No, You Can’t Pull Yourself Up by Your Own Bootstrap

No, You Can’t Pull Yourself Up by Your Own Bootstrap September 14, 2017

BootstrapSo far in this blog, we’ve dissected the memes “I’m spiritual but not religious” and “Christianity is a relationship, not a religion.”

Today, we’ll get down to the difficult work of sorting out what Christian spirituality is.

We’ll begin today by looking at the myth of self-transcendence.

We’ve all been sold and told the American Dream, the mantra which we all chant and which takes myriad forms.

“Be all you can be.”

“You only go around once in life. So grab for all the gusto you can. Even in the beer you drink. Why settle for less?

“The self-made man.”

We’ve all been told things like: “Just pull yourself up by your own bootstrap.”

Now this is an intriguing physics experiment waiting to happen.

Go ahead: I’ll give you a minute to find a pair of cowboy boots (that should be easy for those of you who live in Texas, like I do) and try it.

I double dog dare you: pull yourself up by your own bootstrap.


Eh? What’s that? You’re having a little trouble?

Something to do with not being able to get outside your own frame of reference?

But this is exactly what most people mean when they speak of spirituality today.

It turns out that spirituality is a tricky word to define. Sandra Schneiders, a leading scholar in the field of spirituality, offers this definition: “Spirituality is the experience of consciously striving to integrate one’s life in terms of self-transcendence toward the ultimate value one perceives.”

But there’s a basic flaw in this definition, if we hope to arrive at a Christian definition of spirituality, and it’s this: transcending oneself necessitates someone outside yourself, if you hope to get outside of yourself.

Most spirituality, including a lot of contemporary Christian spirituality, is about us choosing our own way, us being our own god, and us deserving good things because of how wonderful we are.

Schneiders’ definition is still very useful in defining what people’s true spirituality is. But it’s not true Christian spirituality. Her definition directs us to “the ultimate value one perceives.” But for Christian’s, this ultimate value is God Himself, and nothing less. Any self-directed and self-centered spirituality may be a spirituality: it’s just not a Christian spirituality.

You can’t pull yourself up by your own bootstrap, and you can’t transcend yourself by yourself.

Next time, we’ll look at another way in which Christians frequently misunderstand Christian spirituality.


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