An accidental blog

"If God is sovereign, then his lordship must extend over all of life, and it cannot be restricted to the walls of the church or within the Christian orbit." Abraham Kuyper Common Grace 1.1.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Idolatry: narcissism

When I was asked to speak on narcissism I thought you must be joking - can’t I just talk about myself?

Last week we kicked off this series with an introduction to idolatry and he looked at 1 Cor 10 to identify some characteristics of idols. What I’d like to do tonight is look at one idol in particular – the idol of self. Or if you want to be flash about it narcissism.

But first I want to underline some important points about idolatry.

Bob Dylan sang:

You gotta serve somebody
It may be the devil
or it may be the Lord
But you gotta serve somebody

He was right. We all serve somebody – the question is who or what is it?

We are all worshippers, that is the way we are created we all worship someone or something it is in our very nature to do so. The Bible is full of injunctions not to serve other gods, primarily because it is so easy to do so! Idolatry can be very subtle, particularly contemporary idolatry. Since the fall it is a human disposition to worship the created rather than the Creator.

Idolatry is misplaced allegiance. The Lord our God is a jealous God: he demands our complete and total allegiance. He will not tolerate being displaced by a rival, therefore he demands that we are to keep from idolatry. (Cf Ex 20: 5 (Deut 5:9).)

History is a story of idolatries. We are so fickle: we find the lure of other gods so tantalising. And yet God is a jealous God.


There are several important implications for today:

• Idolatry is not an old problem. It is not a byproduct of a primitive worldview. Contemporary idols are not things we put on our mantelpieces and bow down to; they are often concepts and ideas.
• Idolatry is very subtle: it creeps up on us without us noticing.
• We become idolaters by a process of osmosis, slowly absorbing ideas.

1. Idolatry is a consequence of being a worshipper: we all have to worship something.
There may not always be a cultic or ceremonial aspect to our worship, but it is worship nonetheless.

2. Idolatry is worship of the created rather than the creator.
It is elevating something in creation to a place it was not meant to have. Treating the good – no mater how good it is - as God.

3. Idolatry is misplaced commitment.
It is putting our trust in something other than the Lord. It may be something laudable and worthwhile, such as the family or church or even the Bible, and yet if it takes a place it was not meant to have it can become an idol.

4. Idolatry dehumanises and we image what we worship
Ps 115:8
Such is the nature of idolatry that it distorts us and shapes us into their image.

[Daily Mirror piece: Computers turned my boy into a robot] Paul Bedworth – the first person to be convicted under the Computer Misuse Act, charged with hacking.

Anyway, enough about idolatry, let’s get back to me … I mean narcissism.

If we want to know what our society idolises look at its adverts.

Here’s one:
Cheryl Cole advert: You’re worth it!

I’m worth it.
It’s all about us – it’s all about me: narcissism

We have become a society that is self –focused.

I mentioned Bob Dylan’s song – You’ve gotta serve somebody.  John Lennon, responded to that with a song of his own: “You got to serve yourself”

Have a guess: How many books are there on amazon with “self” in the title?

Over 1/3 of a million!

And Friday’s Telegraph had this story [see slides]

Narcissism was first used to describe this self-love by the psychologist Carl Jung. It is named after a Greek myth. (Most heresies can be traced back to the Greeks!)

Narcissus fell in love with his own reflection in a pool of water and destroyed himself in self-absorption and self-love. He withered away staring at his own image. He was so much in love with himself that he couldn’t do anything else. Idolatry is like that it dehumanises us.

Sociologists like to classify different generations; one way of classifying them is by letters.

The generation born between 1961-1981, the baby boomers, were known as Generation X

Post 1981 as Generation Y, but a better term for those born between 1981 and 1999 is the iGen or even Generation Me a generation shaped by shaped by technology.
We had friends reunited (remember that?) bebo and my space then along came facebook; we had blogs and now twitter.

Blogs – online web logs or journals told anyone and everyone what we were doing.

Facebook used to ask us ‘What are you doing?’ now it’s ‘What’s on our mind?’ – it’s all about us. Our thoughts and feelings can be transmitted around the globe with the click of a button. We matter or so it seems!

It was Jean Twenge who was one of the first to call it the Me generation – or generation Me.

She includes everyone between the ages of 9 and 39. The generation that takes it for granted that self comes first.

We have expressions like:
Be yourself
Believe in yourself
Love yourself
Express yourself
Stand up for yourself
If it feels good to you do it!

This cartoon sums it up well.

Typical characteristics:
Me first
It’s all about me
Unwillingness to take personal responsibility
Focus on celebrity and money
- usually me as a celebrity (blog, twitter, facebook, X-factor, Britain’s got Talent) and me as having money

Narcissism is a worldview. Every worldview is the product of faith commitments. Every worldview provides answers to key questions such as:

Where are we?
In a world that has no meaning or purpose other than what I choose to give it.

Who are we?
I am me!

What’s the problem?
Society, family, everything but me

What’s the solution?
Be me – be myself, do what feels good!

How can we respond to this idol of narcissism as Christians?

The narcissist responds to the question: who are we with: I am me – the Christian responds to the question what’s wrong with: I am.

As Paul Vitz puts it “For the Christian, the self is the problem not the potential paradise. Understanding this problem involves an awareness of sin”.

A few decades ago The Times asked several prominent authors to answer this question: “What’s Wrong with the World?” G K Chesterton responded:

Dear Sirs,

I am.

Sincerely yours,

G. K. Chesterton

The solution to living for self is to die to self.
What does it mean to die to self?
It is putting others before our self.

Dead to self - alive to Christ. That’s what it means to be a Christian: Jesus and not self is on the throne.
It is being a living sacrifice.

However, dying to self, it is not wearing a hair shirt or living on a pillar to escape the world. It is not a total denial of self.

Self is a creation and as such it is good.
Idolatry consists of the good becoming a god.
Taking a place it was not created to have. A partial truth becomes the whole truth.

This is the sort of thing that happens.
The creator and the creation are different and distinct. As C S Lewis puts it:
To say that God created Nature, while it brings God and Nature into relation also separates them. What makes and what is made must be two, not one.” (Reflections on the Psalms p. 80)

Self is a good aspect of creation – however, self starts to become more and more important, it starts to distort the whole of reality and eventually self becomes a counterfeit god, an idol. It becomes absolutised.

It is important that we have a good self-image and that we have self-esteem, but that is not the be all and end all. We need to know who we are in Christ – that is where our self-image comes from, not the type of shampoo we use or clothes we wear.

What are we in Christ:
  • We are joint heirs
  • Sons of God
  • Adopted as sons
  • More than conquerors
  • Set free
  • The power that raised Jesus from the dead is in us
  • In Christ we have abundant life – that comes with dying to self and living for Him.

Exposing idols

These few points are no solution to escaping idolatry, but they may help:

• Ask God to reveal any idolatrous areas in our lives.
• It needs to be a communal activity: we are blinkered by our own idolatry. It is often easier to see the splinter in our neighbour’s eye than the plank in our own (and very often the splinter is a reflection of our plank)!
• Read critiques of our culture by adherents of other worldviews.
• Watch out if an area of life tries to take over.
• Go to other cultures and return.
• Watch adverts critically.
• Say YES to the Jealous God who demands full allegiance.


Mark Roques said...

Lots of provocative stuff there Bish. I've never heard Cheryl Cole talk before so that was fascinating.


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