When Personality Flaws Hide Behind Religion

boy-hiding-eyesI asked Deanna to share her thoughts about narcissism over the last few days because I knew she would do a good job of putting her finger on something that I’ve been learning lately.  What I’ve been slowly coming to see is that much of what I’ve always attributed to religion and/or bad theology in reality traces back to personality flaws already present within the person adhering to those ideologies.  Granted, certain ideologies lend themselves to “character impairments” more than others, so it’s not an either/or thing.  I see abusive theologies and dysfunctional personalities as inherently connected, feeding one another in a continuous loop until it’s virtually impossible to distinguish cause from effect.  I guess that’s simple enough to understand, but as a student of theology I’ve always tended to see the ideology as prior, the font from which the problems spring.  But I’m beginning to grasp how these peculiar theologies are really just masking personality flaws which would be there with or without the attending ideologies.  I’d like to explore this dynamic between ideology and personality and explain how religion can both mask and validate character flaws so that they become untouchable, above reproach.

Chris Mooney has done a laudable job of investigating the intriguing connection between people’s personalities and their political views.  His research has demonstrated how many who are drawn to politically conservative ideologies also exhibit a natural predilection for resisting change and preselecting sources of information which will not challenge previously held beliefs and opinions.  It would be naturally tempting to assume that people “on both sides of the aisle” suffer equally from the same malady, except that generally speaking it appears that it afflicts conservatives far more profoundly than it does their liberal counterparts.

We all like to surround ourselves with people who agree with us, right?  Sure we do.  But some of us fight that tendency much harder than others.  And generally speaking, people with liberal social and political views make a habit of exposing themselves to a variety of opinions and perspectives while those with conservative views do not.  Some, in fact, adopt explicitly exclusivist ways of thinking and talking about issues, demonizing alternative viewpoints and surrounding them with critical epithets and morally-charged descriptors.  Mooney doesn’t argue that these natural tendencies created the corresponding political views; he only points out how birds of a feather flock together, and how neurological and psychological factors could contribute to a person’s willingness to adopt political and social viewpoints which correspond to his natural disposition.

I think religion works the same way.  People tend to gravitate toward those variations of religion which reflect something in their own natural wiring so that these two things—ideology and temperament—feed and reinforce one another in a continuous feedback loop.  You certainly can’t control what tradition you were born into, but as you mature into an adult it eventually falls to you to decide which tradition will be yours to pass on to your children.  Once you say it out loud, it seems like a no-brainer that people will gravitate to those subcultures which fit their natural tendencies.  But admittedly real life is a bit more complicated than that, isn’t it?  Sometimes people fall into traditions which are greatly at odds with their natural penchants.  For example, sometimes super sweet people find their way into Calvinism, which is a harsh and brutal theological system in which every line of questioning ends with “Shut up you maggot, who are you to question the Almighty?”  That’s the Reader’s Digest version but you get the picture.  There are exceptions to every rule, and religion of all things follows its own non-rational path so that it isn’t always easy to explain in logical terms.  But the pattern still holds true in general terms.  Whether they realize it or not, people’s personality traits inform their theology and vice versa.

When Theology Masks Something Darker

What makes this a bad thing where I live is that religion still enjoys a privileged position in society so that you’re not allowed to openly challenge any belief or practice that flies the faith flag.  It’s off limits.  Propriety dictates that it’s not okay to criticize someone’s religion to his face (the internet is often a different story) so that any quirks or personality flaws which match or mirror a person’s religion go unchecked perhaps for the duration of his entire life.  They’re camouflaged, surrounded by the matching textures and colors of whatever ideology nurtured and amplified those flaws until they became the well-dressed monster they are today. Put differently, a neurosis is just as likely to wear a sanctuary choir robe as it is to wear the tattered clothes of a homeless person, but the drifter’s flaws are obvious; the baritone’s not so much.

Let’s take a look at four dysfunctional personality traits which wear a religious mask and see how each of them slides past our notice because they hide behind the vicarious legitimacy of religion.

1) Narcissism.  Deanna Boudov dedicated two posts to exposing how her mother’s narcissism hides behind her Christianity, and I don’t have much to add to that here.  Because both religion in general and Christianity in particular so easily lend themselves to a performance mentality, narcissists can hide out indefinitely in that subculture without anyone ever noticing.  Church culture especially remains obsessed with maintaining appearances, which suits the narcissist just fine.  Previously, that manifested as the clean–cut, super white smile with the perfect family, the well-behaved 2.5 kids and a dog (aka “the traditional family”).  Nowadays it’s just as likely to don a more hipster look, with a three-day beard growth, chabby chic clothes, and a just-fell-out-of-bed hairstyle that in reality took three products and ten minutes in front of a mirror to perfect.  They’ll be sure to hit just the right notes of humility, openness, and piety as they pursue their goal of personal perfection, feigning Jesus-motivated affection toward you.  Don’t you feel special?  The point is that regardless of which substrain of religion the narcissist chooses, there’s a place for him where his maladaptations will be reinforced and validated.

