When Self-Absorption Becomes Our Religion

Self-absorption inevitably leads to madness

"If you're doubting the love of Jesus, you try to work it out through your circumstances. No, you never read your circumstances and then read the Love of Jesus. You read the Love of Jesus towards your circumstances. If you are doubting his love for you, if you are struggling with his authority in the midst of sadness and confusion, let the cross speak to you again." - Chad Scrubbs, pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Nashville and father of a 9 year old daughter, murdered this week by a transgender maniac

It has been a hard week for many Christian families in Nashville. If their experience is like mine was after my own daughter died, they have some hard months still ahead of them. When someone you deeply love is deprived of her life, you at first feel strangely disloyal going on with your own. I suspect this is how returning soldiers feel when, having lost a friend in battle, they have to then come home and get on with their own lives.

It would be nice if the mass murder of Christians in Nashville turns out to be a national tipping point for coming to grips with our present madness.  I don't really expect that, but I hope it will jar many Christians at least into an awareness that spiritual warfare is real - that something rather more is going on in the world than what kind of music we sing in church or whether taking the vaccine is really the measure of true Christian love.  

What's happening in our culture is a spiritual conflict that only sometimes takes a political form. But because it is essentially spiritual, it can't really be explained or combated on materialist terms.

Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring—those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus. - Revelation 12:17

I want to offer an explanatory idea that might connect some dots and perhaps provide a unifying point of view regarding several of the most troublesome and violent pathologies of our time: transgenderism, homosexuality, abortion, and (oddly enough) climate change.  The unifying theory boils down to the observation that each of these different pathologies are just varying manifestations of a kind of metastatic self-absorption, one which has reached critical mass within our culture. I describe this self-absorption as "metastatic" because, like a cancer which has metastasized, the essential self-absorption our society has been promoting is spreading and appearing in unexpected places and ways.

I'll propose how each of these represents a form of self-absorption further down, but at this point let me suggest a reality-based lens through which to understand our situation.

In the first chapter of the apostle Paul's letter to Christians in Rome, he offers an intriguing description of how a person, and even a society, descends into mental madness and moral chaos.  Before looking at the text itself, perhaps I should say a word about how I conceive of the biblical text.  Many of us, I think, have a tendency to view the biblical text almost entirely as a vehicle for moral prescription.  In other words, we view it as a source of moral guidelines for how to live our lives and, importantly, how to regain our moral footing in our relationship with God.  Of course, the bible is not less than a source of moral prescription, but it is also much more than that.  One of the key things offered by the biblical text is an explanation and description of the reality in which we live - the circumstances of our very existence.  To put it another way, the bible is not only prescriptive but is descriptive as well.

I believe that, among other things, the first chapter of the book of Romans describes some of the ideas and conditions that lead to moral and spiritual chaos. In that particular chapter, it is less about prescribing what to do and more about describing the context for mental and moral unraveling.

So with that background, let's look at the relevant text:

18The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

The first thing to notice was that the descent of the people being talked about was characterized by a suppression of the truth.  Truth, in this sense, is not merely in regards to some moral obligation but entails suppressing the knowledge of the nature of reality itself.  It involves a willful closing of one's eyes to God's existence and the downstream implications of his existence for the circumstances of one's own life.  If God is there, then to suppress that truth in service to one's own wickedness is a characteristic of those who are on a path of moral and intellectual suicide.

In my own life, I have known (and been friends with) any number of people who presented themselves as intellectually principled atheists. Which is to say they professed that their unbelief in God was for intellectually principled reasons.  But invariably I have found that my friends were less principled than they claimed.  At the end of the day, there was always something in their lives that they wanted to hang onto which a belief in God would have interfered with.  Aldous Huxley was open enough to explain this dynamic of his own atheism in publication:

