Question: John Manvattom
Why did the Israelites ask for a king in spite of God telling them, it is dangerous; why do people fight for their servitude as stubbornly as though it were their salvation? Why is there a mass-movement of fundamentalist war mongering narcissism?
Answer: Jacob Parappally MSFS
The Old Testament narrates a series of wrong decisions made by the Israelites who claimed that they were the chosen people of God because they experienced that they were called and separated for a mission by God (Deut 7:6f). Their wrong decisions had terrible consequences in their lives as well as in the lives of the following generations. Not only the individual persons but also the members of a community when they take decisions without proper discernment and base them on their insecurities and fears are bound to fail with disastrous consequences. If their decisions are not based on the principles on authentic faith and truth they would have negative impact on the society and the entire creation.
One of the tragic decisions which the community of Israelites took which affected their lives negatively was to have a king of their own against the will of God. They offended God by this demand for a king because it was an indirect affirmation of their distrust in God’s sovereignty. The waywardness of the Israelites was already exhibited when they demanded that golden calf to be moulded for their worship when Moses their leader was away to be in the presence of God fasting and praying for them on the mountain.
People know that they are vulnerable and they look for protection to any power they believe as higher than themselves. When the instinct for survival forces persons to submit themselves to anyone who is believed to be stronger, more capable and powerful than themselves to give them protection and safety they indirectly admit that they are insecure and vulnerable. Does it mean that even the belief in God flow from such a need? Would it be that even the belief in the existence of God itself originates from such an existential need of people as the atheists claim it is? When God is experienced as the beginning and the end of one’s life and related to as the fulfilment of one’s life humans let God be God! But most of the times it happens that God is approached for the fulfilment of material and physical needs and wants.
While admitting that for some people their belief in God is for pragmatic reasons, it cannot be denied that it is the very nature of humans to reach out to the transcendent reality whom they call God. It is not only the weak but also the strong and secure who express their innate need to be in relation to the Absolute for its own sake. It comes from the realization that humans are not created for themselves as St Augustine confesses, “You have created us and drawn us to yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” However, even those who believe in God place their trust in a person perceived to be stronger than they so as to feel secure and protected. It happens that the one who is believed to protect and take care of them enslaves them. In fact, such an arrangement of submitting oneself to a higher human power for care and protection fulfils the need of the one who is submitting as well as fulfils the need of the powerful to dominate and control others. Apparently, the mutual benefit accrue from such an exchange, in fact, enslaves both the protected and their protector when the protector is a finite human being.
Cry of the Weak and the Tyranny of the Strong
The First Book of Samuel explains to us the transition of power from the Judges to the king in Israel. When the judges were the leaders of the people, Yahweh was still their invisible and absolute King. But when the judges became corrupt the people of Israel wanted to have a king to rule over them because they wanted to be like other nations which had their own kings. They came to Samuel and said, “Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.” (I Samuel 1:5). The Lord God was displeased because they rejected the sovereignty of God. Samuel was told by God to warn the people about the evil consequences of having a king to rule over them. He told them, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves” (I Sam 8:14-17). In spite of such warnings the Israelites still demanded that they wanted a king to rule over them and the Lord God told Samuel to obey the voice of the people and appoint a king for them.
We might wonder why people want someone to enslave them. Is it because of the need of humans for security as they feel themselves inadequate to cope with the problems of life and life itself? When they are children they look at their parents as their problem solvers and rely on them completely. In their youth they resist the parental control and even oppose their interference in their life but still psychologically cling to them. Even when they are apparently independent of their parental control they are incapable of freeing themselves completely by cutting the mental umbilical cord of relationship. One experiences insecurity in life not that one is condemned to be insecure but because one’s existence is in a net-work of relationships. One becomes truly oneself only in relationship with others and with the Ultimate Other, God. This need for the Absolute Other gets perverted when one seeks security in other humans they consider bigger, stronger and apparently wiser than themselves. Beginning with the parents and big brothers who provide security in various aspects of life, the search for security is extended to leaders who are benevolent dictators and even ruthless tyrants who appear to fulfill their need for security.
