Narcissism and religiosity go hand in hand. With rare exceptions, a religious believer considers that the cosmos centers around them.
(Buddhism, for example, would be an exception – but I don't consider authentic Buddhism to be a religion.)
I got to thinking about this today after noticing a New York Times story, "Here's looking at me, kid." It featured a great graphical encapsulation of a narcissist:
Which reminded me of me in my true believing days.
Looking at life as the Radha Soami Satsang Beas (RSSB) theology had taught me to do, I considered that much of what happened to me either was occurring (1) under the direction of the satguru, who had taken over the administration of my karma and was doling it out in a manner for my benefit, or (2) otherwise was orchestrated so that I could learn lessons that were part of my schooling in enlightenment.
So if I was late for a meeting and found that someone had just pulled out of a parking spot right in front of where I was going, I'd say to myself, "Thank you, guru, for your grace."
I'm sure Christians, Muslims, Jews, and other believers in a personal God who intervenes in human affairs do much the same thing. Except they thank another form of divinity, such as Jesus.
In retrospect, the whole thing was deeply and disturbingly narcissistic. But I would have vociferously denied that at the time. I thought that I was becoming more and more humble, what with all of my devotion to a being greater than myself.
However, that devotion was founded on an egotistical assumption: that somehow God or the guru (who were the same entity, at heart) had chosen me for special favors. To the RSSB faithful, even suffering is a gift from the guru, because it's a sign that karma is being paid off at a high rate – which is all to the good if the goal is to get the karmic account down to zero so the devotee isn't tied down spiritually by it.
Way back I read a marvelous entry on a Radha Soami discussion group that included the line (as best I remember it), "RSSB initiates see themselves as living a Technicolor life in a black and white world."
So true, as it is for believers in every other religion. Just as the NY Times graphic indicates, "others" are on the periphery of the religious devotee's worldview, which centers around the dogma to which he or she subscribes. Outside that is a big fat "nothing" – the realm of infidels, heathens, maya, illusion, the devil, unbelievers.
Yesterday I bought a piece of garden art at the Salem Art Fair. Sitting in a chair to sign a credit card slip for it, I set down a paper bag with my other artistic purchases: a coffee cup and a bamboo pencil holder.
I'd carted the heavy piece of garden art (which features three stones) all the way to my car, several blocks away, before I realized that the bag wasn't in hand. Or anywhere else on my body either.
My wife and I speed-walked back to the booth where I'd set down the bag. In the old ways, I would have thought "I'm supposed to learn something from this," or "The artist and I must have some karma that we need to work out."
But now I just think, "I forgot the bag. Hope nobody walked off with it." That sentiment is a lot less me-centered.
The bag was there. I thanked the artist for keeping track of it. I walked back to my car. Drove home.
No big deal. Just something that happened. Along with countless other things in the universe yesterday. Nothing special.
That's the way I see my life now: as nothing special. Which is why religion and me have parted company.