“I had motives for not wanting the world to have a meaning; and consequently assumed that it had none, and was able without any difficulty to find satisfying reasons for this assumption. The philosopher who finds no meaning in the world is not concerned exclusively with a problem in pure metaphysics. He is also concerned to prove that there is no valid reason why he personally should not do as he wants to do. For myself, as no doubt for most of my friends, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation from a certain system of morality. We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom. The supporters of this system claimed that it embodied the meaning - the Christian meaning, they insisted - of the world. There was one admirably simple method of confuting these people and justifying ourselves in our erotic revolt: we would deny that the world had any meaning whatever.” - Aldous Huxley, Ends and Means

Everyone knows that God is real. There can be sincere and temporary myopia perhaps about God's existence, but the more stubborn the resistance to the obvious reality, to what Romans describes as being "plain to them", the more we ought to question just how principled such resistance really is.

21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

So what happens next involves a conscious decision not to acknowledge God and his place in the world relative to our own - "they neither glorified him as God...". That refusal is inevitably followed by the neglect of gratitude.  If one takes the position that God isn't real or need not be acknowledged, then gratitude is owed to no one.  

But what happens, apparently, to people who make such choices is that their thinking becomes futile.  Why?  Well, I suppose if you deny what is manifestly true about the universe - that God is in it and he is owed something by the rest of us - you have entered the realm of fantasy and delusion.

Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

Now catch the next downstream effect of denying the reality of God - disordered sexual appetites combined with a thoroughgoing materialist life (i.e. "they worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator.")  Loving and serving material things alongside misdirected sexual appetites is, according to the apostle Paul, an artifact of refusing to acknowledge God's existence and what God's existence implies about our obligations of gratitude.  Human beings are worshiping creatures.  If we preclude God from our consideration, the only remaining options for us to worship are material things, or ourselves.

So here's where we find ourselves in the apostle's argument:  he tells us that if someone decides not to acknowledge God's existence and God's place, it disrupts that person's ability to think well (i.e. "their thinking became futile") and leads eventually to disordered sexual appetites and to a love for material things above all else.  Again, when you reject a fundamental facet of reality - God's existence - your psyche and your appetites begin to fragment and decay.  You have gaslighted yourself and destabilized your own mind.

Humans are value seeking beings, especially in regards to themselves.  We want to know what we're for and what gives us value. One of the foundational premises of the entire moral code set forth in the bible is that man's value is based on the fact that he bears God's image. (e.g. Genesis 9)  In other words, human value is derivative but not inherent. We are valuable because, having been created (i.e. not self-originated), we are stamped with the image of our creator.

But from whence does human value come if a person decides that he is uncreated? What happens to someone when he loses this essential insight that his value is not inherent but derived? We are all only valuable by our association with God's image. It is a marker of our importance and serves as a prohibition against harm. What happens once we cast that knowledge aside?

For generations now, we have indoctrinated American youth with the falsehoods that the material world is all there is, and that each person's value is intrinsic. We have told children in schools across the land that the only true knowledge is the knowledge acquired through the investigation of material things. We have told them that there is no transcendent purpose or task they are here to undertake. We have indoctrinated generations of children with the idea that they are not for anything in particular. We have told them that the sexes are interchangeable parts and infinitely malleable, socially, but even more recently, physically. We have told children that they themselves are nothing more than a conglomeration of material ingredients.  And we have done this using the imprimatur and authority of government, and of "the science".

We should not be surprised that many have actually believed this about themselves. We have left generations of children bereft of any knowledge of their actual value or transcendent purpose.  That knowledge has been replaced by the superstitious belief that they are gods unto themselves, living in the world for nothing more than their own gratification and pleasure.

For at least a generation, we have possessed the technological means to propagate this kind of unreality on a global scale, and now much of the rest of world is deeply enmired in self-worship and material consumption. And as the apostle Paul described, right on cue, many are descending into madness.

The difficulty, of course, is that it is easy enough to tell ourselves lies, but it is impossible to alter the fundamental nature and essence of our created being.

We can lie to ourselves but the real still abides.

Our modern lies have left human beings with an understanding of the world that is in complete conflict with true human nature.  As a culture, we have lost an understanding of the distinctive differences between men and women. We do not understand the transcendent purpose of sexuality. We do not understand family, or work, or what constitutes wisdom. How can we, when the very premise for our reasoning is based on lies?

