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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Invisible Triple Threat To America's Christians

Many religiously conservative Americans wear their religion on their sleeves. Of course this means that their religious views and sentiments are full display. And the combination of that eager sharing of one's religion, adhering to the patriotic theme of American Exceptionalism, believing that America was founded as a Christian nation, and embracing Biblical themes from both the Old and New Testaments makes many of us religiously conservative American Christians susceptible to isms that can prove to be quite harmful to both ourselves and to others. These isms are authoritarianism, narcissism, and tribalism. For each of these isms, we will first define it, then we will show how it is related to American Conservative Christianity, and finally we will begin to display how they are interconnected.

We could define authoritarianism as the over reliance on the use of  human authority. This over reliance is to the point being oppressive or supporting oppression. In terms of the traits of authoritarianism, authoritarianism can be divided into two categories: active and passive authoritarianism. The former kind of authoritarianism refers to authoritarianism as exercised by leaders while the latter form is practiced by its followers (click here for a reference). We should also note that truth in authoritarian circles is more determined by the credentials of the source than by the facts and logic of a particular argument. Such assumes that too many in the audience are not qualified to question those in authority.

We should note that it is easy to see where Conservative Christians get their authoritarianism from. Most of the relationships we have, as described in the Scriptures, seem to involve authority figures. God is our ultimate authority. We are to submit to the authority of our governmental leaders whom God has placed over us. We are to submit to our church leaders for the same reason. We are to submit to those with authority at work also for the same reason. Children and wives are to submit to the male head of the house because Christ is the head of the Church. And children are also to submit to their mothers.

It seems like every place we turn to, we are facing an authority figure to whom we owe obedience. Thus, we struggle with democracy because democracy levels the playing field between people. In addition, democracy allows us to challenge those in authority. Finally, a democratic society is not obliged to recognize God's authority here on earth. Yes, there is a final reckoning. But while we are here on earth, democratic societies can disregard many of God's commands. 

Thus, we run into our problem. We want our society both to be called democratic and to be submissive to God's authority. It's like we cannot turn off our submit to authority switch while trying to respect democracy. And when we see how authority was wielded in the Scriptures, we struggle with not expecting the same kind of response when people rebel today. In addition, many of our past great Church leaders were very authoritarian. 

Take Martin Luther and John Calvin as examples. They were eager to enforce all of God's laws on society. And they were more than bombastic in dealing with disagreement and dissent. So we struggle and perhaps feel insecure with allowing people to have the freedom to ignore or challenge those in authority. And not only that, we often imitate their blustering rhetoric because you either obey those in charge or you disobey. The traits of authoritarianism, that is the unbalanced reliance on authority, are listed after the end of this blogpost.

We Conservative Christians are also at a higher risk than normal to suffer from Narcissism. Think about it. We believe that because our nation was founded on Biblical principles, it is special and is above all other nations. It is that 'city upon a hill' that shows the way to the rest of the world. And that is just from American Exceptional point of view.

From the Christian view, we believe, and rightly so, that Jesus is the only one who can save us. And thus, we are the only ones who are saved. So how is it that we do not think more highly of ourselves than others think of themselves? And if we are that enlightened or saved, the world should listen to us. For we, or our leaders, are the only ones who have and understand God's Word. And because of that, we are the only ones who can help the world solve its problems.

Of course, we should define narcissism. Narcissism occurs in the presence of an extreme degree of self-admiration and self-absorption. For one to be classified as experiencing narcissism, one must have at least 5 of the 9 major traits listed at the end of the blogpost. We should also note that both individuals and whole groups can suffer from narcissism (click here). We should also note that when you have a group or collective narcissism, the individual members may not be narcissistic, but the group functions as being narcissistic. And it should not be too hard to see how the patriotic and biblical emphasis on the uniqueness on our uniqueness would not only cause us to believe that we above others, but that we are entitled to be so recognized. And this is especially true when so much is at stake, such as our prosperity.

