Institutional narcissism in the Church of England

May 24, 2021 by

by Archbishop Cranmer:

“The BBC, the NHS and Oxfam have a bad case of institutional narcissism”, wrote Matthew Syed in the Sunday Times yesterday. It is a terse but cogent thesis, coming in the wake of the BBC’s ‘Diana scandal‘ and the revelation that Martin Bashir resorted to forgery and fraud in order to further his career and secure the interview scoop of the century. “The Panorama scandal shows how the assumption of purity can allow bad things to go unchecked”, we are told, because, as Oscar Wilde observed, “Charity creates a multitude of sins”; the point being “that while bodies set up for the public good are often admirable, good intentions alone are not sufficient to inoculate them against the dangers of vice, nor to obviate the need for checks and balances. Indeed, sometimes the quest for moral purity can exaggerate human frailty”. Syed explains:

Wilde’s point is a subtle one, but it has deep echoes in recent psychological research. A 2017 paper by economists at Chicago University found that working for a socially responsible company increased the tendency of people to act unethically. The authors called it “moral licensing”: the finding that when people do good, they sometimes feel they have more latitude to do bad. A study last week in the tech industry found that companies that had made public statements in support of Black Lives Matter had 20 per cent fewer black employees. The perception of virtue provided a fig leaf for its absence.

And this tendency may also be observed in:

..Oxfam, Barnardo’s, the National Health Service, the Boy Scouts, the social care sector and the Catholic Church, among others.

Each of these bodies has demonstrated systemic failings that seem wholly at odds with its founding principles. Yet this paradox should not be so surprising when you realise that the pursuit of virtue can provide cover for unethical behaviour.

It is interesting that Matthew Syed omitted the Church of England from this list, which has its own examples of forgery and fraud in order to procure pre-ordained outcomes; not to mention narcissistic pronouncements which magnify its sense of moral purity and self-righteousness. This spiritual disorder may derive from human frailty – or sin – but it also derives from the nature of Establishment: Bishops in the House of Lords; an institutional self-aggrandisement which conveys aloofness or superiority and feeds arrogance and organisational disorder.

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