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How religious narcissism works

Ah, the Duggars are making headlines again.  They’re little headlines but you should pay attention anyway because they are part of the pattern of religious narcissism that I have written about previously.

Jessa Duggar, the hot one, is dating courting Ben Seewald, another obnoxious Jesus freak Southern Independent Baptist.  I can’t remember where I heard this, it might have been somewhere in the free thought skeptic media, but it turns out that the Duggars follow this self-annoited preacher named Bill Gothard.  If America has a Taliban, and it does, Gothard would be its leader and his IBLP, Institute of Basic Life Principals, would be its Sharia Law.  Wait, that would have been last year.  THIS year, Gothard has resigned his position at IBLP due to sexual improprieties, as well as failing to report child abuse cases.  Yes, the man who brought America the chaste “side hug” has been accused by dozens of young women of inappropriate touching, groping and other no-nos.  Maybe their knees were exposed briefly and were asking for it.  So much for self-control. (Funny side note: while I was writing this, the WordPress autocorrect function kept replacing “Gothard” with “got hard”.  You can’t make this stuff up.)

In the Duggars’ world, the Southern Baptists are too worldly.  Yes, those teetotalling, non-dancing, patriarchical fundies are just too wild and crazy for the Duggars so the Duggar family mostly worships at home with other similar families.  Note that they don’t form “friendships” with these families.  They “fellowship”.  The distinction is significant.  That’s because if one of these families steps out of line, they have to be ready to jettison that family before the infection spreads.  It’s cold and unloving but their own salvation is at stake, so it’s necessary.

So, Ben Seewald, who is 2 years younger than Jessa, who is all of 20 or 21, writes a twitter about his catholic friend.  It’s been erased but someone has been kind enough to save the content.

“I have nothing against individuals who are Catholic. I know a lot of Catholics who are great people. What I DO have a problem with is the teaching that man can merit God’s favor through his own works or the works of other fallen men.

“My conscience is captive to the word of God. Where my Catholic friends adhere to God’s Word, I adhere. Where they depart from Scripture, I will in no way support, but will call them out because I love them and desire that they be turned from their deadly errors.”

Where to begin.  On the face of it, it looks innocent enough.  I mean, IBLP has been around for less than 100 years and is a niche sect, appealing to authoritarians and people who watch TLC and think it’s perfectly Ok to train children to be smiling, non-thinking, personality free, well behaved, chaste automatons in the name of Christ. (As my favorite aunt says, “Someday, one of those Duggar kids is going to write a book.”) The Catholic church has been around for 2000 years and has branch offices all around the world.  Catholics don’t have anything to fear from some American fundies in Arkansas.

But the debate of “saved by grace alone” vs “saved by good works” has been raging since Martin Luther.  In retrospect, Luther ignited a firestorm that to this day we can’t put out.  To many of us freethinkers or panentheist non-Christians, this debate is intensely boring and about as meaningful as how many angels dance on the head of a pin.  Really, who the hell cares whether it’s faith or good works??  Does preferring one to the other preclude you from being a good person?

Anyway, the money quote in the above tweet is:

“My conscience is captive to the word of God. Where my Catholic friends adhere to God’s Word, I adhere. Where they depart from Scripture, I will in no way support, but will call them out because I love them and desire that they be turned from their deadly errors.”

I’m sorry, who died and made Ben Seewald god?  That tweet almost sounds like it could have come from the pages of the Old Testament.

But this is pretty typical of the religious narcissist.  YOUR faith is not important to them.  Only THEIR faith is important.  They make it their business to interfere and make it their responsibility to set your ass straight.

Let’s recap: The Southern Baptists aren’t good enough for them.  They are superior to most of the denomination they consider their closest allies.  They worship at home because it’s safer for them and they can control who can bask in their reflected glory and who can’t.  They hold themselves up as paragons of virtue and expect that you show them respect for their life choices that they say are more moral than yours.  And they do not respect your boundaries as far as your life choices or religious beliefs are concerned.  Your beliefs are inconsequential and fungible, theirs are not.

I’m pointing this out now because a couple of weeks ago, a bunch of anti-choice protestors interrupted a service at a Unitarian church in New Orleans.  Amanda Marcotte wrote of the protests recently, describing the actions of the protestors:

Some of the anti-choice activists invaded the First Unitarian Universalist Church of New Orleans while members were observing a moment of silence for a deceased congregant and proceeded to abuse and harass the people inside the church. The folks from Operation Save America were hardly ashamed of this deplorable behavior, instead bragging on their website about disrupting services at the “synagogue of Satan” and making special note of haranguing the female pastor, who they called a “pastor,” in scare quotes. (But they’re in this for “life” and not because they have a problem with women!) This behavior isn’t necessarily any worse than the miseries they subject clinic patients and workers to, but it serves as a reminder that the reason anti-choice “protesters” get into the lifestyle is that they are bullies, full stop.

The protestors did not recognize the authority of the female pastor and they violated the boundaries of the congregants’ faith in a very literal way.

Now, the Unitarians are not really Christians in the strictest sense of the word.  They’re more deists or pantheist non-Christians who are respectful of Christians.  You can even be an atheist at a Unitarian church.  On the scale of churches, Unitarians are waaaaay over there on the commie left.  So, what’s going on here?  Marcotte’s theory makes sense:

There are many pro-choice churches, but the religious pluralism of the Unitarians is what really sets fundamentalists off. Indeed, there’s a strong reason to believe that the religious right is basically using the battle over reproductive rights to advance a much larger agenda against religious tolerance. And the strategy is to argue that their own “religious freedom” cannot be protected without taking yours away.