2) Obsessive-Compulsion.  Very much like narcissism, obsessive-compulsive tendencies thrive within the Christian faith because the religious impulse itself seems to spring from this desire for personal perfection and purity.  While the narcissist usually feeds off of public praise, the OC Christian only needs her own personal conscience free from stain or blemish in order to feel that all is right in her world.  I believe that the Christian obsession with “purity” flows directly from the same place where Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder* originates, and neither can ever be completely satiated.  Just as for the OCD person there can be no end to the number of things that make your hands “dirty,” there can be no end to the number of things in “the world” which a Christian must avoid in order to stay pure.  These Siamese-twin impulses dominate the lives of millions, but only one of them gets recognized as a legitimate problem requiring treatment.  And therein lies the essence of my point  The man who has to open a new bar of soap every time he washes his hands will be recognized as “unhealthy” and needing treatment, but the parents who won’t let their children watch My Little Pony or read Harry Potter books because they might defile their children get a free pass.  They might even be praised for their vigilance.  Like the people with OCPD, they are certain they are right, but these folks have the reinforcement of their whole religious community to remain exactly as they are.

In other words, it’s not just that neurotic tendencies can sublimate into religious preoccupations and hide out there indefinitely. It’s far worse than that.  Religion often exacerbates, reinforces, amplifies, and validates these impairments, making it impossible to treat them for what they really are.  They’re off limits now because they wear the mask of holiness.  Even if it occurs to you that something is wrong you can’t speak out against it now because that would be critiquing their religion and everybody knows you’re not supposed to do that, for some reason.  And if you try, rather than meeting with a shrug of self-awareness, you will encounter vehement and passionate opposition because unlike the OCD person (and on occasion the OCPD person as well), the “spiritually” obsessive-compulsive person is convinced that he is precisely as he is supposed to be, and anyone who tries to change that is seen as an enemy, not a friend.  You may even be working for the devil.  Good luck talking them down out of their obsession if that’s how they see it.

3) Bigotry.  Bigotry has many masks, none so brilliant and crafty as religion.  As much as I hate to admit it (for I am a humanist, and humanists hope and work toward seeing and bringing out the best in people), bigotry is rooted in our natural tribalism, affecting all of us whether we realize it or not.  Perhaps it comes to us from our evolutionary past.  Perhaps natural selection taught us to look out for “our own kind,” privileging them over “the other” as a mechanism of self-preservation.  But now that we have stepped out of our primal past into civilization building, it behooves us to overcome our instincts toward favoring our own “in order to build a more perfect union.”  In a modern democratic society we must learn to recognize the validity and value of people who are different from ourselves, and this doesn’t always come easily.  It’s a constant fight for a growing awareness of the differences between different types of people, learning to accept them for who they are, treating them as whole people worthy of all the same things as ourselves.

But religion often impedes this process, especially those religions based on the notion of divine revelation.  For example, if you believe that God once dictated that same-sex relations are an abomination, it would take an equally authoritative divine revelation to counter that pronouncement.  Absent a direct declaration to the contrary, adherents to the Bible must set themselves against same-sex relationships because their religion has now codified and immortalized that cultural bias for all time.  For them, letting up on the gays would be forsaking their faith.  Thus a form of bigotry (for that’s what this is) becomes validated and fused into their worldview from this point forward, disabling their ability to empathize with a whole class of people who are simply different from them.

The same holds true for other forms of bigotry like misogyny and chauvinism.  Women began as property in the early parts of the Bible and by the close of the book they had been upgraded to second-class citizens.  Modern Christians make much of the fact that women are presented as the first witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus, and yet none of them ever reach the importance of “The Twelve.”  The early church remained a predominantly male-run outfit imposing all kinds of rules on the women which they never imposed on the men (e.g. they should keep silent in church and ask their husbands their questions when they get home).  One verse in Titus even spells out that the woman’s place is in the home, not out in the work force.  And so we find that two thousand years later in a largely egalitarian society we have high-profile ministers and politicians (but I repeat myself) subtly working with a rhetoric which asserts that women shouldn’t be given the same roles and responsibilities as men.  Two thousand years later!  How can that be?  It’s because religion can take a prejudice and etch it in stone for all time, making a people unable to grow and learn and evolve out of the tribalistic urge to denigrate “the other.”

A century and a half ago my country had to decide if slavery was a legitimate industry, and when the voice of progress spoke in favor of the enslaved people the religious voices which chimed in predominantly argued for slavery’s legitimacy.  It was never spoken against in the Bible (no, not even in Philemon); in fact, it seemed a normal social stratification in the mind of the biblical writers.  In the end it took a bloody war waged by a superior army to force the South to give up its slave industry, and Southerners today still seem sore about it.  Old bigotries die hard, and religion can keep them on life support indefinitely.

