That might be the spirit of the age. Road rage. One driver pulls sharply in front of another driver and the second says “How dare you?” In some cases violence ensues. Just yesterday a troubled student burst into his high school office and fatally shot a vice-principal and wounded the principal. What set off the incident? He had just been suspended for 19 days for driving his car across the school’s football field. In his facebook message he blamed the school for pushing him too far. Social scientists theorize about the roots of such behavior and as surely as humans are complex creatures so surely will the second causes also be complex. Driving is anonymous and anonymity does permit us to do what we might not do otherwise, but a school shooting isn’t anonymous. It’s most personal so there must be other reasons and there are.
Counter-intuitively, one of the most important reasons for the rise of road rage and student rage and much of the other indignation that erupts in violence and death is the self-esteem movement. As many writers (e.g., Lasch, Twenge, Smith, de Zengotita) have noted, the late modern period is a supremely Narcissistic time. Behaviors and attitudes that would have mortified our grandparents are now celebrated in the media. Facebook. Twitter. Blogs. This not to say that the new media are inherently evil. If I thought that I would not be typing this now but they do tend to foster Narcissism. The self-esteem movement of the 60s and 70s isn’t radical anymore: it is the culture in which we live. Self-esteem is the new inalienable right and it doesn’t have to be grounded in anything intrinsic. If a boy hits a fastball and makes it to first base, that’s an accomplishment. If the same boy hits a ball from a tee-ball tee and gets a prize for participating, that’s not healthy. It tells the boy that he is God’s gift to humanity. Do that in a hundred different ways for two generations and what do you get? Road rage and student rage. “How dare you flunk me? There’s nothing wrong with my answer! The problem is your question!” Really?
Of course the root of rage is sin. Paul’s language in Romans 3 is apt:
“Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit. The poison of asps is under their lips; whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood.”
Indeed they are. We are the “they” in those verses. By nature our throats are open graves. Our tongues lie. Our lips are poisonous. Our mouths and feet are full of death. A culture can work to restrain those native impulses or a culture can nourish them. Presently, the broader culture tends to nourish wounds and the self-image idol so the outcome shouldn’t be surprising.
We shouldn’t think that the culture of self-esteem has not deeply influenced the contemporary evangelical and Reformed churches. It has. It shows up everywhere in contemporary worship services. Bob Schuller says it’s a sin against self-esteem to preach about sin. That was a radical point of view when it was first published (The New Reformation) but it’s mainstream evangelicalism now.
The heart of the latest school shooter is no different from mine (by nature) or yours. If we’ve not done what he did it’s not because we’ve never wanted to do it. There but for the grace of God go we but God’s grace is powerful and wonderful and it is the antidote to the murder within us all. Jesus died for the enraged and murders. Remember, we murdered him. But we couldn’t contain the power of an indestructible life. Praise God for that indestructible life.
The culture of self-esteem is ultimately a culture of death. Within the church there ought to be a culture of self-mortification which leads to life.