Monday, 5 September 2016

Do Christians Love Like Narcissus?

Greek mythology tells the tale of Narcissus, a young man who, upon seeing his own reflection in the river, fell in love with his own beauty. So entranced was he by the sight, he could not bear to draw himself away. So eventually he died... gazing longingly at the river's image of himself.

Of course, it's only a story - a myth - but as you probably know this is where we get the term "narcissist" from. And since my last post about the church and its understanding of love, I have been wondering if the type of 'love' the church offers too much of the time is actually a pretty narcissistic love. A love that says, "I will love you for so long as you look like me." Too often, we don't love the person who is actually in front of us, we love the idea that this person can be conformed to our own image.

For example, we might hold specific ideas about 'sexual purity', so if this person behaves according to our ideals, we will love them.

Maybe we have strong opinions about submission to authority, so as long as the person falls in line with our thinking, we will love them.

Or perhaps we are convinced that all true christians should believe in a certain doctrine. So as long as others subscribe to that doctrine, we will love them.

But what happens when the people we tell ourselves we love, behave in a way that falls outside our approved list of behaviours? How do we respond when they challenge our pet theologies? Where do we turn when they stop looking like us and start looking like themselves?

I believe that this is the acid test of whether we ever truly loved them, or whether what we loved was the image of ourselves reflected in their compliance.

The sad thing is that this immature, self-serving love is the only one many people have experienced within the church. The love that you can only count on as long as you hold up your end of the bargain. The sort of love that uses the words, "I love you", but says with every action and attitude, "You're not acceptable unless you look like me."

When we say we love someone and yet insist they conform to our way of thinking and behaving, we actually only love ourselves. And 'loving' like that means we simply want to stare at our own reflections until we die of our own self obsession.


  1. Wow. Harsh, but I think you might be onto something. Very interesting idea. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks Dan :)

      (The post is reasonably forthright, but it's a question I think we all desperately need to ask ourselves. The effects of being 'loved' this way disables people and causes permanent scars.)

  2. A few of the things that you said above had me thinking in the admittedly geeky frame of wondering if the Borg in Star Trek were intended as a criticism if the church or if it was just a less than happy accident. On both sides really, you end up being assimilated into a hive mind where your individuality disappears, and eventually the "virus" introduced into that hive mind, intended to destroy them, was the concept of the individual.

    I think that you are on to something here. Churches often seem more interested in absorbing people into their collective rather than honoring them as individuals.

    If God wanted us to be mindless, disposable drones, I suspect that we never would have had that incident in the garden in the first place. God honors our individuality, the question comes back to his people as to whether we reflect that aspect of his character.

    1. Dallas, it obviously a geek thing ;) A couple of years ago I actually did write a post comparing christians to the borg:

      As you suggest, I think God's desire was for individuals who uniquely reflect his image. In that way, we each bring something special to the table, and enrich the 'collective' life of the body. Otherwise, if we are really all the same we become expendable... which could explain a lot about the way individuals are often treated in the church!