narcissism and image

All Humans Are Narcissists

I want to suggest that all humans, like Narcissus, look at their reflection and make too much of it. This is obvious in some behaviour and more discreet in others.

In my own experience, my narcissism is easily spotted when I think, feel, talk and act as though my own thoughts, feelings, words, opinions (blog posts!?), needs and achievements are – even a little bit – more important than others. In a less obvious way, my narcissism can hide behind all the ways in which I down-play myself. Narcissism is being increasingly recognized as lying behind many – of course not all, or even most – forms of depression.

In sum, I’m suggesting here that when humans play themselves up or push themselves down, some form or degree of narcissism – passive or active – is probably at work.

The Middle Way of the Imago Dei

Narcissism constitutes a form of idolatry. The self is made into an idol in an obvious way when we put ourselves on a pedestal. However, arguably, the self is just as much an idol when the self is abased. When we tell ourselves grand stories of how ‘low’ we are, we can still be making a big deal out of ourselves; we can see ourselves as being just as great as our suffering.

Charting the “Middle Way” between the narcissistic extremes of idolatrous self-aggrandising and idolatrous self-abasing, the Judeo-Christian tradition has the provocative notion of the Imago Dei. As scholars of the book of Genesis have contended, the opening chapter of Scripture depicts the Creator God building a temple, three days of forming the tohu (formless) and three days of filling the vohu (empty/void); and rather than finishing it off with a idol, the Creator God made humans (male and female) in God’s image.

The up-shot of this is that when we look at another human being, or more to the point, when we look, like Narcissus did, at our reflection, we should not merely see and fall in love with ourselves as he did, but rather should also see – and also love – the Creator God.

science and the Imago Dei

So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. (Genesis 2:19)

I’ve long held that this part of the creation story is a lovely expression of what we call science.  Things like taxonomy and zoology explicitly name the creation.  This is basic to a Christian understanding of the Imago Dei, what it means to be humans created in the Image of God.  So you could imagine my childish glee to see that even a proper atheist like Michael Ruse can lament that this seems under-appreciated.

I’m not just a historian, I’m also a philosopher. So I don’t just want to find out what happened, I want to know what we should do. And I’ve been worrying about what is the right thing to do. I think it’s deplorable that we do have this division in American society today. I think it’s deplorable that science is not seen as, if you like, the true mark that we are made in the image of God – that our ability to ferret out the nature of the world shows that we are not just grubby little primates. (from here)

beings that have – or havers that are had

(The excellent documentary that got my brain going down this – excellent or not so excellent – train of thought is ‘Consumed: Inside the Belly of the Beast‘) ((And no, I’m not going to pretend I didn’t notice the parallel language to John the Seer in chapters 17-18 of his Apocalypse!))

Erich Fromm is known in large part for his contrast between the ‘being’ and ‘having’ modes of existence, as expressed in his 1976 book (partial preview here), To Have or To Be?  The basic idea is that humans, having estranged ourselves from our environment or the other(s), try to restore this relationship either by way of some kind of dominating possession (‘having’) of the other, or by way of relating to or existing (‘being’) with the other.

The speculative thought I wanted to explore via blogging (one of blogging’s best uses) is thus: Only ‘beings’ can actually ‘have’; and ‘havers’ are actually ‘had’ by the things they think they ‘have’.

The haver is defined by the act of possession of the other, and is thus enslaved to his desire to have this other.  The being, however, is defined by, not possession, but relationship to other (and self), and is thus free of needing to have the other.

It is worth pausing and considering the many things we can desire to possess – the many things which can thus begin to possess us.  Status.  Wealth.  Comfort.  Knowledge.  Satisfaction.  Power.  Relationships.  Affection.  I reckon all of these things are good things which are nonetheless distorted when we seek to found our being upon having them.  i.e. “I am one who has knowledge, friends, wealth, etc.”

I believe the ultimate Being is the Creator, whose ontological (Gk. ontos = being/existence) status is wholly distinct from, and transcendent of, our world.  The Creator did not need to have a creation ((which would make the Creator contingent upon the creation!!)), but rather simply is a creative Being, and thus a) relates to creation as being the Creator, and b) therefore truly has it.

Thus, we most reflect this ultimate Being when our being is grounded by relationship to the other, rather than established by possession of the other.

animal

In the Judaeo-Christian tradition, humans are more than animals, but not less.

I used to (like too many Christians) be ‘nervous’ about comparing humans to animals, or being told about (for example) chimps that can count, etc (whether they are actually ‘counting’ [comprehending a numbered sequence] or not [responding as trained to images on screen with no concept of a numbered sequence] is an interesting question). I now see this as odd, as if animal superiority in a particular area (speed, strength, size?) makes humans any less able (as Jews/Muslims/Christians hold) to be God’s unique image-bearing creatures. Continue reading “animal”