Classical theists like St. Thomas Aquinas say God loves himself above all things. In other words, the primary target object of God’s love is himself. He loves himself above all things because his act of love can be fulfilled only in loving himself.
This is not to say God doesn’t love us, his creatures. He does. He creates us; sustains us in existence; and, according to Christian theism, gives us the graces needed to attain salvation. It is to say, however, that we as creatures simply don’t have what it takes to satisfy God’s infinite love.
For some atheists, God’s love of himself above all things—and his demand that rational creatures love and worship him above all things—smacks of egocentricity or narcissism. Only a conceited, egotistical maniac, so it’s argued, would demand such actions directed to himself.
In the words of Andrew Jasko, a self-described spiritual wellness coach, “There is no one more grandiose or egotistical (or insecure) than the biblical God. In his mind, the whole universe exists solely to worship him.” Jasko invites people to seek his help to coach them out of trauma perceived to be caused by religious beliefs.
So is God the “Divine Narcissist,” as Jasko calls him? Let’s think about it.
We have to start by asking: What does it mean to be egotistical? And what does it mean to be conceited?
To be egotistical is to have an unwarranted esteem for yourself, a disordered self-love. The conceited person assigns himself a value that is out of due order, overestimating his own importance and taking a position of superiority that’s not due to him. For example, it would be conceited for the best basketball-player in the NBA to think policymakers should consult him and his political views simply because he’s a sports star. This would be a case of overestimated importance and unwarranted self-esteem.
The view of God articulated above doesn’t map on to this understanding of egocentrism. Take, for example, the idea that God loves himself above all things because his act of love can be fulfilled only in loving himself.
God is the absolutely unique universal cause of all that exists outside himself. His essence is identical to existence—in fact, he’s the perfection of existence itself. Thus, he’s supremely good, void of all imperfection or badness. In the words of St. Anselm in his Proslogion, God is “that than which nothing greater can be thought.” He’s also that good that exceeds all other goods. No greater good can be thought of than God. He’s pure goodness itself.BUY PREPARE THE WAY NOW!
Now, if God is the supremely honorable being that is pure goodness itself, then he is worthy of the highest honor, love, and esteem. If he is worthy of the highest honor, love, and esteem, then God’s love of himself above all things is not disordered self-love, but rightly ordered self-love.
Such self-love is also rightly ordered because, as we mentioned above, being infinite goodness itself, God is the only reality that can possibly be the proper target for infinite love. There must be proportion between a power and the power’s object or target—that to which the power is directed (e.g., power of sight is directed to what is visible and not what is audible). God’s infinite power of love is proportionate only to himself because only he is infinite goodness itself.
So if God’s love of himself above all things is not disordered self-love, then it’s not conceited or egotistical. Rather, it’s balanced.
Here’s another way to think about it. If God did not honor, love, and esteem himself in a way that’s proportionate to the honor, love, and esteem he is worthy of, which is love of self above all things, then he’d be lacking some perfection. Either he’d be ignorant of the supreme goodness that he himself is, and thus would be lacking in knowledge, or he wouldn’t be properly attracted to the good, and thus would be lacking in love. Either way, God would be lacking some perfection.
But God, being pure existence itself (purely actual), cannot lack any perfection. Lack of perfection entails a potential to acquire some new aspect of being. Since God is purely actual (pure being itself), with no potential to acquire new aspects of being, it follows that God cannot lack any perfection.
Therefore, it belongs to God’s nature that he honor, love, and esteem himself in a way that’s proportionate to the honor, love, and esteem he is worthy of—a love of self that is above all things.
What about the complaint that God’s an egocentric maniac for demanding that we love him above all things and worship him?
Well, the answer follows from what we said above. If it’s not conceited for God to love himself above all things, then it’s not conceited for him to demand that we love him above all things. Note that our love for God is not the same kind of love as God’s love for himself. He’s infinite; we’re finite. It’s like a two-dimensional being trying to understand what it’s like to be three-dimensional, assuming for fun that there are two-dimensional intellectual beings. There will be a quality of knowledge that the two-dimensional being can have about life in the third dimension, but it’s not going to be the same as—and it will always fall short of—the knowledge the three-dimensional being has of itself and its three-dimensional environment. Similarly, we’re supposed to love God as much as humanly possible. But it’s not going to be the same kind of love that God has of himself.
Now, if God is the supremely honorable being, worthy of the highest honor and esteem, then it’s proper, good, and rightly ordered that he command us to worship him. The esteem we give God is due to him as the supremely honorable being, just like the respect we give the basketball-player above. And it wouldn’t be contrary to reason for the best basketball-player in the NBA to be frustrated or disappointed if other players and basketball fans didn’t give him due respect. There’s nothing egotistical about that!
Moreover, God made us such that when we direct honor and love toward him, we perfect our nature. So it follows that to honor and love God above all things makes us more perfect—or, in other words, it’s what constitutes our human happiness. The more we honor and love God, the more ourselves we are, so the happier we become. There’s nothing egocentric about God looking out for our happiness.
A word to my fellow theists: When you worship God, there’s no need to fear that you’re feeding the ego monster with undue adoration and praise. He’s already the most perfect being who lacks nothing. Our praise and adoration are not perfective of God. Rather, they perfect us who are made to love and worship him. That’s not something to be coached out of; it’s something to coached into.