The Modern Dislocated Self (Wells)

Losing Our Virtue: Why the Church Must Recover Its Moral Vision Wells, David F. cover image

The classical and Christian view of happiness, fulfillment, and meaning in life meant, among other things, living a life of self-control, self-denial, and self-sacrifice. But our modern therapeutic culture has a very different view of self, happiness, fulfillment, and meaning in life. People today believe that self-denial and self-control get in the way of personal happiness and fulfillment. From the mainstream media to film and television our cultural ethos is that we should do what makes us happy. If it makes you happy to experiment with your sexuality, they say, woe to those who get in the way of your happiness! If having a baby gets in the way of your happiness, they say, woe to those who tell you not to get an abortion! These are prevalent views in our culture. I like how David Wells wrote about this in Losing Our Virtue:

We are now faced with competing visions of the self. The older interest in character, which unwittingly owed much to biblical teaching, however indistinct that teaching had become in the wider culture during the last century, presumed that growth in the person comes about through moral limitation, through self-sacrifice and self-control, and that therein lay the springs of personal satisfaction and even happiness. The pathway to selfhood went along the road of moral obligation, and this produced a solid sense of the self.

The role that this higher law played has now been replaced by the demands of a higher self, and, paradoxically, this sense of the self has fragmented. The vision that spurng from personality was one of unlimited self-expression, self-gratification, and self-fulfillment. However, as the self emptied out it became a receptacle to be filled with the impressions of others. Thus the freedom to ‘be one’s self’ was soon held hostage to the views of others, the world of fashion, and the pressure of social trends. And without a clear sense of the self, the ability to deny the self began to weaken. Standards became blurry, and without a religious framework of meaning to give sense to reality, people began to experience a troubling and painful sense of dislocation. They are becoming weightless….

The Christian faith answers these deep questions of where fulfillment and true happiness are found. What does it mean to have a solid and healthy sense of the self? Fulfillment, true happiness, and a solid sense of the self are not found in our own personal desires. They aren’t found in the worldviews of the mainstream media or film and television. Instead, they’re found in Christ and following his Word. Like Jesus said, If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it (Mt. 16:25 NLT).

(The above quote is found in David Wells, Losing Our Virtue, p.99.)

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

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