CULTURAL SHIFT: FROM SELF CONTROL TO SELF AUTHENTICATION
Many rapid changes are taking place in our culture. Many of them are easily discernible and their causes easily identified, but many others, which turn out to be the most widespread and dangerous, are not clearly seen and easily discerned. The ideologies and conceptions and thought patterns that shape human behavior in a particular cultural context are not easy to see sometimes because some patterns of behavior come to us not through intellectual theories and convictions but subtly, these patterns of behavior become ours while we don’t even know it. Most things that happen to us are not a result of clearly reasoned out worldviews and convictions but a subtle erosion of our moral compass by the culture around us
I illustrate this particular shift with some examples. Firstly. In a movie, two young men are part of a training program to become operatives of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). These two were roommates and seems to have a lot in common. One of them, indifferent to religion, the second, a devout Catholic. The former, a Briton, the latter, a Chinese. The Briton secularist was an openly gay man who had gay relationships with his “partners”. The Chinese Catholic as it unfolds seems to also have those leanings too. The Briton, one way or the other seems to have known that the Chinese had homosexual feelings and leanings but he is determined to overcome the feelings and not engage in the act or yield to his leanings. He seems to have placed his conscience above his feelings and was committed to overcome. But the Briton was always torturing him. He believes that the strife of the Chinese with who he is (the Briton’s expression) is not necessary but he should rather give full expression to what he feels. In nice convincing words, he constantly told the Chinese that self-authentication was more important than self-control and there is no need to struggle with who we are as defined by our emotions and feelings. The Briton was so dedicated to ensure the “conversion” of the Chinese and it was a constant struggle with the Chinese Catholic between his conscience and his feelings and leanings.
Second, as I was going through the front page of an online Forum, I saw a topic that I was interested in. The original Poster gave reasons most of the times the ‘good girls’ are the ones that get married very late and even some never do. Good girls, in his view will be people who are chaste, decent, moral etc. He gave many range of reasons and then, many comments and opinions began to pour in. The comments were diverse. Some were concerned about his definition of good, some felt pretense was the issue and some felt some good girls are too extreme and are always contained within themselves. But there are some who seem to suggest that good girls are people who are not just being true to themselves. Some suggested that the good girls should stop trying to pretend and that they should be real and authentic and true to themselves. Again we see the same trend. It is assumed that those who live with certain moral boundaries and control over their feelings and emotions are not just being true to themselves and should learn to express who they are and be authentic.
Or take any discussion on Virginity, notice who end up as the Villain. It is assumed that the girl who keeps herself is just not being true to herself but rather she should feel free to explore as a mark of true maturity. It is the Virgin that now gets marginalized among his/her friends, it is the relationship based on abstinence that is now being laughed at and ridiculed, it is the guy that does not drink or smoke that is now the bad person, he is the one that is now being made to be ashamed and feel out of place and out of the real world. It is assumed in today’s culture that real men drink / smoke, real women party hard and sleep around, real married men keep other girls outside and vice versa, real people give expression to their feelings or even their weaknesses and that those who strive are the unreal people
Third, on the same online forum, I was surprised to see a topic that reads so convincingly that “Nigerians are Hypocrites”. Interested in what that could be as a Nigerian, I opened the thread. At the end I discovered that the person who made the statement was a Single mother that had participated in a TV show where she and others were involved in obscene acts while she was specifically noted for some immoral acts. This made some people to lash out at her immorality and the morality of the show as a whole. Her point? Many of those who criticize the show are hypocrites. People do and will always do terrible things in the world she said and they adding to it seemed to her not a big deal, they were just helping people find self-expression. They are not like the unreal people out there.
