Rants, Musings, and Mental Meanderings of a former Conservative Christian Mother. Standing Strong against ignorance, preconceptions, labels and excessive housework. Celebrating original thought, religious freedom, parenthood, free enterprise and chocolate.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Catharsis of Religion

I believe that radical fundamentalism really only appeals to certain people, as mentioned in the previous post. One of these groups is those with mental illness or learned personality disorders. A common example I've seen is Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Here is an article that sums it up easily, for those needing clarification. Some of the hallmark symptoms include an exaggerated view of their own intelligence and looks, a very high sense of their own importance, even when the corresponding contributions and accomplishments aren't there, a propensity to be a pathological liar, especially when revising an event to make themselves seem superior and errors belonging to others, blaming others for any mistake associated with themselves, sense of entitlement, arrogance, a sense of being superior than others, exaggerating academic (and other) achievements and inflating accomplishments, justifying their lack of relationships by assuming people either are envious of them, feel like a failure compared to them, or are just not on their level of looks, intelligence, etc..., and, what I feel to be one of the key elements, a complete lack of empathy. I believe this is key, because this inability to sense people's feelings makes them unable to sense the disgust and revulsion of people around them. They can be surrounded by people who are intensely annoyed or put off by them and truly believe that everyone enjoys their presence. Conversations are especially frustrating, since they tend to tell the same stories over and over, using the same anecdotes of usually fictitious events to make the same points endlessly. They are always the heroes of the stories, while everyone else is failing in some capacity. They have an addiction to affirmation, which is ironic since they are harshly and vocally critical of others. Because they crave constant flattery, they brag about even the smallest accomplishments, usually inflating the difficulties to such an extent that mundane household chores seem to be massive achievements. Everything suddenly has an elaborate back story, and they are the conquering heroes. The lack of empathy also makes them tactless and harsh in their criticism, but inversely they will go into tantrums at the slightest feeling of being reprimanded. They jealously guard their superiority in any capacity, and feel the need to "one up" anyone else getting attention. If someone is ill, they have been more ill, for example. If someone is praised for an accomplishment, they hasten to point out where they performed even better. Again, most of the events they fall back on are exaggerations at best, outright fabrications at worst. They are greedy and tend to hoard items, and because of their sense of entitlement and lack of empathy they have no problems rationalizing stealing something they believe they "deserve" or is "rightfully theirs." Because of this behavior, they are extremely suspicious of others. They assume everyone else wants what they have, since they assume others envy them. If it is pointed out that they have few (if any) meaningful relationships, they assume it is because of their superiority that others are intimidated by them. If the lack of human contact causes their flattery well to dry up, they turn to virtual achievements to reinstate their feelings of dominance. (Social networks like Facebook feed this beautifully.) They do not differentiate a lasting impact on someone's life between a high score in a game. Both equally feed their inflated egos and give them that affirmation fix they crave.

Dealing with a narcissist is exhausting, since they are relentless in their need to stay superior in every capacity and boundless in their snide criticism. Spouses and children suffer the most, since the emotional starvation they suffer with never being shown affection, empathy or compassion, coupled with the verbal (and sometimes physical) abuse, added to the constant demands for praise and affirmation and sense of entitlement coupled with laziness, leaves them beyond drained. Even as their needs are neglected, they must cater to the narcissist or risk the abusive consequences.

Many who read this can relate, having had to deal with someone who fits this profile. Sadly, one place the narcissist finds cathartic is religious fundamentalism. Fundamentalism itself fits the description of a narcissist in many ways, notably the grandiose sense of self-importance, inflated views of achievements and impact, greed for wealth and power, rampant racism, lack of compassion and empathy, and a detached sense of reality that they justify through belief that they are inhabiting a "higher plane" than the rest of us. The leaders tell the same stories over and over, with their spiritual prowess always triumphing over the "evil" person. (The irony is, they especially love to brag about taking on one of the "cults" like the "JW's" or Mormons. Nothing excites a fundamentalist more than being able to tell off a fellow cultist.) They promote racial supremacy, even claiming it is spiritually justified. If there is no evil person to triumph over, they create one. I have heard more preachers rail about what the would say and do to "the guy" who tries to take their guns, their kids, or their KJV Bible... when in fact, nobody cares. They justify the most heinous treatment of people because of the combination of a lack of empathy and the need to assert the superiority of their beliefs. This overrides the natural humanity of the average non-abusive person. This is why the churches embracing this mentality "eat their own" as it were, if someone slips into sin or even worse, tries to pull away from their control.
If you find yourself trapped in these abusive relationships, more than likely you will be drawn to these types of churches. The tragedy is, even as these cults attract those with NPD and provide them with the catharsis of a spiritual mandate for their behavior, they also attract those from abusive and dysfunctional situations. These victims were never allowed to think for themselves, always reacting to their environment instead of being able to control or change their situation. They see these church "families" as filling all the voids from their troubled pasts, and shutting out the world helps them shut out their pain. They don't see it as denying reality, they really think they are just avoiding sin. To them, an environment where strong, powerful leadership is unquestioned and a positive, safe outcome is (falsely) guaranteed seems like the safe haven they've searched for their whole life. In fact, it's just locking the fox in the hen house.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Delusion of Control

