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Sickness and Power in the State and Church

10 Jan

You may have noticed the strange behaviour of many heads of state.  The experience of being in power brings about psychological changes that can lead to grandiosity, narcissism, and irresponsible behavior. A few examples: Bob Hawke’s inability to pass the reigns of leadership to Paul Keating; John Howard’s dispatching the troops without even consulting his cabinet;  Kevin Rudd’s tyrannical attempts to micromanage just about everything; George W’s slash and burn around the world; Tony Blair’s maverick ignoring of his party.

Lord David Owen, a UK ex member of parliament, and neurologist, proposes a “hubris syndrome’, akin to post-traumatic distress, to explain the behaviour.  He discusses the extent to which illness can affect the decision-making of world leaders in his book In Sickness and in Power, and was recently on Radio National.

Leaders suffering from this political hubris syndrome believe that they are capable of great deeds, that great deeds are expected of them, that they know what is best under all circumstances, and that they operate beyond the bounds of ordinary morality.  Lord Owen gives examples of leaders who have lied about their health, had a compromised judgement and made irrational decisions.

Some definitions:

  • hubris – overweening pride, superciliousness (patronizing those considered inferior), arrogance, great belief in your own importance.  It was a crime in ancient greece.
  • ‘Hubris Syndrome’ – an acquired personality disorder that develops in high office, with three characteristics: excessive self-confidence, restlessness and inattention to detail.

Now, consider President Mike Semmler of the LCA.  He is a pleasant character, and pastorally has stood beside many in their time of need. However, when it comes to power, there is a change of character and many boxes can be ticked that might indicate hubris syndrome.  As Vice-President of the LCA, standing for the position of President in 2000, he declined to inform the Church that he was booked into hospital for a heart bypass.  If his use of the Presidential flowing red cloak is any indication, he clearly considers his position and himself as highly important.  Judging from District Presidents’ comments on how meetings of the Council of Presidents are administered, and how General Synod is manipulated he considers that he knows what is best under all circumstances.

Recently it has come to our attention that President Mike Semmler is considering standing again for the position in 2012, after a period of leadership that already spans twelve years.  Like Bob Hawke and many before him, this seems to indicate that he sees himself as being the only suitable person for leadership.

Hubris syndrome may well be an appropriate description for our Church leader, never-the-less, we have to rely on the institutions of democracy and divine inspiration to correct this situation.

“Angelo Roncalli was an Italian peasant who rose to become Pope John XXIII, one of the most beloved figures in Christian history.  During his service as pope, the Roman Catholic church underwent the major upheaval known as Vatican II, a tumultuous and controversial time of reform and change.  It is said that in the midst of this volatile time, Pope John would read his bedtime devotions, say his private prayers, and then, before turning out the light, would say to himself, “But who governs the church? You or the Holy Spirit?  Very well, then.  Go to sleep, Angelo, go to sleep.”

Here is the testimony.  We are all floating in a sea of mercy and grace and providence.  So go to sleep.  In confidence and trust, go to sleep.” (Long, 2004)

Reference:
Long, Thomas G. Testimony : Talking Ourselves into Being Christian, Practices of Faith Series. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2004, 156.

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5 Comments

Posted by on January 10, 2011 in sociology

 

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5 responses to “Sickness and Power in the State and Church

  1. witsend

    January 10, 2011 at 7:40 am

    hmmmm, while I too have witnessed Mike’s sense of self-importance, I’m not sure what the relevance odisclosure of his scheduled surgery has to this argument.

     
    • Katie and Martin

      January 11, 2011 at 5:11 am

      Those with ‘hubris syndrome’ fail to reveal their health problems which may impede their judgement, and lead to irrational decisions.

      “It is the nature of leaders who have the syndrome that they are resistant to the very idea that they can be ill, for this is a sign of weakness. Rather, they tend to cover up illness and so would be most unlikely to submit voluntarily to any testing.” http://brain.oxfordjournals.org/content/132/5/1396.full While heart problems may not interfere with decisional capacity, one might suggest that General Synod would have been interested in knowing if candidates had any serious health issues.

      Lord Owen talks about how politicians lie about their health, but in addition there is also secrecy. http://www.abc.net.au/rn/saturdayextra/stories/2011/3067915.htm

      Why was President Semmler’s scheduled operation made public after the election? Lack of transparency with General Synod may indicate that it was considered a liability in the President’s mind.

      “If you’re running to be the head of a government, you have to accept a greater degree of intrusion into your private life, and you have to tell them, because you are making crucial decisions.” (David Owen, http://www.abc.net.au/rn/saturdayextra/stories/2011/3067915.htm)

      Regardless of any motivation or personality disorder, President Semmler certainly knows how to gain and retain office.

       
  2. Joel Klein

    January 24, 2011 at 12:10 pm

    A disgusting personal attack against the Man who is the God ordained leader of your church, quite distasteful.

     
  3. Katie and Martin

    January 28, 2011 at 10:45 am

    Those who are elected to office need to be able to withstand public scrutiny. Transparency is not an unreasonable requirement of our leaders.

     

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