The Culture of Self
- Friday, September 19, 2003
When pondering life's deeper mysteries, do you instinctively turn for insight to...your local sportscaster? If not, I guess maybe you don't live in Philadelphia.
The sports radio talk-show hosts in this city are amazing. History, stats, the sports rumor-mill-they know it all. These guys have clearly devoted their lives to gathering every conceivable fact about sports, and their listeners love it. It's during those rare lulls in sports activity, however, that faithful listeners experience the flip side of such exquisite specialization. As the sportscasters are forced to venture into non-sports talk, we quickly learn that these guys don't have the first clue about anything except sports!
One desperate time-filler that runs during these lulls is called the "Mystery Question of Life." In this segment, poor, bewildered callers submit their "Mystery Questions" to these philosopher wanna-bes. Do you lie awake at night wondering why there are roughing penalties in full-contact sports? Or why we drive on parkways and park on driveways? These are the kinds of deep issues tackled on slow sports days in my town.
What is your Mystery Question of Life? It's probably something a little more weighty than the ones mentioned above. Maybe it's, "Lord, why did you make me the way I am?", "Why did you allow this to happen to me?", or "Will my life ever amount to anything?" Mystery Questions are the ones that linger at the edge of thought, unanswered and unwanted, ready to move in and rudely rearrange one's emotional furniture at the slightest invitation.
These "Who am I?" and "Where am I going?" questions are universal. At one time or another, we all ask them: when reflecting on the difficulties or failures of our past; when honestly examining the gaps between who we are and who we project ourselves to be; or when pondering the uncertainties of the future and the potential implications of our decisions. They are unsettling questions because they can upset our most comfortable assumptions about ourselves.
I, Me, Mine: Single in the Culture of Self
Few people are paralyzed by these "Who am I?" questions, but all of us live with their influence on a daily basis. Christians are no different in this regard-how we deal with them determines our decisions and our general outlook on life. As a single adult you no doubt have your own take on the "Who am I?" problem.
The current secular solution is to focus on "self-hood," as if how I feel about myself is the key to identity. Here is the secular mindset: we are fragile, innocent, and frequently victimized creatures who need to continually cultivate love of self. My selfhood has been shaped by what others did (or didn't) do to me (or for me) in the past. A pleasant past produces a generally "healthy" sense of self. A difficult past produces "inadequacies." My goal is to "know myself," to "make peace with myself," and to "like myself." My future selfhood depends on how well I protect myself from those who would harm me. The ultimate goal of this secular mindset is to love ourselves as fully as possible. Self-love becomes the cornerstone of a "healthy" and "well-adjusted" sense of personhood. It is the proposed secular solution to our Mystery Questions of Life.
A multimillion-dollar industry has grown up around this preoccupation with, as one critic calls it, the "Imperial Self." Much of the information directed to the Christian single adult demonstrates the impact of this Culture of Self on the church. Consider the following quote from a popular book for Christian singles:
Singlehood is a state of existence, a way of being. It is a condition of encouraging, affirming, and maintaining one's integrity as a self. It is being willing-and learning how-to become increasingly self-aware, self-preserving, self-affirming, self-fulfilling, and autonomous (self-governing).
Or consider this advice from a handbook for pastors of single adults:
Recently on Singles
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