Beware the religious narcissist. They speak with the omniscient voice of God. Wield the sword of His judgment. Brandish the rod of His power. They wear the mantle of His righteousness. They goin’ straight to Heaven, baby. And you, you back-slidden heathen? Well, you ain’t!
Exploitation of Holy Scripture is at its finest when you give a narcissist a Bible. In fact, all cult leaders have narcissistic tendencies. You can take it to the bank!
My narcissists “got religion” in 1980. Or so they claimed.
Uh huh, whatever.
Dad was born, raised and confirmed Lutheran. Served as an acolyte. Even taught Sunday School, I’m told, though he never mentioned it himself. By the time he reached young adulthood he was so disillusioned with the church that he chose to elope to Michigan in 1973 for a secular wedding to his first wife.
All that changed in 1980 when I came along, the only offspring of his 1978 rebound second wedding (in a church, this time). He wanted to have something better to give his child. Answers. Truth. So it was on a wet November day, as he hiked and cried out, “Does anyone really care?” that he claims to have seen a vision of Christ on the Cross. Dad dated his conversion from that moment. Odd then that the Fruits of the Spirit (Galations 5: 22-23) such as love, joy and patience are conspicuous by their absence from his life. Small wonder he was angry with God when a diagnosis of cancer threatened his self-righteous pride at the tender age of forty-eight.
Mother claimed to have been born-again shortly after my birth.
My upbringing was über-religous. To me, Daddy was God on Earth, or at least, God’s spokesman. In fact, our family had almost all the attributes of a cult.
My parents heeded the Biblical admonition that “sparing the rod” would “spoil the child.” (Proverbs 13:2) During my Terrible Two’s, the rod was sometimes wielded daily. Dad recounted the “snap” and “whip” of the flexible plastic spatula against my bare backside with relish. “You were a sinner from birth,” he snarled venomously about myself…and the whole human race. And while supposedly raising me according Dr. James Dobson’s childrearing philosophies, they scorned his focus on self-esteem, which they labeled “sinful pride.”
Yes, we were indeed a cult…with just three members.
Nor did Dad’s Christian zeal stop with his own family. In fact, he was so busy evangelizing, campaigning for conservative political candidates and picketing abortion clinics, that he was rarely home. He witnessed to all and sundry, alienating friends and family alike. Did door-to-door evangelism. Manned phones during Billy Graham crusades. Left Gospel tracts on restaurant tables. Led his family in prayer before every meal. Well, actually, he joked around with God in every mealtime prayer and then solemnly apologized to God before ending, “in Jesus’ name, Amen.”
When schooldays rolled around, my folks enrolled me in an expensive Baptist church school. Very uptight. Very superior. Very judgmental. Very exclusive to the point of being cult-like. Many of my classmates have yet to escape this cult, I mean, church’s clutches.
Looking back, I’m horrified what a superior, judgmental little prick I was by the time I reached school-age. I was the know-it-all, the bossy girl, the class tattletale. Ugh!
While being scholastically excellent, my school’s religious training seems almost calculated to make you hate God. Bible classes were excessively boring. Each school week ended with Bible homework assignments sure to ruin your weekend. Writing one hundred repetitions of Scripture verses was used as punishment.
Once a week, the school welcomed guest chapel preachers who spent half an hour screaming at the student body in their best Southern Baptist style. Worse still, Tuesday chapel robbed us of our only study hour, ensuring a miserable Tuesday evening spent buried under a mountain of homework.
When guest preachers were unavailable, the faculty themselves took to the pulpit to admonish the student body. In one memorable series, the superintendent lectured us on our “bad” language. By the time the series ended, even the word “nuts” was off limits, though at the time I had no idea why.
I vividly remember the superintendent’s superior, condescending smile as he recounted how his wife said, “Oh Steve, can’t you just go out there and tell them they’re good kids!?” Apparently not! And like the sweet, humble child I was, I accepted all the screams, all the admonitions, all the shame. Surely, I was guilty of all of it! Mother’s suggestion that, “If the shoe doesn’t fit, don’t wear it,” was entirely beyond my comprehension.
Yes, the school was strict but not nearly strict enough, according to my folks. Believe me, the Duggars had nothing on us! Mom and Dad dressed me from babyhood in “modest” clothes that exceeded the standards of my school’s hated dress-code. When I was caught talking in class during second grade, my punishment was to spend Saturday with Dad stenciling a poster that read, “I will not follow the crowd in doing wrong.” (Ex. 23:2) It hung in my bedroom for years, shaming me, shaming me.
“Dad, why are we Christians?”
