The Gospel of Saint You.
We live in a culture of selfism — a culture that puts tremendous emphasis on self, on self-care and self-display. And one of the things we’ve discovered is that you can be a very good person while thinking only about yourself!
Back in the old days people thought morality was about living up to some external standard of moral excellence. Abraham Lincoln tried to live a life of honesty and courage. Mother Teresa tried to live up to a standard of selfless love.
But now we know this is actually harmful! In the first place, when people hold up external standards of moral excellence, they often make you feel judged. These people make you feel sad because you may not live up to this standard. It’s very cruel of them to make you feel troubled in this way!
When somebody does this, you should just say, “That makes me feel judged,” and just walk away. Don’t stoop to their level!
The second problem with these external standards is that they are very hard to relate to. People are always talking about how Nelson Mandela came out of prison and tried to usher in an era of forgiveness and reconciliation. That’s all very well and good for Nelson Mandela, but what does this have to do with your life?
If people are talking to you, shouldn’t they be focusing their attention on your life? Shouldn’t they be saying things you can relate to? If somebody starts talking about some grand hero who is dead or lives far away, you should just respond, “Sorry, that’s not relatable.”
These people have to learn to keep it real!
The good news is that these days we don’t base our values on moral excellence. We base them on meaning. People are always saying they want to lead a meaningful life. They want to do things that have “meaning.”
One great thing about meaning is it’s all about the emotions you yourself already have. We say that an experience has meaning when that tingly meaningful feeling wells up inside. Picture yourself shopping at a farmers market where everything’s locally grown. Do you feel the tingly meaningful feeling welling up inside? Of course you do!
Unfortunately, the monumental insights of the Axial Age (800-200 BC) began to wane, descending into the extreme headiness of some Scholastic philosophy (1100-1700), the antagonistic mind of most church reformations, and the rational literalism of the Enlightenment (17th and 18th centuries). Although the reformations were inevitable, good, and necessary, they also ushered in the “desert of nonparticipation,” as Owen Barfield described, where hardly anyone belonged, few were at home in this world, and religion at its worst concentrated on excluding, condemning, threatening, judging, exploiting new lands and peoples, and controlling its own members by shame and guilt. This happened on the Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant sides; the primary difference is what we shamed.