Politics, Sex, Religion, and the Culture of Narcissism – Part 4: “I am a Narcissist and I Dwell Among a People of Narcissism” – Good News for Narcissists.

OUR SOCIETY IS NARCISSISTIC, THEN, IN A DOUBLE SENSE. People with narcissism booknarcissistic personalities … play a conspicuous part in contemporary life … these celebrities set the tone for public life and of private life as well … The beautiful people … live out the fantasy of narcissistic success …. Modern capitalist society not only elevates narcissists to prominence, it elicits and reinforces narcissistic traits in everyone.”

So historian and cultural analyst Christopher Lasch concluded thirty-six years ago in his influential book, The Culture of Narcissism. The intervening years have only more deeply ingrained the trends Lasch identified and analyzed, as I have tried to show in my earlier posts on narcissism in politics, sex, and religion.narcissism change graph

I CAN ALSO KNOW IT IN MY OWN NARCISSISTIC TENDENCIES. The psychological study that tracked the rise of narcissism over nearly three decades used a Narcissistic Personality Inventory, which you can take online here, and that is still being used to track the upward trend of narcissism. The scale runs from 0 to 40. I scored a 9, the median score on the skewed curve of compiled scores, near the top of the curve, which puts me right in the middle of the pack, narcissinarcissism curve medianstically speaking. But I’m really worse than that. A skewed curve indicates test bias—a completely accurate assessment would be indicated by the symmetry of the standard Bell Curve, with a median and mean of 20. We are all more narcissistic than we claim or believe ourselves to be. And as I took the test, it was not that hard to identify answers that would be interpreted as indicating narcissistic tendencies—or a lack of them. While I like to tell myself I can objectively assess myself, there seems to be enough anecdotal reporting in mnarcissism additional personal traitsy past that I’m no better at it than anyone else. Perhaps I selected answers more in my favor. I’m pretty proud of myself for being able to admit this . . .  and then annoyed at myself for being proud and feeling self-sufficient. And being so capable of self-examination gives me a sense of superiority. But then . . .

Paul in prison rembrandt2THE APOSTLE PAUL EXPRESSED HOW HE HIMSELF WAS WRAPPED UP in this kind of twisting and turning in self-blame and self-justification: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do, I do not do, but what I hate I do. . . . I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing” (Romans 7:15, 18-19). Paul doesn’t call out narcissism by name as the cause of his dilemma—though I think he could have; he identifies sin as the ultimate source of his frustration, and all of us are wrapped within sin and the death of self-absorption. “Who will rescue from this body of death?,” he exclaims, and then tells us the answer that found him: “Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25).

MARTIN LUTHER DESCRIBED SIN AS INCURVATUS IN SE—the self turned narcissism black hole2inward on itself, and for itself alone: “sin, so deeply curved in on itself … so wickedly, curvedly, and viciously seeks all things, even God, for its own sake” (Lectures on Romans). Narcissism, by any other name. The serpent told Adam and Eve they could be their own gods, making the rules by and for themselves, “like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5). We are all self-absorbed “gods” of our own universes; spiritual black holes trying to draw all things to ourselves, and from which nothing escapes, especially not light.

narcissism isaiahIN HIS VISION OF HEAVEN, THE PROPHET ISAIAH EXPRESSED HIS COMPLICITY AND ENTRAPMENT in the overwhelming density and inescapability of self-absorption, narcissism, and sin: “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty” (Isaiah 6:5). He saw God, and then he saw himself for what he truly was. Then there was hope.


About Michael W Nicholson

I am a follower of Jesus Christ, a husband, father, and grandfather, a brother and a friend. My professional career has been in education. I taught Industrial Arts in Middle School for six years, four years as an adjunct professor in theology and philosophy, and fifteen years teaching classes in Old Testament, Apologetics, and Worldviews in a Christian High School. Like everyone else who breathes in American culture, I am infected with chronic postmodernity, but I am aware of this and regularly administer the treatment: Historic Christian Orthodoxy as contained in the Scriptures of the Old & New Testaments. I am fascinated by almost every subject imaginable, except economics. I have a Ph.D. in systematic theology from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. I believe in a God who wants to be found; who leaves signs and suggestions, trademarks, signatures, and signposts scattered throughout every aspect of our existence. And if we are truly looking, He will find us. God is the great Story-teller, and the story he is telling is the great drama of Reality, unfolding before us and of which we are all inescapably a part. And so I am collecting fragments, in Philosophy, in Science, and in Art and holding these fragments up to the light and turning them this way and that, and trying to see and say how the Story—the metanarrative, the Christian Worldview—is involved in, and makes sense of, every aspect of our being-in-the-world (to borrow a term from Heidegger and take it where perhaps he did not intend for it to go). And by doing this I hope I am helping to light the way Home; back to the sea, the ocean, the Ocean of Infinite Love. My blog covers a wide range of topics around this central theme that the transcendent realm surrounds and permeates our existence. I put up new posts periodically. I hope you enjoy them. I hope they help.
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