COTTON, Dorothy, "There's More than One Key to Happiness". The Kingston Whig Standard, March 26, 2001, p.3.

by Robert Brow

I got many more creative ideas from this brief article than I did from the last theological book I reviewed which came in at $58.11 on my Master Card. Dorothy Cotton reported on a University of Missouri study which tabulated the needs which most "contributed to people feeling satisfied." They are autonomy, competence, relatedness, and self-esteem. What possible connection could there be with my interest in model theology? God or churchgoing is not even mentioned.

"Autonomy refers to the feeling that you are the cause of your actions." I remembered the complaints that since being put in a nursing home, everything was decided for you and done competently for you.

"Competence is a reflection of feeling capable and effective in your activities." That's why I go home and cry when no one has appreciated my sermon (actually I am asleep in two minutes flat). And my web site statistics are very important.

"Relatedness is a feeling of belonging, having regular intimate contact with people who care about you." Last week I suggested that is what a small congregation or cell is about. Regular means once a week most of the time. Intimate must mean that people know your name, and care about who you are.

Then I went on to "self-esteem" which reminded me that Robert Schuller has for years been by far the most popular preacher on Sunday morning television. Cotton defines it as "a feeling that you are an OK person (I'm OK, You'r OK) a worthwhile person, not a loser."

Dorothy Cotton tied these four needs to the problem of raising happy children. Forcing a child to write a good essay infringes on autonomy for the sake of competence.

Where then does theology come in? Well, obviously the sense of autonomy is only possible if God has made us genuinely free. The Lord gives us the money and let's us decide how to invest it (Matthew 25:14-17). Openness of God teaching suggests that God allows us to set the agenda. And only the Holy Spirit could give us a feeling of competence in the particular gift we exercise in the body (1Corinthians 12:4-10). Paul said "Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God" (2 Corinthians 3:5).

Relatedness is what the koinonia of a church is all about. Hopefully self-esteem isn't arrogant pride. But surely the doctrine of assurance means that we are children of the royal family, the royal priesthood, and there is no way we will ever get thrown out. No other religion has that to offer.

I saw that the Holy Spirit is supremely interested in our autonomy, competence, relatedness, and self-esteem. But it is not just the connections with theology which excite me. These four simple categories suggest all sorts of other creative ideas to preach about and illuminate by our doctrine.

..It is true that theology begins with God and our creation in the image of God. But theology which fails to make contact with basic human needs is irrelevant and deadly.

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