Hi and welcome back! Of late, the news has been filled with stories of the most shocking and heartbreaking kinds regarding middle-aged white conservatives freaking completely out with over-the-top racist antics. Our entire culture feels like it’s teetering on the very ledge of some great and momentous (and necessary) changes. In reaction to it all, white evangelicals are completely, epically, totally, and absolutely losing their goddamned minds. Today, let me show you why.
(H/t to Issendai, who wrote an incredible series about dealing with narcissists called “Down the Rabbit Hole.” Officially, it’s about estrangement from toxic parents, but I’ve found it useful in understanding narcissists generally. I think the idea of ‘the chain of pain’ originates with her. Also, if you find a lot of this post hitting close to home, I recommend you check out the Reddit support group r/raisedbynarcissists.)
(In this post, I’m not talking about anything supernatural. No religion’s believers have ever actually credibly supported a single supernatural claim they have ever made, leading me to conclude that the word “supernatural” simply means “imaginary.” So my analysis today focuses only on the real-world behavior of toxic people. All tigers and giants and elves (oh my!) mentioned herein are purely metaphorical. This language refers in metaphorical fashion only to generically-real people doing generally-real things in the real world, and that is all.)
Past Pain Predicts Future Pain-Giving.
An Asshole is someone whose fixation on their own wounds outweighs their contributions to their community. This is the only definition of the term that matters.
— Something Awful, amazingly enough
In studying the chain of pain, we learn that children learn some bitter and long-lasting lessons from narcissistic parents.
First and foremost, they learn to protect themselves. They learn to survive in an environment that is not at all geared toward nurturing and loving them.
I can’t call it thriving really. At the very least, though, the victims of these parents muddle their way through that sludge of an upbringing.
When they reach maturity, they have two options:
- Fix the damage done to them so they don’t repeat their selfish, dominance-obsessed parents’ errors and wrongdoing or spend their lives endlessly and ineffectively trying to soothe the pain those parents inflicted on them
- Spend their lives endlessly and ineffectively soothing the pain they suffered as children, while at the same time repeating their parents’ errors and wrongdoing in how they behave toward anyone landing under their control
Such children seem always like they’re either in recovery or in repetition — whether knowingly and deliberately or not.
Recovery from this upbringing depends mightily on victims’ support networks, individual abilities, skills, and available resources, and those victims’ own worldview.
Rejecting the lessons these parents teach can be a years-long task with a lot of hiccups along the way. There’s just so much in that upbringing that festers in the mind and possesses the thoughts.
Every person who breaks free of narcissistic parenting has won a triumph well worth celebrating.
Forging New Links in the Chain of Pain.
For a great many people involved in white evangelical Christianity, they’re going to take that second option. Their worldview won’t let them do anything else.
They’ll forge new links in their own personal chains of pain, then pass down the terrible lessons they’ve learned to their own children — who will eventually go forth and create new links of their own, most likely.
That immortality comes in large part from the chain’s focus on dominance.
In fact, the chain of pain is completely and utterly obsessed with dominance. That’s what grants it its power as well. It knows no other language and no other methodology than this. Its wielders pursue dominance to the exclusion of anything else. They care about nothing else and accept nothing else as a life goal.
And I truly mean nothing.
When they have children, those trapped by the chain will set about warping those sweet, innocent babies into their own image like it’s their mission statement.
It’s not that white evangelicals don’t love their children. Obviously, almost all of them do — in their way. Rather, it’s that even the best-intentioned love can become warped by the chain of pain.
In a very real sense, those trapped by the chain repeat their parents’ errors in parenting because they think that’s what’s best for their babies. When challenged, they’ll loudly and proudly call this mistreatment toughening them up or breaking them for Jesus or whatever else they like
Their protests all amount to the same thing:
Anything less than the parents’ own mirror image will not survive the toxic mess of TRUE CHRISTIAN™ parenting or TRUE CHRISTIAN™ culture.
Hurting People Hurt Others.
In that mess of an environment, hurting people learn to hurt others to survive.
When others get bullied in school by their TRUE CHRISTIAN™ friends, hurting people stay quiet because speaking up in victims’ defense means getting singled out for bullying in turn. When their own turn comes to bully others, they gleefully join in because bullying others means they’re not on the other end of that stick. Right then, at least, they’re safe.
They’ve learned. They’ve learned well. Only the strong survive. The weak, well, they deserve to suffer if they can’t find powerful protection. Like they themselves did.
Nothing’s more powerful — and paradoxically weaker to the point of utter uselessness — than the god of the entire universe to white evangelicals. That’s very obviously what believers in him believe, at least. Victims learn to lean hard on this ideology for protection when they can. They learn who can be manipulated through this ideology.
