Disgraced megachurch preacher Ted Haggard has started a new church. Good luck to him, I guess, but what I can’t quite grasp is why clerics who have been spectacularly ruined as he was don’t just go sell life insurance, or something. I think religious leadership, like political leadership, must have particular appeal to narcissists. Think of the Catholic bishops whose moral authority was ruined by the scandal, and who couldn’t imagine offering their resignation, or not being bishop (e.g., Bernard Cardinal Law, who hung on till the bitter end, and for whom the idea of quietly leaving the scene and going off to do quiet penance somewhere seems as alien as snake-handling). I’m not saying Haggard has nothing to offer the church in terms of service; I am saying that whenever I see a religious leader who has gone through a crisis like Haggard’s starting a new church, returning to the pulpit after a relatively short interruption, or in some way continuing to offer himself as a religious leader, I don’t think “hooray for second chances,” I think, “there goes a narcissist.” And it’s not because I don’t believe in second chances, either.

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