All my life I’ve watched people stand up in church and tearfully tell how all their problems were solved by inviting Jesus into their heart (a phrase not found in the Bible, btw.) And all my life, their claims bothered me. I just didn’t buy it. No therapy. No counseling. No journaling. No learning. No soul searching. No recovery. Their testimonies implied that Jesus healed everything from pain from narcissistic abuse to addiction with absolutely no effort on their part, no professional help.
While I believe in the power of the Cross and am a huge fan of Teen Challenge, an unabashedly Holy Spirit based and very successful addiction recovery program, I don’t believe claiming the name of Christ replaces the need for personal effort and professional help for emotional recovery.
This is for three reasons:
- I’ve never observed it to work (although most of the so-called Christians I’ve known were actually narcissists).
- It’s exactly the kind of claptrap I would expect religious narcissists to disseminate so their victims believe “becoming a Christian” will solve all their problems, leading them to doubt their faith and fall away when it doesn’t solve all their problems.
- If Jesus is all you need, no one ever learns about narcissism, sets boundaries, goes No Contact and heals especially when all they know is “Narcianity” not true Christianity (but more about that later.)
On a different but related bunny trail, I remember a particular Tuesday morning much like all the other Tuesday mornings in the school year. We Baptist school students dutifully flocked to the Chapel where we lost our study hall hour in exchange for being harangued, preached at, yelled at, pounded at and otherwise brow-beaten for an hour by a perspiring guest evangelist.
But today’s Chapel speaker was more interesting than the usual preachers. He claimed to have been a casino entertainer for years before asking Jesus into his heart. He ranted. He raved. He yelled. But most of all, he bragged. What else could you call it!? His sins, according to him, were legendary. The stuff that great autobiographies are made of, but definitely not appropriate content for a Chapel full of young, impressionable minds.
What I don’t remember is any penitence. Any treatment for his alcoholism. Any addressing of his chronic womanizing. Any marriage counseling for him and his long-suffering wife who, according to him, “still regrets marrying me.” Nothing but Jesus. He merely traded his secular entertainment career for a church-based entertainment career.
And again, I’m not buying it!
Here’s the problem with Christianity today: I believe the church is riddled with narcissists, particularly amongst the clergy and pastors. This means the “Christianity” they preach is informed, spun, warped, twisted, flavored and shot through with their narcissistic point-of-view.
Therefore, it stands to reason that “Narcianity” is all we know — but that’s not true Christianity. This is certainly true for me. Every time I crack open the Bible, I can’t hear what the Scripture actually says because it’s drowned out by the narcissistic interpretation of Scripture I learned in Church, Chapel and at home. It’s impossible to read the Scripture from the point-of-view of a Jesus who kicked the crap outta the moneychangers in the Temple when we’re steeped in Baby-Jesus-Meek-and-Mild.
See the problem!?
Narcissists want meek-and-mild victims who will mindlessly follow I Corinthians 13:
Love is patient, love is …not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love …always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Isn’t that what narcissists thrive on!? Isn’t that what cults are founded on!? That’s why narcissistic pastors’ sermons focus on verses that teach us to “turn the other cheek” and “overcome evil with good” and give the church at least 10% of our gross income so, like Kenneth Copeland, they can buy private jets.
At what point does a “Good Christian” say, “Pffft, tried the love thing, tried the turn-the-other-cheek thing. Doesn’t work. I’m being abused more than ever now!” They don’t because Narcianity is all they know and they don’t want to go to Hell for being “a bad Christian” who isn’t “nice,” the way Jesus supposedly was nice. (FYI – He wasn’t!)
This milquetoast (my new favor word!) interpretation of Scripture isn’t a new thing. In her 1913 book Laddie: A True Blue Story, author and nature photographer Gene Stratton Porter writes the following:
She [Mother] always quoted: “All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye EVEN SO to them.” [Matthew 7: 12]
…It was just the hatefulest text of any, and made you squirm most. There was no possible way to get around it. It meant, that if you liked a splinter new slate, and a sharp pencil all covered with gold paper, to make pictures and write your lessons, when Clarissa Polk sat next you and sang so low the teacher couldn’t hear until she put herself to sleep on it, “I WISHT I had a slate! I wisht I HAD a slate! I wisht I had a SLATE! Oh I WISHT I HAD A SLATE!”—it meant that you just had to wash up yours and stop making pictures yourself, and pass it over; you even had to smile when you offered it, if you did it right. I seldom got through it as the Lord would, for any one who loaned Clarissa a slate knew that it would come back with greasy, sweaty finger marks on it you almost had to dig a hole to wash off, and your pencil would be wet. And if there were the least flaw of crystal in the pencil, she found it, and bore down so hard that what she wrote never would come off.
Bullshit! That’s not “doing unto others.” It’s being an idiotic sap. Aren’t we supposed to be “wise as serpents”!?! (Matthew 10: 16)
Getting back to my premise, a salvation prayer does not make you wise to narcissistic abuse. It does not regrow your backbone nor heal every emotional wound. If anything, the “discipling” or rather indoctrination into Narcianity that often follows a conversion makes you less likely to set boundaries, stand up for yourself, etc. damning you to continue being abused for the rest of your life, fostering anger and then guilt for being angry! It’s a no-win scenario.
I see this very dynamic in so many of my former classmates. Like me, they sat through years of Narcianity sermons on Tuesday morning and twice on Sundays. Twenty years later, these perfectly nice, normal people have been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder.
Again, I’m not buying it! I knew them for years and there was nothing wrong with them. But they were victims of narcissistic and spiritual abuse at church, at school and at home with no respite and nowhere to turn.
Has this been addressed? Have they faced it? Have they done their emotional work? Have they gone to therapy? NO! To intimate that their honored parents, school, teachers, clergy abused them would be to (supposedly) commit a horrible sin! So they medicate their suffering because that’s what a good Christian does.
So here’s an idea: Jesus can do a lot, but He doesn’t automatically make us wise, make us savvy, make us strong. If He did, we wouldn’t learn a thing. Like a good parent, He doesn’t cheat us out of learning lessons from our pain. As C. S. Lewis wrote in The Screwtape Letters, “He cannot ravish. He can only woo.”
Let’s pray for the “renewing of [our] mind” (Romans 12:2) so when we read the Scripture we actually meet the kick-ass Christ who fought narcissism in His day and can help us fight it now. If we’re called to be Christlike, that means calling out the Pharisees of our day, pinpointing their narcissism, removing ourselves and healing from their abuse!
Jesus can work miracles now just as He did in the 1st Century A.D., but some effort is required on our part too.