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    SELF

    At age 20 we worry about what others think of us. At 40 we don't care what they think of us. At 60 we discover they haven't been thinking of us at all.

    Ann Landers, via Context, quoted in Signs of the Times, March, 1993, p. 6.


    Commentary

    In this Age of Self, the language is filled with phrases that glorify personal choice above all other values: self-determination, self-knowledge, self-esteem, self-help even do-it-yourself. In this climate, no doctrine is safe, no dictate accepted without scrutiny....The touchstone of belief today is the individual, not the institution. Priests., like precinct captains, have lost authority. The same voters who talk back to their political leaders on call-in shows and town meetings are talking back to their religious leaders at parish council meetings and Communion breakfasts. While 85 percent of American Catholics look up to the pope as a moral leader, 4 out of 5 say they follow their own conscience, rather than papal authority, on moral questions...The phrase "cafeteria Catholics" describes those who pick and choose among church teachings. But in religion, as in politics, the more appropriate analogy for modern mores is to fast food rather than to cafeterias; as the slogan for one hamburger chain puts it: "Have it your way."...How do leaders lead when followers don't want to be led?

    Steven V. Roberts, "Leading the Faithful in an Age of Dissent," U.S. News and World Report, August 23, 1993, p. 6.


    Statistics and Research

    Another poll sheds light on this paradox of increased religiosity and decreased morality. According to sociologist Robert Bellah, 81 percent of the American people also say they agree that "an individual should arrive at his or her own religious belief independent of any church or synagogue." Thus the key to the paradox is the fact that those who claim to be Christians are arriving at faith on their own terms -- terms that make no demands on behavior. A woman named Sheila, interviewed for Bellah's Habits of the Heart, embodies this attitude. "I believe in God," she said. "I can't remember the last time I went to church. But my faith has carried me a long way. It's 'Sheila-ism.' Just my own little voice."

    Charles Colson, Against the Night, p. 98.