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16 | Narcissism and Religion

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Group narcissism can happen in religion; most of us are guilty. Imagine a peaceful and quiet nursery for mothers with new babies. Everyone is resting, and happy, with excellent medical care and a regular feeding schedule.

Suddenly, the door bursts open and the room is filled with many, very tall, alien creatures. They take the babies from their mothers and squeeze and rub the babies, and disrupt all the peace and order in the nursery, including feeding schedules, and possibly they transmit infectious diseases from outside. Then they give the babies to the wrong mothers and leave.

Imagine the crying babies and the hysterical mothers, and imagine if some of the babies died.

That horror story happened recently, in England. Really. If you missed the news story, I left some details out. The nursery was a pig farrowing barn and the mothers were sows, the tall aliens were about one hundred animal-rights activists who invaded to cuddle and pet the piglets, to comfort them. And yes, some of the piglets died.

So how did those people do such a terrible thing, when they only wanted to do good? How did animal-rights activists torment and kill animals, when they thought they were protecting them?

They practiced group narcissism. Anyone can fall into that trap, including Christians. Narcissism can infect groups of people, and that is where religion and narcissism come together, like two sisters.

Narcissism is a hot topic for discussion these days. There are many definitions, and mine is, ‘we believe that we are important even though we did not earn that status.’ Narcissists are the ‘it’s all about me’ and ‘the rules don’t apply to me’ people.

The Greek legend of Narcissus is about a handsome young man who looked at his reflection in a pool of water and fell in love with himself. Narcissism grows when we isolate ourselves and think often and much about ourselves. We gaze at the handsome reflection in the pool. In time, we can develop an inflated opinion about ‘us’ and then we can expect the rest of the world to know that same ‘truth.’

Or we can be offended because the world doesn’t grasp that obvious truth, and we can believe that ‘they’ are inferior to ‘us.’ Anyone can do that, and most of us have a personal phase of narcissism at some stage in life. Usually, reality has a harsh cure for our delusions, like maybe when we lose a job, or someone dumps us.

If life does not serve up a cure, a psychologist might help. But narcissism, self focused pride, can also grow in a group, and it is like a disease among sincere believers; including animal-rights activists, or members of a controlling cult, or any Christian congregation.

When I was younger, my parents took us all to a large church. Looking back now, it was a good group, respected in the community, but my experience of church grew different from most of the others, from about the age of eighteen. For a time, the church had a large fleet of Sunday School buses, to bring hundreds of children to Sunday School. I became a bus driver, and while everyone else was congregating, I was driving the gritty streets on my route. I still have a commercial driver’s license.

Narcissism does not grow easily on a bus. I’m not saying I am a better person, but I lacked opportunity.

When a sense of moral superiority grew in that church, I mostly missed out; but I noticed the trend.

And now I understand how animal lovers can hurt animals. It’s as if we stand facing into a circle and only smile at each other. In time, that can distort our picture of reality, and make us very proud. In my experiences as a Christian, that infection has damaged some very good churches. You can insert any story that you know here [ ].

We all know how group narcissism can inspire violent terrorists, and give power to controlling cults, and make social activists into self-righteous snowflakes; and take the power out of our churches.

There is a simple inoculation to prevent this problem, or a cure if the infection has already taken hold. Jesus told us “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32). And the truth is that Christians can only be good because they are forgiven. A Christian congregation is only a group of death-row inmates who have been pardoned. We cannot stare at that reflection and fall in love with it.

Let someone else praise you, and not your own mouth; an outsider, and not your own lips. (Proverbs 27:2) If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14) Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5: 6 and 7)


  • Lead image: verifex/Flickr/Creative Commons

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