Could love ever be dangerous? That sounds silly at first. But what if God warned us of a different kind of love that would be more prevalent in the end times, a time perilous to Christians? And suppose events have happened and are happening right now in 21st-century America and other Western countries making this dangerous kind of love spread?
This kind of love—bad for society, deadly for Christians—has surprisingly broad prevalence in society. The more research I did into it, the more surprised I became.
Inordinate Love of Self, Also Known as Narcissism
The biblical warning of 2 Timothy 3:2—that in the end time men will be "lovers of themselves"—is a serious prophecy of a subtle yet profound change in society. The word used in this verse is phlautos—fond of oneself, selfish. This has manifested itself in our values, culture and families; and beyond that, it is even taught more and more by schools and churches.
It is very important right now to make the point we are to love ourselves and our neighbor as ourselves (Galatians 5:14) and to recognize the worth and potential that God has given to each of us. However, it is not the normal love of self that Paul warned about, but the inward, self-centered, selfish attitude that has been growing especially in American society. Narcissism, this extreme love of self, comes from the name Narcissus, a mythical Greek youth who pined away for love of his own reflection!
American society has, especially in the past 50 years, encouraged us to become more and more self-centered. To state it in other words, the individual has become more important. The U.S. Army "An Army of One" recruiting ads might have been entertaining, but the emphasis on the one lone soldier out there is the direct opposite of the whole concept of teamwork and cooperation that the Army is built upon. No wonder the Army recently decided to change to a new slogan, "Army Strong."
Love of self has roots going back to the Garden of Eden and beyond. In recent history, though, the 1960s was a time to "do your own thing." Psychologists in the 1960s promoted easy divorce with the idea, "Take care of yourself and the kids will be okay." The 1960s was a time when a whole generation was taught to discard stuffy old values prohibiting selfish behavior in sex and drugs.
George F. Will, in his article "About That Sixties Idealism" (Newsweek, Aug. 21, 1995), well said: "The Spirit of the Sixties was, strictly speaking, infantile. For an infant, any appetite is self-legitimizing." The ideas of putting self before responsibilities, moral principles and other people's welfare unfortunately have been promoted for many years.
The 1970s generation, often referred to as the "Me Generation," exhibited even more of this self-centered attitude. Business articles of that era warned about the loss of team spirit and cooperation.
Self-esteem itself as an idea really goes back to the beginnings of modern psychology, which had its roots in the late 19th century. That's a long time ago by our life spans, but it is really a "recent" development, coming at the end of 2,000 years after Christ, and it really fits the period of the end times. This was no coincidence.
With the philosophical foundations laid, the promotion of this way of life continued on to the present time. Trends included consumerist slogans by corporate advertisers such as:
• "Just Do It" (Nike).
• "Sometimes You Gotta Break the Rules" (Burger King).
• "No Rules. Just Right" (Outback Steakhouse).
Schools got in on the bandwagon with programs that pushed self-esteem and values clarification, which would include statements like "Self-interest is and should be the foundation for all moral decisions."
In the business environment employees face the "you can only depend on yourself" concept growing from the multitude of downsizings and other corporate events shattering the typical employee's world. There's also cynicism toward corporate leadership in the wake of ongoing scandals, cuttingly portrayed in the popular "Dilbert" comic series.
Then there's the outrageous individual behaviors by leaders and celebrities such as a past U.S. president known for exploiting women, narcissistic movie stars and arrogant corporate executives who make sure they "got theirs" even as their trusting employees were impoverished (á la Enron).
Our society now faces serious consequences over this change, which began subtly at first, then grew into an all-pervasive sea change in our world. It manifests itself in rude behavior, loss of civility, violent crimes, family breakdowns, far more divorces and even deaths.
Irving O. Hockaday, on accepting the Lawrence A. Wein Prize, said: "As a country, while we revere individualism, we are in danger of forgetting that a civil society survives only as long as individuals are subject to moral imperatives that transcend narcissism and ego-centrism" (quoted in Wall Street Journal, April 25, 1995).
Beyond manners, civility and crime (as though they're not important enough) is the subtle change in human thinking that comes from this gross distortion. Divorce is much easier for self-centered people who simply feel "too restricted" by obligations. High school and college students can't understand the need for hard work and diligence. After feeding on "self-esteem" for years, they're full of empty visions of self.
