Technology Is Not the Problem

Self-centeredness is not new. We see it as the reason for the Fall in the Garden, and it has been the root of all sin ever since. Is the new generation emerging into adulthood more self-centered than previous ones? It may be fashionable to say so, but perhaps modern selfishness is just exhibiting itself in different ways; the heart of man never changes without redemption through Christ.

Our technological advancements showcase our selfishness more. Whereas in the past it was unseemly to appear too self-centered, now we practically celebrate it:

Narcissistic Generation

All too often, even though we connect with the world more than before, we do so from a safe distance, offering false aid to those in need:

Do Something

We comfort our conscience by the fact that we have “done” something, even if that something is wholly ineffective. I noted in a previous post how silly it is to think that terrorists who have kidnapped young girls will cower in fear because someone—even at the highest level of government—shows a sign with a hashtag on it. That accomplishes nothing.

Then there are those who are simply reactionaries; they have their own ways of dealing with the new age:

Resistance Movement

I don’t resist new things; I just want them to be used in a way that furthers God’s truth. Some railed against movies and television when they first appeared. That’s pointless. Technology will continue to enter new spheres. We shouldn’t avoid it, but we need to be very careful not to be ruled by it. The computer age can allow man to go deeper into sin than ever, but it also holds the promise of spreading the Kingdom of God in ways never before imagined. Technology is not the problem; the self-centeredness (i.e., sinfulness) of man is. No matter how far technology advances, man’s sin problem remains.

Lewis: Interrupting “Real Life”

Do you ever find yourself complaining to God about all those “things” that keep getting in the way of what you want your life to be? If only, we tell ourselves, all the distractions of life could be removed, we could really live. We even get quite spiritual about it and confidently assert we would be so much better Christians without all those distractions.

C. S. Lewis 4In one of his letters to a friend, C. S. Lewis addressed this, calling out this attitude for what it is:

The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s “own,” or “real” life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life—the life God is sending one day by day: what one calls one’s “real life” is a phantom of one’s own imagination. This at least is what I see at moments of insight: but it’s hard to remember it all the time.

Whenever we rail against the “interruptions” in our life, we are being supremely selfish. It takes practice—and I haven’t achieved total success in this yet—but the more we reorient our thinking on this point, the more we will take on God’s perspective, and the more useful we will be to Him to carry out His purposes. After all, we are supposed to be living for Him, not ourselves, right?

Lewis: The Self-Centeredness of Hell

C. S. Lewis 4Modern man doesn’t like to talk much about hell, unless it’s in some fanciful movie creation where one doesn’t have to worry about its reality. The reason we avoid thinking about the possibility of hell can be traced back to our similar reluctance to consider seriously our sinfulness. And what bothers us the most, I believe, about the idea of sin is that we know the root of it is our self-centeredness. We like being self-focused; we feel justified in rationalizing our selfishness. So hell, sin, and selfishness are a package. C. S. Lewis, in The Problem of Pain, deals with this package:

Though our Lord often speaks of Hell as a sentence inflicted by a tribunal, He also says elsewhere that the judgment consists in the very fact that men prefer darkness to light, and that not He, but His “word,” judges men.

We are therefore at liberty—since the two conceptions, in the long run, mean the same thing—to think of this bad man’s perdition not as a sentence imposed on him but as the mere fact of being what he is. The characteristic of lost souls is “their rejection of everything that is not simply themselves.”

HellWhatever we are in this life—our character, reactions, etc.—won’t be magically changed in the next. If we are unreconstructed sinners, devoted to our selfish ambitions, that trait will only be magnified once we are forever separated from any hope of the Divine. Lewis, in his preface to The Screwtape Letters, tells us how he perceives it:

We must picture Hell as a state where everyone is perpetually concerned about his own dignity and advancement, where everyone has a grievance, and where everyone lives the deadly serious passions of envy, self-importance, and resentment.

Perhaps hell is only a constantly burning fire, but Lewis’s description captures what will accompany that eternal fire. There will be no repentance, no tears of remorse, but only a deeper degree of the selfishness that never was dealt with in this life. That, in itself, would truly be a hell.

The Narcissistic President

It takes a special kind of narcissism—a particularly virulent strain—to see the awful effects of one’s policies and continue not only to spout falsehoods about how wonderful those policies are, but to keep blaming someone else for the problems one has caused. Barack Obama has practically created his own brand of narcissism, a malady seldom seen in this strength.

