Here's my latest on the Christian Shakespeare - The Ineffectual Sacrifice of Julius Caesar.
Wednesday, June 22, 2016
Sunday, May 1, 2016
Last year at about this time I took a sabbatical from blogging, except for a handful of posts here and there.
Here's what I've learned in the last year.
- People are, in general, worse than we give them credit for being: more malicious, more scheming, more hateful, more selfish, more stupid, more desperate. And that includes us.
- Love is far more powerful than we suspect. People who trust love are people who are saints.
- The Charlie Johnston false prophet situation has absolutely nothing to do with religion.
- We have not yet begun to figure out how to use the New Technology, nor do we really understand how certain technologies facilitate certain sins and bring out the worst in us, with different sorts of technology bringing out different forms of the worst in us.
- Texting is the Pornography of Communication (the phrase is from a friend of mine who is always texting). It separates the full person from the thing you want from him or her at that moment. It implies a kind of casual intimacy that is clandestine, but that is also easy to walk away from - just like porn. You can end a texting conversation without ever saying goodbye, for instance - and ignore texts indefinitely, even if you've been texting non-stop for hours with the same "friend" just yesterday.
- Most of the problems of the last 500 years have been due to World Immanentism - the belief that the supernatural (or the Divine Ground of our being) either does not exist or is utterly separate from nature and cannot interact with it in any meaningful way. We are all there is. This is a closed system; there is no such thing as Grace that penetrates it from the outside. Therefore, we save ourselves - or else we don't need to save ourselves. Unreality (my word for the fictions we create and violently assert, forcing others to believe in them) is really just Self-Absorbed Promethean Neo-Pelagianism in action.
- NFP (Natural Family Planning - which is typically used to avoid pregnancy without contraception) is the sacred cow of the "devout" wing of the Catholic Church. It is a sacrament. It conveys irresistible grace. You may criticize lying, torture, capitalism, bishops, the Pope, even Charlie Johnston - but if you dare to suggest that Natural Family Planning is merely a tool that can be abused, you will be crucified. Nothing gives Devout Catholics more pride than the fact that they abstain from sex a few days every month in order not to have smelly, messy babies, congratulating themselves for not using the pill or a rubber while achieving the exact same result. Such a "sacrifice" makes them holy; and avoiding having babies for any reason is no big deal when you're holy.
- When you see the Real Church - the Body of Christ as it actually is - you know it, especially when you're a part of it.
- The Kingdom of God is not what we expect. We want Our Savior to be a Super Hero, not a skinny kid from Nazareth who gets crucified. Plus we don't need a savior. We're doing fine on our own, Self-Absorbed Promethean Neo-Pelagians that we are. Plus we want a Kingdom we can build and see and admire, not something unmerited, profoundly silent, beyond our control and difficult to pin down.
- My wife of 25 years, Karen, is the only person who tells me the truth at all times, even when I don't want to hear it. She is utterly trustworthy, the best Catholic I know, the rock of my existence (next to Jesus).
- And, finally, if it looks like BS, if it smells like BS, and if it tastes like BS, it's BS.
ADDENDUM: May this post serve as a farewell to blogging! I am tired of the hate mail, for one thing. I am tired of people refusing to see what's right in front of their eyes. This is, easily, the most unrewarding and frustrating creative work I've ever done, and it's become obvious that there's more productive work to be done elsewhere.
Theater of the Word will continue; my book will be released this fall. But I won't post here any more. Thanks to those of you who have supported me over the years.
Back when I first started hearing about him, I had two intelligent and devout Catholics from separate parts of the U.S say to me at separate times, "I don't believe Charlie, but I want to!"
Why would anybody want to believe this garbage?
Perhaps what we see in Donald Trump and Michael Voris is part of the answer. People don't care if demagogues are consistent or honest or anything in particular. They want to cheer for them. They want to see them "stick it to the man". They're mad at mainstream politicians and so they flock to Trump, regardless of his personal integrity as a human being because he feeds and stokes their anger and mollifies their frustration. They're mad at the bishops, so they subscribe to Voris. "Here's somebody sticking it to the bishops!" - and the rage porn flows. The fact that Trump has no core beliefs or that Voris attacks people like Mark Shea and me when we criticize the likes of Fr. Corapi, implying that we're part of a great shadowy conspiracy of "professional Catholics"; or the fact that so much of what Voris is peddling is paranoia of one sort or another - none of that matters.
