The "culture of narcissism" that Christopher Lasch described back in the late '70s was an alarming idea at the time. Had Americans really descended so low as to think only of ourselves in every decision, choice, and action? At about the same time, Robert Ringer sought to make a life philosophy out of self-interest. He wrote several best-selling books with titles like, Looking Out for Number 1. Many might have been attracted to that way of life, but the film, Wall Street, parodied the worldview of selfishness in a way that left most people nodding, "Yeah, that's right."
But the drift toward narcissism has only continued, and now, it appears, it has the stamp of approval even of the charitable community. Yesterday was the last day of our local classical music station's fall fund drive. I think communities should support their classical music station. Classical music provides an abiding witness to the power of a Christian worldview to shape the preferences and practices even of unbelievers. The beauty, order, wonder, and delight that characterize so much of the music from the 16th to the 20th centuries reminds people of abiding truths that our postmodern world - and much of 20th century art and music - want eagerly to deny.
So Susie and I typically support our local classical music station. But yesterday's closing appeal was too much. Listeners were encouraged to give - and act of sacrificial generosity, concerned only for the need of others - for themselves!We should give, we were told, because it was in our best interest to do so; it was good for us and would make us happy; we would feel good about doing something to give us pleasure all year long.
That won't surprise any of us. Almost all appeals for funds these days are based on self-interest: Give and we'll send you this premium. Give and we'll enroll you in this special club or group. Give and you'll feel better in your conscience. Give and you'll show that you are a true conservationist/Republican/American/Civil War buff/you-name-it. Christian organizations and churches are no better. You'd think that believers have to be bribed to give, what with all the premiums, testimonies of prosperity to follow, and reminders that this is all in your best interest. Who knows? Maybe we do.
The idea that giving is a gesture of selflessness has been entirely sapped by narcissistic motives and ends. Christians ought not play this game, for, when we do, we add to the influence of narcissism and detract from the influence of the lay-down-your-life worldview that is the Gospel of the Kingdom. Believers should give, to be sure; but we should make sure that, when we give, it's for all the right reasons.