A Search For Self Identity

By James W. Adams

(It was April 1972. We had just emerged from the turbulent sixties and were wallowing in the backwash. The drug culture, sexual liberation of women, acceptance of homosexual relationships as an approved “lifestyle for consenting adults, “fascination with Eastern religions and the occult, and the abandonment of the so-called “organized church ” for newborn cults featuring experiential and emotionally motivated religious philosophies and practices were in their ascendency. I was then preaching for the Pruett and Lobit congregation in Baytown, Texas. The following article was written for and published in the church bulletin. Sixteen years have passed and many of the movements mentioned above have become well entrenched in American thought and life, not only among the young, but also among persons of all ages, classes, and races.

Their poison fruits are everywhere manifest to the point of national and international problems. I am, therefore, submitting this article for publication in the Guardian of Truth believing it to be relevant to the current scene and deserving of wider circulation. It has been necessary for me to do some editing in the reprint.)

The Problem Identified

“It is not new that all young people are searching and seeking for self identity,” Dr. Robert Lifton, Yale University specialist in psycho history, is quoted by the Associated Press as saying before a meeting of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. Dr. Lifton is reported to have said this while speaking concerning “problems of Jewish youths who shift rapidly from one religious form to another without permanent commitment to any one pattern” (Baytown Sun, Wednesday, March 29, 1972). The article from which this is quoted dealt with the identification of young people with the “Jesus People” movement. Dr. Lifton further said, “After being immersed in the drug culture, a young person may turn to the Jesus movement, absorbing what he wants, and then move on to Hassidic Judaism or some other religious form. . . . It is the speed of the change that is new.”

Churches of Christ Are Affected

I am not a philosopher, nor am I a specialist in psycho-history, hence special interest also are those young people who have been reared by parents who are Christians, hence I am not interested in imposing some theory to explain the instability, restlessness, mania for change, smoldering anger, rebellious anarchy, and moral permissiveness of multitudes of young people of our time. I am deeply interested in all young people, but more particularly concerned about young Christians. Of special interest also are those young people who have been reared by parents who are Christians, hence who have, throughout their lives, attended the services of New Testament churches.

A person would have to be blind, deaf, and irrational to be unaware of the frightening and saddening fact that many such young people are caught up in the psychological phenomenon popularly known as “The Now Generation.” I am not naive. Neither should other preachers, elders, and parents be naive about the present state of “tour” young people. We do have a problem. It is real and its extent unknown, but it is probably greater than we suppose, hence imminently threatening. Let us particularize. The following questions, however, are objective, not personal; that is, they do not and did not have specific reference to the young people of the church which I served as preacher at the time these things were written.

Do we have young people who are experimenting with drugs? Yes, we do! Do we have young people who are actively engaged in pre-marital sex? Yes, we do! Do we have young people who subject their minds to a steady diet of pornographic literature and films? Yes, we do! Do we have young people who engage in sex-stimulating dancing and heavy petting? Yes, we do! Do we have young people who are addicted to alcoholic beverages? Yes, we do! Do we have young people, who, without intelligent or justified cause, superciliously sneer at “organized religion, Church of Christ doctrine, and traditional practice”? Yes, we do! Do we have young people who are experimenting with the occult, glossalalia, and “sensitivity meetings” as a substitute for structured worship? Yes, we do! Need we say more about the reality of our problem?

Is This Really A Search For Self-Identity?

These things are styled, as does Dr. Lifton, “A search for self-identity.” Is this correct? May we “plain (?) and tacitly excuse this situation on this basis? May the Lord forgive us for such arrant hypocrisy! Young people, you profess to be a generation which approaches the problem of living with absolute and brutal “honesty.” If this is so, face up to all of this for what it is. Using your own terminology, the “search for self-identity” explanation and excuse is at best a miserable, hypocritical, cowardly, “cop-out!”

A person does not institute a search for “self-identity” in the stinking cesspools of fleshly iniquity, in the subjective experiences of humanly conceived and emotionally motivated religious philosophy, or in the ignorant superstitions of the occult. An individual plunges himself into this effluence of moral and spiritual filth for one reason; namely, the gratification and exaltation of self. In its moral aspects, it is to gratify fleshly passions. In its spiritual aspects it is to satisfy the ego. It is a miserable acquiescence to the hedonistic philosophy that man is no more than a glorified beast, howbeit a sort of “King of the Beasts” with the unlimited privilege of self-indulgence and fleshly gratification.

To picture such as a noble quest for “self-identity” (the “Holy Grail” of atheistic existentialism and humanism) is to indulge ourselves with palpable duplicity and selfdeception. Instead of a quest for self-identity, it is a gross repudiation of our essential nature as spiritual beings bearing the image of the Creator, clothed in mortal bodies that are subject to the rulership of the “inner man” (2 Cor. 4:16-18). Therefore, it is animalistic and materialistic to the core and a despicable insult to human dignity.

Furthermore, to resort to the superstitions of the occult and the vagaries of the charismatic sects to verify the existence of God and the reality of his concern for the individual person, by sense perception, in a “search for selfidentity,” is consummate folly. The repudiation of a rational faith on the basis of credible evidence for the illusions and fantasies of highly charged emotional experiences, selfinterpreted by those experiencing them as a penetration of the transcendent realm, is a capitulation to materialism and unbelief. While this approach may not be as morally debasing as the hedonistic or existential approach, it is a repudiation of reality and a discovery of one’s so-called “identity” in the realm of fantasy. Ultimately speaking, one is little better than the other.

We plead with persons young and old who have been exposed to the elevating influence of New Testament Christianity, do not be “taken in ” by this so-called “search for selfidentity. ” The book of Ecclesiastes is the record of the search of a person for the answer to the meaning of life. This might be called “a search for self-identity. ” He found it not in realms material but in the realm of the spiritual. He concluded: “Fear God and keep his commandments for this is the whole of man” (Eccl. 12:13,14). The Prodigal Son of our Lord’s parable sought “self-identity” in the unrestricted gratification of his fleshly appetites, and “came to himself” in the penury, hunger, and shame of the Gentile’s hogpen. In his depraved extremity, he finally learned by demonstration that true self-identity could be found only in amenability to the benevolent and fulfilling restrictions of his father’s house (Lk. 15:11-24). Infinite wisdom and immeasureable Divine love have provided the perfect realm for the discovery and development of “self.” It is the realm of grace appropriated by an obedient faith based upon and emanating from the revealed will and word of God. Why seek elsewhere?

Guardian of Truth XXXII: 19, pp. 577, 599
October 6, 1988