Wanna know how to handle narcissists? First understand why you are drawn to them.

narssisus

Some people are naturally drawn to narcissists. Coincidentally, narcissists are drawn to people who are drawn to them. Like a Kardashian unable to walk past a mirror, never did a narcissist pass up a chance to be admired.

Indeed, if you didn’t already know, the greatest torture for a true narcissist is to be treated with indifference. It strikes at the very core of a deeply ingrained insecurity, an insecurity few can discern below the narcissist’s disassociation into illusions of personal majesty.

But it’s there, like no other host of the disease of insecurity, it’s there. So terrifying is the feeling of vulnerability within the narcissist’s unconscious that the walls he (and on occasion “she”) builds up around himself for protection are absolutely insurmountable.

In short, the best advice for one going into a relationship with a narcissist, whether it be business or personal, is to not go into the relationship. Well, unless you enjoy misery. I recently found this article which lists 40 reasons to not marry a narcissist, and most of the reasons apply equally to business relationships. If you’re not ready to take my advice I highly encourage at least a quick read of this article, it may help change your mind.

But the purpose of this article is not to define narcissism, not to give a systematic strategy on how to outmaneuver a narcissist, not to rehash any of the endless studies performed on the disorder, and not even to compare which of the 2016 presidential candidate suffers most from it (*hint: Trump is a near perfect textbook narcissist, while Hilary appears to be a high functioning sociopath, now forget I said it*). The purpose of this article is to posit a rarely asked question of those affected most by relationships with narcissists: why are you drawn to them in the first place?

For this question I need no surveys, no peer-reviewed studies, no collections of psychiatric patient profiles, all I need is my personal experience. For most of my life I was drawn to narcissists and once I figured out why I became almost immune to their nonsense.

My experience happened almost exclusively within the Evangelical Christian communities I associated with growing up. This is not to imply that Evangelical Christianity has somehow cornered the market on narcissism, they haven’t. But it is where I happen to find scores of them, some of which became my close mentors.

There was one narcissistic pastor in particular that I served for the better part of a decade. This man had all the classic traits of a narcissist: he was highly charismatic; had the confidence and pomp of a Spanish matador; was a man who had an answer for everything, and was always right (just ask him); a man who preyed on people awed by his self-assurance, and willing to admire him for it; the sort of man who could sell a colony of termites to a log home owner. He was the man in charge – and he was exactly what I was looking for as a late teenager and early 20 something.

The reasons for this attraction would take me a long time to realize, though even a cursory knowledge of my background makes the reasons obvious. I should’ve known better.

I grew up with a single mother and an older sister. The chaos and volatility of power in our family was quite extreme, I could aptly described it as Lord of the Flies, the only difference being that the Lord of the Flies eventually settled into a coherent power system. Ours never did; even with the help of 5 step-father/live-in boyfriends.

There were two things that kept me sane and optimistic growing up: (a) my Christian faith, and (b) the inevitability of growing up and moving out. I never feared moving out; I lusted after it. I dreamed of creating my own life and finding the stability and manly strength of mind that I desperately longed for as a child.

If the reader has been paying attention so far it’s easy to guess why I was drawn to narcissistic older males – particularly narcissistic older males who masqueraded as spiritual leaders. They fulfilled all the whimsical, archetypal ideals I imagined of a father figure during my childhood. A strong, older male with spiritual vitality was of a different universe when compared with the weak and flippant father figures I was subjected to as a kid; male figures who, after realizing their failed attempts to lead our confused home, would move out and leave me in the hands of warring females (mother and sister) over household dominance.

I clung to this pastor/surrogate father figure for some years before our inevitable personality clash occurred, a clash which culminated in me challenging his perspectives of the tithe and his method of collecting it from his congregants (By the way, if you want to – or need to – continue in a relationship with a narcissist do not, under any circumstances, challenge his paycheck. I’ll just leave that there). In classic narcissist fashion he straightaway dismissed me from all leadership roles and turned his back – both figuratively and literally – on our relationship just as cold and unreservedly as any true narcissist would.

And this is the piece that ate me up for years: his ability to wholly disregard me as a person, as a surrogate son, and even as a fellow believer after half a lifetime of friendship. It wasn’t until years later when I studied narcissistic disorders that I began to connect the dots and realize that my experience was anything but novel and was bound to have it’s fairly predictable ending. And it was even later than this experience that I would find myself again drawn to and working with yet another narcissist, this time during my counseling internship, an internship which I chose and pursued based on the charisma and confidence of the supervisor. Once again I had a very similar experience, though by this point I had learned to deal with narcissists on a professional level and survived my, thankfully, short internship.

It was after this relationship that I finally asked myself the most important question, not just in dealing with narcissists, but in dealing with any challenging personality: ‘why am I drawn to this person?’ After I had answered this question with some satisfaction I have been able to both recognize and lovingly navigate relations with the narcissists in my life (which are many since I work in the healthcare profession).

It requires a love that is secure in foundations which transcend human relationships and the concomitant psychological needs they create. Most of us want to have close and caring relationships with those we meet in our daily lives. With narcissists this is just not possible. A transcendent type of love seems required if one desires to treat them with genuine care without becoming a victim of failed expectations for reciprocal care; something most of us naturally expect in our relationships.