Narcissism is really just another name for supreme selfishness, which is the root of all sin. The medical field, though, shies away from explosive terms like “sin”; that clear-eyed perspective is replaced with non-judgmental descriptions. If you turn something into a disease rather than a choice for which one is truly responsible, it eases the blame. You see, it’s not selfishness; it’s a “narcissistic personality disorder.” Yet even when they try to soften the blow, the description from the Mayo Clinic site is still pretty startling:

Narcissistic personality disorder is a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance and a deep need for admiration. They believe that they are superior to others and have little regard for other people’s feelings. But behind this mask of ultra-confidence, they are vulnerable to the slightest criticism.

The site goes on to say that treatment for this “disorder” centers on psychotherapy. God has a different remedy: recognition of sin, repentance, and forgiveness through the ultimate sacrifice of His own Son.

The current Obamacare debacle has brought Obama’s narcissism to the foreground for all to see. First, he refuses to acknowledge the long-term problem it causes for the economy:

Economy

Then there are the tragic consequences for individuals, consequences for which he doesn’t seem able to “feel” their pain. He’s “sorry” they are experiencing problems, but he can’t bring himself to take full responsibility. His so-called apology a couple of weeks ago was no apology at all. He has never, throughout his administration, shown any willingness to accept accountability for his actions. Even as his key piece of legislation is ready to crash, he continues to believe it can fly. As in the ancient Greek fable of Icarus, he heeds no warnings :

Crash

Then, when all evidence mounts that disaster is looming, he comes up with a quick fix, designed only for one purpose—to help his party retain control of Congress in the next election cycle. What is this fix? Bullying insurance companies to restore policies that he was responsible for canceling in the first place. Again, it’s not his fault; blame the insurance companies who were coerced into his plan. All experts in the field say this cannot be done, especially since it’s only a one-year fix, merely a delay of the inevitable:

The Fix

Then yesterday, at a meeting with CEOs, he gave his most bizarre explanation yet for why his landmark legislation is having so many problems: it’s those darn Republicans! How can one make any progress when they oppose his wise policies? Somehow, in his mind, Republicans are the reason why his website was a joke, why young people don’t want to pay double for insurance premiums, and why the entire program is simply unworkable. There’s really only one prize Obamacare ought to win, and it’s appropriate for the season:

Top Turkey

The president, meanwhile, lives in his alternate world, ignoring reality, and refusing to see any culpability on his part. This is not some disorder; this is just the self-centeredness that has been the hallmark of mankind since the Garden. Unfortunately, when the presumed leader of the free world is neck-deep in it, everyone suffers the consequences.

The Rot Doesn’t Start at the Top

Have you ever felt like this: so sickened by the ocean of dishonesty, lack of integrity, and arrogance of the majority of humanity that you just want to seal yourself off from the ugliness of it all? If not for the mercy I’ve received personally from the Lord, and His forgiveness for my own past dishonesty, lack of integrity, and arrogance, I would be tempted to find a nice isolated corner of the world where I could simply let the parade pass me by.

As if anyone can find such a corner.

There’s no escape from the pervasiveness of sin in our society. For me, the two most distressing places to find sin are among those who claim the name of Christ and in those who presume to lead us politically. The first—the church—is supposed to be the light in this dark world. When we act like the world, we snuff out the light. The second—our government—is supposed to be a servant of God, carrying out His will in the public sphere. When it decides to become its own miniscule god, it does the opposite of what the real God intended.

In my study of church history, I’ve often been grieved by the manner in which so many have dishonored the God they claim to serve. As a student of the history of politics and government, I’ve been almost as dismayed by the pride of politicians who believe they are bringing us utopia and by the outright lies they offer to achieve their goals.

Our current political leader, though, has set a new standard for arrogance and deception. Just when I thought no one in public life could ever top Bill Clinton for blatant dishonesty and love of self, along comes Barack Obama.

