On Religious Pathology…

Religion and spirituality can serve to be one of the greatest resources to offer comfort to a person in crisis or pain. However, it can simultaneously serve as one of the greatest sources of destruction in the world. There is a reason that Pentecostal and fundamentalist evangelical denominations tend to be the groups that have the most exposure on television and promote these abhorrent notions of a “prosperity Gospel.” This didn’t happen overnight, but rather it developed through a kind of “denominational evolution.” Now, I don’t mean to down all Pentecostal and fundamentalist groups. There truly are some great congregations out there. My criticism is only with the ones that engage in the activities that I am about to discuss. Historically, these denominations have focused on the importance of evangelism to share their faith. This, in and of itself is not a bad thing. However, the nature of many of these denominational structures place a ministry figure head in charge with little accountability. This lack of accountability combined with human ego and ambition has created the dynamic that emphasizes preaching and emotional experience over substance. The consequence of that is these groups typically end up drawing people who are lacking a solid sense of self into their folds. This subset of individuals is powerfully drawn to a dynamic and charismatic leader because they see that person as having the ability to tell them what to do to fix their lives. They also see within those charismatic leaders the qualities that they feel are lacking in their own lives. They often fall victim to magical thinking and the false promise that things will always work out in their lives if they sow “seed money” into the ministries of others. In doing so, a perfect circle of religious pathology is created. The megalomaniacal and personality disordered religious leader has an unlimited group of people to support their need for narcissistic supply and their lavish lifestyle while the hurting person lacking a solid sense of self can maintain a victim role. By continuing to pay “seed money” and essentially getting swindled by the charismatic leader, they are able to hold onto some misguided hope. They are also able to explain away their problems in life as being “of the devil” or “God’s will” rather than taking responsibility for changing a pattern of behaviors that are destructively impacting their life. Initially, the individual’s hope seems like a good thing until you realize that this false hope is preventing them from taking responsibility for their own lives.They fail to deal with adversity and are unable to allow their struggles to be fertile soil for their own spiritual growth. Pain is seen as a thing to be avoided and with this assumption, the person creates more pain for themselves. This perfect cycle of religious pathology then enables both groups to avoid moving toward spiritual and emotional health. The only thing that breaks the cycle is its collapse which unfortunately causes both links in the chain to be devastated and contributes to people either leaving their faith all together or to a continuance of the pathological cycle under a new leader perpetuating spiritual helplessness and insuring that true, healthy, and useful spiritual growth will not occur. Spiritual growth is a process. This process is full of pain, joy, and effort. It is not contingent on money or accolades, but is based in the connection and empowerment brought about by having healthy relationships. The system, as it exists, in many of these organizations involves two groups enabling and taking from one another at the expense of both sides. A healthy system and organization involves all parts providing for the entirety of the group so as to empower each of its members. This is a delicate balance. It is rare….rare, but possible.-

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