Summary: The dangerous implications of taking “To thine own self be true” literally.
This is the final message in the series, “No, that’s NOT in the Bible.” Since I’ve started this series, I’ve encountered several other “sayings” often mistakenly quoted as coming from the Bible. Here are some other sayings that aren’t in the Bible: Charity begins at home; This too shall pass; Good things come to those who wait; All men are created equal (Declaration of Independence); Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust; Whosoever Will May Come (Hymn by Phillip Bliss). Not long ago someone asked me if the phrase “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child” is from the Bible. No, that’s from Shakespeare’s King Lear.
There are hundreds of sayings people think are in the Bible. Also in my study I came across some funny sayings you’ll never mistake as coming from the Bible: Time wounds all heels; He who laughs last thinks slowest; The shortest distance between two points is under construction; Love is grand; divorce is fifty grand; A day without sunshine is like, well, night.
If this series has taught us anything, it is that we must study the scriptures and whenever someone flippantly says, “The Bible says...” We need to ask them to find chapter and verse before we accept it as coming from the Bible!
Today we’re going to examine the saying, “To thine own self be true.” No, that’s NOT in the Bible. It comes from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, in which Polonius is giving some fatherly advice to his 18-year-old son, Laertes, before he departs for Paris. He has just told Laertes, “Neither a lender or borrower be.” (another phrase people think comes from the Bible) In the next lines he comes to the pinnacle of his fatherly wisdom as he says, “This above all; to thine own self be true. And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.”
I’ve saved this saying for last because I believe this phrase has become the motto of modern America. It combines two concepts that cannot be ignored: self and truth. Americans are involved in a continual love affair with self. Our mantra has become: Take care of #1. Know yourself, love yourself, and be true to your self. Self has become the basic standard for truth. Americans bow down at the altar of Sovereign Self. How far this is from the words of Jesus spoken in Mark 8:34 when He said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Today, we hear, love self; protect self; promote self–and Jesus said, “Deny your self.” He wasn’t talking about denying yourself some thing–like going without food, or pleasure. He meant to deny self’s desire to constantly climb onto the throne of your life. Let’s examine the dangerous implications of taking “To thine own self be true” literally.
I. TRENDS THAT THREATEN OUR CULTURE
In Washington Irving’s classic tale Rip Van Winkle, Rip is a hen-pecked husband who wanders off in the Catskill Mountains. There he finds some strange little people with a strange drink. He drinks some of their brew and settles down to take a nap. When he wakes up he thinks someone has played a trick on him because his beard is long and his rifle is rusty–and his trusted dog is nowhere to be found. He doesn’t realize he’s been asleep for 20 years and 2 days. When he went to sleep it was 1766, and America was a British colony and when he woke up it was a young nation. As he wanders back into town, he is surprised to find that King George’s face on the tavern sign has been replaced by one that says “General Washington.” It’s really a story about how some people sleep through major changes.
I am here to announce that while many of us have been asleep something has happened over the past two decades: America has moved from the “modern” age into the “post-modern” age. Americans have embraced a new set of values. Part of the reason you might have slept through it is because East Texas is a little oasis of biblical morality and solid family values. But while you were sleeping, our nation changed. Welcome to the postmodern world.
The core value of post-modern thought can be summarized with this statement: Tolerance is more important than truth! Like many words, “tolerance” has a definition and it has a different meaning. Words can have original definitions and different usages. For instance, the word “gay” originally meant “happy and carefree.” That’s the definition, but the current usage of the word is totally different, so I seldom say, “I feel so gay today!”
The word “tolerance” has undergone the same change. Tolerance used to mean, “respecting the beliefs and practices of others without agreeing with them.” The new use of the word tolerance means that I must not only allow but I must accept the beliefs and practices of those with whom I disagree. This new tolerance came to be in a postmodern world where objective truth no longer exists. There are only subjective opinions and if someone’s truth differs from your truth you must accept it as being as valid as your truth; if you don’t, you are intolerant.