Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Remembering Cassius Clay

When Bob Dylan sang “The Times They Are A-Changin” in 1964 I doubt anyone ever dreamed  how accurately those words would portray things to come.  The assassination of  President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963  preceded the beginning of a revolutionary era  that brought about many changes in Western culture—both good and bad.  Here’s some trivia highlights that took place in 1964.
The Vietnam War escalated. 
The Beatles made their first US appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. 
The Rolling Stones debut album topped the charts in the UK. 
The first Ford Mustang was unveiled. 
Jeopardy aired its first show on NBC.  
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway.   
President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Rights Act of 1964 into law, abolishing racial segregation in the United States.  
Nikita Khruschev was ousted as leader of the Soviet Union. 
Francis Schaeffer , worried that "the doors may not stay open forever", gave his first US lecture in Boston to 30 students at Harvard University sharing his concerns about theological liberalism. 1.
Cassius Clay defeated Sonny Liston and was crowned the heavyweight champion of the world.
I was 13 years old and while our nation was still reeling from the tragic events surrounding our President's assassination,  my adolescent interests refocused on  music,  my hairdo, and boys.    Still,  there was one  newsworthy event  that made a big impression on me.    It  was Cassius Clay’s (who became Muhammad Ali after converting to Islam)  stunning announcement which  he made after his championship  win.  

“I want everyone to bear witness, I am the greatest!  I'm the greatest thing that ever lived. ..I talk to God everyday.  I know the real God.  I shook up the world, I'm the king of the world. You must listen to me. I am the greatest! 2
 Now a statement like this might not seem like such a big deal to younger people,  but at the time such boasting was considered extremely uncouth by everyone.
When we were growing up winning athletes would humbly walk off the field, but now many of them  strut away pounding their chests and doing a victory dance.   Mr. Clay’s braggadocio once considered shocking, has  now  become acceptable to many people not only in sports, but even in the political arena.   To be fair to this man's memory,  Mohammad Ali later became known for his many philanthropic contributions to society.
Nevertheless, it  doesn’t take a Sociologist to trace the changes in how we view ourselves and the significant impact they have had on society today.  
 In 1969 Nathanial Branden wrote a book that became the foundation for the self-esteem movement called  “The Psychology of Self-Esteem: A Revolutionary Approach to Self-Understanding that Launched a New Era in Modern Psychology” .    The inside flap states:
     “In the more than thirty years since Nathaniel Branden first published The Psychology of Self-Esteem, psychologists, counselors, educators, and the general public worldwide have come to appreciate the extraordinary power of the ideas expressed in his classic work.   Since the book first appeared, the self-esteem movement has fundamentally transformed our culture.”3

  Dr. Brandon expressed his philosophy in these words:

The first love affair we must consummate successfully in this world is with ourselves; only then are we ready for a relationship.   Only then will we be fully able to love, and only then will we be able fully to let love in—to accept that another person loves us.” 5

The common acceptance of  overt self love and glorification  may be  relatively new  to modern society but it is not new to God and it has always been in direct opposition of what the Scriptures teach.  
“ if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” Gal. 6:3  
Let nothing be done through strife or vain glory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than themselves.” Phil. 2:3  

And when it comes to boasting about our accomplishments,
      "Let another praise you, and not your own mouth;  a stranger, and
       not your own lips." Proverbs 27:2

Moreover, self love, pride, and arrogance are described by Paul as chief characteristics of those living in the latter days.
“For people will be lovers of self,  lovers of money,  proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy”. 2 Timothy 3:2   
It's  no surprise that the attitudes of our culture have permeated the church in many ways,  even  affecting how some present the Gospel.  John Piper notes: 
[Pride] "horribly skews the meaning of the cross when contemporary prophets of self-esteem say that the cross is a witness to MY infinite worth... The biblical perspective is that the cross is a witness to the infinite worth of God's glory, and a witness to the immensity of the sin of my pride." 6

If Christ, the Creator of heaven and earth appeared as a meek and lowly servant on our behalf,  how much more should the Christian exhibit humility  in such a way that our only boast is in Him. 
“But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”  Galatians 6:14


1.  Francis Schaeffer and the Shaping of Evangelical America
   by Barry Hankins;  2008;  Erdmans Publishing; pg. 30, 75
2. Sound and Fury by David Kindred;  pg 58
3. The Psychology of Self-Esteem: A Revolutionary Approach to Self-Understanding that Launched a New Era in Modern Psychology,  Nathaniel Brandon; 2001
4.  Our Urgent Need for Self Esteem; Nathaniel Brandon
5.  The Supremacy of God in Preaching ; John Piper; pg 35


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