4) Codependency.  This is the one I struggle with personally.  Codependency can mean a lot of things, but in my case it means that I like to feel needed.  No, I need to feel needed.  It’s a fundamental psychological hunger for me, and I will perform superhuman feats to ensure that my worth is established and felt by those whom I love.  At 40 I’m just now beginning to see how this condition results from deep insecurities and low self-esteem.  I’ve written before about how I believe my Evangelical background primed me for self-esteem issues, and it clearly struck a nerve with a lot of people.  A low sense of self-worth creates an ideal environment for codependency to develop because what better way to alleviate a low sense of personal value than to make yourself supremely valuable to others?

On the surface that may sound like a healthy coping mechanism but in practice it leads to interpersonal and intrapersonal problems.  For some, it makes them controlling types who compulsively dictate what others do in order to ensure that everyone behaves as the controller feels they should.  But in others like myself, it leads to a negligence of my own needs in the interest of taking care of the needs of others until I’m totally depleted.  At that point, I’ve accustomed those around me to look to me instead of to themselves to meet their own emotional, physical, and psychological needs.  I like being a savior to people because it makes me feel valuable in the world.  If I stop being a savior, what will be left to make me feel valuable as a person?

[Side note:  This is where my Christian friends, sensing a moment of vulnerability, will jump in and patronize me, telling me that God values me and that I have intrinsic worth because I am created in his image.  Let me just stop you right there.  That’s a beautiful spin to put on the biblical view of humanity, but underneath that rosy varnish there lies a horrifying counter-message which says I am fit for the furnace and that any worth I have as a person derives from a source other than myself.  Christianity teaches that our worth is derivative, not intrinsic.  Saying we are valuable either because we are made in someone else’s image or because of something someone else did for us are flimsy attempts at hard-selling the backloaded condemnation that soon follows.  Even the Christian message about personal growth and maturity revolves around dependence on God because “apart from me you can do nothing.”  That sentence right there will trigger strong feelings from anyone who has ever been in an abusive relationship.  So give me some credit for having already considered what the Christian faith does with the concept of self-worth.  Except of course yours is uniquely free from all the errors of those lesser forms of the faith, right?]

When you think about it, the Christian faith is ideal for creating and reinforcing codependent personalities.  In the first place it creates the right environment for those traits to form by teaching you that you deserve to be punished forever just because of who you are, and it teaches you that your worth is derived from something other than yourself (e.g. “what Jesus did for you”).  Then it proceeds to teach you that you can be a blessing to others by putting the needs of others above your own, even to the negligence of your own needs (Jesus called it “hating even your own life” for his sake).  “Take up your own cross,” it tells you, and die to yourself.  Whaaaaaat?  I learned to see this talk as normal.  It was deep.  It was true.  It was counterintuitive and I was cool with that because I liked how against the grain of human nature it sounded.  But it’s very unhealthy.  At its core, the Evangelical Christian faith is anti-humanistic, and it produced in me a need to be needed, a need to know that I am loving people so well that I can ignore my own needs in the interest of taking care of others.  Perfect environment for codependency to develop.

One more side note before I’m done.  Invariably someone will hear all this dysfunctional talk and say that it’s not fair to accuse their faith of making any of these things happen.  “If only you had done it right, or believed the right things,” they will say. “If only you had grown up in the right version of the Christian faith, this wouldn’t have happened.  Not all Christians are this way.”

I know that.  But I think we’ve learned over the last few weeks that #notallwhatevers is often a way of dismissing something with which you can’t identify as if it’s not worthy of your attention (or anyone else’s) because it wasn’t your experience.  But that’s a careless response which, as Deanna points out in the responses to her posts, lacks empathy.  Beyond that, however, I am arguing that while personality disorders and character flaws don’t need religion in order to exist, they remain unremedied—in fact they become untouchable—under the borrowed capital of religion.  Narcissism, bigotry, codependency, and obsessive-compulsion gain unwarranted respectability through stowing away inside religious tradition until they become normalized, which is the worst thing that could ever happen.  Religion is the Great Enabler which validates our personality flaws, amplifying and reinforcing them, making them respectable so that you look like the bad guy for calling them out.  “Shame on you, who do you think you are?”

I’m not buying that tactic anymore.  Once the thin varnish of religious authority is removed, these dysfunctions can be seen for what they are.  They never should have gotten a free pass, but we know better now.


*Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder typically indicate different things, although they both illustrate aspects of what I’m trying to describe.  The former usually stems from neurological peculiarities and is typically a result of nature, not nurture.  The opposite is true for OCPD.  For the sake of precision, I should probably clarify that the kind of impairments I am indicating here correspond to the personality disorder more than the neurologically based OCD.  But again, they both help illustrate what I’m discussing.