After all we have been through the last couple years, I have truly come to see the appeal of the illusion of control. I could not understand why people would cling ferociously to the teachings of their church, against all logic, evidence, even common sense, even as they saw their family falling apart around them, until I realized that they are trying to grasp the reins on this runaway stagecoach that is our lives. When you are told that following a narrow set of guidelines gives a guaranteed outcome, especially as a parent, this appeals to everything inside of us that craves control. You are told you are submitting, letting go, denying yourself, but in fact you are really telling God he owes you one. If I keep up my end of the bargain, God is required to deliver. I remember a woman who suffered from depression, who, upon having a bad day began tearing her house apart looking for the "sin" that was summoning the demons oppressing her. She dug out a box of old Motown records, and gratefully destroyed them. It was easier for her to believe that dusty, never-played records were causing her troubles, because she could destroy them. She could be in control of that. Another mother whose daughter was slipping away from her ran to her room and threw out all the girl's jeans, believing they were somehow causing her daughter's issues. They had both bought into the lie that everything bad that happens is because of sin, so if you are struggling, it's the Devil. Period. (Never mind Job, I guess.) I have seen people who could never face up to the fact that sometimes, LIFE IS HARD. Teenagers are moody and difficult to understand. Good people get sick and die. Hard-working men lose their jobs. It happens. You can't control it. We are beyond narcissistic when we want to take both blame and credit for everything. God does not care if you read a New King James Bible, wear blue jeans, listen to music with (GASP) a beat to it or not. I saw enough sexual deviants within these circles to assure me that focusing on the minutia is either a sign of delusion or deliberate deception. Who cares if your daughter wears blue jeans if your son is a child molester? Where is the balance? Where are the sensible priorities? Where is the common sense? Not in any of the truly fundamentalist churches. Now, I have seen certain groups of people thrive in these environments: emotionally scarred (usually from a difficult or "colorful" past), Kennedy Syndrome sufferers (large extended families of fundies, usually in the ministry, who form Kennedy-like dynasties), narcissists, and people of below-average intelligence. People will be quick to point out exceptions, those naturally sweet-tempered people you find in any religion that they hold up as the ideal, but you don't make a rule based on the exception. Overall, these are the groups who thrive either being completely in control, or in blindly following someone else completely in control. They are both delusional. Do you really think all your troubles are because your wife wore blue jeans? You really think with the true pain and suffering going on the world, the unspeakable horrors people suffer in our ghettos, in other cultures, in the nearest city alley, that God cares about your church's pet standard? I am picking on blue jeans, but the concept is the same no matter what the trivial hang-up. Life did not come with an instructional manual. The Bible teaches you how to survive the ride and make the most of our brief sojourn here. It turns what could be a momentary blip on a radar into a life that matters and leaves a lasting impact on the world when we go. By no means, however, is it a recipe book that gives you some kind of magic code to produce the outcome you want. (Pardon the mixed metaphor.) Not to mention, as much as they scream about the Bible, most of these pet standards aren't even in the Bible, or are misapplied Jewish guidelines. If you are still trapped in the fear and control of these circles, with everything inside of you screaming to escape, just let go. Get out and live your life. Don't let the fear cause your life to spiral into a self-fulfilled prophesy. Too many escape, only to let the paranoia that is brainwashed in control them and drive them to a life of pain and confusion, not knowing what standards mattered and which did not since they are presented with equal importance. I know people who left these churches, lived in gross immoral sins, devastated their families, destroyed their health with drugs, but still think the KJV is the only Bible and that Santa Claus is Satan trying to undermine God. It's a good thing they got their priorities right! I mean, who needs an intact, functional family as long as there's no mention of Santa, right? Give me a break. Calmly, think it through. Study your Bible with an open mind. Talk with your spouse about your concerns. Make the decision that will best keep your family close to each other and emotionally healthy and happy. Do what is best for your family unit, not what makes you look like a Super Spiritual Christian. Yes, it's humbling finding out you weren't really on some inside track to God's favor. More likely, you were an arrogant blowhard that did more harm to the cause of Christianity than any political agenda.
I guess the best way to summarize my point is this; If you realize that there is something wrong, and you want to make a change to better your family, use your God-given common sense. It is hard, since at first, everything that goes wrong you will blame on your "rebellious" heart. Or, you will miss the pride and affirmation that comes from living a life that stroked your ego and drove your family apart. In time, though, you find a peace in accepting that living in that kind of an environment does more harm than good, to individuals as well as to family units. Don't stay in it, even when you know it's wrong, for fear of losing your kids. (You're more likely to lose your kids when you negate your credibility with them by following this nonsense.) They do not have the answers, they cannot guarantee the outcomes, for good or for bad. This is a tragic lie too many have bought into, and a lie too many cannot let go of, even as they see it being debunked time after time as entire generations are lost to Christianity thanks to the damage of radical fundamentalism.