Now that I know I have a tendency to gravitate towards this type of person, for very specific, deep-seated psychological reasons, I am better able to govern my own attitude and behavior around these people as a matter of course – not as a matter of strategy. And even more importantly, answering this question has opened a whole world of understanding of myself.

And that’s worth a couple hundred hours of psychotherapy.

Thanks for reading.

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18 thoughts on “Wanna know how to handle narcissists? First understand why you are drawn to them.

  1. Is this the reason I am drawn to your website? 🙂 Kidding! I think any healthy relationship has to be grounded in the reality of the ability to really love ourselves, and this, in my humble opinion, happens when we love God. Loving God helps us to love ourselves without the danger of narcissism (You can’t love God without being humbled) nor the danger of self loathing (through Christ we can now step boldly into the throne of Grace). It also allows us to extend Grace to the dysfunctional (as it is extended to our dysfunctional selves) and to not be shattered when they eventually fail or disappoint us.

  2. I’m dubious that I have much to contribute to a very personal anecdote – and having read your post, Eric, I really wasn’t going to comment as I don’t want to cheapen your personal history/experiences/personal insights, – and it had occurred to me that every thread you initiate doesn’t have to be theist vs atheist – and given our last very lengthy discussion, a break certainly seems warranted – but a) the suggestion that the ability to really love oneself only when one loves God is simply factually untrue – and b) it’s one of those prejudicial prejudiced comments regarding atheists, agnostic and non religious people that has negative consequence for a significant part of the population. Atheists are capable of long term very loving relationships and I would thank savebyj to respect that.

    A common consideration raised by atheists regarding their theist friends is that the idea that there is some sort of supreme god that is utterly inscrutable and mysterious but who created the entire universe and nevertheless takes a very personal interest in our doings and our fashions is in fact the very opposite of humbling – it places us on a purported pedestal that I am extremely dubious that we in any way warrant

    I’m happy to let it go at that w/o engaging in an ongoing argument that will, I think, simply be annoying for all concerned

  3. I wouldn’t blame yourself too much Eric. Most such personality types are good manipulators, with a box full of tools and practiced tactics. The average decent person gets fooled a few times.

    One of the poles of the narcissist’s personality is charm. They tend to be good at it. The other pole is viciousness. With age, the personality often breaks down, looses its lesser significant parts and becomes caricatured, retaining its main features, then we often see the lonely old lady with no friends left because her personality alternates between charming and vicious, with nothing else left in her personality makeup. All she can do now is be nice to people, then be nasty to them, like a pendulum.

    Narcissism, psychopathy and machiavellianism tend to overlap and run into each other. Few are afflicted with purely one or the other. Most are one with elements of the other two.

    Some fields attract narcissists; male martial art instructors (serious female practitioners too); the female dominate professions of psychology, counselling, sociology (society’s “good people” who just know how everyone else should talk, behave and be); female managers over male workforces doing dangerous jobs (such as female managers of male police and prison officers); male outlaw motor cycle gangs (ignore or treat them with indifference and notice some of them try harder to get your attention); good looking women whose attire and body language from the neck down says “look at me, I’m so sexy”, but whose facial expression says “what are you looking at sleaze bag”, unless she sees a male she likes, then she’s all charm (the lonely old lady alternating between charming and vicious is her future).

    We should not be too quick to assume such personality types. A principle characteristic of the “dark triad” personality group is dishonesty. Some psychs think that habitual lying is a reliable indicator. But even that is not indicative. Not everyone who lies does so to actively/aggressively manipulate and control others, but often the lies are for passive defence. They mal lie because they have failed their own image. Their image may be a true one, of their own genuine standards and values, and when failed to live up to, causes great internal shame, as well as shame to face others with that failure – which is the external/interpersonal or image part of the situation. So a person who lies my be trying hard to live up to a personal standard and expectation of themselves and trying to portray that standard too. So when they fail, they may tend to lie. But that lie does not mean that lying is their first sin (and shame) but is a secondary and mitigating one, and they are ashamed of that one too. Liars are not necessarily liars. (If that makes sense.)

    Consider the individual trying their hardest to live up to the standards of an employer, or to the high standards of a partner, trying their hardest to keep their conduct at a level that is at the highest levels of their own makeup. Naturally they slip and fail here and there, probably frequently. To hide their shame, they may end up lying frequently. Their boss or partner may be observant, notices incongruences and then recognises the person is lying, even frequently. He assumes a habitual liar, when in fact he has a loyal employee or partner trying her best and failing, and is too ashamed to admit it. When she’s found out there will likely be a conflict of some sort, and then its easier to say she lied for fear of the boss’s reaction and of getting into trouble, for that takes some blame off her, and of course then the blame falls on him. She ends up blaming him for being too bullying, he calls her a liar. If its a couple relationship in front of a feminist counsellor (as they all are) then he is condemned as an angry man and responsible for his partner lying to protect herself from his wrath, and is recommended for men’s anger management ie. emasculation and shame therapy. If it is a workplace situation with a male manager with high standards and try-hard female workers, and mediation is brought in, then the mediator may label him a middle management psychopath bullying his female workforce, and then he’s fired by the chief executive officer, o if he’s the CEO he may be fired by the board. See how messy and mistaken it all gets. When all along its caused by a good person/s trying their hardest and failing here and there, just needing a little more support and understanding.
    (I only learnt that today, by the way)

    ____________________

    Love flows outwards, not back upon itself. It is as depicted in the symbol of the arrow through the heart. We cannot love our self. We can accept our self; come to terms with our self. But love is for others. As is forgiveness, that part of love we can direct to things distasteful. Love passing through the heart is like water passing through a faucet. It only passes through when it is given forth. The intention and the flow is outward to others. The benefit to self is incidental.

