What is humanity’s oldest lie? And how is it freshly emerging to steal the hearts and minds of a new generation? Our guest today, Biola professor Thaddeus Williams, has a new book out called Don't Follow Your Heart: Boldly Breaking the Ten Commandments of Self-Worship. Join Scott and Thaddeus as we dissect his “ten commandments” and talk about how to be a cultural heretic today.
Thaddeus Williams is Associate Professor of Theology at Biola University and the author of several books and numerous articles. He is the author of Confronting Injustice without Compromising Truth and REFLECT: Becoming Yourself by Mirroring the Greatest Person In History.
Scott: What is humanity's oldest lie, and how is it freshly emerging to steal the hearts and minds of a new generation? Our guest today, Biola professor Thad Williams, has a fascinating new book with a very provocative title called “Don't Follow Your Heart,” subtitled “Boldly Breaking the Ten Commandments of Self-Worship.” We're going to dissect his Ten Commandments and talk about how to be what he calls a cultural heretic today. I'm your host, Scott Rae, and this is ThinkBiblically, a podcast from Talbot School of Theology at Biola University. Thad, welcome. Great to have you with us. Congrats on your new book. It's a home run. But I suspect the first question our listeners have is, what on earth do you mean, don't follow your heart? Why not, and what's wrong with that?
Thad: Sure. I wish I could take credit for it, but it's actually the wisdom of a nine-year-old. So in the Williams household, we play a little game of spot the lie, a game we picked up from the great Christian thinker, culture commentator, Os Guinness. And the idea is, your kids are watching something instead of just passively consuming information, teach your kids some discernment so they don't just become chameleons taking on the colors of whatever's around them. So this was a few years ago, my now 13-year-old, which is scary to say, but when she was nine—Dutchie, we call her, Holland's her name—and she comes jumping down the stairs, daddy, you owe me another dollar. Well, what'd you find this time, darling? And she had been watching a commercial for some pixie princess rainbow unicorn, whatever. And she said, Daddy, the commercial told me I should follow my heart. I said, okay, what's the problem? And this is her exact response, permanently filed away in the proud daddy moments in my memory bank there. She said, daddy, I don't want to follow my heart. My heart's fallen. I'd way rather follow God's heart. And I just like teared up, wrapped my arms around her. She got five bucks for that one, well-earned $5. But I realized just how countercultural that statement is, where they are bombarded, the up-and-coming generations with this false gospel of be true to yourself, the answers are within. You know, 84% of Americans think the chief end of man is to enjoy yourself. 86% think that to enjoy yourself, do what you desire most. 91% say the answers are within. So yeah, the book really is a call to be heretics against that cult of self-worship.
Scott: All right, so you say we're boldly breaking the 10 commandments of self-worship. I take it there's something about self-worship that constitutes humanity's oldest lie. What is it specifically?
Thad: Yeah, well, let's hop in a time machine together, whisk back to Genesis 3, a famous scene, serpents with our first parents in the garden. And the promise in Genesis 3, verse 5 is that you will be, the language is: like God, knowing good and evil. And for years that baffled me like, okay, does that mean Adam and Eve just had a theoretical knowledge of good and evil? And by sinning, they had an experiential knowledge. It just—every interpretation I read didn't seem to jive until a few years ago, I was reading Abraham Kuyper, his tome, his 900-pager on common grace. He does a little exposition of the passage and he says the Hebrew term for knowing doesn't really have a solid English equivalent. He says it's something like a maker's knowledge. God knows it because he made it that way, a designer's knowledge. And it reminds me of back when I graduated Biola, you know, back in the early 60s, [laughs] not really.
Scott: You're not that old. You may feel it, but you're not that old.