This is not about truth.
This is about finding a hero - or a villain - who makes you feel good and who gives your less than glamorous Christian existence a little verve and focus.
Those of us who think that the truth will matter to True Believers are fooling ourselves. This is because this is not about True Belief - it's about anger and frustration finding some sort of false solution.
This is from the comment section of Terry Nelson's Abbey Roads blog. I am responding to a defender of Charlie Johnston. I am posting it here because I think it serves as a fair summary of the situation.
The defender says ...
I reply ...
The best liars can do is assert a huge nothing in the face of something.
The rest is mere noise.
The defender says ...
I reply ...
The best liars can do is assert a huge nothing in the face of something.
The rest is mere noise.
... and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free. (John 8:32)
Saturday, April 30, 2016
Charlie Johnston is from Belleville.
If you come from St. Louis, that's all you need to know.
Charlie is the kind of guy you'd meet in a bar in Belleville, Illinois - a working class community across the river from St. Louis, where I'm from. Guys from Belleville - and from all over Southern Illinois - are characters. They come up with tall tales and you sit on a bar stool listening to them and you take everything they say with a grain of salt because they're from Belleville.
Charlie Johnston is a liar. Or a teller of tall tales. Take your pick.
He says an angel is giving him secret messages. He says, among other things, that the last normal Christmas was Christmas of 2013, and if you didn't notice how abnormal Christmas of 2014 and Christmas of 2015 were, that's not his fault. He says that his angel has told him that Obama will not finish his term; that he will convert and that the 2016 elections will be suspended. He says that the Virgin Mary will publicly appear in 2017 and that there will be a utopia of Christian believers on earth from that point forward. He says he walked across America - even though he appears to be in his 70's, is overweight, admits to having nerve damage, and his own posts on his Facebook page prove that he did no such thing.
On Friday, April 29, the National Catholic Register published a well written and well researched article by Patti Armstrong detailing Charlie's weirdness and the bishops who have warned their flocks about him and banned him from speaking in their dioceses. In that article, Patti quotes me, and my two posts on Charlie (this one and this one).
Before I tell you Charlie's response, you have to realize what happens when a guy from Belleville starts telling tall tales - claiming an angel is giving him visionary messages that are patently absurd, claiming he's walked across the United States, claiming a cataclysm is coming, the date of which he keeps changing - when a guy from Belleville starts telling tall tales and suddenly discovers that there are a ton of Devout Catholics who, for whatever sick reason, ARE ACTUALLY BELIEVING HIM!
Now if you're Charlie Johnston and you've been making this up as you go along, what do you do when the National Catholic Register links to an article by a guy named Kevin O'Brien, a guy from across the river in St. Louis, who has proof that you've been lying about one big thing in particular - your walk across America?
You could attack this Kevin O'Brien in a number of ways. He's a public figure, he's a sinner, he's got a temper, he's vulnerable.
But let me make a comparison. If you notice, people who hate the Catholic Church hardly ever hate it for valid reasons - the sex scandal or the corruption in Rome or bad bishops - they usually hate it for really bizarre reasons, like "The fishing industry has the Pope in its back pocket, which is why Catholics have to eat fish during Lent" or "Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and Dan Brown was right and Mother Teresa was evil".
Likewise, Charlie Johnston (who's from Belleville), and who could, if he wanted, dig up some real dirt against me and do some damage (frequent sinner and occasional jerk that I am) - Charlie does what any other teller of tall tales does when he realizes he's been knocked off his bar stool and the gig is up.
Boldly. Completely. Out of thin air.
He makes up a totally bizarre fib out of whole cloth and sells it - even though it's a lie that is impossible for him to support.
Here's what Charlie says about me (my emphasis) ..
