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!