A very short post this weekend but one with personal historic importance. When I think about the year 2020, I can easily think and write about pestilence, thousands of people dying, unbelievable job losses, violence, protesters flooding city streets and of course the coming presidential election. However….
Today: July 26, 2020, my wife Joske and I celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary. Uppermost in my mind and heart. Worth celebrating and remembering.
As a friend wrote recently, “all the grace that humanity enjoys comes from human intimacy.” With mutual love and support, life goes on ……and faith, hope, and charity flourish.
A couple days ago, I was thinking about an old acquaintance, whom I have known for a very long time. He had sent a personal “email update” telling me all the great things HE has been doing. He never asked how my wife or I am doing, in these Corona days, which was typical. His whole life has been an unbroken narration of “I, Myself, and Me.”
Long ago I realized that my “friend” suffers from advanced NPD: Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
NPD is anchored in a distorted self-image and is a psychological disorder, quite often with moral implications. It affects a small but significant part of the population, with a greater prevalence in men. Historically we have often seen it in men in leadership positions. Some of his current far-right critics accuse Pope Francis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. With all due respect, I think it was more obvious in the narcissism and grandiosity of his two immediate predecessors Benedict and John Paul — but that’s a hot potato and a discussion for another time…History is a complex affair and people are complex beings….
NPD is a personal disorder but, like the Corona virus, it affects groups and group behavior as well. Some call it tribal NPD. I call it hate group NPD.
It is rather easy to pull down controversial memorials, like those of slave-traders and Confederate generals. Mending the world that constructed them is much more difficult. The emotions of NPD people are unstable and intense. They relish displays and symbols of group prestige and power. NPD people also tend to lack compassion; and the have an exaggerated sense of superiority, and enjoy bullying and denigrating people.
Below are some of the most common life characteristics of people with a narcissistic personality disorder:
1 NPD people have an insatiable appetite for the attention of others, by claiming to be the smartest, the most popular, and the most loved. In fact they value style over substance.
2. They exaggerate, fabricate or simply lie about achievements, talents, and importance.
3. They take advantage of others to achieve a personal goal, without regret or conscience. They value power more than policy….
4. They create facts or simply re-shape the truth to mislead, confuse, and control people. Their focus is not reality news but propaganda. Any media coverage unfavorable to them is rejected as part of a fake news “hoax” against them. Their’s is paranoia prioritized.
5. They lack empathy, or the ability to understand the feelings of others. They disregard, joke about, or demean others’ feelings.
6. They react to criticism by denigrating their critics in racist and xenophobic diatribes.Their toxic rhetoric and propaganda stimulate and support hate groups and racist movements.
7. NPD people are toxic people: proudly self-obsessed, arrogant, and tough-minded bullies.
What to do?
People with NPD need help. Psychotherapy can help some… For most, however, the disorder lasts a lifetime. Nevertheless, THEY still have moral responsibilities toward other people and within the institutions in which they operate. One cannot excuse their behavior.
People who are victimized by people with NPD, or who are alarmed by the power and negative influence of people with NPD, need to network and collaborate in curtailing their power and influence.
I first encountered a seriously ill NPD person when he was pastor of a nearby parish. Eventually the parish council, with abundant documented evidence about his erratic, disordered, and dangerous behavior, informed the local bishop that the pastor had to go! Within a few days, a healthy “pastoral change” was made. Change is possible when conscientious and courageous people work together.
People who recognize this disorder in political and religious leaders need to deal with the problem constructively and effectively. We can make a change….The clock is ticking.
A very brief reflection this week. The pain and fear of so many people today demand a Christian response not just more pious rhetoric. A monumental social change is underway… I remember a line from the British writer and theologian, C.S. Lewis, in his book The Problem of Pain: “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains….”
Fear paralyzes people and contributes to a chaotic environment; but compassion and collaboration bring security and stability. Christians, especially, should be people who do not allow fear to rule their lives. We know and we believe. Resurrection follows the way of the cross and death.
Christians can and must be prophetic people, who are clear-headed and courageous.
Coronavirus restrictions around the world have been lifted or ignored. Right now, however, this historic pandemic is not ending. It is surging. Nevertheless, it will not happen overnight; but we can and will conquer corona…..We need to be realistic and work together.
Malfunctioning democracies can be fixed. There are peaceful ways to restructure leadership and reform political policies….It we truly want to, we can overcome the extreme and destructive racial polarization in our society, provided we replace angry competition with compassion and collaboration.
Ultimately our society will get either the form we want — or the form we allow.
Christians need to fortify themselves with renewed faith and moral behavior. We need to base our actions on reality not popular fantasies.
Jesus of Nazareth, living and working in the socio-cultural context of his day, was a prophetic non-violent person. He was a threat of course to his contemporary vested interest people: authoritarian leaders for whom religion was more about self-promotion than service.
We remember: Jesus was bullied, beaten, and brutally killed.
We remember: Jesus’ victory over death.
As we confront the perplexing political, economic, and social problems of our time, we are called to practice and promote authentic Christian action. Yes of course, people who behave in a criminal and inhuman way need to be sanctioned and restrained; but crude militarism and violence alone will never resolve our contemporary national and international crises. They will only increase and promote more savage kinds of militarism. History lessons are clear about this.
With genuine Christian faith and vision, we can create a more humane society. We can help people find a deeper security that banishes the power and influence of fear. We can promote human self-worth far better than political and religious fanaticism. But we must thoroughly reject the contemporary “post-truth” way of life built on and sustained by lies, falsehoods, and deception. The crisis today is serious.
