Religion & Liberty Online

The Search For Meaning and Fame

If there is one thing that humans all have in common it is the desire to make meaning out of life and to do so in a community that gives us a sense that we matter to others. We long for connection, love, and validation. We want to know that our life matters now and that we will be missed after this life. In the secularization of Western societies, wherein God has been expunged from the meaning of life, people are left to pursue confirmation of meaning and belonging through temporal, material means, because this life is all there is. This framework, combined with the hidden worldviews of individualism, moral relativism, consumerism, and narcissism, produces a society where people are consumed by a lust for fame and notoriety.

Scientific American highlights a new study by Dara Greenwood and colleagues explaining three main reasons why people seek fame:

The desire to be seen/valued (e.g., “Being on the cover of a magazine”, “Being recognized in public”). The desire for an elite, high status lifestyle (e.g., “Having the ability to travel in first class and stay at exclusive resorts”, “Living in a mansion or penthouse apartment”). The desire to use fame to help others or make them proud (e.g., “Being able to financially support family and friends”, “Being a role model to others”)

When we humans encounter the vastness of nature and become aware that we are but one person in a line of billions of people in history, we’re forced to wrestle with the question, “Why am I here?” This reflection is among the glorious ways in which humans are distinct from animals who live on the basis of instincts. Humans use their ability to reason in the search for meaning and belonging. We want to know that our lives matter.

According to the new research, it seems people simply want evidence they are valued. They want to know they are set apart and treated accordingly, and they want to be generous with others and validated. What is so fascinating about these fame desires in secular society is that all of these core needs driving the search for fame — that is, meaning and belonging — have been available within the Christian tradition for thousands of years.

To know that you are valued by the Creator of existence far outweighs any human valuation. To know that you are a member of the people of God as a holy, set apart nation, in union with Christ, trumps the fleeting and ever-shifting definition of status. To know that you are called to help others and to be a recipient of encouragement far outweighs the culturally inconsistent definition of acclaimed virtue. Lastly, to know that not only do these matter but that they matter for eternity far outmatches any vision of meaning currently competing in the marketplace of ideas.

In the end it seems, yet again, that Jesus perfectly sums up the quest for meaning and belonging in one simple command: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself'” (Matt 22:36-40). In other words, because your life matters to the Creator God you are free to offer the meaning and belonging you already have to others in ways that protect you and them from the tragic consequences of individualism, moral relativism, consumerism, and narcissism.

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Anthony Bradley

Anthony Bradley, Ph.D. is Professor of Religious Studies at The King's College in New York City and serves as a Research Fellow at the Acton Institute. Dr. Bradley lectures at colleges, universities, business organizations, conferences, and churches throughout the U.S. and abroad. His books include: Liberating Black Theology: The Bible and the Black Experience in America (2010),  Black and Tired: Essays on Race, Politics, Culture, and International Development (2011),  The Political Economy of Liberation: Thomas Sowell and James Cone of the Black Experience (2012), Keep Your Head Up: America's New Black Christian Leaders, Social Consciousness, and the Cosby Conversation (2012), Aliens in the Promised Land:  Why Minority Leadership Is Overlooked in White Christian Churches and Institutions (forthcoming, 2013). Dr. Bradley's writings on religious and cultural issues have been published in a variety of journals, including: the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Detroit News, and World Magazine. Dr. Bradley is called upon by members of the broadcast media for comment on current issues and has appeared C-SPAN, NPR, CNN/Headline News, and Fox News, among others. He studies and writes on issues of race in America, hip hop, youth culture, issues among African Americans, the American family, welfare, education, and modern slavery. From 2005-2009, Dr. Bradley was Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology and Ethics at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, MO where he also directed the Francis A. Schaeffer Institute.   Dr. Bradley holds Bachelor of Science in biological sciences from Clemson University, a Master of Divinity from Covenant Theological Seminary, and a Doctor of Philosophy degree from Westminster Theological Seminary.  Dr. Bradley also holds an M.A. in Ethics and Society at Fordham University.