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Don't follow your heart: Here's why

Unsplash/Kelly Sikkema
Unsplash/Kelly Sikkema

In addition to saints and prophets, the religion of self is not without its hymns. Ol’ Blue Eyes himself, Frank Sinatra, famously sang, “I did it my way,” the self-worshipers’ classic equivalent to “Amazing Grace.” Roxette closes its 1980s pop-rock hit with the looping mantra “Listen to your heart,” sung 13 consecutive times. Country music icon Reba McEntire assures us that “the heart won’t lie.” Proto-punk rockers The Kinks agree that you should “truly, truly trust your heart.” Original bad boys of hard rock Motörhead shout, “Listen to your heart / Listen all your life / Listen to your heart / and then you’ll be alright” over gritty power chords.

Then there are the children’s songs. In Disney’s Mulan soundtrack, Stevie Wonder catechizes young, impressionable minds: “You must be true to your heart / That’s when the heavens will part ... / Your heart can tell you no lies.”

Little feet tap along with an animated swallow named Jacquimo as he serenades Thumbelina: “When you follow your heart, if you have to journey far, / Here’s a little trick. You don’t need a guiding star. / Trust your ticker, you’ll get there quicker.”

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There are enough tween-targeted self-worship pop songs to fill a year-long playlist. We hear songs about bucking authority, songs about your wildest dreams all coming true, about being a super girl, or some roaring animal goddess who eats people’s expectations for breakfast and excretes fireworks and rainbows. Packed auditoriums of adolescents, hands outstretched in worship, have sung in unison with JoJo Siwa: “My life, my rules, my dreams ... / My life I choose who to be ... / So I’ma be me ... / I follow my own lead.”

The religion of self comes not only with saints and hymns but also with its own sacred commandments. Here are 10:

1. #liveyourbestlife: Thou shalt always act in accord with your chief end — to glorify and enjoy yourself forever.

2. #okboomer: Thou shalt never be outdated, but always on the edge of the new.

3. #followyourheart: Thou shalt obey your emotions at all costs.

4. #betruetoyourself: Thou shalt be courageous enough to defy other people’s expectations.

5. #youdoyou: Thou shalt live your truth and let others live theirs.

6. #yolo: Thou shalt pursue the rush of boundary-free experience.

7. #theanswersarewithin: Thou shalt trust yourself, never letting anyone oppress you with the antiquated notion of being a “sinner.”

8. #authentic: Thou shalt invent and advertise thine own identity.

9. #livethedream: Thou shalt force the universe to bend to your desires.

10. #loveislove: Thou shalt celebrate all lifestyles and love-lives as equally valid.

Of course, many of these hashtags are harmless, perhaps even helpful in certain contexts. A T-ball coach may tell a 5-year-old to believe in himself as he sheepishly approaches home plate with a quivering bat. For someone afraid of the big wide world, #yolo may be good advice. Following your dreams and your desires may be sagely wisdom, especially if those dreams and desires arise in the heart of a believer who has yielded to the Holy Spirit. But people often deploy these hashtags with a far more seductive and even diabolical meaning, a meaning that includes false and antibiblical claims about divinity, human nature, sin, salvation, and the future.

With prophets, millions of devotees, a thick hymnal, commandments, and underlying dogmas, self-worship is more profound than a trend or lifestyle choice. It is, in a deep sense, a religion. In countries throughout the Western world, it is arguably the only State-endorsed religion. It would be easy to sneer at self-exaltation as a religion, thinking we have outgrown the fanatical faith of our toddler days. I sneered for years. Then it dawned on me: I wasn’t only an outspoken critic of the cult of self, I was and remain a devout member. (Ask those who know me best. I’m practically a saint.) I have been, and will be until the day I die, in one long, painful deconversion process.

Here we reach the liberating and joyous thesis of this book. If you want to become more truly yourself, then break the commandments of self-worship. Break them often. Break them shamelessly. Break them boldly. The subtitle of this book could easily be The Misfit’s Guide to Sinning Boldly against the World’s Most Popular Religion or How to Be a Twenty-First Century Heretic. I wrote it to convince you to become an atheist about yourself — a defiant, outspoken, strident atheist cured of the delusion of your own deity.

That is my prayer.

Originally published at The Worldview Bulletin Newsletter. 

Thaddeus J. Williams (Ph.D., Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam) serves as tenured professor of theology for Biola University. He is also the author of the best-seller Confronting Injustice without Compromising Truth: 12 Questions Christians Should Ask About Social Justice. He has also taught Philosophy and Literature at Saddleback College, Jurisprudence at Trinity Law School, and as a lecturer in Worldview Studies at L’Abri Fellowships in Switzerland and Holland.

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