Being Anti-Social for God – An Apocalyptic Story

By Paul A. Djupe, Denison University

In the tribulation period of the end times, Christians are beset by demonic forces that only the final battle won by the heavenly host will vanquish forever. Under such conditions, it would hardly seem fair to have to maintain civility. You know that the other side isn’t going to play fair. In this way, tribulation may unleash dark sides of our personalities – anything is justified in the end times, particularly when the acts are done to press forward God’s will. Is there any evidence for this sort of dynamic?

One way to capture anti-social orientations is through a collection of psychological concepts that has become known as the Dark Triad, combining Machiavellianism, narcissism, and psychopathy. The following figure provides a helpful summary of the three concepts. Machiavellianism concerns the manipulation of people for power, narcissism involves self-absorption and grandiose self-importance, while psychopathy involves a lack of empathy or remorse for treating others poorly. They are clearly a toxic combination.

Source: Wikipedia Commons.

We asked a selection of questions capturing these concepts (the “dirty dozen”) on a survey that just wrapped up in March 2023 of 2300 American adults – I use weights to return a sample that looks like American adults according to the Census Bureau. I thought that religious people would face social desirability effects in their responses – it’s just not polite to admit that you want others to admire you or that you tend to lack remorse. But what if they were anti-social for God?

So, the survey included an experiment where half received the “secular” dirty dozen, while the other half received a religious form of the statements. For example, the religious half read, “I tend to want others to admire me for my faith,” “I tend to lack remorse when I carry out God’s will,” and so forth. Each had response options ranging from strongly agree to strongly disagree – I recoded responses so that the higher response is the anti-social response, more psychopathy, more narcissism, etc. It’s possible to look at the results for each of the triad dimensions, but I’m looking at the composite index for this post.

We wouldn’t expect non-religious people to agree with the religious statements and they don’t. But would religious people? And how would those levels compare with their agreement with the secular versions? Let’s take a look.

Whether religious or not, anti-social tendencies increase with worship attendance. It’s a stronger relationship with the religious version since the non-religious don’t admit to that (r=.35), but it’s still present with the secular version (r=.18, p<.01).

I’m most interested in a particular form of religiosity – apocalypticism. These folks believe that we are living through the end times right now, when good battles evil for dominion over the earth. They believe in human abilities to channel God’s will and power (prophecy), they believe we are in the end times now, that embodied evil walks the earth, and that Christians are being persecuted. What I think is most important about that worldview is that it envisions the world infested with embodied evil – demonic spirits in control of the other side – which is resisted by the Godly forces of “our side.” In fact, there was a fellow testifying about an anti-trans bill at the Ohio legislature the other day who argued that non-Christians were inviting demonic spirits to control their bodies, which is why they opposed the anti-trans bill. That’s not an isolated argument – just listen to the founder of the National Association of Christian Lawmakers argue that the “Democrat Party has been enlisted to further the anti-Christ cult in our country.”

Under these conditions of end times battle against the devil and his minions, I’d think they would be more likely to believe being anti-social for God not only as allowed, but as ideal. The figure below shows how Dark Triad scores climb as belief in apocalypticism grows. It doesn’t matter much whether we use the secular or religious version of the Dark Triad – we only see scores in the top third of the scale in any concentration once apocalypticism passes the halfway mark. In both cases, more than 50 percent of the most ardent apocalyptics score in the top two-thirds of the Dark Triad. For the least apocalyptic, there are no people who score in the top third of the Dark Triad and only a third score in the middle third (using the secular measure). We don’t know whether apocalypticism encourages people with dark personalities to join or whether it brings out anti-social orientations in people. Either way, the association between the two is clearly there (r=.53 with the religious version, r=.26 with the secular version, and both significant).

