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10 17

Why do religions, claiming high ideals, always seem to end by being divisive ? There may perhaps be many reasons. One is the obvious, often noted fact, that every priest and shaman is in competition with every other, for hearts and minds, in a very vicious and highly competitive industry. Yet perhaps, it occurs to me, there could be another reason, which is simply an effect of the religion industries main product.

And what is religions main product ? You may ask. It is hard to see. Which is strange, since most businesses do not make a big mystery of their outputs, you know that the baker makes cakes, the carpenter makes furniture, etc. So what is the main product of religion, and why the mystery ? Well I would suggest to you, that the main product of religion, is one, that it would not openly like to admit to. Because it is basically, the feeding and fostering of narcissism. Religion sets out to tell its followers, that. “You are special. You are given special knowledge not given to others, your existential worries are not selfish and egocentric but important even to the whole universe, you mean something special to the universe, God loves you more than others, and people who do the things we do here, get to be raised up, filled with light and wisdom, etc. etc. .”

And unfortunately where you tell a person that they are special and privileged then by default, you must also be telling them that the rest of humanity are not special, not privileged and not equal, as well as driving all the other egotistic weaknesses and inhumanities that narcissism brings with it.

Does that help to explain the divisiveness of religion do you think ?

Fernapple 9 June 18
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3

The narcissism isn't an aspect I've considered before, but that makes sense. The believers (in many cases, but not all) are made to believe they are special and they will be rewarded later for the suffering they are doing now. They are made to believe that non-believers are evil and not to be trusted. (I've experienced this myself from believers.)

I would say that the divisiveness is mostly between belief and non-belief currently where I am, though the divisiveness has been between religions in the past, as history shows and present day still in the war torn parts of the world. In both cases, the religions have been weaponized for political purposes.

So, it follows that the believers need to have reason to feel they are special with a "God is on our side" attitude. The churches offer a feeling of a group think, so "we all are on this side or that" of any controversial subject.

Believers want to belong, so they go along with it and don't even need to worry their little heads about it. Acceptance by their peers or authority is more immediate. It's a case of "the Emperor is surely wearing clothes, even if we don't see them." They have to believe stronger in order to see them, so they fake it to fit in.

I agree that the narcissism developed in believers is very useful to those using religious faith to instruct the followers what to believe and how to vote when it comes to social issues that make the powerful more powerful, often at the expense of the believers who are used as pawns in the game.

I do know some believers who are very open minded and very liberal in their views and they realize their style of belief isn't what is being weaponized, but they see it in others.

Even the new age shamans tend to play to the narcissistic tendencies, in whatever oils, books, crystals, etc., they are hawking.

Exactly, your thoughts are welcome, especially the last bit, for I did perhaps over play the divisiveness at the beginning, it was the narcissism which really interested me.

4

Because it's about power not religion

bobwjr Level 10 June 18, 2022
5

Excellent analysis, I think that is also what Republicans have to sell.

One of my children bought the religious pitch. I often think I did not do a good job bolstering her self esteem.

3

Yes.

4

Exactly. The rest of humanity is not special and privileged and your group is the only one with the truth. Nice plot background for a movie but I'm finding adults of all ages today who believe it. Some also seem sad that I cannot grasp it, especially with my fundamentalist background.

Oh I think that they are the ones without the grasp, not you.

0

Are religions especially divisive? No. At least not in modern societies.
The most salient and dangerous separations and segregations we see in the US or in other Western countries have nothing to do with religions, but with politics and ideology. There is a healthy competition between hundreds of denominations and churches and sects in the US, but the society is not divided along these lines. Joe Biden is hated by millions Americans, but certainly not because he is catholic.
In countries like Germany or France, religion is not important enough to cause any deep divisions in society. That was the case in the 17th or 18th century, but certainly not today.

And what is the main product of religions in modern societies?
Certainly not narcissism (if you want to know more about the roots of the modern epidemics of narcissism, I can recommend the book by Will Storr: "Selfie. How the West became self-obsessed" - religion is not among these roots), but religions todays sell mostly commodities like meaning of life, community, orientation, a feeling of belonging, spirituality.
(About the main functions of religions in history, see my post a made a few days before.)

(BTW: Shamans are almost never in a competition with each other. Every tribe has its trusted shaman. And why should priests compete against each other? Churches in the US or Brazil do, but that's very special case)

Matias Level 8 June 18, 2022

I did not say that they were "especially" divisive, only that they often seem to end in being divisive. And there are deep divides along many lines, corresponding to religious divides, such as those only lately between between Christianity and Islam in Kosovo or even Belgium, while in the US the political divide on issues like abortion very closely matches to religious divides. The only reason why religious divides are not as important today, in many countries, as they were in the seventeenth century, especially when compared to political divides, is mainly because religion is less important today on the whole than it was then, while politics has grown in importance. Though actually I would not care if they were not divisive, since I was more interested in the relatioship between religion and narcissism.

