The Selfie-Driven Life or The Redawning of the Age of Laodiceanism and the Meh Church?

With the dawn of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media outlets, people appear more manipulated by their egos, deeper in love with themselves, and more apathetic about everything else than ever before. Billions of photos later (and we’re all guilty of adding to that number), are we, unintentionally, affirming the psychopath—the narcissist, the self-obsessed—amongst us?

Thanks to Ohio State researchers, what we used to think of as “doing it for fun” or “not to be taken seriously,” may not be as fun as we thought, and could become serious if we don’t pay careful attention to certain behaviour patterns.

Published in Personality and Individual Differences, Volume 76, April 2015, Pages 161–165, the article, ominously titled The Dark Triad and trait self-objectification as predictors of men’s use and self-presentation behaviors on social networking sites, gives us a foreshadowing of what to expect.

To quote the research:

An online survey of a nationally representative sample of U.S. men aged 18–40 assessed trait predictors of social networking site use as well as two forms of visual self-presentation: editing one’s image in photographs posted on social networking sites (SNSs) and posting “selfies,” or pictures users take of themselves. We examined the Dark Triad (i.e., narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy) and trait self-objectification as predictors. Self-objectification and narcissism predicted time spent on SNSs. Narcissism and psychopathy predicted the number of selfies posted, whereas narcissism and self-objectification predicted editing photographs of oneself posted on SNSs. We discuss selective self-presentation processes on social media and how these traits may influence interpersonal relationship development in computer-mediated communication.

Apparently, there’s a correlation between the number of selfies posted on social networks and how soon one posted them. Why? Because the psychopath just can’t wait to see photos of himself. The narcissist tends to overrate his attractiveness, appeal, and charm, and cares little about the feelings of others.

If the man edits his selfies, he’s off the hook for potential psychopathic tendencies, but probably more prone to self-objectification. However, the more time he or you spend on social networking sites, the more the narcissism and self-objectification grows.

This is not intended just for men only, but men are known to be more narcissistic. On the other hand, women are more likely to focus on how they think others think they look.

This pre-occupation with self raises a question. Are we seeing the revival of the Spirit of Laodicea?

Laodicea, founded by Antiochus II (261-246 B.C.), was one of the most important and flourishing cities in Asia Minor, gaining its wealth and prosperity from a great banking center, good grazing grounds for sheep that produced fine, glossy black wool, a thriving textile industry which manufactured cloth and carpets, and was known for its medical school. Healing ear ointments and eye balms brought many visitors to them. Being a booming city, the people were comfortable, their needs were amply met, and they lacked nothing. This indolence produced in the Laodicean Christians a distinct apathy towards anything to do with faith—it wasn’t that they didn’t believe, they were just spiritually lethargic. They were lovers of themselves and their pleasures. Describing the church in Laodicea, G.B. Caird says:

This is the church in an affluent city, without either hot enthusiasm or cold antagonism towards religious matters. Even open hostility would be preferable to this lukewarm and repulsive indifference, for it would at least suggest that religion was something to be in earnest about. Spiritually the church is poor, blind, and naked, and not all the banks, pharmacies, and looms in Laodicea can provide for its need; for it has failed to find in Christ the source of all true wealth, splendour, and vision. Of this church alone the heavenly scrutineer has nothing good to say. (Harper’s New Testament Commentaries, The Revelation of St. John the Divine, pp.56-57).

Today, Laodiceanism has come to be synonymous with all things pertaining to one’s self: selfishness, self-centeredness, self-aggrandizement—the things attributed to our Selfie-Driven culture. We’re comfortable and, compared to the rest of the world, lack nothing. It looks like just another instance of bad history repeating itself with the same miserable results. Meh.

We can find many studies citing the increase in self-centeredness, the rise in self-esteem (like medication, a right amount is good, an overdose is toxic), and all the negatives that go with it. Even if we disregard these studies, we can observe the self-focus in the culture’s quest to have more material goods, increase their social standing, gain power, and look younger.

In 2013, the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year was—Selfie!

Pronunciation: /ˈsɛlfi, (also selfy). Definition of selfie in English: A photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and shared via social media.

The decision was unanimous this year, with little if any argument. This is a little unusual. Normally there will be some good-natured debate as one person might champion their particular choice over someone else’s. But this time, everyone seemed to be in agreement almost from the start. Other words were considered, as you will see from our shortlist, but selfie was the runaway winner.

A few years later, selfies, instead of diminishing in popularity, show signs of living many more years happily after. In PsychlogyToday.com, Dr. Peggy Drexler in What Your Selfies Say About You makes a good point:

…Selfies are also a manifestation of society’s obsession with looks and its ever-narcissistic embrace…. Selfie subjects feel as though they’re starring in their own reality shows, with an inflated sense of self that allows them to believe their friends or followers are interested in seeing them lying in bed, lips pursed, in a real world headshot. It’s like looking in the mirror all day long, and letting others see you do it. And that can have real and serious implications. Excessive narcissism, studies have found, can have adverse effects on marriage and relationships, parenting, and the workplace. One study found a link between excessive narcissism and violence.

Life interrupted, charity gone, and intimacy lost could well describe our selfie-driven lifestyle. We’re more interested in capturing ourselves and that special moment on camera, than focusing on what or who is around us, or the pressing needs that are facing us.

The Selfie-Driven Life appears antithetical to Christian life and to everything Jesus and the Bible teach us—gone is the slave (Mk. 10:42-45), the suffering servant (1 Pet. 2:21), laying down our lives for others (Jn. 15:13), and putting the Kingdom first (Mt. 6:33). Instead, being self-absorbed is becoming the new accepted norm.

If this is the trend, then perhaps it would be wise to look back at history, see what happened to Laodicea, and remember the clear warning in Revelation 3:15-16:

I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.

Ray Summers in his book Worthy Is the Lamb sums it up this way:

The glorified Christ, standing in the midst of his churches, seeing with his piercing eyes of flame, brings his commendation, complaint, warning, and promise. The message delivered first to the churches of Asia Minor is universal. Its truth applies wherever similar conditions are found today; and it is difficult to find churches where at least some of these conditions are not found. The warning against spiritual apathy still stands, ‘He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches.’

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Photo by Dmitry Ryzhkov via Flickr