Surveys showing a rise in overconfidence and narcissism among college freshmen should remind Catholics of the need to rely on God, said an official with a Catholic student missionary group.
Jeremy Rivera, national director of marketing and communications for the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, said extreme self-confidence is “very dangerous to anyone who wants to follow Christ or be a Catholic.”
“If there’s any reason to talk about Jesus, it’s because we need a savior and we’re not enough,” he told CNA Jan. 7. “Virtue is the fruit of faith, it is not the generator of faith.”
Rivera suggested that a “strong emphasis” on sacramental life can help address problems of overconfidence and narcissism.
His comments come after the release of the latest American Freshman Survey, which has recorded the self-responses of millions of new college students since 1966. It asks respondents to self-evaluate their abilities and characteristics.
The latest survey shows a significant increase in the number of students who rate themselves “above average” in self-confidence, academic ability, mathematical ability, and drive to achieve. There has been either no change or a slight decrease in the numbers of students who rate themselves highly in traits like cooperativeness, understanding others and spirituality.
Researchers found that students’ actual ability in areas like writing has declined in comparison with students in the 1960s.
San Diego State University psychology professor Jean Twenge, who compiled the survey with other colleagues, has also found a 30 percent increase in narcissistic attitudes among students since 1979. About 25 percent of students now exhibit attitudes like self-admiration, self-centeredness and vanity.
She suggested that narcissism is on the increase because of parenting styles, celebrity culture, social media and easy credit. She said American culture once encouraged “modesty and humility and not bragging about yourself.”
“It was considered a bad thing to be seen as conceited or full of yourself,” Twenge told the BBC.
Rivera said the findings should encourage Catholics to remember to be humble.
“Catholics talk about having the fullness of truth,” he said. “It’s kind of hard to be humble when you have the fullness of truth. There’s a kind of triumphalism. Ultimately we need to repent of that kind of mentality.”
“God has given gifts and skills and passions ... but we’re disordered if we think anything comes from ourselves,” he explained.
The Colorado-based Fellowship of Catholic University Students has missionary teams at 74 campuses in 30 states and the District of Columbia.
Rivera said that priests who work with students in FOCUS tell them that apart from God they can do nothing.
“Regardless of how confident we feel or how applauded we are at what we do, whether it’s academically or athletically, if we really want to be a part of something that’s going to last and not just be of ourselves, then we need to repent and put that in the proper order in terms of where we come in,” he said
Alluding to what John the Baptist said of Jesus, he remarked: “we must decrease and he must increase.”
“We have to put all our hope in him and not in ourselves,” he added.
Rivera said FOCUS missionaries start each day with a holy hour and a rosary “because of the temptation to start to think that you can do things without God.”
They encourage students to receive the sacraments regularly, which helps teach that people “can’t live a self-led kind of Catholicism.”
“We’ve got to be Christ-led and we have to learn how to follow before we can ever lead,” he explained.
Despite his concerns, Rivera sees some potential in those who are overconfident.
“I like that there is confidence there. It has to be ordered properly,” he said, adding that “God can channel that confidence when it is properly ordered.”