The gospel of self-esteem on steroids

Here is a Student’s Creed used for real in an Irish secondary school prayer service.

Today, this new day, I am a successful student. Overnight my mind and body have produced thousands of new cells to give me the greatest advantages possible. I am born anew, revitalized, and full of energy.

I am rare and valuable; unique in all the universe. I am nature’s greatest miracle in action. I have unlimited potential. I believe in my abilities, attitudes, and goals. I am worthy of greatness because I am the most important person in my world.

Today I push myself to new limits. I use my skills and knowledge every day. I begin the day with a success and end it with a success. My goals are being reached every day and I seek them eagerly.

I act positively and happily, fully accepting myself and others. I live to the fullest by experiencing life without limits. I embrace life. I approach each class, each book, and each assignment with enthusiasm, happiness and joy. I thirst for knowledge. I look forward to reading and believing this creed each and every day.

I am a positive and successful student. I know each step I must take to continue to be that way. I am clear on my goals and see myself reaching them. I now realize my infinite potential, thus, my burden lightens. I smile and laugh. I have become the greatest student in the world.

No, really, I jest not. This was not written by Tom Marvolo Riddle in training to be “he who shall not be named”.

This is the gospel of self-esteem on steroids.

The good news is, quite simply, ‘ME’.

I am marvellous, successful, ambitious, focused; a miracle, unique, worthy of greatness, the centre of my own universe. There are no limits to my wonderfulness, joy, potential and stupendous significance (cue megalomaniacal laughter).

This is the gospel where I am my own saviour, guide and god. I am without fault, a specimen of perfect humanness (move over Jesus).

There is no Fall in this gospel. There is no need of salvation either. How can perfection be improved? I only need fully to accept myself as I am.

Neither is there any humility.

Or reality. With enough positive thinking, we all can be ‘the greatest student in the world’ – which dilutes greatness just a tad (Cue link to The Incredibles. Elastigirl tells her son, Dash, not to run so fast so he won’t stand out. We are, she says, all special. Dash replies with the immortal line, ‘Which is just another way of saying no-one is.’)

And precious little humanity. It is a ‘gospel’ that leaves no room for doubt, for failure, for struggle, and, ironically, for learning and discipleship. What have I to learn when I am already the master of my destiny, the lord of myself and my world?

All this is a stark contrast to the first preaching of the real gospel.

Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 finishes with the magnificent good news – not of our own infinite all round splendidness – but that Jesus the Messiah, who was crucified, is the risen living Lord.

The men of Israel’s response was not to congratulate themselves on their successful achievements and healthy self-images; their hearts were cut to the quick and they repented, put their faith in the resurrected Lord, and were baptised as a sign of dying to themselves and being raised to a new life in the Spirit.

Comments, as ever, welcome.

4 thoughts on “The gospel of self-esteem on steroids

  1. This is the result of the separation of faith from knowledge of reality. When “faith” exists in a realm of its own separate from what can be known, then you really can believe whatever you like. This morning I read an interview with Neil Jordan the film-maker in which he says, “I don’t know what I believe in. Does it matter what I believe in?” Belief in his world exists in a different realm, and one which has little importance. So an institution dedicated to knowledge like the school you cite can teach students to recite beliefs that have no basis in knowledge because belief and knowledge are not seen as connected. I wish I’d worked all of this out myself but in fact I learned it from Dallas Willard in “Personal Religion, Public Reality – Towards a knowledge of faith”

  2. I agree that this goes too far. However, having been brought up with heavy doses of the more typical Catholic “don’t think too much of yourself”, “you’re nothing special until you’ve done something special enough for the world to notice you” and “if you think something’s a good idea or want something, it’s probably wrong”, this does seem like an improvement. Long, HARD experience has forced me to learn that the better I feel about myself, the better I do. If I think I am productive and capable, I get much more done than when I think that I need to stop being a lazy bum and get something done for once.

    Especially as someone who has struggled with depression, I have been SHOCKED by how much simple affirmations have improved my life. I know it sounds crazy but honest to goodness, something as simple as thinking that I’m going to be dealt a good hand while playing cards rather than thinking bitterly that I never get any good cards is the difference between winning and ending up with a negative score. I force myself to tell myself that things will go well for me today and generally when I do that they do. And when they don’t, it’s much easier to see it as an aberration rather than the way my life is.

    As to humility, I actually think that when you know that you are special and so is everyone else in their own way, you are better able to see differences without considering yourself above or below anyone. Especially as Christians we have long tended to see our sin nature as our true identity is as image bearers. Through Christ we are being redeemed from sin nature and restored to a real identity which really is spectacular wonderful. This is a huge part of why it’s so important to know God, imo – only God can show us who he is and therefore, what the image we are created with looks like.

    Teachers know that one of the most effective discipline tools is make sure a kid knows that you see what is good about him/her and that you respect them and then when they act up, it gets framed as a failing to live up to the reality of who you know them to be. If you tell a kid that you value how honest and trustworthy they are, it makes it very difficult for them to turn around and cheat.

    Like I said, this creedo does go a bit far. But on the whole I think it’s far better than the “Christian” message I was raised with. We were all created just as we ought to be and then fell on the way. But there’s a Buddhist saying which I often say to my kids: “You’re perfect just as you are — and you could use a little improvement.” After all, a newborn baby is just about as perfect as a human can be, but that hardly means there isn’t still room to grow.

  3. Well, most of that student creed is a load of BS.

    But in your hyperbolic rejection of it don’t underestimate self-acceptance, liking yourself, or recognising that you are unique and significant! Humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less. The most self-obsessed people I know appear humble or servant-hearted because they put themselves down and raise others up but it is actually out of a lack of self-respect, an awareness of boundaries or a desire for approval.

    I think that it is the least of our worries whether people esteem themselves too highly. A person who has good self-esteem is depressingly rare. It bothers me when Christians react to ‘Oprah speak’ and swing the pendulum to the other side where positive self-esteem is seen as individualistic and narcissistic. We don’t think it selfish to feed our own physical hunger or to seek healing for our physical brokenness. I’m not sure why it is any different for our emotional selves.

  4. I think the pendulum can go too far towards both sides. The old way is never to think anything good about ourselves and define ourselves as sinful people the other one is to say I am wonderful and should tell that to myself everyday.
    I think the gospel offers a third way, which is human beings have been created in love by God, that is what makes me precious, my sense of worth doesn’t come from me, but from the person who created me, who loves me and cares for me. But we also know that as human beings we are not living in the fullness that we were created for. As David G. Benner says in his book The Gift of Being Yourself: You are a deeply loved sinner.
    I get up in the morning knowing that I am loved by the creator of heaven and earth, and I live out of that reality. To know that I am loved makes me want to be better. I know I am not perfect but I also know that guilt and shame are not part of the gospel. I can fail and I am always received by the open arms of God.
    We have to be careful that we don’t end up with an unhealthy view of sin, that we spend more time looking at us rather than looking at Jesus. Nor that I end up telling myself how wonderful I am, in both cases I am spending a lot of time on me. I think what the gospel offers us is to look at ourselves as loved people, with flaws, but that they can be brought to Jesus to work with Him towards transformation. As somebody said to me: The Christian life is not defined by sin but by redemption.

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