Finally, we have tribalism. Tribalism refers to the degree of loyalty we exhibit for a group. When the degree becomes great enough, we say that there is tribalism. Here we should note that all of us belong to multiple groups. Two of the major reasons why we belong to groups is for feeling significant and obtaining security.

From a moral point of view, we can say that tribalism occurs when loyalty to a group trumps commitment to morals and principles so that what is right and wrong depends on who does what to whom. Thus in the end, besides the 3 traits of tribalism listed in the Reference and Traits section, we could add one more trait implied by our definition of tribalism: defensiveness.

We should only note that the Old Testament is full of tribalism. It starts with belonging to the right family, then it proceeds to belonging to one of the right tribes. It finishes with belonging to the right nation. And in the meantime, some horrible acts of war committed against civilians were sanctioned by God for His people only.

The New Testament is better only in that God's people were not commanded to war against others. But the Church now becomes the tribe to which we should be most loyal. In fact, Denny Burk, a Conservative Christian theologian and blogger has just reinterpreted the phrase 'the least of these' from Jesus' parable of the sheep and the goats to referring to Christians only (click here for Denny Burk's blogpost, click there for Jesus' parable). Having the Church as our main tribe is how we are to separate ourselves from the world.

Again, the traits for each of the isms are listed below in the section References and Traits. However, below is a picture illustrating some of the traits each ism has as well as shared traits. Some of the traits in the picture are summations or are derived from the individual traits listed in Reference and Traits section. 

Traits of the isms

We should note the traits shared by two or more of the isms include

  • believes one is superior to others
  • is hostile to others or to differences
  • believes in power
  • projects faults on others
  • practices conformity
  • is defensive

We should note regarding the shared traits, belief in one's own or one's group superiority could easily foster the belief in the authority of one's group. With that comes the expectations that people conform to the group's expectations and acknowledge the group's status. That, as is in the case of any authoritarian, acknowledgment of weaknesses by the group would diminish the credentials of the group and could thus be met with hostility when those weaknesses are mentioned. This interplay is but one example of how these isms with their trait are interrelated.

Whether Conservative Christians are more at risk of falling for any or all of these isms can be determined by observation, especially when observing the Church under trying circumstances. So we could simply ask ourselves this question: Are the traits listed under shared traits or those that accompany just one ism what we are observing in the majority of Christians during times of controversy such as the same-sex marriage issue? For if that is what people are seeing, we should note that we are failing in providing a credible witness to the Gospel.


References and Traits

--Note that these traits are quoted from the websites provided--

Some traits of authoritarianism (see http://www.psychologistworld.com/influence_personality/authoritarian_personality.php )

  1. Blind allegiance to conventional beliefs
  2. Belief in aggression to those who do not subscribe to conventional thinking or who are different
  3. A negative view of people in general
  4. A need for strong leadership which displays uncompromising power
  5. A black-white worldview
  6. A tendency to project one's own feelings of inadequacy, rage and fear onto a scapegoated group
Traits of narcissism
  1. Grandiose sense of self-importance
  2. Preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
  3. Believes that he or she is special or unique
  4. Requires excessive admiration
  5. Has a very strong sense of entitlement
  6. Is exploitive of others
  7. Lacks empathy
  8. Is often envious of others
  9. Regularly shows arrogant, haughty behavior toward others
Other traits (see https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/evolution-the-self/201311/6-signs-narcissism-you-may-not-know-about )

  1. Highly reactive to criticism
  2. Low self-esteem
  3. Inordinately self-righteous and defensive
  4. React to contrary viewpoints with anger  or rage
  5. Project onto others qualities, traits, and behaviors they can't--or won't--accept in themselves
  6. Have poor interpersonal boundaries

  1. They view their own group, called the ingroup, superior to other groups, called outgroup
  2. They conform to their group norms
  3. They favor their ingroups while being hostile to outgroups




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