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American Idol: Distorted Dreams and Grand Illusions

January 18, 2010
S. Michael Craven
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A poll by the Pew Research Center reveals that “eighty-one percent of 18- to 25-year-olds…said getting rich is their generation’s most important life goal.” The second most important, according to the survey: being famous.” Described as the “millennial” generation, 51 percent listed being famous as the second most important life goal!

A Gallup Panel survey of 18- to 29-year-olds found that 55 percent agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, “You dream about getting rich.”

Most telling are the results of an annual survey of college freshmen by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA, in which 2005 data show that “the percentage who say it is ‘essential’ or ‘very important’ to be ‘very well off financially’ grew from 41.9% in 1967 to 74.5% in 2005.” Ironically, “developing a meaningful philosophy of life” dropped in importance from 85.8% in 1967 to 45% in 2005.”

Anecdotally, one only has to watch the latest season of the hit series American Idol, which began last week, to realize that many in this generation are obsessed with fame and fortune to the point of radical self-delusion. I’m not criticizing the show; I actually like it. I delight in seeing those who actually do have talent realize their dreams. However, many of these wannabe stars—convinced of their ability—seem oblivious to the fact that they have absolutely no singing talent whatsoever. None! In fact, their outrageous assumptions to the contrary and subsequent humiliation (of which only we and the judges seem to be aware of) are made to be part of the show’s entertainment.

This should not be unexpected among a generation raised in the “self-esteem at all cost” era, in which everyone is encouraged, cajoled, and celebrated regardless of their performance. It seems as if the worst thing a person could be told today is that he has failed in any endeavor. The harm in all of this is a false sense of self coupled with a distorted view of reality. The self is elevated to the place of supremacy. In doing so, theologian Lesslie Newbigin points out that, “Who am I? becomes an absorbing question, one that would never occur to a person who takes for granted the existence of a real world by which one can orient oneself” (Newbigin, Proper Confidence: Faith, Doubt, and Certainty in Christian Discipleship, [ Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans,1995] 34).

Newbigin is making a profound point here. In the absence of any comprehensive and coherent view of reality (i.e., a worldview), there naturally follows a sense of isolation, which limits one’s view of the world to only its relation to the self. The autonomous self becomes the sole arbiter of truth; that is, “What’s true for me” becomes the only and final basis for determining truth, while the authentication of the self is reduced to one’s own experience, lifestyle, and feelings. Thus, there is no overarching authority outside oneself by which one can analyze, understand, and determine how one should interact with the real world. Our story becomes the story of the world.

In other words, “It’s all about me!”—and these self-delusional perspectives have become common. Such people basically construct their own reality, utilizing the superficial means of fashion and style, creating a “star-like” view of themselves.

Why should we care, you may ask? For one, such superficial value is far less than God intends. Human value does not derive from how we look or what we can do. Human beings are valuable because we bear the image of God. We are valuable because God has intentionally created each one of us, and value always derives from the creator, not the created thing. Secondly, we should care because we want to reach this generation with the gospel view of reality—a view in which I am not the central character in the story of the world. That story is bigger than me and centers on a loving Creator who desires to draw me back into His story of the world. It is this fact that gives me real value and purpose, not the superficial trappings of the world—God loves me!

Furthermore, a culture that encourages people to authenticate or give meaning to themselves can only offer the trivial means of experience, lifestyle, and feelings. Inevitably these cultures will gravitate to more extreme “experiences” such as illicit drugs and sexual profligacy. Additionally, these cultures inevitably reduce the aim of life to the acquisition of things, and separate passion from reason.

In such a culture, “life is for now” and there is little interest in the larger questions of life and its meaning. This is hedonism and a hedonistic culture presents a formidable set of false pretensions that keep people from knowing God. The preeminent interest becomes one’s own personal peace, pleasure, and prosperity. These values hold strong appeal to fallen man and the lusts of the flesh.