At age fourteen, a question suddenly occurred to me. It was a simple question, from a childish mind. Why Christianity? Why Christ?
Dad was ready for it. Smiling condescending down yards and yards of nose, he said, “I always knew this day would come.” Ah, yes, he’s ahead of me by five minutes, five hours, five days, ad nauseum.
He proceeded to introduce me to the study of apologetics. Apologetics “is the discipline of defending a position (often religious) through the systematic use of information.”
And it destroyed my faith. The apologetics books planted doubts and questions that had never occurred to my fourteen-year-old mind. A decade of perpetual sadness dates from that memorable day.
Without faith, I was no longer a Christian. I was now an infidel. A hell-bound sinner. The dregs of the Earth. At least, that’s how it felt! In school, I was a fake, hoping not to be expelled. In my family, I was a lower life-form, abundantly worthy of their condescension. At church, I could no longer take Communion, trying to look nonchalant as I passed the plates of bread and grape juice without partaking, revealing my inferiority to all who might be watching.
Each and every Sunday in my teen years, I developed a tension headache. Medication was only unwillingly doled out when it reached migraine levels.
I remember one memorable day when my parents assured me that, should any relatives ask if I were a born-again Christian, they would not lie for me.
How odd. They expected me to lie for them on a regular basis!
Shortly afterwards, in 1995/1996, the proverbial shit hit the proverbial fan. My home would never again be the same. Although my parents have never actually told me the truth of what happened on that memorable morning, I believe Dad got busted.
Suddenly, Dad was accusing my Mother and I of bringing him under demonic attack.
Y’know how television evangelists always scream that Satan is attacking them when they’re discovered in an indiscretion? It was just like that.
I recall one particular incident, oh I must have been about fifteen or sixteen, when my Mother lovingly gave me a beautiful Bible with my name embossed in gold on the cover. Tearfully, she said, “Live by it always.” Dad, on the other hand, screamed that Song of Solomon is not Holy Writ and was added to the Canon of Scripture by “dirty old men.”
“If I find you’ve been reading Song of Solomon,” he screamed, “I’ll rip it out of your Bible!”
Methinks he projected his own sexual shame onto the Holy (HOLY!) Bible, in a pathetic attempt to bring it down to his own level. Such poetic justice that my husband and I wear wedding bands inscribed with a verse from Song of Solomon. And yes, it is Holy Scripture, Dad. (But I digress, frequently.)
With that threat, he set to work “breaking” me of my “obsession” with demons. First, I was assigned a chapter of Scripture to read daily, over and over again. Next, I was to hum the chorus God Is So Good whenever the thought of demons crossed my mind. Thirdly, my mother was assigned to give me the third degree each day after school, accusingly demanding, “Did you think about demons today?” A screaming lecture always followed. Lastly, he forced me to carefully examine book after book of gruesome Holocaust pictures. Surely, this would break me of my demonic fascination.
What demonic fascination!?! All it did was create a Pink Elephant. No differentiation was made between the word “demon” constantly coming to mind because I was forbidden to think about it versus actually dwelling on the topic. Thus, I was assured a daily screaming lecture from Mom. Their generous gift of a demonic Pink Elephant only faded after their own lives became so chaotic, they forgot to persecute me anymore.
Time and again during my teens and twenties, I tried to join the rarefied echelons of born-again Christians with their iron-plated assurance of Heaven. With Dad’s two-page hand-written list of doctrines I had to believe in order for my salvation to be a “done deal,” I set to work.
Oh, how I tried! Tried to feel faith and failed. Tried to feel the whole extent of my wickedness and failed. Mother spent hours preaching at me, begging me, yelling me into the Kingdom. Dad gave me assigned apologetics and Scripture reading during Summer Vacation.
He even admitted he had “failed” in my religious upbringing by leaving the responsibility to other people. Shocked by such a rare admission of failure, I praised him for his humility. Years later I realized, he was apologizing for my mother’s failure, shifting all the blame onto her.
I shed buckets of tears. Berated myself incessantly. Suffered from constant unmedicated tension headaches.
Even had a couple of false conversions. Even got baptized by immersion at age twenty-one and joined yet another uptight, exclusive, condescending Baptist church.
But it was all to no avail. My sex drive betrayed me. Apparently, Christians do not ballroom dance aka make-out on the dance floor, according to Dad. Thus it was that at the age of twenty-four, he again destroyed my faith. The stress of that second destruction brought on flu-like symptoms and migraines so bad only vomiting relieved the pain. Of course, Mother yelled at me for vomiting.
