The Problem with Selfie-Righteousness

Oxford Dictionaries announced “Selfie” as the international “Word of the Year 2013” yesterday; noting its frequency in the English language has increased by 17,000% since last year.

According to Oxford Dictionaries, the word “selfie” first appeared in 2002, when it was used in an Australian online forum. It was popularized by social media during the years (it was used as a hashtag on Flickr in 2004), but it became widely adopted around 2012, when it started commonly being used in mainstream media.

To grab the prestigious title, selfie had to beat some serious competition, including “bitcoin,” “twerk,” and “showrooming”. (

So – is this significant? Does this information really matter at all?

Even as I’m typing this I am struck with the shameful irony of my constant browser refreshing to see if my post about writing this blog had been “liked” by anyone else.


Make no mistake – the obsession with “self” is a potent force and the train shows no signs of slowing.

In William Bennet’s “Book of Virtues” there are many examples of great attributes and characteristics, but the one virtue that is nowhere to be found is humility. Why is this? I think it’s because in our culture pride is the virtue, not humility. Self-righteousness is our king; self-regard, self-approval, and self-esteem our trinity.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs asserts that my highest aim in life is self-actualization, to ensure that I reach my fullest potential. And while I’m certainly a proponent of unearthing and identifying potential – I think St. Augustine was on to something when he said:

Pride is like a mother that is pregnant with all the other sins.”

Whether you are a person of faith or not, For most of us I’ll bet that it wouldn’t be difficult to trace some of our most problematic struggles to the issue of pride. Yet – it appears that pride and self-obsession continues to successfully seep through the cracks of whatever walls we’ve attempted to build around ourselves. The vanity revolution certainly seems to be winning.

But what do selfies have to do with any of this?

So your hair looks majestic today. You just finished a killer workout. You’re doing something inexplicably epic. You bought a new shirt that fits just right. These are all things worth celebrating – maybe even drawing attention to from time to time. My concern is that, for many of us, we’ve developed a predisposition that instinctually and obsessively looks inward well before it looks outward.

As my friend Tony said (in response to the idea of this blog):

 “The humble duck face is very hard to pull off.”

Many of us are perfectly satisfied by texting $10 to refugees in need, serving at the Christmas soup kitchen, or occasionally giving props to someone else on our Facebook wall. But by and large – it appears that culture is subtly and successfully cultivating a mindset of egocentricity and narcissism in every arena of our lives

Even now – my own self-awareness is tugging, pulling at my pride to convince me that this post reveals too much of my own struggle. Twisted, right?

But that’s reality of our depravity. My hair isn’t always (or ever) majestic. Sometimes I look pathetic after a workout. My day is usually is less than epic. I have a weirdly long torso and shirts usually look relatively strange. My world isn’t nearly as enthralling, and more importantly, flawless as I attempt to make it look to the world. We are all fractured vessels you and I.

In Philippians 2:1-11 there is this beautiful passage that gives instruction for the people of God to “look to” (literally “scope”) the interests of other – followed by a challenge to have the mind of Christ – the one who didn’t grasp and demand the way humanity does, but instead emptied himself to become a servant.

Reading passages like this always make me keenly aware of one humbling truth;

“A lot of us really like Jesus but few desire to actually become like Jesus”

Jesus is the King who got on his hands and knees and did the filthy, grueling, demeaning act of washing the feet of his partisans. – without Instagramming it once.

In a society full of thrown elbows, self-promotion, and “look at me!” – I’m humbled by the example of the homeless Rabbi that stepped down from grandeur, not to be served, but serve – which eventually led him to his execution.

Many people are willing to serve others as long as it doesn’t actually cost them anything.

The beauty of the Gospel is that it frees us to opt out of the rat race of trying to appear flawless, ever-astute, and void of shortcomings. In fact – it even frees me to celebrate the good things God is doing in the lives of others – because my identity ultimately is not rooted in the soil of self-accomplishment and preservation.

You are not your web presence. 

For me – the goal is not to become more humble or less prideful. It’s not to “be better at serving the other” or simply trying to cut down on self-promotion. The focus there is still “me” and is little more than “selfie religiosity.”

The goal is to grow in intimacy with the Christ every time – because the bi-product of that closeness is humility, grace, generosity, and love.

The next time you struggle to keep things in perspective, watch a sunset and ask yourself, “Did I make that?” Or the next time the wind blows through your trees ask, “Was that my idea?”

As far as I’m concerned, God is a windstorm and I am simply a kite. But even a tattered kite can fly pretty well in a windstorm. 

3 Responses to “The Problem with Selfie-Righteousness”
  1. “The humble duck face is very hard to pull off” and “You are not your web presence.”
    And this: “For me – the goal is not to become more humble or less prideful. It’s not to “be better at serving other” or simply trying to cut down on self-promotion. The focus is still me. That really is little more than “selfie religiosity.”” I think that’s the hard one right there. Thanks for this.

  2. Kirsten Kohlstedt says:

    This is fantastic. So thought provoking. “Jesus is the King who got on his hands and knees and did the filthy, grueling, demeaning act of washing the feet of his partisans. – without Instagramming it once.” So much truth and incredibly convicting. Thank you for this!

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