Book Review: Identity and the Worship of Self
The situation has gotten more serious in that many Christians have bought into the idea that Pride is an identity—that what are rightly behaviors are considered to be identities. This is an assumption that may flow naturally from a Pelagian understanding of humanity, but not an orthodox, biblical one. Turning to the deep riches of historic Protestant doctrine, Roberts shows that sinful desire is itself sinful.
Identity is everywhere. We can hardly read an article in the news or watch a show on TV without encountering it. Identity defines our relationship to the world around us, to the other members of our society, and even to our own bodies. “This rapid rise in identity-thinking has caused a somewhat tense interaction with the Christian church,” says Matthew Roberts. “From the secular perspective, it has reinforced the assumption that Christians are just an irrelevance swept aside by the inrush of these new insights, featuring (if at all) as just one identity-group, and one for whom not much sympathy is spared. From Christians, it has been greeted with a combination of alarm at the outlandish new doctrines identity politics presents (gender fluidity in particular) and an assumption that there is a lot of new thinking for us to do to make sure that people of different identities are equally offered the gospel and (to a varying extent) included in the church.”
So what are Christians to do? How are we to think about modern notions of identity? That is the subject of Roberts’ new book Pride: Identity and the Worship of Self. “The conviction that underlies this book,” he explains, “is that, rather than being a new challenge to the Christian faith, the identity issue is, in fact, a very old one. Men have always identified themselves by their idols, and so the issue of identity is fundamentally one of idolatry.”
Key to understanding the book is his use of the word “Pride.” He does not use that word to communicate the opposite of humility, but as an umbrella term for the various identities more typically conveyed in the ever-changing acronym that begins with L and ends in +.
In the book’s first part, he explains that human beings are defined by worship—by what or who we worship. Created by God in the image of God to worship God, we fell into a state of sinfulness in which we will worship anything or everything in place of God. Yet our most basic and essential identity is defined by who we were made to worship. “Being images, our true identity is found in the God whose image we are, and whom we are made to love with all our heart and soul and strength. And so those who worship false gods, giving them the love due to the true God, cannot help but define themselves by those gods instead.” Not only that, but “individuals and peoples come to reflect the character of the (fictional) gods they worship. And integral to this is that individuals and peoples come to identify themselves by the gods they worship.”
This causes endless problems since “for all fallen human beings, there is a basic identity-conflict in play. We are one thing; we believe ourselves to be something else. We have a true identity, though we deny it and seek to suppress it; and we have a false identity, centred around our idols, which we cling to fiercely even though it diminishes our humanity.”