The ‘Selfie’

The selfie is a new type of exhibitionism; we are our own paparazzi; the rise of the selfie indicates a rampant narcissism

It seems that many of our churches are also likenesses of the selfie. Of course, there are many solid churches that do not perpetuate our own narcissism. I believe I go to one. Even so, I think that this is an epidemic that we need to be aware of because it appeals to us all in some fashion. It’s hard enough for me to combat my own selfish tendencies, how and the heck can I combat it in my children growing up in this generation?

Although I try to hold on to the delusion that I am still young, rapid technological changes serve as a perpetual reminder of my real age. I have found myself shaking my head with the cliché, “Kids these days…”

With the advancements in phone technology and the boom in social media, I have observed a strange new phenomenon—the selfie. One might think this is a good thing for moms. After all, I have complained for years about the lack of pictures my family takes of me. Matt isn’t one for carrying a camera around, so I am the one that documents all of our fun family time. Therefore, I’m hardly in any of the pictures. I threaten my family that if I go missing one day, they are going to have nothing recent to give the press. I live in fear that they actually will submit one of the horrible few that they have snapped me in. Oh, they’ll feel bad then…

When I was growing up, my friends and I took pictures all the time. We carried around our cameras and actually had to wait for the film to process first. Of course, my daughters and their friends have cameras on their phones and iPods. They are also masters of the selfie. It’s so easy now with that whole lens-rotator-thingy on the camera. My oldest is so good at it, she can make it not look like a selfie. I’m uncomfortable with the whole thing. I usually only have the lens rotated to myself by accident while I’m trying to take a picture of someone else. And then I’m shocked, “Who’s that old person? Dang, that’s what I look like today?”

I’ve participated in the “group selfie,” and have found that method quite fun. Even so, the angles are always weird and if you’re not as talented as my daughter, you had better like the way your upper arms look if you are the one snapping the pic. My favorite selfie to make fun of is what I call the “surprise selfie.” This is when the person taking the selfie is posing with an expression that they have been caught off guard. The expression might read, “Oh, hi!” But obviously, this is completely an unauthentic pose because it is a selfie.

Anyway, the selfie is the new norm. It almost seems like a new type of exhibitionism. We are our own paparazzi. Does the rise of the selfie indicate a rampant narcissism? Here is an interesting statistic:

“We are in the midst of a ‘narcissism epidemic,’ concluded psychologists Jean M. Twenge and W. Keith Campbell in their 2009 book. One study they describe showed that among a group of 37,000 college students, narcissistic personality traits rose just as quickly as obesity from the 1980s to the present.” …

In an article for Modern Reformation (“Rightly Dividing the Word” Sept./Oct. 2010, Vol. 19, No. 5, Page number: 22-25 ), Shane Rosenthal laments that the narcissistic trend in our society is revealing itself in the churches as well. We have become our own authority, reading Scripture with ourselves at the center. In reflecting on Twenge and Campbell’s book The Narcissism Epidemic he says,

Unfortunately our churches have not been immune to this cultural virus, for according to Twenge and Campbell, American religion–which used to challenge narcissistic attitudes and behaviors–is now in many respects part of the problem. In today’s religious climate where churches compete for adherents as fast-food franchises do for customers, many religious groups simply “give people what they want. Because reducing narcissism is not always pleasant, most people aren’t going to attend churches that demand humility.”

It seems that many of our churches are also likenesses of the selfie. Of course, there are many solid churches that do not perpetuate our own narcissism. I believe I go to one. Even so, I think that this is an epidemic that we need to be aware of because it appeals to us all in some fashion. It’s hard enough for me to combat my own selfish tendencies, how and the heck can I combat it in my children growing up in this generation? (And as a disclaimer, I don’t think that every selfie taken indicates that you are a narcissist, I was merely using it as an indicator of how we are all turned in our ourselves.) Again, I think Rosenthal gives encouragement:

What this means for Christians is that we need a Copernican revolution in the way we approach and handle Scripture. It’s not enough to read the Bible. If we read this book with ourselves at the center, we will end up only feeding our inherent narcissism. Though the self-centered approach may initially excite us and hold our interest, in the end it will leave us empty, biblically illiterate, and spiritually malnourished. We will be “always learning and never able to arrive at the knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 3:7).

Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for their abuse of the Old Testament saying, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life” (John 5:39a). How much more do we think he would scold those of our day who fail to focus on issues pertaining to eternal life and instead on having “Your Best Life Now!” The long and the short of it is that the Bible is not about you, your life, improving your marriage, managing your finances, growing kids God’s way, or helping you to realize your full potential. Yes, the Bible does contain instructions concerning how Christians are to conduct themselves in light of the gospel, but admitting that the Bible contains these instructions is not the same as suggesting that the Bible is about these life lessons. Jesus himself told the Pharisees what the Scriptures were about when he said that these sacred texts “bear witness about me” (John 5:39b). Now here is something that deserves our reflection!

Aimee Byrd is a housewife and mother who attends Pilgrim Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Martinsburg, WV. She and her husband, Matt, have 3 children. She blogs at Housewife Theologian where this article first appeared; it is used with her permission.