And they learn quickly that this tactic doesn’t work on everyone. Leaning hard on shared belief just represents one of many control, manipulation, and dominance-seeking tactics in their toolbox. For the ones who resist such manipulation, they master the utilization of other tactics — very earthly ones by their own standards — for those situations.
The Nature of Dominance.
There exists no middle ground, no slack, no leeway, no quiet repose, no peace for those struggling in the grip of the chain of pain.
If they do not hurt others, then others will hurt them.
If they do not take every single opportunity that presents itself to dominate everyone around themselves, then they will be dominated in turn by others.
That is the law of their jungle.
But there’s a catch to this belief.
Nobody can dominate everyone. There’s always a bigger tiger in their jungle. And by this I mean real people, not imaginary boogeymen and wizard friends in the sky.
So their goal becomes finding a tiger who can beat all the other tigers lurking in those damp dark wilds. Once they find that tiger, they cozy up to it for protection — do favors for it — offer it treats and amusement. Sure, the tiger’s claws and fangs rip their own skins sometimes, and sometimes the tiger even devours those they love.
They endure any abuse their tiger metes out to them.
In reality, the protection they think their tiger offers is all but meaningless. But without it — without him — they feel they are completely helpless in the jungle. Their imaginary god certainly won’t do anything to help them, any more than he did when they were just children being warped and beaten and broken by those they depended on the most for care, guidance, and nurturing.
Red in Tooth and Claw.
If you understand nothing else about white evangelicals, I want you to understand their utter devotion to power and control, their utter need for dominance, and their utter terror of losing any of it.
In their world, losing power means death — metaphorical, yes, but it might as well be literal. They are as focused on dominance as a lizard is on mating during its species’ annual frenzy.
Dominance consumes them. They assume it consumes everyone else as well, that everyone learned the same terrible lessons they did as children, that everyone reached maturity like they did set only to add another link to the chain of pain.
That assumption saves their metaphorical lives as surely as our ancient ancestors once learned to interpret any rustling of the bushes as a potential saber-toothed cat. Assuming that the rustling was simply the wind could prove lethal. Similarly, assuming that others do not actually seek or even desire dominance could prove metaphorically so.
Lots of tigers in their world make exactly that claim, after all. It cannot be trusted.
Certainly, they understand very well that the people who reject their control-grabs are nowhere near as good as they are at achieving dominance. They were not to the manner born, as the saying goes.
But I’ll tell you what they don’t understand and can’t, not for their own survival:
They do not understand that those people would not immediately utilize that power to its fullest extent if they ever got it.
The Assumptions That Save Lives.
That is why those broken to the chain of pain always assume that everyone they encounter would take full advantage of unlimited power if they ever got it.
They would, after all. Anybody in their world would. They’d be fools not to use every speck of power they gather to themselves to its absolute fullest extent. If they ever refrained or held back their hands, others would quickly take it from them — and then use it in exactly that way. The literal only way to protect the power they’ve gained is to use every drop of it in every situation. That’s how they show all the other mini-tigers in their jungle that they’re not safe to fight.
If you ever wondered why so many white evangelicals victim-blame those who suffer at the hands of wrongdoers, this thinking represents part of that answer. They perceive every relationship, romantic or friendly or business-oriented as a power struggle — and will seek to win that struggle at their partners’ expense.
Even if they escape the specific tribe using this thinking, chances are good they’ll still see the whole world and everyone in it through that lens — and gravitate to new groups that make use of it, setting up their own tigers in new jungles, and seeing every relationship as a power struggle still.
They might describe it all in slightly different terminology, but the concepts still live on like the giants of old — unkillable, unstoppable, unknowable. Their spirits animate every tiger in every jungle in the world.
But these tigers are not nearly so immortal as they’d like the mini-tigers to think.
In the practice of sorcery, knowing a particular name for someone else often grants a sorcerer enormous power. Those seeking such arcane and infernal power seek out those names to exert control. They then use them against their owners to barter for the power those owners hold. Those who know the correct order and pronunciation of the sounds involved own an enormous amount of power over the being those sounds represent.
In this theology-of-theologies, names represent all that a being is and will ever be, and thus cannot be changed. The window-dressing used by that being might, of course, change — and indeed will all the time. But that being’s name never will.
Fiction uses this conceit constantly. Here, for example:
And I’m here to testify, so many years into writing about white evangelicals, that this conceit bases itself on reality.
White evangelicals’ tigers — and really all tigers — bear that exact weakness.
That’s why, when someone leaves evangelicalism they don’t achieve instant awareness and immediately understand enough to avoid all future entanglements with all other groups operating under similar dynamics. In fact, they stand a very high chance of falling into another jungle operating in the same exact way their last one did.
But once such a person learns how all jungles operate and why, suddenly their world opens up.
The immortals eating at tigers’ hearts shrink and wither at the sunlight that simply knowing their names shines on them.
