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A slackers' charter
on 19 December 2012
Keller has delivered a nice short book and yet has still inserted much padding, while failing to define his core concept -- Freedom of Self Forgetfulness -- clearly. Ultimately, he appears to be trying to say: 'Once you have found God through Jesus Christ, you have submitted to God's ultimate judgement which will not change no matter how you behave. Having received God's ultimate judgement, others' judgement of you becomes meaningless and should be disregarded. Equally, your judgement of yourself is meaningless.'
This means, says Keller, that free from concerns over how you might be judged, you can relax and stop doing things for the sake of impressing others (or even yourself). In particular, (and Keller is quite specific here) you need no longer do anything primarily designed to improve your resume or curriculum vitae. Whatever you do do, should be done purely for the sake of the task itself.
Particularly laboured is Keller's example of Madonna (of which he is so proud he allows it to cross two chapters, when a couple of paragraphs would do). We learn that she told Vogue she is driven by a fear of being mediocre. Keller explains that no matter how she behaves, no matter what she achieves, she will never obtain the judgement she craves (be that others' judgement of her or her own judgement of herself). Consequently, she will never find satisfaction. Were Madonna to stop chasing judgement in this way and truly submit to God through Jesus, she would find herself to have received the ultimate judgement and would need never be judged again. That is to say she would find peace and no longer need to prove anything to herself or others.
This does sound like a slackers charter at best: Madonna may as well have given up sometime ago. At worse he says we can do nothing bad as we are in no place to judge an action as bad, neither is any other person and God has already delivered His ultimate, final and unchangeable judgement upon us: so we should feel free to give in to whatever may tempt us. Yet I suspect Keller doesn't mean this, although he does completely fail to address this very obvious criticism.
I stumbled across The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness while researching the Danish philosopher Kierkegaard, who is mentioned very briefly. Kierkegaard is an obvious reference point for Keller as he argued that alienation from god is a root cause of existential despair, that is to say that without a god we worry that our life has no meaning, purpose or value. But Keller chooses not to explain this, despite having ample opportunity. Kierkegaard was a committed Christian, but his philosophy remains equally interesting to atheists: for some a god appears to be a necessary psychological construct that anchors their world.
Ultimately, I suspect Keller has set out to explain how to anchor oneself in this way. Sadly he fails.