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An essay donated by Alton C. Thompson

Narcissism and the Bible

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An important phenomenon today is the growth of narcissism.

As one writer stated recently:

"One study found that 30 percent of young people were classified as narcissistic according to a widely used psychological test. That number has doubled in the last 30 years. Another study reported a 40-percent decline among young people in empathy, a personality attribute inversely related to narcissism, since the 1980s."

And:

"Another fascinating study that was just published explored the changes in music lyrics over the past three decades. The researchers found a significant shift toward lyrics that reflect narcissism ("I" and "me" appear more often "we" and "us") and hostility (change from positive to angry words and emotions). And these findings aren't just due to the increased popularity and influence of hip-hop music (which is known for its aggrandizement of the artists and its venom), but rather are evident across musical genres."

You don't need to go far to collect your own data on narcissism. Do these names ring a bell: Charlie Sheen, Terrell Owens and Kanye West? [Today, I would add Donald Trump’s name to the list!] 1

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What is narcissism?

Here are some comments by one writer:

Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a form of pathological narcissism, first diagnosed by the psychoanalyst Heinz Kohut, in 1968. A rigid pattern of behavior that drives a lifelong quest for self-gratification, NPD is characterized by a grandiose sense of self-importance, an insatiable need for attention and a chronic lack of empathy. [Link added.]

Today, experts believe disproportionate numbers of pathological narcissists are at work in the most influential reaches of society. As Sam Vaknin, author of Malignant Self-Love, a best selling study of narcissism, says:

"Narcissists gravitate towards professions where they can control people and elicit adulation. They are more likely to work in politics, finance or medicine than in shoemaking." [Link added.]

[Narcissism] is not easily discernible to the untrained eye, partly because a degree of self-love is essentially healthy: it protects us from self-harm; it enables us to form support networks, to find a mate and procreate. NPD, however, is not simply a healthy self-regard gone astray.

A more comprehensive list of possible traits of a narcissist is this one:

1. A grandiose sense of self-importance.

2. A preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.

3. A belief that he or she is “special” and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions).

4. A requirement for excessive admiration.

5. A sense of entitlement – unreasonable expectations of especially favourable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations.

6. Interpersonal exploitativeness–taking advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends.

7. A lack of empathy and an unwillingness to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others.

8. Enviousness of others–along with the belief that others are envious of him or her.

9. A tendency to arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes.

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Why does one become a narcissist (i.e., have at least five of the above traits)?

Following is one answer:

Narcissistic traits are quite common in adolescence but this does not necessarily mean that the child will go on to become a narcissist. Research has found the diagnosis of narcissism to be significantly more common among men. Faulty or inadequate parenting, for example a lack of limit setting, is believed to be a major cause, and both permissive and authoritarian styles of parenting have been found to promote narcissistic symptoms. The following parenting behaviors may result in a child becoming a narcissist in adulthood:

  • Permissive parents who give excessive praise to the child, thus fostering an unrealistic view of themselves.

  • Overindulgence and spoiling by parents.

  • Failing to impose adequate discipline.

  • Idealization of the child.

The same author adds:

"Many people, including many psychologists, believe that narcissism is a product of our times and our system of values. In the western world in particular, we are constantly bombarded by images of the ideal through the media, this may contribute to the rapid growth of narcissism in society.

Certainly NPD is thriving in western societies. Increased materialism, the decline of community life and a fascination with image afford perfect conditions for its growth. Similarly, our culture increasingly celebrates attention-seeking behaviours."

Related to this, one author has added:

"One obvious place where young people are learning about narcissism is from popular culture. A study by the celebrity psychiatrist Dr. Drew Pinsky, in which 200 “celebrities” 2 completed the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, found that they were significantly more narcissistic than the general population. Interestingly, the celebrities who actually had a talent, such as musicians, tended to be less narcissistic. Guess who were the most self-absorbed celebrities? Female reality TV stars! Not surprising that those celebrities who were famous for being famous were the most narcissistic; their narcissism drove them to become celebrities." [Link added.]

