How a “You do You” Culture Has Made Us Vulnerable to the Coronavirus1
Michael Kruger / March 19, 2020
[Michael Kruger, President of Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina, and a fellow-member of the Executive Committee of the Evangelical Theological Society, recently wrote this insightful article at www.michaeljkruger.com.]
“You do you.”
Perhaps there’s no phrase that captures our current cultural moment better. Back in 2015, Colson Whitehead of the New York Times Magazine, lamented this phrase, arguing that it “perfectly captures our narcissistic culture.”
Indeed, it is hard to disagree. “You do you” embodies our culture’s commitment to personal fulfillment, self-actualization, and the dismissal of any truth claims outside of the self. It means we get to create our own realities, our own right and wrong, and, perhaps most importantly, our own meaning.
And if we are the creators of our own little worlds, then we are also our own little gods. And no one gets to tell a god what to do. We decide for ourselves.
Perhaps it’s not a surprise, then, that the selfie is now our world’s favorite art form. The thing to be celebrated, after all, is us.
So—and now we come to it—how does a “You do you” culture handle something like the coronavirus?
Prior generations, no doubt, would’ve turned to science as the great solution. Armed with ever more impressive technological advancements, we were told our potential for solving the world’s problems was essentially limitless.
In the case of the coronavirus, however, the god of science does not seem so omnipotent after all. Maybe there will be a vaccine at some point in the future, but for now we are on our own.
So, what then can be done, at least on a human level, to stop the virus? Well, here’s where we come to a rich—and perhaps tragic— irony in the current situation: we can only stop the virus by doing what is best for others not just for ourselves.
The virus will be curbed when people embody a spirit of self-sacrifice. A posture of self-denial. We must limit our travel, limit our social contact, even limit our “fun” so that the virus won’t spread.
And that requires a worldview that gives us a reason to deny ourselves. A reason to think of others. In other words, we need a worldview that is about more than us.
In short, “You do you” won’t work.
Indeed, one might argue that our cultural decline over the last fifty plus years has made us exceptionally vulnerable to something like the coronavirus. The problem isn’t that we’re unprepared scientifically. The problem is that we’re unprepared morally.
A quick reflection of how some people are behaving in this tragedy bears this out:
• Man flies from New York to Florida knowing he had symptoms of the coronavirus and while awaiting the results. He found out the test was positive after boarding. Later Jet Blue banned him from all future flights.
• Man who works for Dartmouth medical center had symptoms and was told to self-quarantine, but instead decided to go to party with Dartmouth students. Others were later infected.
• Man in Missouri was told to quarantine with symptoms, but instead opted to take his daughter to their school dance.
But perhaps most disturbingly is the recent behavior of some college students over Spring Break. Knowing that young people are least effected by the virus, some students are deciding to party on, defying the orders to say away from large crowds.
With a remarkable level of unawareness and disregard for the good of others, one spring-breaker said, “If I get corona, I get corona. At the end of the day, I’m not going to let it stop me from partying . . . whatever happens, happens.”
In other words, “I’m just going to do me, and you do you.”
Here’s the point: nothing tests the validity of a worldview like tragedy and suffering. And the coronavirus, as awful and terrible as it is, has done at least one good thing, namely it has exposed our culture’s commitment to relativism for what it really is. An utterly unworkable and unsustainable worldview.
Even our founding fathers understood that our country could only survive if it had a moral core centered on God. As John Adams famously observed, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
Now that we have a country that has largely abandoned “moral and religious” foundation of self-sacrifice and service to others, the inadequacy of our system is laid bare.
But there is always hope. Revival rarely comes in times of plenty. Instead, it often comes in times of want. It’s when all our earthly comforts and securities are taken away that we’re willing to turn again—with renewed vigor and commitment—to the good news of the gospel which is, at its heart, about a man who laid down his life for the good of others.
If the first Adam embodied the “You do you” culture, the second Adam embodies the “You serve others” culture. After all, it was Jesus who said, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:35).
The “you do you” worldview may at first appear to be life-giving, when in actuality it is life-taking. In contrast, the Christian worldview may at first appear to be life-taking, when in actuality it is life-giving.
Ironically, then, it’s in the midst of a tragedy like the coronavirus when Jesus’ words ring most true: “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt 16:25).