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49 Responses to When Personality Flaws Hide Behind Religion

  1. “But religion often impedes this process, especially those religions based on the notion of divine revelation. For example, if you believe that God once dictated that same-sex relations are an abomination, it would take an equally authoritative divine revelation to counter that pronouncement. Absent a direct declaration to the contrary, adherents to the Bible must set themselves against same-sex relationships because their religion has now codified and immortalized that cultural bias for all time. For them, letting up on the gays would be forsaking their faith. Thus a form of bigotry (for that’s what this is) becomes validated and fused into their worldview from this point forward, disabling their ability to empathize with a whole class of people who are simply different from them.”

    This explains why Christians want to argue with me anytime I share a link relevant to homosexuality. They have to choose between understanding gay people and believing their bible. They are not prepared to do this. I am not even gay but it concerns me because I know a gay catholic who is very upset about what is going on.

  2. Gary says:

    Good article and probably correct. I have had to deal with those personalities from others that are atheists – mostly family.

    Have you considered talking about this subject from a positive angle. Discuss what constitutes a healthy personality. It actually makes the unhealthy attributes more apparent .

    Never underestimate the power of using the positive to truly get a understanding of the negative.

    If a person who always hit you, suddenly hugs you, it is then you truly understand the unfairness and impact of the previous negative behavior.


    using the above link imagine your article written in that vain. Would it not be even more apparent just how dysfunctional and unhealthy those in your life have been? But does it not also allow you to understand what you can do with your own behavior to make yourself a better person?

    If you don’t want to be like them, then do the opposite of what they would do.

  3. bananafaced says:

    “But in others like myself, it leads to a negligence of my own needs in the interest of taking care of the needs of others until I’m totally depleted.” For many years now I have taken to heart part of the simple wisdom of the “flight attendant’s” speech before takeoff…”Passengers traveling with young children should fit their own mask securely before fitting the mask to their child’s face.” If you don’t take care of yourself first, you won’t be able to take care of others. It may sound selfish, but it works for me.

  4. You haven’t argued that religiousness is maladaptive because you dedicated no time discussing their surrounding environment.

    The demographics pin the majority of the extremely religious and conservative as being poor. All the traits that you describe are associated with impoverished societies. They’re all extremely adaptive traits at that.

    A despotic culture is necessary to maintain order. Resources and chores need to be shared, even if based on arbitrary roles, because people don’t have enough to make it on their own. Society over the self in these cases is in a person’s best interest; pleasing society means being allowed to be in it and reap the benefits that you otherwise would not have. Being clean and pure means keeping everyone safe, not just you. If you demonstrate a lack of concern for everyone else, you get kicked out.

    Having strong social bonds also increases “us vs. them” mentalities; you depend on your ingroup for survival so of course you choose them over outgroup members. You also don’t take kindly to people coming in and messing up the system that you all have worked so hard to construct and uphold.

    “Narcissists” have to take charge because someone has to be at the helm to make sure everything is distributed in an orderly fashion. People want a leader to bark order at them because it removes bickering among each other, which would not be conducive to quality of life if these are the same people you depend on.

    Essentially what you’re really against isn’t religion or politics, it’s poor people. Take away their religion and they’ll replace it with something else. Parallel it to street gangs: Each person wants to be tough and top dog, they want to control their image among others and be seen as an asset, and they participate to feel the connection to a community. People choose it over menial jobs because they can feel important and make more money to at least help their families get by, even if they ultimately get shot. At least religion has a lower incarceration and mortality rate—it also encourages literacy and philosophical thought. They’re not behaving any differently than anyone else would in the same circumstances. And so what if some have untreated psychological issues? A good therapist runs $200 an hour. Like everyone can afford that?

    If you want to solve the problem here move them out of a $8,000 mobile home and into a $800,000 suburban home and see how open-minded and enlightened they become. Until then you’re just going to exasperate the problem. Keep talking like this and they’re going to see you as some condescending force there to demonize them without understanding who they are. Sound familiar?

      • Humiliation fury. Understandable. If I went around trying to display a false sense of superior I suppose I would be hostile towards anyone trying to ruin my fun too.

        • It’s just that I didn’t take your comment seriously enough to give it much thought, frankly. You said:

          “Essentially what you’re really against isn’t religion or politics, it’s poor people…

          “If you want to solve the problem here move them out of a $8,000 mobile home and into a $800,000 suburban home and see how open-minded and enlightened they become.”

          That was a remarkably dismissive and overly-simplistic comment, and it ignores the prevalence of fundamentalism even among the financially well-off. I grew up in what was likely the richest neighborhood in my state, and I can guarantee you that each of these character flaws is alive and well even among the affluent.

          You just topped it off for me when you said:

          “Until then you’re just going to exasperate the problem.”

