The addictive pursuit of happiness and self-expression begins as an enjoyable journey, but it leaves a trail of tears. In the fall of 2022, news broke of an ongoing workplace affair between ABC co-anchors T. J. Holmes and Amy Robach. After several weeks of deciding how to handle the crisis, ABC fired both Holmes and Robach. Each had earlier divorced their respective spouses (Andrew Shue and Marilee Fiebig) in August of 2022, and some would argue Robach and Holmes were “free to date one another as two consenting adults.” Several sources within ABC News were quoted as saying how much of a distraction Holmes and Robach’s affair had become, and there are conflicting reports of when then affair began.
As reported on StyleCaster, ABC executives used the so called “morality clause” in their contracts to fire Holmes and Robach. One section of the clause states that the talent shall not take part in behavior “which tends to bring you or us into public disrepute, contempt, scandal or ridicule…. or which might reflect unfavorably upon us, or injure the success of the programs.” Pragmatically, ABC fired the two because the network did not want to lose viewers. Let’s be honest, ABC fired Robach and Holmes because it hurt their bottom line: ratings and profits.
A network such as ABC (owned by Disney) does not have any moral foundation to fire Holmes and Robach, they simply had a contract clause which referred to pragmatic reasons. But let’s take another step back- the overarching theme of almost every animated Disney movie since the 1960’s has been one of the following feeling-based mantras:
- “Forge your own path…”
- “Follow your heart…”
- “Be true to yourself…”
- “Break free from tradition and convention…”
- “Find happiness as an individual…”
- “Self-discovery will bring freedom…”
- “Trust your feelings Luke; feel the force flowing within you…” (Obi-Wan Kenobi in STAR WARS)
Many of Disney’s movies are inspirational on the emotional, existential level.
The sad irony is this: Robach and Holmes were simply living out the message which Disney, along with hundreds of modern entertainers, have been teaching American society for the last sixty years. The two of them ultimately made choices based on their individual happiness, and ABC had a mess on its hands. Some writers argue that the two will draw more attention as a “celebrity couple” with certain news outlets!
I do not know if Holmes or Robach claim any faith. In addition, I cannot expect non-Christians to follow the teaching of Jesus, namely monogamous, lifelong, covenant marriage between a man and a woman. But as Christians, we do need to recognize that this real-life story is an example of society embracing “expressive individualism” as its god.
Expressive Individualism is the philosophy that a person derives identity, happiness, and decision-making solely from within themselves, and not by seeking or agreeing to principles given by an authority outside of themselves, much less any transcendent, absolute authority. [my own definition]
When expressive individualism is the final rule, the only path considered wrong or harmful is not pursuing your own happiness. That is, it is now considered wrong to express yourself in a way that restricts or conflicts with your deepest feelings, desires, or personal freedoms. In the postmodern world, the only thing considered unjust, or termed ‘sinful’, is simply “not being true to yourself” and instead submitting to an authority outside of oneself.
For example, we see this pattern in the transgender epidemic. When a person is faced with feelings, thoughts, and desires that do not match one’s own physical body and sex, the preferred solution is to force one’s body to become another sex–or appear as another sex–in order to preserve a person’s goal of “being yourself.” This goal is pursued to achieve pleasure and well-being (or well-feeling), and to avoid the painful thought of “not being true to oneself.” These changes are quickly celebrated and called individual achievements, further reinforcing the pursuit of self-gratification. The expression of the self takes precedence over physical pain and irreversible damage to one’s body, in the so called ‘righteous’ pursuit of emotional happiness and individual autonomy! In fact, the more a person is told not to alter his or her body, the more entrenched he or she becomes in asserting the right to do whatever he or she wants. For that person, ‘justice’ is achieved by pursuing self-expression and silencing any naysayers.
The final consequence of expressive individualism is even worse: the continual pursuit of self instead enslaves people and brings despair. This despair is the trap the devil sets underneath the false promise of pleasure.
Let’s start by thinking of the families which Robach and Holmes left behind: two ex-spouses, children devastated by broken promises, years of shifting schedules and custody arrangements brought on by two divorces. The financial, emotional, and relational toll is devastating. Yet the public, since people are often unknowingly pursuing self-gratification, is easily hypnotized by salacious details of Holmes and Robach- “two people in love”- featured on Twitter posts or eight-second internet clips. These snippets reassure already self-centered people that pursuing individual happiness works…only until it doesn’t.
Expressive individualism will always enslave and bring despair, because the human heart is a “factory” for different idols. Individuals are filled with sin and are sinful to the core, until God has regenerated a person and he or she has a new heart (John 3:3, Ezekiel 36:26). Looking inward for hope is distinctly different from looking upward to God.
Finding true purpose, hope, and freedom as a human being is not through self-discovery and expression. True freedom is functioning as God created you to function. A Christian is a unique individual made in the image of God, who is redeemed by Christ, and who is being progressively transformed into the image of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18). As Christians, our bodies are not our own, we have been bought at a price; our bodies belong to God. Our bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit, therefore we are to honor God with our bodies (1 Corinthians 6:18-20). As we pursue holiness by God’s Spirit, it leads to greater joy and personal satisfaction, culminating in the worship of Christ face to face (1 John 3:2).
As we seek to share Christ, may we see people with the compassion of Christ, and may our hearts grow in love for people. May God open sinners’ eyes to the despair in which they are trapped, and may He open their eyes to the love, hope, peace, and joy that Christ brings.