The Depleted Self: Sin in a Narcissistic Age by Donald Capps

In writing this book, Dr. Capps hoped to enlighten the “theological community” about narcissism (4). He starts out by discussing sin and suggests a “reformulation” of the theology of sin because the emotion that is felt is often shame rather than guilt (3). Modern society is so accustomed to narcissism that ministers are sometimes rewarded for their narcissistic behavior (9), which is characterized by an “exaggerated or grandiose sense of self” (14). Although one may not be clinically diagnosed with narcissism as a personality disorder, Dr. Capps believes everyone is a narcissist to some degree (36).

The first six chapters of Dr. Capps book details the formation of the “self” (by examining the works of Kohut, Erikson, and Tillich), and how the “self” experiences shame, becomes defensive, or turns to isolation. Dr. Capps used the story of Jonah to illustrate that he was not a “true self” but the “defensive” self- characterized as a “self that has its own center of initiative, that knows and follows its own course” (161). The dreaded reality of the book is that everyone experiences one or more of the characteristics mentioned, which only proves that “everyone is a sinner.”

I found the first few chapters of Dr. Capps’ book very informational, in a secular sense; but it was evident in the last chapter that he misinterprets the Bible. For instance, in the story of the woman with the alabaster flask, Dr. Capps believes the act of worship was an act of “self-trust” and “self-affirmation,” and Jesus’ pronouncement, “Your faith has saved you” means “have faith in yourself” (163). He understands the story’s key issue to be “the self and its fight for survival”(163). He believes that Jesus carried shame because He was born “illegitimately” (163), and that in Luke 2:46-47 Jesus needed the affirmations of others in order to “affirm his faith in himself” (164). Dr. Capps states, “The chance to have one’s faith in oneself confirmed is a rare opportunity, and Jesus-for his own self’s sake-could not afford to miss it (referring to the incident when Jesus was having a dialogue with teachers in the temple at the age of twelve). His faith had saved him, and he could go in peace (164).”

I agree that everyone suffers from narcissistic traits, but perhaps this is because all humans are sinners. Whenever I think of narcissism, I picture people who are self-absorbed, self-seeking and just plain selfish; in fact, the word “narcissism” is defined as, “Excessive love or admiration of oneself” (http://dictionary. reference.com/search?q=narcissism). The truth is, narcissism is when a person places God second to him or herself. If there was one important thing I got from Dr. Capps’ book, it is that people struggle with self-centeredness. Even his “cure” for the “depleted self” is centered on uplifting the “self.” Instead of seeing others as an image of God, he is fascinated by the Hindu greeting in which people say to each other, “I recognized the God in you” (168).

This book started out with a basic truth (that we are sinners who are damaged by sin) but ends with fallacy. I think I would have appreciated the book more if it never mentioned the Bible, which would have been preferable considering Dr. Capps took the Bible out of context and warped it to fit his own personal presupposition. Reading his work made me realize that many people have not reconciled psychology with Biblical theology-his was more pronounced than others I have seen. Dr. Capps’ book clearly epitomizes Paul’s observation that man’s wisdom is nothing but “foolishness.”

Copyright © 2007 M. Teresa Trascritti

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