She also cites blogger Kevin O’Brien who, some time back, did an unhinged attack piece, in which he didn’t allow any comments. It was chock full of misinformation, including that I had never taken a pilgrimage at all and that I was raising MILLIONS (use your best Dr. Evil voice) for the Shrine through the donations button on my website. I corresponded with him for a few days, noting that I do not have and never have had a donations button on my website. Oops – he corrected it without noting any correction had been made. Old-time journalistic ethics allow for minor grammatical and spelling edits to be made without publicly acknowledging it, but require any substantive edits to be disclosed. The business on the pilgrimage was strange. There were literally thousands of contemporary witnesses who were virtually following me on my way. Over a few days, O”Brien edited and re-edited that portion of it, again without acknowledging he had made any errors in the first place. The last time I looked he concluded that I had “only” walked 1,700 miles, that it was not coast to coast, and that I accepted rides from people who offered.
Now CHARLIE JOHNSTON HAS NEVER CONTACTED ME! He did not correspond with me for a few days. This is an incredibly bold lie, and an incredibly stupid one.
So let me address Charlie for a moment.
Charlie, either you're lying or I am. If I'm lying, and you and I did correspond for a few days, as you claim, all you have to do is produce the correspondence to prove it. Where are these "few days" of emails or letters, Charlie? You cannot produce them because they do not exist. Charlie, you are lying.
And I edited my original post once, to take out a reference to Father Corapi, a reference that did not fit. Other than that, I have not changed one thing in my original post since I published it last fall, despite what Charlie claims. I have never written that Charlie had a donation button on his website or that he was raising millions or that he walked anywhere near 1700 miles.
Again, if I'm lying and you're not, Charlie, prove it. I have screen shots of your Facebook posts that demonstrate that you did not walk across America (in case you decide to delete them from Facebook). Do you have screenshots of the various changes you claim I made on my site?
Well, I don't mean to be angry or nasty. I like Charlie. I really do. How can you not like a guy from Belleville who lies like this?
I called Charlie yesterday after he lied about me. "I want to tell you that I admire you for lying so boldly," I told him, and I meant it. It takes guts to lie like this. "But of course," I continued, "you have no evidence to support your lies, which you should have realized before you told them." At which point, Charlie went ballistic, said that I was the one who was the liar, and hung up on me.
Later, this happened ...
Ha! I'm an "ambitious young sort"!
Do you know how long it's been since I've been an "ambitious young sort"? It's been years!
I love you, Charlie Johnston. You are an American icon - a religious huckster; you're a biblical icon - a false prophet; you're an eternal icon - an emperor without any clothes, and your fans keep admiring how well dressed you are. You pull tall tales out of thin air and you're as amazed as I am that your fan base believes you - because you're not at all good at lying, but your True Believers don't care; they eat it up no matter what you say.
I really admire your guts and the inanity of your lies. The next time you're in Belleville, I'll drive across the river and buy you a beer.
I'm not mad that you're lying about me.
I'm mad that your followers are believing you.
UPDATE - May 1, 2016 - On Charlie's blog, he has admitted that he and I never "corresponded for a few days". He still claims I re-edited my original blog post a number of times, though he has no evidence of that. He continues to malign me, but he has admitted that there was no correspondence.
Saturday, April 9, 2016
Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. (Mat. 7:16-20)
The Riverfront Times ran an article in December that was very sympathetic toward a St. Louis businessman who claimed to be helping troubled teens, Loren Copp. Copp, it turns out, has now been arrested on child abuse charges, and the evidence against him is said to be a video of him having sex with a 12-year-old girl, a girl that he had taken under his wing and was "caring for". The RFT is now reporting that Copp's supporters, including his attorney, have suddenly abandoned him, in light of the evidence that has led to his arrest.
And, of course, there have been lots of red flags over the years. A commenter at the RFT's website notes ...
This man has had numerous, I mean numerous, lawsuits and allegations, throughout Illinois and other places. He has ruined businesses, not to mention many people's lives. He has been the source of divisiveness, while proclaiming that he is an agent for unity. Yet, he continues to want to paint himself as the picture of the compassionate martyr. In previous comments from other articles, someone stated that the truth will come out. Well guess what? The truth is coming out.Comedy is about the truth coming out, about masking and unmasking, about our real Identities being revealed under the pretenses we put forth. That's why comedy, in the literary sense (apart from mere laughter), is so satisfying.
