“For I know the plans I have for you, ‘declares the Lord,’ plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)
Many who attend prosperity type Christian churches are familiar with this particular verse. Some say it is a promise to the Israelites, that incidentally took another 70 years to even come close to being fulfilled. Their pastors proclaim this verse speaks to god’s desire to bless them and give them happy lives, if only they give and live right. They believe ultimately, god can heal their illnesses, provide them with wealth supernaturally, and buffer them from the trials and tribulations of life. I call this belief Christian narcissism, and it is damaging individually and societally in a number of ways.
First of all, this thought process places a carrot in front of people who need real, tangible life skills, but instead look to god to place them in favorable situations and shield them from unfavorable ones. There are plenty of times I recall hearing a Christian say, “Well, if I shouldn’t be here, god will show me.” I’ve even made similar statements in my past as a believer. It takes away the responsibility for people to truly think through their choices and actions, and allows them to jump or not jump, because they are covered either way (provided they have paid the proper amount of tithes, prayed and fasted correctly.)
Which is the second problem with this way of thinking. Christian narcissism creates within the church a group of haves and a group of have nots, wherein the have nots are looked at suspiciously. If god’s plan is to prosper you, why are they not prosperous? Why do they suffer from disease and aren’t cured readily? Why is something always seemingly going on with them? Perhaps they didn’t pray hard enough, or in the right ways. Maybe they should learn to pray in tongues. Maybe they aren’t giving as much as they can. There has to be something blocking their blessing because god wants us to be happy, healthy, wealthy and whole…right?
Christian narcissists believe the above when looking at those less fortunate and it shows. They can actually be less likely to provide assistance to those in need because of the illusion that they have done something to cause their own trauma. People in dire straits are judged, sometimes subconsciously, for their situations, which makes them less likely to ask for help in the first place. Those in a position to help are also less likely to do so because they feel as though “I’ll pray for you” is a substitute for real action. Again, in their view, if you pray right, or if you gather enough people to pray with and for you, things can turn around.
Unfortunately, when things don’t turn around, depression abounds. Mothers and fathers who struggle year after year to take care of their families begin to believe they are doing something wrong, or are unworthy of this promised happiness. Couples begin to blame each other for not living up to the impossible standards that will finally grant them favor with god. Marriages fail as trust is eroded, replaced by suspicion as to what could possibly be blocking god’s blessings. Instead of turning to such things as education, counseling, healthy lifestyle changes and adherence to medical advice, people become convinced that they just have to pray harder and give more for some proverbial door to open for them.
Which brings me to the next problem with Christian narcissism: unrealistic goals that become bigger problems if ever achieved. I’ve seen memes along the lines of “god will give me a job I’m not even qualified for!” as if this is a good thing. There are certainly times getting a job beyond your experience or educational level is a great accomplishment. The right person will take that opportunity, quickly and independently learn everything they can to be successful in that position, and flourish. Most of the time; however, it breeds frustrated individuals who have not taken an honest look at their personal skill sets. If they are afforded such a position (let’s face it, confidence sells sometimes,) then they can become the weakest link in an organization. Practically speaking, they don’t know what they are doing, which makes it harder on those with the proper ability to perform the task at hand. This is frustrating all around, especially when the narcissist feels as though god gave them the job. Regardless of coaching, that attitude will permeate and poison business relationships quickly. If and when this person is terminated, demoted, or otherwise called on their inability to work properly, it becomes a huge indignation because this is the job god gave them and they believed he would supernaturally provide all the tools necessary to excel.
Finally, Christian narcissism is just rude. How can a person dance around, shouting about how good god has been to them, when so many people are hurting around the world? What makes it ok to praise god for your new car, when a single mother down the street walks 2 miles daily just to get to the job that doesn’t pay enough. Why do people become so wrapped up in themselves that they pray to god for a good parking space to go out to dinner, when millions starve daily? Even when I was a Christian, these things bothered me immensely. Now I see the combination of Christianity and narcissism, as outlined briefly, creates people who are able to see others who are hurting, shrug it off, and pray for the next thing on their wish list.
*Addendum: In light of recent events, I’ve seen calls for prayer to cover our children and our black men to protect them from police brutality. How cruel is it to suggest that the mothers and wives of Michael Brown, John Crawford, Eric Garner and others could have prevented their deaths if they had just prayed more? Furthermore, how useless in the very real fight for justice, as outlined in my previous post. Again, now is the time to come together to act, not resort to more wishful thinking.