Thad: You were my professor in, let's say—
Scott: Now we're dating ourselves. [laughs]
Thad: We'll keep the dates ambiguous here. But when I was in graduate school, when I was at Talbot, one of my roommates, an old high school friend, played bass for a band called Lincoln Park and they were working on their sophomore release. We'd come home from work about the same time and I would listen to the tracks they laid down for the day and I would grill him. I would ask Dave questions, you know, what effect are you using there? Whose idea was the key change? And I never stumped him because Dave had a maker's knowledge of the songs. It wasn't that he studied them or listened to them on repeat or memorized the sheet music. He knew they were the way they were because he made them that way. That's analogous to the kind of knowledge God has of his cosmos—a designer's knowledge. And the original temptation then makes more sense that the serpent is offering Adam and Eve: you can be God-like, you can be the sovereign meaning makers-over, you can be the definers of. And then it's followed in Hebrew by good and evil, which is an ancient Jewish idiom; you would use opposites to describe everything in between. So good and evil, I don't take it to be moral categories in this context so much as if you and I are ancient Jews and we say black and white, we would understand each other. We're referring to every color. If we say the Beatles and Nickelback, we would understand we're describing every band the best and, sorry Nickelback fans, the worst. And something like that is happening in Genesis 3:5. You will be like God knowing the sovereign definers over everything, good and evil, and everything in between. And so in that light, a lot of what's being, a lot of what's trending now is this cutting edge and this innovative and be true to yourself and hashtag authenticity—it really is outdated. It really is as uber traditionalist as it can possibly get harkening back to a serpent's deception in Genesis 3.
Scott: So in this regard, there really is nothing new under the sun.
Thad: Oh, exactly. Yeah, it's the oldest lie in the book, literally.
Scott: So that's a really helpful take on Genesis 3. And I think that figure of speech is very common in the Old Testament where you have two extremes, but what's meant is the whole in between. And so I think most people take that as moral categories, but I think seeing it in that way as more all encompassing is really helpful. And I think it sort of goes to the heart of what the temptation actually was.
Thad: Exactly. And it makes sense of the contemporary. It gives us a cultural hermeneutic. So now when we hear cartoon characters telling kids to follow their heart, if you pay close enough attention, you can not only hear, you know, the Jean Paul Sartre saying, you just exist, you create your own essence. You not only hear sort of the echoes of Fred Nietzsche saying, you know, because God is dead, we live beyond good and evil, the Uberman who creates their own values. If you listen close enough, you can hear, hey kids, follow your hearts with an emphasis on the S there. You can hear the old serpent's propaganda.
Scott: But is there something positive and beneficial that we ought to take from the notion of following our heart or do you see that as entirely a product of the first temptation?
Thad: Yeah, good question. I think, you know, just yesterday after I wrapped up things here on campus, I headed back down the freeway and I'm coaching my little boy Henry's T-ball team and we have quite a few.
Scott: It's a sanctifying experience, I'm sure.
Thad: It is for sure. Yeah, Luther said the home was, you know, is more the monastery than the monastery. The T-ball team can be a very sanctifying experience. So anyway, there's quite a few little dudes on the team who it's pretty clear they've never swung a bat in their lives. They get up there and their little hands are quivering and their bats are shaking. They don't know which way to shape, which way to face. I was putting the ball on the T for one kid and his dad came up to me and said, hey, are you trying to teach him to hit lefty? You know he's right handed. Like the kid didn't know. And so if I have a kid who's flipping out about the terror of hitting a baseball or catching a baseball, it might be good advice to say, believe in yourself. Might be good advice to say, you know, dig down deep and find something there and follow your heart. I think there's context where it's innocuous. This book isn't about that. It's about what a lot of the culture commentators are describing expressive individualism. Where it's an all encompassing worldview.
Scott: Which means?
Thad: So it's this all encompassing worldview where I have a duty, not like in the traditional sense to moral responsibilities outside of myself. Where I need to be a good father and a good husband and a good churchman and a good neighbor or a good professor or anything like that. Dor the expressive individualist, it's really about making my three best friends—me, myself and I—happy. And one of the marks of that ideology is that my feelings slash my heart, they occupy the role that scripture takes in a historic Christian worldview. My feelings are unassailable. My feelings are infallible. My feelings are unquestionable. And so now my moral duty is not to anything beyond myself. I have a duty to be true to myself. And the only real sin in expressive individualism is being inauthentic, namely not expressing your emotions.
