Monday, November 22, 2010

Religion As Narcissistic Delusion, DSM-IV

Some days ago, in a post on the Insanity of Religion I mentioned a news item  detailing the recent stunning pronouncement by a very prominent Rabbi in Israel that all non-Jews are born to serve Jews--with, scarily enough, biblical support.  A person who sees others as intended merely to serve him is suffering from Narcissistic Personality Disorder with Psychopathic traits.  This Rabbi and the apparently large number of people who agree with him fit that category.  

Their thoughts on this matter clearly fit all or nearly all of the traits for the disorder as laid out in DSM-IV, which I have laid out below.  After each trait I have listed some of the ways in which the religious exhibit that trait.  See these sites for details:


      "The symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder revolve around 
   a pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, and sense of 
   entitlement.  Often individuals feel overly important and will 
   exaggerate achievements and will accept, and often demand, praise
   and admiration despite unworthy achievements.  They may be 
   overwhelmed with fantasies involving unlimited success, power, 
   love, or beauty and feel that they can only be understood by others 
   who are, like them, superior in some aspect of life.

      There is a sense of entitlement, of being more deserving than others 
   based solely on their superiority.  These symptoms, however, are a 
   result of an underlying sense of inferiority and are often seen as 
   overcompensation.  Because of this, they are often envious and even 
   angry of others who have more, receive more respect or attention, or 
   otherwise steal away the spotlight."

First, I would like to point out something important.  Many people think of pride when they hear the term Narcissistic Personality Disorder.  But a certain amount of pride is normal and healthy.  After all, shouldn't a parent be proud of his or her children, especially if they have done well?  Shouldn't a person feel a small amount of pride over his or her talents and accomplishments?  It is only when the person is so narcissistic that he or she has lost touch with reality that narcissism becomes pathological.

People also think of braggarts when they hear the term narcissism.  Those with true Narcissistic Personality Disorder are not necessarily the ones who brag.  They often don't brag because they hate that same behavior in others and because it is highly unlikely that they consider you a peer and thus they will see no reason to brag to you.  With this type of person it will often be the pathological jealousy that will give them away.  And, more often than not, the more overt symptoms will be masked by the fact that they are channeled into a form of expression where they are acceptable and will not be noticed--like religion.

The traits and their application to the religious are:

1. An exaggerated sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements).  This grandiosity is the hallmark of narcissism.  They have an exaggerated sense of self-importance--in excess of any actual achievements.

The religious have extremely grandiose fantasies and behaviors. They think they are immortal and that they are close personal friends with the most powerful being in the universe and that this friend does their bidding. They think they are vastly superior to anyone who does not share their particular delusion. How much more grandiose could one's fantasies be?

This is most definitely true of the clergy. In fact, many clergymen say (usually in print) that they joined the clergy precisely for that reason.  It made them automatically important and respectable.  For a personal account of this read Dan Barker’s “Godless”--after Dan recovered, he was able to write honestly about his motivations at the time he became a member of the clergy.  The rank and file church members get this feeling of self-importance from their close personal relationship with “the most powerful being in the universe”.

2. Preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.  They are out of touch with reality, especially regarding their feelings of superiority and they resent it when anyone tries to bring them back down to earth.

I feel like this one doesn't even need explanation or comment. It is so true of almost every believer.

  They all obviously spend a great deal of time imagining that the most powerful being in the universe loves them unconditionally and will actually do their bidding if asked, even if it means setting aside the laws of the universe.  Some of them also apparently have fantasies of enslaving the rest of us--or forcing us to join their religion on pain of death, etc.

3. Believes he is "special" and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions).  They only want to be around other "special" people, and consider anyone not in that category to be worthless.

This is not always noticeably present in the religious, but can be seen in the insularity and cliquishness of religious groups.  The members frequently feel that they are among an elite who understand the secrets of the universe.  They are the only members of the "one true church"; they are the "chosen people"; they are the only ones who know the "Truth", etc.  Some even believe that their god is only going to allow a limited number of people into his heaven after death—only the crème de la crème, and they are amongst them, of course.

