“Me First”—Today’s Idolatry
Many in our generation have lost faith in human institutions—government, laws, science, religion, marriage, and in people. Where to turn to fill the vacuum? Many are turning inward, to themselves. It is not new. It is only a revival.
THE creed of today’s me-firsters is relatively new for the 20th century. It rejects the regard-for-others approach that was more common earlier in this century. That code of ethics taught persons to think of others, to do good to others, to encourage them, and to fit oneself in with others. All of that is taboo with the new cult of “King Me.” While this extreme may be new for this century, it is not really new—only a revival. It is very ancient history repeating itself.
Here is a sampling of the new code of ethics, as gleaned from the current crop of self-help and self-awareness books:
“Looking out for number one.”
“Winning through intimidation.”
“Few of us learn how to use the world, instead of being used by it.”
“While it is possible to act in the best interests of others, the important thing to understand is that that will never be your primary objective.”
“Morality has very little to do with success.”
“You have the right to judge your own behavior.”
“Resolve to live up to a code of ethics that is self-determined, not one that has been imposed by others.”
“Guilt is an addictive drug as strong and as destructive as heroin.”
“Are you letting people walk all over you?”
“Revolutionary new techniques for getting your own way.”
When such pronouncements are made in the pages of the books, they are cushioned in a context that relieves them of their harshness. Often sound principles are presented that are helpful, and the intention here is not to categorize the entire contents as rank selfishness. However, the tenor of these books is exemplified by the above-quoted admonitions and query. These are the ideas seized on for the ads and jackets of the books to entice readers. These are the sentiments used as titles. These are the impressions left on readers. The mood permeating the followers of the new movement is one of exalting the individual in contrast to society in general. The same self-centeredness is found in movies, television, athletics, newspapers and magazines.
The Self-Awareness Workshops
One of the pioneer groups in self-exploration was founded in California in 1962. Many others now operate. They explore what is within the person, seeking to bring it out into the open. Let it all hang out, as they say. Political novelist Fletcher Knebel describes one exercise that is typical:
“One exercise knocked me out: Silent, blindfolded, hands grasped behind our backs, 24 of us made contact with shoulders, arms, legs, hips while exotic Oriental music played. This mass grope, people dumbly fumbling and rubbing to communicate with others, seemed to me the epitome of human existence. We seek one another desperately, yet touch only fleetingly and comfortlessly. I dropped out, sat on the floor and wept. For what? My own loneliness and hurts, perhaps. I never forgot that experience.”
While novelist Knebel claims to have found some value in experiencing self-awareness training in the workshops, he did find objectionable aspects such as the following:
“The movement enshrines almost as much gutter language as the U.S. Marines. Some group leaders radiate more obscenities than insights. . . . ceaseless recyclings of the same four-letter words dull the very awareness the leader seeks to sharpen.
“Too many modern American gurus promise the moon and deliver a moonbeam. . . . One weekend of a psychological revelation can be about as lasting as a Chinese dinner.
“The movement’s most serious flaw, in my opinion, is its limited application to the world. . . . Just try a sensory-awareness weekend among starving Mali herdsmen, in torture suites of Uganda’s military compounds, or across the street from KGB (secret service) headquarters in Moscow. Scant personal ‘growth’ occurs in lands in the clutch of poverty or tyranny.”
Television’s New Religion: “Feelgoodism”
Tom Shales of the Washington Post wrote a column about television ads. Here are some excerpts:
“Perhaps never in history have so many been urged to feel so good about so little. That’s because TV ad men, who have always been involved in the politics of self, have discovered a new tool for moving merchandise. It’s the feelgood ad—the ad that tells you to feel good about just being you and about anything that will bring you closer to that goal, whether it’s deodorant, pudding or a new set of steel-belted radials. . . .
“Unquestionably there is a religious fervor to these spiels. . . . But what’s really being deified in the new ads is the viewer-consumer himself. . . . the dominant point is that extremism in the worship of self is no vice—is in fact a virtue— . . .
“Television tells you to grab for all the gusto you can. It never suggests that your gusto might infringe on somebody else’s gusto. It just says, go ahead, grab, or you’ll be sorry. . . .
“Television, the greatest salesman ever invented, may have done too splendid a job on selling us ourselves. If we were plunged pell-mell into a really serious economic disorder, would we be equipped to cope with anything so unthinkable as self-denial?”
In Greek mythology Narcissus was the son of the river god Cephissus and the nymph Leiriope. As the myth goes, he was of surpassing beauty. When he saw his own reflection in a spring he fell in love with himself. He was incapable of loving others, and was so enthralled with himself that he didn’t even rouse himself to eat. He pined away and died. Today orthodox psychoanalysis uses the term Narcissism to mean an intense degree of self-love, so much so that the patient is indifferent to other persons—unless he can cause them to notice and admire him.
Repeatedly, today’s MEism has been called the new- or neo-Narcissism. Nathan Fain, in a magazine article entitled “The Age of Narcissus: Here’s Looking at Me, Kid!” called the trend “an inundation, verily, of national narcissism the likes of which we’ve never seen before.” He called it “the last American growth industry: the retreat into one’s own body,” and added:
“It is the last—and perhaps ultimate—frontier. And despite fundamentalist campaigns to monger guilt, inspire fear, and generally keep the lid on, the American art of self-love has entered its high classical period.”
But Is It Really “Worship of Me”?
One person referred to this exalting of Me as “a new religion.” Another called it the “worship of self.” For many in the self-awareness movement it doesn’t go this far; for some it does.
The Bible indicates that self-centeredness can become worship. “Covetousness,” it says, “is idolatry.” “Greed is a form of idolatry.” (Col. 3:5, New World Translation and Today’s English Version) The Greek word that these translations render as “covetousness” and “greed” is pleonexia. Barclay’s Bible commentary says:
“Pleonexia is basically the desire to have more. The Greeks themselves defined it as insatiate desire, and said that you might as easily satisfy it as you might fill with water a bowl with a hole in it. They defined it as the sinful desire for that which belongs to others. They defined it as the passion of acquisitiveness. It has been described as ruthless self-seeking.”
Of such ones, Philippians 3:19 says: “Their god is their belly.” Or, as Today’s English Version renders it: “Their god is their bodily desires.” Such ones stubbornly insist on having their own way, in effect, idolizing their own will. Centuries before Christ this was labeled idolatry: “Stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.”—1 Sam. 15:23, Revised Standard Version.
Actually, me-olatry goes all the way back to the first human pair. They wanted to set up their own code of right and wrong. Hence, when falsely told that they could “be like God, knowing good and bad,” the woman found it something for which to long. First she, and then her husband, took this course. It was a fatal mistake.
So today the creed of the me-firsters is not new. It is very ancient history repeating itself. It existed at the time of man’s beginning, and was foretold to be present at the last days: “In the last days . . . men will be lovers of themselves.”—2 Tim. 3:1, 2.
[Box on page 5]
THE ME-FIRST CREED
Love without possessing.
Let your emotions flow.
Let it all hang out.
Don’t feel guilty.
You decide right and wrong.
Do your own thing.
I’m okay, you’re okay.
Live in the here and now.
This is it!