When You Have to Save Everyone: The Warning Signs of Hero-Savior-Martyr Syndrome

Anonymous asked a question:

Hi Pastor Park! Over the years of following your blog, i’ve heard you mention that people are not “projects” and I recently saw the same phrase. I was wondering if you could explain more of what you mean by that, or some practical things to look out for so we could recognize if we’re falling into that mindset? A part of me worries i’m thinking of other people that way, so if you have more insight, i’d love to know. Thanks, and have a blessed week with your wife and dog!

Hey dear friend, thank you.

You may be referring to one of these posts:

– No One Is a Charity Case

– One of the Most Important Things I’ve Learned

While this is not a new thought, many of us are at risk of falling into a “Hero-Savior-Martyr Syndrome.” This was most classically demonstrated by the Karpman Triangle, in which interactions tend to fall into a triangle of Rescuer, Victim, and Persecutor.

Since I truly believe that many of us are good people who care about others, we want to help as many as we can. This is a good thing; it’s a good motive. But left unchecked, we fall into a Rescuer mode in which all people and situations become a “Heroic Drama” in which we are the Protagonist, rescuing someone from their poverty or trauma or sadness or villain. Then it no longer becomes about actually helping the person, but rather boosting our own ego and getting high off dopamine and adrenaline.

Of course, you can feel good about helping people. It’s okay to get the little dopamine surge when you encourage someone or alleviate someone’s suffering. The problem is that when you commodify people into subhuman secondary props for your catharsis, you end up doing the very thing you least wanted: dehumanizing them as mere objects who are only vehicles for your hero-story.

Here are some ways you know you’ve fallen into this:

Continue reading “When You Have to Save Everyone: The Warning Signs of Hero-Savior-Martyr Syndrome”

Is Christianity Just an “Imperialist White Man’s Tool”?

Anonymous asked a question:

How should I respond to people seeing Christianity as a eurocentric tool for imperialism?? I’m sometimes embarrassed that I’m still holding onto Christianity when it seems like it’s only the “popular religion” that it is today because of its adoption by white westerners and the imperialistic conquests, genocides, physical and cultural displacement, etc. caused by efforts to spread it. I don’t know what to think of this haha. Thanks (for a lot of things i don’t have room to explain here haha)!

Hey dear friend, thank you so much for this question — I believe it’s absolutely important to get this one straightened out, quickly and completely.

First please know: I’m responding as an Asian-American Easterner born and raised in the West, who is fully aware and infuriated by the danger of Western imperialism and the cultural gentrification of “manifest destiny.” In other words, I have every reason to be disgusted by Christian/western/imperialist attitudes. My own country’s history (South Korea) also has a terrible past of being oppressed by particular people-groups that have nearly stamped out my heritage.

There’s no doubt that Christianity has been associated with some awfully terrible injustices. The Crusades, witch hunts, slavery, child abuse, and the early church’s indulgences and cycles of corrupted power are just a few of the detestable atrocities that, whether directly or indirectly, were fueled by religious fervor. We must be held accountable for every single infraction.

When a Christian asks me, “How do I defend Christianity’s history?” — I can only say, “Don’t.” Christianity ought to be the most self-critical life philosophy, always asking the simple question: Is this making us better or worse? We must own up to our past, not avoid it, and if anyone challenges us on how Christianity has been harmful, we must give ground to these righteous accusations. Many people are mad (including me), and understandably so, at how Christianity has danced around its mistreatment of others.

Having said that: I believe the idea of the Christian Imperialist, while obviously holding some credence in very specific instances, is largely a tired, exaggerated myth if we look at the whole picture of Christian contribution.

Continue reading “Is Christianity Just an “Imperialist White Man’s Tool”?”