Bereft of any understanding of why we matter, we inevitably conclude that our value and worth is intrinsic to ourselves.  Everyone deserves a trophy just for showing up in all their own glorious, but material, uniqueness. One's own gratification and psychological satisfaction becomes the measure of all that constitutes the good.  

In other words, we make idols of ourselves and of our own appetites. All of this, of course, is tarted up with benevolent happy talk about rights, and the "marginalized", and the "misunderstood". In practice though, what actually emerges from such ferocious self-absorption is sterility and misery and death. The vulnerable, and especially the innocent, as we are even now seeing, inevitably become the prey.

Think about how this worship of self is reflected in homosexuality. Homosexuals, by very definition, have developed a sexual attraction to others like themselves. Their most intimate interests are not in someone different from themselves but in someone who is like themselves. There is nothing more attractive to them than someone whose form is the same as their own. Thus, they themselves represent the form they desire.

Transgender people believe their powers are so great that they can define their own reality. The are obsessively preoccupied with their bodies and, especially, their own supposed god-like ability to be self-defining. It would be hard to conceive of a more megalomaniacal frame of mind than to conceive of oneself as god over one's own biology.

Abortion's siren call is "my body my choice".  It reflects a preoccupation with the self without regard to the effects of one's choices on anyone else.  The act of abortion is the act of someone for whom the desire to be free from any personal disturbance outweighs every other consideration.  It makes total sense for anyone who believes that their own satisfaction and comfort is the measure of what is good in the world, and the only thing worth having.

And even something as seemingly unrelated to the self as climate change, is grounded in the idea that even the planetary weather revolves around us. We loom so large in our own imaginations that things which our parents and grandparents took for granted as the natural vagaries of the weather we now interpret as something entirely about ourselves. So much so, that no amount of scientific data can offset the frisson of virtue enjoyed by those who participate in the climate religion. They conceive of themselves as gods who are able to control even the climates of whole planets.

Scottish politician Andrew Fletcher, who lived in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, was famous for saying, "Let me write the songs of the nation, I care not who writes its laws."  He was making the obvious point that the arts influence human thought and that laws were downstream from that. The arts have long been on the bandwagon, promoting the view that the world revolves around us.

In 2017, a blockbuster movie biopic about the life of P.T. Barnum was released in American theaters. The musical score of The Greatest Showman yielded more than one hit.  But perhaps the lyrics of no tune from that movie are more illustrative of the mindset of people in our time, who have become the center of their own universe, than the anthem of the movie "This Is Me".

I'm not scared to be seen
I make no apologies, this is me
and I know that I deserve your love
there's nothing I'm not worthy of
Look out 'cause here I come
And I'm marching on to the beat I drum

No apologies.  Worthiness suspended upon nothing more substantial than oneself. A self-drummed drumbeat for one's own life.  There is no transcendent drummer here. No recognition of fallenness, or of a need to be changed.  Everything the singer is is already good and worthy. In the context of the movie itself, the song is being sung by a side-show performer and is a song of liberation of sorts. But sung into a culture that worships the self, the lyrics have a rather more expansive effect.

We're facing a global spiritual crisis and that crisis isn't confined merely to the fact that millions of people don't want to live according to a Judeo-Christian moral code. That would be bad enough, but it would not be unprecedented.  Our current conundrum is rather different.  We're living in a world in which many appear to really believe the lies: they have come to conceive of themselves as god-like beings, and with nothing less than a self gratifying imperative.  Taken to such extremes, people turn into monsters. We can see many of them going mad before our very eyes.  The current alliance between transgender activists and violence is, in this regard, no aberration or mere coincidence.

The precious children who lie murdered in their Christian school in Nashville are the bitter satanic fruit of the church of self-absorption. After all, once you really come to believe the entire world revolves around you, everything is permitted.1

Justice is driven back; godliness stands far off. Indeed, honesty stumbles in the city square and morality is not even able to enter. - Isaiah 59:142
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