This post is from the defunct blog “Dying Church”
A 'packaged personality' for today's churches? I am reading Behind the Masks: Personality Disorders in Religious Behavior by Wayne Oates. He takes the diagnostics of psychology and shows what different disorders should look like in the church, what the spiritual life of a person with said disorder might look like, and ways churches can give care to said persons. But Wayne goes from preaching to meddling in his chapter about histrionic personalities — which he calls 'packaged personalities.' The histrionic is showy, manipulative, and likes to be the center of attention. They act like a chameleon to get what they want. They have an impaired capacity to make and keep steadfast, durable, long lasting relationships. Wayne rightly compares Erich Fromm's assessment of the current American Culture as one that is 'packaged' and 'histrionic.'
Erich Fromm assesses our culture as an American people. He considers the histrionic personality of our times as a "marketing character":
For the marketing character everything is transformed into a commodity — not only things, but the person himself, his physical energy, his skills, his knowledge, his opinions, his feelings, even his smiles. (Fromm 1973)
In another work (1947), Fromm is more specific:
Success depends largely upon how well a person sells himself on the market, how well he gets his personality across, how nice a package he is; whether he is cheerful, sound, aggressive, reliable, ambitious … The premise of the marketing orientation is emptiness, the lack of any specific quality which should not be subject to change.
Within the religious community we have the end result of theis endemic way of life of a nation. In the churches we are aided and abetted in religious histrionics through our emulation of television's political and social demand for "cosmetic leadership," flashy first impressions of people who have a "marketable image." With preachers and pastors as well as lawyers, politicians, and salespersons we are left to wonder who that person is behind that mask! We pray for release from cynicism. Yet we wonder if this person will not also simply have been putting on an act for our temporary approval in order to get where he or she wants to go, or get what he or she wants to get out of us. All the while, within the person there is an emptiness, a craving for new conquests, new stimulation, additional applauding audiences. In a poignant way they are, as T.S. Eliot describes them, "hollow" persons. Boredom is their constant, sad motivator. Only occasionally are they aware that this is their sad plight.
Our churches with so many ministries – our families with too much activity – our members who are putting on a show to convince us – and God – that they are Christians. All empty.. all hollow. God calls us to something else. God calls to us, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me." (Luke 9:23) This is about leading dying churches. Churches that die to the hollow, pre-packaged self and live to the full, unique, and reviving spirit of God.