When religious celebrity narcissism leads . . .

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Because the consequences of the Fall, disordered virtues can actually contribute to one's "success." Research demonstrates that narcissist are more likely to emerge as leaders. Here's a definition:

Narcissistic people have an inflated sense of their own importance and a deep need for admiration. Those with narcissistic personality disorder believe that they're superior to others and have little regard for other people's feelings.

Here are some traits to look for when encountering a narcissist: Reacts to criticism with anger, shame or humiliation; Takes advantage of others to reach his or her own goals; Exaggerates own importance; Exaggerates achievements and talents; Entertains unrealistic fantasies about success, power, beauty, intelligence or romance; Has unreasonable expectation of favorable treatment; Requires constant attention and positive reinforcement from others; Is easily jealous; Disregards the feelings of others, lacks empathy; Has obsessive self-interest; Pursues mainly selfish goals.

In religious contexts, these people can rise in popularity and become "leading" voices quite easily in a world driven by branding, messaging, the need to have "influence" and legacy, etc. It's easy: build a movement around yourself, gather people around you who will not challenge you, get the largest following you can, be accountable to no one, create a niche in which you are a self-proclaimed authority, dominate those around you, and so on. Celebrity status is easy to come by for senior pastors, solo pastors, church planters, bloggers, etc. When a narcissist lands in this position it can be dangerous.

Dr. Terry Cooper adds that narcissists and those who are committed to their own self-expansion have a conquest mentality. In conservative Christian circles this could present as a mission to conquer "liberals," those with bad theology, defend the faith, etc. They are authoritarian and value vindictive triumphalism against their opponents. They are convinced of their own superiority. They boast about their ability to "call a spade a spade." They are often highly charismatic, persuasive, and charming. They appear loving and generous but much of this is to cultivate anticipated (future) praise and flattery. They don't mind jokes about themselves as long as those jokes promote what they love about themselves.

Any criticism sends them into deep resentment, "often with an accompanying outburst of fury," says Cooper. They crave the respect of others. When challenged, "vindication, or vengeance becomes a way of life." These responses lead to an extreme sense of competitiveness. They will intimidate others into submission (esp. opponents). They tend to be insensitive and when others object they charge opponents with being weak and soft.

Although they criticize others often they feel that they are entitled to never be criticized. They handle conflict by being arrogant and vindictive.

In religious traditions characterized by fighting against liberal Christians and a declining American culture, like the Reformed tradition, these types of men can quickly rise to celebrity status. These narcissistic, self-expansive types are lauded as generals--heroes in the "battle" for truth.

Who are these narcissistic, self-expansive celebrities "leaders?" You'll know them by how they set up mini-empires around themselves (with dot coms, conferences, etc.) and (and this is an important "and") how they respond to criticism and challenge. In an age of celebrity Christianity, narcissistic leaders are running wild and free while being supported by others who care more about their topical content than their narcissistic affects on others.

Why do think narcissistic leaders are so appealing to young conservative Protestants in the 20s and 30s?

7 Comments

Thoughtful, insightful, important words, Anthony. Thank you.

So, so true. Slightly off-topic: what struck me in light of the hundreds of hours of Olympics coverage I've watched over the last week is the harmfulness of unrealistic fantasies of success. We encourage kids to "dream," which on the face of it is a good thing. But kids need realistic parents/adults who can nurture dreams but encourage them in a realistic/productive direction. I've seen so many parents bankrupt themselves b/c they are caught up in the fantasy themselves, only to be bitterly disappointed in the end.

Gary North is one of the most Notorious and its because of him and his decision to make "Biblical Economics" be Rothbardian Economics there we several Ron Paul fans endorsing all sorts of crazy. The Foundation of Rothbardianism is Anarchism.

Mark Driscoll is of course another on the rise.

"Often with an accompanying outburst of fury" is technically called Narcissistic Rage, because it's fury on steroids or, in layman's terms, the mother of all temper tantrums. Narcissus gazed upon his reflection and loved it. And Lord have mercy on the unsuspecting soul who comes between the Narcissist and his self-perceived beauty, or perfection.

Vicious, merciless, unrelenting, they will have their pound of flesh and they will exact as much pain as possible while they flay. Further, they will unleash their NS, or Narcissistic Supply, upon their enemies. NS is the act of adoring the narcissist for his perfection and it’s also used for the fools who adore the narcissist. These are the disciples bent tormenting the narcissist's enemy and on following the narcissist to hell. To be sure, in this respect they are no different than the Manson Family. The NS, or the disciples, will follow their master's ungodly example because, after all, the offender deserves it. These dupes are completely oblivious to their behavior for they live for the narcissist's approval, which he gladly confers upon them when they defend the perfection of his image.

Narcissistic Rage, indeed. It's Helter Skelter all over again. So take a tip from me: the next time you see a narcissist worshiping his reflection, cover your mouth and walk the other way, because it's just not worth the trauma he'll throw at you if you happen to note that he’s an ugly monster covered in filthy sin.

Terry said, "The NS, or the disciples, will follow their master's ungodly example because, after all, the offender deserves it." This is sooooooo true! WOW!! Brilliant!

Excellent insight; but then there are the followers who enable, endorse and follow such narcissistic celebrities. Why?

Great article and insight - but it does not go far enough to explain why church leaders who should know better continue to make excuses for and associate with known narcissistic, self-expansive types. Are they just deluded? Or is there some other pathology at work?

Troubling case study here: www.joyfulexiles.com

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This page contains a single entry by Anthony Bradley published on August 7, 2012 3:39 PM.

Why most blacks tend to vote for democrats? was the previous entry in this blog.

Self-hatred, the forgotten human condition is the next entry in this blog.

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