Scott: So I think that's helpful to see it more in terms of, you know, following my feelings.
Scott: Because I think there is something positive about believing in yourself, you know, having a degree of self-confidence, things like that. Particularly as Christians, right? Of course.
Thad: And when our affections get reordered, recalibrated by the Holy Spirit. As God goes to work on our hearts, then there is a biblical sense in which we can follow our spirit-sanctified hearts.
Scott: But I wonder if this is one of those things, much like relativism, that once people try it, you recognize pretty quickly that nobody really lives this way. I mean, if I follow my feelings, I mean, there'd be train wrecks coming virtually every day. And I would, you know, I shudder to think of what my life would be like if I really was true to myself and to my feelings. And it seems to me that a lot of the whole, I mean, the whole demands of morality are designed to help us curb our inclination to follow our feelings. So that we don't run the train off the rails.
Thad: Yeah. Sometimes literally. There's a slim chance you and I would have made it to campus today if we followed our hearts, particularly driving up the five freeway. Following my hearts, my heart could have led to some catastrophes on the freeway, let's say. So there's a sense in which the heart recalibrating work of the Holy Spirit is essential.
Scott: All right. Let's say, I mean, the subtitle I think is really helpful: “boldly breaking the 10 commandments of self-worship.” Where do we see self-worship most on display in the culture today?
Thad: Yeah. It's hard to say “most” because it's just so ubiquitous. I remember I was hammering out a chapter in a little courtyard in my yard and to my left came a car on the street with its windows down blaring the frozen anthem, “Let It Go,” which has the famous line, “no right, no wrong, no rules for me, I'm free.” That's that expressive individualist sense of freedom. I'm free to the extent that I'm shunning any and all transcendent expectations on my existence. Well, to my other side, my kids were in the living room watching the My Little Pony movie. And it had this song called “Time to Be Awesome.” And Time to Be Awesome, it says, take the storm king's rules and toss them because it's time for you to be yourself, be awesome. And so I was literally sitting in an author yourself sandwich being marketed to toddlers and adolescents. So I think we see it in the entertainment industry, especially catered to the younger crowds. I think we see it in all the cultural hubbub surrounding gender, where the idea is my subjective feelings, you see it in law and politics, too. The move in the last, I'd say eight years towards self ID, self identification, meaning under some of the older laws. There was a sense in which if I'm going to be a born male, but I want in the eyes of the law to be treated female, there were certain hoops you had to jump through. Sometimes that included reassignment, surgery, hormone treatments, things like that. But the push in the last five to eight years on both sides of the Atlantic has been self ID, no surgical, no medical solutions necessary. All that it takes for me to be something else is the declarative statement: I am a woman. I am fill in the blank. So that's another area where this expressive individualist notion of authenticity is really at the forefront. And I think we could go on and on. It's in the churches, it's virtually everywhere.
Scott: We'll get to that in just a minute. It is interesting to me that some on the other side of the Atlantic are actually backing away from some of this now.
Thad: Oh yeah. We're more extreme.
Scott: It's been very encouraging to see it in the UK especially, is deciding maybe this wasn't such a great idea altogether. So let's be a little more specific about what some of these 10 commandments of self worship are. First of all, how did you come up with the idea of these 10 commandments of self worship? And what are you trying to encourage people to do with regard to this? Sure. Yeah, a lot of it had to do with just trying my best to keep my finger on the pulse of what's happening culturally. And I'm in many ways a product of the 90s. That's when I was sort of coming of age. And the 90s were really the age of anything goes. So you had Seinfeld had a recurring punchline that was “Not that there's anything wrong with that.” You had Britney Spears topping the charts with, “We're Not That Innocent.” You had Nirvana and the advent of grunge rock with songs like “Come As You Are.” And so the 90s were very much sort of the heyday of postmodern relativism. Not that there's anything wrong with that. We're not that innocent. Come as you are. Anything goes. The only sin was really calling anything sin. And I think we're just in a different age. There has been a marked cultural shift from that to—we've gone from what Robbie George out of Princeton calls the age of feeling. We've gone from the age of anything goes to the age of feeling where my emotions are sacrosanct, authoritative, unquestionable. And with that, we enter something more like, for lack of a better term, a post postmodernism where if you even dare question my self-defined self, you are a heretic. You are guilty of blasphemy. And so I think I began to notice in the culture that we are witnessing not just a cultural phenomena but the rise of a new religion. It has adherence like any religion to the tune of 84% of Americans saying the chief end of human existence is self-gratification. 91% saying the answers are within. It has its prophets and saints. We mentioned Nietzsche with you create your own values. We could talk about Saint Sartre with you just exist, so create your own essence. We could talk about Michel Foucault, one of the saints of self-worship that through sexual expression you achieve liberation from the oppressive heteronormative society. We could talk about Saint Herbert Marcuse of the Frankfurt School, who also viewed sexual expression as the key to self-definition. And so you have –
Scott: It sounds like it also has its modes of excommunication.