You say, " religions today sell mostly commodities like meaning of life, community, orientation, a feeling of belonging, spirituality." And what do you suppose that, commodities like, meaning of life, community, orientation, a feeling of belonging, spirituality are, except synonyms for narcissism. Those are exactly what I am talking about when I refer to narcissism. If Will Storr does not see the narcissism in the so called "meaning of life" industry, especially religion, then he is taking a very narrow, probably cherry picked, view of narcissism and does not really understand it at all, let alone its origins.

The religious industrial "meaning of life" "spirituality" promotion of narcissism, is one of the most toxic sources of it of all. Since it does not merely harm the victims relations with others, but attempts to become addictive and prevent all true personal growth, keeping its victims permanently needy, and often moving ever onward from one source of so called, self improvement, to another, without ever seeing that those gurus are feeding the very thing, narcissism, which most blocks and prevents personal growth. You need only read the victims own stories like skado on here, when they speak about their endless "journeys" and "searches" to understand that. So that the carrot of happiness fulfilment and personal growth are never delivered, and the narcissist is kept permanently working to support the addiction, in case the, quite artificially inflated, ego should start to sag.

Of course shamans and priests are in competition, competition is a factor in any industry and the religious industry is no different from any other. The most addictive church is always the most full. And I did not say that the shaman was only in competition with other shamans and the priest with other priests, they are in competition with each other as well.

And how do you escape narcissism truly. You do it by growing and embracing nihilism, which is really just a natural form of growing up in many ways, and the true source of lifes meaning.

Matias...... you have no idea of the extreme Right Wing in America.
Sorry., but you just don't know how the tail wags the dogs here.
No other way to put it or say it without insulting you

@twill I know. But the evangelical Right in the US might not be representative for religions as such.

@Fernapple
you really like to shoot from your hip, so to speak. With a lot of strong intuitions and very little scientific evidence.
Your claim that the essence - or the main product - of religion is to foster narcissism is absurd. Of course, there are some narcissists that choose religion as their preferred field for self-aggrandizement. But the same can be said about ANY other area: politics, sports, business, art, the movies, literature, sex, social media.... you name it. You could also argue that the main puropse of sites like agnostic.com is to foster narcissism: people come here to get a boost to their inflated egos...
That narcissists can be found in every corner of society, in every area of culture / civilisation, including religion, is trivial.

One could also argue for the opposite: that religions try to keep their believers small, subdued, timid. After all, Islam means 'submission' and one of the leitmotivs of traditional religions is: you are a little creature, a sinner, an insignificant being that would be literally nothing without your Creator and Master. Repent ! or you'll go to hell... Fulfill your obligations or you'll be reborn again and again...

Sure, that is no longer the favorite tune we hear in churches nowadays. But if anything the direction of causation is the opposite: Religions did not fuel narcissism, but religions, especially in the US, had to adapt to a society more and more dominated by narcissism. But that does not mean that religions were at the root of this epidemics of narcissim.
There are people who have done research on that, and I can assure you that the evidence is NOT on your side.
You should really get some education on these issues before you make sweeping claims that ring true in the ears of the ignorant, but have no intellectual substance. Read Will Storr's book if you are really interested in the subject, it is a treat and a pleasure to read, and you'll learn something about the true origins of our rampant narcissism

@Matias I'm sure his response is forthcoming and will be thorough, but I'd like to quickly interject that you're using a straw man fallacy here. He didn't say religion is the root cause or origin of narcissism, but rather that it is their main product, so showing there is some other origin for it doesn't reflect on his OP one iota. Maybe spend some of your religion fanboy reading time on a logic textbook and you'll learn something.

@ChestRockfield @Fernapple
And I repeat my main argument (right at the beginning of my comment): his post is based on nothing but intuitions, without any evidence.

First of all, he uses the generic term "religion", when he really is talking about Christianity. Do you really believe that imams in muslim mosques tell their faithful how wonderful they are, doing everything to boost their self-esteem? Or that Hindu preachers and yogis tell their followers the same?

And even if we concentrate on Christianity, there is no evidence that our preachers and priests do more to enhance the self-esteem of their faithful than, say, ordinary teachers do in school every day. Since the self-esteem craze in the eighties, when psychologists believed to have found the panacaea for all mental ills , the message "You are unique, you are special, you have enormous potential in your self!" can be found everywhere. Look at sports: In my youth, sports was good for "building character", which is the opposite of narcissism; today it is part of the big project of self-actualization. Their role model is CR7
Mental coaches teach it to their clients... and so on.

