In Greek mythology Narcissus was a hunter from Thespiae who was renowned for his beauty. He was so handsome that many men and women fell in love with him. But he was proud and arrogant, disdaining and spurning those who loved him. Those he rejected were left heart broken and in despair. One rejected admirer Ameinias was so dejected by Narcissus’ rejection of him that he killed himself after imploring the gods to punish Narcissus. In response to Ameinias’ prayer the gods caused Narcissus to fall in love with his own reflection which he saw in a pool of water. Depending on the version of the story you read Narcissus either drowned trying to touch his own reflection or committed suicide out of sorrow and frustration.
Today we are suffering more and more from the same curse that was inflicted on Narcissus. Either we are living our lives in suffering and frustration that we can’t get what we most want or drowning as we attempt to.
Last week Professor Jean Twenge, author of The Narcissism Epidemic, presented material in Melbourne from a recent study that shows that 30% of university students in the United States are narcissitic in psychological tests. This is double the rate from 1982. Ordinarily narcissistic traits are more prominent in older people due to their longer lives but people in their twenties are now displaying narcissistic traits at three times greater rates than those over sixty-five.
Narcissism is the personality trait of egotism, vanity, conceit, or simple selfishness (and it’s named after our boy Narcissus). Applied to a social group, it is sometimes used to denote elitism or an indifference to the plight of others. It was originally coined by Sigmund Freud who thought that a certain amount of ‘self love’ was necessary and healthy.
Today however narcissistic behaviour is encouraged by our society like never before. One only needs to briefly view the coverage of the likes of the ‘St Kilda School Girl’ and Charlie Sheen to see that we as a culture not only encourage this behaviour but admire those who can manipulate our love for it for their own profit and gain.
One of the results of globalisation is that people’s fifteen minutes of fame is no longer limited to their local newspaper. Make a clip from your bedroom and put it on YouTube and you could be viewed in Poland, Peru or Pyong Yang (well maybe not Pyong Yang – government restricted access and all that). In fact Facebook, Youtube and Twitter not only give people a chance at fifteen minutes of fame but provide genuine oppurtunities for people to break into traditional media fame, the best example being Justin Bieber.
The lie that modern media implies is that all of can be rock stars, movie stars, famous writers (hello to the blogosphere), models, singers, whatever. But the truth is we are more than likely not. The odds are actally astronomically bad. Each year magazines like Time and Who Weekly or Ralph make lists like ‘The 100 Most Influential People’, ‘The 100 Most Beautiful People’ and ‘The Top 100 Sexiest Women Alive’ and so on. We do it inside Christianity as well with lists like the ‘100 Fastests Growing Churches’ or ‘100 Most Influential Pastors in the World Today’. As one of 6 billion people on the planet your chances of cracking any of these lists in any given year is approximately 0.000000017%. You literally have a better chance of being struck by lightning.
I’m not saying that we should not seek to excell or be the best or live to the fullest of our abilities. What I am saying is that if you are doing so for fame, glory, and adoration and to feed your own self-love then you are going to be disappointed. Even if you achieve ‘success’, does anyone really think that the St Kilda School girl is going to be happy ten years from now?
Twitter is a great way to share news and start social revolution. But it can feed our diluted sense of selves when we constantly measure how many people are following us. Facebook is a great way to connect with people all over the world. But it can be an idol to ourselves complete with iconoclastic images that we devote our time and energy to. YouTube gives us an incredible creative outlet and a way to share experiences but you can also stream yourself again, and again, and again constantly checking to see how many others are as well.
It has been incredibly common to tell kids over the past 30 years that they are special, unique, and capable of doing anything if they just put their mind to it. This has fostered in Generation Y a sense of entitlement that has left them self centred and disdainful of others just like Narcissus of old.
We are made in God’s image and we are fearfully and wonderfully made according to scripture but notice how both of these things point not to our own intrinsic value but rather to the glory of the Creator who made and fashioned us. We are warned by Paul that lovers of self and lovers of pleasure (along with others) wil rise up and have the appearance of godliness but lack its power (1 Tim 3:1-7). We need to be on our guard not to be deceived by them or become one of them by pursuing fame and glory rather than pursuing Jesus Christ.
I am not saying fame is evil, or receiving glory. God clearly brings both of these to pass in the lives of Chrsitians and he honors his sons name over all others. What I’m saying is that the pursuit of these things out of a sense of entitlement or self love is a sin we need to repent of. Examine yourselves so that by your life and doctrine you will preserve your life and that of your hearers.