Mind Renewal in a Mindless Age, Part 2Romans 12:1-2Theme: The Christian doctrine of man.This week’s lessons teach us what it means to be made in God’s image. LessonIn the last twenty years something terrible has happened to Americans in the way we relate to other people, and it is due to the twisted humanism we looked at yesterday. Christians have become conformed to the world in this area, and we must take a good hard look at this to be sure we don’t get swept into the pattern of our culture. Up until a couple of decades ago there was still something of a Christian ethos in this country and people used to care about and help other people. It was the natural thing to do. Today we focus on ourselves and deal with others only for what we can get out of them. This approach is materialistic and utilitarian.
In 1981 a sociologist-pollster, Daniel Yankelovich, published a study of the 1970s titled New Rules: Searching for Self-Fulfillment in a World Turned Upside Down. This book documented a tidal shift in values by which many and eventually most Americans began to seek personal self-fulfillment as the ultimate goal in life rather than operating on the principle that we are here to serve and even sacrifice for others, as Americans for the most part really had done previously.1 He found that by the late 1970s, 72 percent of Americans spent much time thinking about themselves and their inner lives.2 So pervasive was this change that as early as 1976 Tom Wolfe called the 70s the “Me Decade” and compared it to a third religious awakening.3
But what of it? Isn’t this a good thing? Shouldn’t thinking about ourselves make us happy? If we redirect our energy to fulfilling ourselves and earn as much as we can to indulge even our tiniest desires, shouldn’t we be satisfied with life? No! It doesn’t work that way, as we discovered. It fails on the
personal level, and it fails in the area of our relationships with other people also.
In 1978 Margaret Halsey wrote an article for Newsweek magazine titled “What’s Wrong with Me, Me, Me?” It was a good article, and even the title was illuminating. Halsey referred to Wolfe’s description of the seventies as the “me” generation, highlighting the belief that “inside every human being, however unprepossessing, there is a glorious, talented and overwhelmingly attractive personality [which] will be revealed in all its splendor if the individual just forgets about courtesy, cooperativeness and consideration for others and proceeds to do exactly what he or she feels like doing.”
The problem, as Halsey pointed out, is not that there are not attractive characteristics in everyone (or at least in most people) but that human nature consists even more basically of “a mess of unruly primitive elements” which spoil the “self-discovery.” These unruly elements need to be overcome, not indulged. And this means that the attractive personalities we seek to discover really are not there to be discovered but rather are natures that need to be developed through choices, hard work, and lasting commitments to others. When we ask, “What’s wrong with me?” it is the “Me, Me, Me” that is the problem.4
This affects our relating to other people, too, because it makes our world impersonal. And it is a flimsy philosophy because it is not in line with biblical truth.
1 Daniel Yankelovich, New Rules: Searching for Self-Fulfillment in a World Turned Upside Down (New York: Random House, 1981), pp. 10-11.2 Daniel Yankelovich, New Rules, p. 5.3 Tom Wolfe, “The ‘Me-Decade’ and the Third Great Awakening,” New York magazine, August 23, 1976, pp. 26-40.4 Newsweek, April 17, 1978, p. 25.
How does Margaret Halsey define human nature? Do you agree with her?
What is wrong with “Me, Me, Me”?
ReflectionHow have you been more focused on your own fulfillment than you have been concerned for the needs of others? What evidence can you see that the church has also been influenced by the “me decade”?
PrayerConfess your tendency to be more concerned with yourself than with those around you. Ask God to break the pattern of selfishness and to give you opportunities to serve others unselfishly.