  4. People can definitely love themselves without God David. My experience is that its usually in some form of an unhealthy manner. And the Gospels require humility to enter. Jesus said it very clearly, “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts….”. The Gospels say that the pinnacle of his creation fell to evil and deserves the punishment of hell. Yet God provided a way, by Faith and not works lest any should boast, to give those who deserve hell, Grace.

    Atheism either produces arrogance or despair. In Atheism either man is his own moral agent and does what is right in his (individual or collective) eyes or this reality has no meaning (an untenable Philosophical position). It cannot produce true humility. True humility is understanding ones proper position and yet thinking of others above oneself.

    Having been an atheist/agnostic myself I am all too familiar with their arguments and World View.

  5. Hi David. No, I don’t mind volleying the theist/atheist thing a few rounds. Your specific concern was this: “the suggestion that the ability to really love oneself only when one loves God is simply factually untrue.” I think you are referring to savedbyj’s response, but I’ll play with it a bit. I mentioned the need for a “transcendent love” that was not founded on human relations in order to genuinely care for a challenging person without expecting care in return. Let me clarify: I believe a transcendent love is ideal, but not necessary for being able to care for another without expectation of return. It’s ideal because if it is transcendent then it does not depend on the person doing the loving to “do the loving.” It is, for me as an Orthodox Christian, a love that has power of its own and works “through” a person (like Crossbow said above) rather than generated solely by the person’s effort – which is much more likely to fail, and fail much quicker.

    But to take it a step further, as a Christian I believe that love exists with or without human beings around to act it out and believe in it. I believe this is true because I believe in a God who has revealed Himself as love. If I imagine being an atheist my options become quite limited in this regard. If I were atheist I would be a materialist who believes everything real has some sort of physical substance, and every emotion or cognition of human beings is due to pure physicality – firing neurons, brain chemistry, etc. It would be very challenging for me to not apply this belief to my own abilities – or motivations – to love those who are difficult to love. I would justify my not loving them on the basis that love is a useful mental construct to propagate my species and protect my own kind. Outside of this love is merely ethical duty imposed by other humans who have no biological authority over my brain chemistry, etc.

    Do you see why I would believe that love is a weak concept without a belief in a God who is love? If there is no God of love please explain to me how I am to take love seriously in relation to loving a narcissist?

    And for the sake of time, how bout you give a reply, then I’ll reply one more time, and then you have the last reply. Cheers.

  6. Hi savebyj –

    on the one hand you claim: “Love flows outwards, not back upon itself. It is as depicted in the symbol of the arrow through the heart. We cannot love our self.” and on the other hand, you claim: “People can definitely love themselves without God David.” And the topic de jure is narcism or people who seemingly love themselves too much.

    I don’t know where these seeming inconsistencies takes us but it makes your argument somewhat confusing.

    “People can definitely love themselves without God David. My experience is that its [love] usually in some form of an unhealthy manner.”

    Who are you to say what is a healthy/unhealthy love? What are your criteria? Do you consider yourself a spokesperson for God? For a family physician or psychologist? Are you attacking gays? Premarital sex? Multiple sexual partners? Someone married in a church o/s your own? Interracial relationships? Sexual or marital relations by Muslims? Hindoos? All cultures & communities who existed over the 200,000 years prior to the birth of Christianity? Most of Scandinavia? Significant portions of the populations of most western secular democracies? Should Christians follow Jesus’ prescription to abandon their families and run off to preach by reason that the end is nigh? Not to take away from your experience, savebyj, but your claim would appear to be limited to your personal experience and subject to all sorts of expected or possible biases and expectations

    Is it worth pointing out that divorces are more common in states which are highly religious along with the usual assortment of sexual diseases & abortions & spousal violence. Potentially unhealthy loves, right? Are you familiar with the psychological evidence that people who tend to be moralistic (an affliction more frequently found amongst the religious) are more violent :

    https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg22429973-000-most-violence-arises-from-morality-not-the-lack-of-it/

    and of course, the number of people currently in US prisons for violent crimes are hugely disproportionately religious compared to non-religious.

    “The Gospels say that the pinnacle of his creation fell to evil and deserves the punishment of hell. Yet God provided a way, by Faith and not works lest any should boast, to give those who deserve hell, Grace.”

    what a miserable world view. How can you not see how much that conflicts with your supposed views on love. If you were once an atheist, you will be familiar with how implausible & unconvincing the Gospels are – so from my perspective an argument quoting from the Gospels carries no weight. I’m not going to treat such an argument as justified by an appropriate & legitimate authority and any claims taken from that source have to stand on their own merit.

