I must start this story with a premise. I discuss how I got to this premise in my book, but I will allude to it here but only from a distance. It is simply, as Christians, we are mostly who we were before we were Christians. Now, however, we camouflage who we really are with Christian epitomes of persona. Does that make sense? In other words, I think we retain much of our flaws after we become Christians, but through a process of socialization, we cover the not-so-good intentions with a spiritual window dressing.
The Gospel is of course, transformative. We do get better, if we allow God’s process to work in us. However, what most of modern Christianity has neglected, is that the material really matters. God created us in this material world as physical beings. Our brains are plagued with real flaws from the Fall of Adam. Some of those flaws are genetic. Some are from early, childhood experiences and some are the results of our own mistakes (a softer word, perhaps, for ‘sin’).
American evangelicalism, at least, promotes the idea of instant transformation at the point someone embraces the Christian faith. There are scriptures (and I will not get bogged down at this point discussing those) that they base this idea on, but I believe they get the hermeneutics wrong. They also believe in a process of sanctification or growing in godliness that can be enhanced by studying the Bible, meeting with other Christians, prayer and by the magical working of the Holy Spirit. So, within our Christian social circles, there is a tremendous pressure to project this “better self.” According to that paradigm, the only thing that stops us from becoming a new and nearly perfect person is continuing sin. So we have a great incentive to fake the fruits of the spirit, otherwise, it would indicate that we are still deeply entangled in personal sin.
If our flaws are physical (brain), then reformation of our selves can happen, but at a snails’ pace. I know that after 40 years of hard discipleship, my nature is just a few millimeters different from where I started. This should not trouble anyone, because the gospel is about grace and forgiveness not making us perfect.
With that said, I will leap to my next thought, which is connected. I am thinking a lot about politics these days. I try not to post about things here or places like Facebook. It is very tempting. I will reveal my hand right now and say that I am neither a Democrat nor Republican. I am disgusted with both. So I am not here at all to say one candidate is the best.
This is the thing that has amazed me in the past few weeks. Of the estimated 20 evangelicals that I still have routine contact with (it is hard to define who is an evangelical and who is not) I would say that 18 are staunch Trump supporters. I stand as a psychologist (although I’m not a real psychologist, per se) trying to figure out what the hell that is all about?
We are all narcissists. It is our birthright as humans. We want what we want when we want it. We are above the rules (in our own minds) and the purpose of others is to serve my needs. Now, this natural narcissism is on a continuum. There are people with narcissistic personality disorders, selfish people and then people on the other end that, appear at least, to be very empathetic towards others. But even the people on the good end still serve themselves first.
When we become Christians, that narcissism has to be totally covered under spiritual shrouds to make it palatable. A wise friend told me a long time ago that the spiritual process of “determining God’s will” is simply an exercise to find a way to cover what you really want to do with what looks like God’s leading. So if you really want to marry a certain girl, you will find a way to make it “God’s will.”
As I listen to Donald Trump, I really think he is striking a harmony, not with our inward fears and patriotism, but a very primal—reptilian brain—narcissism. Listen to the message, as I will translate:
- We need to be the number one country in the world.
- We need to think of our (white) selves as the number one race (read between his lines).
- We need to think of other races as inferior.
- We need more money.
- We need less responsibilities I the world (refugees, etc.).
- We (men) need to feel good about seeing women as sex objects and nothing else.
- I can pollute all I want for my needs and screw the planet.
As I scratch my head trying to figure out what my Christian friends see in him, I think it is the self-interests that he promotes.
What would Jesus be saying if he ran for president? The true historical Jesus, not the American-Evangelical Jesus. You know, the one who walked in Galilee?
I think his platform would be:
- Give up your money for the poor.
- Welcome the refugees.
- Your country is not as important as the people whom God has created.
- Don’t kill people . . . any of them.
- Love people . . . all of them.
- Bring peace to the world, even if that peace hurts you.
I think a candidate like that would be considered weak, disgusting and a filthy communist.
I rest my case. I would say something about the rigged Democratic party, but I’m too tired.
One response to “When Narcissus Became a Christian”
I agree with the narcissism. Jesus did tell us to love our neighbours as we love ourselves. I think there is also an element of frustration that Trump speaks to. Evangelicals feel that their messages are not heard and now comes a man who is heard. Perhaps he cannot be ignored as they are ignored? He will fix the system so that their words will again be heard. And he will fix it by speaking “the truth”. And of course on the other side is lying Hillary. Both parties did not end up here by accident. It took years to get here. But nobody knows how it happened.