Seconds after the ”white-smoke alert” was sent, people who couldn’t or didn’t want to rush to the Vatican poured instead into the “Twitter Square.” As posts flooded the site, I couldn’t help thinking of these words from Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower”:
There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke. But you and I, we’ve been through that, and this is not our fate.
It was Fr. Robert Barron, the rector of the largest seminary in the United States and director of the New Evangeliziation, who got me listening to Dylan. The lyrics above describe perfectly the cacophony of sentiments expressed as the world waited to meet the new pope.
Many of us here feel life is but a joke.
There were the usual, tired Catholic-bashing Tweets. There were also honest, tragically justified condemnations of heinous human acts hidden under the cloak of religion badly lived. Women, angry the pope was not female, joined others who, like Piers Morgan, parasitically used the news to wave their arms for attention.
Genuinely sad, annoying, often understandable. And yet… they were there waiting too; instinctively grasping that beyond their cynicism, the Catholic pope is more than a punchline; somehow above the crime of being male, not truly synonymous with sex scandals.
But you and me, we’ve been through all that and this is not our fate.
In his often-bizarre but oh-so-brilliant analysis of the disastrous Star Wars prequels, Mike Stoklasa of Red Letter Media (video embedded below) commented on the opening sequence of A New Hope:
Compare this fecal matter [the Phantom Menace plot] to the opening of the original Star Wars. You see, a guy named William Shakesman once said, “Brevity is the soul of wit.” This just means “don’t waste my time.” You keep it nice and simple. Without saying one word of awkward, boring political dialogue that goes on for ten minutes we know everything we need to know just by the visuals. Rebels. Empire. We get a sense of how small and ill-equipped the rebels are and how large and powerful the Empire is. The low angle implies dominance and the length of the Star Destroyer implies the long reach of the Empire. This shot says everything we need to without saying one word. In fact, this is so genius I have a feeling that George Lucas had nothing to do with it and probably fought against putting it in the movie.
Having Michelle Obama, first lady of the United States, present an Academy Award was such a brilliant strategy for advancing the post-structuralist deconstruction of America, even the Obamas themselves probably didn’t realize how genius it was.
When the first lady’s name appeared in Oscar tweets I checked to see if they were posted by The Onion; it sounded like the perfect goofball story. My heart sank when I realized she was really participating, and though I am sometimes petty or partisan in spite of my best efforts, I know if Laura Bush or Nancy Reagan had been teleported to Hollywood, the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach would have been the same.
Cults: The Mind Enslaved, Part V
Since November 6, 2012, I’ve joined many friends who just don’t watch the news anymore. It seems the country is doing just fine without my frenzied attention to politics and that even in my absence, Drudge reached the billion-hit mark, though I could have sworn I made up half his tally!
Becoming a “news-hermit” was inspired by Roger L. Simon referencing Andrew Breitbart: “Politics is downstream from the culture.” Contributions to healing America need to be cultural: authentic spirituality and more caring dedication to family.
After two months of the Internet Media Diet, I doubled the marinara splashes on my copy of Jasper’s Kitchen Cookbook, whose recipes and philosophy are a prescription for what America really needs. I also managed to scribble the first 90,000 words of an old-fashioned romance novel, my intended stake-in-the-heart to pop-culture’s obsession with contrived love-triangles, the sex appeal of paranormal lovers in varying states of post-burial-decay, and the loss of faith in unique, everlasting devotion.
Yesterday, I was jolted from this peaceful stint as “Vampire-Book-Slayer” by a very disturbing email. All levity aside, the Ghost of Sophie Scholl shook me from slumber and I questioned whether one can always, in good conscience, abandon the social realm.
The Catholic Herald UK reports that Bishop Fellay, superior general of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX), the largest group of “Traditional Catholics,” hosted a conference in Canada on December 12, 2012. The paper observed:
The head of the traditionalist Society of St Pius X has called Jewish people “enemies of the Church”, saying Jewish leaders’ support of the Second Vatican Council “shows that Vatican II is their thing, not the Church’s”.
Bishop Bernard Fellay, the society’s superior general, said those most opposed to Rome granting canonical recognition to the SSPX have been “the enemies of the Church: the Jews, the Masons, the modernists”.
