For the Love of God: Narcissists and Religion
By: Dr. Sam Vaknin
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"1 But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: 2 For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, 3 unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, 4 traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! 6 For of this sort are those who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts, 7 always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. 8 Now as Jan'nes and Jam'bres resisted Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, disapproved concerning the faith; 9 but they will progress no further, for their folly will be manifest to all, as theirs also was."
(The Second Epistle of Paul the Apostle to Timothy 3:1-9)
God is everything the narcissist ever wants to be: omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, admired, much discussed, and awe inspiring. God is the narcissist's wet dream, his ultimate grandiose fantasy. But God comes handy in other ways as well.
The narcissist alternately idealizes and devalues figures of authority.
In the idealization phase, he strives to emulate them, he admires them, imitate them (often ludicrously), and defends them. They cannot go wrong, or be wrong. The narcissist regards them as bigger than life, infallible, perfect, whole, and brilliant. But as the narcissist's unrealistic and inflated expectations are inevitably frustrated, he begins to devalue his former idols.
Now they are "human" (to the narcissist, a derogatory term). They are small, fragile, error-prone, pusillanimous, mean, dumb, and mediocre. The narcissist goes through the same cycle in his relationship with God, the quintessential authority figure.
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But often, even when disillusionment and iconoclastic despair have set in - the narcissist continues to pretend to love God and follow Him. The narcissist maintains this deception because his continued proximity to God confers on him authority. Priests, leaders of the congregation, preachers, evangelists, cultists, politicians, intellectuals - all derive authority from their allegedly privileged relationship with God.
Religious authority allows the narcissist to indulge his sadistic urges and to exercise his misogynism freely and openly. Such a narcissist is likely to taunt and torment his followers, hector and chastise them, humiliate and berate them, abuse them spiritually, or even sexually. The narcissist whose source of authority is religious is looking for obedient and unquestioning slaves upon whom to exercise his capricious and wicked mastery. The narcissist transforms even the most innocuous and pure religious sentiments into a cultish ritual and a virulent hierarchy. He preys on the gullible. His flock become his hostages.
Religious authority also secures the narcissist's Narcissistic Supply. His coreligionists, members of his congregation, his parish, his constituency, his audience - are transformed into loyal and stable Sources of Narcissistic Supply. They obey his commands, heed his admonitions, follow his creed, admire his personality, applaud his personal traits, satisfy his needs (sometimes even his carnal desires), revere and idolize him.
Moreover, being a part of a "bigger thing" is very gratifying narcissistically. Being a particle of God, being immersed in His grandeur, experiencing His power and blessings first hand, communing with him - are all Sources of unending Narcissistic Supply. The narcissist becomes God by observing His commandments, following His instructions, loving Him, obeying Him, succumbing to Him, merging with Him, communicating with Him - or even by defying him (the bigger the narcissist's enemy - the more grandiosely important the narcissist feels).
Like everything else in the narcissist's life, he mutates God into a kind of inverted narcissist. God becomes his dominant Source of Supply. He forms a personal relationship with this overwhelming and overpowering entity - in order to overwhelm and overpower others. He becomes God vicariously, by the proxy of his relationship with Him. He idealizes God, then devalues Him, then abuses Him. This is the classic narcissistic pattern and even God himself cannot escape it.
Though most of the quotes in this essay are from the Gospel of Saint Matthew, I was careful to compare them with the texts of the other three canonical gospels. Where the gospels disagree, I avoided using the quote altogether.
Illegitimate and adopted children, especially of humble origins, often develop narcissistic defenses to fend off persistent feelings of inadequacy and inferiority. Admittedly, it is highly unlikely that Jesus was an illegitimate child. Adulteresses in ancient Judea were stoned to death. But, equally, there is little doubt that the circumstances of Jesus's birth were shrouded in mystery. His mother, Mary, got herself pregnant but not by having sexual intercourse with her lawfully-wedded husband, Joseph.
Early on, Jesus developed magical thinking, compensatory grandiose delusions, and fantasies of omnipotence and omniscience. A firstborn, he was much pampered by his doting mother. He was a prodigy, a Wunderkind: highly intelligent and inquisitive and more comfortable in the company of adults than with his peers.
