The Most Selfish People

I’m convinced that Americans in the twenty-first century are the most selfish people. We have fully embraced the mindset of Rene Decartes who said, “I think, therefore I am.” We have defined our very existence in terms of the “self.” That is, we have placed our thinking and feeling and desiring selves at the center of our individual universes.

You can see this selfishness on display when you study postmodernism and all of its cultural manifestations. The postmodern mind has fully embraced modernism’s obsession with the self (see Carl Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self). The postmodern mind has given rise to “Mixed Religions” and all of their strange, godless, religious rites (see Tara Isabella Burton, Strange Rites: New Religions for a Godless World).

You can see this selfishness on display when you look at the evangelical church in the twenty first century. In the words of Neil Postman, we are literally “amusing ourselves to death.” Just look at “popular” evangelical worship that makes us and our faith the focus of every song. Just look at “popular” evangelical preaching that tops the podcast charts and focuses on personal action and practical application over doctrine and theology. The entire evangelical celebrity world revolves around the elevation and promotion of self.

You can see this selfishness on display when you consider our absolute enslavement to social media (see Tony Reinke, 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You). The things we post and the reasons we post reveal that we are at the center of our carefully curated online universes. Our addiction to likes and notifications also reveals just how badly we want the attention of other people.

You can see this selfishness on display when you wade into the culture wars. The arguments for abortion are increasingly rooted in the absolute insistence that the self be allowed to choose what is best for ones self (as if our personal choices hadn’t been involved in the events that resulted in a pregnancy). Likewise, the arguments for the abandonment of heterosexual monogamy in favor of the full panoply of the LGBTQ+ movement increasingly revolve around the seemingly-self-evident idea that autonomous selves ought to have the freedom to chart their sexual lives.

All of these manifestations of selfishness revolve around the autonomous, unquestioned, unrivaled self. You. Me. Us. And if I’m honest, in addition to the examples listed above, I also see selfishness on display when I look at myself. Me. I. The person in the mirror staring back at me in the morning.

The more I learn about myself, the more I become aware of the things that dominate my thoughts, and the more I understand my motives and desires, the more I realize just how selfish I am. While I certainly think our broader cultural climate inclines all of us toward greater selfishness, I also know I can’t just blame the world “out there.” I also have to blame my own selfish heart (see James 4:1-3).

We are “self”ish people. God, save us from ourselves!

4 Comments

  1. Although we were all born into sin/ only those of us who choose to leave the world of sin , will escape! I accepted salvation at the age of 27 and I am 60 now. I surrendered my all to Christ Jesus 43 years ago and in return , God have me a new heart and mind so that I can live holy and blameless before Him! I am no longer the selfish person I used to be! Praise God! With a new heart and new mind ; it is possible to obey God!😇

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  2. This is a hilarious paradox of an article coming from the most selfish Christian role in the world, the American Pastor. What percent of their week do they spend prioritizing the actual needs of others? In a modern attractional church, that number is 0%. Why? They spend all their time trying to make the hollow weekend pep rally inspire people to invite more friends and volunteer to work the campus activities. When your pastors stop trying to build your own brand and your own physical (and now digital) empires, you’ll start making a biblical impact again. Until then, you’re just another selfish American.

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  3. The irony is thick in the paradoxical article. I don’t know Landon, but I know Columbus. Having extensively researched our churches for multiple years, there is significant empirical evidence to suggest that our city pastors are indeed the “most selfish people.” As one who has given up everything to pursue his personal call, it would be nice to see our shepherds demonstrating the same…instead of being focused on building a brand and an empire (physically and digitally) at the expense of not helping the community (Barna data).

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    1. Hey Adam, thanks for the comments. I’ll try to reply to both here. First, there’s no questioning your claim that pastors are (highly) susceptible to selfishness, pride, ego, etc. I’ve actually written about that a decent bit here, critiquing the prevalence of “celebrity culture” within evangelicalism. So no argument from me there. Second, the fact that pastors can be and often are selfish doesn’t negate the fact that Americans as a group struggle with this issue – that was the point of the article – not trying to claim pastors are exempt, but simply offering some cultural commentary on who we are and where we are as a society. Third, you used the word paradox / paradoxical twice in your comments. I’m not sure what you mean by that word – I assume you mean something like ironic or “the pot calling the kettle black” or something like that. Fourth, I’ve never been to Columbus, but it seems like a pretty big place with lots of pastors and lots of churches. You seem pretty down on them as a group. Like I said, I’ve never been to Columbus, but surely there’s some good guys / churches there. Last, your critique of pastors wanting to build their own personal, online platform is legit – this bothers me a lot as a guy who is part of the SBC, and as a guy who writes a “blog” and posts “podcasts,” etc. However, your critique of pastors building online platforms rings a bit hollow when your WordPress name links to wiiwt.com, which is a fancy website that some might see as an attempt to build your own platform. A bit paradoxical, you might say – scratch that, ironic, or an example of the “pot calling the kettle black.” Thanks again for reading.

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