This is part of an ongoing series entitled “The Last Days” where we are examining 2 Timothy 3:1-5. To read the other parts in this series please click on the FAITH section in the menu above.
But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people. 2 Timothy 3:1-5
The word boastful in this passage derives from the Greek word alazon. It means an empty pretender. Proud in the original Greek was hyperephanos, meaning to show one’s self above others, overtopping, conspicuous above others, preeminent, with an overestimate of one’s means or merits. Finally, the word abusive is literally the original Greek word for blasphemous in this passage, blasphemos. Blasphemos does not mean to speak against God, as the popular understanding is today. Although God is included, when one is blasphemos they are speaking evil, reproachfully, and slanderously, railing against other men or God.
These three characteristics are among the traits of the terrible times of the last days according to Paul. In this passage, he did not warn against wars, anti-Christs and one-world governments. He warned against specific character traits. Undoubtedly these traits have existed in all times and eras but as the Apostle Paul gazed ahead to the end of time, he saw something unique. These traits would dominate the human character and social interactions. These would be defining elements of the last days.
While we cannot know for certain if we are living in the times described by Paul in this passage from 2 Timothy, we can say that the attributes he describes here are certainly more rampant than ever before. Among the many things the United States contributed to global culture in the second half of the twentieth century is the rise of celebrity culture. The Protestant work ethic, capitalism, and democratic ideals were exported throughout the world by the United States but along with these also came rock and roll and a focus upon individualism unparalleled to anything we have ever experienced in human history. America invented the idea of cool.
In the 1950s this was personified by James Dean, Elvis Presley, and Marilyn Monroe and made possible by the rise of photography and television media. What prior generation could look 50 years into their past and recall the “cool” presence and persona of their cultural icons? This was new. It was something different. And it changed the way we defined individuals and heroes.
In the 1960s and 70s the rising wave of celebrity culture attached itself to sports and political figures. From Martin Luther King Jr. to Muhammad Ali to the Black Power salute at the 1968 Olympics, the image of the powerful individual was awakening in America.
The baby boom generation soaked in the individual pride that accompanied the rise of celebrity culture. Protest accompanied the interpretations of what was cool. Celebrity culture was no longer only about being attractive, it was about creating your own iconic mark against the flow of time and culture all around you. These images became not merely entertaining but icons we celebrated and aspired to. This is what it meant to be true, bold, and proud. Celebrity was not simply about being famous. It was about being an icon to the noble aspirations of our culture.
The 80s and 90s allowed the spread of celebrity culture to monetize.
From Nike to McDonald’s economies began to define themselves in terms of celebrity endorsements.
From Bruce Springsteen to Barbara Streisand, political causes did the same thing.
But the greatest shift of all came with the advent of the interconnected social tech age we live in today. Now everyone has access to a global audience. The power brokers for celebrity and stardom are no longer in Hollywood or New York. They are in the form of likes, clicks, and retweets on our social media posts.
The people with the influence and power, are those who are celebrated by the largest audiences.
True, the artists and athletes still have the easiest pathway to these audiences but it is no longer restricted to them. Now anyone has the potential to rise in the ranks of stardom and celebrity.
They simply needed to master the language of a culture fixated upon celebrity.
What is that language?
- It is protest. Raise your voice against something. You do not need to have a solution merely a critique. The louder and more boisterous the better. That is how we know you mean it!
- It is sensual. Catch the eye, startle the senses, draw the second glance. From filters to poses, modifications, and implants, we can all be equipped now for some level of celebrity.
- It is impulsive. Rage moves the audience quicker than reason. Passion elicits a greater response than purpose. Chaos is more hypnotizing than consideration. That is why there is more anger on social media than constructive debate. Shock and outrage are rewarded with clicks.
- Above all it is individualistic. The individual, his needs and desires, outweighs the community. We can give lip service to global needs and crises, but we give action and response to individual rights and preferences.
This is the age of celebrity. It is the age of the boaster, the empty pretender. He can mesmerize the audience but he cannot actually solve any of the growing problems and chaos of the world we inhabit. He is there to have his photo taken, have his speech heard.
It is the age of the proud, holding herself above others. She holds the generations that went before her with contempt and all those who disagree as absurdists.
It is the age of the abuser, the protester who speaks against his world. He shouts “how dare you!” regarding the issues upon which his platform is built but gives little regard to others.
In the last days, they will be boastful, proud and abusive. They are not here to make things better. They are here to be heard, be seen, be exalted and then fade away. These are the marks of a corrupted society. It is a society that is bending toward self-destruction.
The next time we allow a celebrity to inspire or outrage us, it would be wise to consider what value system is driving that impulse.