Sunday, February 15, 2009

A Psychoanalytic Critique of Cults in the Catholic Church: Part III

"Who is this king of glory? The LORD of hosts is the king of glory." (Psalm 24:10)
"For the Lord" meant to be against the world and its list of dysfunctions. These worldly things became more and more numerous as time went on. I knew that there were some cases where we didn't observe all the worldly things as problematic, but I wished we did. The more radical a life "for the Lord" was, the more things it had rejected. I wished that Mom and Dad would take away our bed mattresses so we could be like the really radical members and sleep on a wooden plank of a bed. I always envied the people who lived in Akron and wished we could move there to do all the things during the week I heard about from the other kids. The kids had a private and secret sect of conduct and, even though I didn't really approve of it, it was fascinating. The older boys would send down the line stories and tales of bad things they had done and when no one was around they would shock us younger ones with their antics. Most of these antics were using bad words and spitting, but sometimes they talked about girls too. That made me feel really uncomfortable. The world became clearer to me as I grew. I began to see the difference between an "ordinary" person or Catholic and the truly dangerous ones. I suspected people who were not charismatic and especially those who dressed suspiciously. I was not shy. I would boldly correct someone from the world. I was confused when my Mom told me to not tell the goat lady that using the Lord's name in vain was a sin. I was getting better at guitar. Even Dad was noticing this. I could strum better than him already. He always played things in that other way the Spanish songs went. Living "for the Lord" meant that we had to be different and at school this was hard. I never made that many friends; but it didn't make me sad. I understood why and I liked it that way. I never felt like a victim. As I grew in prayer I learned the zenith of approval could be found in public worship. Especially if, during the time of prophesy or spontaneous singing, I could think of something poetic or deep to say. I made the adults so proud when I did this. And I knew it must be "for the Lord". This affirmation led me to believe that "the Lord" could be found in the approval of community. In a certain way, I secretly wanted to be even more radical than my parents were. Sometimes I wondered if we were being radical enough. I burned with passion for these things. Now, I was in trouble plenty and got into my own share of mischief, but there was no doubt in anyone's mind that I was fully committed to "the Lord". I had a personal relationship with Him. I did my daily prayer in mimicry of the adults. But when I read the Bible, I read it in earnest. I poured over it seriously and intensely. I loved to read. I loved to read big book, adult books. Sometimes I would peruse my Dad's collection of books and read the back of the cover. I learned how to read the descriptions and the table of contents and pretty much get a good gist of what the whole book was about. I learned about how important defending the faith and the tenets of the Charismatic Renewal (like praying in tongues) was and how important countercultural ways of living were too. I always clustered these authors together with my Bible reading and the things from the community. Mr. Herman and others went to Honduras and I slowly forgot about him for the most part. But by now my parents were deeply involved in the community and other subgroups like Couples for Christ. For me, it was all part of the same thing. We were to go to visit Grandma and Grandpa for a while during the second semester of my second grade year and we would be doing something with Mr. Hermann there. Little did I know that we would go to Mexico City in a train and decide to move to Mexico by the next school year.

So far I have rambled between the late 80's and early 90's. What strikes me most about thinking about this as it happened it how very pleasant it was to me then. Also, I am struck with how many skills I use today (in my musical and academic work) were begun at that time. My greatest regret, however, is that my "Lord" was not God. My God was not infinite or limitless or mysterious. He was so understood and codified that I never looked twice at one of my favorite Psalms: Psalm 24. I never really wondered who "the Lord" was. Skepticism or questioning were clear tools of the devil--really, they were. Intellectual explanations or even Catholic interpretations were just excuses for giving in the the world. I was sure who the Lord was and how to live for Him. The details were in whether I would be radical enough.

This is one of the reasons that, while I look fondly on this part of my life in so many ways, I see such an approach as cultish. The sign of a cult is not in some straightforwardly evil plan, instead, it is in the incredible narrowness of that plan. Narrowness at the time was good thing. There could be no room for the world in our lives. But, as I re-read the Cultural Approach today, I see it rooted in a certain insecurity. "The Lord" is nothing more than an image of the angst of Mr. Herman and his followers. But this angst is not a true property of the Lord of Psalm 24. That Lord is God. And this God is not a mere placeholder for our own radical proposals. This God is infinite, mysterious, and catholic (universal). This does not do away with real things, but it also saturates them with more than they can contain. It humbles them and us in the process.

This is the hallmark of a cult: hubris. As a religious organization it is the ultimately the arrogance of idolatry. To belief that one can so neatly and tyrannically give meaning to the person or the family is a pure act of selfish pride. It is to create God using our own finite ideas. With it comes a different god, one fashioned in the image of something altogether different. Discipline and threats of expulsion into the wretched world--or, to put it another way, fear tactics--preserve this god, this idol.

However, when we ask "Who is the Lord?" in humility we are not threatened--we are loved.


Robin said...

A great critique of the legion and RC can be read here.

angcopp said...

That is a good read Robin, although I'd say the comments (mostly from ex-RC/LCers) speak volumes more than the article's author could.