Let’s look at that from another direction using a statistical model to predict Dark Triad levels for the religious and secular versions that controls for demographic differences as well as baseline religiosity (attendance and religious tradition). The results confirm what we just saw – apocalyptics have the highest Dark Triad Scores, especially so when they respond to the religious version. This suggests to me that apocalyptics are likely thinking of the religious version when responding to the secular one. For one they answer similarly (we get close to the same group mean), but also because apocalyptics see everything as infused with religious significance. If you’re not part of their Christian ingroup, you are likely doing the devil’s work. Everything is going according to divine plan as laid out in the Bible and articulated by modern prophets. Even if we use the secular version of the scale, apocalyptics have double the level of Dark Triad orientations as the least apocalyptic (.21 vs .41).

Does it matter? There are so many ways to assess that (and look for more from my collaboration with Andy Lewis and Jake Neiheisel on this front), but let’s explore one today. I just wrote about how belief in modern prophecy was leading its followers to support a religious state – aka theonomy, rule by religious law. As measured, such beliefs entail giving “the church” a veto over legislation, prioritizing God’s law over individual rights, that Christians should stand on the 7 mountains of society, and more. Does the Dark Triad ramp up support for theonomy?

It sure does. Most of the relationship is driven by apocalypticism – more of that worldview really strongly increases support for a religious state. But having stronger than average Dark Triad orientations boosts support for theonomy by about 10 percentage points. Since theonomy entails enforcing God’s law over diverse individual rights, it would seem to help to have little regard for others and an inflated sense of self-importance.

One story of conservative Christianity in the Trump era is that it is a value-driven group that feels threatened by the changes occurring around them. They suddenly were in the minority on gay rights after the Obergefell decision and were sold and deeply bought into a story that the inability to discriminate against LGBT Americans amounted to oppression. But there’s another story that many conservative Christians, though not all, wanted something much more than equal rights. These contrasting views infused the debate over what Christian nationalism entailed. Was it just a desire for basic Christian values to frame American politics and society or was it a deep-seated need for Christian domination that a diverse, increasingly liberal America threatened?

There is now a large academic literature that engages these questions (e.g., see Whitehead and Perry’s book). And I’ve pushed this debate farther in the last few weeks with posts about the structure of apocalypticism and the closely-related belief in modern prophecy that entails a link to the Big Lie about 2020 election fraud and support for political extremism (people continue to believe despite evidence admittedly proving many modern prophecies wrong). I had already established that a core component of apocalypticism (prophecy belief) was linked to much greater support for theonomy helping to cement the true nature of Christian nationalism (also established in that post). Here we get a strong dose of the manner in which apocalyptics appear willing to pursue their theonomic ends – by any means necessary – as befits Machiavellian, narcissistic, and psychopathic people. Indeed, since the apex of the religious right in the 1990s, some conservative Christians active in the political sphere – such as Pat Robertson – have taught “that American evangelicals could never possess too much power. And if they expected any heavenly assistance, they must be prepared to go to extremes” (Gribben 2009, 125). Tony Perkins defended giving Trump a mulligan for his relationship with Stormy Daniels by arguing that “You know, you only have two cheeks. Look, Christianity is not all about being a welcome mat which people can just stomp their feet on.” Again, not all apocalyptics score highly on the Dark Triad, but there is a high concentration of people willing to be anti-social for God in this season of tribulation.

We are just beginning to sort out the implications of these Dark personalities concentrated on the right. But it is certainly not doing much for American democracy that many prioritize their religious beliefs over universal rights and liberties and are willing to go to extremes, undermine civility, and manipulate others to achieve what they perceive to be God-anointed ends communicated especially to them.

Professor Paul A. Djupe directs the Data for Political Research program at Denison University, is an affiliated scholar with PRRI, the series editor of Religious Engagement in Democratic Politics (Temple), and co-creator of Further information about his work can be found on his website and on Twitter.


    • As I have researched this for a potential book I think the traditional view of the panic beginning in the Eighties and ending in the Nineties is incorrect. In my view fundamentalism, evangelicalism and Pentecostalism have long entertained their own panic that paralleled the secular one with concerns over daycares and it continues into the present, still targeting alleged demonic influences in pop culture, but increasingly focusing on demonic political foes.


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