Gaslighting for God, Part 1
A Lenten/Easter Series on Spiritual Narcissism
Credit: nakedpastor.com. Used with permission.
In recent years, I've become acquainted with the latest research in narcissism and trauma, as well as somatic therapeutic modalities used to help heal those impacted by religious abuses inflicted by religious leaders. This work has greatly informed my work as a religious satirist, as it allows me to understand why some spiritual gurus use their charisma both to woo and wound others.
Also, I can see how my prior traumas led me to lash out when those self-appointed Christian gurus, who demonstrated signs of spiritual narcissism, demeaned and demonized anyone who questioned when their moves were more commercial than Christlike. Since acquiring this knowledge coupled with somatic therapy (in my case EMDR did the trick), I've learned to depersonalize such spiritual slams, and can now call Christian crud on the carpet without allowing the impact of their toxic theology to enter my body.
When conversing with others about these discoveries, I’ve noticed how they have similar ah-ha moments once they learned that they were not the “problem” for speaking out when they observed something felt amiss. Rather, they were in spiritual settings that left them drained and damaged.
In this spirit, I’d like to offer a series of reflections that I hope will illuminate how spiritual narcissism plays out in church settings (and secular spiritual communities frequented by ex-Christians), as well as offering resources for both healing from these unbiblical bullies and then finding safer places to play.
Credit: www.wittenburgdoor.com. Used with permission.
Here’s the overall outline for this Lenten series.
Discovering the Spiritual Narcissists in My Midst-March 9, 2022 Reflections on my history with spiritual narcissists in the hopes that my story may resonate with others.
The Rise of Narcissistic Cultures-March 16, 2022 An overview of how narcissism becomes infused into the U.S. culture overall.
How Narcissistic is the Church?-March 23, 2022 The latest research into what constitutes extreme levels of narcissism and how these characteristics are evident in those who assume leadership positions in the name of Jesus Christ.
Identifying the Different Types of Spiritual Narcissists-March 30, 2022 Think of this as a guidebook for spotting the spiritual narcissist similar to a book one would use to help in identifying plants, birds, and other forms of wildlife.
Narcissism in post-Church Communities-April 6, 2022 Reflections on how this trend can often be found in those ex-Christians now leading secular spiritual communities.
Healing Yourself from Spiritual Trauma-April 12, 2022 A conversation with those who specialize in religious trauma and spiritual abuse to address practical ways those impacted by spiritual narcissists can heal from their wounds.
Going for Goodness-April 20, 2022 A post-Easter conversation with those working for transformative change at the grassroots level that explores signs of healthy communities.
While my dual MDiv/MSW degree from Yale and Columbia universities coupled with my work for The Wittenburg Door and Spirituality & Health might make me uniquely suited to diagnose the spiritual narcissists in our midst, I will not play armchair analyst. Too often in our current cancel culture terms like "narcissist" and "sociopath" (and it's sordid kissing cousin "psychopath") get tossed around casually similar to how the Christian church and other spiritual sorts throw around words like "sinner,: "enlightened," and "believer." Instead, I will employ terms like "signs of narcissistic behavior", "narcissistic tendencies". and "narcissistic energies" and leave the clinical diagnoses to those licensed therapists, who are actually treating specific clients.
Each Wednesday morning by 10am PT I will post that week's reflection. I will then post the Substack link on The Wittenburg Door Facebook Page, The Wittenburg Door Community Group, and my Facebook Author Page.
Feel free to follow along in whatever format works best for you. I welcome comments though though be mindful this is a public forum. So, do not share any information you wish to keep private.
Along those lines, let’s try and keep this conversation public. A key reason why this unChristian crapola continues is that those at the high end of the spiritual narcissism scale present a charismatic and compassionate Dr. Jekyll facade that draws in their followers Pied Piper style. But should a whistleblower stand up and try to bring their darkness into the light, their more sinister Mr. Hyde side emergences Tasmanian devil style.
These Jekyll/Hyde missional monsters lack any ability for self-reflection or compassion. As such, they tend to threaten those who critique their Christian crud via tactics such as interfering with their "enemies" employment, cyberbullying (and encouraging their followers to do likewise) at the slightest hint of any critique, spreading misinformation so as to divert attention from the stench of their own unChristian crapola, serving up lawsuits in an attempt to preserve their unbiblical brand, and other moves that would make the Baby Jesus soil his diaper. Dunno about you, but I lack the bandwidth right now for such a diaper dump.
They are aided and abetted in their quest for self-promotion by their faithful followers (more about this dynamic later), as well as those who stands to profit from these pseudo prophets’ platforms such as book publishers, denominations, conference and festival organizers promoters, speaker bureaus, brand managers, literary agents, and personal publicists.
As one of these ungodly gurus once told a friend of mine, "It doesn't matter what I believe. It matters what sells." An aging progressive spiritual surfer called me a “plant” when I questioned their conservative funding streams. (A similar convo can be found whenever questioning others who market themselves using the “progressive” label. (This label isn’t just for soup cans.)
Another self-appointment thought leader commented, "I hate when people critique me as it impacts my book sales." A tattooed theologian (there are multiple aging holy hipsters out there who don this particularly not-so-edgy persona) whined “you’re mean” after it was drawn to their attention that those in the tattoo community don’t mention their tats in their bios, (Yep, it’s that old pot meet kettle dealie as though somehow name calling would magically erase all the decades of abuse this public persona unleashed upon others especially those in the LGBT community.) You get the gist. All me and no we.
Over time, the spiritual spotlight shining on today's theologian du jour begins to lose its luster. Like a dog searching in frantic desperation for a fresh bone, their fanatical followers start to scamper around looking for the next shinny spiritual object that can captivate and hold their ever decreasing attention spans.
As soon as one of these self-appointed ungodly gurus leaves the stage either by hook or crook, a newer unbiblical BS artist will arrive to take their place. And the spin cycles continues. Rinse, recycle, repeat.
We need to change this dynamic so that those victimized by spiritual narcissists can feel safe to tell their stories, knowing they will get a fair hearing instead of more abuse. Hence, I will suggest that any private convos sent my way be directed to one of the public pages in the hopes that we can start a conversation that will help us all find a healthy spiritual path that works for each one of us.
To connect with The Wittenburg Door …
Subscribe to The Wittenburg Door’s newsletter.
Join The Wittenburg Door Community on Facebook, a place where everyone can contribute (think of this as the antidote to the cult of Christian Celebrity). Oh, like our Facebook Page while you’re at it. That’ll get you extra special points you can use should you run into a snafu at the Pearly Gates. (I know I will.) Yes, Facebook is more metaverse then missional but we can’t afford brand managers and all that BS.
Subscribe to The Wittenburg Door’s Substack.