          That’s how come the photosynthesis meme :)

          • I said exactly what I meant. You’re making the situation worse. You’re not factoring in social surroundings. If you want to generalize then most of the people you are referring to live in low-income neighborhoods. If superiority is what you’re against, then you’re contributing to it not relieving it by playing your own version of us vs. them. They see you and your college degree condescending to them and you’re only reinforcing their notions that snobby, hypocritical elitists are out to tell them their way of life is wrong. You can’t run off about how closed-minded people are and only give self-serving explanations. If you’re sharing in the joy of wafting your own farts, maybe the problem in your community has more to do with being entitled and spoiled than one of religion.

          • LOL@”wafting your own farts.”

            Who doesn’t love that?

          • I grew up in a conservative, affluent neighborhood too and believe me you fit the exact same mold. You’ve just replaced religion with pseduo-intellectualism; same shit, different flavor. If you want to seriously discuss social issues then don’t skew it to fit your own egotistical purposes. Don’t spend your life trying to out snob people.


    • Sam Daniels says:

      “Until then you’re just going to exasperate the problem.”

      I think the word you meant is “exacerbate”. (Further stirring the hornet’s nest). :-)

    • HopeJoyThrive says:

      I’m scratching my head trying to figure out how this article is “against” something and therefore contributing to the problem. The article is informative and very well written discussing the connection between personality disorders and religious disorders, frankly put.

      • People want to focus on a misplaced consonant but here they are making up terms like “religious disorders”. Sorry, there’s no such thing. These studies he’s referring to where done over a larger demographic. He’s using how people react in low-income cultures and applying it to one-up his snobby community. He’s warping studies to suit his own personal agendas by playing games and getting in pissing contests trying to assert his intellectual “dominance” because he’s CLEARLY not arrogant like they are. He’s widening the rift by misappropriating findings to suit his personal vendettas. If he genuinely cared about social issues, this wouldn’t be a place to try to showcase his strong arm of “rationality” over those he looks down his nose on. It only serves to create more animosity and escalate the problems you’re boo-hooing over (because apparently religious mommy and daddy inflicted some ego bruises) instead of attempting to understand and find legitimate solutions. It’s completely patronizing and ironic. There’s nothing in this article that can’t be pointed directly back at him. He established no causation. He simply saw a study, his own confirmation bias skewed it into a weapon, slapped an article together to give a self-righteous “hah-hah, I am smarter and better than you because I’m not religious” to gain leverage over people he apparently thinks are inferior to him. If you can’t see that as anything other than adolescent just because he used studies and technical terms, maybe you’re just as blindsighted and gullible as you’re claiming religious people are.

          • HJT says:

            I feel bad after reading what he wrote, not because of a bruised ego- I wasn’t allowed an ego in the house I grew up in, LOL. I feel bad because I have read through everything so to be able to empathize and put myself in his place, research and try to understand where he is coming from and what the heck he is really talking about. I hear projection loud and clear but nothing more. I feel bad, sad really, that it must be a horrible existence to live in such turmoil. Wow, pretty much sums it up.

          • Wait. Is this directed at me?

  5. Sam Daniels says:

    “It would be naturally tempting to assume that people “on both sides of the aisle” suffer equally from the same malady, except that generally speaking it appears that it afflicts conservatives far more profoundly than it does their liberal counterparts.”

    This you got from reading one book? Now who is the bigot?

    • No, actually, that doesn’t come from just one book. Why would you assume I’ve only consulted one source? Is it because I only cited one here? That’s an awfully quick jump to an unwarranted conclusion.

      There are many studies that have borne this data out. I’ve written about it some in here, but I don’t have time to track down all the sources right now. Main point is, no, I didn’t just get this from one book.

      And I realize that anytime you say that one group is guilty of being worse than the other at something, it makes you sound biased. While I don’t claim to be unbiased per se, a strong argument can be made that it is a false equivalency to say that conservatives (of the type that now dominate the American political scene) are on equal footing with their liberal counterparts when it comes to objectivity. Over the last couple of decades, an epistemic bubble has been formed around conservative American politics such that a break with reality has occurred for them. If you’re not aware of this, then we’ve got some loooong conversations ahead of us and this won’t get resolved on a single comment thread.

      • Bonnie says:

        There was a Yale study done by a liberal professor with the intent of proving Teapartiers ignorant that found them to be surprisingly more scientifically literate, wealthier, and college educated than non-Teapartiers. [Yale Law Professor Dan M Kahan] It was highly touted by conservatives.

        Each side has their ‘studies’ they hold up to prove they are better and to promote the stereotype of the entitled liberal or the bigoted conservative. I’ve found liberals and conservatives tendency to stick with their own and be ignorant of the others perspective pretty much equal.

        You are right though. The obsessive loyalty to ones political party, conservative or liberal, highly resembles the dependency our country has on religion.

