Jay Evensen: Infatuated with his good looks, the false god of Narcissus falls victim to the 'selfie'
A visitor from another planet might wonder, after a few hours of observation, whether modern earthlings are capable of seeing each other at all.
By that, I don’t mean actually seeing the people around them. We seldom actually smack into each other on the street. But when it comes to really seeing the value that exists within each person, it seems as if many see as if they were wearing football helmets backwards.
Not that we’re not trying to be seen.
By last count, people watch more than 6 billion hours of video each month on Youtube. As the site itself notes, this is the equivalent of an hour of video for every man, woman and child on earth.
These range from serious lectures and instruction to an endless array of films featuring people trying to ingest large amounts of cinnamon, pulling pranks on one another or, in what may be the saddest commentary on what society values, showing themselves in various states of undress and asking viewers for opinions as to how they look.
Each minute, 100 hours of new video are loaded onto the site, and most is not worth watching.
Facebook and other social media sites are filled with regular reports of what people eat, think, see or imagine, along with “selfies” taken with cell phone cameras.
Old-fashioned commercial television, meanwhile, is riddled with profanity, explicit references to private body parts and the depiction of young girls, in particular, as sex objects. Motion pictures offer much the same. Even decent story lines often contain an underlying ethic of gratification, indulgence and materialism.
Hollywood can’t even make a film about the Biblical Noah without having it revolve around notions of environmentalism and vegetarianism — which may have merit in the proper context but represent modern fashion more than biblical warnings about evil.
In the second of the Ten Commandments, God warns the children of Israel against making “any graven image,” bowing to them or serving them. The trend among many “enlightened” modern beings is to discount what is found in the Bible. It may surprise many of them, then, to know that two Greek gods, Narcissus and Eros, are widely and unapologetically worshipped in today’s world, mostly in ignorance, and that they, the enlightened ones, are suffering for it.
The beauty of the Ten Commandments is that, while they come across to untrained ears as harsh (God tells Moses he is a jealous God who will visit “the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me”), they are, by all empirical measures, evidence of his love. Society gets in trouble the farther it strays from those 10 rules.
Narcissus and Eros, on the other hand, are not happy or loving gods. The former was so infatuated with his own good looks that he saw his reflection in a pool of water and was unable to look away. He died that way, the first casualty of the “selfie.”
Eros was described by the earliest poets as the being that used love to bring order from chaos. Later, however, he is depicted most closely with sexual desire, and he is a danger to all around him, making mischief and breaking hearts.
These are dangerous idols. A few years ago, the American Psychological Association released a report on the “sexualization of girls” in society. This focused on how young women are portrayed in popular media, and how this leads to changes in their behavior, self-image and goals. The news isn’t good.
Men don’t escape the harm, either. Other studies show pornography causes them to view women as objects for gratification, rather than as the people they truly are.
God ends this commandment by saying he will show “mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.”
That mercy comes when we see ourselves, and each other, as his children; as something with higher potential and worth. Armed with that vision, we would be more likely to be attracted by the light in each other’s eyes than to bump into each other while watching videos that titillate us or remind us how sexy we are, and who wouldn’t want that kind of attention?
Jay Evensen is the senior editorial columnist for the Deseret News. He has been on the editorial board since 1994, and prior to that, was a reporter for the Deseret News, the Las Vegas Review-Journal and United Press International in New York City. He is a member of the board of the foundation of the Society for Professional Journalists.
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