Sam Vaknin has a lot to say about religion and cults and how they relate to psychopathy.
On his website, he addresses the problems of religious cults and describes the way they are almost always run by malignant narcissists who use their usual bag of psychopathic tricks to brainwash people into converting and once converted, keeping them in thrall to the cult. The article is here.
Vaknin’s description of cults sounds exactly the way a cult such as Scientology is run (I dabbled in it back in the late 1970s for about 2 years but was fortunate enough to be able to escape before I was completely taken in). I have no doubt Scientology’s founder, L. Ron Hubbard, a hack science fiction writer, was a malignant narcissist (his official bio is full of lies and “accomplishments” that are complete fabrications). Scientology doctrine uses every trick in the psychopath’s book of coercion: brainwashing techniques disguised as “auditing” or “training routines (TR’s), threats to members who threaten to leave the cult (“fair game”), attempts to separate members from their non-Scientologist families and friends, exhorbitant and extortionist prices to move up the “bridge,”
insane doctrine passed off as “truth,” and definitely lots of paranoia and secrecy.
Scientology is the enemy of any legitimate psychotherapy–psychology and psychiatry are held to be the utmost evil, members are required to use underhanded means to attack and even attempt to destroy the careers of professionals in those fields (I have a personal story about this I’ll describe at a later time), and of course Scientology has had numerous problems with the IRS and other government agencies. Anyone who criticizes Scientology is labeled a “Suppressive Person” and is either excommunicated from Scientology or punished by a form of shunning. Members who are influenced by someone who is against Scientology are labeled “Potential Trouble Sources” (PTS) and ordered to cut the “SP” out of their lives, even if it’s a spouse or another close family member.
There’s an excellent and fascinating website about the insane mindgames this “religion” plays and includes case histories of people whose lives were totally ruined by this dangerous and psychopathic cult. The “secrets” of the upper OT (operating thetan) levels used to be unobtainable to anyone who had not “gone clear” and had the money to pay for further “processing” to the OT levels, but those jealously guarded secrets are now available to anyone who has Internet access and is curious enough to Google them. Well, naturally I was curious and the “secrets” are indeed pretty crazy, obviously the ravings of L. Ron Hubbard’s disordered and paranoid mind.
It used to be said that the secrets could not be revealed to members at lower levels because such knowledge would shock them to the point of actually killing them. I remember reading about one ex-Scientologist who suggested that the real reason the upper level secrets were so carefully guarded was not to “protect” anyone from the shock of the “truth” but rather, because the things revealed at the upper levels were so insane that only someone who had spent thousands of dollars and been thoroughly brainwashed could possibly take them seriously (in fact, there are cases of those who did reach those levels and when the secrets were finally revealed to them, they left the Church because they felt their entire journey had been a colossal waste of time and money). Anyone who hadn’t made such a huge mental and financial investment and read about the OT revelations online would die alright: they would die of laughter. And yes, they are that crazy. I read the “revelations” of the OT levels with my jaw glued to the table in disbelief that any sane person would believe such a load of crap.
Vaknin should have used the example of Scientology, a perfect example of a “religion” with a psychopathic agenda and a malignant narcissist “god.” There are many other examples he could have used too–the Branch Davidians, Heaven’s Gate, the Unificiation Church (Sun Myung Moon’s cult), a few “New Age” cults, and many others.
But no, instead Vaknin attacks Christianity. He actually says Jesus Christ was a narcissist. I don’t know what Vaknin’s religious beliefs are, or even if he has any, and I certainly have my own issues with organized religion and fundamentalist Christianity in particular (the God of the Old Testament does come off as quite psychopathic at times), but I think Vaknin is missing the mark by describing Jesus Christ this way (or Christianity in general as a cult). He uses Bible quotes to “prove” that Jesus was a narcissist. Rather than try to paraphrase what he says, I’ll just post it here:
Jesus Christ, narcissist
Though most of the quotes in this essay are from the Gospel of Saint Matthew, I was careful to compare them with the texts of the other three canonical gospels. Where the gospels disagree, I avoided using the quote altogether.
Illegitimate and adopted children, especially of humble origins, often develop narcissistic defenses to fend off persistent feelings of inadequacy and inferiority. Admittedly, it is highly unlikely that Jesus was an illegitimate child. Adulteresses in ancient Judea were stoned to death. But, equally, there is little doubt that the circumstances of Jesus’s birth were shrouded in mystery. His mother, Mary, got herself pregnant but not by having sexual intercourse with her lawfully-wedded husband, Joseph.
Early on, Jesus developed magical thinking, compensatory grandiose delusions, and fantasies of omnipotence and omniscience. A firstborn, he was much pampered by his doting mother. He was a prodigy, a Wunderkind: highly intelligent and inquisitive and more comfortable in the company of adults than with his peers.
