During World War II, Corrie ten Boom and her family were Righteous Gentiles who quietly fought the Nazis by hiding Jews in their homes. During one raid, Corrie’s niece, Cocky, was interrogated by Nazi soldiers on the whereabouts of her brothers, who were of an age to be conscripted into the Führer’s forces.

That question threw Cocky on the horns of a moral dilemna. She had been taught to always be 100% truthful. But on the other hand, if she told the truth, her brothers would be forced to serve the Nazis and probably be killed. Goodness was clashing against goodness, ethic against ethic. Would she tell the truth and betray her brothers or would she “sin” by lying to the Nazis?

Unfortunately, Cocky chose the wrong goodness. She took good to an extreme and helped the Nazis. “They’re under the table,” she said quietly. As the Nazi soldier stooped to look under the table, she burst into a high hysterical laugh. Believing himself to be the butt of a joke, the soldier withdrew, disgusted. Shaking in fear, the brothers who were hidden in the cellar under the trapdoor under the rug under the table eventually crawled out of hiding. It was only by the Grace of God they had survived, despite their sister’s betrayal by insisting on telling the 100% truth.

Goodness had been taken to the extreme and turned into evil.

How Good Becomes Bad

For a long time, I’ve puzzled over how certain religions, cults and people fasten onto one particular good ethic and then proceed to blow it all out of proportion. They fixate on one commandment, one dogma, one ethic, one verse and pursue it so dogmatically, the original good metamorphosizes into an actual evil.

For example, in Narcissistic Abuse of Women in Cults, I called out a sect for denying their women mental health care, birth control, hair cuts and forcing them to wear scratchy one-pattern-fits-no-one dresses and hot head-coverings at all times. Sure, you can track their motivations back to specific Bible verses, but c’mon! Where is the common sense? How is this sect not a “fertility cult”!?!

I once read about a father who forced his engaged daughter to re-enact weddings exactly as they were conducted in the 1st Century A.D. The poor girl prepared for her wedding nightly, donning her wedding dress, waiting for hours night after night for her groom to appear, just as they did during Jesus’ day. Again, c’mon! Just because the Jewish culture did this or that when Christ walked the Earth, doesn’t mean we must do the same now. This self-righteous father managed to turned his daughter’s wedding from a glorious one-day experience into a night-after-night Hell.

Other sectors of society have become so extreme in their views on virginity, that even having a crush on someone, holding their hand, exchanging a kiss is considered by them to be defilement. “Losing the virginity of your heart,” they call it. My friend, Rebecca Lemke, has written powerfully on this topic on her website and in her new book The Scarlet Virgins. Some girls raised in these extreme cultures report feeling sullied by having sex for the first time with their husband on their wedding night. Again, purity is taken to such extremes, that evil rears its ugly head and steals their joy.

Even in the movie The Rainmaker starring Burt Lancaster and Katherine Hepburn, we see this dynamic at work. As I wrote in my article, Childhood Sexual Shame and its Effect on Your Adult Sexuality:

In the 1956 movie The Rainmaker starring Katherine Hepburn and Burt Lancaster, Hepburn plays an old-maid who falls in love with a handsome con man who passes through town. They have a romantic evening where he romances her, tells her how beautiful she is and kisses her lovingly. It’s the first time Hepburn realizes her birthright as a woman and finally feels desirable.

Unfortunately, this angers Hepburn’s über-religious and jealous brother, Noah, who considers all of this to be evil. “It ain’t right, Pop—it aint’ right!” he rages.

What his father says next is laser-beam illuminating sexual shame: “Noah, you’re so full of what’s right, you can’t see what’s good!…She’s gotta have somethin’! Even if it’s only one minute—with a man talkin’ quiet and his hand touchin’ her face! And if you go out there and shorten the time they have together—if you put one little dark shadow over the brightest time of LIzzie’s life—I swear I’ll come out after you with a whip!”

Reclaiming Normal

Narcissism Meets Normalcy was founded on the concept that narcissists have no concept of “normal.” Furthermore, they hate it because it puts a “stick in the spokes” of their abuse. How do you cope when a religious narcissist has piled goodness on top of goodness, creating not an über-good, but an actual evil?

Our defense and weapon is called “a sense of proportion” and narcissist’s don’t have it. “A sense of proportion” is just another word for “normalcy.”

A Sense of Proportion

In 1934, English writer James Hilton blessed the world with the character of Mr. Chipping (Mr. Chips, for short), an empathetic and understanding Latin teacher at Brookfield School. In his wonderful book Goodbye Mr. Chips, Hilton introduced me to the phrase “a sense of proportion.” This is exactly what narcissists, especially the ultra-religious type of narcissists, are lacking. Here are some quotes from the book:

And suddenly, in a torrent of thoughts too pressing to be put into words,
Chips made answer to himself. These examinations and certificates and so on —
what did they matter? And all this efficiency and up-to-dateness —
what did THAT matter, either? … And once Chips had got into trouble
because of some joke he had made…Touchy, no sense of humor, no sense of proportion—
that was the matter with them, these new fellows… No sense of proportion.
And it was a sense of proportion, above all things, that Brookfield ought to teach —
not so much Latin or Greek or Chemistry or Mechanics.
And you couldn’t expect to test that sense of proportion by setting papers and granting certificates…

1917. 1918. Chips lived through it all.
He sat in the headmaster’s study every morning,
handling problems, dealing with plaints and requests.
Out of vast experience had emerged a kindly, gentle confidence in himself.
To keep a sense of proportion, that was the main thing.
So much of the world was losing it; as well keep it where it had,
or ought to have, a congenial home.

Now that’s what I’m talking about! Fighting dogma with proportion! Balancing goodness with humor! And most importantly, having a “kindly, gentle confidence” in ourselves and our moral compass.