The Ultimate Encounter — Narcissism and The Kingdom of God -- By: Theron H. Smith

Journal: Ashland Theological Journal
Volume: ATJ 16:0 (NA 1983)
Article: The Ultimate Encounter — Narcissism and The Kingdom of God
Author: Theron H. Smith

The Ultimate Encounter —
Narcissism and The Kingdom of God

Theron H. Smith

The serious and systematic study of the human mind and personality in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries has made available a great deal of helpful information on the subject of the self and its expressions. From chapter ten of the first of two volumes by William James and, of course, the writings of Sigmund Freud, to Eric Fromm by way of Heinz Kohut, Alfred Adler, and Carl Jung, there is much accumulated insight available to any serious student who wants to gain a better understanding of the “self. One learns to distinguish between the self as object and the self as process. One comes to see the strategic importance of self-esteem, self-awareness, self-actualization. Yet barely beneath the surface in all of this is a problem of enormous proportions. The “frightful evil of the monstrous ego” was identified as the basic problem of mankind the world over centuries before any of these psychologists and psychiatrists were born.

Twenty-six hundred years ago the Chinese religion/philosophy of Taoism was stressing the basic and essential importance of selflessness, placing a premium on humility and submission. Buddhism has through the centuries set forth its fundamental doctrine of “no-self, and reinforced it by having its people bow and kneel and prostrate themselves. Hinduism has placed the greatest value on the mystic loss of self and provided help along the way with the generous cosmetic use of ashes. Islam has from its beginning addressed its part of the world with a basic message of submission, with no square meter of room for self-glorification, and a programmed reminder of five times a day putting the brow to the ground. Judaism camped much nearer to the danger zone with its distinctly greater individualism, but recognized the danger clearly and described it as the essence of the first “sin” and the one from which all evil evolved. Their people are called to bow, wear a covering over the head, and practice penitence — all of which should serve to pull the “I” back down to proper size. Their ancient Talmud recognizes that the problem begins early: “every child exaggerates its own importance, saying ‘the world was created for me’.”1 And long before the Talmud they were identifying “pride” as the root of “wickedness” (Ps. 10, 36, 73). In the Poetic books and in the Prophets, time after time they name this villain and call the people to counter with humility and with the spirit of a servant rather than donning the tragic “crown of pride.”

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