Drowning in self-help & the return of Christianity
Really thought-provoking. I'm not sure I agree with *everything* you wrote above, but as I've gotten older, I find myself turning less to self-help books, articles, etc., and more to just hanging out with friends and family. Even if we don't talk directly about what's bothering me, I find that the simple act of connection with another human being is healing in its own way. We can talk about the weather, sports, books, anything -- just the act of connecting seems to help more than anything else.
I read this right after reading the Free Press article written by Aayan Hirsi Ali about becoming Christian after years as a Muslim and then atheist. It was brilliantly timed. I loved this essay (both hers and yours). But I almost disagree about Christianity being on the rise (speaking as a Christian) and would rather call it- liturgical practices based in orthodoxy. At least that’s my observation. I think the newest comfort is not exactly a relationship with Jesus Christ as Lord but the desire for routine, structure, rules, and the quiet, wholesome aesthetic of being church goers. Catholicism-esque religion seems to be on the rise, I agree with that.
Wow, incredibly thought-provoking.
How you are able to think about such ideas and articulate them in the way you do is wildly admirable and captivating.
Great read ❤️🙏🏽
good stuff! Have you read Fear and Trembling by Soren Kierkegaard? Touches on faith and resignation, overlaps with what you're saying imo
Totally see this — we're entering the era of post-self help
In what ways is Christianity on the rise? I loved the piece, but I thought by all metrics, Christianity is on the decline
Wow, straight to the point! Love it!
I loce when after reading, I don't know what to comment. Good writing but I don't know the direction. (which is awesome)
Excellent piece 👏
In everything you write there is a sentence (at least) that makes me slap my desk. The mirror analogy is brilliant. Thank you.
Sherry, I loved this so much. You’re one of the most intellectual writers I follow on Substack and it’s not particularly close.
One part I got confused on was your note on Girard. While I agree with the conclusion (that the ideal self is continually beyond grasp) I was under the idea we don’t strive to be our best selves, rather choose exterior models who seem to possess a fullness of being that we lack (paradoxically in the act of selecting those models we strip ourselves of the fullness of being through desire).
But loved this line of thinking. You can’t pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, as they say.
Well-put. I've come to this realization through my own roundabout self-help journey. We are born broken into a broken world. Believing that we can save ourselves is akin to making ourselves God, which we are not. I worry that we are placing too much faith in this techno-optimist future by encoding self-deity like aspects into our tools, which is sure to disappoint. We will not save ourselves.
Psychoanalysis as a modern religion is an interesting concept. Do you think humans have a religious instinct? If so I see self help, psychoanalysis, etc. as all modern failures for us to have our death anxiety calmed by anything other than a religious awakening . I think religion has failed at this too. To me this is what the existentialists really got at: if we are hollow inside than digging deeper is about breaking through that shallow pit and making it mean something. I’d prefer that over accepting the hollowness and filling it with something else off the shelf.
Sherry! I love this essay almost too much. I have been thinking about this a lot recently and just love how you pieced this all together. So thoughtful, relatable, and just really encouraging for anyone recovering from their self-help journey (lol) and looking towards Him! 🙏
We tend to gravitate towards certain set of values when things are all over the place. We want order from the chaos we created ourselves. I dig the idea of "self can not help itself." There is no way a machine can repair itself-it should be done by someone else. And yes, there is always that "somebody" or "something" that can only do the job. And too, perhaps, the chaos we created can only be put into order with an intervention- outside of the self. And too, our gravitation to certain values is evidence enough that self indeed can not help itself.
Very nice piece that pulled together disparate philosophies and belief systems quite nicely! That an obsession with self-help is making us crazy reminds me of Rachel Aviv's observation that the cruel sleight of eating disorders is the deception that you are in control of your diet, when in fact, the diet is controlling you. That said, I don't understand how admitting your own fallibility and surrendering yourself to a higher power is the answer, as opposed to e.g. seeking meaning and acceptance in something like community.
The modern self-help zeitgeist is undeniably individualistic, and as many have pointed out, does little to reverse the external conditions in our lives that might feed a sense of misery and helplessness. What if the answer is not surrendering ourselves to christ, but in surrendering ourselves to something like collective struggle?
The very tech/private sector-adjacent Andrew Huberman recently started prescribing god in his list of science-backed recipes for self-improvement. To that end, how different is christ from all the other self-help pyramid schemes out there, that serve to distract us from the very real issues in our ambient environment?