Therefore what interests me about this story is that even in this age of phenomenalism we recognize Identity; we recognize a unity behind the scattered bits and pieces of evidence, an Actor behind the actions, a real face behind the false one. "Ye shall know them by their fruits" means that Identity precedes Act. We are not just people who do random things. Each of us has an Identity, and from that Identity we operate.
But it works both ways. What we do also changes who we are. I am thinking of one friend in particular who became more and more selfish the more selfish choices she made in her life, so that, over the years I knew her, a good person became a bad one, and a young woman who could have gone either way became a mature woman who had become untrustworthy; she was no longer a good or a mixed person doing occasionally bad things, she was a selfish and bad person who consistently acted according to her character.
For, eventually, Act and Identity become one - for better or worse. Worst case scenario: Smeagol becomes Gollum. Best case scenario: Francis becomes St. Francis. Our ultimate destinies, heaven or hell, then, are not so much rewards or punishments doled out to us by the Judge Judy in the Sky, but the final affirmations of who we are, the inevitable consequences of our free will and character, our Identities. If we are "thrown into the fire" it is not just because of our bad fruit, but because we are bad trees and can no longer bear good fruit - though, of course, He is the vine and we are the branches and it is His fruit that we bear when we live through Him.
So that when St. Paul says, "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me" (Gal. 2:20), he is saying, my Identity has changed. I am no longer condemned to be a bad tree bearing bad fruit. I have been grafted on to a living vine, and I no longer am who I once was.
This simple insight is resisted everywhere we look. We think that in order to be forgiving or forbearing we are obligated to accept what's on the surface, to believe our neighbor's mask, and not to recognize the hidden face underneath. We don't want to see the trail of accusations, failed businesses and hurt people behind a Loren Copp; we don't want to think that there's a unity indicated by the scattered indicia all around us, a substance behind the possibly disconnected phenomena we observe.
Perhaps this is because we know our own jumbled souls, and we see how we can become either our best selves or our worst selves quite easily. And in God's mercy, our Identities are never finally fixed in sin; we can always repent and be crucified, to live as New Creations, to bear His fruit.
But bad people do bad things. And bad things are usually done by bad people. That great and simple truth is one of the most unpopular in our world today.
The meaning of our lives is wedded to the mystery of who we are.
Monday, April 4, 2016
The following quotations (with my emphases in bold) are about the effects of "phenomenalism" on our souls, the belief that individual events or details are all that compose reality. Phenomenalism (as used by this author) means that there are no unifying principles of being, no "substances" indicated by the disconnected bits of data we observe.
In a world that has become "phenomenally obsessed", we believe ...
... what can be done should be done. As a consequence, we must observe the transplantation and destruction of whole populations, the machine-gunning of fleeing civilians, terror-bombing and pulverization of towns, and the horrors of extermination camps. The tools cease to be simple instruments of execution in the service of substantial purposes and gain a momentum of their own that bends the purposes to the technical possibilities.
In other words, if we don't perceive an end or a structure that rises above mere abilities or desires, we become monsters. The disconnected things we do become our masters.
There is the most intimate connection between the comic strip and the concentration camp. The man who runs away from an invasion from Mars [as in The War of the Worlds broadcast panic] because the comic strip and the broadcast have decomposed his personality and the SS man who garrotes a prisoner without compunction because he [the SS man] is dead to the meaning of his action in the order of spiritual reality are really brothers under the skin.
And close kin to "gay marriage" advocates, I would add.
"Gay marriage" is simply phenomenalism applied to the family. There always have been and always will be "gay" people. There always have been and always will be various "paraphilias", or what used to be called perversions. There is no "substance" to love or sex or marriage. They are all mere phenomena, things people do.
But the irony is that if that's all there is, mere phenomena, then we inevitably are slaves to these disconnected acts of ours. "What can be done must be done". If two men are willing to engage in anal sex and call that an act of love and marriage, then we must concede, in the same way that if we can equip drones with nuclear warheads, we eventually "must" do so.
