The 21st Century Narcissus

Isaiah 51

Listen to Me, you who follow after righteousness,
You who seek the Lord:
Look to the rock from which you were hewn,
And to the hole of the pit from which you were dug.

Pleasantly upon a hill top, the wood sat crowning the valley below. The ewes sat displaced among their kin with their new born. The very early morning broke with the conversation between mothers and lambs. Breakfast was a rowdy cacophony of bird song and bleating sheep. The early evenings ended somewhat similarly and the night hours brought a new symphony between the tempo of the crow – ‘caw,caw’ and the ‘hoo, hoo’ of the owls. Getting used to the sounds of the night in the middle of a wood, keeps one light in sleep. 

That was some of my experience in my camp out this last weekend. 

I was reminded of psalm 24. To pastures green I had been led, and the natural sounds of nature blotted out the town sounds and the busyness of the life’s daily echoes in my mind. It is astounding how loud silence can be.

On my travel to this princely spot, I listened to a programme on the radio. Part of the discussion included the topic of the relationship between the mythological gods and mortal man. It would seem that they, the gods, would often have different relationships with man. To this, I am reminded of the scene in the film ’Jason and the Argonaughts’, where the gods look down from the heavens upon Jason’s life and debate the outcome of his and the crew of the Argo’s trial. Some of the gods are watchful and intervening over him; the others conspire in creating scenarios to torment his adventures. A giant chess board plays out as the gods move their pawns – the mortal pieces on our earthly coil.

Among the stories of myth and legend, there is one that tells of the relationship between an ethereal being and a beautiful youth called Narcissus.

The World History Encyclopaedia gives tells us:

Narcissus was born in Thespiae in Boeotia, the son of Cephissus (the personification of the Boeotian river of the same name) and the nymph Liriope. His mother was warned one day by the seer Teiresias that her son would live a long life as long as ‘he never knows himself.’ As he reached his teenage years, the handsome youth never found anyone that could pull his heartstrings, indeed, he left in his wake a long trail of distressed and broken-hearted maidens, and one or two young men fell by the wayside too.

Then, one day, he chanced to see his own reflection in a pool of water and thus discovered the ultimate in unrequited love and fell in love with himself. Naturally, this one-way relationship went nowhere, and Narcissus, unable to draw himself away from the pool, pined away in despair until he finally died of thirst and starvation. Immortality, at least of a kind, was assured, though, when his corpse (or in some versions the blood from his self-inflicted stab wound) turned into the flowers which, thereafter, bore his name.

The narcissistic nature was first used in psychiatric analysis 1898 by the English psychologist and physician, Havelock Ellis, who highlighted the perverse and self absorbed focus of a person upon their own sexuality. Otto Rank used the term linked it to vanity and self obsession. Later in 1923, Martin Buber, the Austrian Israeli philosopher, wrote that narcissists are unable to relate to others, often treating them as objects and unequal. 

Vanity has always been with us but today in so many unsatisfied lives, it has become an obsession. Helped along by social media and often equally absorbed parents, a young generation is becoming one unable to communicate human to human,  flesh to flesh, face to face. Their reality now dwells within the pool of social media and the grooming rooms of the internet.

This narcissistic spirit overcomes the viewer of the virtual world, and offers an alternative reality of fake features and promises. The users of this media become embroiled in the capacity to change and thus sees themselves as alterable.

A few years ago I had the privilege to work in dementia care. I worked in developing holistic programmes for my residents. On one occasion, I was walking with a very elegant  lady. I had to take her to another floor in the home and so we preceded to take the lift down. Unfortunately, the lift had a mirror at the back. This lady immediately remarked, in a very derogatory way, about the ‘ugly old woman’  in the lift. She did not realise that it was her own reflection. As far as she was aware , in her world , she was a young girl in her teens, going home to her mother.

Narcissism is a form of autism, that prevents the person from making intimate relationships with others. It also seeks the worship and adoration of others too, and can force the narcissist to experience bouts of depression when their exaltations are not forthcoming.

In our modern world of super hi technologies, that create visual experiences of alternative worlds, even fooling the senses, there is a dark pit that we, if we are not careful, can find ourselves inhabiting without even knowing it. I believe that sadly, many are already in it.

The schizophrenia of our combined world experience and knowledge, has and will declare us incapacitated as humans. The purveyors of these experiences meanwhile, sit back and watch the crowd pay for their rides in this subliminal fairground attraction. 

As I look around I see numerous young women walking with arm outstretched – a stabilising boom, with mobile phone turned inward, filming themselves and taking selfies amidst the intermittent flicking of hair and facial poses. Pretty faces , now ballooned with fillers and botox; stencilled makeup add the wearer to the clone army. The posting of themselves onto the global album, should already be telling us that there is a generation out there, both young and old who need help to orientate back to the human connection. 

The photoshopping of things can make anything look good. Makeover programmes, body augmenting and mind altering processes, allow us now to go beyond our unsatisfied lives.

We find another strangeness in this ever increasingly weird world, when humans are prepared to sacrifice a limb or two, for a futuristic exoskeleton — an external frame that supports and augments the body, aiding it to do extraordinary things. The capabilities are already here. Turning a human into a hybrid machine connected to a computer brain is no longer science fiction. 

God has clearly made known Himself to us. Some acknowledge the hand of God and see its work in our intelligently created world. Others recognise the complexity of the design of things, but unrelate them to an omniscient creator, and yet others will attribute creation to other types of divine or extra terrestrial intervention.

However, dear reader, if we attribute our creation to a single, unified and supreme creator, then we need to understand why all of this world and us, in it, are here.

In the book of Genesis, we are told that we are made in the image of God. That in itself tells us that we have an identity. Further more, the status of our identity qualifies us for future development — that is to be conformed to the image of Christ. If we do not accept that identity, and the name that comes with it, then we can only wait for the wrath of God to come. Jesus is coming back for those who are His, and YHVH answers the prayers of those who bear His name. 

If we turn away from God and our identity, then we must look to the causal effect of our wickedness. The loss of our identity makes us orphans. The message of the gospel, tells us that we can regain our identity and our inheritance if we accept, fundamentally, the one who brings it. The utter rejection of this message brings a delusion. These verses in Romans 1&2 give us insight into what prevails when man turns from God and looks to his own image to provide change and salvation. 

Romans 1.18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

Romans 2

5 But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. 6 God “will repay each person according to what they have done.”7 To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. 8 But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. 9 There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; 10 but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 11 For God does not show favoritism.

Back along my morning track, upon the undulating hillside, I contemplated the radio programme I had listened to earlier. “This is the state of the human race”, I felt the Lord say,  “self absorbed, self focused and introvert. It looks to itself— the created and not to me ‘The Creator’ ”.

And so the human race, has been given over to a delusion, a narcissistic and schizophrenic reality. It prefers to look at a virtual alternative instead of looking at its true image in the mirror. Each person has made himself into the form suggested to him by the serpent in the garden of Eden. 

The painting and the adornment of the body was taught to mankind by the fallen angels, kicked out from their heavenly abode because of pride. Bodies marked with ink and contorted by knife and needle, parade themselves proudly on handheld devices and computer screens, obliviously joining themselves to invisible microwaves of our silent, detached, communication. Through this connection we must realise how unconnected we have become. 

The traits of narcissism are extraordinary and define the current state of the human collective in this present age to a ’T’. It is almost impossible not to see any of its identifiers among our emergent society.

By Grant Marshall