Thad: Oh, absolutely. Yeah, there's damnable heresy. Cancel culture. The cancel culture becomes the secular counterpart of essentially the inquisitions. And you also have hymns. You have sort of the sacred songbook of self-worship. We could think of, you know, for us it would be “Amazing Grace” would be up there, “How Great Thou Art,” these great hymns exalting God. Sort of the equivalence under expressive individualism, you could think of “Old Blue Eyes”, right? Frank Sinatra with “I Did It My Way.” Yeah. You could think of Jojo Siwa as one of these sort of tween pop stars. And song after song is an anthem to my emotions. I got all these emotions. I'm not going to question them. Nobody's going to tell me who I'm going to be. I'm a be me. The Mulan soundtrack has a Stevie Wonder hit, “Follow Your Heart,” “Your Heart Can't Lie,” Celine Dion, Reba McEntire. So it has its own hymnbook. Self-worship has its own, maybe we could call it a systematic theology. It has a theology proper where the self is sovereign. It has its own kind of soteriology, its own system of salvation where I need to be saved from... Well, let's put it in Christian categories first, where you get this courtroom image of God as judge. I'm in the defendant's bench. Satan is the accuser, the prosecuting attorney. And Jesus is my parakletos, in Greek, my defense attorney pleading my justification. Well, that's Christian soteriology and the soteriology of self-worship. The characters move around. So, now, anybody who questions my self-identified self occupies the role of the accuser, becomes Satan, the functional devil of my world, anybody who would dare question my self-defined self. So that's really what led to formulating these commandments was recognizing we're up against a new religion that has a theology, that has adherents, saints, has its own hymnology, and also has its own decalogue, its own Ten Commandments.
Scott: And was instituted in Genesis 3.
Thad: Yeah, a very, very old religion.
Scott: As you pointed out. Yeah, so there's really nothing new about that. New expression. But fundamental concepts are the same. So, let's take some of the Ten Commandments of self-worship. I'm not sure we have time for all of them, but let's take just a handful of them. And then, well, I'll tell you what it is, and then you tell me what you mean, what's positive about it, and then a critique.
Scott: How about Be True to Yourself? And I love how you do, there's a hashtag with the cultural commandment that heads up every chapter. Okay, so what about Be True to Yourself?
Thad: Yeah, so it's the idea here to shun any external authority because, again, my feelings are the starting point for reality.
Scott: And the ending point.
