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Religious Narcissism: A Toxic Spin on Calvanism

On August 12th, 1986, President Reagan famously said, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help’.”

But I think I’ve found something even more terrifying: a narcissist with a Bible in hand.

This topic came to mind as I read Banished, a 2013 book by Lauren Drain about her experience in a “church” that snags headlines disgustingly frequently for their penchant for picketing. Yeah, you know who I mean. I won’t sully this blog by naming them. To the depths of my soul, I abhor everything they stand for. They are one of the most disgusting cults I’ve ever heard of. It’s people like that who give God such a bad name and such a black eye.

Now I’ve been made to walk my fair share of picket lines…all before the age of ten! So I just assumed that the Picketers do their shtick for the same reason my family did: to convert others to their way of thinking and believing, the only right belief system.

Oh, I couldn’t have been more wrong!

Lauren Drain gives us a shocking insight into the minds of these people. Her insight is particularly clear as she was just fourteen when her father dragged his “evil” daughter, voiceless wife and young family across state lines to join the Picketers. From my own experience, I trust the clear insight of a child much more than the convoluted, self-deceiving, cognitive dissonance, long-winded explanations of The Adults.

The reason behind their so-called theology and vile picketing is conveniently based on the theological teachings of John Calvin (1509-1564). Lauren summarizes Calvinism thusly on page 82:

Decisions about eternal life had been predestined by God,
who had identified the people who would be saved
before they were even born.

She goes on to say that by the 1900s, Calvinism had largely been rejected by…

…a lot of sincere Christians [who] just couldn’t accept that they were most likely going to Hell despite the lives they led.

The Picketers believe that…

…there was no chance you could earn your way into Heaven,
that you had to be chosen by God before you were even born. No amount of faith or repentance or righteousness
would change your destiny.

I ask you: Could any twisting of theology be more tailor-made for a narcissist manipulating religion to make them special and elite with all the ego boost that comes with it!?

What shocked me the most was Lauren’s explanation that the Picketers are not picketing to proselytize or convert anyone. She writes:

To me, the biggest misapprehension about [the Picketers]
was that we picketed to try to convince people
to come to our side before it was too late,
telling them ‘repent while you can.’
This couldn’t have been further from the truth:
we were just spreading the word that sinners were going to Hell, because God wanted it that way….
(emphasis mine)

So, let me see if I’ve got this right. Basically, it’s a colossal religious “Nanny-nanny-boo-boo. Ha, ha, we’re going to Heaven and you’re not, nanny-nanny-boo-boo.”

Lauren elaborates even further (p. 114):

The places that we selected to be picketed were going to be graced with a visit from God’s messengers…Our primary motivation was to let people know God hated them, but we weren’t trying to convince them we were right…..We weren’t inviting anyone to join us….if we were done with you and weren’t coming to your city or your country anymore, then there was no more hope for your city, nation, or continent.
You were even more doomed than you had been before.”

Talk about narcissism-on-a-stick!

I need hardly tell you that their spin on Calvinism isn’t even good theology as it flies directly in the face of 2 Peters 3: 9: “He has no wish that any man should be destroyed. He wishes that all men should come to repent” as well as cherry picking Romans 8:29 “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined.” They focus on “predestination” to the exclusion of “foreknew” which completely balances it out with almost circular logic.

And here’s this little gem from Lauren’s book:

We always tried to be friendly to the people who talked to us,
because we didn’t hate them—God did.

Why? Why embrace such a narrow, exclusive theology of a wrathful God to the exclusion of “God is love” (1 John 4: 8)?

Nate, the horribly beaten and abused son of the man who founded the Picketer’s cult, gives us an insight. He says his father was a rageaholic, addicted to rage. He needed the “high” that came from it.

And so, he created a god in his own image, again cherry-picking only the Bible verses that he liked, that supported his spouse abuse, child abuse, his rage, his hatred, his homophobia, his domination, his control and his narcissism. Any written language or spoken language can be twisted to support anything if you sound-byte it enough. That’s exactly what this so-called pastor did.

I understand. I was raised with an angry god described by my angry father. My father spat out the word “sinners” with venom. He always seemed to be focused on other people’s sin. Not his own. In fact, he carved out loopholes in Scripture for his own pet sin which was rage telling me once, “Yes, I have the fits of rage listed in Galations 5: 19-20 as ‘works of the flesh’ but I’m going to Heaven.” He also threatened to tear Song of Solomon out of my Bible.

Chief among the sinners was I, a sinner from birth. In my father’s mind, most of our relatives and all of our neighbors, all of whom he “witnessed to” and all of whom already considered themselves Christians, were going straight to Hell. I even remember one memorable day when he said, and I quote verbatim, “Homosexuals are demon possessed.” I was horrified then and I’m horrified now.

The picketers didn’t need to wave their quintessential “God hates you” sign in my face. I already knew that from home, church and school. 

It’s taken years to realize it isn’t true. God doesn’t hate us. Only the Picketers hate us and in a fascinating twist, the man who founded the cult was excommunicated from it on his deathbed. How’s that for poetic justice!?

I said it in 2016 in my first viral article and I’ll say it again: “When a narcissist gets religion, you get screwed.” They don’t woo; they ravish.

That’s not how God Himself works. As C. S. Lewis wrote in The Screwtape Letters:

He cannot ravish. He can only woo.

Show me someone humble who lives their faith so lovingly and so loudly they don’t need to rage or control or shout or picket or lecture or shame and that’s a faith I’ll look into.

Religious Narcissism: A Toxic Spin on Calvanism

Lenora Thompson

Lenora Thompson is a syndicated Huffington Post freelance writer and food blogger. Her readers call her the "Edward Snowden" and "Wikileaks" of narcissism because of her no-holds-barred-take-no-prisoners approach to writing about narcissism. “Narcissism Meets Normalcy” is the real-life, ongoing story of her healing journey from being held “hostage” by a multi-generational, cult-like narcissistic family. It's gritty and real, bloody and bruised, humorous and sarcastic. Lenora Thompson considers herself a “whistleblower,” shining a spotlight on narcissistic abuse so others can also claim their freedom and experience healing. To learn more about Lenora, her husband Michael's heroic battle with Pulmonary Alveolar Proteinosis and to read her writings about food, please visit Thank you!

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APA Reference
Thompson, L. (2019). Religious Narcissism: A Toxic Spin on Calvanism. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 4, 2020, from


Last updated: 23 May 2019
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