He said these people, “who are outside of the Church, who over centuries have been enemies of the Church”, urged the Vatican to compel the SSPX to accept Vatican II
If the intellectually honest, diverse and provocative PJ Lifestyle had a Catholic ”chaplain” for its culture wars, it would have to be Fr. Robert Barron, the new director of the largest seminary in the United States and producer of the movie series, Catholicism. Who wouldn’t be intrigued enough to at least have a “virtual beer” with the man who wrote the book on post-liberal Catholicism while calling Bob Dylan “one of his heroes?”
Fr. Barron brings his passion for the social implications and religious significance of cultural issues to those most impacted and excels at analyzing the complex shifting permanence that constitutes our human existence.
Baron’s video “Discussion of the Hook-Up Culture” dovetails beautifully with PJ Lifestyle Editor, David Swindle’s article, “When Marxists Make the Anti-Family Argument Honestly”. Swindle reviews a New Inquiry article by Madelaine Schwartz which affirms:
The potential diffusion of the family (emergence of teen motherhood, single motherhood and premarital co-habitation) is one of the most exciting things to happen to the American social pattern since the sexual revolution.
Swindle identifies this ”diffusion,” read rather “destruction,” as a chief element in the Marxist dismantling of the underpinnings of Western Civilization. Fr. Barron defines the “hook-up culture,” as the pervasive cultural attitude that unfettered sexual experience is normal and even beneficial.
In their analysis, both men point to unpublished consequences of these closely related attitudes towards ”liberated sex” and the resulting families. The New Left’s diffused family, for all its lofty promise, leads inexorably to poverty, the natural off-spring of self-seeking disorder. The hook-up sexuality drives women, as Fr. Barron substantiates in his discussion, to the campus-therapist’s office door.
Swindle and Barron argue that the family and family-centered sexuality are not simply conventions that can be swapped out for cooler upgrades, but are deeply rooted in our nature itself and produce specific consequences measurable by social and individual well-being.
Just as it does for the economic and medical facets of our lives, our Brave New World offers first a sexual “paradisum,” a Utopia of rapturous personal and social gratification, only to crumble and leave, in its wake, a human debris field.
Related at PJ Lifestyle:
Recently CBS chief foreign correspondent and 60 Minutes host Lara Logan uttered the most profound and significant words heard from a reporter in recent memory. Addressing the Chicago Better Government Association, she reminded wayward professional journalism of its forgotten essence.
Presenting her research on the actual state of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, Logan said:
So why did that story matter and why did we chose to do that particular story? If al-Qaeda was truly what drew us to Afghanistan after 9-11, we felt it was a fair and legitimate question to be asking of American leaders what the state of al-Qaeda is in Afghanistan. And you would have heard leaders, you would have heard bandied around the number fifty… only fifty al-Qaeda left in Afghanistan. The impression we are given is that they’re one drone strike away from obliteration. And that’s just simply not true. They know it is not true. What we had to do was set about investigating what was the truth and we had to be very careful about that because there is a distinction between investigating something to find out what the real situation is and trying to prove something that you believe is true. Those are two very different things and the second is a very dangerous thing. It is the enemy of great journalism. It is a trap that is very easy to fall into.
Giving a breathtaking demonstration of the self-effacement required by journalism as she had just re-defined it, Lara looked straight at the thousand guests present and the millions she knew would see the recording. Without flinching or considering the cost, she answered the eternal question:
Quid est veritas? What is the truth?
Why did we all root for Luke Skywalker and the Rebellion, cheering as one when the Death Star burst into a ball of flame? Why do we unanimously detest Panem’s Capitol, sharing a surge of joy when District 11 erupts after Rue’s senseless murder in The Hunger Games? What accounts for our universal loathing of Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Jane Austen’s most refined dictator who, insisting Mr. Darcy marry her insipid daughter, rivals the Emperor and President Snow in her own Georgian way?
Would it really have been so awful had the Empire ruled the Galaxy? Nobody appeared to be starving. It’s true the citizens of Panem were hungry, but at least they were safe from “war, terrible war.” The demise of Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet’s proud and prejudiced love would have cost them their status as the most beloved couple ever to live and breathe papyrus and yet, Darcy and Anne de Bourgh would have been rich — lacking neither the company of polite society nor polished silver.