    You then seem to be making some sort of suggestion that good works isn’t sufficient (contrary to the views of many of your Christian brethren) and that a great many people are going to be consigned to permanent torture on the basis of a mistaken world view. Do I take it that you do not agree with Eric when Eric suggests that God is the personification of love? Or are you contending that love in its deepest roots is malicious and spiteful?

    Why should I accept the Gospels as any sort of authority or anything other than iron age morality? Do you support slavery or the killing of witches? Are you capable of consuming poisons and playing with venomous snakes with impunity? I am currently reading “How God became God, What Scholars are really saying about God and the bible” by Richard Smiley” . That doesn’t appear to be an atheist book but here are a couple of his conclusions: 1) what do we reasonably know about what Jesus said? answer – nothing and 2) what do we reasonably know about what Jesus did? same answer Now Smoley does introduce some speculations supporting a Christian theist view but he is careful to note that they are his speculations. This is not the only Christian apologetic I’ve read that came to the exact same conclusion but added their own and different speculations. Outside the bible, what sources support the idea that Jesus even existed – Flavius had 2 references, one of which scholars are pretty much unanimous in condemning as a subsequent forgery and another fairly innocuous paragraphs referring to Jesus’ brother, James. That’s it for all of the 1st century authorities.

    “Atheism either produces arrogance or despair”

    No, it doesn’t. Firstly, as Hitchens commented, that which can be asserted w/o evidence can be refuted w/o evidence and you seem to have a compelling need to make claims that aren’t backed up or supported by a shred of actual evidence. I personally am a very happy and contented atheist. The Scandinavian countries are amongst the least religious and yet happiest countries in the world and unlike the countries that are most religious, they take care of their poor and those in ill health. People who are religious are much more afraid of dying than people who are non-religious – that’s what the science is telling us. I’m sorry that you were an arrogant/despairing atheist – but that’s not the norm. None of your comments suggest that have true humility – the very opposite in fact seems quite demonstrable. On the 1 hand you are suggesting that you number yourself amongst God’s anointed destined for permanent bliss and the apple of God’s eye and morally superior to the majority of people who ever lived who according to you are destined to rot in hell. Where the heck is the humility in that? The idea of a chosen people is a pox on humanity – and there are ever so many Christian sects that cheerfully opine that you are destined for hell everlasting because you haven’t chosen their particular world view.

    “In Atheism either man is his own moral agent” surely being one’s own moral agent is unavoidable – according to you, that’s something given to humans by God (free will)

    ” and does what is right in his (individual or collective) eyes” again, that would seem unavoidable. I’m pretty sure that you don’t simply adopt all of the biblical moral tenets – some of them are pretty harsh.

    “or this reality has no meaning (an untenable Philosophical position)” – this phrase doesn’t appear to be particularly meaningful. Do I take it you intend to raise the issue of whether or not morality is an objective feature of reality? Here’s the rub – that’s not the only meaningful way to approach ethics. We’re all human. We have biological and culturally determined needs. We are social animals. We are capable of recognizing personal goods (I’m hungry, so I would like to eat) and social goods that benefit society at large. These goods aren’t arbitrary or merely subjective – they flow from our fundamental natures as intelligent biological social beings.

    “Having been an atheist/agnostic myself I am all too familiar with their arguments and World View”.

    And the world view of atheists is what? – well there’s really only 1 tenet – not to believe in god or gods, often on the simple basis of a lack of actual evidence. The rest of the metaphysics or psychology or ethics held by an atheist is generally going to be worked out by that individual. Just like how you as an individual chose to adopt your particular version of Christianity. There are versions of humanism that predates Christianity by thousands of years.

  7. Hi Eric – I didn’t get an email to advise that there had been any responses and when I meandered around your blog, I hadn’t seen that there had been some ongoing discussion – hence my delay in responding. My apologies for my technical ineptness. And then I got busy.

    I frankly don’t know what to make of your paragraph re: transcendent love. The empirical evidence of how Christians relate to non Christians (or even Christians of different viewpoints) would suggest that transcendent love is not a big part of their behaviour or mental affects. I’m prepared to grant you that certain versions of Christians may experience powerful altered states of consciousness through mediation, etc. – but no one that I’ve ever met. And I can assure you that in discussions with moderate Christian ministers, it would appear that even amongst Christians , the antics of the evangelical nutters are viewed with distaste. A recent article in a local paper compared transcendent love (which seemed very similar to what you are describing) to the Greek concept of love called “agate” but failed to make it sound particularly appealing. I’m also prepared to countenance the possibility that this transcendent love is some sort of powerful illusory self deceptive cognitive response. And the 3rd possibility w/o suggesting that we exhausted all the possibilities – is that atheists may well experience the same cognitive effects that you are calling transcendent love but calling it a different name or perhaps not giving it a name – so in the absence of some supporting empirical evidence & additional clarity supporting your views I’m tempted to leave it at that.