When he was a mere 12 years old:
“(T)hey found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions.” (Luke 2:46)
Even at this tender age, he showed a marked lack of empathy and a full-fledged case of pathological grandiosity:
“His mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing. And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” (“My Father” being God – SV). (Luke 2:48-49)
Gurus at the center of emergent cults are inevitably narcissistic, if not outright narcissists. The self-imputation of superiority, epiphanic knowledge, and infallibility and the assumption that others need and crave the guru’s message are at the heart of an elaborate construct which often borders on the psychotic:
“… (T)he people were astonished at his doctrine: For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” (Matthew 7:28-29)
Referring to his 12 disciples, Jesus made clear that: “The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord.” (Matthew 10:24)
“He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.” (Matthew 10:37-39)
Here is how Jesus, the lowly, unmarried, and itinerant son of a carpenter – an abysmal failure by the standards of his society – viewed himself:
“When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats … And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.” (Matthew 25:31-32 and 25:46)
“Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:53)
Contrary to his much-cultivated image, Jesus, like the vast majority of cult leaders, lacked empathy and was a heartless and irresponsible manipulator whose magical thinking ruined the lives of many. He instructed his followers to commit acts that must have had harshly adverse impacts on their hitherto nearest and dearest. Jesus monopolized the lives of his disciples to the exclusion of all else and all others:
“For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.” (Matthew 10:35-36)
“Then one said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee. But he answered and said unto him that told him, Who is my mother? and who are my brethren? And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren!” (Matthew 12:47-48)
“And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. And they straightway left their nets, and followed him. And going on from thence, he saw other two brethren, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in a ship with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and he called them. And they immediately left the ship and their father, and followed him.” (Matthew 4:18-22)
Consider the disastrous effects their actions had had on their fathers and their families, now left to starve. To Jesus, evidently, these were irrelevant considerations.
Jesus healed only those who visibly, volubly, clearly, publicly and repeatedly worshipped him. In other words, he extended his gift only to his sources of narcissistic supply. There are numerous instances in the four canonical gospels where Jesus actually bargains with the afflicted and demands – sometimes in anger – their unconditional adoration. He is happiest when acknowledged and affirmed as Christ, the Son of Man (son of God). Those who do not recognize his splendid grandeur, unbounded might, and implied divinity are “dogs” and “swine” (Matthew 7:6)
His much-touted love of the poor was not a match for his malignant self-love. When his disciples upbraided a woman for anointing Jesus with expensive ointment because the money could have been better used to help the poor, the great humanist, Jesus, had this to say:
“Why trouble ye the woman? for she hath wrought a good work upon me. For ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always.” (Matthew 26:10-11)
The principles espoused by Jesus were malleable and easily bent. He professed to minister only to the Hebrews (Sons of Israel) and steadfastly refused to heal the Gentiles whom he called “dogs”. When a woman of Canaan beseeched him to cast the devil out of her daughter (“Have mercy on me!”), he retorted, shockingly:
“I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel … It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs.” (Matthew 15:24-26)
But he soon forgot and retracted this lofty “principle” when she adulated him:
“Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour.” (Matthew 15:28)
Similarly, he cured the servant of a Roman centurion after his master catered to Jesus’s by-now rampant megalomania:
“When Jesus heard it, he marvelled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel. And Jesus said unto the centurion, Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee. And his servant was healed in the selfsame hour.” (Matthew 8:10 and 8:13)
Jesus’s initial false modesty soon gave way to bragging and outlandish, often confabulatory claims.
Whenever he affected a miracle – such as restoring eyesight to the blind, cleansing lepers, reviving the crippled, and raising the ostensibly dead – Jesus beseeched them to keep mum about the events. One of many examples:
“And their eyes were opened; and Jesus straitly charged them, saying, See that no man know it.” (Matthew 9:30)
But Jesus was not averse to blatant self-promotion when his false modesty failed to elicit narcissistic supply:
“Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see: The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.” (Matthew 11:2)
“I say unto you, That in this place is one greater than the temple … For the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath day … behold, a greater than (the prophet) Jonas is here … behold, a greater than (King) Solomon is here.” (Matthew 12)
As a true narcissist, Jesus reprimanded others for his own brand of behavior. This psychological defense mechanism is called “projection”.
