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      I woke up last night feeling like I was suffocating, because in my dream I was. It began in a church, or an old university lecture hall. Antique. And everyone in attendance was being asked to say little prayers honoring Jesus. Everyone was reciting little prayers that are common among the devout. But when it was my turn, I stood and exclaimed: Jesus was a ph […]
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Religious narcissism and its effects on children: an extreme example

Oh those daffy Duggars! Nineteen kids out there in a compound in Arkansas getting homeschooled. Look at how polite, well behaved and self-controlled they are. And they play instruments too. They play violin, piano… and violin. None of them do ballet. That’s interesting. No it isn’t. They have to dress modestly and you can’t look modest in a tutu. Ballerinas in tutus could be defrauding (that’s like being called a tease). Besides, dancing is unbiblical- or something. There’s touching involved. Touching leads to wild, lustful sex as soon as the chaperones leave the room to take a pee… Wait, where was I?

Anyway, you know the drill. People who admire the Duggars and families like them see no harm in what they are doing. It’s all about God, blah, blah, blah.

And then comes the case of Alecia Faith Pennington. Here’s her story:

This is shocking to the rest of us who aren’t slavishly devoted to fundamentalist ideology. Can you imagine parents who wouldn’t assist their children in establishing that they are citizens of the country in which they have been born and lived all their lives?

You’re shocked because you aren’t seeing this situation in the same way Pennington’s parents, or even the Duggars, see it. THEY see a disobedient and defiant daughter. To these families, Alecia isn’t entitled to any rights. She’s not entitled to her own life. She’s not even entitled to be angry about the choices her parents have made for her. She’s not entitled to her own feelings.

Her mother, on the other hand, is entitled to become hysterical with grief. She is wailing and screaming about how awful Alecia has been. It’s like the death of her daughter. (Well, that’s because she has to shun her in order to save the other kids) The rest of the family can’t understand why Alecia has left. She must be possessed by the demonic influence of a woman from the world. But even though the family has been devastated, now that she’s made an independent decision, they have no other choice but abandon her and try to make her life miserable by withholding the information she needs to get her birth certificate. They simply can not allow her to get away from them without suffering the consequences of what she has done to their happy family that now has a hole blasted through it. If only Alecia would return to them, they wouldn’t have to ruin her life.


It’s all about them. Note that the most significant thing to ruin Alecia’s life at this point has been the intentional actions of her parents to deny her the crucial information she needs to do what every other nineteen year old in the country is allowed to do by law. What is more awful than having someone deny you the right to make a living to support yourself? Really, these parents should be arrested for negligence and abuse.

I was surprised to read that Alecia’s case is not rare among the religiously homeschooled. When these children reach 18, they’re legally allowed to leave but their parents can hold them hostage. Without proper documentation, they’re stuck in a legal limbo and without outside support, they may never be allowed to leave what they consider to be a cult and prison. Would their parents refuse to sign their financial aid papers if they decided to go to college? Yep. Or they might be disinherited, although in Alecia’s case, when she does finally get her documentation, she might be the only one of her siblings to prove her identity and, as a result, might inherit everything. You never know.

The people supporting Alecia are hoping that public pressure will cause her parents to relent and they will help her establish her identity. But the Penningtons take Duggardom a step further. They believe the US Government has no sovereignty over them, or some such nonsense. This is a deep held belief. It’s part of the reason why they chose to use unregistered midwives to deliver their children and why they didn’t register their birth certificates. For all we know, the Penningtons will assert that Alecia is only 17 and must be returned to her parents. Wait, are we sure they are her parents? Where’s the documentation? In the meantime, Alecia is staying with her grandparents who seem slightly less unhinged.

This is an extreme form of religious narcissism but all of the characteristics are there. The Penningtons are “Christians” whose refusal of the world has set them apart as “special”. They’re more holy, more worthy of respect. You should be more deferential to them because they have God on their side. They have The Truth. You don’t. They do not see their children as independent beings. Their children are part of an unbreakable family unit. They do not have independent agency. They must submit to their parents’ choices for them and that is to serve God and the family.

The Penningtons have a newsletter where they tell the world how perfectly they are adhering to The Truth and God’s plan. By going public, (OMG, YOUTUBE!!) Alecia has ruined their reputation among other families like the Penningtons because she has decided she didn’t want to live in the perfect world that her parents had created for her. There goes the admiration the Penningtons crave. Maybe Alecia should threaten to write a book. That ought to bring her parents around toot sweet.

So, she must be punished. She can’t just leave. She doesn’t have a right to leave. She doesn’t own herself. She is property of the family. This is a major feature of narcissists. They do not respect the boundaries of others. Alecia has decided she doesn’t want to live like a religious fundamentalist away from the world and subject to her parents who will choose her husband and decide her future. For this, she must be punished and she will be declared dead within the family. It’s all about the Penningtons. It’s not about Alecia.

The Penningtons say they will give her what she needs but as with all religious narcissists, that help is going to come with strings. Alecia will probably have to return home and go through some counseling with them so that she, once again, sees the world through their eyes. They have to have one more chance to shape her mind, subject her to one more lecture on the dangers of the world, put one more oppressive guilt trip on her before they symbolically kill her and shun her forever from their presence. Because they love her.

Apparently, this love does not extend beyond the fence around their compound. They can not love her from a distance. They can not love her if she decides to get an education, save the world or marry someone she loves who her parents did not choose. She is ungrateful and disobedient. There’s nothing worse. She could be a bad influence on the other children. She might give the others ideas. Therefore, her independence poses a real threat to their peace of mind. She will have to be excluded from their presence. This is what will happen to any of the Duggars who dare to step out of line.

Not so charming anymore, is it?

*It’s bound to come up but as far as I know, the Duggars have had their kids in hospitals. That’s because Michelle Duggar has had so many children that she should have a zipper on her C-section incision. Labor became difficult and in some cases, dangerous, for her ever since she had her first set of twins more than twenty years ago. Physician attended deliveries have become necessary for her. But she started popping out the brood more almost thirty years ago. Who knows how she might have done things these days? The Quiverful movement has moved towards home births in a big way, and there’s nothing wrong with that, as long as the midwives are professionals, registered and have an admitting hospital nearby in case of an emergency. the Penningtons have decided that is too restrictive for them and they are apparently not alone among the fundamentalist community. So, presumably, the Duggar kids all have their birth certificates, or can access them if they ever get a moment to themselves and can put together an escape plan. But in every other way, the Duggars are just as oppressive as the Penningtons.