It’s a common problem. It’s so common that in the 1990’s, the late-night TV show Saturday Night Live created a skit about people addressing this problem. With Al Franken playing the character Stuart Smalley, Stuart attempted to convince himself that he was good enough, smart enough, and that “Doggone it, people like me!”
For a variety of reasons, many people simply don’t think well of themselves. A colleague of mine used to quip: “Ask people what they think about themselves when they step out of the shower and see themselves in the bathroom mirror. They never look in the mirror and say, ‘What a great person!’”
Stuart Smalley’s self-doubts seem to have been rooted in growing up with an alcoholic parent. Whether or not addiction is part of one’s family history, most people come to view themselves as inadequate in some way that undermines their own abilities. There are many influences that contribute to this including a consumer-based culture which conveys the message, “you’re not good enough unless you have the latest products;” an emphasis of competition in society that assures us that “there’s only one winner and the rest are losers;” and deformative theologies that are woven into our cultural values insisting that “you are a sinner in need of salvation.”
It’s my opinion that poorly formed theology like Augustine’s concept of original sin and John Calvin’s belief that human beings are fundamentally depraved and that no good is found in us have done people untold harm. While these beliefs permeate Euro-American Christianity, their Biblical basis is not well founded. They are also fundamentally contrary to the prevailing beliefs held by Christians in the first millennium.
Think about this: what would it mean for your understanding of yourself if you believed, as is recorded in Genesis – the first book of the Bible – that you were created in the image and likeness of God. That’s right: consider what it could mean to understand that your very breath is nothing less than Divine energy breathing in and through you. In its allegorical stories of the creation of humanity, that’s exactly what the Bible conveys about us.
What’s more striking is that early Christians really believed this and much more. In the second century, a Christian writer by the name of Ireneaus insisted that “Jesus became human so that humanity could become divine.” Christians commonly believed that the union of humanity and divinity in the person of Jesus was the basis for wholeness, healing, and salvation. It wasn’t until the 17th Century that Christians widely came to believe that the death of Jesus was the substitution made by God to atone for human sinfulness. Instead, early Christians believed that humanity was made in God’s image: that God breathed divine life into us and that all of creation was infused with the Divine presence. When humanity turned from God, symbolized by eating the apple, then we also turned away from our Divine nature and took the rest of creation with us. By coming into the world as human, God restored the possibility for us to live as divine beings.
Later Christian writers, Athanasius, Gregory Naziansus, Gregory of Nyssa, Maximus the Confessor, and Ephrem of Syria all explain a fundamental Christian doctrine known as deification or theosis in their writings over the first thousand years of Christianity. What they understood is that our nature, as human beings, is essentially divine. But we disregarded that nature and chose to cling to living in ways that supported a false sense of attachment to power, or pride, or anything else that drew us away from our true self. Because of the life and teaching of Jesus, we could turn away from these false illusions of self and reawaken the Divinity within us. In other words, by turning away from the things that prevent us from being who we are more deeply, we have the potential to be more than we could ever imagine.
From this perspective, the bottom line is this: yes, we are good enough as we are. We simply need to turn away from false illusions and self doubt in order to be the wonderful people we are created to be.
Next time you step out of the shower and see yourself in the mirror, remember that you are nothing less than divine. That affirmation is far better than anything Stuart Smalley ever told himself!
© 2012, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.