But this characteristic also shows up in another way that ties in with their excessive envy.  They often seem eager to find reasons to believe others are not as good as they are to bolster their fantasies of being better than everyone else.  Religion makes this especially easy.  Christianity, in particular, by making it evil and sinful to be human provides an incredible amount of grist for this mill.  Judaism does too, by teaching its adherents that they are "god's chosen people".

4. Requires excessive admiration.  They want constant praise, regardless of actual performance, truth or sincerity is not important.  They don't really care how well they do, just that you tell them they did well.

The religious show this by the way they are willing to believe things that don't make sense because doing so will garner approval, respect, and admiration.  When they can't get the admiration they need from other humans, they can always turn to their invisible, fantasy friend who will give it to them simply for being his friend.

They also show it by the way they react to criticism, such as laws against blasphemy and heresy, censorship both legal and social (i.e., bullying and intimidation, which is the real purpose of organized state-sponsored prayer, of course), discrimination against non-believers, intellectually dishonest accusations of "intolerance" simply for criticizing religion (which is classic psychological "projection" of their own state of mind onto their intended victims--also a hallmark of N.P.D.), pogroms, auto de fe's, and other acts of violence aimed at those who disagree.  (Most Americans don't realize it, but laws criminalizing criticism of the local religion are extremely commonplace throughout the world.  It is the desire to enact such laws as well as the desire to obtain government subsidies that is driving the theocracy movement in the U.S.)

They can't win the argument, so they resort to bullying of the worst sort.  They don't seem to know the difference (or don't care) between respect and fear, which is a classic sign of N.P.D.  What's worse, in the case of those suffering from Malignant Narcissism:  "These patients experience triumph over inflicting fear and pain in others.  Their self esteem is enhanced when they experience sadistic pleasure" from doing this.

Personally, if someone criticizes me or a group I belong to I respond by examining myself or that group to determine if there is any truth to the allegation.  If there is, I take appropriate measures.  If a person responds to clearly valid criticism by going on the attack, then you know you are dealing with some level of egotism if not narcissism.

5. Has a sense of entitlement.  They expect automatic compliance with their wishes or favorable treatment.  They react with hurt or rage when this doesn't happen.

This one may seem problematic in some cases, but if you think about their belief that they are immortal, you can see how it applies.  They don't have to die, that's for animals.  Their special invisible friend will save them from that fate and worse fates.

They also expect to be treated as if they were good people no matter how badly they behave.  They seem to feel that they can do no wrong, and, even if they do, YOU certainly are not entitled to be the judge of that.  Only their good friend, god, can judge them, and he says that they are great people.  As I mentioned before, one of the primary purposes of religion is to allow bad people to feel good about themselves.

I hate to pick on the Rabbi too much because it is not Judaism itself that I dislike, but his statements provide a good example of how religion often leads to a sense of entitlement with regard to how the religious are entitled to treat those not of their religion.  In another post, I discussed the effects of what is known as "in-group morality".  This is a clear example of how that theory of morality predicts behaviors and attitudes.  If you are not in the religious person's group, then he thinks he owes you absolutely no moral duties whatsoever.  See this story for an extreme example.
I have personally found this one to be true of many religious people.  I think one of the most common expressions of this is their sense that they are entitled to pass judgment on everyone else.  Sometimes this sense of entitlement extends even to passing judgment on members of their own church.  It's no accident that our English idiom for this type of behavior and mindset is:  "Holier than thou."

We are all entitled to pass judgment from time to time, but the crucial question is whether this is done in a reasonable manner or is it done based on the slightest pretext.  For example, a narcissist who is envious of a better qualified colleague at work may greatly exaggerate and publicize minor failures by his colleague, and at the same time ignore or greatly understate his successes.  This is also an expression of a narcissistic level of envy.  See

Most telling in this regard is whether or not they think it is within their purview to "do something" about those they consider to be bad.  That is, do they consider themselves not only to be the judge but the executioner as well.

6. Selfishly takes advantage of others to achieve his own ends.  They use other people to get what they want without caring about the cost to the other people.

Not present in all of them but certainly is in many of the clergy.  Many parishioners, however, will be church members because of the ready group of allies their membership brings them.  Many of the worst functioning or compensated psychopaths are churchgoers because they see the congregation as a ready made mob, which can be set upon their enemies with a simple bit of gossip.  In fact, in my experience, such people often do their best to belong to more than one church in order to increase their power and influence in the community.