    I did have 1 question: ” a love that has power of its own and works “through” a person” – Are you suggesting that Christians have the power to achieve certain goals psychically w/o moving a muscle- ie the power of prayer to save people from disease – because from a scientific point of view, there’s no evidence that this is true & there’s been lots of Christian scam artists.

    I’m familiar with the idea that God is purportedly “love” although I’ve never found it particularly convincing. As I understood your version of Christianity, God is the background of all possibilities and so God would also equally represent hostility, fury, pomposity, curiosity, arrogance and the whole battery of emotions, for good and for bad – so, why are you only anthropomorphizing love? On what evidence? The universe as a whole appears to value absolute indifference to human life, so that would seemingly be inconsistent with your proposition. You also claim, as I understand it, that God is essentially mysterious and beyond our ken – I don’t think you can have it both ways .

    I don’t understand why you’re so focused on materialism as being the only world view open to atheists or why that doctrine would be the one you would choose if you were an atheist – there is a smorgasbord of other options and materialism seems to be anathema to you. You could be a monist, an idealist, a panpsychist, you could adopt a wait and see response as and when the evidence comes in or you could look to the latest and richest current understanding of our physical sciences as a source of understanding (on a contingent basis, of course). You could be a dualist, for that matter, although my suspicion is that dualism is fairly problematic as a theory – but having said this, the 1st time we have solid evidence for ghosts, dualism may well rise in the ranks considerably.

    Water is wet but an individual molecule of water is not. The fact that a table is mostly composed of vacuum and some sort of indescribable wave/particle phenomena doesn’t imply that I wouldn’t treat a table as a solid physical object. Any of the common metaphysical ontological positions will treat our emotions and experiences as being as personally compelling as any other metaphysical ontological position. The fact that there may be a deeper explanation for my emotions and experiences (and one that doesn’t find favour with you) doesn’t make them less real to me nor would they to you. And if a universe that is physical only and all our mental constructs merely properties of a physical body, then all of the wishes and regrets to the contrary, don’t matter – it is what it is and I, for one, don’t think highly that that there’s any particular merit in deceiving oneself. Best to simply try to figure it out as best we can on its actual merits and leave open room for doubt. Saying we don’t know is always an option.

    “If there is no God of love please explain to me how I am to take love seriously in relation to loving a narcissist?”

    I suspect that my cat is a little narcissist and yet I love her. Our affections for others is not something that is subject to rational judgments. If there is no God, how should I explain why an abused wife will stay with her husband, even at the risk of serious injury or death? Well, it’s because we’re human and don’t always use our best judgment & our emotional responses to a given individual are complicated and powerful. Perhaps some narcissists are very capable of engendering love or some other related version of co-dependency. I don’t think there’s any reason to suspect that there isn’t a convincing secular argument.

    I’m dubious that we could exhaust our topic in the manner you suggest, Eric, although if that’s your preference, we can do our best. There’s no winners or losers in these discussions – hopefully each of us will take away something interesting or informative. I will acknowledge that formulating responses can be time consuming and the time possibly better used for something else – so, I’m happy to play it by ear. I won’t be doing a victory dance simply because you find other things to do and i don’t mind if your response isn’t timely or you want to wrap up after my next post. I’m dubious that I will have even fully understood your position within the constraints you’ve suggested and I’m sure I’ll be left with questions.

  8. you know, you could have jumped in with some compelling & persuasive argument demonstrating clearly and cogently why my arguments are mistaken & w/o merit – instead you went with a personal attack. To Eric’s credit he’s discouraged that approach although time after time, it’s the Christian apologists that have resorted to this underwhelming response in the comments sections of Eric’s blogs. Did you want to try again?

  9. There are kangaroos jumping about in your top paddock.

    And try re-reading above who said what.

    The New Scientist article is not news; it is ancient knowledge. That self-righteousness does the worst evil has always been known.

    Criminals mostly feel justified in their crimes, and certainly feel justified/in-the-right/entitled while committing them. Even anger feels itself to be in the right. That is why it is so difficult to give up. It is delusional.

    Collective error, including collective anger and violence, is always self-righteous too. And hatred does not feel itself to be evil, nor even bad. It feels itself to be justified, good and in the right. The tens and possibly hundreds of millions murdered by socialist movements in the 1900s were murdered by self-righteousness.

    The moral high ground is not claimed by the church. It is claimed by the Left. They are the “we-care” people. They tend to be atheists. And tend to despise religion, unless its a non-western religion. They are mostly anti-Christian really. They believe they have an alternative goodness to that taught in Christianity.

    The church offers a message of salvation, salvation from one’s self, relief from one’s own demons and struggles. It offers a message of freedom from guilt and shame, through forgiveness of one another, and through the forgiveness of Christ.

    It is a message of healing of soul, mind and body, of one’s relationships, of one’s life, through forgiveness, through love, hope, faith, and thankfulness. That goodwill towards others and a sense of what is good and right to do, follows on from that healing of the person through love-forgiveness is a secondary thing, and not the essence of the teaching. Read the Gospels and see.

