It is easy to categorize the behaviours of religious people (namely the big 3 religions) as a variety of things. But the longer I observe the behaviour of religious people (largely including the evangelical and Christian people in the United States in particular), I, as someone who grew up under the yoke of a narcissistic parent, feel like I recognize a great deal of the toxic behaviours exhibited by my mother, as very similar to that of people who believe in a god.
If I go down any standard list of behavioural signs of narcissism posted on a variety of mental-health-related websites and documents, it really is quite easy to see why I come to this conclusion. Please allow me to demonstrate:
Common signs of narcissism are as follows:
- · Exaggerated sense of self-importance
- · Smugly entitled
- · Believes they are consistently deserving of praise and respect
- · Heedlessly takes advantage of others.
- · Has delusions of grandeur and lives in a fantasy world.
- · Bullies, belittles, mocks and intimidates others.
Please allow me to further expound on each of these traits and present my arguments as to why I believe that religious people are being taught by their belief system, that narcissistic behaviour is acceptable.
Exaggerated sense of self-importance
I will begin by making a statement that will repeat itself more than once in these explanations. And that is, many religious people, especially American Christians, often center their whole personality around their faith. And they express this by interacting with society as if they are in a coveted and privileged space that puts them above others. Religion seems to encourage this by teaching its followers that this is the case. That by choosing to buy into the delusion, that the follower earns a more coveted and important role in society, where they are morally superior, that people who do not follow their faith don’t know true morality, and that the religious person is special and meritorious as one of their god’s chosen people.
Their faith teaches them that if they embrace their particular version of god, that they have earned a special place by his side in whatever version of heaven or paradise there is. The mere identity of being Christian, seems to give them a license to be judgmental of those that do not join them in their belief system, to look down on those who are not partake in their faith, and to approach others with this ‘privileged’ position of being one of their god’s chosen ones. There is a sense of self-importance that makes them feel entitled to preach and judge and admonish others; to look down on those who are not sharing this privileged space, and to believe that merely identifying themselves as a believer, that this somehow puts them in a position of higher morality and understanding over others.
The phrase “I am a Christian,” is not often declared simply to identify. Most of the time, the statement comes with the heaping less obvious baggage of self-importance; and the unspoken part of that statement is: “I am Christian; therefore, I am more moral than you, I am so special because I am recognized and heard by my god, I will go to heaven and you will not.”
The entitlement of Christianity and innumerable other variations of the big 3 faiths is exhibited quite liberally across the globe and history. And on the macro scale it is obvious, and on the individual scale, not quite so much. I use Christianity as an example because it is the largest group and most influential one in our nation, and quite broadly all over the world as well. And there is a reason for that. Colonialism.
Many Christians will often proclaim that evidence for their faith being the right one, is its popularity all over the world. However, they always fail to mention why the Christian faith is so ubiquitous. It isn’t because most cultures chose that belief system for its merits. The biggest reason Christianity is everywhere is because it was spread by colonial indoctrination; often erasing indigenous belief-systems and cultures in doing so. White Christians spread their faith into countless nations, claiming land through Manifest Destiny, backed up by the support of the Vatican and their bible.
The macro-version of entitlement is easy to see. However, there is also the micro version of entitlement exhibited by religious followers. The behaviours that give them the belief that they can impose their religious faith upon everyone on the public dime, to deny the rights and existence of those who do not abide by their dogma, and to persecute people. In spite of having churches on every corner, they proclaim that any criticism of their faith is persecution, and they believe that they should be entitled to all freedoms to do as they please, while themselves oppressing people who do not share their beliefs. In some cultures, religious entitlement justifies the execution of homosexuals, and apostates, atheists and even people who dare to draw satirical comics.
Religious entitlement is pervasive. From the lofty belief that a religious person can decide for others what is moral and what isn’t; who deserves rights and who doesn’t, to whose land is whose, and whose beliefs should take precedence, religion teaches its practitioners entitlement wholesale.
Believes they are consistently deserving of praise and respect.
As I stated above, I would be repeating this phrase and I will likely repeat it again. Most faithful believers let their belief system consume their entire personality. And with that, comes the “I’m a Christian/Jew/Muslim” card which, depending on the culture, is supposed to automatically represent that the presenter of this card is to be respected, to be seen as good and moral, and worthy of special treatment for such.
Religious people believe they have the monopoly on morality, on good works and humility. And it is shown by countless studies and examples, that they are not. Charity for religions is almost always self-serving, and beneficial to the churches. Charity also comes with a side of indoctrination and an ulterior motive. Many religious folks limit their goodness and giving to prayer, for which, upon mentioning this, expect praise and respect for their goodness and kindness—when prayer is shown to have no effect at all, and is statistically known to have an effect equal to chance (and sometimes even less of an effect if a person knows they’re being prayed for). However, religious people will often declare that they will perform this empty gesture to gain the gratitude and respect of others, and feel like they’ve done something grand; when they have done nothing at all.
Heedlessly takes advantage of others.
If we pull the lens back and look once more on the macro perspective of religion and its exploitation of undeveloped cultures, it is easy to see how religion takes advantage of people to spread itself and increase its flock, and therefore its coffers. Religion also continues to use the guise of charity and altruism to inflate its influence and power over society and government.
However, on the personal scale, religious people also due to their sense of entitlement, will individually take advantage of people to further their agendas and simplify their own lives. From Church collections to benefit only their own, and their churches, to underpaying developmentally disabled people to employ their labour—religious people find myriad ways to exploit people to their own ends.
Indoctrinating children into the faith is a form of exploitation and abuse. pursuing minorities and deliberately indoctrinating the poor and disenfranchised, the desperate and people suffering from addiction and mental illness into their faith system, to then take what small resources they have for the benefit of the church, with little in exchange, is typical of the strategy of religious people and systems. Even the act of ‘saving’ people who do not know they are being saved, is presumptuous and exploitative. And this is believed to be honourable and good for the sake of their god.