Historically speaking, at this point civilizations that have fallen into this state almost always secure their demise. There is diminished interest in those activities that serve the greater good—activities that are foundational to building and maintaining productive societies. Instead, what social energy remains is poured, more and more, into activities that satisfy selfish appetites: sex, materialism, amusement, self-medication though drugs and alcohol, and so on.

As Christ-followers living in the real world, we are to care about the conditions of society and be vigilant bearers of the Truth at every point. When we recognize those patterns that indicate a destructive course, the church should be first to sound the alarm in an effort to urge people toward a true understanding of reality—as understood from the point of Jesus and His kingdom come into the world. This is the all-encompassing gospel of the kingdom.

Finally, by challenging the myriad me-centered stories with the one Christ-centered story of the world, we may aid the lost in receiving the good news of Jesus. As for Christians, we, too, must be encouraged to recognize and abandon this narcissistic tendency. Contrary to what many may believe, the gospel cannot be understood as an addendum to an already well-lived life. Becoming a follower of Christ demands a whole new orientation in one’s life, away from the self and toward a completely new understanding of reality. This is the role of discipleship; its conspicuous absence in so many churches only accommodates our self-delusions. 

© 2010 S. Michael Craven

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Response from : Diane  

January 19, 2010 6:17 AM

Sound like the scenario in I Timothy 3 and 4.

Response from : Greg Williams  

January 19, 2010 9:07 AM


Once again an excellent article based in the Truth of God's Word and the reality of fleshly reaping of the Church and culture compromising that Word and His Holiness and Sovereignty.

One of the things that I've been led to teach regarding this is the the cheap salvation and fleshly service in most churches today derive directly from what you've described. Due to our lack of worship in Spirit and Truth and study and meditation on God's Word and prayer, we've redefined Lust as Love and created a false compassion that easily and readily appeals to the lusts of the flesh right in our own churches!

The end result is that we've turned the 2 greatest (and they are clearly prioritized by Christ and in Scripture for a reason) upside down and been able to "sell people a bill of goods" that 'looks and feels' really good in loving and placing people above God in the name of God. And yet, the reaping is very clear in what this has lead to and continues to lead us into right in most of our churches regarding love, relationships, sexuality, marriage, family, parenting, etc.

I pray for Christ's Church to get on their knees in humble repentance and seek His face and by His grace, He will restore the "land" (influence) of the Church which has been greatly compromised and is of very little effect as you've eloquently written about in other essays!

Thanks again and God bless in Christ!

In His service


Response from : Gary  

January 21, 2010 4:26 PM

Great article...however, while identifying the (problems) with our behavior, you never called them what they really are- sin.

Response from : Karyn  

January 22, 2010 5:37 PM

"Instead, what social energy remains is poured, more and more, into activities that satisfy selfish appetites: sex, materialism, amusement, self-medication though drugs and alcohol, and so on."

I agree, and would add that another way people are satisfying selfish appetites today is through the use of social media. Without realizing it, what can be a positive tool for communication and marketing can become a way to bring glory to ourselves - "our" accomplishments, "our" work, and even "our" ministries. (None of which are actually "ours"!) There is a difference between online ministry efforts such as yours, and narcissitic Internet activity under the guise of ministry. Front-line ministers who require personal "branding" are especially susceptible to the temptation to exalt self instead of God. Thanks for your consistent and constructive challenges to Christian leaders to pursue Christ-centeredness in all areas of our lives.

Response from : Marica Maas  

January 26, 2010 6:59 AM

This article presents yet another angle towards considering the bancrupt state of prosperity teachings currently still rampant on many Christian platforms.

However, the questions lingering in my mind have to do with how we as Christians are relating to paganism around us as projected through the media: Should we for example have anything at all to do with shows such as 'Idols'... Should the name itself not be an indication of how God views this... Is one of the Ten Commandments after all not exclusively related to idolatry... Is it not 'un-Christian' to be entertained by those making fools of themselves? This issue being no small matter, since Christians all over are so taken by 'Idols' that Christian contestants seem to have the greatest chance of winning, because of the determining Christian vote?

Yes, 'if the light in us had become darkened, how dark indeed it will become around us'...


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