I generally attempt to avoid diving into “social” reading, but somehow found myself reading the blogs on Yahoo. What I read was, to say the least, disturbing.
I read about how women should decide whether or not they should date a man based upon what he eats. I learned that it’s okay that men are becoming less masculine. I learned that having an affair will make your relationship better (thankfully the writer of this ‘article’ is appalled at such a statement). I then learned that sex within marriage is now having to be defined as “married sex” and is somehow viewed as less than ideal. From the same article, it appears that sex within marriage on a regular basis is just absent.
All of this leaves me wondering – what went wrong with American society? What happened to the moral fortitude that shunned having an affair (at least among the average middle class Americans)? What happened to manhood in the United States? Why is sex within marriage considered a weird concept? Why are marriages evaluated on how much sex the couple has rather than their fidelity and trust toward one another?
The unfortunate and gut-wrenching explanation for American society’s current woes is that we are a nation full of empty selves. J.P. Moreland, in his book Love Your God with All Your Mind, lists seven traits of the empty-self:
1) Inordinate Individualism – such individuals rarely (if ever) consider themselves part of a group or community. Even family ties are often viewed as secondary importance – the individual simply does not care how his/her actions will affect those around him/her. He/she is merely concerned about what the consequences will be for him/her alone.
2) Infantilism – this is when adolescent traits continue on into what is traditionally thought of as the time to become an adult. Adolescents, and especially younger children, have a constant need for attention and entertainment. Likewise, such adults have not lost that need. Instead of becoming productive members of society and settling in, such ‘kid-ults’ seek out entertainment in any fashion. This leads to delayed college graduation (I certainly suffered from this), delayed entry into a stable workforce, and a refusal to settle down into marriage.
3) Narcissism – the empty-self is highly narcissistic. Narcissism is a psychological disorder that causes a person to have an extremely high opinion of oneself, to the point that no amount of criticism can be heard or understood. You simply cannot correct a narcissist – they are so in love with themselves that they don’t possibly think they could be wrong. The ultimate goal in life for a narcissist is personal fulfillment – and if this means relationships have to be manipulated in order to accomplish this, then so be it.
4) Passivity – this exemplifies American society; passivity is when people vacate instead of take an active role in relaxation and leisure. The English still refer to their time off work as “holidays,” but the Americans are much more accurate in their explanation by calling them “vacations.” A holiday (holy-day) gives the sense of taking a break from vocational work and reflecting on God’s goodness or creation. A vacation, however, means to “vacate,” which explains why most Americans spend vacations having others entertain them instead of creating their own entertainment or choosing to educate themselves with their time off from work. There is nothing wrong with entertainment, but when it becomes our central focus in life or our only known way of relaxation, we have become passive.
5) Sensate culture – such a culture believes that the senses – the physical world – are all there is to this world. There is no soul, no transcendent truth, nothing to be discovered outside of what the senses can sense. This often leads to a stupid society, a society that is focused on what can be seen rather than theories. Philosophy in such a society begins to die off and is viewed as no better than astrology. Plato and Aristotle are put in the same category as Miss Cleo and other late night psychics. This faux society is more likely to know the parenting skills of Britney Spears or which actor is dating which actress than they are to know the teachings of Dons Scotus or Boethius, much less know who they are.
6) No interior life – a society that lacks an interior life is one that must keep itself focused on other people’s lives; reality television, celebrity news, celebrity magazines, fashion magazines, and so on. I’m guilty of falling into this trap myself at times, but I at least recognize it is a trap and try to get myself out of it. I, and people like me, are considered odd for American society. The reason is that it is normal to have an obsession with celebrities, with external appearances, and other external factors. We no longer judge someone on his character or by his interior – we judge people on what they wear, how socially knowledgeable they are, and what they look like.
7) Busyness – one thing most non-Americans recognize about America is that it is constantly busy. New York City, the epicenter of American culture, has even earned the nickname, “The city that never sleeps.” The average American will wake up, get ready for work, take the kids to school, spend the entire day working (possibly have a ‘working lunch’), pick the kids up from school (or most likely the daycare center), get them ready for soccer practice, get home and work on some leftovers from work, vacate and watch some television, and then go to bed only to repeat the process the next day. For American singles, much of the busyness is found in going to clubs at night, spending it with friends, watching movies, and so on. There is little time for reflection or actually getting to know people, especially within the family. However, the empty-self thrives on busyness – if we are not busy (watching TV, taking the kids out, etc) then we are forced to evaluate ourselves. Thus, the empty-self thrives to be busy in an attempt to face who she is.
