Monday’s Column: Neal at the Cross
That’s not a typo for another popularly-used term. It’s actually a “thing,” at least according to a 2010 study by the UK Post Office. It is short for “no-mobile-phone phobia” (Tim Elmore, psychologytoday.com). There’s even a website called nomophobia.com, and they identify “the four fears of Nomophobia”—broken, lost, stolen, or useless smartphones. While that site operates “tongue in cheek,” there are a bevy of experts more than ready to talk about how this is an epidemic impacting especially youth in our culture. University of Connecticut School of Medicine’s Dr. David Greenfield has done much work in this study. He points to the problem of a dysregulation of dopamine, “meaning that it motivates people to do things they think will be rewarded for doing” (clever, cutting, or flamboyant Tweets, posts, pics, etc.) and that it can foster people’s addiction to the internet and technology (Madeline Stone, businessinsider.com). Greenfield adds, “That feeling you’re going to miss something if you’re not constantly checking is an illusion — most parts of our lives are not relevant to our smartphones. What happens on our devices is not reflective of what happens in real life” (ibid.). There are even digital detox programs, in the United States as well as other countries around the world. Psychiatrist Dale Archer gives this advice, “Stop texting while you’re driving. Don’t take it into the bathroom with you. Have a rule not to use your phone when you’re with your friends. If you’re on a date, make a rule that you’ll both check your phone for a maximum of 5 minutes every 90 minutes. It’s all about setting simple rules that you can follow” (ibid.).
Amateur psychiatrists and specialists everywhere can quickly diagnose this condition in their spouses and significant others, their children, and their friends, but they may be myopic to their own inordinate practice (see every airport, doctor’s office, restaurant, etc.). Addiction to, or at least habitual abuse of, smartphones and similar technology is simply the latest and a more obvious example of a long-standing human tendency. Paul told Corinth, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything” (1 Cor. 6:12). In context, Paul is beginning a discussion of the sin of fornication after having talked about Corinth’s generally sinful past from which they had been forgiven. Paul’s desire was not to be “mastered” (ruled, reigned over, Louw 37.48) by anything. He later writes about the self-mastery and discipline necessary to live the Christian life (1 Cor. 9:24-27).
Cell phones are just one possible impediment to this. There are so many other possibilities we must keep aware of, things which can derail us from our purpose and focus in this life. So many of them are fine in balance and moderation, but we can allow them to consume and even overtake us. A fear of being without those things is only one of the attending problems. Being ruled by anything or anyone other than Christ is the overriding concern. We are all served well by looking carefully at the things in our lives and make sure we have no master other than Christ.
A woman in Woodbridge, Virginia, saw a rarity in her front yard: a two-headed copperhead snake. The snake only has one heart and one set of lungs, but each head has its own brain. This produces multiple problems. Both heads want to eat, and since eating takes time the snake is vulnerable to predators for twice as long. Second, each snake wants to go its own way. That means they can’t respond very quickly when under attack. Even getting water can be precarious, as one head can drag the other down when drinking. An expert at the Wildlife Center of Virginia said, “Based on the anatomy, it would be better for the right head to eat, but it may be a challenge since the left head appears more dominant” (Dana Hedgpeth, The Washington Post, 9/24/18). Experts also say that these internal conflicts prevent these rare “dual-cephalic” creatures from living very long.
James tells us that the double-minded man is unstable in all his ways (1:7) and implies that double-mindedness reflects impurity of heart (4:8). The first instance of the word relates trusting God or doubting in times of trials, and the second relates to following a spiritual leader, whether the devil and the world or God. It is hard to run with the devil and walk with God. So often, there’s the temptation to try to do both. But, this conflict is so basic and so contradictory that it will contribute to our spiritual death. It makes us vulnerable to attack.
What this requires is decisiveness. Jesus taught, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth” (Mat. 6:24). We must choose who we will listen to (Josh. 24:15). Otherwise, we will remain in peril and we will ultimately, spiritually die. Paul put it this way, that “they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace” (Rom. 8:5-6). The struggle is real, but the problem must be overcome. We must strive to be singleminded in our dedication and devotion. That means we can’t live for the world and the Lord. It is an either/or proposition. Jesus says, “He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me, scatters” (Luke 11:23). Let’s make the right choice and simplify everything. Let’s honor one head and make it the right one (cf. Eph. 1:22).
I came across the term “selfism” in Dick Meyer’s 2008 book, Why We Hate Us: American Discontent in the New Millennium. He defines it as “American individualism redefined by the age of marketing, self-help, moral relativism, and the belief that the “self” is something that can be deliberately found or made” (36). He warns that “it is different than the older, can-do, self-made-man American spirit because it substitutes feeling for doing” (37). Later in the chapter, Meyer ties this hyper-emphasis on self to a growing belligerence in society. He writes, “On the Internet, belligerence can be anonymous, faceless, and hence risk-free. In schools and offices, for example, the Web is a problem, because parents and workers say nasty things in e-mail that they would never say in person. Chat rooms, blogs, and online comments are clogged with vitriol and hate-mongering…the need to make others wrong has turned into an addiction” (44). One of his points in the chapter is that the elevation of self is not just a problem of narcissism, but it has become commonplace to vaunt self by stepping on, insulting, and ridiculing others to do it. We are witnessing an ever-growing game of “King of the Mountain,” where in a rush to get noticed we are shoving off anyone who might eclipse or overshadow us.
Selfism is Satanic rather than sanctified behavior, but each of us must wrestle with it. The temptation to join them rather than “beat” them through Christlike humility is ever-present. What is “one-upmanship” if not an effort to present self as above another? In certain circles, the ability to respectfully and civilly discuss differences has been assassinated by hired killers like vanity, self-importance, animosity, and contempt.
Do we have a more difficult task than obeying Jesus’ command to deny self (cf. Mat. 16:24)? When Paul urges Philippi to eliminate selfish ambition and conceit while esteeming others as better than self (Phi. 2:3), do we appreciate the polar opposite this is to the cultural arch-hero of selfism? Jesus came into this world to show us the selfless life. It is scary to live that way, especially in a world full of adherents to the cult of self. We fear that being selfless with selfish people will lead to being walked over, preempted, or mistreated. What will help is developing the faith to trust that living the way God commands leads us to the best life possible. The best life possible is one where self is suppressed in deference to Christ and others. Such a life will be noticed as a beacon in our choppy seas of selfism!