Mother Theresa is the perfect example of such exploitation. She used the suffering (sometimes deliberately left to suffer—as she could have sent people for actual medical care with the donations she gleaned from her ‘work’) to gain assets for the church. She accepted donations but did not spend it to truly help anyone. She used the sick and the poor to advance a religious agenda, and they only suffered for it.
Taking advantage of the vulnerable, the poor, the desperate is exploitation. Indoctrination to feed churches in funds and fill pews is exploitation. And the followers are taught by the church that these are not only acceptable, but desirable ends.
Has delusions of grandeur and lives in a fantasy world.
The fact that religious people live in a fantasy world is one that doesn’t need much explanation. It is not hard to see what kinds of delusions the religious are willing to embrace in order to put themselves into a position where they can claim they are their god’s preferred person, and to justify their exploitative, selfish actions.
The religious person, at least the ones that are mostly faithful, put themselves into the position that they are in a coveted place. That they are one of their god’s children, and that they have special rights because they were endowed with them by their god. This allows them to move through life believing that they are morally superior, that they know better than everyone else, that their ignorance and detachment and privilege are good things; that this is what their religion asks of them.
And let's just glance at the whole fantasy thing. The bible and other related religious texts are filled with pure nonsense and unproven silliness. Supposed prophecy written centuries after they were supposedly meant to happen, or made so vaguely they would fit any timeframe; miracles that are just hearsay from unconfirmed nobodies, unsupported claims made by bronze-age shepherds. When you talk to a religious person and ask them why they believe what they do, they will point out these things as if they are real and true. There is only one source for these claims, and that is a book of stories curated and managed by centuries of religious leaders, translated and mistranslated. They have not a single thing in their claims that can provide evidence of its claims. But they believe it. They believe the fantasy. They believe in biblical miracles, and cherry-pick phrases to prove prophecy, and always circle back to the claim when asked for evidence. The circular arguments always devolve into the final claim: "I know because of faith." Because of fantasy. "Because god put it in my heart."
There is also a pervasive idea that religious people have a special power imbued by god—the ostensible power of their prayer. In a variety of situations, you will hear the religious person declaring that they will pray to change the outcome, and do so with the utmost confidence in their delusion of grandeur, that this will effect change. That somehow, they, with their special relationship with this omniscient being, can command him to act.
Bullies, belittles, mocks and intimidates others.
Ask any woman seeking medical care at a Planned Parenthood, and she will tell you about the bullying and intimidation they experienced from a faithful person who feels entitled to impose his or her idea of morality on others. Religious bullying spans from outright terrorism, like shooting gay people, and flying planes into buildings, to the Phelps family picketing funerals, to the religious lobby successfully striking down Roe vs Wade. Religious people want the world to succumb to their belief system, and if that takes full-on persecution of unbelievers and infiltration of the state to impose religious rule, that is what they will do.
From the school board member who wants to teach creationism in science class, in spite of it not being science, and banning books that threaten their world view, to the teachers who penalize children for not wearing the ‘right’ clothes, religious people have found myriad ways to bully, belittle, intimidate and mock those who do not adopt their belief system, and live by their chosen tenets.
They do not restrict this behaviour towards non-believers. It is religion against religion. Christians against Muslims. Muslims against Jews. Any way you mix it, their disagreements against one another has racked up a significant body-count and continues to do so. Up until the holocaust, Christians were the main persecutors of Jews, and killed them wholesale. Now, Christians have decided to ally with the Jews to persecute Muslims, all in an effort to usher in the end-times. It is a dance of cruelty against other human beings, all for the sake of an ideology that is toxic and destructive.
I read an article a while ago, outlining a study that showed that when religious people were asked what god would think or do, the part of the brain that activated while seeking an answer to this, was in the same part of the brain where the self was. So in essence, the god they believe in is themselves. And when we talk about narcissism, we talk about the God Complex. When you have innumerable people sharing this same delusion, it becomes religion. And as religion spreads, this god complex is seemingly imbued in others.
I heard a story on a podcast recently, where a former believer tells a story of how in his church growing up, the congregation was one that spoke in tongues as they reached the peak of their religious frenzy during a sermon. He came of an age where he too was expected to speak in tongues, and one day, as the pastor filed down the line of youth, inciting each person in turn to do this, he came to this young man, and when the young man hesitated, the pastor leaned in and whispered in his ear: "Just fake it. Everyone else does."
Can faking it be the beginning of this kind of narcissism? To, in a frenzy of religious feeling in a group setting, a person be filled with a fully supported, enabled and encouraged sense of self-absorption and superiority?
Religion on a macroscopic scale, frames out a
mindset that makes narcissistic and self-serving choices the norm for its
followers. In identifying themselves as a one of their god’s children, special
and empowered by their god’s dogma, that they stand above others, preferred and
protected, enabled and supported in their efforts to subjugate, bully, demean
and harm others; to take what they want to take in the name of their god, to
inflict what they wish onto others, in the name of their god. To exist with an
idea that this is moral behaviour, simply because their book tells them so. I
believe narcissism is one of the outcomes of the various teachings and dogmas
of most of the major religious faith systems, and that followers are molded to
act in such a way while existing in a mixed society.
I have seen firsthand the effects of narcissism on those raised in its influence. It is traumatic and has lifelong consequences for those it was inflicted upon. And as the behaviours of the religious seem more and more to reflect those of individual narcissists, it is easy to see why society is so adversely effected by the existence of these belief systems.
So it is easy to believe, just looking at it from this perspective, that religion is bad for humanity. It is toxic and self-absorbed. And that in the guise of doing good works, it is poisoning our world and its people.