We are forced to swallow the lie of "gay marriage" in the same way that we are forced to swallow the "global economy" or tanks in Ferguson or concentration camps or Donald Trump or Hilary Clinton or college students offended by professors and demanding that they be fired. We just do what we do. There is no unifying principle. It is all phenomena, no substance.
Every thing you do with your genitals is OK. Only mutual consent restrains you legally, and that's only by a kind of social contract, not by any true underlying principle.
"It's all good". Because there is no good.
Phenomenalism has gone further toward transforming our society into the combination of a slaughter house with a booby hatch than many contemporaries are still sane enough to realize.
... these are all from Eric Voegelin, The History of Political Ideas, Volume VII. This is a textbook he wrote! Imagine if all textbooks were this much fun!
Monday, March 28, 2016
I am in Minneapolis with my friend Dale Ahlquist of the American Chesterton Society and the EWTN series The Apostle of Common Sense. We were together at Easter dinner when we learned of the death of Mother Angelica. Soon after that, we were both interviewed by Matt Swaim of the Son Rise Morning Show. I will put a link to the interview up once it's posted on Sound Cloud.
EWTN saved the Catholic Church in America.
Mother Angelica allowed Our Lord to work miracles through her. She was a Christian of great faith and common sense.
God grant her eternal rest in Your Eternal Word. Mother Angelica, pray for us!
Friday, March 25, 2016
A Good Friday Reflection
What strikes me about today's reading - the Passion from the Gospel according to John - is the I AM of Jesus vs. the I AM NOT of Peter.
Jesus, knowing everything that was going to happen to him,went out and said to them, “Whom are you looking for?”They answered him, “Jesus the Nazorean.”He said to them, “I AM.”
... and they fall back, stunned. This is repeated. Later ...
Then the maid who was the gatekeeper said to Peter,
“You are not one of this man’s disciples, are you?”
He said, “I am not.”
I AM is, of course, the Holy Name of God. In it is contained the mystery of being.
And our denial of Christ, our denial borne from fear and self-will can be no more in the end than I AM NOT. We are the antichrist; we have met the antichrist and he is us.
Also, I am struck by how perfect this story is, far too perfect for any fiction writer. The fact that Good Friday coincides with Passover, the fact that the Suffering Servant prophecy from Deutero-Isaiah, written 700 years before the birth of Christ (today's first reading), describes Our Lord with an accuracy that even the Apostles did not fully realize, the fact that human nature is so perfectly presented in the tale of the Passion - neither fiction nor drama nor myth has ever approached the richness and complexity of this true story, considered merely from the point of view of literary criticism. The Passion draws together threads that had been weaved and left mysteriously untied in Scripture, some for over a thousand years at the time. No writer of fiction could have done this.
And beyond that, dear readers, is the daily and hourly weight of sin. Some of you are far too young and far too hopeful to feel it as I do and as some of the rest of us do. But we are in such desperate need of a Savior, especially in how we are ignorant of our need of a Savior, in our smug self-satisfied way of going about and doing harm and being quite sufficient on our own, thank you, with our perversions and our betrayals and our diversions that we cover over with make-up and make-believe as if they were mere blemishes and not the fruit of our inner rot. We are I AM NOT and we are proud of it.
Today, the day that God died, may we simply pause and realize the horror of it all, and the horror of our puny I AM NOT, submitted to and remade by the great I AM.
Tuesday, March 8, 2016
NOTE - On April 29, 2106, Charlie Johnston responded to this post and my previous one with outright lies, doing his best to libel me in the process. I go into detail about that here - Charlie Johnston Lies about Me - and I Admire Him for It! Charlie is one of the most outrageous frauds in the Catholic Church. He actually fascinates me - in a sad way. Read on ...
Charlie Johnston is a false prophet.
His archbishop has "strongly" advised Catholics to be cautious of him. His archbishop has also banned him from speaking in his own archdiocese.
