Elise made a comment on the last blog post that got me to thinking. (Hi, Elise!) She said:
It took me 40 years to wise up about my N-mom. And that's without a framework of Christianity (or any other religion) in my head.

If I'd had those expectations to deal with too, I shudder to think how much longer I might have wrestled with trying to "fix" her and trying to be the "good daughter".
I have made the observation here that it can be extremely difficult for a Christian to justify leaving off all contact with their abusive parents. There is a plethora of Bible verses that are misused to keep adult children from holding their abusive parents to account. In my posts on the 5th commandment I deal with biggest Christian club of all where it concerns the parent/child relationship. Then there is the culture of "nice" that seems to have taken over Christianity. Hurting someone's feelings is a sin now.

I contemplate Elise's comment and ponder the difficulty all decent people have in cutting off an abusive and unrepentant parent no matter whether you as a person is religious or not. What makes families from around the globe put up with so much shit from their narcissistic family members?

There is a long historical account of the many and varied peoples who have engaged in ancestor worship. Sometimes it isn't so much worship as just veneration and respect. Stick with me. I'm not calling Elise an ancestor worshiper; let's just explore this concept a little. This is a new thought to me...so I'm exploring it with you here.

People groups from ancient Indo-European and Roman cultures had a strong tradition of ancestor veneration. Of course, many and varied oriental cultures engaged in various types of ancestor worship and/or veneration as well as some African peoples. Many of the smaller people groups who are generally described as "animistic" in their belief system were also big into ancestor worship or veneration. There is a strong strain of ancestor veneration in Catholicism. My point is: History's testimony reveals that humanity shows a strong proclivity toward this form of thinking and belief. Widely disparate people groups (many of whom had no contact with each other) engage in a common belief that venerating their ancestors is necessary and right.

What is basic in the culture of ancestor worship and/or veneration is how it affects the living and relationships in the family. Quoting from MSN Encarta:

Ancestor worship is a strong indication of the value placed on the household and of the strong ties that exist between the past and the present. The beliefs and practices connected with the cult help to integrate the family, to sanction the traditional political structure, and to encourage respect for living elders. Some scholars have also interpreted it as a source of individual well-being and of social harmony and stability. Because it is practiced by family groups, ancestor worship excludes proselytizing and rarely involves a separate priesthood. It has no formal doctrines and is ordinarily an aspect of some larger religious system.
Emphasis mine. Notice how ancestor veneration or worship is primarily focused on the living. It is not just about dead ancestors, it is more about the structure of the family, reinforcement of family loyalties and political advantages and ensuring good treatment of the living elders in the family. Notice, too, that it has "no formal doctrines and is ordinarily an aspect of some larger religious system." This underlines the reality that this type of belief system is not attached to any particular set of religious beliefs. Which means it could be a belief system not attached to any religion. In a sense, this strong and universal penchant of humans to venerate their elders is more basic and pervasive than any other form of religious practice or belief.

It appears that humans are hard-wired to keep families intact. This is not a bad way to think except when it gives a pass to evil-doers. What proves the religious aspect of this veneration of elders (be they alive or dead) is that it is nearly impervious to reason which means it is an emotion based belief system. When emotions are appealed to more than the mind then blind faith is the result. When we're talking about an emotion-based faith system we are talking about a form of religion. There is sin and the need for virtue. Both are defined, not by any "formal doctrines", but by the rules and desires of the living elders. The lack of "formal doctrines" means there is a subjective set of rules depending on the culture or family. The ones at the top are making the rules. This explains why this is such a universal phenomena...it adapts to any people group or family. Better hope your ancestors are righteous and not evil. Obviously, if you have grasping, evil living elders then the penalties for non-compliance can be very severe. They may even come back to getcha after death! (As some ancestor worshipers believe.)

Ancestor veneration is a lot less about the dead and a lot more about the living. It is about the living elders and how they try to enforce the treatment of themselves in a human society. It seems that undergirding natural human emotions about family units is this propensity to venerate our living elders. We should be able to respect and look up to them. I believe that was in God's original design, but because evil exists this proclivity of humanity to venerate their elders is exploited by those who want to prostitute power and control to their own ends. When narcissists get a hold of a system which demands unquestioning obedience to elders who make and enforce the rules -- then tyranny thrives. They abuse the power because narcissists abuse all power they manage to grab a hold of. The narcissist will corrupt the family system for their own selfish use. Anything that is good can be corrupted.

The more we are prone to venerate the family unit above principles of right and wrong...the harder will be our escape from broken family systems. You don't have to be religious in a formal sense to have a religious view of the family as the center of all things. We have to consider the very real possibility that we are blindly venerating the family unit when we find ourselves unable to justify severing ourselves from evil family members. Christian or not, we serve our own families best if we adhere to principles of morality above blind veneration of our living elders. Because any good thing can be corrupted by bad people we must remain dedicated to objective moral principles more than to blood relations. Blood relations are not "holy". Neither is age. Age is not the only qualification for respect. Respect must be earned. When the aged have lived a long life with a clear record of being respectable then we honor them with respect and listen to their advice because they have proven themselves wise. If they have lived unselfishly we are better able to trust their insights and advice as being truly in our best interests. Humanity likes to believe that with age comes wisdom, but as the saying goes: "Age doesn't always bring wisdom; sometimes age comes alone."

I'm trying to express what I see as a unifying feature for all people regardless of religious background or lack thereof. There seems to be a natural (and commendable, in my opinion) sense in all decent human beings that we should respect and look up to those who have been on the planet longer than we have. (This is actually quite logical.) This obviously includes our parents. I think we also need to acknowledge that humanity also has a natural weakness to venerate the dishonorable just because the dishonorable hold certain venerable titles. It is this blind allegiance to the dishonorable that I'm trying to bring attention to. If we insist that title trumps morality then we will stay stuck and abused in corrupt family systems. If we dedicate ourselves to living by objective moral standards then it may require that we sever family connections. We have to employ our heads in this matter which can be a significant challenge in the emotionally charged atmosphere of familial relationships.

Thanks, Elise, for your perspective. I have enjoyed exploring the train of thought you sparked in me. I hope it is apparent that I am sympathizing with the difficulty you've had recognizing the narcissism in your mother. My point in this post is that no matter one's religious background there is a strong undercurrent which pulls all of us in the same direction...that of staying in a destructive and dangerous family situation. Those of us who pull away from destructive family members are all up against a strong, almost primal, human belief in the sacredness of the "ties that bind".

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