7. Lacks empathy.

They are unwilling to recognize or sympathize with other people's feelings and needs.  If they accurately discern other people's emotions but don't care, they are more psychopathic than narcissistic.  (If they accurately interpret them and enjoy the distress of others, they are definitely psychopathic.)  If the person can't recognize or accurately interpret other's emotions, they are more narcissistic.

This trait is not always present except with regard to those who disagree with them.  But in most cases, I find it is true.  They commit outrageous acts toward others, acts that they would not tolerate if done to them, then have to be told what they did was wrong and, most important, why.  The fact that it has to be explained to them indicates that they have a complete lack of empathy.

And, the person who does dare to explain will probably be in for a dose of narcissistic rage for daring to criticize.

Though they often make a show of embracing empathy, it is usually honored more in the breach than in the observance, i.e., it is usually only lip service. They think nothing of destroying the lives, or even torturing and murdering, those who disagree with them, especially with regard to their narcissistic fantasies about their VIP invisible friend and their own superiority to anyone without the same friend. (This is also an example of classic narcissistic rage.  You can't even disagree with them without making a dangerous enemy.)

And, as the Rabbi demonstrates, they think nothing of enslaving everyone not of their "special" group, which is about as un-empathetic as a person can get.

8. Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him.

I don't feel much need to elaborate. Anyone who has spent any amount of time amongst believers knows how true this one is.

  But, if anyone is in doubt, simply consider the extent to which religion is a way for people to try to increase their social status.  Those pre-occupied with social status are almost necessarily driven by envy.

9. Shows arrogant, haughty, patronizing, or contemptuous behaviors or attitudes.  They often treat other people with disrespect.

This trait is not always self-evident, though the case of the rabbi seems to support it.  If you look at their behavior toward atheists, however, it seems to be clearly prevalent.

Frequently, the NPD personality has strong overtones of psychopathy—a lack of internal morality or ethics.  This is also true of the religious.  They are in some ways quite open about this lack.  They continually express the conviction that no one has internal morality and that all people need to be threatened by the punishment of a supernatural, ever-vigilant watchdog in order to prevent them from committing the most heinous crimes imaginable.

This lack of morality is also manifest in their intellectual lives.  To a psychopath, the only concern he has about his own guilt is whether or not others can prove it.  When accused, he will deny his guilt or, if he feels hostile to the accuser and confident that he has nothing to fear, simply sneer “prove it”.  Likewise, when nonbelievers point out that believers can’t prove their god exists, the rejoinder will be “well, you can’t prove god doesn’t exist”.  This is an intellectually dishonest, indeed intellectually psychopathic, response.

The believer believes something for which there is no evidence, which cannot be disproved, which is accepted on faith, and which he demands that everyone else treat as reality.  Yet, that same believer would laugh at someone who made the same type of arguments to him about something in which he didn't believe.

One of the most important themes running throughout these diagnostic criteria is that truth is not important to a person with N.P.D.  In fact, it is actively rejected.  The only thing that matters to a person with N.P.D. is doing whatever it takes to make the sufferer feel good about himself.


  1. I think that there are many many negative aspects of being diagnosed with a mental disorder. In many cases their legal rights are taken away. They are judged to not have the capacity to make decisions for themselves. The Brady Bill takes the 2nd amendment right away from people that are diagnosed with a mental incapacity, with each state judging how to define that term, some including all mental illness, and some just including ones that result in a legal commitment. Also, mentally ill people often lack credibility in court, and cannot hold a job because of stigma, thus making it difficult to have basic rights like protection under the law, and the ability to make a living. I think that your ideas that all people that are religious can be defined as mentally ill sets the stage to take constitutional rights away from all religious people. Tell me, is there a mental health diagnosis listed in the DSM IV that describes people that consider themselves so intelligent and gifted that they are able to get a degree or present an argument that gives them the power to take constitutional rights away from other people? No, can't find one? I wonder why. Or maybe Narcissistic Delusion fits that criteria? Your theory fundamentally undermines the separation of church and state, and the protection of exercise of conscience that it offers. I hope you can see that.