Charlie, in the great tradition of false prophets, has spun this warning to his own advantage, and Charlie's True Believers have rallied around him and have been guzzling the Kool-Aid since the bishop's letter and Charlie's spin appeared earlier this week.
I posted about Charlie Johnston last fall, detailing at least one of his prophecies that have proven false, and detailing, from evidence on his Facebook page, that he did not walk across America, as he continues to claim he did. And while Charlie is stretching the truth at best and lying at worst when he insists that he walked across the U.S., his other claims are based not on his own tall tales, but on purportedly revealed truths and warnings given to him by an angel of God.
Charlies says his angel has been appearing to him and warning him of dire things to come, including the suspension of the 2016 elections, Obama not finishing his term as president, Obama converting to the Catholic faith, the end of "normal" Christmas, worldwide financial collapse, and the appearance of the Virgin Mary in a universal apparition during 2017, with all of the turmoil of our suffering resolving itself into a utopian peace on earth after the appearance of Our Lady.
It is, of course, patent nonsense on the surface, and Charlie, a good old boy from Belleville (across the river from me) seems to have fallen into something he wasn't planning - a cult status among gullible Catholics. What is disturbing is not so much that Catholics lust after the lurid, or that Catholics want their Faith to be indistinguishable from a National Enquirer headline, or that Catholics tire of the daily drudgery of picking up our crosses in small ways and conforming ourselves to Christ; what is disturbing is that Charlie is getting good at this. He's learning how to work these people.
Comments are open. Feel free to excoriate me and make fools of yourselves. But respond at the very least to the evidence I present in my previous Charlie post that Charlie has been lying about his so-called walk across America. And if he's lying about that - or even stretching the truth about that - why would we believe him about anything else, especially things that are prima facie ridiculous?
Meanwhile, for those of you who are sane, rest assured that not all Catholics buy this garbage. The archbishop of Denver doesn't; only the fringe does, and when the Charlie Fad ends, they'll be on to someone else, someone even more ridiculous and even more dangerous than Charlie is.
Here's the story on Charlie from the Denver Catholic Newspaper. Note that, since the archdiocese conducted a "preliminary investigation", the question of the veracity of the so-called visions, and of the angelic or demonic character of the so-called angel was not examined. For a preliminary report, this is devastating to Charlie - though his followers won't admit that.
Wednesday, December 23, 2015
I am hearing from devout Catholics who are upset about this story ...
An Oklahoma City satanist says he plans to protest the Catholic Church’s beliefs about Jesus’s birth by pouring costume blood over a statue of the Virgin Mary outside of St. Joseph Old Cathedral on Christmas Eve.
Here are my reactions.
First, it's very telling that Satanists are promoting abortion and same sex marriage.
Second, what the Oklahoma Satanist does not understand is how he's inadvertently witnessing for Christ. Compare Caiaphas, who when he remarked in the Sanhedrin that it was expedient that one man should be put to death for the sake of many, did not realize how deeply his selfish Machiavellian purely-political words resonated and revealed the deeper and more solemn providence of God (see John 11:51).
Because, you see, Mary has already been covered with blood. At the moment of her immaculate conception, she was redeemed and conceived in purity because of the Blood of Christ - which was yet to be shed (historically speaking), but by the virtues of this Blood alone are Mary and all of us made pure.
And, finally, as far as desecrations go, this is more diversion than desecration. The Satanists are using it for PR fodder, and some Catholic organizations are using it for fundraising fodder - fanning the flames of indignation over an admittedly horrific event, but one that pales in comparison to the more serious and less visible desecrations going on all around us. At every Sunday suburban Mass, you have poorly catechized Catholics, Catholics who use porn, Catholics who use contraception, divorced and remarried Catholics, Catholics who cheat the poor, Catholics whose sins stain the Body of Christ more darkly than any quantity of theater blood, Catholics who blithely receive the Eucharist, perhaps not knowing what they do, perhaps knowing what they do. That is desecration. The theatrics in Oklahoma is diversion.
For sins are more serious than symbols - and we dishonor Mary and Jesus by what pours out of our hearts more than by what pours out of a prop bag.
Having said that, it is our job to love these Satanists - our enemies - for as St. Paul says ...
