There is little doubt that in the Western world there is a growing malaise centred on low self-esteem. Our sense of self-worth and value seems to be at an all-time low. The indicators are as prevalent as they are ominous: youth suicide, drug abuse, self-abuse, anti-social behaviour, and so on.
Of course there are numerous reasons why a person may have a low sense of self-worth. All sorts of factors go into the problem of low self-esteem. But it seems that one factor must have a leading role in all of this. I refer to worldviews and the way they understand the human person: their origin, their nature and their destiny.
If a person holds to or is greatly influenced by a worldview which has a very low view of personhood and the human condition, then this must contribute to a flagging self-image. If we believe, for example, that people are only animals, with nothing unique or special about them, then that will contribute to a less than optimistic assessment of one’s self and one’s world.
For much of human history there was a sense that human beings were special, and concepts such as human dignity and a healthy self-worth flowed from this belief. But worldviews which downplay the uniqueness of humans will surely lead to lower self-esteem and self-worth.
Consider the philosophy of naturalism or materialism, which argues that matter is all there is. There is no supernatural, no spiritual, no non-material reality. Matter alone matters, this worldview asserts. Of course evolutionary worldviews which are undergirded by such a materialist philosophy are good examples of this.
Secular evolutionists who have embraced a naturalist worldview make their views clear as to the practical outworking of such beliefs. Consider some representative quotes:
“The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.” (Carl Sagan)
“The astonishing hypothesis is that you, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will are, in fact, no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules.” (Francis Crick)
The universe “seems pointless” and we are “a more-or-less farcical outcome of a chain of accidents reaching back to the first three minutes [after the big bang]”. (Steven Weinberg)
“The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.” (Richard Dawkins)
“Morality is no more … than an adaptation, and as such has the same status as such things as teeth and eyes and noses. . . . [M]orality is a creation of the genes.” (Michael Ruse)
Morality is just a survival mechanism. Ethics “is an illusion fobbed off on us by our genes to get us to cooperate,” and “the way our biology enforces its ends is by making us think that there is an objective higher code to which we are all subject.” (E. O. Wilson)
Hey, who wouldn’t get depressed and succumb to despair if these sentiments are in fact true? What is the point of going on? Life is just a cosmic joke – an accident. Why give a rip about anything if such a scenario is all we are stuck with?
There are different ways to draw out the implications of all this, but one very good presentation of it is worth reproducing in full. It comes from Christian writer Randy Alcorn who very nicely contrasts the naturalist worldview with the Biblical worldview. The implications for how one thinks of oneself and others could not be more marked. I here offer his incisive illustration. I return to my commentary in the last paragraph.
Two Sources of Self-Esteem: Secular and Christian
Everywhere in the secular media I’ve been hearing and reading about the critical problem of poor self-esteem among our young people. A bad self-image is being cited as the cause of teen suicide, drug abuse, crime and violence. Educators and community leaders are trying to find ways to help children bolster their self-esteem.
Where does this plague of low self-esteem come from? Ironically, straight from the atheistic evolutionary view of man with which society has indoctrinated our young people. Where can they get a healthy and accurate self-esteem? From the very Judeo-Christian ethic society is rejecting, and trying so desperately to keep out of the classrooms and public life.
Let me summarise the secular and Christian foundations for self-esteem, then you tell me whether it’s any wonder why America’s children are feeling like they, their lives and values have so little meaning.
The Secular Basis for Self-Esteem:
You are the descendant of a tiny cell of primordial protoplasm that washed up on an ocean beach ten billion years ago. You are the blind and arbitrary product of time, chance and natural forces. Your closest living relatives swing from trees and eat crackers at the zoo.
You are a mere grab-bag of atomic particles, a conglomeration of genetic substance. You exist on a tiny planet in a minute solar system in an obscure galaxy in a remote and empty corner of a vast, cold, and meaningless universe. You are flying through lifeless space with no purpose, no direction, no control, and no destiny but final destruction.
You are a purely biological entity, different only in degree but not in kind from a microbe, virus or amoeba. You have no essence beyond your body, and at death you will cease to exist entirely. What little life you do have is confined to a fragile body aimlessly moving through a world plagued by war, famine and disease. The only question is whether the world will manage to blow itself up before your brief and pointless life ends on its own.
In short, you came from nothing, you are going nowhere, and you will end your brief cosmic journey beneath six feet of dirt, where all that is you will become food for bacteria and rot with worms.
And now, kids . . . doesn’t that make you feel good about yourselves?
The Christian Basis for Self-Esteem:
You are a special creation of a good and all powerful God. You are the climax of his creation, the magnum opus of the greatest artist in the universe. You are created in His image, with capacities to think, feel, and worship that set you above all other life forms. You differ from the animals not simply in degree, but in kind.
Not only is your kind unique, but you are unique among your kind. God has masterminded the exact combination of DNA and chromosomes that constitute your genetic code, making you as different from all others as every snowflake differs from the rest.
Yes, you are sinners, and in and of yourselves you do not deserve to go to heaven. But despite your rebellion, your Creator loved you so much and so intensely desires your companionship and affection that he gave the life of his only Son that you might spend eternity with him. If you are willing to accept the free gift of salvation, you can become a child of God, the King of the universe.
As a Christian, you are clothed with the righteousness of Christ. He has given you special gifts and abilities to serve him in a particular and unique way.
Your heavenly Father is sovereign, and will allow nothing to cross your path that is not Father-filtered. He cares for you so much that He is totally available to you at all times, and listens to every word you say. He cares deeply about your hurts, and has a perfect plan for your life. He has given you the inspired Word of God as a road-map for living. He gives you the truth that sets you free, a life that is abundant and eternal, and a spiritual family that loves and needs you.
Your destiny is to live forever in a magnificent kingdom, to reign with Christ over the universe. You will forever enjoy the wonders of his presence and the marvels of his creations. You will spend eternity in intimate and joyful fellowship with your beloved Lord and your precious spiritual family.
Now, kids . . . how does that make you feel about yourselves? And how does it make you feel about your God?!
Exactly right. Alcorn has hit the nail on the head here. Ideas do have consequences, and bad ideas have bad consequences. The naturalistic worldview is a bad tree yielding bad fruit. The Judeo-Christian worldview, by contrast, is a good tree yielding good fruit. I have no difficulty knowing which one I would rather adhere to.