Friday, February 9, 2018


Why do young people pursue idealistic causes, often at great risk to themselves? They might answer that they are “combating injustice” or simply that “it’s the right thing to do.” However, I have several problems with their rationale:

1.    Most are moral relativists and don’t even believe in a concept of objective moral law or justice. This would mean that the cause of the alt-right is no more just that the cause of the alt-left. Instead, it’s all just a matter of perspective and personal feelings.

2.    Neither side acts justly in pursuit of their ideals. In fact, they are downright violent, even racist. They seek to punish others by virtue of their skin color or race. While claiming that they are trying to achieve justice, both sides seem to sell it out at every turn. While they claim to be patriotic, they betray the very core values that had once made this nation great. They will lie, threaten, and even kill to accomplish their goals.

3.    They seem to care nothing about the lessons of history and the great price any nation will pay for civil war.

In light of these problems, why are they so ready to risk civil war and death? I think it all comes down to the fact that we humans need to feel that we are significant and worthy. In The Significant Life, attorney George M. Weaver argues that our quest for self-importance governs our lives:

  • Individual humans are not concerned so much about the survival of the species as they are about their personal survival or significance. In order to push ourselves beyond our confining space-time limits, we as individuals try to set ourselves apart from the rest of humanity. It is unsettling to admit that one is average or ordinary – a routine person. (7)
Weaver documents this quest in many ways:

  • Salvador Dali once said, “The thought of not being recognized [is] unbearable”…Lady Gaga sings, “I live for the applause, applause, applause…the way that you cheer and scream for me.” She adds in another song, “yes we live for the Fame, Doin’ it for the Fame, Cuz we wanna live the life of the rich and famous.” (7)

Weaver even documented many instances where people committed crimes in order to achieve a sense of significance or notoriety:

  • In 2005 Joseph Stone torched a Pittsfield, Massachusetts apartment building… After setting the blaze, Stone rescued several tenants from the fire and was hailed as a hero. Under police questioning, Stone admitted, however, that he set the fire and rescued the tenants because, as summarized at trial by an assistant district attorney, he “wanted to be noticed, he wanted to be heard, he wanted to be known.” (44)
Evidently, this drive for significance is so powerful that it can overrule the moral dictates of conscience. One mass-murderer gunman explained in his suicide note, “I’m going to be f_____ famous.” (45)

This drive for significance can even override all other affections. On December 8, 1980, Mark David Chapman, a zealous fan of the Beatle, John Lennon, first obtained his idol’s autograph before gunning him down. He explained:

  • “I was an acute nobody. I had to usurp someone else’s importance, someone else’s success. I was ‘Mr. Nobody’ until I killed the biggest Somebody on earth.” At his 2006 parole hearing, he stated: “The result would be that I would be famous, the result would be that my life would change and I would receive a tremendous amount of attention, which I did receive… I was looking for reasons to vent all that anger and confusion and low self-esteem.” (47)

Weaver isn’t the only one who has taken note of this life-controlling human need to feel important. The late poet T.S. Elliot observed:

  • Half the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important. They don't mean to do harm-- but the harm does not interest them. Or they do not see it, or they justify it because they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves.  
Idealism and the pursuit of feeling important can prove costly even when the idealist is seeking to do good. The noted Christian apologist, C.S. Lewis recognized the threat of idealism when untamed by wisdom and humility:

  • Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
When our underlying motivation is a matter of feeling good about ourselves, we tend to neglect wisdom and even a sincere caring for the ones we seek to help.

How then can we satisfy this pressing need for significance so that we can truly be idealistic? We need to satisfy it in another way besides self-aggrandizement, through an everlasting relationship with One who can love us unconditionally so that we can love others unconditionally. Jesus implored the multitudes:

·       Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

We need rest for our troubled souls. As we grow confident of Christ’s love, the need to prove ourselves to both the world and even to ourselves diminishes.


  1. Peter the Apostle wrote: "humble yourself under the mighty hand of God that in due time He will lift you up".

    1. Humility is the antithesis of self-righteousness - the refusal to take stock of ourselves.