by Kim Pederson…….
We attended the staged reading of a new play the other night called The Return. In it, a world famous newscaster announces he is Jesus Christ and has returned out of concern for the sorry state of, well, everything. Thinking about the idea of a second coming took me to a memory of a Roy Buchanan song entitled “The Messiah Will Come Again.” Buchanan is an amazing guitarist who, sad to say, should have all microphones immediately cut off at the slightest sign that he might open his mouth. With this song, Roy speaks the lyrics in soporific tones, talking about “a strange little town they called the world” and how a stranger appeared and the town was happy, but “some doubted, some disbelieved” and the stranger went away and “the sad little town that was sad yesterday, it’s a lot sadder today.” Roy ends the story on a hopeful note, though, saying simply “I know that the Messiah, he will come again.” After that he launches into an incredible solo.
The concept of a messiah (literally, “anointed one”), to me, is an interesting one and perplexing one at the same time. The word in general means someone “accepted as or claiming to be a leader destined to bring about a desired state or condition.” In the Jewish religion (with some spillover into the Judeo-Christian arena), it means the “expected king and deliverer.” The idea of a messianic individual also crops up in Islam. There are some difference and similarities among these. According to my admittedly sketchy research, in the Hebrew Bible, a messiah could be an actual king or high priest. In the Christian religion, Jesus Christ is regarded as the one true messiah. Surprisingly (actually shockingly to me), the Islamic Koran names Jesus as the “penultimate messiah” as well. In some Muslim theologies, messiah and mahdi refer to the same person.
So, you might wonder, as I do, what the heck is all the fuss and fighting about if these faiths are on the same page in this regard. I don’t have an answer. It’s clear from looking around, however, that the need of many for a messiah remains strong and that messianic aspirants abound. Sadly, they do not all have our best intentions in mind. A Psychology Today article titled “The Psychology of Terrorism: The Messiah Syndrome” explains what can go awry:
Complexes [such as the Messiah complex] contain archetypal images that lie latent in the unconscious until being somehow stimulated or triggered, at which time they can, in certain cases, take complete or partial possession of the personality. The idea and image of Messiah or God appear to be innate (archetypal) potentialities in the human psyche. When activation occurs, some confused individuals completely misidentify themselves with this archetypal image, resulting in a dangerous form of ego-inflation seen typically in schizophrenic patients, or those suffering from delusional disorder or severe manic episodes. This same dynamic can also occur in those with paranoid personality disorder or severe narcissistic personality disorder.
As examples of messiahs gone bad, and there are countless ones it seems, author Stephen Diamond names Jim Jones, David Koresh, Charles Manson, and Osama bin Laden. His article also posits that all humans have a messiah complex within them and that this can be a good thing because
…not everyone becomes completely possessed and grandiosely inflated by it. The desire to redeem and “save the world,” when kept in check, can be a very positive force in life, motivating us to do good deeds and to leave the world a better place–if only infinitesimally–than when we came into it.
The proverbial rub for us as individuals is this (last long quote here I promise):
But when one has been chronically frustrated in realizing this positive, creative potentiality, it remains stillborn in the unconscious, dissociated from the personality, rendering them [people] highly susceptible to possession by the messiah complex. This is especially true when the sense of self has been underdeveloped or weakened due to trauma and other early narcissistic wounding.
So the onus, as it were, is on us not to fall easily under the sway of any purported messiah, good intentions or bad. When someone claims, for instance, that he will “Make America Great Again” or that she is “Working for Change, Working for You,” our initial universal response should be, to echo the Buddy Guy/Junior Wells blues song, “you can call it want you want, I call it messiahing with the kids” and, just so you know, we aren’t children and we won’t play.
* Roy Buchanan performing at the Pinecrest Country Club in Shelton, CT. By Carl Lender, CC BY-SA 3.0.