We have a Zombie walk in our city. I don’t have a great ‘taste’ for zombie-culture but do find it fascinating that there has been a great surge of love for all things zombie in our popular culture. One of the funny oddities that I read this past week is how this question got asked to John Piper (beloved old school pastor and theologian) recently, “What would you do in a Zombie Apocalypse?”
I’m not really afraid that there will ever be a Zombie Apocalypse (“Oh you just wait.” Yeah, I hear ya.) I am more concerned with what I think we, in North America, are witnessing right now- a terrifying rise in, Narcissism. I think this might make a more useful guide for the culture we live in “How to Survive a Narcissist Apocalypse!”
What would a narcissist walk look like in our city? I picture loads of people bumping into sign posts, bouncing off of each other, and smashing into oncoming traffic because it’s hard to take selfies, or tweet your status of discontent- over first world problems- and walk. Maybe it would look like the Zombie walk after all.
I’ve been hearing/reading more from legit sociological studies of the spike over the last century, especially in the last 15 years of a growing narscissim in our culture. A cursory look around (facebook, reality T.V., celebrity worship, Insta-gram, twitter) pretty much confirms it. We are headed for a Narcissist Apocalypse! It seems our culture has moved from a ‘can’t express love publicly’ (50’s) to a ‘love me please’ (60’s-70’s) , to an ‘I love me ‘(80’s-90’s) , and has settle into a ‘you must love me’ (new millennial) culture.
Some resources regarding this: The Narcissism Epidemic; Generation Me- author interview on White Horse Inn might prove helpful if your interested.
Want to know if you ARE YOU A NARCISSIST? Probably if you just clicked on this link…. you are.
What are some of the qualities of a narcissistic culture? (Again this is both from reading and observing)
1. General misunderstanding of Suffering
Suffering in the North American mindset is a terrible plight seen as a disease to be avoided at all cost or ignored if somehow you have ‘caught’ it. This is true not simply in our pursuit of the North American dream but we have twisted it into a form of religion. The most popular religious expressions that we flock to are those that offer least suffering and a high return (like a pimped out car, adoring kids, smiling spouse and a great deal of personal well being). We are comfort consumers – including our spiritual lives. Speaking from a Christian perspective- this is the direct opposite of what we are promised here and now, if we follow Jesus. Resource comfort is not top on the list of either why or what we receive when we are brought to Christ. Why do we need a Saviour? Because we are broken, empty, poor, and needy. Cause we are sick. What should we expect when we look to Christ as our Saviour? A cross, being misunderstood, becoming enemies, some will feel separated, all will feel like they don’t belong and each should feel a loss of today’s measurement of wealth- its a losing of your life.
2. Everyone Always Wins
“It takes a village to raise a child”. Not sure when this happened but our culture has made it the top priority of the village to make sure no kids ever feel the sting of loss. Even though we know in reality that when we live to serve our own comforts most of all- there is great potential to have to sacrifice those around us, and cause them to feel great loss. In keeping with the misunderstanding of suffering we avoid having to navigate the potential of loss for as long as we can in our kids and in ourselves. (i.e. no winners or losers at the child sports games, everyone gets a ‘good job’ sticker, and everyone gets a present at the birthday party). We see the self worth as such a fragile item that we don’t stop to think that it might actually be better for the heart and life of our kids (and ourselves) if we learn to be good-losers, or celebrate the accomplishments or rewards of others while navigating our selfish envies.
3. Celebrate the Highest Degree of Self-Expressions
We have reached the pinnacle of Narcissism when we give celebrity status to those who appear to make the greatest sacrifices for self-expression. As a culture we have placed self-expression as the highest measure of truth. This I believe, more then almost anything is a tell-tale warning that we are about to reap the harvest of a Narcissist Apocalypse. Sociologically speaking, harvest is always felt first in the next generation. What will a harvest look like for a culture that celebrates self-expression as the highest measure of truth? Not simply here, now, but around the world. What does this do for a global mindset? In a world where 90% are wondering what they will need to do this week to get at least one meal for their families while the other 10% have both the time and the wealth to spend billions to finance and celebrate self expression, where does that leave us? What does this make us? Again I am not simply speaking to those who our culture have lifted to some sort of status just below demi-gods because of self- expression (think Bruce Jenner here) but I am thinking also of those who call themselves ‘christian’ [my ilk]. We build our buildings, grow our worship spaces, pump thousands into our culturally relative self-expressive versions of worship (which might be more honestly called self-marketing the church) while most of us won’t walk down the street to our newly discovered Muslim, Buddhist, Hindi, cross-dresser, or ___________ (fill in your particular racisim here) neighbour to ask them to come to supper- or to reach out to rebuild broken relationships between wealth and poor, black and white, etc. These latter things we seem less likely to have both time and wealth for.
4. Fear of Being Common
Along with these afore mentioned characteristics of a narcissistic culture, we are afraid to be considered common, ordinary. Like this in some way indicates we are not loved, or are inferior, or less useful, or broken. Again the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount get lost in this kind of thinking, especially among those who claim to be His followers. Paul, that apostle guy, speaks of the church that demonstrates the greatest reflection of the God who saves them as “not many of you were great, or known or successful “. It was in the very commonness of the first followers of Jesus that God’s great power was shown.
5. Inability to Interact in Authentic Community
I think some of the reaping of this harvest of narcissism is a kind of schizophrenic expression of authentic community. We are a generation that longs for and even sees the need of authentic community (to know and be known by others) but really only on our terms and if it serves us best. Community on those terms, without sacrificing time or self, is not authentic community at all. It may be a pod of semi-patient narcissists meeting so they can hurry up and tell you about how I am really feeling – but it seldom moves deeper to listen for correction, or be moved to confession or broken in repentance even as we look to reach out to help others.
Summary thought: The culture has got it wrong- Narcissism is not a means of healing. Rather, its self-inflicting wounds into an already wounded heart. The celebration of narcissism in our culture and churches holds for us a very precarious future. But we might still have time…. if we look away from self for salvation and to someone who knows more of our heart then we do.. … but then I’d be preaching…
Thanks for reading,