Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

“Desiring to Desire”

Written by: on February 21, 2013

(Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs)

In this writing I have decided to choose and explore a few concepts discussed by Vincent Jude Miller in his book Consuming Religion: Christian Faith and Practice in a Consumer Culture; those of need, desire, scarcity, and lack; and analyze how these might interact and manifest.  I will also briefly discuss the “needs” concepts of Maslow and Miller. 

Miller discusses the idea that we have come to the place where we don’t know the difference between “complex culturally constructed desires” and “basic human needs” (108)  And since we have a myriad of choices, the joyful choice then becomes “to desire.” “Desiring” and “longing” bleeds into every area of our lives, including relationships and spirituality.  It is not so much the person or object that brings us satisfaction, but the “seeking” and “chasing” that brings the joy.  Perhaps this human instinct of “desire” comes from the concept of “scarcity;” human competition for limited resources.  One might argue that most battles and wars have been fought over the fear of “scarcity” and the desire for the resources of others.  There is no question that in many parts of the world food and other basic needs are scarce.  Why is there scarcity?  Is it real or artificially created?  There are a variety of theories surrounding this, from overpopulation to the effects of imperialism.  So what are basic human needs? 

Abraham Maslow designed a pyramid of human needs found within his writing, “A Theory of Human Motivation.”  According to Maslow, for physiological survival, we don’t need property, symbols, or morality.  At our base level of existence it seems we choose the finite over the infinite.  From an anthropological perspective we know that if a society is living above survival they typically create some form of meaningful art.  This shows that the group is not just hunting and gathering but also has time to weave, paint and sculpt. Once a human feels safe he/she can begin the natural processes of curiosity, exploration and abstract problem solving.  With these processes come creation stories, artifacts and theologies.  So how does scarcity and meaning come together within the human?  The concept and fear of scarcity (due to limited resources) stimulates the desire for unessential things; things that are not necessary for survival.  And as mentioned earlier, for Miller there is a joy in reaching out for the desired.  He explains, “Desire and its pleasures are constituted in lack. …The bitterness of disappointment and frustration with particular objects of desire is endlessly glazed over by the sweetness of desire for new ones.” (119)  This desire and lack concept has bled into Christianity, according to Miller. 

He discusses the concept of scarcity and Christian theology when analyzing the writing Divine Economy by D. Stephen Long.  He states, “Long applies the critique of modernity’s ontology of lack to the axiomatic status of ‘scarcity’ in contemporary economics.  (Economics is commonly defined as the study of the allocation of scarce resources to competing needs.)  He argues that this disciplinary assumption can only be viewed as heretical by Christian theology.” (112)  I wonder how the concepts of scarcity and lack play into concepts of God, especially in the constant need to reaffirm the “debt” humans owe to God alongside of the salvific “paying of debt” though Jesus Christ.  In other words, within Christianity is the concept of “original sin” and the idea that humans were born with a debt they owe to God.  Then, Jesus Christ came and paid the debt.  However, there is still the idea that even with redemption, humans must pay a sacrificial price in order to “relate” with Christ and his suffering.  And therefore, an exchange of sorts continues to take place during a Christian humans’ lifetime, an exchange which sometimes includes finance, works, practices, forgiveness, guilt, grace, etc. 

There are Christian scriptures that speak of material economics, one of which being Matthew 6:19-21 which states, ““Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (NSV)  This scripture seems to be a commentary on releasing the desire for non-essential material things.  I couldn’t help but also think of the four Noble Truths of Buddhism, and especially the second and third: “Suffering Comes from Desire,” “To End Suffering End Desire.”  Desire for the non-essentials, according to Buddhism and Christianity, causes suffering individually and on a global scale with its ripple effects.  Faced with a myriad of possible non-essential choices, by choosing one and forgoing all others presents the immediate idea of “lack.”  This idea, according to Miller, has seeped into religious thought by equating the finite with the infinite.  And with this comes the result of choosing the finite over a relationship with God.

However, we have come to the place where we have a hard time distinguishing between “desires” and “needs.”  Unlike animals, who tend to hunt for food for survival and are then satisfied, humans seem to have insatiable desires.  And in some way desire, in and of itself, brings us joy; not necessarily the object of desire but the “reaching out” or craving gives satisfaction, until of course, the object is obtained.

Why do you think it has become difficult for humans to distinguish between desires and needs?

What is the purpose, if there is one, to the insatiable human desire to desire?

How do the concepts of “desire” and “scarcity” manifest in Christian theology?

About the Author


Leave a Reply