Abraham Maslow is one of recent history’s most famous Humanists. He is largely regarded as one of the founding fathers of humanistic psychology. He aggressively denied the existence of God and the Biblical teaching of original sin but he clearly had a ‘spiritual’ dimension to his beliefs, evidenced when he stated that “increasingly,leading theologians, and sophisticated people in general, define their god, not as a person, but as a force, a principle......an integrating power that expresses the unity and therefore the whole meaningfulness of the cosmos.”1
Maslow’s theories and beliefs provide an example of just how inextricable the links are between New Ageism and Humanism. In agreement with New Ageism, Maslow believed that everyone is innately good, possessing an inner resource that enables them to live healthy,fruitful and happy lives. He famously developed the ‘Hierarchy of Need’ pyramid, a model commonly employed within nurse and social work training. The pyramid illustrates Maslow’s theory by showing that an individual can reach their full potential (self-actualisation) if their basic needs are adequately met (Needs defined by Maslow as physiological, safety & security, love & belonging and self-esteem) 2
"The term ‘self actualization’ has a close affiliation to the New Age term of ‘god realization', which according to New Age teaching, is achievable because of man’s deity."3 It is also interesting to note that Maslow choose to illustrate his theory using a pyramid, a common symbol within New Age and occult rituals!
It cannot be denied that some of Maslow’s identified needs are essential for human survival and others are desirable to ensure a good quality of life. However Maslow’s theory, in keeping with his denial of the existence of the one true God to whom man is accountable, places all of the emphasis on the meeting of an individuals material and emotional needs as the means of achieving fulfillment. The Bible on the other hand teaches that “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord.” Matthew 4:4 (see also 2 Peter 1: 2-4)
Maslow's secular humanistic theory has greatly contributed to the notion that having a high esteem/love of self is essential for an individuals sense of personal fulfillment and for the promotion of their self-confidence. Having denied the existence of God and his moral authority, it was entirely natural for Maslow to set up 'self' as an object of adoration. This again is contrary to the teaching of Scripture that requires God's children to deny themselves and to be conformed to the the image of Lord Jesus Christ, whose character and actions were marked with humility and self-denial. "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus; Who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God; but made himself of no reputation and took upon him the form of a servant , and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross." Philippians 2:5-8
The Believer on recognising that God has raised them from the dunghill to set them among princes, will like Hannah sing praises to exalt the Lord who has had mercy on them. (1st Samuel 2:1-10) They will esteem themselves to be worthy of God's wrath, yet eternally grateful that they have been made objects of His grace and mercy. Consequently the saved sinner will not seek to promote their 'self esteem', but will gladly take the subservient and humble position knowing that based on Christ's vicarious atonement for His people, they are highly esteemed by God and will in due time be exalted into glory to enjoy a fuller experience of their joint heir-ship with Christ. (Romans 8:17)
Maslow rightly identified that people long for fulfillment in life but his exclusion of God from the equation led him to develop an overtly humanistic theory, the implementation of which can never lead anyone to experience true satisfaction. This sought after satisfaction can only be achieved through the Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have access unto God, who alone can satisfy the inherent longing after fulfillment that exists within the heart of man. “For in Him [God] we live, and move and have our being.” Acts17:28
Contrary to Maslow’s emphasis on the material, the Lord Jesus Christ clearly commanded His redeemed children to take no thought for anything other than their spiritual needs; “Take ye no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or, what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on......But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you.” Matthew 6 v 25-34
Maslow’s theory has not only had a profound impact on the practice of many health and social care professions but it has laid the foundation for many of the humanistic psychological counselling methods, which have become increasingly prevalent within society.
It is important for the Christian to be aware of the New Age/occult links that underpin Maslow’s theory. It must be borne in mind that Maslow's Hierarchy of Need is a theoretical model and as such can legitimately be subjected to scrutiny and criticism by Believers involved in an academic study program. The Believer cannot be compelled to accept or implement theories that contradict God's word as the foundation for their practice.
Abraham Maslow, (1976) Religions, Values and Peak -Experiences, Chap 8, conclusions as cited in Williams, Dr ES. (2009) The Dark Side of Christian Counselling; (The Wakeman Trust & Belmont Publishing)
Dr E.S. Williams (2009) The Dark Side of Christian Counselling; (The Wakeman Trust & Belmont Publishing)p.
Dr Alan Cairns. (1998) Dictionary of Theological Terms; (Ambassador) p. 245