Thursday, October 27, 2016

On Gossip and cults

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Where 105 Catholics became victims of tyranny.
This short passage in a book I'm reading struck me as worth sharing. The subject is cults--groups using psychological techniques to exploit their members for an ulterior goal (usually the enrichment of the founder).

In many groups, there is a "no gossip" or "no nattering" rule which keeps people from expressing their doubts or misgivings about what is going on. This rule is usually rationalized by saying that gossip will tear apart the fabric of the group or destroy unity, when in reality the rule is a mechanism to keep members from communicating anything other than positive endorsements.

M.T. Singer, Cults in Our Midst, pp69-70



Cults often defend themselves by pointing out superficial similarities with hierarchical and authoritarian organisations such as elite military units or traditional religious groups. This is one of the things which help one tell them apart. In the military, having the same things to complain about is actually one of the mechanisms by which recruits bond together as a unit; in cults care is taken to prevent communication, and the development of fellow-feeling, among them. I can't speak for other religions, but in the Catholic Church we are encouraged to 'manifest our concerns' not only up the chain of command--if we want to think in such terms--but horizontally. Canon 212: [the laity] have the right also to make their views known to others of Christ's faithful.

Reading about the horror of cults, whether religious, New Age, or based around get-rich-quick schemes or communication with Extra Terrestrials, makes me grateful for the things which prevent the Church from heading even a little in that direction. Another very important aspect is that all established religions have an objective tradition to which members can appeal, and against which the whims of their superiors can be judged and criticised. Religions which re-write their core texts, or let portions of them slip down the memory hole (or, even worse, don't have such texts), are treading a very dangerous path, because they are making the views of their current leaders the final court of appeal, not just in a disciplinary sense (which may be inevitable), but morally and rationally, for sincere members. At that point you are no longer struggling, with the help of the institutional leadership, to live a set of objective ideals, but are becoming the pawns, the playthings, of the leadership. This leadership may be benign, but isn't impeccable, and can easily, in the absence of constraints, become megalomaniacal, even if it didn't start that way.

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1 comment:

  1. Anonymous4:14 am

    Ah. I wondered where Frank's excellent aggregator Canon212 but never got around to looking it up. These are strange times. What a coincidence that these strange times also have seen the empowerment of the laity through blogs and such as never before. Of course, caveat emptor.

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