I think the point here is readily seen. We have come to that time where self-control has been substituted with self-authentication. This does not mean that everyone should live as hermits isolated from society, alone with ourselves so we can control ourselves, for one thing, that does not work, our struggles and weaknesses are not just because we live in a sinful world but that we ourselves are sinful. And secondly, it will be a life where we cannot make any real good in the world. The world has been changed not so much by ‘perfect’ people in hermits but by people who in spite of their weaknesses and failures lived with great aspirations and lived lives that made a difference. Mother Theresa recorded her own struggles but still made a huge difference in the real world. The solution is not just mere self-introspection.
This does not mean also that we should hate ourselves with fury. This has led many to suicide and to live their lives in uselessness. Many have been led to hate life itself and all that it stands for. This is also a wrong approach. Apart from the fact that it changes nothing, it makes us useless to ourselves and to the world around us. We must hate our sins and weaknesses and strife against them but we must not hate ourselves and drive ourselves to insanity, drudgery or suicide.
But why even bother? Does it make any difference after all? The ultimate issue is a discussion about Moral Conscience. In a relativist postmodern world where morality is a matter of choice rather than authority and responsibility, more and more, 21st century man is without a real moral conscience. Moral conscience is what drives us to self-control rather than selfauthentication. A man without a real, informed, active moral conscience will end up giving expression to every of his leanings and feelings and emotions. A man without this moral conscience live for the moment and his life is dictated by his urges. It is the man with a living moral conscience who puts his convictions, his moral convictions above his feelings and places his body ‘under subjection’
What then makes a moral conscience? It is Moral Responsibility that leads to a moral conscience. Moral responsibility also arises out of a sense of moral authority or of a moral necessity. I believe there are three things that should make up a living conscience: a) A sense of moral responsibility to God, our creator (moral authority; b) a sense of moral responsibility to our neighbors/Society (moral necessity) c) a sense of moral responsibility to ourselves. God as our creator has moral authority over our lives and we must always live with a moral consciousness of his demands for our lives. God is not just the person we all pray to for our lives to get going on, he is a holy God who has demands upon our lives. Secondly, none of us “lives to himself”. We are all bound up in our common humanity and we have moral responsibility to others living around us. Society cannot even be possible without this understanding. I can’t live anyhow as I like because I live with others who are also humans created in God’s image who also have their rights. Our actions or otherwise affects everyone around us and that should spur us to our moral responsibility as a part of our moral conscience. We are our brothers’ keepers. Thirdly, our lives are not our own. We are created to live for a purpose and our lives are only meaningful and productive when we live with that purpose. We have a moral responsibility to live for that purpose for which we have been made.
But if we continue on our path of self-authentication, there are of course consequences. Firstly, we sin against our Creator and separate ourselves from him. Secondly, we create a society on the verge of ruin. There has never been in documented history a nation that had given rein to self-authentication and passions more than the Roman Empire. Rome was the definition of selfauthentication itself. There was no limits to the debasement of the flesh. And Rome became a shadow of itself. Its self-authentication also became its destruction. No society can live without a moral conscience and not destroy itself at the end. That, we should be more afraid of than even wars. What destroys us from within is more dangerous than that which destroys from without. Thirdly, we end up destroying ourselves. Alexander the great did not die at a young age because there was a better opposing commander or a lack of good strategies on his part but because he failed to live with self-control. We cannot live apart from our source and purpose for too long without destroying ourselves.
Self-Control does not mean we always win but that we always try. Not that we don’t fall but that we rise again. Not that we have got it all sorted out, but we are willing to live subjecting our feelings and leanings to our living moral conscience. At the end though, a strong will does fail, seclusion from society does fail, rigid rules and ascetism does fail and a sense of our own value does fail. But Christ promises to give a new birth to those who trust him, transform them with a new will, a new disposition, new life, new desires and through his Spirit constantly help them to become who he wants them to be, not from self-introspection or hatred of self or ascetism but by a constant gazing upon the love, grace, mercy of Christ, we are constantly transformed not with drudgery and fear and regrets but with the Joy of Salvation and a trust in and cooperation with the active power of the Holy Spirit that will not fail