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The Credibility of the Christian Life
in the Contemporary Narcissistic Society

(This is a two-part series on The Credibility of Christian Life in Contemporary Narcissistic Society.  Part 1, Part 2 )

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As we continue the exploration of Narcissism begun in Part One, we need to first briefly note the roots of the current trends towards the exaggerated sense of autonomy, that spawns narcissism. This is necessary because Post-moderns are tempted to live in the solipsism of ‘authenticity’, which is one’s own appraisal of what is real and true. This implies that “I” alone exist, and the outside world exists only in my consciousness. The ideas of four key thinkers contribute to contemporary thinking about human autonomy.

Philosophical Theories of Selfhood

When Rene Descartes (1596-1650) in the seventeenth century introduced the thesis, “I think therefore I am”,
he was making a radical shift to situate moral sources within ourselves.1 Instead of having an external referent as does Plato (in the Eternal Ideas) and Biblical faith (in the Creator), Descartes now builds upon human intelligence to construct reality from within one’s self, as the ‘thinker’. But he goes further, for likewise, morality comes from within the self, controlled by ‘reason’, to be used instrumentally. For a good Stoic, the rewards of the ‘good life’ are self-esteem, inner peace, self-control. For Descartes it is the moral value of being a ‘generous soul’. This did not mean ‘generosity’, in the sense of being open-handed to others, but more primitively being self-identified as ‘being honorable to oneself’. Being reasonable and being honorable went hand in hand. Such are the fruit of the thinking self’. As Charles Taylor sums it up: “The Cartesian proof is no longer a search for an encounter with God within. It is no longer the way to an experience of everything in God. Rather what I now meet is myself: I achieve a clarity and a fullness of self-presence that was lacking before. But from what I find here reason bids me infer to a cause and transcendent guarantee, without which my now well-understood human powers couldn’t be as they are. The road to Deism is already open”. . .

James M. Houston

James M. Houston is a co-founder of the C.S. Lewis Institute.  From its beginning, Jim has served as a Senior Fellow of the Institute, lecturing at CSLI events over the past four decades. He received his Bachelor of Science and M.A. degrees from the University of Edinburgh and a D. Phil. from Oxford University.  He was a University Lecturer at Oxford from 1947 – 1971 where he taught cultural and historical geography.  While teaching at Oxford, he met C.S. Lewis and participated in a regular Bible study with him for six years. He is known as one of the “founding fathers” of Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia where he has served as the first Principal, Chancellor and Professor of Spiritual Theology.  

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