Following up on the evangelical persecution complex, Hobby Lobby and tribalism

Alan Bean offers some constructive clarification of my recent post on the persecution complex of white evangelicals.

I borrowed the term “sociopaths” from Christian at Homebrewed Theology, but Bean (rightly) suggests that’s not quite accurate:

True sociopaths are not delusional; they know exactly what they are doing and why they are doing it. The folks Fred Clark discusses in the entertaining post below aren’t sociopaths precisely because they are self-deluded. They have successfully convinced themselves that their religious liberties are being progressively stripped away, layer by layer, by a great and evil secularist conspiracy.

They believe this largely because it feels good. It feels good because the folks these men are trying to impress get excited when they hear this kind of paranoid blather from their leaders. Over time, preacher and congregation reinforce each other’s paranoid beliefs in an unending cycle of mutual reinforcement even though, objectively considered, their right to practice the religion of their choosing hasn’t been encumbered in the least.

Good point.

* * * * * * * * *

Now, given that one can be either delusional or sociopathic, which of those would you say characterizes a CEO who brags about the profit margins on knick-knacks “produced overseas for pennies on the dollar”?

That’s David Green, founder and CEO of Hobby Lobby, and self-proclaimed moral superior of all who support preventive health insurance for women. Jason Dye provides a bit of background on Green, courtesy of a Forbes magazine profile of the gazillionaire Christian:

Here, Green is valued as a pious hero of capitalism who claims that it’s religious devotion and God’s favor that has raised his capital worth to well over $3 billion. Forbes, being the capitalist cheerleaders they are, could smell Green’s veiled business plan a few thousand miles away. In China, for instance.

It doesn’t take more than a few minutes with the founder, walking through a local Hobby Lobby store, to see the reason he has been able to expand his company into a well-oiled, moneymaking machine without bringing in any outside investors.

Stopping at a display marked 30% off, Green explains how a kitschy rooster ornament is produced overseas for pennies on the dollar, then sold as part of an in-house brand of home accents.

The rest of Dye’s post explores Green’s other views on morality and corporate ethics, so go read the rest. But — spoiler alert — it doesn’t rise above that essence of Green’s moral outlook: “overseas for pennies on the dollar.”

* * * * * * * * *

Finally, it’s a bit awkward for me to link to William Lindsey’s post on “Tribalism as Illuminating Category for Discussing American Catholicism and Evangelicalism,” since he speaks so kindly of me in it.

But just as he says that my discussion of evangelical tribalism has informed his own thinking about his Catholic tradition, let me say that his insights into the tribalism of his, um, tribe, have helped to shape and illumine my thinking about mine too. And he’s got some links there to lots of other good stuff on the subject of religious tribalism.

Lindsey says this is a conversation “worth continuing in 2013,” and I heartily agree.


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  • As I said, narcissism better characterizes the complete self-absorption of those people calling themselves (in effect) Real True Christians and claiming a state of siege against the Christian religion in the USA.

  • RLS

    Mr. Bean is, in fact, mistaken. Sociopath is a common, though not technical, term for someone with antisocial personality disorder. Theodore Millon lists five subtypes of APD, various of which include narcissistic, schizoid, or paranoid features. APD is commonly comorbid with anxiety, depressive, somatization, histrionic, and narcissistic disorders. True sociopaths most certainly can be either delusional in a clinical sense and self-deluding.

  • Water_Bear

    Yeah, but most people say “sociopath” when they mean psychopath, which fits our conventional definition. APD contains psychopathy, but it’s a big tent diagnosis which focuses more on patterns of behavior than on processing of emotions. Still, you’re right that there’s no reason a sociopath couldn’t be as self-deluded as anyone else; they’re still human after all.

  • The other thing about tribalism is it’s self-reinforcing: You insist that non-members of your tribe must give up some of their rights to give you more privileges; they object and push back; you send out fundraising letters that “OMG the secular liberal gay IslamoFascists are trying to oppress us by making us quit putting pictures of Jesus all over City Hall! Aux armes, citoyens!” Rinse, repeat, and you end up with a situation in which your tribe gets smaller, but those who remain are more tightly bound to the tribe than ever.

  • Otrame

    I started avoiding Hobby Lobby originally because it started getting damned hard to find crafting supplies amongst all the “overseas pennies” stuff. Then I heard what a jerk the owner was and decided Michaels was going to get my money, because, though they have quite a bit of the crap too, they arent holier than thou about it. When I discovered that only Hobby Lobby carried the kind of beading thread I like at the same time all the contraception nonsense happened, I swore to never set foot in the place again and started buying my thread online and checking out the little locally owned craft stores. Mr. Green is entitled to his opinion and to his business plan. He won’t be getting a dime from me ever again.