    The religion of Leftism uses guilt and shame to put others down. To beat them into submission. And offers no relief from it, just more guilt and shame. It gives empty lip-service to being non-judgmental, tolerant, caring, etc, but those buzzwords are disguise. Really, its all about guilting and shaming those it sees as its enemies.

    Guilt, regret and shame are the worst of human feelings. What sort of people enjoy piling that condition onto others? Leftists do, that’s who. They are the “We’re-good-you’re-bad” people, and “you need to know it”.

    The essence of Christian teaching is forgiveness. Forgiveness was even the last lesson Christ taught from the cross. Christianity offers relief from guilt, regret and shame, and in so doing, frees people from their own habitual unwanted personality cycles that have caused their shame. That is the magic of forgiveness.

    All over the world are churches full of people who have received relief from the cyclic torment of drugs, alcohol, anger, resentment, and all sorts of habitual problems and personal maladjustments that they have battled against for years. Until one day in exhaustion and despair they gave up their fight and handed it over to Christ. And their struggle was taken from them, as was their shame, to be replaced with freedom, clarity, understanding of and love for others, and of course, immense thankfulness. They were, in effect, born again.

    The moral sense that comes with their relief is not the message they so readily speak of. They speak of their personal experience of relief, of the healing power of love-forgiveness that they have experienced, and that is taught in the gospels.

    Try counting these people. They are in their millions. I have no reason to disbelieve their story. Why would they make up such a lie? Besides, I know from my own experience that the power of forgiveness that they speak of is true.

  10. Hi David. Transcendent love… what I mean is basically a love that transcends a person’s abilities to generate strictly on their own will power. I believe parents (particularly mothers) display this sort of love for their children (especially before they turn 4 and drive you bonkers). Their love is not a mere act of will, nor is it strictly instinct. It is a mix of both but more than that. It is truly a transcendent sort of love; the type of love that is unconditional. Willful love and instinctual love rarely if ever rise above condition. Now take that and add yet another dimension of bliss and you have the sort of love that comes from God alone. Now, I may have been being overdramatic to say that one needs this sort of love to navigate life with a narcissist, but not by much. 🙂

    Why do I harp on materialism, as if it is the only avenue for a thoroughgoing atheism? Because, as stated before, it is the angle I would be drawn to if I were committed to atheism, and it is the worldview taught in academia today en mass, which makes it a dominating worldview in the public at large. I consider it an extremely dangerous worldview, and I base that fear on mostly common sense, but also history.

    Here is a direct question from you: “I did have 1 question: ” a love that has power of its own and works “through” a person” – Are you suggesting that Christians have the power to achieve certain goals psychically w/o moving a muscle- ie the power of prayer to save people from disease – because from a scientific point of view, there’s no evidence that this is true & there’s been lots of Christian scam artists.”

    No, I am claiming that when a person strives to unite with the spirit of God in love there is a love that is generated in the person which overflows into his or her life towards others in ways that are effortless in the moment, though the state of love is fought for during times of stillness and prayer. It’s difficult to describe to someone who has never experienced it, but that’s my best try for the time being.

    To the second part of your statement, of course there are Christian scam artists, anything beautiful has its counterfeits. Counterfeit Elvis Presleys exist by the drove, but that is hardly evidence that Elvis Presley was a fake. As to your statement on prayer, prayer is effective in saving some from disease, I am a living testimony of such claims, and I know countless others. Is it true in all cases? Of course not. Christ himself was recorded as being unable to perform miracles in his own home town due to the people’s unbelief. “Scientific evidence” does not have a mechanism for calculating lack of faith. Welcome to the world of scientific limitations. 🙂

  11. Hi Eric – I honestly don’t see how you’re going to demonstrate that what you or others call transcendent love wouldn’t be totally explicable, at least in theory, given sufficient scientific advances, by bio-chemistry. Certainly mothers commonly experience powerful love for their newborn children accompanied by associated blasts of hormonal changes that might well be a significant causal factor and which also helps explain the other introduced behavioral traits. Sometimes things go wrong and rather than maternal love, a new mother experiences fits of depressions and does not form a bond with the newborn child – a process that is totally explicable if we were biological organisms prone to some failures – perhaps not so explicable if something truly magical and out of this world were happening.

    I’m having some difficulty following your position – if you were an atheist, you would adopt materialism (as opposed to numerous other choices) by reason that: “I consider it an extremely dangerous worldview”. That’s a pretty non intuitive justification. And for the record, I suspect that there are lots more dangerous ideologies – neoliberalism, for example which appears to be the doctrine supported by Crossbow would be an obvious example which in effect treats humans as commodities and moves wealth from the poor and middle class to the uber wealthy.

    I first came to your site as a result of a link posted in an atheist facebook page – and in point of fact a poll was taken as a result as to which of the members of the group believed in materialism – I think about 12 people responded and unanimously were of the view that they did not believe in materialism.

    For the record, I don’t think that materialism is taught in any meaningful fashion in university. I studied philosophy and to my mind the main goal was to encourage the ability to engage in critical reasoning – in most cases students were introduced to a variety of world views including often the historical circumstances leading up to a given philosopher developing his world view and difficulties with a given world view. I can’t recall materialism being a strong consideration when it came to penology or normative ethics, for that matter.