Thad: And ultimately the ending point. We end up, you know, David Foster Wallace, the great postmodern novelist, in his famous commencement speech called “This is Water,” that if any of the viewers or listeners haven't read or listened to, it's well worth the 15 minutes. It's brilliant. And Wallace makes the point in that speech, he says, we become kings and queens of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms. So, we've kind of become trapped in our own heads with this subjectivism. So Be True to Yourself is a way of saying, obey yourself, don't let anybody else and their expectations affect you or you're being less than authentic. Where maybe there's a kernel of truth in that is we don't want to be just easily dupable by anybody's propaganda. There's something to questioning the status quo, particularly when the status quo is out of sync with something like scripture. I think where it goes off the rails, particularly in the cult of self-worship, is it markets itself, especially to young people, as look, you're captain of your own soul, you're king or queen of your own castle here. This is autonomy. In reality, it makes people beholden to or devotees of a bunch of ideologues who they've probably never even heard of. So just a quick concrete example of this would be, let's take a teenager who in our day growing up would be considered a tomboy. Here's a female who manifests certain masculine traits. That would be a female who manifests masculine traits, i.e. a tomboy. Well, certain ideologues, including Fred Nietzsche, where we create our own identities in reality. Again, Jean-Paul Sartre, Michel Foucault, John Money, Alfred Kinsey, Harry Benjamin, Judith Butler. There's a whole slew of the forefathers, the architects of gender theory, whose idea has now— their ideas have become part of the air we breathe, part of the water we're swimming in. So now you take, say, a 16-year-old girl who before would just classify herself as a tomboy, and now she'll think she's being her true self by maybe changing her pronouns, maybe getting hormone therapy and starting to take testosterone and grow facial hair and lower her voice, maybe by pondering reassignment surgery. All along the way, she'll be told, good on you, you're being your true self, you're being your authentic self. In reality, she is devoting herself to, she is on her knees to, Saint Marcuse. She is on her knees to Saint Foucault. She is on her knees to Saint Judith Butler. She wouldn't even think in these categories if she weren't beholden to their ideology.
Scott: And probably without being aware.
Thad: Yeah. I guarantee you if you were to name those names, she'd look at you with a blank stare.
Scott: So how about, there's a second one, which is the acronym has become very common, it's the hashtag YOLO. You only live once. Sure. What's the point of that? And how does that constitute one of the 10 commandments of self-worship?
Thad: Yeah. So YOLO, it's interesting some of the generation dynamics here. If I were to tell my 13-year-old YOLO, she would hashtag cringe me or hashtag okay boomer me. Apparently, that's not the cool lingo but the idea is very much alive and well. And it's the idea that you have a moral duty to yourself to indulge in adventure, to sort of suck the marrow out of life, to accumulate rushes, the rush of unfettered experience. And I think the way you originally framed the question, where are the elements of truth here? What are some kernels of truth? I think from a biblical worldview perspective, there's a deep sense in which we are part of a grand adventure. That we are part of demolishing satanic strongholds, that we are part of a grand Lord of the Rings-esque showdown of good triumphing over evil, and that that epic moral showdown is transpiring in the mundane moments of daily life. So there is a sense in which life is adventurous. I would argue that a Christian worldview gives us a morally layered territory in which to have that kind of adventure. I think what self-worship does by elevating this subjective to supreme status is it has this massive flattening effect, where if I'm the standard, then upward becomes impossible, making progress becomes impossible, because wherever I am, I'm the standard.
Scott: And by definition, you always meet the standard.
Thad: Exactly. How dull, how boring is that? I'm always my best self, because there's nothing higher than myself or my own fallen emotions to progress towards. And so –
Scott: So it shouldn't actually be an admonition to be your best self. It should be a realization that you always are your best self.
Thad: Exactly. And the only thing that really becomes left of an adventure on that system is fighting any force that would question your autonomous self. And that's not really an adventure. That's just a recipe for feeling chronically triggered and oppressed. Well, and I think you see that with the levels of mental health issues, the levels of depression, anxiety, things like that. I wonder how those are connected.
Scott: Well, think about it. I mean, in a biblical worldview, identity-making, that's a Creator-sized task. That's a God-sized task. You read Psalm 139, and there's this language of, I am fearfully and wonderfully made. And the Hebrew here is very illuminating. The wonderfully part is “pala” in Hebrew. It's the sense if you are custom-designed by the Creator. And then fearfully is this Hebrew, “yirah,” so God is making you with a sense of reverence, and He's making you unique. He's creating your identity. What self-worship does is it takes that God-sized task, the Creator-sized task, and it drops it on the shoulders of finite creatures. And I've seen in ministry with millennials and down to Gen Z, and even with my own kids being assaulted with this propaganda to define themselves, it's just an impossible weight. People are exhausted. They're buckling under the weight of having to craft and then sustain their identity meaningfully and coherently over time. And so part of the message of the book is it's so much more freeing to not have to take ourselves so seriously.