When he was a mere 12 years old:
"(T)hey found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions." (Luke 2:46)
Even at this tender age, he showed a marked lack of empathy and a full-fledged case of pathological grandiosity:
"His mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing. And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business?" ("My Father" being God - SV). (Luke 2:48-49)
Gurus at the center of emergent cults are inevitably narcissistic, if not outright narcissists. The self-imputation of superiority, epiphanic knowledge, and infallibility and the assumption that others need and crave the guru's message are at the heart of an elaborate construct which often borders on the psychotic:
"... (T)he people were astonished at his doctrine: For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes." (Matthew 7:28-29)
Referring to his 12 disciples, Jesus made clear that: "The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord." (Matthew 10:24)
"He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it." (Matthew 10:37-39)
Here is how Jesus, the lowly, unmarried, and itinerant son of a carpenter - an abysmal failure by the standards of his society - viewed himself:
"When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats ... And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal." (Matthew 25:31-32 and 25:46)
"Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?" (Matthew 26:53)
Contrary to his much-cultivated image, Jesus, like the vast majority of cult leaders, lacked empathy and was a heartless and irresponsible manipulator whose magical thinking ruined the lives of many. He instructed his followers to commit acts that must have had harshly adverse impacts on their hitherto nearest and dearest. Jesus monopolized the lives of his disciples to the exclusion of all else and all others:
"For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man's foes shall be they of his own household." (Matthew 10:35-36)
"Then one said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee. But he answered and said unto him that told him, Who is my mother? and who are my brethren? And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren!" (Matthew 12:47-48)
"And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. And they straightway left their nets, and followed him. And going on from thence, he saw other two brethren, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in a ship with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and he called them. And they immediately left the ship and their father, and followed him." (Matthew 4:18-22)
Consider the disastrous effects their actions had had on their fathers and their families, now left to starve. To Jesus, evidently, these were irrelevant considerations.
Jesus healed only those who visibly, volubly, clearly, publicly and repeatedly worshipped him. In other words, he extended his gift only to his sources of narcissistic supply. There are numerous instances in the four canonical gospels where Jesus actually bargains with the afflicted and demands - sometimes in anger - their unconditional adoration. He is happiest when acknowledged and affirmed as Christ, the Son of Man (son of God). Those who do not recognize his splendid grandeur, unbounded might, and implied divinity are "dogs" and "swine" (Matthew 7:6)
His much-touted love of the poor was not a match for his malignant self-love. When his disciples upbraided a woman for anointing Jesus with expensive ointment because the money could have been better used to help the poor, the great humanist, Jesus, had this to say:
"Why trouble ye the woman? for she hath wrought a good work upon me. For ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always." (Matthew 26:10-11)
The principles espoused by Jesus were malleable and easily bent. He professed to minister only to the Hebrews (Sons of Israel) and steadfastly refused to heal the Gentiles whom he called "dogs". When a woman of Canaan beseeched him to cast the devil out of her daughter ("Have mercy on me!"), he retorted, shockingly:
"I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel ... It is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it to dogs." (Matthew 15:24-26)
But he soon forgot and retracted this lofty "principle" when she adulated him:
"Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour." (Matthew 15:28)
Similarly, he cured the servant of a Roman centurion after his master catered to Jesus's by-now rampant megalomania:
"When Jesus heard it, he marvelled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel. And Jesus said unto the centurion, Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee. And his servant was healed in the selfsame hour." (Matthew 8:10 and 8:13)
Whenever he affected a miracle - such as restoring eyesight to the blind, cleansing lepers, reviving the crippled, and raising the ostensibly dead - Jesus beseeched them to keep mum about the events. One of many examples:
"And their eyes were opened; and Jesus straitly charged them, saying, See that no man know it." (Matthew 9:30)
But Jesus was not averse to blatant self-promotion when his false modesty failed to elicit narcissistic supply:
"Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see: The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them." (Matthew 11:2)
"I say unto you, That in this place is one greater than the temple ... For the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath day ... behold, a greater than (the prophet) Jonas is here ... behold, a greater than (King) Solomon is here." (Matthew 12)
This is how he described the Pharisees, the scribes, and the Sadducees (and, inadvertently, himself and his own conduct):
"(T)hey say, and do not. For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi." (Matthew 23:1-6)
Narcissists are disruptive, counter-dependent, combative, and resent authority (rebellious and contumacious). They feel that they are above the law, or, rather, that they are a law unto themselves. They hold themselves to be immune to the consequences of their actions:
"Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword." (Matthew 10:34)
"And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves, And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves." (Matthew 21:12-13)
"And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say unto you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee." (Matthew 11:23-24)
"He that is not with me is against me" (Matthew 12:30)
"For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord." (Matthew 23:39)
"And when he was come into his own country, he taught them in their synagogue, insomuch that they were astonished, and said, Whence hath this man this wisdom, and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter's son? is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas? And his sisters, are they not all with us? Whence then hath this man all these things? And they were offended in him. But Jesus said unto them, A prophet is not without honour, save in his own country, and in his own house. And he did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief." (Matthew 13:54-58)
Ultimately, the narcissist pays the price for years of ill-treating others and sucking their energies dry with constant demands for attention, adulation, and affirmation. People get tired of the overbearing and overweening presence of the narcissist in their lives, of his disruptive and destabilizing influence, and of the pernicious effects he has on their nearest, dearest, and communities. Invariably, they seek to banish him and extricate themselves from his cult. The authorities usually are forced to intervene and lock the narcissist up or, worse, crucify him.
