Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Consuming Religion- A Call Beyond the Self

Written by: on March 21, 2023

After reading Vincent J. Miller’s book, Consuming Religion: Christian Faith and Practice in a Consumer Culture, I was ready to sign up for his class at Georgetown University. Miller makes some interesting observations regarding Christian consumer culture. He states he wrote his book out of “a profound concern about the corrosive and destructive consequences of consumption, it is not primarily a book about consumerism. This book focuses on how the habits of consumption transform our relationship to the religious beliefs we profess.” [1] Therein lies Dr. Clark’s desire to probe the depths of this issue as well. In his research, Dr. Clark addresses the underlying motivators of consumerism and the impact this has on one’s relationship with God. It is an interesting subject to discuss as Clark states, “Fallen human beings are prone to disordered love and to loving the world wrongly.”[2] This disordered love looks similar to narcissism. In this blog I will give greater definition to this term. I will also walk alongside Miller and Clark in their discussion of consumerism and the impact it has on Christian belief and practice and add to their discussion on narcissism and its influence on Christian consumerism.

Miller and Clark on Narcissism

Miller uses the word narcissism in describing a person’s consumer habits, and he uses this term in reference to our consumer culture as well. Miller states directly that “we are endlessly encouraged to desire everything all at once” and “this provides(s) the opportunity to revisit the issue of consumer “narcissism.” [3] Miller does not have the intention of condemning readers but allows his readers to look at how we are always driven to want more. Dr. Clark draws an interesting distinction between a Christian and a non-Christian, “there is one fundamental contrast between Christian and non-Christian desire, or rather, there should be one key contrast whereby Christian desire arises from a call beyond the self.” [4] This begs the question: how are we to operate selflessly towards others? What does it look like to not be selfish? As a Marriage and Family Therapist, I view narcissism and its severity in how it shows up in people’s lives.  It is easy to pinpoint selfish behavior (narcissistic tendencies), but if these patterns dominate the personality, a Narcissistic Personality Disorder diagnosis may be justified. 

Narcissistic Tendencies/ NPD Diagnosis

It is important to note the difference between narcissism and Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). Personally, I find this to be a prudent exercise as I consider the potential of selfishness and ego-obsessed propensities. How far away are we from being utterly self-absorbed?  Much like Miller, my intentions are not to condemn but raise awareness and thoughtful consideration to narcissistic tendencies.

Diagnosing someone with a Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) has been a rare occurrence in the 16 year span in which I have been in clinical practice, but I believe several people with this diagnosis have sat in my office. The Diagnostic Statistical Manual IV outlines the various disorders a person may have upon seeking psychiatric care. The following criteria are listed for NPD and five are required to justify the diagnosis:

  1. Inflated self-esteem or a grandiose sense of self-importance or superiority
  2. Craving admiration
  3. Exploitative relationships (i.e., manipulation)
  4. Little to no empathy
  5. Identity is easily disturbed (i.e., can’t handle criticism)
  6. Lack of attachment and intimacy
  7. Feelings of depression or emptiness when not validated
  8. A sense of entitlement
  9. Can feel like others are envious of them, or may envy others  [5]

How many of these characteristics do you have? Do you meet five of the nine criteria? Having insight into how these criteria influence your life precludes you from having the diagnosis. Taking ownership in the areas where you have narcissistic tendencies is a step in a healthy direction. For those who recognize their narcissistic tendencies, have encountered the ‘law of diminishing returns’ and what Miller describes as “the joy of endless seeking and pursuit. Actual consumption always comes as something of a disappointment, as the object can never live up to its promise.” [6] For those who are pursuing God, we are left wanting real relationships, Christian fellowship, and transformative opportunities to grow in Christ.

Online Dating–Narcissistic Consumerism?

Let’s look at an example where narcissism and consumerism as a Christian cross paths. While on a  walk with my friend Sally, she shared with me how she had been in a two-month relationship which had begun over a Christian dating site. It was interesting to hear how this relationship unfolded. Sally said that the dating app did not provide references or accountability in the process of getting to know this “Christian man,” and she believes he was dating others while he was talking with her. I reflected, “It sounds like he treated you like a commodity?” she said, “Yes, exactly.” After that experience, Sally has been content to not use a Christian dating app and has found forgiving this guy, serving the Lord at her local church, and pursuing mission work on a local college campus to be much more fulfilling. I am proud of Sally as she has successfully pursued what Miller states, “Make room for the meditative practices that fight the tide of commodification and for considerations of how the church can best employ its systems of communication to preserve its heritage in the cultural maelstrom of advanced capitalism. [7]

Narcissism’s Remedy

Remedy for our narcissistic tendencies needs to be multi-faceted. Sally proposed a potent idea when she said that the Christian dating site needed to provide accountability. If we had greater accountability in our lives, would this impact the narcissistic trends in our behavior? [8]  Sally also stated that she needed to forgive the person who had treated her like a commodity. As Miller states, “Christian forgiveness as potent therapy for countering capitalistic desire.” [9] Her desire for more (more relationship) has decreased as she has purposefully forgiven. I would also propose that slowing down and taking breaks from our phones might promote our relationships in a healthy way. “This new normal of hurried digital distraction is robbing us of the ability to be present.” [10] When it comes to our relationship with God, are we pursuing stillness, putting ourselves in a listening posture? Narcissism’s greatest countermeasure might be found in John the Baptist’s words, “He must become greater; I must become less.” John 3:30


[1] Vincent J. Miller, Consuming Religion: Christian Faith and Practice in a Consumer Culture, 2008, p.11

[2] Clark, Jason Paul, “Evangelicalism and Capitalism: A Reparative Account and Diagnosis of Pathogenesis in the Relationship,” 2018, p.228

[3] Vincent J. Miller,  p.110

[4] Clark, Jason Paul,  p.209

[5] W. Keith Campbell, The New Science of Narcissism: Understanding One of the Greatest Psychological Challenges of Our Time-And What You Can Do About It, 2022,  p.88

[6] Vincent J. Miller,  p.7

[7] Ibid. p.224

[8] W. Keith Campbell, p. 217

[9] Vincent J. Miller, p.180

[10] John Mark Comer, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, 2019, p.121

About the Author

Kristy Newport

5 responses to “Consuming Religion- A Call Beyond the Self”

  1. Kristy,
    Incredible post. A post that ends up in an article. I appreciate and value how you bring your experience and field of work into these posts. Most of all with this post, you just don’t identify a problem, but also bring a solution. Well done!

  2. Alana Hayes says:

    “Remedy for our narcissistic tendencies needs to be multi-faceted. ”

    Where do we start gal?

  3. Kristy Newport says:

    My son reminded me of this verse the other day. It was so convicting. I thought it was a good dose of healthy view of self:
    For by the grace given me I say to everyone of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. Romans 12:3

  4. mm Audrey Robinson says:

    Great way to weave your professional background, a personal story and the text. I was able to understand parts of Miller much better.

    You mention that perhaps there should be more accountability in our lives. What might this look like? And would another aspect of accountability include the local church leadership?

  5. mm Becca Hald says:

    Kristy, as always, great post. I am intrigued by your tie in to narcissism and your section on the remedy for narcissism. I wrote a paper several years ago on Mental Health and the Church in which I proposed that Paul was a narcissist. I wrote, “What stands out about the life of Paul is not the question of whether or not he was a narcissist. What his life exemplifies is transformation. In Romans, he penned the formula for transformation that is only now being confirmed by scientific discovery. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Rom. 12:2)” I would love your perspective.


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