- Psychological Issues
Can Narcissism be reconciled with a belief in God?
The narcissist is prone to magical thinking. He thinks about himself in terms of “being chosen” or of “having a destiny”. He believes that he has a “direct line” to God, even, perversely, that God “serves” him in certain junctions and conjunctures of his life, through divine intervention. He believes that his life is of such momentous importance, that it is micro-managed by God. The narcissist likes to play God to his human environment. In short, narcissism and religion go well together, because religion allows the narcissist to feel unique.
This is a private case of a more general phenomenon. The narcissist likes to belong to groups or to frameworks of allegiance. He derives easy and constantly available Narcissistic Supply from them. Within them and from their members he is certain to get attention, to gain adulation, to be castigated or praised. His False Self is bound to be reflected by his colleagues, co-members, or fellows. This is no mean feat and it cannot be guaranteed in other circumstances. The narcissist tends to fanatically emphasise his membership. If a military man, he will show off his impressive array of insignia, his impeccably ironed uniform, the status symbols of his rank. If a clergyman – he will be overly devout and orthodox and place great emphasis on the proper conduct of rites, rituals and ceremonies. The narcissist will develop a reverse (benign) form of paranoia: he will feel constantly watched over by senior members of his group or frame of reference, the subject of permanent observation and (avuncular) criticism, the centre of attention. If a religious man, he will talk of divine providence. This self-centred perception also caters to the narcissist’s streak of grandiosity. If worthy of attention, supervision and intervention – the narcissist feels justified in feeling worthy, period.
From this mental junction, the way is short to entertaining the delusion that God (or the equivalent institutional authority) is an active participant in the narcissist’s life in which constant intervention by Him is a key feature. God is subsumed in a larger picture, that of the narcissist’s destiny and mission. God is to serve this cosmic plan by making it possible. Indirectly, therefore, God is perceived by the narcissist to be at his service. Moreover, in a process of holographic appropriation, the narcissist views himself as a microcosm of his frame of affiliation, of his group, or his frame of reference. A narcissist is likely to say that he IS the army, the nation, the people, the struggle, history, or (a part of) God. As opposed to healthier people, a narcissist is not talking about representation. He is talking about the embodiment of his class, his people, his race, history, his God, his art – or anything else he feels a part of. This is why narcissists feel completely comfortable to play parts usually reserved to groups of people or to some transcendental, divine (or other), authority. It also sits well with the narcissist’s all-pervasive feelings of omnipotence and omniscience. In playing God, for instance, the narcissist is completely convinced that he is playing himself. He will not hesitate to put people’s lives or fortunes at risk. He will preserve his sense of infallibility in the face of his mistakes and misjudgements by distorting the facts, by evoking mitigating or attenuating circumstances, by repressing the memories, or by simply lying.
In the overall design of things, small misfortunes matter little. The narcissist is haunted by the feeling that he is possessed of a mission, of a destiny, that he is part of fate, of history. He is convinced that his uniqueness is purposeful, that he is meant to lead, to chart new ways, to innovate, to modernise, to reform, to set precedents, to create. Every act of his is significant, every writing of momentous consequences, every thought of revolutionary calibre. He feels part of a grand design, a world plan and the frame of affiliation, the group, of which he is a member, must be commensurately grand. Its proportions and properties must resonate with his. Its characteristics must justify his and its ideology must conform to his pre-conceived opinions and prejudices. In short: the group must magnify the narcissist, echo and amplify his life, his views, his knowledge, his history. This intertwining, this enmeshing of individual and group – is what makes the narcissist the most devout and loyal of all members. The narcissist is always the most fanatical, the most extreme, the most dangerous. At stake is never the preservation of his group – but his very own survival. As with other Narcissistic Supply Sources, once the group is no longer instrumental – the narcissist loses all interest in it, devalues it and ignores it. In extreme cases, he might even wish to destroy it (as a punishment or revenge for its incompetence at securing his Narcissistic Supply). Narcissists switch groups and ideologies with the ease with which they change partners, spouses and value systems. In this respect, narcissists are narcissists first and members of their groups only in the second place.