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Internal Working of the Narcissist Church - Rationalization

While secular organizations tend to rationalize their less-than-ethical actions both externally and internally, churches seem more inclined to internal rationalizations, and even those are very limited in terms of the congregation or the public. Instead, they offer pointed justifications that cover the rationalizing.

Where you will find the major rationalizations is in the upper strata of leadership: the pastor and his or her most trusted (as far as a narcissist can actually trust, of course) associates. University of Cambridge organizational development expert, Andrew Brown, argues that policy makers are often more inclined to satisfy their own personal motives and emotional needs than in fulfilling the the requirements of their organizations.

The result is that many decisions are made for egocentric reasons, which then must be justified/rationalized (often un-self-consciously) by means of “impressive-sounding reasons.” This becomes possible because organizations allow “shadow places” to be created “in which nothing can be seen and no questions asked.” The social order of organizations creates “selective principles” (rationalizations) that in turn highlight favorable events and obscure or cloak unfavorable events, “control memory, provide categories for thought, set the terms for self-knowledge, and fix identities.”

But doesn’t every church do that in some respects? Probably, but again the objection misses the point, which is that the combination of these factors and their intensity determines whether or not a given church has narcissistic qualities or is intensely narcissistic.

Witness the rise and fall of Harold Camping, who predicted the end of the world and the return of Christ. Many of his followers sold their homes, gave away their possessions, liquidated their assets and gave them away because none of those things would be needed in heaven. They waited expectantly for May 21, 2011. Nothing happened. Camping then adjusted his prophecy to the date of October 21, 2011. Again, nothing happened.

Camping rationalized his narcissistic belief that he alone could “decipher” the “Bible code” that held the secret to the second coming and said on his radio program, “We’re living in a day when one problem follows another. And when it comes to trying to recognize the truth of prophecy, we’re finding that it is very, very difficult. There’s one thing that we must remember. God is in charge of this whole business, and we are not. What God wants to tell us is his business. Amongst other things, I have been checking my notes more carefully than ever. And I do find that there is other language in the Bible that we still have to look at very carefully and will impinge upon this question very definitely.” Notice the rationalization and refusal to admit that he was just plain wrong?

The International Business Times put it this way on November 2, 2011: “However, when Doomsday failed to materialize, the followers were left in the lurch. They did not fly off to heaven as promised and had exhausted their life’s savings. When questioned about his moral responsibility to the followers, Camping deftly washed his hands off. He said he was not really responsible for anyone in particular.” He attributed favorable motives and outcomes to himself, blamed his followers for following him, and then blamed God for changing the second coming without notifying him! In Camping’s May 21, 2011 spiritual judgment day predictions, he even claimed that God had stopped saving people who did not believe. He did apologize for that, but never actually retracted the statement, either.

Being leader of a church carries with it automatic prestige and power, and less often financial rewards. Being part of a church gives deeper meaning to who we are and why we exist; thus it offers the intrinsic reward of self-esteem—I am loved and cherished by none other than God Almighty. In maintaining this self-esteem, we also open ourselves to self-aggrandizement, and for the same reason—I am loved and cherished by none other than God Almighty! Brown aptly summarizes the dilemmas and traps that churches and their members are susceptible to. “These rewards encourage the individual to self-aggrandizement (“Because I am a member of a virtuous or worthwhile organization, I too am virtuous or worthwhile”), to deny moral improprieties and questioning of the individual’s social utility (“Since I participate in a good organization, my actions must be good”), to rationalize actions (“My actions are prompted by virtuous motives”), to possess a sense of entitlement (“The virtuous should receive”), and to engage in attributional egotism (“Since I am good, so are the consequences of my actions”).

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