The spirit of the Age- or the spirit of the World- can in many ways be summed up by the oft-repeated quote “To Thine Own Self Be True”, taken from Shakespeare’s Hamlet (Act 1, Scene 3). What exactly Shakespeare’s character Polonius actually meant by that is open for debate. According to the authors at enotes.com,
Polonius has in mind something much more Elizabethan than the New Age self-knowledge that the phrase now suggests. As Polonius sees it, borrowing money, loaning money, carousing with women of dubious character, and other intemperate pursuits are “false” to the self. By “false” Polonius seems to mean “disadvantageous” or “detrimental to your image”; by “true” he means “loyal to your own best interests.” Take care of yourself first, he counsels, and that way you’ll be in a position to take care of others.
This may or may not be what was in Shakespeare’s mind when he devised that phrase. Nonetheless, my concern is not really so much with what Shakespeare meant, but what the modern culture means when it constantly repeats this phrase, putting it on everything from T-Shirts…
… to tattoos.
What people mean by this today seems to boil down more or less to, “Do what you really want, not what others tell you,” and, “Believe what seems right to you, not what others tell you to believe,” and such things as this. There are many other pop-culture phrases which pretty much have the same thrust:
“Be true to yourself” (Same, just modernized language)
“Follow your heart”
“Believe in yourself”
Does the spirit of these phrases square with solid Biblical teaching? Absolutely not! The Bible tells us not to put faith and trust in ourselves, but rather in God.