We go way back with J.P. Moreland, who's been on the podcast many times, and our office doors are about equidistant, about a first down apart on Talbot East. And I don't know if you've had this experience with him, but sometimes I'll see J.P. in the morning and he'll just say, “Good morning, idiot.” He doesn't mean it as a jab, but in a deep—I think part of what I'm up to in the book is when we take God seriously, it frees us up to not have to take ourselves so seriously. Self-worship doesn't do that. You have to take yourself so seriously that how dare you transgress my autonomous self. There's just a sweet freedom in taking God so seriously that we can recognize our own idiocy.
Scott: And I think that need to always you do you is exhausting after a while. And that's why I think when Jesus talks about my yoke is easy and my burden is light, it has something to do with that. So one other one, and this has really become, I think, so evident in the culture, but the hashtag love is love. Spell that one out a bit.
Thad: Yeah. So, we've experienced over the course of the last, I'd say, 20 years, a fundamental culture shift on what it means to love. So, let's start with something less extreme than love. Tolerance used to carry the sense of, hey, you and I disagree and we can still enjoy a cup of coffee together and I can still hear you out. And at the end of the day, I can treat you with respect, even though we might land on different sides of the fence on a given question.
Scott: Even though I might call you an idiot.
Thad: Oh, even though, yeah. You have a little more tact than JP. So you just think it, you wouldn't say it. So when it comes to tolerance in the 90s, that word began to shift its meaning where, and the way I explain it to my students is this, I'll say, look, how many of you by show of hands believe In-N-Out is the best burger joint in Southern California? And about half the hands go up. I say, it is impossible—there you go—it's impossible for me to tolerate your position because I agree with it. I agree with it. If you were to speak heresy and say Five Guys, right. Or the Habit or, God forbid, McDonald's or something, now I can be truly tolerant. Right. And something like that has occurred in our understanding of love where if the self is sovereign, then for you to question, disagree with, or do anything but accept and celebrate my behavior, my self-chosen identity, you're guilty of heresy. You're guilty of blasphemy. You're guilty of hate, bigotry, and phobia.
Scott: If I disagree with you, that means I hate you.
Thad: Exactly. And that's, this isn't just an idea out there in the culture. The recent Barna study found that amongst millennials, north of 75% think that you should not share the gospel with somebody of a different faith in hopes of converting them or changing their belief system.
Scott: What happens to the great commission and that goes out the window?
Thad: It goes completely out the window. We flush it down the toilet. The same study found that the overwhelming majority of boomers, gen X millennials, down to gen Z believe that if you disagree with someone disagreement means judgment. So, we have very much like chameleons taken on the colors of the culture here. And I got to say, you know, if my wife comes home and I said, honey, I'm going to mow the lawn and the lawn is unmowed and I'm snoring and drooling on the couch. I don't expect her to slow clap me and congratulate me. And I just want to celebrate your choice. If I hop onto our Amazon cart and I see, you know, $50 has been spent on some rare face ointment from some excavated petrified pomegranate that costs an outrageous amount of money. I'm not, you know, I really celebrate your choice here. So, wonder of wonders in the Williams home, we can disagree and still love each other. We can not celebrate every decision of the other or when our kids fly off the handle, we don't slow clap them. We disagree. And so that there's a biblical sense of love where you can disagree. And in that sense, love can be truly redemptive. Love can actually make us more who we were intended to be on self worship. I already am everything I should be because I'm the standard. So, redemptive love really becomes impossible on the self worshipers.
Scott: I mean, it is true that God loves us and accepts us the way we are. But he also loves us too much to let us stay that way.
Scott: And we recognize that we are works in progress.
Thad: Yeah. We're idiots. JP had it right from the start. Idiots in process.
Scott: Now, where do you find examples of this self worship in the church?
