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God's bikie trashes New Age feelgoodism

  • 13 March 2015

Beyond the Myth of Self-Esteem: Finding Fulfilment by John Smith with Coral Chamberlain. Acorn Press.


A new book by counter-cultural warrior and Christian God Squad motorbike club founder Rev John Smith says that feeling good about yourself may not actually be that good for you in the long run.

It’s not that he wants you to be depressed, however. Smith’s point is that we can grow and make necessary changes to ourselves and our environment when our experience of discomfort prompts self-reflection.

The argument of the book comes with a reference to ‘one of the world’s most influential visionaries’ (AKA Jesus Christ), pushing Christ’s idea that ‘to find ourselves we must lose ourselves to a greater vision. He also said that discovering this truth is liberating.’  

The book also comes with a warning, somewhat dramatically, that it ‘will challenge almost all you have ever heard or read about self-esteem as expressed by contemporary pop culture’. So, suitably alerted, let’s dig in, shall we?

A semantic line of sorts is drawn between healthy self-respect (borne up by ‘identity, meaning…true fulfilment and deep joy’) and ‘the myth of self-esteem’ (built on social isolation, emotional arrested development, and an inordinate self-focus on ‘feeling good and looking good’).

The book considers a mixed bag of issues, including community, positive thinking, service to others, globalisation, philanthropy, an epidemic of depression, self-imagery, loss of purpose, pop psychology, ‘Me-focused sex’ and ‘Me-focused “altruism”’, etc. It comes home to roost by addressing spirituality and ‘the most seductive myth of all’ – the New Age self-esteem mythology that elevates ‘the self to god-like status’.

Citing Dostoevsky’s Karamazovian grand inquisitor – ‘The everlasting wish of the human race is to find someone to worship’ – the booksays the wish has now been fulfilled, as we humans worship ourselves through myopic Facebook observations, posts of selfies and the vain photobombing of others’ lives.

The book contends, with considerable ethical heft, that we ignore the pain or needs of others, the better to get off on our own gloriousness. It then notes that the path to fulfilment is surrender of self to the greater good, through connection with the Divine and service to our fellows. Thus does the individual grow, as part of the whole.

This is not a new message. It is still timely.

Subtitled Finding Fulfilment, this is a cogent but often bloodless work; worthy but at times clinical. I didn’t so much read this tome as gut