The tyrants whom the people follow blindly are also deeply insecure people. All tyrants are conceited persons who have no deep self-esteem as humans who are precious in God’s sight. They in all probability are not aware of their core identity as the images of God, the Absolute Communion. They are narcissistic as they identify themselves with the role of leadership they assume because of their heredity, election, appointment or self-appointment as leaders of the people whom they claim to lead and protect.
All such narcissist leaders who are tyrants have very similar characteristics. They have a charism to attract people and have the ability to articulate the fears and concerns of those who follow them. They are, indeed, charismatic leaders who are attractive and charming but at the same time they are calculative and cruel. They show that they have a deep concern for the poor and socially disadvantaged yet, have such a disdain for the people who hold them as powerful and benevolent leaders. They have no empathy and whatever they do or say is calculated to secure glory and adulations from people. According to famous psycho-analyst Otto Kernberg they are malignant narcissists. Such tyrants will bolster their self-image at the expense of others by humiliating their opponents and even eliminating them if they seem to them as a threat to their position. They love grandiosity and pompousness. Their thirst for power and position makes them adopt any means fair or foul to achieve their goal. They are deceitful as they tell lies to the people convincingly as if they were communicating truth. They would not care for the rules of morality. It is said that the tyrants would not grow in vacuum. They feed on the need of insecure people and on their fears.
Tyranny of the Fundamentalist Groups
The malignant narcissism of a tyrant can also be the psychological sickness of a small group or a large number of people belonging to a religion or a social system as in the case of caste or ethnicity or a political system or ideology. Such systems or mass-movements consider themselves superior to others and they hold that what they believe and proclaim is absolute truth. They too have a disdain for the people of other faiths and ideological persuasions. They consider they are in possession of the absolute truth and others have only truths or blind, superstitious beliefs. The collective ego of such religious, social or political groups or mass-movements is such they would have preferred the conversion of all others to their faith or ideology or the removal of all others who do not share their faith or ideology from the face of the earth!
Religious bigotry, blind and perverted nationalism, racism etc., create divisions and discriminations based on the divisive principle of “we” and “they”. Overzealous religious movements and all fundamentalist groups make others as the enemies of their faith or ideology. While they tolerate those who do not belong to them socially, they would condemn, belittle, attack and tarnish the beliefs, ideologies and practices of others through all means of propaganda available to them. They too are malignant narcissists like those tyrants who have no respect for other human beings. Human’s original sin of actualizing their “will to power” by overpowering other humans finds collective expression in the narcissism of movements which are in constant war with their perceived enemies who are a threat to their narcissism.
Fundamentalist movements find security in the literal following of their tenets that they would oppose with tooth and nail those who would question the validity of their dogmas and doctrines as anti-human, anti-social, anachronistic and unreasonable. They have the arrogance to think that only they are right and others are wrong. They may even use threats to the lives of the people who do not share their religious, political and the world-views.
Servant-Leadership with Inner Security and Authority
The Mosaic leadership of the Old Testament and the Servant-Leadership model of Jesus Christ subvert all types of tyrannical and autocratic model leadership. The liberating leadership is the leadership of those who have the inner security that comes from one’s intimate relationship with God. Such leaders have authority that makes everyone who follow them a leader. Moses who was a friend of God wanted everybody to be prophets like him. “A young man ran and told Moses, ‘Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.’ And Joshua the son of Nun, the assistant of Moses from his youth, said, ‘My lord Moses, stop them.’ But Moses said to him, ‘Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the LORD’s people were prophets, that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!’”(Numbers 11:27-29). Jesus showed that the leadership-style of the disciples must be following his example of washing the feet of the disciples. Jesus told his disciples, “You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you” (John 13:13-15). The leadership of the disciples of Jesus should never be one of power and domination but self-emptying love and service (Matthew 20:25). Being a tyrannical leader or an autocratic leader is anti-Christian. Jesus had warned that “it should not happen among you.” The leadership after the example of Jesus is all-inclusive, affirming and empowering others to be women and men of authority who live the values of the kingdom. When the temptation is to follow the leadership style of the world that enslaves the followers, the vocation of Christian leadership is to be servants of the people with inner security, authority, credibility and self-emptying love that liberates people to be themselves.