Even his closest followers, supporters, and disciples give up on the narcissist:
"Then all the disciples forsook him, and fled." (Matthew 26:56)
"Then did they spit in his face, and buffeted him; and others smote him with the palms of their hands, Saying, Prophesy unto us, thou Christ, Who is he that smote thee?" (Matthew 26:67-68)
"Peter remembered the word of Jesus, which said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice." (Peter, indeed, denying knowing Jesus thrice - SV) (Matthew 26:75)
And the fickle "multitude" (the common folk), who were supposed to be the mainstay of Jesus's power and popularity, betrayed him gleefully and with a clear sense of relief and good riddance:
"Whether of the twain will ye that I release unto you? They said, Barabbas ... They all say unto him, Let him be crucified ... they cried out the more, saying, Let him be crucified ... Then answered all the people, and said, His blood be on us, and on our children ... And they that passed by reviled him, wagging their heads, And saying, Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself. If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross. Likewise also the chief priests mocking him, with the scribes and elders, said, He saved others; himself he cannot save. The thieves also, which were crucified with him, cast the same in his teeth." (Matthew 27)
Narcissism as a Distributed God and God as a Narcissistic Parent (Watch the Video)
We kill our gods even as we worship them. In Jewish mysticism, god reduced himself ("tsimtsum") in order to create the world. The act of creation involved mayhem on a cosmic scale ("broken vessels"). Christianity is founded on the violent demise of god at the hands of mere mortals. God dies - literally, symbolically, or metaphorically - in almost all religions.
Such hate-love ambivalence characterized our relationships with our parents, especially when these parents self-absorbed, dysempathic, manipulative, toxic, and objectifying. Such parents refuse to allow their children to separate and individuate, never let go. They emotionally blackmail their offspring and engender an environment of ambient incest.
Indeed, the gods - these substitute progenitors - are often described as petulant, capricious, and narcissistic attention whores: they are clinging, needy, histrionic, rage uncontrollably when ignored or abandoned, jealous, aggressive, with poor impulse control, and with impaired judgment. These gods are studies in infantilism and arrested development. They abuse their unbridled powers abundantly.
So, from time immemorial, we have been killing our gods, it symbolizes our autonomy as individuals. We need to repress to oblivion the inner representations of our parents in order to emerge as independent individuals. Killing god is an act of liberation and identity formation.
When the child is not allowed to establish ego boundaries, to separate from the parent, and to individuate; when the child is not seen by his primary caregivers – this constitutes abuse. Pathological narcissism – one of the possible reactions to such a negating environment - can be construed as a form of idolatry, a private religion with a single godhead (the deity, the False Self) and one worshipper (the narcissist). In a variation on human sacrifice, the child offers his True Self on the altar of the False Self.
On the collective level, Narcissism is emerging as a New Faith: a secular, technological religion in distributed form, with all of us as equipotent godlike nodes. God is a network, a distributed divinity. All worshippers are equal to god and are all gods: superior, ubiquitous, all-subsuming, and entitled to special treatment. Narcissists are militant and zealous missionaries: they try to convert everyone around them to sources of narcissistic supply, members in their cult.
Actually, it is the tip of an iceberg: the re-emergence of secular religions in distributed form with all of us as equipotent godlike nodes. God as a network (the now dominant metaphor for everything). We are all equal to god and we are all gods.
The New Church of Narcissism comprises erstwhile trends such as materialism, consumerism, the spectacle, networking, and other technologically-empowered social practices. These technologies also serve as metaphors for the New Religion. Narcissism is an organizing and explanatory (exegetic and hermeneutic) principle. It imbues life with meaning and purpose. It will replace the modern concept of Mankind by reverting to older forms of affiliation and organization in atomized, anomic, siloed tribal societies.