A deep anguish probably stirred within your heart at these proposals. This malaise would turn to raw anger if we replaced these light-hearted examples of tyranny with darker ones, the true shadows of history whose malice brought real and lasting ruin and misery. Unanimous indignation meets the suggestion that since basic necessities of life were often provided by Stalin, Hitler, or Mao, totalitarianism is a viable living condition. Why?
We instinctively know, as human beings, we need more than food, shelter, and the absence of violence to be happy. This consuming hunger for joy is so important that Aristotle, the Definer himself, designates happiness as the final end for which we are created. To insist people, whether flesh and blood or birthed by quill, content themselves with crusts of bread or caviar instead of true human happiness violates our deepest sense of what it means to be human.
So what necessary ingredient of bliss was missing in the Emperor’s Galaxy, in Hunger Games‘ haunted Panem, and in Austen’s corset string-strangled English countryside? The essential right to self-determination. Nothing is more human than this internal principle of self-direction; the ability to freely select for ourselves from among the near-infinity of goals and the means to attain personally defined success. Without this, we are not human, but animals. This freedom is the condition for our joy and this is why, confronted with all forms of invasive denial of freedom, we rebel.
In Cults: The Mind Enslaved Parts I and II, we considered the normal and cultic human intellectual processes. It seemed that nothing could be worse than surrendering a mind to the shared Gnostic Brain of a cult. Understanding now the primary importance of human freedom for happiness, we consider how cults damage this even more fundamental faculty, the free will.
“Mom, how come that guy’s poster says God hates me?”
I unbuckle the toddlers for Mass while my oldest children jump from the van and stare at the neon-colored signs. Once a month the Westboro Baptist’s hate campaign targets our parish and I spend the last minutes of the Sunday-scramble assuring our toddlers that God loves them while my husband distracts the pre-teens from a woman wearing a shredded, filthy U.S. flag.
After Mass the signs are gone and the kids talk doughnuts, but it’s hard to forget the other children, those who spent their morning happily singing about our death. Unlike my son and the people of Topeka who find Westboro followers incomprehensible, I don’t need to ask, “Why do they do that?” I know. As a former member of a cultic organization, I inhabited the same Gnostic universe and remember exactly what it felt like to stand in opposition to society, thinking my group alone held the key to salvation, that we had the blueprint for Utopia and the mandate to transform the world. Different messages are scrawled on the signs, but all cult members share the same mental mechanism, a way of thinking that holds them in a true prison.
In part 1 of this series, “Cults: The Mind Enslaved,” I defined the essence of cult membership as a replacement of normal thought processes with blind adherence to an irrational doctrine revealed through controlling leaders. Most cult analysis begins with a taxonomic classification based on exterior characteristics. Warning signs and red flags circumscribe the domain of manipulative organization. This approach is limited because invasive groups can be deemed safe if they appear normal or lack the stereotypical, pop-culture features usually associated with cults.
Organizations such as Scientology, Jim Jones’s People’s Temple, or fundamentalist Mormonism have rigid behavioral structures that render individuation practically impossible. Many true cults lack such a physical control over members. In more fluid cults, members might pick and choose which aspects of dogma or behavior they will actually implement, giving them a sense of complete freedom. To accurately evaluate the cultic nature of a group, we must see if the organization facilitates the development of the Gnostic mental process in members who actually implement the ideology.
“The Mind Enslaved” summarized that human beings gain knowledge through sensory information from which we derive general principles upon which we base meaning and behavior. We also learn from adults and peers who share their acquired wisdom. The cultic mind bypasses reliance upon the senses and logical analysis. Instead, members accept the worldview — theology or philosophy — and code of normative behavior presented by cult leaders, even when all these fly in the face of evidence and reason.
Jason Beghe is an actor, a Brooklyn tough-guy known for his starring role in the gritty G.I. Jane. In 2008, after fifteen years as a Scientology poster boy, Beghe left the cult and released an interview (embedded below) chronicling his descent into and exodus from L. Ron Hubbard’s bizarre universe.
Beghe’s recruitment, life as a celebrity spokesman, and ultimate rejection of the cult are riveting, particularly for someone like myself who spent nearly thirty years in a cultic religious organization. I was stunned because, even though the doctrines and practices of our respective organizations are so different, I identified perfectly with the mental processes Beghe described. I also believed in a completely irrational worldview and ignored blatant contradictions.
