Americans, and most Westerners, live in cultures governed by the god called “Cool.”
Cool doesn’t have a temple we can see or visit, but his images and shrines are everywhere. Cool is a god that we actually invite to take up residence in the unholy of unholies of our fallen nature’s heart-temple. Once there, it entwines itself with our narcissistic selves, becoming part of our desired identity, the self-image we worship.
The Contradictory Cult of Cool
Cool is an illusive god. It doesn’t have its own shape. It takes the form of someone else’s approval — someone whose approval we desire. This makes Cool a tyrannical god, because it demands that we craft and venerate an image (we are duped into thinking it’s a self-image) that is made up mainly of other people’s preferences. And in doing so we ignore and despise the real imago Dei we bear.
Cool poses as self-assured and independent, but in reality is a needy god, requiring the frequent affirmation and admiration of others. And Cool is a manipulative, deceptive god, because trying to be cool isn’t cool. No, we have to try to be cool to impress others while appearing to not try to be cool to impress others.
The ironic thing about serving the god of Cool is that the more we serve it, the less of our true selves is preserved in the image we fashion. Our self-image essentially becomes little more than a collage of other people’s opinions. In fact, the circular irony of the whole Cool cult is that the other people whose approval shapes our cool self-image, frankly, care little for our cool self-image at all because they are consumed largely with their own cool self-image, which is shaped by other people’s approval.
In other words, trying to be cool is striving after the wind (Ecclesiastes 4:4).
Joy Is Found Outward, Not Inward
If we really want to be happy, we need to renounce the god of Cool.
Pursuing a cool image — to look cool, sound cool, have cool preferences, own cool possessions, do cool things — requires a tremendous amount of self-consciousness, self-evaluation and introspection. Those things, needed in small amounts for the sake of holiness and love, are destructive to joy in the excessive amounts. The more self aware we are, the more miserable we are. The only joy the god of Cool has to offer us for all the effort and expense of our worship is the brief buzz of someone’s momentary approval. Cool joy is puny and short.
The true, big God is after our biggest, deepest, widest, longest-lasting joy. That’s why he commands us to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind… [and] love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37–39). He designed us not to find happiness in how others think of us, but in our loving others; not pursuing others’ admiration but in pursuing others’ good. That’s the joy that God has for us in commands like this:
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3–4)
These commands are not calls to altruism, but to hedonism. Misery is in selfish ambition and conceit — the necessary components of coolness. Joy is found looking outward, not inward. The glory that satisfies us is outside of ourselves, not inside of us. As John Piper says, the Grand Canyon isn’t there to build our self-esteem, but to remind us how small we are and where real awe is found. And the people around us are not barometers of our coolness, but bearers of imago Dei to be in awe of and love and serve.
So today, like the Hulk, smash the puny god of Cool and pursue the true joy and health of humbly forgetting yourself and looking outward to the God who made you, to those God has given you to count more significant than yourself, and to the world God has given you to live in and enjoy.