2 Inadequate Narratives: Sovereign Self and Oppressionism

2 Inadequate Narratives: Sovereign Self and Oppressionism

All of history is moving toward that moment when the Son presents to the Father a people who look to him and look like him. “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (Rev. 21:3).

Deeply embedded within our societal conflicts are differing narratives and understandings of the human person. A human is image of God (Gen. 1:26–27, 5:1; 9:6James 3:9), who degrades that image in sin by turning away from God and is called to restoration and renewal through Jesus Christ.

In those truths we have the narrative for our lives. We have identitymeaning, and morality.

Over time, other narratives of the human person have emerged that conflict with the image-bearing understanding of our humanity. In the story of the Sovereign Self, we escape from transcendent authority to make our own selves and our own meaning, which leaves us empty and can’t hold us together.

This is being replaced by the story of Oppressionism, a powerful individual and communal meaning-making narrative that redefines humanity and reality on authoritarian terms due to its rejection of God-given truth. What we need, both personally and communally, is restoration in the divine image to our God’s true, rightful, and liberating authority.

Story of the Sovereign Self

During the past few centuries, a counternarrative to the image-bearing narrative took hold: Christianity is unreasonable, anti-science, false, uptight, repressive, hypocritical, and a crutch for naive people.

Having discarded the original transcendent authority, modern people make their own meaning and morality. We define ourselves according to our own pleasure and will, as there’s no one we’re accountable to but ourselves. In the story of the Sovereign Self, rules are made to be broken and rule-makers mocked. We all grew up in that world. All of us. There are certain ways in which it’s hard for us to see how much it holds sway.

One of the ironies of the Sovereign Self is that its exalted view of the human person emerges from and depends on them being made in God’s image, which endowed humanity with inherent dignity and worth. A key shift in self-understanding was the conception of the human being as primarily possessing rights. Initially, those rights were recognized as coming from God, as in the American Declaration of Independence. Eventually, the rights-bearing individual replaced the image-bearing person, with the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights making no mention of God at all.

The United States Supreme Court’s 1992 opinion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which upheld the right to abortion, articulates the creed of the Sovereign Self: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”

This notion of writing your own story, forming your own identity, and making your own meaning and morality is very palpable and powerful among us. Yet it doesn’t really provide cohesion. Doing “whatever” can leave people without sufficient meaning and identity and doesn’t give us a shared morality. It’s too empty and insubstantial, both individually and societally.

Story of Oppressionism

Now, something new has emerged and taken hold.

One commentator, Wesley Yang, calls it the “successor ideology.” It’s not separate from what we all grew up with but is in many ways an extension of it. At the same time, it’s also different. It’s an understanding of the world based on oppression. This narrative claims our entire world is marred, if not created, by oppression.

Where’s oppression? Everywhere. It has tainted every aspect of our lives, including our language. The meaning of your life is to oppose oppression. Morality is how you’re doing at this task. If you’re not actively opposing, you’re failing. “Silence is violence.” “If you’re not actively ‘antiracist,’ you’re racist.”

This is incredibly powerful and compelling. It provides a narrative, meaning, identity, and morality—a reason for living. It seemingly unites people in a shared purpose. It replaces the “whatever” of the Sovereign Self with something meaningful to pursue and dedicate our lives to, both individually and corporately.

And it can resonate not only with our humanity but also specifically with Christianity, which recognizes the pervasiveness of sin and its corrupting effects. In many respects, the human story is marred by oppression, which is all around us.

This perspective does sometimes identify actual oppression. And God hates oppression. He’s the One who sets the captives free. But this oppression view is different. It opposes Christian understanding, redefining humanity, including creation, sin, and redemption, in meaningful ways.

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