If thine enemy hunger, feed him. And if he thirst, give him drink. For in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Rom. 12:20-21)
Wednesday, September 9, 2015
“Karen, I was right! Someone escaped! She says they are a cult!” I said to my wife, exuberant.
It was Monday, Labor Day. We were at the Lake of the Ozarks, in mid-Missouri, and Karen, my wife, noticed a group of people standing near the overlook on the hill above the lake’s dam. A man about my age was about to take a picture of a group of teenagers with the lake in the background. All of them were well groomed, well behaved and wearing polo shirts and caps that said “Shepherdsfield” on them. Karen offered to take the picture for this man, so he could be in it as well. He was very grateful.
“What’s Shepherdsfield?” I asked after the photo had clicked.
“We’re a Christian community near Fulton, Missouri,” the man answered. “We’re on our Reward Trip. These young people have been working very hard all summer, and we’re taking them on a Reward Trip before school starts again.” My eyes locked with one of the young people. They were certainly well behaved … but a “Christian community”? Creepy.
Karen and I got in the car. I began to talk in my quiet, slow cult-leader voice. “Welcome to Shepherdsfield,” I said. “You’ll be very happy here. As long as you do what we tell you. There’s no need to fuss. You’ll be loved and you won’t want to leave. In fact, you won’t be able to leave. Now just do what we say and everything will be fine.”
“Kevin!” Karen shouted. “Stop that! You’re so judgmental! Those were nice people! What makes you say they’re a cult?!”
I got out my phone and Googled them. One of the first things that comes up is the blog Cult Girl Speaks Out. It’s written by Tabitha Casey, and it details how she grew up in Shepherdsfield and how she “escaped” and how she’s trying to process all of it now. It’s a fascinating blog, and even Karen became interested as I read many of Tabitha’s posts to her on our way to ice cream after dinner at the Lake.
Of course, my only knowledge of Shepherdsfield is what I’ve been reading on Tabitha’s blog, and it’s possible that the place is not as dark as she paints it - though, she actually seems quite fair and gives credit where credit is due on more than one occasion. But human history has many examples of utopias gone bad - and, if what Tabitha says is true, Shepherdsfield is one of them.
For one thing, according to Tabitha, the Reward Trip rewards children from the ages of about 10 on up who are required to work all summer long from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm daily mulching, weeding, repairing, and sweating in the hot and humid Missouri summers, the “reward” of which is a trip to someplace like the dam overlooking the Lake of the Ozarks. Plus mini-golf. But it’s worse for adults. Able bodied males supply the commune with money by power washing, painting and building decks in Columbia, Jefferson City, and other towns nearby. The income they generate goes to the Shepherdsfield “church”, which allots them back a small amount. In the case of Tabitha and her family of eight, they were given no more than $130 per month back from the money her husband earned power washing. Of course, the “church” provides all needs - housing, car, telephone, utilities, food - but the “church” also controls all needs. And if and when a member “escapes” with his or her family, they must leave with absolutely nothing. There is no private ownership. Christian Communism meets Christian Capitalism - the Company Town owns everything and the members owe their souls to the company store, so to speak, even though the power washing business seems to be entrepreneurial and thriving.
Tabitha explains how there is no incentive to work hard, since slackers receive the same share as hard workers. This was the story of New Harmony, Indiana and elsewhere. Human nature must be either ignored or brutalized for utopias to have any chance of working.
For example, Tabitha describes …
… a peer of mine who, at age nine, because of stealing some quarters from a communal change drawer to buy a gift for a girl, was subjected to the most severe punishment we had devised. He was made to undergo what we termed "coventry". This coventry involved rejection from every member of the community. He would eat alone during all our common meals (lunch and dinner for five of the seven days); no one would talk to him except to give direction ... he would not play or interact in any fun way with any of his friends during this time. This lasted several weeks and crushed this child. To this day, the mention of Shepherdsfield evokes only pain.
… the fear of such strong punishment was so great that those youth who had pullings toward stealing, lying, cheating, interest in the opposite sex, etc. became masterful at doing what they were already inclined towards and masterful at disguising it. It created an environment of facades. If someone had a problem, or an issue, covering up, putting on a brave face and always looking joyful - "as a good Christian should" - were the ways that were approved of to deal with it.
