Friday, October 15, 2010

Religion As Narcissistic Delusion

Think about this question: What is the first step in religion and one of its most perplexing aspects to those of us who aren't drinking the Kool-aid?

The whole phenomenon of religion springs from the fact that some people can't admit when they don't know the answer to a question.  No one knows how or why the universe began, but some people just can't say that they don't know the answer to such an important question.  They would rather spin tales of fantastical nonsense than admit it.

What does it take to admit you don't know something? Humility and honesty.  What kind of person is so lacking in humility that he can't be honest about his lack of knowledge? Such people are called Narcissists.

A small amount of narcissism, or self-love, is necessary for a person to be emotionally healthy.  After all, it's not healthy to hate yourself and it's not healthy if you don't care about yourself just a little. But, when you would rather mislead yourself and your loved ones than admit to a flaw, then your ego is out of control.  Narcissism isn't just a bad case of braggadocio--as many believe it is--rather, it is a condition in which the sufferer has lost contact with reality.

I have noticed other signs that the religious are often people whose egos are out of control: They can't admit when they did something wrong. They can't apologize or accept an apology. They clearly think that their feelings are more important than yours (or your life or anything in your life). The indulge in scapegoating, projecting. splitting, and black and white thinking. They exhibit rigid outward conformity and a sense of entitlement.  They are holier than thou busybodies who think they have the right to be judge, jury and executioner of anyone meeting their disapproval.  Needless to say they have an inability to deal with fears in a rational manner and see all threats as immediate.  They need to feel like they are very important and will sacrifice even the truth (and you or anyone not in their group) in order to protect or elevate their social status.

Such people are suffering from a pathological form of narcissism.  It is pathological because it prevents them from dealing with reality. Here is a link to an article by an expert on narcissism concerning the relationship between narcissism and religion. I don't agree with everything it says, but it is a good starting point.

This is more true of some believers than others--as is the case with any observation about the tendency of a group. These particular groups, however, consist, for the most part, of people who choose in some manner to belong to the group. In such cases tendencies within the group tend to be self-selecting because members or potential members of the group who don't have that trait simply won't fit in as well and often leave.

At the same time, this particular group is a bifurcated one; it consists of sheep and shepherds. Those who belong or join can choose to try to fit in with either subgroup. Naturally, those with a more pathological version of narcissism will gravitate toward the leadership group and try to become a leader of some sort because it fits the self-image, which is driven by the needs of their egos.

When a person has narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) in general, meaning that he would have that illness regardless of which groups he belongs to, then combining that illness with religion makes the person much more dangerous. A non-religious person with NPD may think of himself as the greatest human, but he is still only human even in his own mind. A religious person with NPD can start to believe he is more than that. He can start to believe that he speaks for god, is god's messenger, an angel sent to Earth, god's child, part of god, or even god himself.

The further along that spectrum the person is, the more likely he is to want to found his own church, which the others will call a cult.  They will call it a cult because it is a competitor and because its newness will make the falsehood of its beliefs more "obvious" to members of established religions.

The difference between a cult and a religion really comes down to size, i.e., numbers. Once there are too many members for the other religions to safely treat them as kooks, they will suddenly be brought into the ecumenical tent. This usually only happens after the leader dies, however, because the founder is usually so disturbed that his behavior will be too unacceptable for the established cults' leaders.

I offer this observation as a way to understand the extent to which religion serves the function of propping up fragile egos (and empowering truly dangerous mentally ill people) so that non-believers can have a better idea of what type of person they are dealing with.  The average believer's ego is very much on the line whenever his religion comes up, so tread carefully.  In extreme cases, such as cult leaders and some clergy, it's best to avoid the person altogether for your own protection.

No comments:

Post a Comment