Our contemporary society matches Paul’s description of the ‘terrible times in the last days’ in the most startling way. The Bible’s picture and the world we see around us look so much alike that it is breath-taking and cannot be ignored. ‘People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful…lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God’ (2 Timothy 3:1-5). Read also Ephesians 4:17-19, Romans 1:18-32 and Isaiah 5:18-23.
A society is defined by what it loves. It will legitimise and legislate for the things it loves. And at the heart of the social revolution, we have witnessed in the Western world in recent years is just one thing – the love of the self. ‘I must be free to be myself!’ People must be allowed to show their ‘true colours’ whatever they may be, be ‘true to themselves’ and be an ‘authentic person.’
Believing there is no God, what else is worth living for but yourself and your pleasures? It is not by accident that our phones and cameras are full of selfies.
A history of the self
Will Storr’s 2017 book, ‘Selfie: How the West became self-obsessed’ is a ‘history of the self.’ In it, the author gives his assessment of how the way people view themselves has changed over time. Probably the greatest change in the way people see themselves began in the mid-nineteenth century as Christianity began to be doubted and rejected. Storr calls the Christian view ‘the bad self.’ This secular author has very little grasp of biblical teaching, but we can, in broad terms, go along with that portrayal. We are all fallen sinners. We need redemption.
But, and I am cutting a long story short here, with the rejection of God, the ‘bad self’ view of mankind was rejected too. It is not us who are to blame. We are only what the world and our parents have made us. This approach began with Freud, and by the mid-twentieth century, the idea of ‘the good self’ held sway. Deep down, human beings are fine. We are only messed up by our experiences. Popular psychology was born.
However, in the last few decades, the ‘good self’ has been pushed much further into what Storr calls ‘the special self.’ Not only are we good, we are great. And if we could only build our self-esteem and understand how extraordinary we are, everyone would know true fulfilment.
The special self
This idea started to emerge into popular culture. Around the late 1980s ‘designer labels’ came into vogue. Children shouldn’t have Tesco’s trainers – they had to have an elite logo on their shoes. Children’s names began to change too. Susan and Peter went. Parents bestowed ‘celebrity’ names: Madison, Tuesday etc. ‘My child is special’ was the message. 1997 saw the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and so kicked off a whole raft of books (see the Shape-shifter series for example) about extraordinary, ‘gifted’, special children who are a cut above the average ‘muggle’. They have sold in their millions. People are told ‘you are special’ and ‘you can be anything you want to be.’ Hard-line atheistic secularism offers people no hope beyond this life, so to be ‘special’ becomes the secular hope.
And often people play out their fantasy of being special on their Facebook page. But as Storr indicates, in this digital age, many young people, having been told they are special, hit the brick wall of realising they are just ordinary. They don’t get many ‘likes’. The ‘special’ generation is not equipped to handle being ordinary. And this can turn into self-hatred and even self-harm.
What a tragedy! We have bought into the love of self, not realising that this was bound to let us down because we are lost and the self is fallen and sinful.
But hallelujah, there is a Father in heaven who loves sinners and sent his Son to redeem us. To be forgiven and become God’s child. This is to be truly ‘special.’
In 2 Timothy chapter 3, Paul goes on to warn us that as the church labours to get the gospel out to people, there will be false teachers who oppose the truth. We should not restrict the idea of false teaching to the religious cults. The greatest heresy foisted upon us, often through the TV and internet, is that of secularism. Through the media, this false ‘gospel’ is preached every day in almost every home.
I was reminded of this recently while taking a break by the sea in Lyme Regis. This town is at the heart of ‘the Jurassic Coast’ where many early finds of dinosaur and other fossils were discovered.
The BBC was in town filming a new series, starring Kate Winslett telling the story of Mary Anning. Anning was from Lyme, a poor girl who is the unsung heroine of palaeontology. She would collect fossils beneath the crumbling cliffs, to sell them on and provide for her mother and others. The family were Congregationalists, and Wikipedia explains that her prized possession was a bound volume of the Dissenters Theological Magazine and Review, in which the family’s pastor, James Wheaton, had published two essays, one insisting on six-day creation and the other urging dissenters to study the new science of geology.
There is a legitimate story to be told here about the recognition of women and women’s contribution to science. It will be interesting to see whether or not the BBC tend to make this great woman into a Darwinist, even though she died in 1847, twelve years before Origin of Species was published. But what is shocking, however, is that the BBC will depict Anning as a lesbian – something for which there is no evidence whatsoever.
But that is of no consequence to a secular society which is in love with itself. It says, ‘Naturally, we should rewrite history in our own image. Isn’t it obvious that we are so great that every significant person of the past must have been just like us?’. This is the ongoing aggressive, cultural Marxism which confronts the faithful church today, just as Pharaoh’s magicians, Jannes and Jambres, opposed the truth and confronted Moses (2 Timothy 3:8).
We may feel threatened and confused by what is happening in our world. But we are not to fear. As we look into Scripture, we realise that God knows all about what is going on, and he is still on the throne. Though this social revolution is deeply anti-Christian, some chameleon-like churches are trying to fit in with it. They have a ‘form of godliness’ but deny its power. Paul would encourage us not to follow them but to ‘continue in what you have learned and become convinced of’ (2 Timothy 3:14).