There’s a programme on TV here tonight which suggests that someone suffering from egomania, or ‘narcissistic personality disorder’ (NPD), to use its more formal name, would make an ideal religious leader. As the programme-makers state, “The ultimate egomaniac is the cult leader. They get to be at the centre of a group of adoring followers, giving them the god-like status they think they deserve.”
The symptoms of NPD are that one exhibits at least 5 of the following 9 characteristics:
• A grandiose sense of self-importance – Egomaniacs exaggerate their achievements and talents, and want other people to recognise them as superior.
• Preoccupation with success and power – They’re obsessed with fantasies involving their own brilliance or beauty.
• Arrogance – Their behaviour is haughty, their attitude conceited and they show rage when frustrated, contradicted, or confronted.
• Need for excessive admiration – Egomaniacs need attention, they want to be adored or, failing that, feared.
• A sense of entitlement – They have unreasonable expectations and believe they deserve favourable treatment.
• Exploitative – Happy to take advantage of others, they use people to get what they want.
• Lack of empathy – Egomaniacs can’t or won’t acknowledge other people’s feelings.
• A belief of being unique – They believe that they’re special and can only be understood by and associate with people of high status.
• Feel envy towards others – And believe others feel envious of them.
It is unclear in which sense the programme-makers use the word ‘cult’. Originally, in its sociological sense, it meant ‘a small group of religious activists who are not of the mainstream religion’, and sociologists drew a distinction between a ‘cult’ and a ‘sect’ (and also between a ‘sect’, a ‘denomination’ and a ‘church’), though the distinction was artificial, and rather arbitrary. What is clear, however, is that irrespective of which type of religious organisation a sociologist might consider that a so-called ‘believer’ belongs to, many of those who participate in those organisations appear to fulfil the diagnostic criteria of NPD.
For example, how many so-called Xtians have you come across who are guilty of the following:
• Making the grandiose claim that they are the chosen ones.
• That they pray to their ‘God’ for success, power and material things.
• Arrogantly claim that their ‘God’ exists, despite being unable to produce any credible empiric evidence or logical argument to substantiate such a claim.
• Claim that they are constantly in their ‘God’s’ sight and thoughts, and that ‘He’ pays attention to their every thought and action.
• Believe that after death they will go to somewhere called ‘Heaven’ where they will live in ease and luxury forever, whilst the less worthy majority will go to a place called ‘Hell’ where they will be tortured in perpetuity.
• Willingly exploit others who do not share their faith, and frequently even those who do.
• Show little or no empathy for innocents and/or those who do not share their particular version of faith who suffer from so-called ‘Acts of God’.
• Believe that they are unique because their ‘God’ is the one-and-only ‘first cause’.
• Are envious of the good-fortune and/or achievements of others.
I’ll leave it to others to come up with more examples that meet the requisite criteria, but it seems clear from the foregoing short list that there are many religious ‘believers’ who have all the hallmarks, superficially at least, of Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
And as for those who don’t meet the diagnostic criteria for NPD, well, they appear to have other problems.