We’ve seen a lot of really great analyses written concerning these tigers (here and also here and here too), but they all lack knowledge of the names of those immortals. Without that knowledge, evangelicals remain unknowable Others. Avoiding their errors looks easy. And the beliefs of evangelicals look like they were doing fine till the Big Orange Crazy Man and his cackling sycophants came in and destroyed everything.
(“No” remains the most powerful word of power ever discovered. That’s why toddlers work to master it immediately.)
Do these analysts, as skilled as they are at capturing tigers’ behavior, seriously think that if someone just avoids fundagelicalism that those tigers can be tamed? Do they imagine that the jungle becomes a lawn, that the tigers become housecats?
I suppose they must. They dance around the outermost edges of the jungle but without understanding it and why it holds such power over this one group.
Evangelicals aren’t weird or outstandingly deficient or whatever else someone might believe. They’re not stupid and they’re not weak — at least by the reckoning of survival in the jungles of their culture. Anybody could fall into a similar jungle, given a few tweaks of mind and accidents of fate. In another universe, I’m stuck there still — and likely raging against a jungle I didn’t even know I could reject.
Only knowledge and awareness save us from exactly similar fates.
Words of Power.
Here are the power words you need, then.
Here are the names of the giants living inside those tigers’ hearts and feasting on the spoils those great cats win for them:
They are manipulation tactics, and the cruelest of exploitation of all and sundry who can possibly be exploited safely. They are power unfettered by love.
True love destroys all tigers — dissolves them at the seams. That kind of love gives us the courage to move mountains and to defy even gods for the sake of itself.
White evangelicals talk a lot about love, blah blah blah all the time in fact, but the reason they can’t actually show it reveals that they understand nothing about it. What they actually show is the law of the jungle: use or be used, kill or be killed, hurt or be hurt. All the Big Orange Crazy Man and his cronies revealed was that severed connection between claims and the reality of the jungle for its legions of mini-tigers.
So find here the power words you need. Say them out loud. Let their sibilances and guttural stops ring forth, marching into the air like an army with banners. They are deep and terrible words even spoken softly. For all that dreadfulness, they are true and they will protect you more than a thousand jungle tigers ever could:
Evangelicals are losing their goddamned minds lately because they correctly sense that their enemies are winning, which means they are losing.
So what we’re seeing lately in all these news stories of racist white conservative Christians is the laid-bare manifestation of the shrieks of rage and terror of the immortals feasting on their hearts.
At heart, evangelicals were always about power — gaining it, holding it, using it. That truth has just become way more obvious lately, now that we’re peeling away more and more power from their tribe.
Thus, they will get considerably worse in future days.
Expect a last-ditch fight once they start thinking they can still make one last mad grab for dominance. Narcissists always have one in them, a nuclear option they unleash in the third act of their control-grab over others, and we haven’t seen evangelicals’ yet. Not by a longshot.
They’re still lazy and complacent, content to rage from the comfort of recliners and online forums against their many enemies. So they’re still working within the political and enforcement system they helped create and still dominate to a frightening degree.
But I predict we’ll see a real and serious power-grab from them once they realize that system doesn’t completely serve and further their interests like it used to. I don’t think it’ll come to an armed insurrection or whatever, but I do think they will pull out all the other stops imaginable to seize the power they think they deserve to wield.
Simmering in Rage in a Disquieted Jungle.
And after evangelicals lose that grab — which they will, because sorry, doomsayers, but they no longer boast the numbers needed to push through the Republic of Gilead they think they actually want to totally make their world sanitized and safe for Team Jesus, expect them to hunker down for decades’ worth of furious stewing and passive-aggressive retaliation.
They will pretend to accept their fate while they await the opportunity to unleash another grab. And they will attract to their jungle all the mini-tigers who think their ideology brings with it power over others, because white evangelicals have always crooned to all frustrated tigers songs of grievance and anger and unwarranted importance and undeserved power over others they view as inferior to themselves.
We see this exact mentality in the Southerners who ache for a return of their gauzy (mis)understanding of the Confederacy, with its slave-holding, theocracy-administrating, and plantation-ruling roles that they mistakenly imagine they’d perform — not that there isn’t
considerable almost-complete overlap between them and white evangelicals.
We’d just see way more non-Southern white evangelicals adopting that mindset. Hopefully we’ll correctly identify where this thinking comes from by then, and hold evangelicals more accountable for it than we do their current antics.
In summary, I say this:
Controllers do not understand anything but the language of control.
Always remember that truth about white evangelicals to keep yourself safe from their tigers without falling into their jungle.
NEXT UP: L! S! P! Then, speaking of single evangelicals, Christianity Today has noticed that their flocks are getting married way less often. Let’s check out what they have to say — and see if they miss any important points in this topic. See you tomorrow!
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