I don’t really want to go through a litany of all the dishonest statements he’s made or the growing list of things for which he denies all knowledge or responsibility, but some cartoonists have encapsulated them for me, so I’ll let them speak:

Didn't Know

Knows Nothing

He won’t even admit when he’s been wrong. Previous presidents have taken responsibility for failures and have won back public confidence: Kennedy after the Bay of Pigs fiasco; Reagan in the Iran-Contra affair. But this president? He won’t even acknowledge that his “guarantee” that everyone would be able to keep their health insurance policies if they liked them was a complete sham. He invents a new narrative of what he “actually” meant by words that could only be taken in one way. It’s obvious he lied to get Obamacare passed into law; it’s just as obvious his overall goal is to force everyone in the country into his system eventually.

It’s difficult for me to contain the disgust I feel for this man. I’m ashamed he’s the president of my country. Yet how did he get to be that leader? He didn’t just grab the title and run with it. He convinced enough of our fellow citizens that he was their savior—and I use that word advisedly, as he has always held himself up as larger than life. I mean, who else would ever say that their election was “the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal”?

I expect people with outsized egos to dominate our politics. The lure of power draws them. What’s most distressing is how easily fooled the people can be as they continue to believe the big lies:

Great Pumpkin

The rot doesn’t start at the top. It rises from the masses who are an unhealthy combination of ignorance and selfishness. At this point, there’s no excuse for ignorance about Obama or his agenda. The selfishness at the root of it all—we want the goodies government promises—can only be dealt with at the personal level. It’s back to the basic Gospel: recognition of our sinfulness, repentance, acceptance of the forgiveness offered through the Cross, and the development of a renewed mind so we can see the world more clearly—through the principles found in Scripture—and not be fooled again.

Finney: Discerning the Intent of the Heart

Our outward actions are extremely important, but when the Lord looks at those actions, He goes deeper and sees the intent of the heart. Sometimes, the outward actions of two individuals may be exactly the same, but the intent of the heart completely different. One may be honoring God by his actions while someone else doing the very same thing may be sinning. Here’s how Charles Finney explains it further:

A student labors to get wages, to purchase books, to obtain an education, to preach the gospel, to save souls, and to please God. Another labors to get wages, to purchase books, to get an education, to preach the gospel, to secure a salary, and his own ease and popularity. In the first supposition he loves God and souls, and seeks, as his ultimate end, the happiness of souls, and the glory and gratification of God. In the last case supposed, he loves himself supremely and his ultimate end is his own gratification.

Motive of the HeartNow the . . . immediate objects of pursuit, in these two cases, are precisely alike, while their ultimate ends are entirely opposite. Their first, or nearest, end is to get wages. Their next end is to obtain books; and so we follow them, until we ascertain their ultimate end, before we learn the moral character of what they doing.

The means they are using . . . are the same, but the ultimate ends at which they aim are entirely different, and every moral agent, from a necessary law of his intellect, must, as soon as he understands the ultimate end of each, pronounce the one virtuous, and the other sinful, in his pursuits. One is selfish and the other benevolent.

Finney then later remarks [and these quotes come from his Systematic Theology],

It is undeniable that the vilest sinners do many things outwardly which the law of God requires. Now unless the intention decides the character of these acts, they must be regarded as really virtuous. But when the intention is found to be selfish, then it is ascertained that they are sinful notwithstanding their conformity to the letter of the law of God.

How often I’ve heard someone being praised for some outward action without taking into account the intention of the heart, also known as one’s motive. This is a clear reminder that God will judge the heart, and that, as His people, we need to do our best to make a sober and discerning judgment of intent/motive as well.

Dying to Self

One reason I devote Saturdays to commentary from C. S. Lewis is that he always seems to say something in a unique way. For instance, when writing about the necessity of dying to self, he is able to make us think about it from a different angle. In one of his essays, “A Slip of the Tongue,” he explains what it really means to die to one’s selfishness:

It is not so much of our time and so much of our attention that God demands; it is not even all our time and all our attention: it is our selves. For each of us the Baptist’s words are true: “He must increase and I decrease.” . . .

He cannot bless us unless He has us. When we try to keep within us an area that is our own, we try to keep an area of death. Therefore, in love, He claims all. There’s no bargaining with Him. . . .

“If you have not chosen the Kingdom of God, it will make in the end no difference what you have chosen instead.” Those are hard words to take. Will it really make no difference whether it was women or patriotism, cocaine or art, whisky or a seat in the Cabinet, money or science? Well, surely no difference that matters. We shall have missed the end for which we are formed and rejected the only thing that satisfies. Does it matter to a man dying in the desert, by which choice of route he missed the only well?