I’m currently reading through a book on economic development, When Helping Hurts. The authors are presenting their case as the Christian and prudent perspective on poverty and helping the poor.
My issues with the book so far include: 1. arguing that the church is responsible to care for poverty of the world, even of those who do not belong to the household of faith (my critique of that idea can be found here and here), 2. confusing the causes and effects of poverty with the definition of poverty (my critique of that idea can be found here), and 3. unobserved irony.
My favorite unobserved irony so far can be found in Chapter Two’s reflection questions, found on page 68.
“In what ways do you suffer from a ‘god-complex’, the belief that you are superior to others and are well-positioned to determine what is best for them?”
The irony in the authors ending their chapter with this question is twofold.
First, when explaining the god-complex earlier in the chapter, a complex they understand to be bad, of which Christians ought to repent, they begin by defining the god-complex with a list of desires and pursuits that are actually commendable for a Christian man to be characterized by.
The authors confess that motivating their work to help the poor is the desire “to accomplish something worthwhile with my life, to be a person of significance, to feel like I have pursued a noble cause…to be a bit like God.” All of these desires are commendable. God has made man in his image, so of course it is good for a man to want to be “a bit like God”. God has made men to be leaders and providers, so it is good for a man to pursue significance in life, to pursue accomplishing meaningful things, to pursue noble causes like knights of old. We should want more men like this, not cite these desires as a cause for repentance.
It is true that in further explanation of this initial list the authors do write in a way that is directly conceptually associated with the reflection question at the end of the chapter. We certainly can find ourselves treating people like objects, objects of our creation which we are free to use simply to further our life’s goal of erecting a long-lasting self-esteem monument. This is what the authors seem to have in mind in this particular section of the chapter, but, structurally, they try to force fit this bad thing into the original list of good things. In this failure of labels and wording, the authors ironically say “bad” to what is bad and “bad” to what is good.
Second, while the authors criticize those with a ‘god-complex’, who believe that they are superior and know what’s best for lesser men, they build their chapter’s argument by citing Cornel West (51), a radical race baiter and socialist, who has literally built his academic career on the assumption that he personally knows best, and that the government should be one big and fat, Sanders Super-sized, nanny state, providing for the needs of its citizenry, the citizenry’s needs obviously being defined according to the state’s vast and benevolent wisdom.
That’s the definition of a god-complex, a government denying the people freedom from the belief that the people are too cretinous to know what to do with freedom. And that is ironic.