This is how he described the Pharisees, the scribes, and the Sadducees (and, inadvertently, himself and his own conduct):
“(T)hey say, and do not. For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi.” (Matthew 23:1-6)
Narcissists are disruptive, counter-dependent, combative, and resent authority (rebellious and contumacious). They feel that they are above the law, or, rather, that they are a law unto themselves. They hold themselves to be immune to the consequences of their actions:
“Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.” (Matthew 10:34)
“And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves, And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.” (Matthew 21:12-13)
Narcissists are ill-disposed towards disagreement and criticism. They react to the slightest hint of either with narcissistic rage and fury that knows no bounds and no mercy:
“And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say unto you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee.” (Matthew 11:23-24)
“He that is not with me is against me” (Matthew 12:30)
“For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.” (Matthew 23:39)
Narcissists react particularly badly when their concocted personal myth, their False Self, is directly and effectively challenged and they are consequently discredited and humiliated in public:
“And when he was come into his own country, he taught them in their synagogue, insomuch that they were astonished, and said, Whence hath this man this wisdom, and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter’s son? is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas? And his sisters, are they not all with us? Whence then hath this man all these things? And they were offended in him. But Jesus said unto them, A prophet is not without honour, save in his own country, and in his own house. And he did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief.” (Matthew 13:54-58)
Ultimately, the narcissist pays the price for years of ill-treating others and sucking their energies dry with constant demands for attention, adulation, and affirmation. People get tired of the overbearing and overweening presence of the narcissist in their lives, of his disruptive and destabilizing influence, and of the pernicious effects he has on their nearest, dearest, and communities. Invariably, they seek to banish him and extricate themselves from his cult. The authorities usually are forced to intervene and lock the narcissist up or, worse, crucify him.
Even his closest followers, supporters, and disciples give up on the narcissist:
“Then all the disciples forsook him, and fled.” (Matthew 26:56)
“Then did they spit in his face, and buffeted him; and others smote him with the palms of their hands, Saying, Prophesy unto us, thou Christ, Who is he that smote thee?” (Matthew 26:67-68)
“Peter remembered the word of Jesus, which said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice.” (Peter, indeed, denying knowing Jesus thrice – SV) (Matthew 26:75)
And the fickle “multitude” (the common folk), who were supposed to be the mainstay of Jesus’s power and popularity, betrayed him gleefully and with a clear sense of relief and good riddance:
“Whether of the twain will ye that I release unto you? They said, Barabbas … They all say unto him, Let him be crucified … they cried out the more, saying, Let him be crucified … Then answered all the people, and said, His blood be on us, and on our children … And they that passed by reviled him, wagging their heads, And saying, Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself. If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross. Likewise also the chief priests mocking him, with the scribes and elders, said, He saved others; himself he cannot save. The thieves also, which were crucified with him, cast the same in his teeth.” (Matthew 27)
Vaknin is using the words and deeds described in the Gospels to spin Jesus into a malignant narcissist. I don’t buy it. I have been attending RCIA classes (the classes one takes to become Catholic), and am still on the fence as to whether Jesus was actually the Son of God or just a very good man and prophet, but have lately been leaning more toward him being divine.
If Jesus was actually who he said he was–the Son of God–then he was being truthful and not narcissistic or grandiose in any manner. Jesus was compassionate and empathetic toward the unfortunate and the poor and healed the sick and disabled, and while he does appear to have had a temper, it was a righteous anger toward those who refused to believe who He was. He didn’t reject or disrespect his mother either. He had a great love for Mary as his earthly mother, but if Jesus was the son of God, then God’s desires would naturally have to come first.
In Vaknin’s defense, if he doesn’t believe Jesus was divine (and many people don’t), then I suppose it could be argued Jesus acted in narcissistic and grandiose ways (it could actually more easily be argued he was a paranoid schizophrenic–insisting he was God Himself when he really wasn’t), but I still wouldn’t call him a narcissist. Vaknin is probably not a Christian due to his nationality (he’s from Israel and his mother was Turkish) so it’s understandable that he wouldn’t believe Jesus was the Son of God, but to make such a sweeping accusation against a religious entity whose words have changed the lives of many millions of people for the better is pretty narcissistic on Vaknin’s part (which of course is no surprise).
Some of the more extreme evangelistic and fundamentalist Christian churches (especially those that believe in such unpleasant and elitist doctrines as predestination–a Calvinistic belief that certain “chosen” people have been predestined for heaven even before they were born, making the concept of “free will” and works null and void) are not too far removed from cults and they commonly have psychopathic leaders and use cult-like brainwashing tactics. There are also unfortunately many religious leaders of mainstream churches who are very narcissistic and even psychopathic, but this doesn’t mean Christianity itself is a cult of narcissism or that Jesus was a narcissist.
I still defend most of Vaknin’s writings from his critics, given that as a narcissist who is honest about himself, he is more than qualified to call himself an expert on the disorder and write as much as he wants to about it. Whether intentional or not, he has helped a great number of sufferers and victims of psychopathy. But in this particular discussion about cults, using Christianity as an example of a cult and Jesus as a malignant narcissist not only misses the mark, but to many people would be considered blasphemous. In spite of my own misgivings about Christian doctrine, I just couldn’t let this pass.