Here in New Zealand we have been watching in disbelief as a case makes its way through the courts.
Having inflicted 216 stab wounds in killing his student/girlfriend, a young university lecturer occupied the witness stand for days as he defended his actions in an effort to gain a 'manslaughter' conviction, rather than a 'murder' one. Read about it here and here and here.
A crucial part of the debate revolved around the assertion that he suffered from a narcissistic personality disorder - and that this somehow excused his actions to the degree that manslaughter, rather than murder, could be the conviction.
However it has been heartening to see narcissism in the headlines. These "-ism" words are so useful. They speak of worldviews. The invisible roots which provoke the visible behaviour in society. Hardly ever discussed and rarely ever seen. Integral to Christian mission is the need to surface these worldviews, to be distressed by their influence, and then to engage them. That is why it has been good to see narcissism in the headlines. The unspoken has been spoken.
It is interesting to listen to Christians speak of the "-isms" which concern them the most. Humanism? Secularism? Consumerism? Maybe even postmodernism? Yep. All of the above. But I wonder if there are a Deeper Four:
Naturalism. The defiant slamming of the door in God's face. The cosmos, the creation 'is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be' (Carl Sagan). God is shut-out from his creation. Life is lived 'under-a-lid' (Brian Smith). God is left out of history. There is no Mind behind it all. This "-ism" owns the university.
Pluralism. The global culture has arrived and pluralism is its first principle and essential lubricant. It is the air we breathe, the reigning assumption at work in popular culture. Tolerance replaces truth (which was just a cover for power and its abuse anyway). There are oh-so-many beliefs and values out there and each one has an equally viable and valuable place in the marketplace of ideas. Go on - sit down to the sumptuous belief buffet and feast.
Narcissism. Life is lived by looking in a mirror at myself, rather than through a window at the world. It is all about a soaking in the self until totally self-absorbed. Everything that happens in the world is viewed from the perspective of how it impacts me. It is 'self-centeredness elevated to an unrecognized principle of interpretation' (DA Carson).
[A later article in the paper develops this further]
Technicism. Ellul had his concerns about 'technique'. Postman has his about a technopoly. 'The prophecy of technicism is simple: If it can be done, it will be done ... the ethics of technicism follows immediately: If it can be done, it should be done. In fact, doing it constitutes progress' (James Sire). This cultivates a hope that technology will be the means of solving the world's ills.
These are the tap roots which need to be surfaced. These are the idols over which I feel the most distress. They cause far more pain than any one recognises. The response? Well - there are Deeper Truths that match these Deeper Roots. You fnd them in that most relevant and practical piece of literature, the systematic theology textbook.
As an antidote to naturalism, there is nothing more powerful than the people of God believing and living the truths of theology and eschatology. Theology is about lifting that lid and allowing the transcendent God to reveal himself and to draw near with love and justice and purpose. Eschatology is about God's presence in history and an affirmation of the reality of the Christian hope.
As an antidote to pluralism, there is nothing more powerful than the people of God believing and living the truths of christology. Christology is about holding fast to the 'unique and universal Christ'. It is about being cruciform. It is about coping with the discomfort that "I am the way, the truth, and the life" causes in this world - knowing that it is not only the good news, it is the true news.
As an antidote to narcissism, there can be nothing more powerful than the people of God believing and living the truths of anthropology and ecclesiology. Anthropology is about understanding what it means to be human, made in the image of the trinitarian God. The tension of dignity and depravity. The paradox of 'I do not know who I am until I know whose I am'. The wonder of 'make me a captive, Lord, and then I shall be free'. Ecclesiology is about reflecting the trinitarian God as communities given to interdependency and intimacy, losing themselves in lives of worship and service.
As an antidote to technicism, there can be nothing more powerful than the people of God believing and living the truths of pneumatology. Pneumatology is about the Spirit at work in creation, in revelation, in salvation - and in the life of individuals and the church. Here is where the displays of the power and the hope for which the world so craves really take place.
Don't ever believe those who tell you that a sustained and systematic feeding on these "-ologies" is irrelevant. It isn't. There is nothing more relevant than having biblical preachers open the text with one eye on the ologies and the isms. There is nothing more strategic than a community setting apart a tithe of its people to engage the Deeper Roots and the Deeper Truths in a sustained way through theological study - and then to be that yeasty beach-head for a renewed commitment to mission.
Sickened to the core as I have been by this court case, I am reminded again that I am swimming in this stuff as well. In the quiet and private recesses of my own life naturalism, pluralism, narcissism, and technicism have an allure just as they have an influence. It remains a battleground. And it is in the transformative truths about God and history, about Christ, about humanity and the church, and about the Spirit where I need to soak and where I find solace.