      • Sam Daniels says:

        Actually, I was quite surprised when I first read the entry that you link to here. My conservatism is not based on any religious affiliation (obviously as I have already discussed my agnosticism at length). That, in essence, frees me from any faith-based sympathy for any one group. My politics, economics, and social philosophy are very similar to the Objectivism of Ayn Rand (an atheist, BTW).

        But as a self-described “progressive” and “liberal”, some of your posts — these two in particular — employ the same condescension and lack of tolerance by liberals which has been on open display for many years now in government, academia, entertainment, and the MSM.

        When you discuss matters of faith and conscience, you can be quite insightful. I have discovered that when you extrapolate out into economics or politics, you tow the party line. That’s a disappointment.

        • Sorry to disappoint. I’m assuming your surprise stems from what you perceive as a lack of charity and balance in my coverage of those topics, not from the mere fact that I’m not an Objectivist myself. Surely you’ve noticed that is a minority opinion among agnostic/freethinking types. But I stand by my description of both the merging of Evangelicalism with the Republican party as well as their mutual concomitant loss of interest in caring for the poor.

          I tracked with Ayn Rand for about two months once, I think. But while I was raised to be a Jeffersonian-type conservative, I’ve since changed my mind. We don’t live in Jefferson’s idealized agrarian society anymore, and the prosperity of the rich is irrevocably tied to the plight of the poor. Rand was reacting to Communism, and she overreacted. We survived and thrived as a social species not only because we look out for ourselves but also because we look out for one another.

          And as for the lack of balance, I am arguing that there is already a lack of balance in how these things are discussed. Dan Froomkin did an excellent job of calling a spade a spade a few months ago (see link here) in the wake of the partial government shutdown. When one side becomes defiantly obstructionist, the only responsible thing to do is to call it what it is, not to try and make it sound like both sides are equally at fault.

          • Sam Daniels says:

            I know you must at least be aware that I can cite just as many studies showing how liberal welfare programs not only don’t help the “poor”, they actually keep them situated in dependency and poverty. And multiple studies have shown that conservatives are more generous than are liberals in donating to charities. We just disagree.

            No one currently in government is more “obstructionist” than the current POTUS, one who thinks nothing of flouting the law for political gain. Were he a Republican, I have no doubt by now he would have been impeached. FINALLY the Supreme Court has unanimously slapped his over-reaching hands. Relatively speaking, poverty in the USA looks mighty different from poverty in Haiti, and that’s because of capitalism and free-market enterprise — institutions now under assault by statists.

            I do not believe Rand was over-reacting at all. We here may soon be forced to live under the same Communism she abhorred, as we are heading swiftly in that direction. Our government can no longer be trusted at any level, and when all social trust in our leaders and currency are gone — that will be the end of this society.

  6. bananafaced says:

    …and sometimes “narcissists” resemble their remarks.

    • bananafaced says:

      oops, I forgot to reference the remark…
      “Narcissists” have to take charge because someone has to be at the helm to make sure everything is distributed in an orderly fashion. People want a leader to bark order at them because it removes bickering among each other, which would not be conducive to quality of life if these are the same people you depend on.

  7. Darrel Ray says:

    Excellent post. Thanks for discussing this. It is an area that is obviously ignored by the religious. I have observed this for much of my clinical and religious career. To me, it is most obvious in religious leaders. I discuss personality aspects in my book The God Virus, but I like your twist on the issue. There is much to said and researched in this area. Unfortunately, it is also a hot potato for many academicians.
    Dr. Darrel Ray, author of The God Virus, and Sex and God

  8. Bonnie says:

    I think it would be interesting to do an article on the link between obesity / depression / religion. There have been plenty of studies linking higher bmi to religion. One University of Michigan Study stated young adults with high frequency religious participation were 50% more likely to be obese by middle age.

    BTW still reading and enjoying all your stuff although I haven’t been commenting as of late. Thanks for your work.

      • Bonnie says:

        ah yes. I get your point, but I’ll play anyway ;)

        I remember those studies from my religious days lol. The same site that claims the more educated you are the more religious you become. -clearing throat loudly- Like with any study all you have to do is look at their sources….
        *Bible Study site
        *The US National Library of Medicine – which states that little is known and such research may be proven invalid
        *An American Religious Study – says nothing about obesity only that women are more religious than men
        *Their OWN article
        *LiveScience – which says nothing about obesity only that women MAY be slightly more religious than men

        All you really have to do is drive through the bible belt…. As a religious person I can’t ever remember going to an activity where there was not food. In fact, it was often advertised on the handouts that there would be food. It seemed like the one carnal indulgence we were allowed.

  9. Karen says:

    In my opinion you hit it right on the head… I grew up with xtian religion and was witness to this for 14 years. Now a proud atheist, I see through it and appreciate your educated take on it.