Thad: Yeah, I mean, just based on the fact that 84% of Americans say that the highest goal of life is to make yourself happy. That 84, there's going to be a big overlap in the venn diagrams of people who would be church-going Christians. I think one of the ways it's manifest is sort of the remnants of the 90s seeker sensitive movement. I remember John MacArthur saying back in the day that, you know, in light of John 4, we want to be seeker sensitive. God seeks those who worship him in spirit and truth. So to be seeker sensitive to the true capital S seeker, God, and worship him on his terms. But with the lowercase S seeker sensitivism that even though the movement is sort of waned, I still think the American church is very much under its sway. Where we ask questions when we go to church that are consumer questions: did I get fed?
Scott: The therapeutic gospel.
Thad: Yeah, the therapeutic gospel. Did the message push all the right buttons in me? Did I connect with the worship as the children's program up to my standards? So, we approach church very much with the consumer mentality. Is this gratifying my three best friends, me, myself, and I versus, hey, if this church maybe doesn't have the emphasis on missions that I'm looking for? Maybe that's precisely why I'm at this church. Maybe this church has a pretty lousy children's program. Maybe that's a precise reason that God is calling me to this congregation. So I think that's one of the ways we see it manifest in the church combined with, put it this way, how many sermons are: here's three ways God can help you do a better job at work. And obviously there's an important conversation to have there about vocation and working to the glory of God. But in terms of being awestruck at the size of God, just, so in the book in chapter one, I lay out 14 differences between the creator and the creation. And I just say, one of the reasons self-worship is so dull and boring is it robs us of awe. God is exponentially more awesome than we are in all of these ways. And I think in much of the church world, we've sort of flipped that around and how can God enhance my career? How can God enhance my self-image, enhance my game?
Scott: But we do, we recognize that some of the great ancient philosophers like Plato and Aristotle did put a high premium on happiness. Aristotle, eudaimonia. What's the difference between Aristotle's view of happiness and the view of self-worship in the culture today?
Thad: Yeah. So, for Aristotle, we're designed, there is a human essence and you achieve eudaimonia by tapping into your telos, your reason, your built-in design. So if you have a toaster oven and you're using it on a chilly day to warm your hands, that's not going to go very well for you. If you have a fan—let's go more extreme. Let's say you have a lawnmower and you prop that thing up on a hot day and get that blade twirling to cool down, your cat's going to lose a tail, you might lose a couple of toes. Your lawnmower is going to achieve eudaimonia, fulfillment, happiness, to the extent that it's doing its design to cut grass. Your toaster is going to achieve eudaimonia. It's going to be a happy toaster to the extent that it's toasting. Humans are teleological beings and the Westminster divines had it right. What is our telos? What is the chief end?
Scott: So Aristotle, I think, would be aghast at the way happiness has been redefined apart from that design. And so as I understand Aristotle, it's like a train running on the tracks, the train's actually free when it's on the tracks.
Thad: That's exactly right.
Scott: As opposed to being enslaved when it's off the tracks.
Thad: That's exactly right.
Scott: And so I think that's one thing I think we ought to just be clear about, that the ancient notion of happiness and the contemporary one are completely different and grounded really differently.
Thad: And one allows, again, for adventure and the other doesn't. And so in the book, I sort of rewrite a scene from “Lord of the Rings.” There's a moment where Frodo, the ring bearer, he has his telos. He has his purpose, his reason for being, which is ultimately to destroy the ring of power and liberate Middle Earth. But that's an exhausting journey. And so he has this moment bordering on despair where he turns to Sam and says, what are we holding onto? And Sam says that there's some good left in this world and it's worth fighting for. So there's a cause that transcends us and our feelings in the moment. Well, the self-worshiper's rewrite of that scene would be, Sam, what are we holding onto? And Sam says, well, there is no transcendent good. It's whatever you feel like. And in the grand sense, there's nothing any better or worse than our desire to destroy the ring and Sauron's desire to reclaim it or the Uruk-Hais’ vision to put man flesh back on the menu. It just, it all becomes different strokes for different folks, which makes life impossibly boring.