  2. I hope you realize that the religious currently inflict on non-believers all the things you describe as negative effects of being diagnosed with a mental illness.

    They do their best to diagnose us (informally and usually without benefit of going to medical school) as mentally ill. If they do not know enough about us to do this, they will become extremely nosy looking for some scrap of information that will justify such a diagnosis. In many cases, such an informal diagnosis is not even required. Simply being a non-believer will result in most or all of the ills you describe. This is a step up from burning us at the stake as was their practice for centuries, but it is still a great evil and a great injustice.

    So, your not so veiled accusation is, frankly, a case of the pot calling the kettle black. Actually, that isn't a strong enough description. It is psychological projection, but even that isn't strong enough. At the risk of violating Poe's Law, it is the equivalent of a Nazi accusing a Jew of intolerance. It is obscene in its apparent insensitivity to reality.

    In addition, you misunderstand the Constitution. It limits the power of government; it does not protect people from lacking credibility or being stigmatized because they believe in nonsense.

    Finally, you mistake my argument as an ad hominem attack and reply in kind. Therefore, you have failed to address the basic point: Is religious belief insane and, if so, what drives people to it.

    I maintain that it is objectively insane. It is supported by neither evidence or logic. What else can one call such a belief? The only question is why seemingly rational adults would hold on to such nonsensical beliefs so tightly that they are willing to kill for them (and, in some cases, die for them).

    After more than four decades of being a non-believer in this most religious of countries and having to deal with the fallout from my insistence on rationality--having to deal with the same ridiculous arguments over and over; having to deal with a constant stream of insults and threats; having to deal with vicious, slanderous gossip campaigns; having to deal with repeated attempts to use emotional pressure and psychological manipulation to force me to conform; and failing that, having to deal with attempts to ruin my life in all the ways you describe--I finally realized that the logical conclusion that religion was false and a delusion was so simple and inescapable that a child could see it and that only some form of mental illness could explain its sway over adults and their vicious reaction to those who point out its illogic.

    The narcissistic monster is in all of us, just waiting for a chance to come out. That is why we all nod knowingly when we hear someone say that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. We all know it's true. We feel it in ourselves and we have all witnessed it in others.

    Most of the time, reality forces us to keep the monster in check. But, when a phenomenon comes along that lets the monster out, such as wealth, fame, or other forms of power, we see the monster try to take over its host. Religion is such a phenomenon. It always has been. Its very genesis was the desire of twisted, narcissistic types to control others and bend them to his will. This scenario plays itself out over and over--even in recent days. Tell me, do you know the history of Joseph Smith? L. Ron Hubbard? If not, then do a little research. Then ask yourself if you have any good, evidence based reason to believe that the founders of other religions were any less unscrupulous.

    As I wrote in another of my posts, anyone who claims to know the precise truth about the origins of the universe is either a liar, a fool, or a madman. Yet, this is exactly what the religious claim. It is the very core of their belief. What else can one conclude? Obviously, some form of insanity is at work.

  3. Well, Shura Louise, after drafting and posting my reply to your comment I looked at your profile. I read that you are a practicing Mormon. In the words of the immortal Rosanne Rosannadanna: "Never mind."

  4. This whole article is nothing but an elaborate hate speech against religious individuals. It is almost completely filled with hypocritical statements, half-truths, and lies. Masked Offender, every one has a right to believe in what ever they want. If you don't want to believe in God that's your choice as well and you are free to live and think the way want. But your clear hatred against religion is not an excuse to twist facts and make obvious lies about people who practice their religion. Doing this does nothing but discredit you.

  5. Your response to my post says more about your bias than it does the substance of the post. I notice that you failed to specifically refer to any inaccuracy, thus making it impossible for me to defend what I wrote. I am sure that what I wrote is accurate. I know from direct experience and observation.

    By the way, no amount of criticism of religious people could possibly offset the horrid way in which they have discriminated against non-believers throughout history. When they start respecting my right to believe what I want and to say so publicly, then maybe I will be persuaded to be less critical. As of now, however, the situation has little changed from the days when they burned us at the stake. Contrary to your assertion, I am not free to live and think as I wish. I have suffered an incredible amount of discrimination over decades.