  10. Patrick says:

    You wrote: “For example, if you believe that God once dictated that same-sex relations are an abomination, it would take an equally authoritative divine revelation to counter that pronouncement. Absent a direct declaration to the contrary, adherents to the Bible must set themselves against same-sex relationships because their religion has now codified and immortalized that cultural bias for all time. For them, letting up on the gays would be forsaking their faith.”

    While I agree with the gist of your statement, I’m actually amazed by the opposite: how easily Christians abandon Godly dictates, rationalise them away, to adhere changing societal views on morality.

    There are many examples in the Bible of state genocide, slavery, barbaric punishment for minor transgressions, etc. And yet modern Christians have no issue with them any longer. It’s as if they are no longer there. Have all been formally revoked through “direct declaration”? Who gets to decide that homosexuality remains a sin, whereas stoning your adulterous wife is now forbidden?

  11. Well done once again. I saw it and was already bracing myself for the influx of “logical Christians” who felt compelled to lecture you (misusing big words and everything) about how you’d totally misunderstood this or that thing you totally didn’t misunderstand at all.

    • I’m not nor have ever been religiously affiliated and I’m liberal. I don’t spend more than .2 seconds writing a blog comment because I have better things to do with my life. I figured supposedly rational people would overlook typos for content but I guess that’s what happens when people don’t have counterarguments to what is being said. He’s pointing to a study that says conservatives are more closed-minded, not factoring in that the relationship to poverty in the majority of conservatives and fundamentally religious, and then he goes to say “Well my community is rich as conservative”. So? He hasn’t proven that they’re closed-minded. The only evidence he has is that they disagree with him. Gee, maybe it’s because the best forms of argument he can come up with are scrambling together unrelated facts and condescending quips. I mean, surely if they haven’t agreed with him by now it must be their intellectual failing. But of course like a sheep, you’ll listen to something just because it uses all the big words correctly. Let’s confuse that for logic.

      • Sorry, you know, what? I take that back. Because I first came here thinking that people were actually interesting in discovering truths but I guess this whole thing was just for closed-minded, snobby, condescending atheists with clear ego issues to sit around a bask in how superior they are to closed-minded, snobby, condescending Christians. I mean, you’ve proved me wrong. At least I have more ways to exercise my importance than through blog comments, but I guess this is probably your only outlet to pretend you have any intellectual domain over anyone.

        • dboudov says:

          I think what Neil and the posters here took offense to was your purposely subverting the intention of this article as him being opposed to poor people, instead of maladaptive religious practices. That is a grand leap for you to make from this one blog post. You could have brought up your interest in the demographic situation by asking him to explore that more, or showing how you have explored that by maybe writing your own meaningful blog post. You engaging in your own ad hominem attacks does nothing to show you are humble and above being closed-minded and snobby as you are accusing everyone here of being.

          • Sam Daniels says:

            Excuse me, please. Both the tone and the words of this article are condescending towards people who may hold conservative political points of view. And while perhaps with some stumbling in syntax, at least three others here see this. This is especially troubling coming from people known in the wider culture as “free thinkers”. And it lends validity to conservative complaints that “diversity” in thought is “tolerated” as long as it follows the party line.

          • Bullshit. What people took offense to was that they assumed I was a conservative and religious because I dared to disagree. They’re so caught up in their pseudo-scientific, pseudo-logical games that they can’t comprehend that any liberal, non-religious person wouldn’t jump on the chance of calling religious people crazy and closed-minded. That, or they’re really, REALLY offended by typos.

          • That’s pretty much how I felt, yeah. Often I see that kind of attitude all cloaked in “but but but I’m jusssst asking quesssstions” but that’s about how it came off. I’m willing to discuss when a discussion is what’s genuinely being wanted, but it’s very easy to tell when someone’s talking in a way to deliberately subvert actual communication and I sure didn’t leave religion to go plunge into that losing battle all over again.

      • It must be simply awesome to be able to dismiss people like that and talk down to them. Does it make you feel superior?

  12. davewarnock says:

    sorry, dude. If you are going to go to the trouble of commenting (several times) on a blog post, and yet you can’t take the time or trouble to use the correct words (assuming you actually know which words to use), then it’s a bit difficult to take seriously anything you say.

    The current stream of evangelical Christianity is not in any way linked to poverty. This is not grandma’s backwoods pentecostal church we’re talking about here- though those are certainly part of the American religious landscape. This is the evangelical conservative church that is linked arm-in-arm with the Tea Party and the hyper-conservative Republican agenda. I know many of these people personally, and they have plenty of money. These are the churches that have the Ducky Dynasty dudes in to speak. These are mega-churches. And they are (still) thriving- at least in the south.

    And Neil hits it spot on. I have witnessed these personality flaws first-hand for 35 years.

  13. cynthiajeub says:

    I like the way you defend yourself on the #notallwhatevers comparison to Christianity. Just because some Christians, like myself, want more open dialogue and to address these problems instead of wearing religion as a mask, doesn’t make the problem go away. Your last paragraph manages to sum up the whole problem with discounting anecdotes with other self-justifying anecdotes. Thanks for that.

