Combating the Empty Self

I do not think we should be surprised with the rise of the empty-self in society or the church. The empty self is what we have reinforced in people through slogans that act more as mantras such as “if it feels good do it” and my favorite “do what makes you happy.” We have pushed the ideas that individual happiness and instant gratification are the goals and anything outside of those immediate results are unnecessary. Instead of taking time to develop thought we have created methods and ways to reward instant and short term gratification.

Some examples of how society has produced the empty self can be seen in advertising that reinforces personal pleasure, pushing the idea of passiveness such as get rich quick schemes or instant weightless, and the rise in infantilism which can be seen all over the internet in YouTube videos and the like. Systems have been created where you are allowed a hundred and forty characters to express thoughts and ideas which leads to largely only sharing cat videos and items of little to no consequence. Internet advertisements for products and information are specifically designed just for you and exposure to foreign concepts are lost in the process. The empty self is not only pushed on people but rewarded by stardom and “shout outs” by those who have attained what the culture deems success.

The church is not immune to the effects of the empty self. Christian bookstores are filled with titles such as Your Best You, 7 Steps to Happiness, 5 Keys to Prosperity, or God is for You. Praise and worship services are designed to illicit emotion and produce a good feeling instead of imparting truth and change. Members leave one church when the good feelings wear off and start their search for a new “church home.” We now change churches like we do phone plans when someone offers us a better deal. Pastors and church leaders who are forced to combat this rising challenge start with good and sincere hearts trying to find ways to reach people who have little motivation to grow then find themselves discouraged and giving shallow sermons to feed the lethargic masses. Burnout occurs in the faithful and they find themselves becoming the very thing that caused the burnout: they become the empty.

How can the church minister to the empty self? If Jesus called the church to go out and make disciples, then how does the church accomplish this goal when the people they are called to minister to seem to have no desire to be challenged? The first step must be to make sure that we are people who are prepared and ready to rise to this challenge. We do a disservice when we give out incorrect explanations or arguments that have not been thought-out.[1] We must first be a people who think and value the life of the mind.

I do not think it should be assumed that a person who might be classified as an empty self does not have a desire to know the truth because everyone inherently has a desire to know the truth. They already have a truth or a worldview that orders their life. Whether it be that personal pleasure is prime, relaxation is best, deep thought is unnecessary, or what have you they have something they hold on to as truth. What we must do is help them analyze their truth to see if it actually holds water. If a person holds to the idea that personal pleasure is best it does no good to tell them they are wrong instead we must dig deep to find out why they hold to this idea in the first place. We must help them examine their own beliefs and get to the truth. As we do this we expose them to virtues like vigilance and fortitude so they not only see their system is wrong but that there is a better way.[2] We are then humbling leading people to the truth which they have discovered for themselves and as Blaise Pascal said: “we are generally more effectually persuaded by reasons we have ourselves discovered.”

Once a person has become aware of the truth and the value of the life of the mind we must then dig in deep to do the hard work of teaching and modeling virtues now that they have been introduced. To do this again we must first possess and live them. It is not enough for the truth to be an idea that we like but a way of life. In doing so we build ourselves up for service to Christ and model a virtuous life for those we are ministering to because most people when attempting to understand a new belief or idea will mimic before they understand why. Instruction is of great importance but it must also be accompanied by demonstration.

Most people including me do not understand how to think logically. Some may be naturally better at it than others and we may have an idea of how to think logically but we do not as a general rule study what logical thought is. However, because of the high rate of fallacies that occur during the course of arguments and public discussion regarding religion, we must study what it means to think logically. We must expose ourselves to ideas that are different than ours so we can see the issue from many possible angles. In doing so we not only become better servants of Christ but better aids to those who need to know Him. Christianity had to defend itself from its very conception it is time for the church to bring back not only the power of the Gospel but the truth of God.

[1] J.P. Moreland, Love God with all your mind 2nd ed, (NaviPress, 2012), 123

[2] Moreland, 125

 

Just a thought,

Mike

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