The insidious Religion of Self has subverted religions around the world. It comes with an innocent sounding question that sets people up for the abandonment of their convictions, moral training and future happiness.
The question is simply, “What do you want?”
What do you Want?
Surely there can be no harm in asking someone what they want! That’s the cleverness of the question. It comes as a simple interest or concern for the person’s happiness or wellbeing. But at its heart there is a much deeper issue.
The underlying assumption is that everyone wants something or other and that the achievement of that something will bring them happiness. The quest for the things we seek at our deepest level is defined by some as the reason for our existence and the greatest motivator.
The Pursuit of Happiness
Surely everyone is questing to be happy. We are to assume that everyone knows what will make them happy. So the game show hosts ask their contestants, “What will you do with the money if you win?” And those who gamble or buy lottery tickets are expressing by their actions that there are things they yet wish to possess which they will gamble to receive.
The things that are sought after are part of the individual’s pursuit of happiness. Materialism teaches that happiness is found in possessions and one of life’s great pleasures is buying the things you want. Thus shopping therapy is promoted as a means of making oneself happy (especially for the women).
Underscoring society’s commitment to people’s individual pursuit of happiness and what they want is the ubiquitous quality of ‘choice’. Gone are the days when you could have any colour you wanted as long as it was black (which was Henry Ford’s offer to Model T Ford buyers).
Today’s journey down Shopping Lane is a tantalising encounter with the wonders of choice. Which brings back a frustrating memory that is now stored in the amusing anecdotes folder in my brain.
On one of my earliest trips to the USA I recall walking through an American supermarket in the early hours of the morning, heavily jet-lagged. Someone had to make sure we had breakfast for the family the next morning and, being the man of the family, I drew the short straw. My attempts to find the thing we knew and loved back home in Australia were frustrated by the sheer abundance of needless variety. I did not need the plethora of bread varieties, just the one that was most like what we ate back home. And so on it went.
The battle with choice was overwhelming but my travel addled brain pushed through the ubiquitous choices until I finally came to the checkout. To my utter dismay the lady at the checkout hit me with one more choice, for which I was not ready. “Paper or Plastic?”
It took me many seconds to even comprehend the question let along make a selection. I was “choiced out”, so to speak.
What’s Wrong with What I Want?
Isn’t choice a blessing? Isn’t it a privilege we are allowed to give ourselves and our children, since we have been able to develop such technology and supply lines as to make it possible? What’s wrong with choice anyway?
The problem isn’t choice per se; it’s the underlying worldview that is developed by the focus on what I want. When a person lives for what they want they have made a moral choice about their existence.
You are either living your life as a free, self-gratifying entity or you are living your life with a higher moral quality.
Higher moral qualities may be a desire to serve God, since He created you. It may be to do all you can to benefit your children or others in need. It may be to achieve some purpose that requires self-denial rather than self-indulgence.
A parent of a sick child may desperately ‘want’ a good night’s sleep, but they will stay up all night fighting for their child’s life. The issue for that parent isn’t “What do you want?” but “What must I do to save my child?”
A person who believes God has called them to some mission on His behalf may end up giving up just about all the things they would otherwise ‘want’ if they were self-centred. A person who is devoted to social change may give up their holidays, money, spare time, energies and resources in order to pursue that social outcome.
In each of these examples the higher moral principle requires dedication and self-sacrifice, giving up consideration for “What do I want?” in order to face limitations, frustrations, sacrifice and so on, in achieving the higher purpose.
The Seductive Question
When my children are only ever asked, “What do you wan?” they are programmed to think about their self-indulgent aspirations. They are encouraged in their Religion of Self. If my children were only ever asked, “What does God want you to do?” they would be led to a different view of themselves and a different sense of priority for their lives.
The early and continued encouragement for people to seek out what they want prompts them to a religious position, devoted to the Religion of Self.
The early and continued encouragement of people to seek God’s will for their life leads them to a very different religious focus.
When a parent throws away the self- serving question about what the child wants, they can replace it with other questions which lead to a different perception.
“This is what I want you to eat”, signals that the parent has the authority and has made a wise choice for the child. “Even if you don’t like it I want you to eat it up, because it is good for you and I want you to learn to like it, or at least to eat it happily.”
“I am buying you the clothes you need instead of the toy you requested”, signals that the child must develop a mature attitude to their situation, not a position of demanding what they want.
“You cannot do the things you want to until you have finished the chores and study that has been set for you”, signals that the child has responsibilities which are precursors to privileges.
Listen to yourself. If you hear yourself frequently saying, “What do you want?” then stop and recognise what you are saying in the subtext. Stop promoting the Religion of Self.
Rehearse and apply various expressions which are chosen to prompt yourself and your children to think about responsibility, facing things people don’t like, growing in experience and personal scope and developing godly character.
I really think you should do this, even if you don’t WANT to.