A poll by the Pew Research Center reveals that "eighty-one percent of 18- to 25-year-olds…said getting rich is their generation's most important life goal." The second most important, according to the survey: being famous." Described as the "millennial" generation, 51 percent listed being famous as the second most important life goal!
A Gallup Panel survey of 18- to 29-year-olds found that 55 percent agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, "You dream about getting rich."
Most telling are the results of an annual survey of college freshmen by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA, in which 2005 data show that "the percentage who say it is ‘essential' or ‘very important' to be ‘very well off financially' grew from 41.9% in 1967 to 74.5% in 2005." Ironically, "developing a meaningful philosophy of life" dropped in importance from 85.8% in 1967 to 45% in 2005."
Anecdotally, one only has to watch the latest season of the hit series American Idol, which began last week, to realize that many in this generation are obsessed with fame and fortune to the point of radical self-delusion. I'm not criticizing the show; I actually like it. I delight in seeing those who actually do have talent realize their dreams. However, many of these wannabe stars—convinced of their ability—seem oblivious to the fact that they have absolutely no singing talent whatsoever. None! In fact, their outrageous assumptions to the contrary and subsequent humiliation (of which only we and the judges seem to be aware of) are made to be part of the show's entertainment.
This should not be unexpected among a generation raised in the "self-esteem at all cost" era, in which everyone is encouraged, cajoled, and celebrated regardless of their performance. It seems as if the worst thing a person could be told today is that he has failed in any endeavor. The harm in all of this is a false sense of self coupled with a distorted view of reality. The self is elevated to the place of supremacy. In doing so, theologian Lesslie Newbigin points out that, "Who am I? becomes an absorbing question, one that would never occur to a person who takes for granted the existence of a real world by which one can orient oneself" (Newbigin, Proper Confidence: Faith, Doubt, and Certainty in Christian Discipleship, [ Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans,1995] 34).
Newbigin is making a profound point here. In the absence of any comprehensive and coherent view of reality (i.e., a worldview), there naturally follows a sense of isolation, which limits one's view of the world to only its relation to the self. The autonomous self becomes the sole arbiter of truth; that is, "What's true for me" becomes the only and final basis for determining truth, while the authentication of the self is reduced to one's own experience, lifestyle, and feelings. Thus, there is no overarching authority outside oneself by which one can analyze, understand, and determine how one should interact with the real world. Our story becomes the story of the world.
In other words, "It's all about me!"—and these self-delusional perspectives have become common. Such people basically construct their own reality, utilizing the superficial means of fashion and style, creating a "star-like" view of themselves.
Why should we care, you may ask? For one, such superficial value is far less than God intends. Human value does not derive from how we look or what we can do. Human beings are valuable because we bear the image of God. We are valuable because God has intentionally created each one of us, and value always derives from the creator, not the created thing. Secondly, we should care because we want to reach this generation with the gospel view of reality—a view in which I am not the central character in the story of the world. That story is bigger than me and centers on a loving Creator who desires to draw me back into His story of the world. It is this fact that gives me real value and purpose, not the superficial trappings of the world—God loves me!
Furthermore, a culture that encourages people to authenticate or give meaning to themselves can only offer the trivial means of experience, lifestyle, and feelings. Inevitably these cultures will gravitate to more extreme "experiences" such as illicit drugs and sexual profligacy. Additionally, these cultures inevitably reduce the aim of life to the acquisition of things, and separate passion from reason.
In such a culture, "life is for now" and there is little interest in the larger questions of life and its meaning. This is hedonism and a hedonistic culture presents a formidable set of false pretensions that keep people from knowing God. The preeminent interest becomes one's own personal peace, pleasure, and prosperity. These values hold strong appeal to fallen man and the lusts of the flesh.
Historically speaking, at this point civilizations that have fallen into this state almost always secure their demise. There is diminished interest in those activities that serve the greater good—activities that are foundational to building and maintaining productive societies. Instead, what social energy remains is poured, more and more, into activities that satisfy selfish appetites: sex, materialism, amusement, self-medication though drugs and alcohol, and so on.
As Christ-followers living in the real world, we are to care about the conditions of society and be vigilant bearers of the Truth at every point. When we recognize those patterns that indicate a destructive course, the church should be first to sound the alarm in an effort to urge people toward a true understanding of reality—as understood from the point of Jesus and His kingdom come into the world. This is the all-encompassing gospel of the kingdom.
Finally, by challenging the myriad me-centered stories with the one Christ-centered story of the world, we may aid the lost in receiving the good news of Jesus. As for Christians, we, too, must be encouraged to recognize and abandon this narcissistic tendency. Contrary to what many may believe, the gospel cannot be understood as an addendum to an already well-lived life. Becoming a follower of Christ demands a whole new orientation in one's life, away from the self and toward a completely new understanding of reality. This is the role of discipleship; its conspicuous absence in so many churches only accommodates our self-delusions.
© 2010 S. Michael Craven
S. Michael Craven is the President of the Center for Christ & Culture and the author of Uncompromised Faith: Overcoming Our Culturalized Christianity (Navpress, 2009). Michael's ministry is dedicated to equipping the church to engage the culture with the redemptive mission of Christ. For more information on the Center for Christ & Culture and the teaching ministry of S. Michael Craven, visit: www.battlefortruth.org