If I went to church in germany, I'd hear a lot about human rights, about refugees, the war in Ukraine, and about climate change, but certainly not the stuff Fernapple mentions in his OP..
I know that there are many preachers in the US who are little more than mental coaches, telling their clients (!) that God just wants them to get rich, to be successful, because they all have that great potential inside. But that's a specific American phenomenon, and it is not what mainstream Christianity is about in the US (as far as I know).
If Fernapple had written about "churches in the USA", instead of "religions", I would have agreed. But making such sweeping claims without any evidence is not okay.

@Matias I am sure that religion is not the only source of narcissism, and that it can indeed be found in many institutions. My contention is simply that while businesses, sports, arts etc. may contain narcissism and sometimes promote it, they do have other products. ( Though it could be argued that some sports and arts are religions in many ways. ) While religion is alone in having no other major product, and in promoting pure nacissism for its own sake.

I did not bother to include any scientific evidence, since he remarks were intended as a mainly subjective judgement, which does not therefore come within the remit of science, but there is actually plenty of indirect evidence out there. To give just one example the link between vacine rejection, and the clearly narcissistic view that, "I have special protection," is well documented. [vox.com]

It is true that a lot of religion seems at first glance to be about humility, but it is a very strange, and almost certainly in many ways probably fake, sort of humility. Which says that. "I submit to god" ( The literal meaning of Islam. ) But which also says that, god is the best friend that anyone ever had, far better than any other friend, exclusive to my group, and therefore I have the very best friend, who is going to give me everything. " I am devoted to my gang, because my gang is the best gang ever, with the best gang leader by far, and my devotion is the most humble of anybodies." Is not really what humility should mean. Indeed the irony of the claim to be, the most humble, seems to be lost on many.

@Matias I do understand that many churches do good works. But one can do good works both for a bad motivation, and despite other bad motivations.

But no, I do not limit my remarks by any means to American Christianity. For no jihadist, to take the crudest of examples, ever blew themselves up with a suicide vest out of the spirit of humility. No, they intended to join the most eleit and exclusive band of martyres ever, and almost the whole motivation was to be someone special.

If the churches in Germany are free of the promotion of narcissism, and I will for the sake of arguement take your word for it, though I am sceptical, then you are very lucky and perhaps unique. Though it has to be said that the promotion of good causes, is hardly proof of that, since good causes can be motivated quite well by vanity. But of course when the congregations are talking about. "human rights, about refugees, the war in Ukraine, and about climate change. Then they are not doing religion, the existence of religion in someones life, or even in the life of a congregation, does not exclude them from doing other things as well or even at the same time.

Also I can only speak from direct experience for my own national church, The Church of England, which is not in America obviously. And I can say that the main driving force behind that, is not even spiritual narcissism, but for the most part, the most basic sorts of secular snobbery and vanities.

@Matias @Fernapple And not for nothing, but being a member of such an exclusive, special religion that your religion/congregation is the only one in the world that...

Also, you're still missing the point. The leader or the religion in general doesn't need to tell the congregant that they are special or important in any way. Just by virtue of passively claiming that they have the 'correct god', the ear of the lord, the only true path to salvation, etc. is pretty entitling and egocentric.

3

Can't disagree with any of that.

My own humble thought is that religion is a non rational activity, and such activities sooner or later result in irrational thinking and behaviour, which leads to destructive and devisive acts. Monotheism is especially culpable of that, but I don't find anything good about any religions. Some on this site try to convince themselves that religions produce values and even scientific thinking, but that's baloney. Positive values and critical thinking grow despite religion, not because of it.

Just some thoughts.

1

Well stated.

twill Level 7 June 18, 2022
4

Concise, scathing, and undeniably accurate. I feel I should inform you I will be stealing this concept.

Please do steal it, my greatest hope when I post something is that someone will take it and run with it, so that it will not just die on this page.

@Fernapple .............what do you know of agnostic page death? i see no evidence that you suffer for your posts.

@holdenc98 You are born and you start to die my friend. "Life is a death sentence."

2

Absolutely, though I don't have much to add. Humans like contrast and dehumanizing others to feel more powerful ourselves has some appeal. Religion reinforces this in two ways, it cements our sense of belonging to a group and it is condoned by authority.

Interesting that you point to authority supporting dehumanizing crimes. My pet definition of the word religion, is that. "Religion is the use of fake authority." In other words a synonym for the common fallacy called, "proof by authority", especially when that authority is a totally false one, like tradition, the so called special vision of prophets, or the word of a non existant god.

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