This is one of many painful and fascinating tales of Tabitha’s life as a Christian Communist. She analyzes her experiences growing up in Shepherdsville well, and reaches the two most obviously correct conclusions …
This is my story - this is the life I lived and this is mine to tell. I did not just observe and am reporting on what I observed - I ate, drank, slept, talked and walked this life - this is my story and this is what I want to do with what I have lived. I want to warn people about the dangers of these two things mostly:
1.) spiritual abuse and
2.) putting men on pedestals or allowing them to climb there themselves.
Such misplaced idealism which created the environment for spiritual abuse and for trusting in men rather than God, and for giving men way too much power and authority over private lives and over other people’s families led to what became an intolerable atmosphere. There is more than one suicide in Tabitha’s story.
Her husband, however, gets closer to a third lesson learned that should be emphasized …
It was a great place to be a kid - but there was never a transition point in how one was treated. We were never given the chance to make decisions and choose wisely - all those decisions were made for us. If we started to try to think an issue through and - Heaven forbid - question or disagree, we were challenged on our spirit of divisiveness.
My friends, I see this in Devout Catholic circles every day. It is the prime characteristic not of the Church, but of an ideology. Ideologies are Closed Systems, Unrealities that are man-made fictions and that can only exist by forcefully suppressing human nature and by carefully keeping out anything that might topple the house of cards or pop the carefully guarded bubble.
The true Church, by contrast, and true philosophies, and indeed common sense and sanity are marked by an openness, by a seeking, by humility. “Thy Kingdom come” (our daily prayer) means that we will never have the perfect community on earth, though we are always desiring it and seeking it. The “eschaton” is not “immanent”. There is a fundamental tension that exists between “The Divine Ground” of our existence and our longing for it. Even we Christians who know Christ and love Christ still seek Him - or at least seek to imitate Him - in various ways. We try to remain open to Him, and in doing so we renounce the kind of control and fear that keeps His Spirit out, we renounce the contraceptive mentality that protects the precious bubble at all costs, that keeps it from ever being pierced, and that keeps life from ever being natural, joyful, fertile.
There is an idealism behind Shepherdsfiled, and “Cult Girl” Tabitha readily admits that and refuses to condemn it. She knows that that love, that longing, that desire to embody what we long for is at the heart of our existence. But there was an idealism to all sorts of Communism, not just the Christian “Acts 2” kind. There was an idealism to the Bolshevist Communism that brutalized half the world for most of the 20th century. Even the Nazis were idealists. But all such ideals, all such utopias, all such Closed Systems and Unrealities start with a frightening premise: We men are enough. We can build, on our own efforts, God’s Kingdom on earth - if we’re just emphatic enough and repressive enough. And if we have to, we’ll tear down and remake man himself to do it.
In C. S. Lewis’ phrase, “The Abolition of Man” is the final project of man. Indeed, at one point, Tabitha quotes C. S. Lewis …
Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their conscience.
Monday night, Labor Day, after meeting the Reward Trip kids and reading Tabitha’s blog posts, Karen and I arrived at the ice cream stand off of Highway 54 at the Lake of the Ozarks. There were about eight old men surrounding us as we stood in line to get ice cream, and, to my surprise, they were dirty old men. One old guy got a sundae with a cherry on top. He turned to his octogenarian companion. “I guess I can’t give you my cherry!” he leered. Two other old guys got their sundaes. One of them, stooped over, wearing shorts with street shoes and black socks pulled up to his ankles, said to the old guy next to him who got a smaller size sundae, “I guess mine’s bigger than yours!” I’m not sure his companion heard him.
They all finished their treats, climbed (slowly) into a mini-van with Missouri plates and pulled away, almost backing into another car in the process.
“Wow! Those old guys were something else!” I exclaimed.
“Do you know who those guys are?” asked Karen.
“Who are they?” I replied.
“They’re the elders from Shepherdsfield,” she answered.
It was the best laugh I’d had all weekend.