Crisis of Faith, Part I: The Narcissism of Faith
by Paul Delaney
I am a god damn narcissist. We are all narcissists. I detest this. Everything I do is evidence that it isn’t a bum wrap. The fact that I changed my religious views on Facebook to ‘Crisis of Faith’ and thought people would give a damn says I am a god damn narcissist. The fact that I write of my thoughts and put them on the Internet for someone to stumble upon by accident while they look for their favorite flavor of hardcore pornography says I am a god damn narcissist. This scrawling on the bathroom wall of the internet is about my crisis of faith. I am in a submission grappling match with the divine and have been for at least three years. I am not sure of gods or devils or angels or an afterlife or an objective purpose or meaning to our mystery laden lives. I am not sure I care. Some days I believe. Some days I do not. Sometimes that changes several times throughout the course of a day. My perspective on the divine is limited in the sense that it is exclusively Christian. It’s difficult if not impossible for me to address things from any other perspective. This essay addresses one facet of my crisis of faith. This is what I see as the narcissism of faith.
The popular Christian blogger Jon Acuff once wrote a post addressing his “haters.” He castigated his critics for dragging him back to average when he was afraid of being awesome. He said he was actually starting to believe he was created for more than average. He was created for more than average? The eternal God of the universe specifically created him to be extraordinary? The fundamentalist Christian is fond of accusing the atheist of arrogance for the elevation of human reason and the products of human reason like the scientific method. It would seem to me many atheists are quite humble in believing that the vast, ancient universe we inhabit isn’t here simply as a playground for human beings. It is so many Christians who believe an all powerful God intends for them greatness. You might say to me that God intends for his children to prosper and it says so in the Word of God. This assumes the Bible is the word of God and that the exegesis of this divine document is sound. That’s another matter entirely. It is my contention that the belief God intends any man or woman for greatness is arrogant as all hell and is the height of narcissism. Human beings are narcissistic enough. Why baptize that narcissism? Why take that narcissism and shoot it full of divine steroids? I also must wonder if a belief that God intends a human being for greatness is healthy.
I observe. I watch. I analyze. It’s what I do. I see people who believe God has a plan to make them a successful entrepreneur or an evangelist or an artist. I suppose that such a belief could be useful in achieving such a goal since maybe it can become a positive self fulfilling prophecy. The idea that a human life needs to be extraordinary places quite a bit of pressure on a person. What if you fall quite a bit short of the goal you believe God intends for you to achieve? What if you are persistent in trying to break into the recording industry despite a lack of talent because of a belief that God intends for you to be a recording artist and win a truckload of Grammy awards? What I observe most with this belief is a lot of angst. People constantly spend their time wondering if the plan they believe God has for them is really the plan. Did they hear God correctly? Did they correctly understand the significance of every event in their life? Every single event in their life, even the ones that seemed meaningless represented road signs that were supposed to lead them to their destiny and they constantly wonder if they made a wrong turn. That is a helluva lot of pressure. It’s not just the pressure. The tragedy is the tremendous self absorption such a belief entails. A person spends so much time navel gazing. Too much time spent within yourself can only make you miserable. While you’re navel gazing maybe your friends are lonely or in pain. They might need you. Strangers might need you. You can quote scripture. You can give me dubious exegesis clouded by a culture that is completely different than the one found in the pages of scripture. Do that all you want. I’ll point to Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray and Andie McDowell. Murray as Phil Connors is a self absorbed asshole concerned with career advancement among other things. He ends up repeating the same day over and over again and cannot escape. He cannot commit suicide to end it. He’s stuck. The only thing that breaks him out of it is that he reaches outside of himself. The moments of kindness and compassion and friendship that you share with your fellow human beings are infinitely more satisfying than trying to discover exactly what it is an Almighty God intends you to do. Why mystify it all? Why not just accept that if there is a God that he, she or it might not have a specific plan for you? Maybe God wants you to find your own way and love your way through the darkness and basically not be a total and complete asshole toward your fellow man. Why not just forget about it? Forget about what you don’t know about the ultimate purpose of your life. I don’t know if there is a God. I don’t know if God has a plan for me. What I do know is that I’m on a planet with billions of people. I’m going to encounter some of these people. I know that I don’t want anyone to be worse off for having known me. This is all I can truly say with any amount of confidence.