    In the sciences, in most cases metaphysical materialism would simply be irrelevant. I read numerous science books as a hobby and I can’t recall one in which metaphysical materialism was even discussed. There’s a general consensus that atoms and protons and electrons are not anything like little billiard balls but that would seemingly be a rejection of metaphysical materialism.

    If rather than materialism, your issue was whether or not humans are something other than sophisticated biochemical machines, then I suppose that would be a background issue in medicine or neurobiology or psychiatry – but I fail to see how one would treat illnesses significantly differently were one to assume dualism, for example. Scientists have rejected the idea of a life force since probably the 1800’s w/o adverse effect and w/o obviously interfering with scientific progress. Would you introduce a preacher into the operating room in lieu of a surgeon? Many religious people do take that step but not with significant success – that viewpoint would seemingly be more hazardous and dangerous to your health than regarding the human body as something essentially physical carrying with it the capability of conscious thought. It’s not as if scientists reject the placebo effect on the basis of some overwhelming metaphysical position.

    i raised the question as to whether or not an abused spouse who continued to love her husband was engaging in the sort of transcendent love that you are talking about? Love doesn’t require effort or thinking – the heart wants what the heart wants, whether for good or for bad. Love can be addictive or overpowering – same as a whole host of other emotions. You didn’t answer my other question – why do you single out God as a representative of love but not as a representative of hate or curiosity or anger or lust – all of which emotions can be equally overpowering and may well overwhelm our sense of self (which would naturally segue into a discussion of how the self is constructed as opposed to being a little psychological watcher).

    I can understand why someone can experience something that they attribute to a miracle – there are any number of secular explanations. Suppose that you are suffering from a cancer with 1 chance in a million of surviving – and you survive. That sound miraculous – to you – and not so miraculous to the 999,999 who failed to survive. Why did God choose the survivor? What was wrong with everyone else that God saw fit to strike them dead? Given sufficient numbers of cancer patients, there’s the possibility of a great many miracles. Humans in general are not gifted with a natural and intuitive understanding of statistics. Scientists have investigated these types of claims – and obtained the null result. I used to have a very likeable Jehovah witness come to my door with his spouse and newborn child and we frequently chatted – he died in his early 20’s of Lou Gehrig’s disease – negative miracle? I think not. Merely tragic.

    “Scientific evidence” does not have a mechanism for calculating lack of faith.” I think that’s probably glib and untrue. We can look at an individual’s behaviour and what he or she says abouit her faith. And we could do some sort of brain imaging comparing people of faith and non faith and then do a further comparison when we introduce religious imagery or precepts whilst being scanned – a test that has in fact been done, to the best of my recollection.

  12. Hi David, I’ll try to answer this one point of yours: “Hi Eric – I honestly don’t see how you’re going to demonstrate that what you or others call transcendent love wouldn’t be totally explicable, at least in theory, given sufficient scientific advances, by bio-chemistry.”

    David, do you believe in a one-to-one identity of an emotion like love and a firing neuron? A firing neuron may very well be active as a person is experiencing the emotion, but are they the same? Not ‘do they correlate,’ but rather “is” a firing neuron love?

    If so then you are positing one of the popular philosophies of mind-body identity theories. These theories are at the heart of the materialist worldview of human existence, and they are as far away as you can get from proven and are seemingly stuck there. But, for materialism to pan out our thoughts must have this one-to-one identity, since physicality is all the materialist view allows.

    I’m curious what you identify as if not a materialist. It will help me better understand where you are coming from in future discussions. I tend, as you noted, to assume an atheist has at least a philosophical leaning towards materialism, so please set me straight as to your own view.

  13. “David, do you believe in a one-to-one identity of an emotion like love and a firing neuron?” no, but then I don’t believe in a one-to-one identity of a colour like green and a given cell of grass. I think we can safely say that the brain is quite possibly one of the more complicated devices in the universe – I don’t think we should assume it would give up its secrets quite so easily

    “Not ‘do they correlate,’ but rather “is” a firing neuron love?” again, no. It would seem to me that the brain’s operations are more sophisticated than simply being a correlation of neuron number 174392168 = love when on whereas neuron number 174392165 = lust when on. Neurons interact, hormones raise and fall & the ultimate brain output in terms of consciousness is a holistic process. I strongly suspect that if a brain is in exactly the same state in all respects at time t1 and at time t2, then it is experiencing exactly the same feelings and thoughts. For ethical and technical reasons, we can’t demonstrate that in exact detail using humans although I think neurobiologists are able to demonstrate that this is a reasonable conclusion to draw based on a whole host of experimental evidence in which certain brain wave patterns are associated for example with certain emotional experiences. Were one to have a sentient computer, that quite possibly could be demonstrated at will.