Scott: I suspect they would have kept the ring in that rewrite.
Thad: If they were following their hearts, they certainly would have.
Scott: All right. Now you call, just a couple last questions here, you call followers of Jesus to be cultural heretics. Give me a quick example of somebody who you think is a good cultural heretic.
Thad: Yeah, well, our mutual friend JP Morland, I think, does a pretty good job. One of the things, he's been mentoring me for over 20 years, and one of the things he's helped me do is take myself less seriously because he doesn't take himself that seriously. I think the Christians who are on the front lines combating things like human trafficking, you know—I mentioned in the book that the you do you mentality, that hashtag strips us of moral courage to stand up to evil because it just says, you know, different strokes for different folks and you know, they're following their hearts, I'm going to follow mine. And so you look throughout church history at the Harriet Tubman's, the Sojourner Truths, the Frederick Douglasess, the William Wilberforces.
Scott: No place for heroes.
Thad: Right. Not a single one of them held to this anything goes, you do you mentality. They all believed in a transcendent good. And I think there's many Christians in our day and age on the front lines of fighting modern day slavery, human trafficking. There's many Christians on the forefront of adoption and foster care. Many Christians who just—maybe it's not some I'm storming the carpet looms of India with the machine gun to liberate child slaves. Maybe it's the faithful husband and the faithful wife who are training their kids to follow God's heart and reading scripture to them before bed. Maybe it's the professor, the businessman who is doing his or her work to the glory of God rather than just living for sensory gratification in the moment. So it doesn't take much to be heroic in a biblical sense and to be counter-cultural, to be a heretic against the cult of self-worship.
Scott: Well, I think that's a good word. I think that it doesn't have to be something dramatic or something particularly visible or noteworthy. Most of our heroic stuff is lived out in the day to day, the dailiness of life.
Thad: Yeah. Coaching T-ball felt like taking the ring to Mordor.
Scott: Well, and you closed the book with a great part of the heretics manifesto.
Scott: And so I would encourage all of our audience to be sure and look at that heretics manifesto and to sign it. And to be a part of that.
Thad: Yeah. You can hop on to www.jointheheretics.com. The whole manifesto is available to read and sign there. It's very straightforward. It just says self-worship promises awe, an awesome life. It actually robs us of awe. It pretends that it's cutting edge. It's actually hopelessly outdated. It promises authenticity. It makes us arrogant. It promises love is love, but actually makes bigots of us. It promises the answers are within, the problems are within. And so I lay out in the manifesto, here's ways to be heretics in this cultural moment against the cult of self-worship. Here's how, again, in the wisdom of a nine-year-old to follow God's heart instead of our hearts.
Scott: Well, I want to commend to our audience your book, “Don't Follow Your Heart, Boldly Breaking the Ten Commandments of Self-Worship.” It struck me as we were talking about this and the examples you gave from your kids that this is really an important book for parents of middle school, teenagers, college students, have to help them fight against, like as you put it, the air we breathe and the water we swim in, because there's so much a part of the culture. I want to especially commend—I think the parents of kids that are your kids' age, I think would find this especially helpful. And you've done a really good job with this. It's so clear. It's obvious that you're well read on this and you bring, and it's obvious that you're well read about music as well. And so this has just been a rich conversation. I'm so grateful for the book and for you taking the time to spell these out a little bit further. It's been so enlightening and so helpful.
Thad: Thank you, Scott, and always a joy to be with you.
Scott: This has been an episode of the podcast, Think Biblically: Conversations on Faith and Culture. To submit comments, we want to invite you to do that, ask questions or make suggestions on issues you'd like us to cover or guests you'd like us to consider, you can email us now at thinkbiblically, all one word, thinkbiblicallyatbiola.edu. Enjoy today's conversation with our friend, Dr. Thad Williams, and if you like the idea of studying with him or if you're a parent having your son or daughter study with him at Biola, he teaches undergrads on a regular basis, virtually every semester, with really rich stuff that they're gleaning from. So we encourage you to think about that at biola.edu. So it's been a great conversation. Glad you could join us. We'll see you next time.