Was Jesus a Cult Leader?

Updated: Aug 12, 2020


It is often thought that most religious leaders are essentially cult leaders. In some cases that may be true, however, it is not true in the case of Jesus. This essay will go through the psychological traits of a cult leader and show that Jesus does not fit any of them. Out of the nine psychological traits, only five of them need to apply to consider someone to have what the DSM-IV (Diagnostic Manual Of Mental Disorders) describes as NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder). NPD is a personality disorder found in cult leaders and below is the list of defining characteristics of NPD, from Meadow Haven,[1] and reasons why Jesus does not fit such characteristics.


Side Note: To refute the claim that Jesus was a cult leader, this essay will be using passages of scripture. If the historical record of Jesus was tampered to make Him more into legend, then it would be more plausible that this legend of Jesus influences others in a way that makes the legend itself a cult leader. So, whether one believes in the historical accuracy of the Bible or not, this essay will show that the Bible’s portrayal of Jesus did not make Him into a cult leader. To those that believe in the historical accuracy of the Bible, this essay will show that Jesus did not have any characteristics of NPD. One last thing, this essay will be written in the view that the Bible is historically accurate.


1. Feels grandiose and self-importance.

In John 13, Jesus washed the disciple’s feet, something that only a servant does. Jesus, who was the leader lowered himself to that level.


Matthew 16:21-23 talks about Jesus rebuking one of his disciples, Peter. In order to understand the context of this passage, one must first understand what the Jews thought this messiah, talked about in the Old Testament, would do. The Jews thought that the messiah would liberate them and reclaim the throne of Israel. So, the Jews had a mindset that the messiah would, in this case, take back Israel from Rome. However, Jesus was on a different mission and one that was not very popular. If Jesus wanted glory and importance it would have been a lot easier to claim that He was that messiah. However, He did not, and even rebuked Peter when Peter basically implied that He was that messiah.


Matthew 4:1-11 talks about Jesus denying His desires when being tempted by Satan. Why is this important? Jesus was in the wilderness alone and yet this account is known about Him. Meaning, Jesus told his disciples about his experience. Now, one can interpret this as Jesus trying to make Himself look great, or one can look deeper. Why not take the persona that He was all powerful and could not be tempted? Yet, in Jesus’ recounting, Jesus portrays Himself as a man, who is tempted like any other man. Surely, if Jesus wanted to lift himself up above the others, He, or His followers, would have come up with a better story than that. Yet, he did not.


2. Is obsessed with fantasies of unlimited success, fame, fearsome power or omnipotence, unequalled [sic] brilliance.

Again, Jesus could had gone down the route of becoming that messiah, but He did not. In Luke 22:39-44 Jesus prayed to God that this responsibility (dying on the cross in the place of humanity) be taken away from Him. This passage goes on to say, in verse 44, that Jesus was in anguish to the point that his sweat was like that of blood. Jesus was not obsessed with fantasies of unlimited success, fame, fearsome power, omnipotence, or unequaled brilliance; to the point that He wanted, if possible, to finish his mission in some other way. He did not have to die, He could have gone to a safe location and continue living with His disciples, and yet He was willing to die for humanity. A cult leader is not much of a cult leader if he’s dead.


3. Firmly convinced that he or she is unique and, being special, can only be understood by, should only be treated by, or associate with, other special or unique, or high-status people (or institutions).

In Luke 5 and 6, Jesus chooses his disciples, who were of the lower class—fishermen and a tax collector.[2] These are “definitely” special, unique, and high-status people. Yes, Jesus believed that He was the son of God; however, if Jesus was the son of God then it cannot necessarily be said that Jesus thought himself special in an unjustified way. Plus, assuming Jesus was not the son of God, why would Jesus choose such low-class people to be His disciples?


4. Requires excessive admiration, adulation, attention, and affirmation or, failing that, wishes to be feared and to be notorious.

It has been seen above that Jesus could have easily gained a lot of praise by claiming to be that messiah or to put himself up as some great leader and yet He portrays himself like that of a man—who does not seek glory. If Jesus wanted affirmation, why was it only after Jesus rose from the dead that the disciples finally understood why Jesus had to die. Would He not want that affirmation before dying? It is also rarely mentioned, in the Bible, of a disciple giving Jesus a lot of praise or, much less, all of them giving praise. Jesus never demanded praise and the only praise He got was voluntary. Nor did Jesus, the man who in Matthew 19:14 wanted the children around, want to be feared.


5. Feels entitled. Expects unreasonable or special and favorable priority treatment.

Jesus never felt entitled to special and favorable priority treatment, though he could have. Also, as mentioned above, Jesus became like a servant and washed the disciple’s feet. Jesus, as, at the very least, a teacher, could have asked more of His disciples and had them treat Him more like royalty.


6. Is “interpersonally exploitative”, i.e., uses others to achieve his or her own ends.

If Jesus wanted to be that messiah, He could have used people to achieve, at least, a small rebellion against Rome; however, He did not do that, nor did He ever abuse His disciples or those around Him.


7. Devoid of empathy. Is unable or unwilling to identify with or acknowledge the feelings and needs of others.

John 11:32-36 is all the evidence that one needs to see to know that Jesus not only has empathy but also is willing to identify with it. In this passage Jesus sees family members and friends of Lazarus (who died) weeping. Jesus saw their pain and wept also, even though He knew that He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead.


8. Constantly envious of others or believes that they feel the same about him or her.

It cannot necessarily be known whether or not Jesus was envious of others; however, considering all that has been said, it is highly unlikely. Also, there is no sense that those around Jesus were envious of Him. Of course, envy is different from desiring to live a life like that of Jesus’. A common phrase within Christianity is to be more “Christ (Jesus)-like;” however, this phrase means, at a very basic level, to strive to live a blameless life—not to strive to be Jesus or to be jealous that one is not like Jesus.


9. Arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes coupled with rage when frustrated, contradicted, or confronted.

Jesus was not arrogant, nor did he have haughty behaviors as mentioned multiple times above. As for the last three characteristics, if Jesus was who He claimed to be then He did possess those characteristics in some instances, but in those rare instances, He was justified for being filled with rage—like in John 2:13-17 and Matthew 16:21-23. If Jesus was not who He said He was, then there would be no justification for what He did, but that would not matter because it is required that Jesus had “arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes coupled with rage when frustrated, contradicted, or confronted.”[3]


Conclusion

Jesus had no characteristics of a cult leader, nor do Christians see or treat Jesus like one. Cult leaders are seen to be manipulative, arrogant, and abusive people. Yet Jesus was the opposite. He never sought to deceive others, assuming He was who He said He was. He was very humble to the point that He washed His own disciples’ feet. Lastly, He treated others with respect, healing the sick—without taking advantage of their situation.

Bibliography

Meadow Haven. "The Personality Of A Cult Leader." Neirr.Org. Accessed January 3, 2020. http://neirr.org/psychissues/Personality_Disorders.htm.

[1] Meadow Haven, "The Personality Of A Cult Leader," (Neirr.Org. Accessed January 3, 2020), http://neirr.org/psychissues/Personality_Disorders.htm.

[2] Tax collectors were considered to be traitors to the Jews for serving the Roman Empire.

[3] Meadow Haven, "The Personality Of A Cult Leader," (Neirr.Org. Accessed January 3, 2020), http://neirr.org/psychissues/Personality_Disorders.htm.

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