A Scientific and Christian Approach to Self-Esteem
Animals: Tradition - Philosophy - Religion Article from All-Creatures.org


Stephen Kaufman, M.D., Christian Vegetarian Association (CVA)

A Scientific and Christian Approach to Self-Esteem

We are not born knowing our value, and the typical human approach is to assess our own worth by competing with each other to determine who is “better” and “best.” However, this approach engenders bitter conflicts that leave losers feeling wounded and winners constantly on their guard against those who seek higher status. This dynamic invariably undermines any attempts to build harmonious, peaceful communities, which is what Jesus aimed to establish. How can we gain needed self-esteem without determining our self-esteem by comparing our merits to those of other people?
I think Christianity offers an answer. We can gain a sense of self-esteem because we are beloved creations of God.  Many people hold that God loves them as a matter of faith, but I am skeptical of this approach. It seems to me that many people of faith invoke science and logic when it conforms with their beliefs, such as when they assert that their holy writings accord with the archeological record or successfully predict future events. However, when science or logic contradicts their religious convictions, they rely on “faith” to maintain their views.
I think that a scientific approach can provide a reasonable framework for faith in a God who cares about creation. The scientific method presumes that a complex system can be understood as a collection of parts and that an adequate understanding of the nature of those parts can explain the workings of the larger system. Though science can explain such attributes as the warmth, color, and hardness of objects, as best I can tell science offers no explanation for the existence of consciousness, i.e., subjective experience. Though consciousness has a physical component (it relies on certain brain functions), as best we can tell there is nothing about atoms, molecules, or even organs that would explain consciousness. To posit a divine source of consciousness is, in my view, a reasonable position. It would also be reasonable to expect the source of consciousness, which is what I consider God to be, cares about the conscious beings for whom God is responsible, including myself. In gratitude and respect, it is appropriate that I dedicate myself to serving God. Therefore, I think we can gain a sense of self-esteem both by being subjects of God’s concern and by serving God. There is no competition or rivalry here – we are all called to serve God as best we can.

An important corollary of this argument is that God cares about all conscious beings, not just humans. Indeed, in my view if God didn’t care when humans harmed God’s conscious creatures unnecessarily, it would indicate that God does not really care about conscious beings. There would then be no good reason to believe that God cares about humans. Some who disagree state that humans have special entitlements because the Bible tells us that humans are special creations. I’ll discuss this argument next week.

Go on to: Essay: Does God Value Animals?
Return to: Reflection on the Lectionary, Table of Contents 

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