Religion & Culture | Do Women make better spiritual leaders?
Having lunch with an unswerving feminist can be quite interesting. We had hardly settled down when she began discussing spirituality and the many fraudsters who pose as enlightened leaders.
She was spot on. Yogis of India attract thousands of aspirants searching for life's elixir, only to be disappointed. From India to the Americas, these impostors deceive the unsuspecting and commit the most egregious crimes, from rape to murder, even mass murder/suicide as in the case of the People's Temple, Heaven's Gate, and the Order of the Solar Temple.
Then she made a made a comment I challenged: "These leaders are all men. If I must join any movement, it must be led by a woman."
The next hour was tense and combative. While I concurred with much of what she brought to the table, I presented my position, laden with facts, and cautioned against idealisation of spiritual leaders based solely on gender. In the end, we were all the wiser.
Admittedly, women are naturally more attuned to Spirit. They are mediums and keepers of the sacred shrines. This is understandable, for they are the bearers of life - creators - a divine responsibility that has unconsciously led to a patriarchal backlash - male envy - with sometimes disastrous results. Frankly, if ever there were a case for an anthropomorphic god, a female deity is a safe bet.
But gender in itself cannot determine the ethical and moral bearing of a spiritual leader.
In fact, we are very mistaken if we believe that only male leaders are dangerously narcissistic.
The facts tell of numerous crimes, many heinous and sadistic, committed by women who sat at the helm of spiritual movements.
Here are just a few of countless cases:
Credonia Mwerinde was high priestess and co-founder of The Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God. She was responsible for the fiery destruction of its Kanangu Church in Uganda that killed more than 1,000 followers.
Anne Moore was Jim Jones' nurse and arguably the architect of the Jonestown Massacre. Before that fateful day, Moore wrote the following to Jones, "I never thought people would line up to be killed but actually think a select group would have to kill the majority of the people secretly, without people knowing it. (...) Poisoning food or water supply I heard of. Exhaust fumes in closed quarters. It would be terrorising for some people if we were to have them all in a group and start chopping heads off. That is why it would have to be secretive."
Clementine Barnabet, founder of the Church of Sacrifice in Louisiana, personally axed 17 people to death as part of her bizarre religious rituals.
Valencia de Andrade was founder of Superior Universal Alignment Movement. She was charged with murdering over a dozen boys in Brazil. She escaped justice and now lives in Argentina.
Personality Traits, Not Just Gender
Yes, women have orchestrated some of the most heinous crimes as head of spiritual movements. The overriding concern should be the similarities in the destructive leadership styles that have led to calamitous outcomes. What are these personality traits present in both genders?
Here, I lean on Dr Michael Gerson's Disorders from a Psychoanalytic Perspective.
In every 'evil' leader we see what 'the Bible of Psychiatry' defines as antisocial personality disorder. In this typology, the individual suffers with a virulent strain of narcissism (pathological attention to self).
While charming and persuasive, he, or she, is lacking in conscience and operates without guilt or empathy. There is also a long history of antisocial conduct with evidence of symptomatology before age 15.
Gerson points out that such an individual "projects (his or her) anger, hatred, and rage on to others, who are then made to feel guilty".
It follows that "without an internal capacity for guilt, there can be no empathy, (compunction) or compassion". Such leaders "personify the dark side of humanity, and, as such, is an ironic necessity for civilised social values. These leaders provide the necessary dialectic for the good-evil dichotomy".
Of equal interest are the individuals - male and female - who need to be part of these spiritual movements. "Such persons, for the most part, suffer with dependent personalities using their weakness and inadequacy to circumvent responsibilities."
Gerson also notes that "they seek out powerful leaders to cover up their own shortcomings. They can also employ self-depreciation, as a manipulation of others to gain attention and receive absolution".
These devotees merely desire a life of secure passivity in the shadows of the ideal one, becoming easy prey for the abusive leader. Predictably, these ardent followers submerge or repress all expressions of anger or aggressiveness, as this could be lethal to their dependency needs.
They are submissive and any hostile impulses, feelings, or thoughts are (turned inward) - never expressed - in an effort to safeguard their membership in influential spiritual movements.
Does my feminist friend fall into that category? Absolutely not, but what my time with her uncovered is the deep and even deadly disappointment many are likely to face when they romanticise or idealise so-called spiritual leaders based on nothing more than gender.
- Dr Glenville Ashby is the author of the award-winning audiobook - Anam Cara: Your Soul Friend and Bridge to Enlightenment and Creativity. Feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter@glenvilleashby.