  14. karenh1234567890 says:

    The personality flaws that Neil is describing are NOT confined to fundagelical Christians. Nor is fundagelical Christianity the only authoritarian religious or civil structure that gives cover to malevolent narcissists. Any authoritarian structure will give cover to them.

    I was raised in the Episcopal Church and I have a malevolent narcissistic mother. Fortunately, she did not use Christianity as weapon. She used and still uses every other trick in the book. She he has to see herself as the great rescuer. Even if there are no real problems that she sees as requiring her rescue, she will create them so she can rescue someone. She has a very selective memory, too, completely refusing to believe that one of us. My husband calls her Jim-Dandy-To-the-Rescue.

    When I first started reading blogs like this, I was struck by how the family stories seemed so similar to what I went through (and still go through if I want any contact with her). She is in her mid-eighties, half-blind and still trying to control everyone else in the family. Her current weapon is how sick she is. Physically, she is sick, congestive heart failure, breast cancer, etc. and unable to keep up with what she considers her work. She will never actually delegate or hire people to do the work for her (she can afford it). I have been disinherited multiple times.

    Malevolent narcissists will use any advantage they can to control the people around them. Religion is just one of their weapons.

    Thank you Neil and Deanna for making this clear to me.

  15. Harold says:

    I have some questions for you if you have time to answer them.

    First off, I want to make sure that I am understanding you correctly. It seems to me that you are saying that Obsessive-Compulsion and the Christian idea of purity and perfection are the same thing, or arise from the same place. That these Christians beliefs are just as much a disorder that needs to be treated as OCD is.

    I also have a question, what kind of treatment does Christianity need. It also seems that you may be implying that Christianity as a whole is a disorder that needs to be treated? I also wonder if you are insinuating that Christianity may cause these disorders, like codependency.

    I also don’t understand your last comment. “Religion is the Great Enabler which validates our personality flaws, amplifying and reinforcing them, making them respectable so that you look like the bad guy for calling them out. “Shame on you, who do you think you are?” Someone who is OCD or OCPD or codependent or narcissistic needs a trained psychologist who knows how to deal with these disorders. So what is the purpose of calling someone out? I appreciate your time in answering my question. I look forward to your reply.

    • Harold, the concept of spiritual “purity” is an imaginary construct. There’s no such thing. And while I’m not comfortable lumping all religious belief into the category of “mental illness,” I do believe that the obsessiveness of some manifests itself in religious preoccupations as readily as it does in things like controlling the number of germs in one’s environment. And the personality disorder (OCPD) is virtually indistinguishable from the character traits of many religious leaders.

      As for Christianity causing the disorders, I think I make it pretty clear in the article that these disorders would be there with or without the attending theology. But I also note that some theological environments harbor, nurture, and validate the disorders, making the situation much worse. I thought I made that clear.

      • Harold says:

        Thank you for your reply. There were places where is seemed that you were insinuating that religion was a mental illness. I know that some atheist do believe that religion is a mental illness. I just wanted to make sure that I was understanding you correctly.

        Spiritual purity is an abstract concept. Humans throughout history have used this concept to help describe and understand the world in which they lived in. Of course, spiritual purity is just one of many abstract concepts that we humans employ. Another abstract concept is human rights. Human rights like spiritual purity does not exist, neither have physical properties nor can we measure them.

        Spiritual purity and human rights like all abstract concepts are created by social and individual interaction. Even our morality and in a sense our values are also invented. If we should reject spiritual purity because it is imaginary then by the same token we should give up the belief in human rights. I would also add in here cultural relativity. If we were born in a different country or at a different time our beliefs would be quite different. We believe what we believe not because it is true but because our culture or group believes in it. If we look at science we will fine that most of what we believe in is just imaginary social constructs.

  16. Thinker1121 says:

    Neil, if you get a chance, I’d be interested in your reaction to this article: http://faculty.virginia.edu/haidtlab/articles/alternate_versions/haidt.algoe.2004.moral-amplification.pub032-as-photocopy.pdf

    …particularly regarding the discussion surrounding “the third dimension of social space.” This evidence seems to contradict your view that the concept of spiritual purity is an imaginary construct (unless you consider ALL moral concepts as imaginary constructs).

  17. Anxiety is a common thread that runs through codependency & obsessive compulsive behaviors. I was always nervous & anxious & paranoid when I was a very religious Christian. I am now a progressive Christian and I have changed a lot. Now that I tune out & speak against a lot of traditional religious teachings – such as homophobia- I am a lot more relaxed and ready to handle change & difficulties! I was very screwed up until two years into working with a good therapist & practicing hot yoga.

  18. Pingback: Depression and Christianity | Amusing Nonsense

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