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Is your vicar right in his head?

The following is a guest post by the Rev Dr Peter Mullen, Hon. Chaplain of The Freedom Association. 

Peter_Mullen_(2).pngIt doesn’t matter how fatuous some ideas might be, they can never be killed off – quite – by rational argument. They remain impervious even to lorry loads of satire and ridicule. Let me tell you a true story about one such idea…

Ten years ago there was a sensational court case all over the papers. A man aged twenty-two killed his parents, stole all their money – about £20,000 – and cleared off to New York with his girlfriend where they proceeded to live the life of Riley. Well, they were caught and the young man was put on trial for his parents’ murder, but he was acquitted because a psychiatrist declared him to be “suffering from narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).”

I could think of other words to describe this man: cruel, heartless, wicked and psychopathic being among the more printable.  The young man was not suffering from anything. It was he who caused others to suffer. NPD is a perverse concept dreamed up by Dr Freud (1856-1939) who, among his English readers, is better known as Dr Fraud. I wrote about the case at the time and stupidly I imagined that, by thus heaping ridicule on the idea of NPD, I had put it to death. But no, NPD is alive and thrashing around as insanely as ever. It forms the subject of a new book: Let Us Prey: The Plague of Narcissist Pastors and What We Can Do About It, by R. Glenn Ball and Darrell Puls. (Don’t ask me what he pulls – unless it’s our leg?)

Ball and Puls are deadly serious: “Clinically speaking, someone with NPD has a personality that works to maintain self-esteem by gaining affirmation from outside of themselves, and to expel from within themselves what they cannot tolerate about themselves. It is a disorder, because this personality structure profoundly and routinely affects their capacity to form relationships.”

They sent questionnaires to church leaders in a mainstream Protestant denomination in Canada. The returns were startling, suggesting that more than 30% of ministers “met the diagnostic requirements for a finding of NPD, both overt and covert.”

So we must conclude that almost a third of Canadian pastors are psychopathic nutters. Makes you think twice before you go to Morning Prayer.

Now you may be wondering what this has to do with freedom. Much. For to medicalise morality is to abolish morality. If what were formerly and universally described as criminal actions are now to be regarded as diseases, what does this imply for virtuous actions? There could hardly be anything more serious than this in its implications for our criminal justice system, our sense of rewards and punishments, of right and wrong – and indeed on the whole of our politics.

For political freedom depends first of all on an individual, personal freedom which is real and effectual. Societal freedoms are meaningless unless there is freedom of the individual will. I choose, I decide and I vote etc. If my moral or immoral actions are no longer adjudged to be my responsibility but seen as the products of forces beyond my control, then the whole of politics and ethics is bunkum. Really, we must go even further: unless we acknowledge the primary fact of freedom of the will, individual freedom, then all talk about everything becomes a rigmarole of nonsense.

Then we might as well shut up, lie down and go to sleep for a very long time – or worse, we could decide to be Freudians.


All views expressed in contributions by named authors are their own and may not reflect the views of The Freedom Association.

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