NOMOSPHOBIA AND EGOPHILIA

But his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to reign over us.’ - Luke 19:14

If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” - Luke 9:23

A brief, very superficial search of the web allows me to assert that the first word in the title of this article has been newly-minted by me and therefore lacks a previous history. (If anyone finds an instance of previous use, please let me know!)  It is not to be confused with “nomophobia” (same word, lacking an “s”) which means the fear of being out of range for cell phone reception, a new but apparently common psychological malady.  Nomosphobia, on the other hand, means “fear of law”.  I will go into more detail on this term shortly, but I want to go to the second word in the title, “egophilia”.  Unlike the first word, this does have a lot of baggage, all of which I do not necessarily want to include with the meaning I intend for it in this context.  Its literal meaning, as many of you would have noted, is “self-love”.  The psychological literature uses it interchangeably with “narcissism”, a term that may mean either a normal developmental stage or a disorder, neither of which meanings I intend here.

What I do intend is that these terms represent two attitudes that currently hold cultural sway in American and probably in western society generally. As these are generally prevailing biases, it would be remarkable if they did not also infect us Christians who live, move and have our being in contemporary western society.  It would be remarkable because, sadly, the Church historically has had a very spotty record as the counter-cultural force for good Christ wants her to be.  While any one of us cannot overcome the failure of Christians generally we can at least take measures to overcome the problem in ourselves and perhaps be of some good in our private sphere of influence.  So what are these two cultural “memes” (to use atheist Richard Dawkins’ term for ideas that are competing for prevalence in human societies), nomosphobia and egophilia, and how should we evaluate them?

The unbelieving world is in rebellion against God, however much good God manages to squeeze into them and through them despite this. That rebellious attitude toward God is represented in Jesus’ Parable of the Ten Minas (Luke 19:12-27; similar to, but distinguishable from, the Parable of the Talents: Matthew 25:14-30). In that parable, Jesus represents Himself as the “nobleman” who journeys to a far country (meaning heaven) to be made king of his country (the world).  This reflects an actual historical circumstance that at least three recent kings of the Jews (Herod the Great, Archelaus and Herod Agrippa) had to go to Rome to receive their kingship from the Roman emperor.  In this case, the returning king is rejected by his citizens: “We do not want this man to reign over us!”  This not only represents the rejection of Jesus by the majority of the Jews and their leaders but the rejection of Jesus’ rule by the world generally.  Jesus warned His disciples that His kingdom would have to advance slowly and against strong opposition in the world before it would finally triumph. (Matthew 10:16-39; 13:31-33) What is sad is that it has so often had to face an almost equal opposition among Christ’s professed followers! 

We are rightly afraid of becoming “Pharisaical” by focusing on narrow, arbitrary and man-made rules but we should equally guard against throwing the baby of Christ’s rule out the window with the bathwater of legalism.  Paul twice uses the term, “the law of Christ” (1 Corinthians 9:21; Galatians 6:2).  The prophet Isaiah said that when the Messiah comes, the nations will come to Him to learn His law (2:2-4; 42:1-4). Jesus said that unless we build our lives on His teachings we will be swept away (Matthew 7:24-27). He also said that all authority in heaven and earth has been given to Him (28:18) and that we are to make disciples of all the nations, teaching them to observe all that He commanded (verses 19-20).  “If you love Me,” Jesus said, “you will keep My commandments…” (John 14:15, 23, 24) Our nomosphobia needs to be healed.  God’s will is good!  In fact, it is the only true and lasting good.

So likewise do we need healing of our egophilia.  As quoted above, Jesus tells us: “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” (Luke 9:23; see also Mark 8:35) This is quite the opposite of the world’s admonition to “take care of No. 1”! Western culture jettisoned the idea that we are created by God for the purpose of sharing His moral character and enjoying the fruits of living unselfishly.  Instead, we are told that we arrived here by shear chance through a blind process that favors the survival of the fittest in the competition for life.  Here again, atheist Richard Dawkins has coined a term for this:  “the selfish gene”. So here we are – thanks to selfishness!  Egophilia is actually becoming respectable among Christians today.  Some believers are extolling the thoughts and writings of the atheist philosopher, Ayn Rand, among whose books is the title, “The Virtue of Selfishness”! 

Other Christians are following pop psychology’s insistence on “taking care of yourself” and on doing what’s good for you.  Of course there is a time and place to take care of oneself as when a parent is told by the flight attendant to put on their own air mask first and then help the child put on theirs. If we destroy ourselves through overwork we will not be of any use to others.  That is the proper reason and context for taking care of ourselves. Jesus was, as Dietrich Bonheoffer said, “the man for others” and if we are His followers we too shall be people who live not for ourselves but for others.  The highest joy of the blessed comes from beholding the joy of God and others and from knowing that they have been instrumental, to some degree, in producing that joy.  So let us seek healing from God for whatever degree of nomosphobia and egophilia we still retain, for, as that wonderful Christmas carol says, “His law is love and His gospel is peace.”