John Loveless, assistant professor of public policy at Harvard's School of Government, warned that "American students consistently score near the top in self-evaluations...even though they score near the bottom in academic achievement" (Wall Street Journal, Jan. 22, 1997).
When we can't honestly view ourselves, how can we care for others, fulfill obligations and uphold the principles that hold a society together? Maureen Dowd warned that we live in a society "where loyalty to self yields to no other loyalty" (New York Times, Nov. 14, 1996). Self-absorbed people not only are totally oblivious to the noble concept of loyalty, they can't understand that civilization rests on people putting limits on themselves for the greater good of society.
We Americans must find our way back to a public-mindedness, to a caring for others, an adherence to principles that go beyond the gratification of the self. Cynthia Tucker felt that things really hadn't changed much since Sept. 11, saying, "As a culture, we are as superficial and self-absorbed as ever" (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Feb. 3, 2002). I must agree with her.
Below is a final warning to our society, well put by Andrew Peyton Thomas in his Aug. 29, 1995, article in the Wall Street Journal, "Can We Ever Go Back?": "Americans are glorifying extreme individualism beyond healthy limits, and beyond anything ever experienced by another national culture. Civilization was created to constrain egoism. When a society decides that its individual members should live for themselves, maximizing their own wealth and pleasures at the expense of even their children, then such a society must expect all manner of unkind circumstances."
The apostle Paul was far ahead of his time. Consider that this major change in civilization needed as preparation: (1) hundreds of years of philosophical change, (2) a social science movement 1,900 years after Paul's death, (3) new and seemingly never-before-taught ideas in behavior and culture. All of these would culminate in exactly the mental condition that God warned would exist in the end times.
Effects on Christians
Bad enough for American society, the dangerous love has even more serious effects on Christians in particular.
The entire message of Jesus Christ is one of serving and righteousness. No Christian who is serious about his or her calling can fill his or her mind with this selfish thinking.
How can we fulfill Christ's admonition in Mark 8:34 to deny self? How do we love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:31)? A self-absorbed person can't do that! How can we "lay down" our lives for our friends (John 15:13)? Christians aren't to have colossal egos. We are to esteem others higher than ourselves (Philippians 2:3).
This new, prophesied dangerous love uproots the very foundation we stand on and the way we think. It will destroy our religion as it erases our memory. Narcissism—inordinate love of self—could even be said to outrank persecution as a danger to a Christian. A persecuted Christian holding on will at least know his or her beliefs. But narcissistic Christians don't even realize that they are being hollowed out, being retrained to reject their Savior's teachings!
Unfortunately, a number of leaders of various Christian denominations have accepted and promoted the self-esteem concept as good for their followers, not seeing the grave long-term danger. Robert Schuller, pastor of the Crystal Cathedral and creator of the Hour of Power program with its millions of viewers, called Jesus Christ "Self-Esteem Incarnate," a statement I find incredible and fearful (Robert Schuller, Self-Esteem: The New Reformation, 1982, page 135). An entire civilization, along with many of its churches, is changing in a broad, unusual way.
This can seem an ethereal philosophical argument, but it is actually a road to doom for Christians. As more and more of the self-esteem thinking takes hold, a Christian will lose humility. We can't remain small in our own sight when a powerful argument puffs us up. Christians can't see the need to serve others, when that same powerful force all around us tells us how "important," "unique" and "special" we are.
The narcissistic Christian looks good on the outside, but is being hollowed out or vaporized on the inside. The only thing I can liken this to is a subtle type of brainwashing.
All you have to do now is look around at the slogan of our time: "It's All About Me." We're being trained, and in a very wrong, dangerous new way of thinking the early apostles warned about. Only one weapon is powerful enough to block and reverse this—the Bible.
God tells us how to rightly love ourselves, knowing the right value He places on us, without empty ego getting in the way. Also we're taught not only the right motive and thinking, but practical methods to care for others, set a right example and please the One who called us. Indeed, we ought to not please ourselves.
Narcissism is a slow poison to Christians. Our defense must be a deeper conversion, yes, but beyond that, the ultimate answer is to examine and purify our own motives. We are to lead a whole civilization to greatness someday, to assist in the restoration of the Kingdom of God. We are called to prepare to serve many others—not just for our own salvation. We don't want to fail them!
The selfish will. The selfless won't. UN