Sunday, June 22, 2014

Living in the Church vs. Living in a Cult

There's a strange phenomenon that's been at work within the Church for the past sixty years or so.

A number of groups have sprung up within the Catholic Church that have become more or less full-blown cults.  These groups present themselves as Catholic, but they share several of the following characteristics with cults ...

  • An "us vs. them" mentality
  • The attempt to control every aspect of the lives of their members
  • Secrecy - not being open about who they are or what their intentions are
  • Recruitment of new members is done thorough "love bombing" and false friendships
  • Members are isolated - cut off from their families and from society at large
  • An emphasis on sex - either sexual purity or sexual license - which becomes almost obsessive
  • Members are abused either psychologically, physically or sexually
  • The founder is adored, and his sins or flaws are hidden or excused away
  • Totalitarian techniques are used: history is rewritten, dissidents are shamed, expelled and stripped of their dignity and humanity, and brainwashing is practiced
  • A spirit of sadism and masochism can begin to flourish
  • Esotericism - the full truth of the aims of the cult is revealed only to a select few who have become sensitive and keen enough to appreciate the secret, after a long process of initiation; the true aims of the cult are hidden from the public and from new members
  • A narrow and bizarre doctrine is taught and sick and perverse discipline is followed

Many Catholic sub-groups like this make a lot of money and cultivate a large following of powerful people.

The response by bishops and the Vatican to the formation of cults withing the Church?  Typically they sit on their thumbs, or else praise the cult leaders, until, like the founder of the Legionaries, the founders are demonstrated to be wolves in sheep's clothing, or worse.


My question is this.

Is there a tendency within the "devout" demographic of the Church toward seeing the divinely constituted Body of Christ itself as being nothing more than a narrow, sick cult?

Here's a character sketch of what I mean.  It may even describe some readers of this blog!  Let's call this guy Vince.  Vince ...

  • Operates on a strict "us vs. them" mentality: either Republican vs. Democrat, conservative vs. liberal, Christian vs. Secularist, etc.  All good resides with "us", all bad is found in "them".
  • Has a kind of nascent obsessive-compulsive disorder.  Only by doing things in exactly the right kind of way can Vince find salvation.  Thus a free spirit like Pope Francis who operates entirely off the cuff is horrifying to Vince, not merely because Francis emphasizes things "they" also emphasize, but because he's spontaneous, and spontaneity frustrates the desire for strict control within the cult.
  • Lying and immoral behavior are means that are justified by the ends, and our ends, the ends for "us" within the cult, are always laudable, by definition.
  • Our primary aim as cult-Catholics is to seal ourselves off from the rest of creation and hunker down.  Power, security and control - over our own lives and over others - becomes our Unholy Trinity.
  • Since an extended family always includes people who disagree with you - the boorish secular uncle, the spiteful liberal sister-in-law, etc. - family members are sometimes denigrated or even disowned if they don't stick to the program.  Even the bonds of natural affection are severed.  The cult replaces the family.
  • Sex is either Puritanically repressed at all costs, or made into a kind of magic rite that expresses our deepest longings for God.  It's never just sex and it's never just fun - and it's never what the Church teaches it is.
  • Brutality is king - internal dissidents and external opponents who aren't with the program are to be treated with a heartless and violent contempt, even if they're bloggers or Facebook friends.
  • Certain Catholic Media Celebrities are adored and may never be criticized, questioned or looked upon as normal fallible human beings.
  • Vince might find salvation not by means of the sacraments, but through things like Gluten Free Whole Foods, Raw Milk, Multi-Level Marketing, Yoga, Yogurt, End Times Seminars, Guns, specific devotions or media apostolates, etc.


Now an "us vs. them" mentality can help us to remember that we, as Christians, are to be in the world and not of the world, and to keep in mind that much of what passes for culture around us is degenerate and dangerous - and to remember that sometimes it is, in fact, "them vs. us".  Such an attitude can help us to be on guard - but if there's anything antithetical to Christian compassion it's letting your whole life be infused with the spirit of "us vs. them".  The more we think like that, the less we will love "them" and the more we will seek to destroy "them" (whether "them" are the liberals, the atheists, the Protestants, the "neo-Catholics", the gays, the Democrats, the Jews, etc.) for "them's" the ones who keep bursting our pretty little soap bubble.  Them's our enemies, dammit! and we're not foolish enough to love our enemies!  That's certainly not why we're Christian!

Vince, then, attempts to live in a cult that satisfies his need for control, power and security, rather than in the Church, which offers none of the above.  The Church offers much more than control, power and security, but Vince and his fellow cultists won't see that.


jvc said...

From my direct experience with its members, the charismatic renewal seems like a cult.

I'm a conservative, but I would consider the true - believers in the CR to be more dangerous to Catholicism than the left. At least most days.

Howard said...

" Thus a free spirit like Pope Francis who operates entirely off the cuff is horrifying to Vince, not merely because Francis emphasizes things "they" also emphasize, but because he's spontaneous, and spontaneity frustrates the desire for strict control within the cult."

I honestly think most frustration with Pope Francis is not simply with his spontaneity, but with the fact that he carries it off badly. He's scarcely alone in this. For example, although some of the best moments in film have been the result of spontaneous improvisations, most actors should stick to the script at all times, and even the best should keep the improvisation limited. Likewise, Samuel Johnson may be witty speaking off the cuff, and Yogi Berra may be funny, but not many of us can pull of either.

Howard said...

After all, nowhere is it taught that the Holy Spirit protects the Pope against being something of a ham.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for calling attention to this. Do you dare name names?