to buy fulfillment.”
The reason is quite simple, there are very few things that produce genuine fulfillment, and having lots of material possessions is not one of them.
Nobody can ever be fulfilled without God.
An unprejudiced look at the situation and a glance at all the needs stated above would show that nobody has transcended need. If nobody has transcended need then nobody has transcended God.
God does not cause need in order for people to seek Him, no, not necessarily. He is not an egotist.
Instead, think of it this way- He is all sufficient, and all the answers and solutions rest in Him. A disconnection from Him is a connection with the alternative- emptiness, a void, need, and nothingness.
This still doesn’t explain why it would seem that those who have no fear of God and are not inclined to religion appear to fare better than others. This still doesn’t explain why the fastest growth the Church records today is in indigent places like Asia, Africa and Latin America.
Why are there countries today that call themselves “Post-Christian”?
Why are there countries today that believe they have grown beyond God?
Let me answer this by bringing something to our attention.
Have you ever considered the fact that the countries that call themselves “Post-Modern” or “Post-Christian” are countries that were once called “Christian countries”?
As an aside, has it ever dawned on you that ALL the countries that fit into the genus “First World” were at one time referred to as “Christian countries”?
We will take a look at the second question at a later date.
Let us look at the first now.
These countries that believe they have grown beyond God were mostly Christian countries at some time. China is not among them, nor is North Korea as, especially in the case of the latter, they cannot be called “Post-Modern”. China is still on the path of modernization so we will concentrate on the Western nations that were all part of Christian civilization at some time.
Without exception these countries attained national transformation through a familiar path, and true to type fell away afterwards. It is nothing new, and is a pattern ingrained in the process.
Gordon Cosby, the founding pastor of Church of the Savior in Washington D.C, noted a pattern as he studied the evolution of religious orders.
First, an idealist attracts people with a strong sense of devotion. The devotees then form a community. Usually there are certain behavioral traits that become prevalent in most of such communities. One of such traits is discipline- hence the strict rules of founders of orders like Benedict and Ignatius.
Disciplined groups tend to prosper, this is because discipline creates industry and industry produces wealth, but that very success ultimately undermines the group’s commitment and leads to self-indulgence, and at this point the movement begins to fall apart.
All these happen and then someone comes along to revive the spirit of idealism. After this happens the cycle starts over again.
Cosby has called this the “Monastic Cycle”.
We see this pattern through history. The movements led by idealists such as Ignatius of Loyola, Francis of Assisi, and Benedict of Nursia, demonstrate this very sequence.
If we take a look at the early Benedictines we will see that in keeping with their culture of devotion and discipline they worked hard to clear forests and cultivate land, investing their earnings in drainage, livestock, and seed. A few centuries later they were hiring people to do the work while they sat back to enjoy the fruit of their labor, such as Benedictine brandy. At times half the order’s revenue went into maintaining the luxurious lifestyles of the abbots. Every so often a reformer would arise to remind the order of the original Rule of Benedict, and start a revival, only to see the same downward spiral and negative pattern eventually repeat itself.
Beginning with Adam and Eve’s brief sojourn in the Garden, human beings have shown a remarkable inability to manage prosperity and success.
In Old Testament days, whenever the economy boomed and peace prevailed the Israelites attended less and less to spiritual things and instead looked to military power and alliances for their security.
In the prophets’ telling phrase they forgot God. We turn to God out of need, and forget Him when things go well.
That is customary with human nature.
And so we as individuals also succumb to the Monastic Cycle in the same way that nations can and do.
It is this pattern that most of the people that are part of Western Civilization have subsumed into.
Two centuries ago, John Wesley warned Methodists about material success and it’s effects on faith when it is not put in its place-
“I fear, wherever riches have increased, the essence of religion has decreased in the same proportion. Therefore, I do not see how it is possible, in the nature of things, for any revival of religion (Christianity) to continue long. For religion (Christianity) must necessarily produce both industry and frugality, and these cannot but produce riches. But as riches increase, so will pride, anger, and
love of the world in all it’s branches.”
Union with God will inevitably produce prosperity and good success. This theme runs not only through the Bible but is consistent with human experience.
Even before noting the fact that the Bible characters that were the most godly were also the wealthiest (the likes of Abraham, Job, David, and Solomon readily come to mind) a cursory and dispassionate look at several communities in Nigeria, Africa, and the developing world as a whole will show that those that admitted the gospel and the missionaries that brought it usually end up faring much better than those that hold on to idol worship and deities constructed by their forbears.
In the same community there is usually a considerable distance between families that have accepted even the most basic precepts of the gospel and those that have cohered to idolatry and diabolism.
The question usually for us as individuals and nations is, just like with countries who have experienced significant prosperity and success,- “Can we stand to be blessed?”
It’s not a proposition of whether God will bless us or not if we seek Him the right way, it is more an issue of whether we will change when He does.
Will we cave in to the pattern of the Monastic Cycle?