And:

Other research suggests that social media web sites, such as Facebook, are receptacles of narcissism because it gives young people outlets for sharing the trivial and gaining attention. Additionally, simply the time spent immersed in technology has likely done its part to promote narcissism.

Thus, it appears that one’s upbringing plays a role, with societal developments playing an increasing role.

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Does the Bible support narcissistic behavior?

I have chosen to use verses 4 – 7 of I Corinthians 13 (written by Paul of Tarsus) as my “baseline” for commenting on narcissism:

4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres."

This brief passage lists 15 traits that Paul regarded as desirable (or undesirable), with my comments relative to each following below. I have created four categories from this passage by Paul:

  1. Love is:

    a. Patient—A narcissist is unlikely to be relaxed enough

    b. Kind—If a narcissist engages in kind behavior, it is likely to not be out of a feeling of empathy for the person on whom kindness is bestowed but, rather, with the purpose of causing others to admire him or her, and make this admiration known to him/her.

  2. Love:

    c. Rejoices with the Truth—A narcissist tends to have no commitment to truth; the “facts” that s/he uses for self-promotion purposes are as likely to be falsifications as genuine truths.

    d. Protects—What the narcissist seeks to protect is his or her own ego!

    e. Trusts—The narcissist tends to be distrustful of others, seeing others as competitors rather than live human beings.

    f. Hopes—The narcissist mainly hopes for his or her advancement, but not only hopes for it but actively works to achieve it.

    g. Perseveres—The narcissist perseveres in trying to reach the top of the ladder (or totem pole, if you wish). Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin is an example! Fortunately, Mary Bottari “has his number”!

  3. Love is not:

    h. Envious—Envy is perhaps the key motivating factor for a narcissist!

    i. Boastful—The narcissist tends to be boastful—as a result of feeling (at least unconsciously) inferior!

    j. Prideful—Insofar as the narcissist feels pride, this stems from a sense of inferiority!

    k. Self-seeking—If the narcissist is anything, it is being self-seeking! The problem with this behavior, however, is that the narcissist is so little “in touch” with himself/herself, that s/he doesn’t really know what would be best for him or her!

    l. Easily angered—The narcissist may not express anger, but his/her negative emotions are always “just below the surface.”

  4. Love does not:

    m. Dishonor others—In advancing himself or herself, he narcissist may very well “tear others down” as a means of “building himself/herself up.”

    n. Keep a record of wrongs done to one—The narcissist is likely to be sensitive to perceived wrongs directed his/her way, and may remember them—with the intention of “getting back” at the offending party at a later date.

    o. Delight in evil—In striving to climb “to the top of the heap,” the narcissist may very well “step on the toes of others,” at times actually destroying the reputations of others, for example.

From the above discussion, it should be clear that narcissism is in no way supported by the Bible! What makes this fact so ironic is that many in our society claim that the United States is, and has always been, a “Christian” nation.

Our past genocide committed against Native Americans, involvement with slavery, meddling in the affairs of other societies (chronicled well by William Blum), and our increasing movement in the direction of narcissism, however, make a lie of that (ridiculous) claim!

Of course, if one thinks of Christianity in orthodoxy terms (which I certainly don’t!), one may very well reach different conclusions regarding the question of whether narcissism is, or is not, consistent with the Bible!

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Notes:

  1. This essay was posted at a time when Donald Trump had joined with another dozen or so Republican candidates to run for the presidency in the 2016 elections. Perhaps the most crushing criticism that he received was from the Huffington Post who announced that they were not going to cover his candidacy in their political section with the other candidates. He would be featured in their entertainment section.
  2. I put the word "celebrities" in quotes because the bar for being considered a celebrity is set very low these days.

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How you may have arrived here:

 Home page > Christianity > Bible > Christian scriptures > here

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Original posting: 2015-JUL-25
Latest update : 2015-JUL-25
Author:
Alton C. Thompson
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