  • PatBannon

    Once again, the notion that someone might be an involuntary sociopath – someone who fully understands the notions of morality and empathy and society but cannot force himself to feel or experience them any more than a gay man can force himself to sexually prefer women – is completely ignored.

  • Worthless Beast

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Hobby Lobby in my area.  I’ve actually *worked* for both a Micheal’s and an AC Moore.  I think there’s a greater need for more small business-type stores of this nature than the chain stores.  I like to get my art supplies, lately, from a little store that’s within walking distance of my apartment that is very much an ART store, not a craft-store. (This means they have obscure art supplies – they probably get a lot of business from the local college students). 

    Sadly, they don’t have any of the beading stuff I like.  And no place – no place local has the kind of stuff my guy is into (models, rocketry and the like). Those take serious HOBBY stores and, sadly, the only one that’s anywhere near to us and was open most days during the week just went out of business due to the owner’s retirement.  We went there looking for a certain glue and suddenly, everything was being sold off and the glue was gone.  I thought “Where are the model railroaders (of the town) going to get their supplies now?”

    Sometimes ordering stuff offline is great, but there are times when you really want to go to a store and *look around* at various other things, things that spark ideas.  And I’ve found that all the really great stores are not chains, but little family business type places. An endangered species.

  • smrnda

    I think part of this is that people are only encouraged to investigate certain things – Green is encouraged to ‘investigate’ whether or not his employees will get contraception coverage, but the world he’s a part of doesn’t encourage him to look beyond “Made In China == CHEAP!” Nobody is encouraging him to look into how or why it is so cheap, and he himself is being praised so much for making a profit or has internalized the idea that making $$ is an intrinsic good that he has no incentive to look into the matter further. It’s both Green’s fault and the fault of the circles he runs in.

    You get that when rich people are criticized that they might be taking actions that are good for themselves but bad for society – they get angry since they believe that it’s wrong to even suggest there might be a conflict, and the discussion stops there. 

  • ReverendRef

    And the only thing running through my head is, “I’m betting Irene Steele used Hobby Lobby as her main supplier of home decorations.”

  • Now, given that one can be either delusional or sociopathic, which of those would you say characterizes a CEO who brags about the profit margins on knick-knacks “produced overseas for pennies on the dollar”?

    That works, but only if you assume a moral system where profit margins are unquestionably Good Things and women have no value.  

    I think a better question would be how the hell did someone come up with a moral system like that any why society not shamed him out of it yet?  

  • mud man

    We could legitimately say “anti-social”. Or “libertarian”, ie “individualistic”. “Anti-pluralist.”

    Maybe someday we should have a talk about differentiating “tribal” from “tribalism” just as we (those who do) distinguish “Christian” from “Christianism”. In the hard times to come, I think a Nation of Tribes is an option worth reconsidering.

  • stardreamer42

     I stopped shopping at Hobby Lobby some 15 years ago, when they put up signs on their doors announcing that they would be closed on Good Friday “so that our employees can worship and have time with their families”. I remember thinking, “I guess they don’t hire Jews, eh?” That was also about the time they switched their store Muzak to “contemporary Christian”, which I tend to interpret as a sign that they don’t want anyone else’s business.

  • Did not know about the contemporary Christian music, but the reason given for closing on Christian holidays fits with what I read (and posted) about Green and HL. “Our employees practice what I believe they should…”

    It’s scary in both religious rights and workers rights realms.

  • Lliira

     I think internet diagnosing personality disorders when talking about other people on a public post on the internet is morally questionable. And at the very least, it leads you down a rabbit hole. Are they sociopaths or narcissists or do they have this or that disorder and what’s the definition anyway…

    It is entirely unnecessary to have a mental or personality disorder in order to believe in wrong things and hurt people. Being ignorant, lacking critical thinking skills, and having an authoritarian mindset have nothing at all to do with any disorder.

  • WalterC

    Honestly, I think it’s all just a waste of time, and more than a little offensive too. The Soviets used to think that having “bad politics” was a sign of mental illness. Let’s not go down that path; not only is it offensive to people with mental illnesses, it’s pointless. 

    Even if we had rocksolid proof that this CEO guy is a sociopath, what then? Does that make the things he advocates more or less harmful? Are we going to offer him therapy? Have him civilly committed? 

  • That being said, it is highly suggestive that Robert Hare’s “subcriminal psychopaths” can well flourish in the rather poorly-regulated capitalism we have today in the West. Why not, when the penalties for breaking the right rules can amount to a fraction of the rewards ultimately gained by doing so?