Experts believe people join and remain in cults for similar motives regardless of variations in cult lifestyles and teaching. Harder to find in scholarly research is an explanation of how or why people in wildly differing cults exhibit such similar mental and emotional symptoms.
A potential answer is found in “Confessions of a Coward,” a brilliant article by PJ Media columnist David P. Goldman. Published by First Things, the piece reveals that the scathing political and economic commentaries by “Spengler” actually flowed from Goldman’s eloquent pen. Confiding the story of his return to the practice of Judaism, Goldman admits that from 1976-1986 a compulsion to escape his Jewish identity and find post-1960s structure left him vulnerable to the overtures of the cult leader Lyndon LaRouche.
The Vietnam War, the crisis in race relations, and the cracks in the economic structure of the 1970s persuaded us that we had to do something and that indifference was morally inexcusable. And that is where LaRouche had us. His intellectual method resembled the old tale about stone soup: Having announced that he had the inside track on the hidden knowledge that underlay Western civilization (one of his essays was titled The Secrets Known Only to the Inner Elites,) he attracted a small parade of intellectual orphans, whom he then put to elaborating the details.
The first time I read Goldman’s description of LaRouches’s “soup,” my blood froze:
LaRouche claimed to trace a tradition of secret knowledge across the ages…in LaRouche’s Manichean view of the world, a conspiracy had suppressed the truth in the service of evil oligarchs…the Rockefellers, and the Trilateral Commission all figured variously in this grand conspiracy against LaRouche’s supposed intellectual antecedents. Jewish banking families kept popping up in LaRouche’s accounts of the evil forces.
The worldview promoted by the organization in which I spent my youth mirrors LaRouche’s, but it was not the content that gripped me. What truly leaped off the screen of Goldman’s Confessions was a clue about how cults produce this profound psychological effect that can grab even the brightest of minds into a “cult syndrome.” Goldman exposes what happens when when the “Gnostic Mind” meets reality:
You might think—you should think—that this (LaRouche’s Antisemitism) would have sent us running for the exits. But, Godless and faithless, we were all possessed by a fear of being Jewish, and LaRouche offered us a rock to hide under. In a Carto-influenced article LaRouche later tried to suppress, he put the number of Jewish dead at around 1.5 million. I knew about all this, and I looked the other way. LaRouche took my quantitative study and combined it with the paranoid musings of other researchers into a book, Dope, Inc., that had unmistakable anti-Semitic overtones. I knew about this, too, and again I looked the other way.
Every spring millions of Americans make the near-ultimate sacrifice for a loved one. Facing often mind-numbing torture, devoted friends and family prove their unconditional devotion by attending a college graduation ceremony.
The essence of graduation is the conferring by an institution, and the reception by a student, of a diploma. This supposedly guarantees that said individual ”is worthy of the degree for which he/she is presented.” Unfortunately the lords of “these hallowed halls” have taken advantage of the hostage-like circumstances in which graduates and their guests find themselves and purposely place diploma distribution at the very end of the festivities.
Sadistically transforming the whole business into “Academy Awards for Smart People,” deans, chairs, and others clad in the trappings of antiquity first bestow upon one another honorary degrees and the wherewithal to enlarge mothy hood collections.
The apex of agony, though there have been memorable exceptions, is usually the commencement address, final words of wisdom imparted after the president of the alumni association welcomes the graduates into the ranks of donors-in-perpetuum.
The commencement speech should honor the accomplishments of those completing their education and impart succinct advice for navigating the world they are about to enter as true adults.
Northwestern University’s 2012 ceremony was a welcome departure from the usually bleak norm. Students devoid of cynicism, pithy Dean “Morty” Schapiro — whose well-earned status among students borders on that of a rock-star — and a dearth of superfluous awards succeeded in rendering the event pleasant.
In spite of this, several addresses offered perfect illustrations of what NOT to do when giving a commencement speech. Remember them. Avoid using them the next time you are called upon to send thousands of America’s best educated young men and women into the real world. Or pass some fun time scouting for them the next time you have to prove your love by attending graduation.