Shortly after I was busted back to heathen, Mother discovered the teaching of Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron. Repentance and faith! Suddenly, she said she’d truly become a Christian. What!? Wait a second! What about her 1980 “conversion”? This would mean when she was yelling me into the Kingdom, she herself wasn’t in the Kingdom. What hypocrisy!
Naturally, one would assume Dad would’ve been thrilled by his wife’s true conversion. Au contraire, mon ami! Nothing could be further from the truth.
Privately, Mother told me he never prayed with her, flatly refused to pray with her, in fact.
Privately, Dad explained away his refusal to ever pray with his wife by quoting, “What hath light [i.e. Dad] to do with darkness [i.e. Mom].” (II Cor. 6: 14)
Oh for a bat mitzvah!
Even in my thirties, Dad still considered himself responsible to God for my actions and for all actions committed under his cult, I mean, roof. He used Scripture to brainwash both Mother and I into accepting his misogyny as Biblical headship. That explains Mother’s prying into everything from my dresser drawers to my emails to the browser history on my personal laptop.
Thus it was I found myself seated at the scratched formica kitchen table, being given the third degree, expected to honestly narc on myself.
The topic was online porn. The occasion, my first smart phone. With clenched fists waving, Dad screamed, “I HATE PORN!“
This was followed by a lecture on the burgeoning female addiction to porn, his responsibility to God for my actions and a fatigued, “I just don’t have the energy to get you unaddicted from porn, Lenora.”
It was at moments like this that I longed for a bat mitzvah. A coming of age ceremony. But no! Dad, not I, was responsible to God for my actions…even into my thirties!
Next came the interrogation, the third degree. I answered honestly that I’d never looked at porn. I could tell he didn’t believe me. Ah, projecting his own character flaws onto me yet again, I suspect. How convenient!
In retrospect, like all lying narcissists, he overplayed his hand.
Ever since 1995/1996, Mother has censored everything Dad saw. She became adroit at erasing female immodesty from all VHS tapes. She reviewed all library books, using Post-It notes to cover all female immodesty. Riding in the car, she ordered Dad to “Look left” or “Look right” to avoid seeing female immodesty on advertisement, billboards, joggers in sports bras. This was my job if Mom wasn’t around. Of course, television was banned. Even radio shows discussing sex were off-limits to Dad.
In Summer, Dad avoided driving past the kiddie wading pool two blocks away. When the family gathered to watch my six-year-old cousin’s ballet recital, Dad sat alone in the other room. And with the advent of the Internet, Mom installed a web browser filter, of which she alone held the password. Surely, unnecessary precautions if her husband was a trustworthy man who truly hated porn.
And that’s why the revelations about Josh Duggar came as no surprise to me!
So, who is God…really?
Well, I’ll tell you this: He’s not the God the narcissists told you about.
Remember all those “sinners” the narcissists hate with such venom? They flocked to Christ. Not so the Pharisees, the “righteous” religious leaders of His day. They hated him! And that’s what religious narcissists are, you know. Hypocritical Pharisees. Exploiting and warping Holy Scripture for their own ends.
Before us lies a journey of exploration, to discover who God really is. It may take time, because frankly, we’re in religious detox.
Expect the narcissists to turn Scripture against us as we set boundaries and go No Contact.
It’s not a question of “if” they will exploit Scripture to make themselves appear the victim. It’s only a matter of when. Doubtless they’ll “forgive us”…for what they brought on their own heads. Doubtless they’ll reference the Scriptures about honoring our parents and obeying them.
Ephesians 6:4 comes to our rescue! In the Phillips version it reads, “Fathers, don’t over-correct your children or make it difficult for them to obey the commandment.” The King James Version simply states, “And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath.” I dunno about you, but I’ve been provoked way beyond wrath. And the Commandment to obey my parents was made damned impossible to obey because of their extreme demands! But I tried, boy! how I tried!
Meanwhile, 1 Corinthians 13 lists a series of attributes unsuitable for a Christian, but systemic to narcissism. Envy! Impatience! Gloating over the wickedness of other people! Being anxious to impress others! Inflated self-importance! Touchiness!
I suggest we take verse eleven’s advice to abandon our childish way of thinking and feeling. Grow up! Stop believing your narcissistic parents’ lies! Stop worshiping at the altar they erected to themselves! Believe the truth about them!
Then, act accordingly. In the words of my husband, “The Bible tells me to turn the other cheek. Well, I’m all out of cheeks!”
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Don’t judge God by narcissists. He’s much kinder, more loving. He lovingly gave His life for us, while narcissists made us give up our lives for them.
In the words of U.S. Army Ranger Gary Horton (ret.)…