This is a question that I have lived with personally, and nearly every day, for over thirty years. It was first posed to me in a counseling class in seminary, by a quiet scholarly professor with a big mind and an even bigger heart.
MAIG was the concept that Dr. J. Lyn Elder proposed to us at the heart of his personal “Elderology.” A set of concepts that he introduced in his Pastoral Care classes at Golden Gate Southern Baptist Seminary, but which had no resemblance to anything that looks or sounds like what people, at least today, understand Baptist theology to be about.
The initials stand for Maximum And Increasing Gratification and the question of what is MAIG in any given situation is the heart of a modified Utilitarianism that Dr. Elder proposed as the way to approach theology, counseling, ministry, and life.
After living with this material for thirty years, struggling to understand its fundamentals more deeply and seeking to apply the outward principles in my life, I decided that one of the best ways to explore the concepts personally, and to pass them on for the benefit (the Maximum and Increasing Gratification) of others was to struggle through the process of putting them down in print.
Seeking Pleasure Instead of Pain
Incalculable numbers of times, I have mentioned the central concept of this book to people only to receive a look of consternation and a shaking of the head. The inevitable reaction being one in which people cannot imagine setting a criteria for life development or personal improvement, or spirituality of any kind, with the central focus being personal, and collective, gratification.
I find this amusing on the one hand, and depressing on the other. We seem to have no problem basing religious belief on the idea of suffering and annihilation - suicide and/or mass homicide. We - almost universally - worship the war hero who can conceive of sacrificing his or her life for comrades, and violently fighting unknown, unspecified and often unproven enemies, but we have a much harder time honoring the peace warrior who seeks a common ground with “enemies” and opponents. The religious underpinings of personal sacrifice, self-mortification and guilt are well documented and widely accepted, but the idea that there could be a religious underpinning to support the pursuit of delight (both personal and collective) is a concept as foreign to most people as the possibility of breathing water.
In the wider culture as a whole, the idea of immediate gratification is not only accepted, but often widely and enthusiastically practiced. However asking the part of the question, what leads to truly increasing gratification - an actual life-affirming growth in pleasure and goodness - seems far from most people’s thoughts.
Religiously, we seem to be willing to accept sacrifice and pain (or the avoidance of pain) as perfectly reasonable motivators in the development of personal principles and behaviours, but to, instead, consider pleasure, delight, gratification, and ecstasy as equivalent or even superior motivators... that proposal often meets with deaf ears and stoney faces.
When it comes to how we feel about others the same issues apply. How many people are willing to judge others and condemn them to lives of meaningless frustration on earth and an eternity of suffering damnation in hell, rather than accept the fact that we - all of us creatures - are not only entitled to live healthy, happy, holy lives, but that all of us are better off the more of us are experiencing life’s delight? And that is the key to it all. As Republicans (and no doubt a few Democrats) are fond of saying, “ a rising tide lifts all boats.” The underlying principle of all things MAIG is that each of us individually benefits when all of us are approaching a critical mass of happiness. At the same time, all of us as a collective (within a single group, community, nation, or world) do better when any one of us is reaching for their top potential.
And that is what MAIG is about. In every aspect of life, in all representations of connection; in every way that each of us lives, and moves and has our being, we are all the better for every way we build up our (and other’s) lives. We need to have the best we can get and we need to help that best get better.
That is my hope and prayer for this book, it’s insights and exercises. I believe that the five questions to be dealt with in the next few pages and 10,000 words will provide you with a basis for reflecting on a way of living that not only provides the opportunity for great meaning, but also great joy. Maximum and increasing gratification.
Good is not enough when you dream of being Great!
This is the introduction to a book I am working on (and a series I am developing). There's more to come as I approach the first release within the next couple of weeks. Your questions, comments, and critiques are very much welcome. Please post!
You can also find this post at my other blog, Bleeding Daylight