November 6, 2012

Messiah Syndrome

I don’t know about you but I’m really tired of the Messiah Complex.  Do you know what I am talking about? People, traditionally men, suffer a lot from this problem and most of the time don’t even know it. It’s when an individual feels personally called to save. The saving takes many forms, saving homeless people, saving the company, saving the family, saving children in a poor country, saving the country, saving the world.  The saving can be done by throwing money or words at the problem, building a non-profit or organization to specifically save one group of people or fight for a single cause; it can involve saving souls, saving lives and saving institution. The what to save and the ways the saving happens are endless. What’s particularly annoying about this saving is that it usually has the best intentions and the most blinded pursuit, meaning it’s some of the most selfish saving there is.

“It’s all up to ME. I must save them. They need ME. I’m the only one who can save the world. I carry this burden alone.” Sound familiar now? We perpetuate this Messiah Complex in our books, movies and pop-culture. Batman: savior, Spiderman: savior, Harry Potter: savior, and on and on with heroes epically saving the world. Almost everywhere we look we see or hear a story about the one-ness of a person trying to meet the needs of the many and in the REAL world it usually results it epic failure.  A real life example of a country that suffered terrible and deadly Messiah Syndrome is Nazi Germany.

EPIC FAIL.

But we as a country love this kind of  messiah story. We adore people who give all of themselves for a cause. The one for the many. We freaking eat it up. And our love for this story makes us believe it is actually possible for one person to save us. And because we think it’s possible we play it out in our lives, our work, our home, our relationships, and our politics. We, the American people, suffer from Messiah Syndrome.

In 2008, Change was in the air. The One man, Obama, had come to save the American people, and by association the world, from the evil villain George W. Bush. Most of the country put all of their hopes and dreams for change into the One in hopes that he would save the many. And voilà Obama was elected and voilà the people saw how One man did not change the country or save the world.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not writing this post for or against anyone in this election. I will tell you that I voted for Obama in 2008, for better or worse. I was proud to see my country, once built on the backs of slaves, elect the first African-American president to office. I felt called to be a part of this. This was change: a not-white man became president. But it was not the only kind of change the people wanted to see, naturally, and so there was unrest. The saving we expected to get did not happen.

Now it’s 2012 and we have Obama and Romney duking it out to be the Messiah for the country and by association the world, and ya know what? No matter who is elected today we, the American people, will not be saved. Because, and follow me closely here, it’s not up to One person to save us.

What’s wrong with our Messiah Complex is two-fold:  for starters it gives all the responsibility to one person which we have just discussed never, ever, works. Secondly, when we give all the responsibility to the One then we have simultaneously given all our power away.  So here we are in this vicious cycle of the Messiah Complex where one person tries to save  and we have given all our power over to them, and then this false savior who now holds all the power inevitably fails to save. Which is why it is a syndrome, we continue to do it over and over again thinking the result will be different every time.

Then it will be 2016 and still, no one will be saved.

My suggestion for the cure of our Messiah Syndrome is to start taking responsibility. We should be invested wholeheartedly in how we live, work and thrive in this country. We should be trying to save ourselves and each other on a community level. We should be informed, educated, and involved in informing and educating others on how our country works. We should take back the power and start making our hopes and dreams become realities and stop waiting on the savior.

If we did this the power might shift from the paradigm of the Messiah Complex to a more communal paradigm where we, with the power, work on the ground level with our towns and communities together.

Maybe you have some ideas on how our country can cure itself of this syndrome. It likely involves leadership, which can be effective if it is not part of the Messiah Complex.  But it probably should involve more shared leadership, co-leaders, many voices with many different backgrounds and understandings. I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on this.

How can we cure the Messiah Syndrome? How can we take back power and save ourselves?

Whoever is elected tonight is not my savior. I’m working hard to be involved in my community to create change, no matter who comes into office and I hope you will too.

Join the conversation! 2 Comments

  1. Interesting comment Erin; as you know i absolutely agree that everyone has an individual responsibility to contribute and should do so without excessive reliance on the government to attend their every need. government has a significant role and needs to help the helpless or those rendered temporarly in need. but reliance on the govenment steals dignity, honor and the pride

    of those who submit and robs the entire public of assets to be used for the benefit of the all. The best is local means of people helping in their neigborhoods, churchs etc. much as you have said. However, there really are people throughout history who have made such a difference that they could be deemed to “saved”. Discovery of medicine that have saved millions, Lincoln could be deemed to have saved this country as one. Churchill “saved” western civilization in the view of many historians. and on and on but none of the truely great ones started with the thought that they were the ony one that could have done so.
    I love reading your posts Erin and think it is very interesting how your views have evolved over the last few years.

    Reply
  2. Hi Erin, nice to “hear” you again at a distance. You raise the interesting addiction to saviors in whom we invest all our hopes, the myth of the redeemer. Of course, there are at least two sides to this – one is that the savior to whom we invest with power may lead us astray, may do us actual harm while we try to self-justify our increasingly blind following. On the other hand, I’ve seen that we turn on our saviors (didn’t we crucify one some time ago?) and attack them for all the saving we expected but didn’t get. I think the cartoon of the leader balanced out over a cliff with all the followers on the other end of the beam is accurate, but the cartoon fails to show any reason for being out on the beam in the first place. As Whayne’s earlier reply indicated, very often there is a very good reason why we need someone to go “way out on a limb” for us, and that person depends upon us being at the other end to keep them from plunging in the abyss. In my congregation, I’ve found that we’re actually so afraid of false messiahs… or leaders of ANY kind… that we regularly knock down anyone who dares to try to create a bridge out over the abyss. I.e. we step off the other end of the plank and let them fall. So we have both a messiah complex and an anti-messiah complex in this culture, both of which are positions that cause much harm…Does that seem right?

    Reply

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About erin hougland

I'm a writer, creator, justice advocate and evolving faith leader. I'm a follower of Jesus, a disciple, a seeker. I'm a friend, a teacher, a mother, a wife. I'm also an Episcopal Priest.

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Community, Politics, Power

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