Jesus of Nazareth was a courageous and outspoken social critic who respected people and promoted their dignity and sense of self-worth. Recall the narrative about the woman about to be stoned. He honored her self-worth. He restored her own sense of self-worth. That was also the key element in his narrative about the Good Samaritan. These are not just old pious stories. They are exhortations about what should be part of our rule of life, if we really take Jesus and his way of life seriously.
Yes. This is the challenge of being a Jesus-person in our days of contemporary anxiety, fear, and impending chaos. We can and must support each other as messengers of truth, when loud voices around us shout fabricated falsehoods and spread exaggerated news stories to conveniently frighten and paralyze people.
In his inaugural address in 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt said “You have nothing to fear but fear itself.” In the Gospel of John, Rabbi Jesus, more importantly said “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”
A closing prayerful thought, by poet and spiritual writer William Cleary:
“The future is full of promise, Holy Mystery, if only because we discern your forces of evolution at work everywhere. Every opening daffodil, every growing child, every glimmer of human enlightenment, every bodily process of healing tells us the future is not fearsome but is full of potential. Your face is hidden, your name unknown still we turn to you in faith and confidence. Creating Evolutionary Spirit, we hear your comforting voice in the steady music of the unfolding creation, in harmonies and dissonances of the world around us into which we pour our humble efforts. We give thanks to exist, and to be in some way the joy of your heart. Amen.”
Just like drug dealers and their “clients,” authoritarian leaders and authoritarian followers sell and promote authoritarian addiction. It happens when followers stop thinking for themselves and submit to the emotional rhetoric of narcissistic authoritarian leaders. A surge of toxic misinformation online helps of course to promote their cause.
For authoritarian-minded leaders, the Corona crisis — and now the murder of George Floyd– offer convenient pretexts to silence critics and consolidate power. Yes. Authoritarianism is about power: power over people.
Over the years I have had a number of encounters — and a few conflicts — with authoritarian leaders, in ecclesiastical settings but in academia as well. What I learned, early on, is that authoritarian followers are highly submissive to authoritarian leaders and aggressively insist that everyone should behave as dictated by the authority. They are fearful about a changing world and a changing society which they neither understand nor want to understand. They would rather turn the clock back to some imagined golden era, as long as it makes them feel safe and comfortable….In fact their actions often result in chaos more than tranquility. Today we know chaos for sure…..
What authoritarian leaders want to implement is undemocratic, but quite often tyrannical and often brutal. Cynical authoritarians today exploit white racism to sell their policies and advance their influence…Authoritarianism becomes even more sinister, when authoritarian leaders begin to proclaim their message in the name and texts of Christianity. Then, in reality, it becomes an anti-Christian virus.
As the authoritarian viral infection takes over one’s system, authoritarian thinking becomes sloppy; and a ferocious dogmatism blinds people to evidence and logic. I recall the example of faulty-thinking, given many years ago by my college logic professor: “All fish live in the sea. Sharks live in the sea. Therefore, all sharks are fish.”
People need to make distinctions, as they think and speak about reality. Authoritarians thrive on thoughtless generalities that inflame rather than inform.
One of the most dangerous generalities, advocated in current Washington DC rhetoric, links criticism of authoritarianism with support for the dangerously anarchist far-left movement Antifa. To use the faulty-logic example of my college professor, again, the destructive generality would be: “Antifa opposes authoritarianism. Jack’s friends opposes authoritarianism. Therefore Jack’s friends belong to Antifa.” [Another faulty logic example of course would be: “Disinfecting helps against the Corona virus. Clorox is an effective disinfectant. Therefore one should ingest Clorox to safeguard against the Corona virus.”]
Yes. We do need to think clearly. And….we do need to confront authoritarianism in leaders and followers…. It is a malignancy that threatens and polarizes our society. And right now — we need to work together to bring a wounded, divided country together. There is no justification for destructive violence from the right or from the left….Difficult as it may be, we must build bridges.
One builds bridges by constructive words and actions. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act. We need to speak-out now or forever remain silent. And we cannot do it alone. Even if it appears that you are the only person who grasps what’s happening, you have to take courageous leadership to inform and organize others.
Today we need well-informed and critical-thinking observers who are willing to courageously collaborate with others, as they become effective but non-violent change agents.
Five points for effective change:
(1) We need to have a clear and accurate vision of reality. Dialogue is important here because it has to be a shared vision. We listen, we observe, and we explore together. And we build and re-build together.
(2) We need to be courageous and persistent but patient as well….Change does not happen overnight. Many people get frustrated when change doesn’t happen fast enough. The danger is that they lose sight of the vision as something that can really be achieved. Effective change agents need to help people see that every step forward is a step closer to the goal.
(3) We need to demonstrate that we are about more than just nice-sounding rhetoric. Effective change agents have character and credibility. If one wants to create change, one must not only be able to articulate what that change would look like but actually show it to others.
(4) We must build strong relationships built on trust – All of the points above, mean just about nothing if one does not have solid relationships with collaborators. People will not want to grow and change if they do not trust the person who is pushing for change.
(5) And finally…..We must not allow ourselves to become and act like the authoritarians: nonviolent civil resistance is far more successful in creating broad-based change than violent campaigns. Empathy and compassion are Christ-like; but hatred and denigration of other people are tokens of the anti-Christ.