    Taking your example of “love”, and giving a layman’s perspective, I would anticipate that there would be a whole host of neurons devoted to the issue of & capable of discriminating the object of one’s love, I would expect that there would be links between those neurons and other neurons that recall express or subconscious recollections or memories regarding the object of the 1st set of neurons, there would also like be special connections with the mirror neurons that assist us in feeling what other individuals may be feeling (or more clearly assist us in feeling how we would feel if we were in the same position as the other individuals), there would probably be connections with various feel good parts of the brain including the release of special feel good hormones, quite possibly, neurons would have physical effects such as expanding the pupil of the eyes, there might be a general wakening or increased alertness of the entire nervous system and so on. Certain thoughts and feelings would be coming to the foreground of consciousness but there would be other processes vying for attention. The exact mechanism of how consciousness is created is unknown. However we can compel an individual to recall a given incident by the stimulation of a given neuron, suggesting that such a neuron holds the key to that memory. And we can investigate how the brain holds or stores various other incidents of consciousness. And of course, using chemical or other technical means directly impacting the brain, we can enhance or degrade feelings of love.

    If I were to rank the main options for understanding the ultimate grounds of consciousness, then I think these would be popular options (I’ve sorted the options from most plausible (1) to least plausible (3):

    1) consciousness is the result of the physical operations of the brain where by physical operations, I mean the interaction of atoms and electrons in accordance with understood laws of physics. The application of quantum theory to complex systems is not straight forwards or intuitive. Atoms and electrons are nothing like little billiard balls circling each other (they are unique to themselves) and so I don’t find our native intuition that no matter how many billiard balls you have bouncing off each other, it wouldn’t give rise to consciousness not such a compelling argument as it would be something of a strawman. I don’t think of atoms as being physical objects as we would naturally intuit what a physical object would be & non local effects seem to be very much part of our understanding of the quantum world (if such were required to explain consciousness).

    2) consciousness is the result of the physical operation of the brain where by physical operations, i mean the interaction of atom and electrons in accordance with an extension of the known laws of physics in which there is some additional unknown occult spiritual/consciousness like producing property of atoms, which has not shown up in experiments.

    3) and very much least likely, consciousness is the responsibility of a separate non material and occult entity that connects in a mysterious manner with the neural structure of certain beings.

    There’s a whole host of reasons to at least provisionally reject dualism other than an experiment & theoretical model that demonstrates exactly how consciousness works. This link supplies a reasonable argument from the point of view of physics by Professor Sean Carroll:

    https://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2011/05/23/physics-and-the-immortality-of-the-soul/

    Unless you can convince me to the contrary, it would seem fairly obvious that in addition to violating our current understanding of quantum theory, dualism would violate the theory of evolution, the 2nd law of thermodynamics, probably information theory and other mainstays of science.

    Let me ask you these questions (I’ll use ectoplasm as a stand in for the supposed non physical conscious entity that attaches to our brains):

    1) where did this ectoplasm come from? how, why and when does it attach to a physical body & how does it interact with a physical body? why do we never (in real life) observe this ectoplasm ie. why no ghosts? Why do supposed out of body experiences fail to produce evidence that one’s awareness had access to information that was not available to one’s actual body?

    2) does the ectoplasm evolve (presumably in tandem with conscious beings)? what would be the mechanisms?

    3) does each species have its own version of ectoplasm or is there only 1 version of ectoplasm that customizes itself? For example it would appear that fish feel pain and have a personality of sorts – ie. some are more chicken than others – and so if they actually are conscious, is there a specialized fish ectoplasm? Is there ectoplasm throughout the universe or are they closely tied to earth? I’ve raises this question before in another thread – I know that you have a complicated explanation which I’m not familiar with and the Christianity that I learned as a youth which would differ from yours does not, as far as I’m aware have an explanation.

    4) given that our memories are stored physically in the brain, (along with all of our sensory inputs) does the ectoplasm have its own memory backup systems or is the ectoplasm blind, dumb and unaware in the absence of a sufficiently sophisticated neural system providing it information? When we think of consciousness, we generally think of being conscious or aware of something, even if it’s only of one’s own bodily functions – I don’t think there’s any reason to assume consciousness as a stand alone product or that there is an independently maintained virtual self that wakes up every morning when we awaken . Rather the brain in my view generates various processes that strive for conscious awareness, and each time such a process becomes fully conscious, it identifies itself as me or mine & has access to all of my memories whilst in all likelihood the processes that fail to attain consciousness nevertheless continue to have some sort of ongoing albeit subliminal impact.

    5 ) I think it difficult to explain sleep and comas and altered personalities which have resulted from traumas or brain diseases if one wants to assume some additional magic being. Why does Alzheimer’s have the impact it does on a magic soul? How do you explain the impact of splitting a brain in 2 (more technically – severing the corpus callosum) resulting in 2 separate personalities if we’re each allocated a single magic soul? Why do magic souls need sleep and why circadian rhythms?

    6) If the claim is that there is a mysterious being (we’ve labelled God) who either maintains a stable of mysterious independent spirits or creates new spirits as needed which he in some mysterious or magical way attaches to certain sophisticated living beings which then interact with the living beings in a mysterious way. Somewhat surprisingly, these spirits are attached whilst the foetus is still unconscious and these spirits whose ultimate role is to supply consciousness remain unconscious throughout the pregnancy. If that’s a caricature, I apologize but then I would remain interested in a kinder version that would be both plausible & consistent with some reasonable extension of our current science.

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