Most popular treatments of faith say it doesn’t matter what you believe. Just believe something—whatever you want—and you’ll find the sheer act of believing will propel you to greatness. The parades and musical numbers at Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom encourage visitors to believe in themselves and celebrate their dreams, whatever they are.
As I left the theme park after a recent visit, the loudspeakers played a positively giddy song with the chorus, “In everything you do, celebrate you!” But life’s not an amusement park, and this endlessly narcissistic message will eat you alive if you attempt to live it. Imagine the hapless fellow who follows the advice, “In everything you do, celebrate you!” I bet that guy’s gonna lose a few jobs and spouses!
Former New York Times reporter Chris Hedges has become a prolific advocate for revolutionary change in America’s political and financial systems. In his book Empire of Illusion Hedges reflects on the gilded cult of “us”:
Popular expressions of religious belief, personal empowerment, corporatism, political participation, and self-definition argue that all of us are special, entitled, and unique. All of us, by tapping into our inner reserves of personal will and undiscovered talent . . . can achieve, and deserve to achieve, happiness, fame and success. . . . This mantra has seeped into every aspect of our lives. We are all entitled to everything.
I grew up watching Robin Leach’s TV program called Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. Today, hedonism and wealth are openly worshipped on shows such as Keeping Up with the Kardashians, The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, and The Real Housewives of (fill in the blank). These shows focus on an unattainable and deplorable America, where 1 percent control more wealth than the bottom 90 percent combined.
We envy their lives, beach houses, and riches. They marry rappers and professional athletes and are chauffeured in stretch limos to exclusive boutiques and expensive spas.
Of course, the average American is shut out of television’s gated community. Most of us will never attain these lives of wealth and power, and our failure to experience these impossible lifestyles convinces us of our own inferiority and worthlessness.
The best the average person can achieve is pseudo-celebrity. Our phones and mobile devices enable us to post our fabulous “selfies” and claim our 15 seconds of fame. In this culture of narcissism, we are all, as journalist Neal Gablerput it, “becoming at once performance artists in and audiences for a grand, ongoing show.”
Sadly, Evangelical culture embraces much of the current pop psychology and self-help thinking, along with countless other fantasies peddled by the “celebrate you” marketing machine. Perhaps this is why I distance myself from the gates of the American Evangelical ghetto with its obsessions with so-called Christian art, Christian music, Christian movies, Christian merchandise, and Christian T-shirts and trinkets, along with other political and social false boundary markers that have nothing to do with Jesus’ teachings.
The cult of “celebrate you” is cluttering our churches with empty and fatuous pursuits. Christ’s kingdom is not a magic one.