Over the past couple of days we have looked at the raging epidemic of sociopathic narcissism that has infected American conservatism–and American conservative Christianity–with the rise of the MAGA cult as the new antichrist religion in this country. Today I want to look at a few ways in which it may be combatted.
Jesus, of course, is our guide here and his counsel in dealing with all earthly needs always begins here:
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well. (Mt 6:25–33)
The way to health is to not pursue health (that leads to hypochondria) but to pursue higher things like the joy of eating good food, or learning a sport, or doing good and normal things. Health comes as a by-product. The way to spiritual health is the same: seek first the kingdom of God, not the defeat of conservative sociopathic narcissism. As Uncle Screwtape lets slip:
About the general connection between Christianity and politics, our position is more delicate. Certainly we do not want men to allow their Christianity to flow over into their political life, for the establishment of anything like a really just society would be a major disaster. On the other hand we do want, and want very much, to make men treat Christianity as a means; preferably, of course, as a means to their own advancement, but, failing that, as a means to anything—even to social justice. The thing to do is to get a man at first to value social justice as a thing which the Enemy demands, and then work him on to the stage at which he values Christianity because it may produce social justice. For the Enemy will not be used as a convenience. Men or nations who think they can revive the Faith in order to make a good society might just as well think they can use the stairs of Heaven as a short cut to the nearest chemist’s shop. Fortunately it is quite easy to coax humans round this little corner. Only today I have found a passage in a Christian writer where he recommends his own version of Christianity on the ground that “only such a faith can outlast the death of old cultures and the birth of new civilisations”. You see the little rift? “Believe this, not because it is true, but for some other reason.” That’s the game.
So the very first thing Normals can do to combat this or any other ill in the Church or the culture is to obey the two great commandments: love God with all our hearts, souls, mind, and strength and love our neighbors as ourselves. That is likewise St. Paul’s counsel:
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Col 3:1–4)
There is a fearlessness in this that radiates out of Paul’s writing. He would have no truck at all with the perpetual self-pity and fear that consumes the MAGA cult, forever obsessing over gun rights and the conviction that coffee cups not to their taste, or pride flags, or people speaking a foreign language or aesthetics not to their taste or a host of other trivialities are a mortal threat and need to opposed by laws, iron, force, and fear.
Paul tends to reserve discipline for disciples (as the word suggests) while taking things very easy on those who are struggling. All the talk about embracing the cross and death to self is about controlling himself. All the talk about gentleness and kindness and mercy goes outward toward others: the exact opposite of the sociopathic narcissist.
Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you once walked, when you lived in them. But now put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and foul talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old man with his practices and have put on the new man, who is being renewed in knowledge after the image of his creator. Here there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free man, but Christ is all, and in all.
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And over all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as you teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Col 3:5–17)
Paul, in short, talks like a man really and truly convinced that he has really and truly seen the Risen Christ and therefore knows there is nothing to be afraid of, that not just hardship, but even his own failings will be turned to the glory of God and the good of the Church (including himself) if he simply places himself in the hands of the Risen Christ. Normals who want to present a counter-witness to the MAGA antichrist cult must do the same.
That means, among other things, being counterculturally joyful (counter-culturally to the MAGA cult focused on sociopathic narcissistic self-pity). It also means cultivating the capacity for empathy that puts others first and does not value them as mere extensions of the ego. That includes, by the way, the needs (within reason) of the MAGA cultist (their real needs, not the imaginary ones born of their own self-pity or narcissism).
This means, among other things, refusing to get caught up in the phony narratives of “persecution” in which MAGA antichrist religion marinates itself. Simply put, white conservative Christians have it made in the shade in America. Every time one of them discerns the wingbeats of the Angel of Death coming for him because a coffee cup is not to his liking or he is held accountable for his own behavior or somebody doesn’t fall down in adoration of his aesthetics or a criminal he worships gets indicted for his crime, he is not being “persecuted”.
Indeed, it is notable that Jesus never tells his disciples to sweat persecution. He warns of it as a matter of course, but has no truck with living life in fear of it. Instead, what he tells his disciples to fear is seduction. That is why he says, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna” (Matthew 10:28). The only one who can do that is ourselves. The gates of Hell are barred from the inside. God wills to save us from Hell. But we can lock ourselves inside it by the refusal of grace. MAGA antichrist religion is a textbook illustration of how seduction can corrupt.
So it is up to Normals to model what empathy for real persecution looks like, and not just persecution of Christians (though that is real enough throughout the world) but persecution of anybody, including those here in the US, Christian and non-Christian, the MAGA Cult lives to scapegoat, bully, oppress, harm and kill. As a Christian nurse treating non-Christians for ebola in Africa remarked when somebody expressed puzzlement at her treatment of Muslims, animists, and other non-Christians: “I don’t treat people because they are Christian. I treat them because I’m Christian.”
Note that I say “model”, not “impose”. Empathy cannot be forced on people, but it can be caught by what C.S. Lewis called “good infection”. Jesus, interestingly, does not counsel us to beat our heads against the wall trying to make the donkey-minded not be donkey-minded. He says “Do not cast your pearls before swine and do not give what is sacred to dogs.” (Matthew 7:16). People find that shocking, but it’s actually pretty sound pastoral advice. Instead of focusing all your energies on trying to get sociopathic narcissists to not be that way, it is far wiser to defend their victims, model kindness for people who seek to be decent human beings, and leave the sociopath to experience the consequences of their own behavior. He who will not learn by wisdom shall have self-inflicted pain as his teacher. Sometimes such pedagogy can bring the selfish to finally accept what the Grace of God offers them. But that is between them and the Holy Spirit. No human being can convert another. Only God can do that that.
At any rate, it is long past time we stop acting tribally and start loving our neighbor for the reason Jesus did: because they are human beings.
This is hard. The lies, cruelty, spite, nihilism, willed stupidity and sociopathic narcissism of the Cult make it hard and I won’t pretend it doesn’t. But Jesus asks us as his disciples to do hard things by the power of his Spirit. “Love your enemy” is not easy and is not a “sentiment”. It is grueling work that means crucifixion of one’s natural responses to repulsive people who don’t deserve such treatment at all and who actively work to make us have plenty of reason to loathe them. That, after all, is what an enemy is.
But it can be done, not only because Jesus says it can be done but because he himself did it and, what is more, rose to tell the tale. So let us follow him where he leads and see what he will do in our time in and through his people.