  • smrnda

    As a person with some education in psychology, I prefer not to slap clinical labels on people I haven’t met, though I think the whole ‘you can’t diagnose anyone without a face to face interview’ would be a ridiculous assessment to make in all cases for both physical and mental illness. It’s not likely as accurate, but there are a number of physical ailments that could be guessed at with high probability on short exposure, and some of the more overt symptoms of some mental illnesses can be detectable enough.

    I mean, I have a mental illness. At present I doubt I would be recognized as having it, but perhaps not always and if I were to offer accounts of my behavior at certain times in my life, anybody with a DSM-IV would be able to get me down to within 3 relatively similar conditions.

    Though on one hand, if we’re talking about what  CEO does the only question we should ask is ‘who doe this behavior harm or benefit, and should we make them change their behavior because it is harmful?’ I don’t really care about what drives the bad behavior, I just want it to stop. If a person who has been found guilty of bad behavior is about to be punished, then we can discuss if fines, imprisonment or therapy is better, but I think for the most part that’s a peripheral issue. We don’t hesitate to ban murder because some people who commit murder might be mentally ill and less responsible than others.

  • WalterC

    True, but how do we distinguish between people who are corrupt because they are psychopaths and people who are corrupt because they are greedy? Or are they one and the same? Who knows? Everyone has a different opinion on this matter and no one can muster any proof that I’ve seen. 

  • AnonymousSam

    I have a very particular mental illness as well (*cough*), and it’s all I can do to cheerfully pretend these posts don’t exist while compulsively reading them anyway.

  • Nicanthiel

    Every time I see one of these posts, I cringe, because of you. I don’t trust myself to say something about them without potentially making it worse, but know that there are some who feel for you even if we don’t say anything.

  • “I think a better question would be how the hell did someone come up with a moral system like that any why society not shamed him out of it yet?”

    Free market capitalism isn’t a moral system – its an amoral system: economic Darwinism, which makes it even more bizarre that those on the religious right who praise it are also those who don’t like talking about other expressons of Darwinism. Interestingly Darwin himself, although convinced by the descriptive power of his model would have been shocked to see people take those ideas as prescriptive for human relations. 

  • AnonymousSam

    Have no fear that I’ll take it personally! It more grates on me to see the label thrown about haphazardly and inaccurately. Then again, psychology was my major and I have an even bigger pet peeve with Dissociative Identity Disorder being referred to as a symptom of Schizophrenia (absurdly common in media, especially a decade ago or more).

    My typical emotional state is pretty mellow and I don’t take much ill to heart. It’s also hard to try and own sociopathy as a positive label when even I think it’s an extremely negative thing most of the time. It’d take more chutzpah than I have in my unmentionables drawer to be offended that genuinely horrible people were being lumped in “on my side” when “my side” kinda sorta got where it is by having genuinely horrible people squeezing out of every crevice.

    I just roll my eyes and move on, or at worst, remind people that you can be a godawful person without being mentally ill at the same time. As I pointed out in the last thread, many of these people do have a sense of empathy, but it’s prioritized with starkly diminishing returns based on familial proximity to the person and position within the tribe*. The fact that they prioritize their empathy the way an introvert prioritizes social interaction could be considered some form of unclassified mental illness, since I don’t think a healthy mind should be rationing out basic consideration for other people as if it were a precious commodity, but the fact remains that in the right atmosphere and around the right people, even the lowly corporate asshole has a cheery Thanksgiving and gives thanks to God for having a wonderful family before he goes back to work and cuts the janitor’s hours so he doesn’t qualify for health insurance.

    * In fact, I would say that tribal allegience trumps familial proximity. Plenty of these people disown their own children for coming out, becoming atheists or similar “unforgiveable sins.” That, I think, is a symptom of tribal behavior being so absurdly critical to identity in conservative spheres. I suspect that even without the outrage of being “betrayed” (betrayal meaning they turned their back on the tribe’s values) they would feel compelled to disown their kids anyway because embracing them would threaten their own position in the tribe. That makes them victims, although I leave it as an exercise to better equipped readers as to whether they deserve sympathy.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Not ‘ignored’ so much as ‘wrong’. Antisocial personality disorder people are missing something. People without that disorder are not, or not that piece anyway. Members of the former group cannot truly employ empathy; that is what makes them sociopaths. Members of the latter group, whether they choose to exercise their empathy in any given instance or not, do have the capacity to do so, which makes them not sociopaths.

    Since no one chooses to have a mental illness, there is no such thing as a voluntary sociopath.