The empty-self serves as the death knell for American culture and society. A society full of narcissistic individuals that only know how to critique, judge, and fail to think for themselves is a society that is on the verge of utter collapse.
This is why manhood and even womanhood are dying (people are no longer seen to be created into certain gender roles, but instead are seen to create whatever roles they want for themselves as an individual). This is why adultery is being encouraged in marriages (the ultimate individualist attitude). It is also why marriage – and sex within marriage – is being viewed as passé (proper marriage relies on the denial of oneself and to hold a sacrificial attitude towards the other person). The empty-self is why there are various articles saying that men and women should watch what their potential mate eats or wears on a date rather than looking to the quality of the person’s character. The empty-self has turned the average American into a selfish little brat.
Within a secular mindset I do not see how the empty-self can be cured – in fact, I believe a secular mindset is what breeds the empty-self – but there is a cure for the empty-self; Christianity. Though I will readily admit that almost any religion that pre-dates modernity can help alleviate this psychological disorder in American society, Christianity (as usual) is exclusive in holding the ultimate cure. Unfortunately, Christians have somehow bought into this same mindset. There are celebrity Christians that we treat like celebrities; we tailor our ‘worship services’ toward a certain demographic; we prefer light reading to heaving reading (go into any Christian bookstore and look at the light reading, fiction, and self-help section compared to the Apologetics, theology, or philosophy section…assuming the store even has those sections); we want to be entertained at church; we want church to be about us; we want to take retreats where all we do is have fun on the lake and sing lyrically empty songs at night; evangelical society is certainly beginning to exemplify the empty-self.
In borrowing from J.P. Moreland’s (partially), I do believe there are certain steps that Christians can take to avoid falling into this trap:
1) Recognize that everything in life, from the rising of the sun to our actions when we’re alone, is all about God – Christians should continually seek to display God’s glory in all that they do. As Schaeffer was famous for saying Christians are the greatest evidence for the existence of God. This living is done in two ways:
I. Loving God with all our hearts, minds, and souls: this means that we put God’s desires and commands first in our lives. Everything we do, everything we think, everything we desire must first be filtered through an important question; “Does this action bring glory to God?” If it doesn’t, then we must seriously consider what we are attempting to accomplish.
II. Loving our neighbor as ourselves (this is ‘about God’ because it is a command of God’s)– this is an action that the empty-self simply cannot accomplish, but a true Christian can. It means putting the community – family and strangers – first. We must ask how our actions will reflect upon our community and, more importantly, how it will affect certain people within that society.
2) Recognize that we are not autonomous – Americans take pride in being individuals. There is nothing wrong in recognizing the individual or in valuing individual rights, but we must also understand that no one is completely autonomous. The individual, though important, must never come first. Christianity teaches that Christians are part of a body of believers, accountable to one another, and a family – autonomy doesn’t exist in a properly functioning family. We shouldn’t be concerned with what style of music the church plays, if the church entertains us, or that it appeases our personal preferences – we should only be concerned with how the church glorifies God and helps the community.
3) Recognize that we need to be educated – would it really be so wrong to turn off the television, put down the video game controller, or refuse to surf the Internet for useless information? Not that any of these things are inherently bad, but when they consume a great portion of our time they begin to take away from a Christian’s calling. It wouldn’t hurt Christians to read a book once in a while – and not an “easy-read” book, but one that is over our heads. If you can only get through 5 pages a day because you have to look up terms, think about those five pages, and re-read it that is actually a good thing. It means you’re learning and being challenged. God calls us to sharpen our minds (simply read Proverbs for proof of this); watching celebrity television or reality television is hardly accomplishing this call.
4) Recognize that God reveals knowledge to a willing heart and mind – a lot of people fear that they are “too stupid” to know anything because they lack a proper education. However, the love of God is the beginning of all wisdom. For wisdom to exist, knowledge must also exist (how can one apply knowledge if one doesn’t have knowledge?). God, however, reveals all knowledge. This means Christians, in their intellectual pursuits, should be praying and asking God to reveal the truths of this world. This takes time and patience, but the rewards in the end are far more fulfilling than watching any television show.
The empty-self is a curse upon American culture, but Christianity can overcome it. There are other solutions, but those solutions can merely help the symptoms of the empty-self – only Christianity (true Christianity) can cure the disease in its entirety.