The reaction to this new, emerging Faith is not unprecedented: Judaism demonized Christianity and Christianity did the same to Islam. The New Faith is similarly vilified and castigated even as narcissism is mythologized.
Narcissism could have emerged as an alternative to established faiths because our conventional God is a narcissist. Satan is merely one of god's attributes (“din” in the Kabbalah). This yields a new form of theodicy regarding god's relationship with evil, predestination, and free will.
In most religious and eschatological texts, God cohabits with the Devil and his demons, regularly communicates and even negotiates with them, or teases them, as though they were his equals and competitors for the souls of men. The Devil used to be God’s right-hand, the Bright Star, the Fallen Angel of Light (Lucifer) and in works like “Faust”, he is the fount of human earthly happiness. This intimacy yields a new form of theodicy regarding god's relationship with evil, predestination, and free will.
Gnostics, Bogomils, and Cathars distinguished the world's creator - a Satanic, evil entity, the demiurge - from the Supreme Being (essence of Good). But in strict monotheism evil is merely the “mental illness” aspect of a single God. Creating the world was a form of "acting out", reminiscent of the “tsimtsum” and "breaking of the vessels" in the Kabbalah. Our reality is, therefore, a projection of god's shadow, his darker side (“din” and “klippot”).
Yet, in many schools of the Kabbalah, the tsimtsum applied to us as well: Creation meant that we also had to undergo a process of constriction, of becoming mentally ill or “contaminated” with evil. God and his emissaries on Earth (the prophets) fulfil four ameliorating and healing functions in this primordial pathology of ours: as father figures, selfobjects (imaginary friends), exorcist-therapists, or as a transcendental or supernatural equivalent of the False Self. They are the (initially, physical) repositories of our projected mental infirmities and inner demons.
I follow the Kabbalah in answering the question: What is our role in all this? We are placed here to heal God and to restore the unity and integrity of the world (its capacity for good). It is God who is suffering. Our pains and convulsions are actually His, not ours.
We cannot heal ourselves before we heal our Creator. Our suffering and sacrifice are not the path to healing and to making peace with the world because they perpetuate the rift between God and his Creation and enshrine the schism alluded to in Genesis and referred to explicitly in the Kabbalah and in other mystical traditions.
Christianity understood these truths intuitively: God is in agony. He had to sacrifice his son in order to provide absolution and restore harmony to the world. But He is inconsolable if His sacrifice is rejected by His agents in this world, Humanity.
The parallels to abnormal psychology are uncanny: God is "mentally ill" and the Creation is his disorder writ large. We must restore him so that he can help us. It is a partnership, not a top-down hierarchy. Suffering is another name for blasphemous evil, not the solution.
We want and need to be seen by God. But, God wants to be seen by us, too. The raison d'etre for God's Creation is exactly that: God needs The Other's gaze, needs to be seen, so He created The Sentient Other, the Introspective Observer, the Intelligent World. God can see himself only through us.
By seeing God, we affirm his existence in His own "eyes". In turn, this validation allows him to sustain our being in a symbiotic relationship. We have intimations of this in the Copenhagen Interpretation of and more recent approaches to Quantum Mechanics: the observer creates the world (or even his unique solipsistic universe). We recreate God - and ourselves - every time we see Him. It is a Double Gaze and Double Reflection.
As the Book of Job states clearly: suffering interferes with this virtuous feedback loop. It disrupts the Cycle of Being. It sows doubt about the very existence of God, making it impossible to see Him. Suffering is from the Devil.
Suffering is also the punishment for supplanting and disobeying God (the Original Sin in the Garden of Eden). It signifies a breakdown in the partnership, the polar opposite of true faith. In this sense extolling suffering is espousing a "Satanic" teaching. Goethe's Devil says exactly this to Faust: that he has to suffer in the afterlife order to realize his potential as a human being in this life. To self-actualize (to borrow from Maslow), one must suffer.
The suffering entailed in the crucifixion was a huge - almost irreparable - rupture in the cosmic fabric. Jesus understood that. On the cross he claimed that God had forsaken him. Suffering denotes the absence of God, absenting Himself from his Creation. And not for the first time. Remember Noah and the flood? God breaks up with humanity frequently but only when he is not seen anymore.
The sickest aspects of Christianity involve agony as ecstasy: Catholicism, asceticism, Puritanism, Calvinism. Such a point of view is also very Eurocentric: there is no trace of such equivalence in Buddhism, or in Judaism, or in Islam, or in Shinto, and so on. But the killing of God and God’s dependence on interacting with his Creation in order to complete Himself are universal leitmotifs.
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