There’s an actual quote about that somewhere from one of the Christian fundamentalist imams.  I think it might be in this video from a recent free thought convention.  Found it.  Here’s the quote attributed to Gary North, former curriculum advisor for Ron Paul:

“So let us be blunt about it, we must use the doctrine of religious liberty to gain independence for Christian schools until we train up a generation of people who know there is no religious neutrality, no neutral law, no neutral education and no neutral government.  Then they will get busy in constructing a bible based social and political order which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of god.”

But Catholics are hardly Kumbaya strumming hippies.  The church has its own authoritarian issues and, even though its members might think a bunch of red beanied single old dudes in Rome are cracked when it comes to reproductive health, it has had a significant impact on the American public through the appointment of 5 conservative Catholics to the Supreme Court.  The uber fundie independent baptist taliban in Arkansas has little to fear from Catholics.  They’re getting everything they claim they want through them.  Except that the Catholics don’t believe what they believe, and therefore, they must be “saved”.

No one is safe from this kind of religious narcissism.  First they came for the atheists and there are still laws on the books in some states that prohibit an atheist from holding a public office.  Then they came for the Unitarians because they’re all about inclusion and social justice.  They have no qualms about calling out Catholics.

When Ruth Bader Ginsberg said the 5 member majority in the Hobby Lobby case had “ventured into a minefield”, she only scratched the surface of the problem.  Political motives aside, the  conservative majority has given a tacit nod to the religious narcissists to continue to breach other people’s boundaries.  I think we’re going to see more of these protests and pretty soon, you won’t be able to go anywhere before some righteous religious person decides your beliefs need an attitude adjustment.  Countries have and are still to this day fighting religious wars.  Many people are hurt and lives are ruined over religion in other parts of the world.  For more than 200 years, we have decided we as a nation weren’t going to subject our citizens to a test when it comes to religion.  Are we now going to throw away that detente and for what reason?

What do we do about the religious narcissist?  I’m still trying to find the answer to that question.  There are some suggestions for dealing with narcissists in general.  I’ll talk about some of them in a future post.

20 Responses

  1. Just perfect; so clearly reasoned and persuasive.
    You deserve a wider readership.

  2. “Gothard has resigned his position at IBLP due to sexual improprieties”

    Somehow, that fails to surprise me. Take it away, Cap’n…

    http://s175.photobucket.com/user/drkarma/media/picard-facepalm.jpg.html

  3. In predictable and usual fashion another “free thinker” demonstrates their gift for mischaractrerization and over generalizing. Please take a formal course in logic and critical thinking and repost.

    • Actually, I’m more of a Unitarian, but whatever. This is a big country and there’s plenty of room for Freethinkers, skeptics and atheists. I support their right to unworship as they see fit. They’re good people too.
      Freethought sources tend to follow the religious liberty meme rather closely so they are useful sources of information.
      And I’m not the only person who has associated evangelicalism and fundamentalism with narcissism. Nope, that part is not original at all. I thought I was the first. Far from it.

  4. The Duggars act more like a cult than any Baptist that I know. I have been a Baptist for 64 years and I know quite a few Baptist, Independent, Southern, and Missionary and none are like the Duggars.

  5. Does anyone else see anything off about her, er, comportment in the picture? Arms around herself, sort of reticent and self-protective?

  6. Where is Nero when you need him?

  7. As for Mr. Gary North: Since the God of the Abrahamic faiths is all-knowing and all-powerful, how can God have any enemies worthy of that label? An enemy who can do nothing to harm you is not an enemy in any meaningful sense of the word.

    I suspect Mr. North is projecting–he wants God to smite those North perceives to be North’s enemies.

    • I think you are right. Thanks for summing it up.

    • That’s my biggest problem in a nutshell with those that say that they’re speaking for God, how much of what they’re saying is based on their own beliefs rather than God’s beliefs(and whose to say His beliefs aren’t varied depending on circumstance.) Until God personally tells me homosexuality or abortion are wrong, I’m more inclined to believe my own heart and mind that God made. The difference between them and I is I have no problem attributing my belief set as mine instead of calling myself God’s personal spokesperson.

  8. Great piece. I was wondering, though, about the particular practice of the Duggar clan. Aren’t they Quiverfull?

  9. Mark Driscoll and the Mars Hill Church is another fun one to research. Thankfully, he’s having a meltdown as we speak, and certainly not a day too soon.

    His one-time “church” members, now detractors have released this little misogynistic screed from 2000. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton/2014/07/29/mark-driscoll-year-2000-we-live-in-a-completely-pussified-nation/.

    His recent meltdown is due to being caught using “church” funds to buy a place for his recently released book on the NYT bestseller list.

    His activities are really amazing. What truly gets me is that people follow him — and donate money! My DH reminded me that there are narcissists and there are pathological narcissistic followers. Each needs the other. Each gets their “supply” from the other. But I think that the followers lose interest faster than the narcissists do.

    • “Remember, there’s a big difference between kneeling down and bending over”–Frank Zappa, “Heavenly Bank Account” :mrgreen:

  10. I found a live performance of HBA! 😀

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