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Asking the clergy: Does narcissism undermine faith?

In a society where everyone is told that it is OK to put one's self first, it is easy to become a little self-centered, a little narcissistic. But does this same drive to stand out, to make sure you get yours, undermine one's relationship with God?

This week's clergy takes a look at how this attitude affects individuals' spiritually.

The Rev. JoAnn Barrett,

Gathering of Light Interspiritual Fellowship, Melville, and a trained addiction abuse counselor

There is a big difference between someone who is clinically narcissistic and the term society commonly uses to mean someone who is selfish or self-centered. I would first address the person we perceive as self-centered, which is prevalent in our society.

Everyone knows we have a me-first, quick-fix attitude. That is contrary to faith, which requires each of us to reach out to others, to be in service to others.

If you're always thinking about yourself, you can't fully experience faith, making it difficult to have a true faith experience. Faith is bigger than the individual. Yes, you are important, but you and your needs are just one aspect of your faith. It is about your relationship with God, your relationship with others.

A great way to get out of the "me" attitude is to ask God what it is you should be doing, how you can be of service to others. When you pray, ask "What would you have me do, God?" Then, listen and observe. There are opportunities to help others all around you. Join a walk for a good cause. Raise your hand when a volunteer opportunity is offered. The desire to look and see changes everything. If you are looking for opportunities to change, opportunities will present themselves.

As for the clinical narcissist, he or she doesn't have the capacity to look beyond him or herself. They just need to get professional help.

Pastor Scott Kraniak,

Centereach Bible Church, Centereach:

The whole basis on which faith stands is in trusting not in one's self, but in God, thinking of our own importance as less than the importance of others. In John 3:30, it says: "He must increase, but I must decrease." In Proverbs 16:19, it says: "Better is it to be of humble spirit . . ."

Today there is a spirit of narcissism running rampant through our culture. We all seem to think we hold all the answers. When we believe we hold all the answers, we are less prone to go to others, i.e., God, for help.

One problem we have is trusting too much in people who trust too much in themselves. All through the word of God one thread binds it: humility. How can we have humility when we are filled with self-exaltation? It has been said that a true wise person is one who goes to another when he or she doesn't know what to do. If anything, narcissism is the root of anti-faith (if I can make up a word). We see this in the scientific community where the love of their own knowledge makes it impossible to ever seek a higher knowledge than themselves. They will never trust in anything they can't see. That omits a lot of the wonders in heaven and Earth that God has waiting for us.

Narcissism cannot live alongside faith. Keep in mind that we are not talking about doing away with self-confidence. Rather, I speak of the extreme place where self-love rises and we become gods in our own minds.

The Rev. Wendy Steed,

St. Paul's United Methodist Church, Inwood:

Faith and narcissism are incompatible, as faith is all about giving up of self to grow closer to God.

I am reminded that Jesus said in Luke 10:27 that the most important commandment is to ". . . love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind . . ." This is the key to growing faith, a true challenge in our society.

Self-help books fill our shelves, urging us to take authority and find the solutions to our own challenges. Science promotes the idea that new cures, devices and theories are strictly of our own invention. And, just in case a question comes up, we rush to find the answer on our computers.

It is more important than ever that we remember to give God the glory, and remember that the message is to give all the praise and glory to God.

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