Why this website is not “Liberal” or “Conservative”
“Small minds pit truth against truth, large minds do not.”—Fr. Dubay, in “Happy Are You Poor”
As we discussed in our last podcast episode, cult members tend to see all outsiders as malevolent and untrustworthy. The cult sees itself as fundamentally righteous, and therefore above criticism. Such thinking produces hate and fear directed at outsiders. It also produces blindness to any problems within the group, or within the individuals who make it up.
In a subtler form, this mentality is the constant temptation of the devout Christian. It is the fault of the Pharisee who “thanked God he was not like other men.” The devout are tempted to fixate on the obvious moral failings of “inferior” outsiders, while ignoring their own more subtle sins of pride, rash judgment, and envy. It is always tempting to ignore our own flaws by focusing on those of others.
In the United States today, both of the major political parties have developed this cult-like, pharisaic attitude. Increasingly, the members of both parties see their opponents not merely as mistaken, but as maliciously bent on destroying the country. As with any cult, this fixation on the “evil outsiders” makes party members increasingly unlikely to see internal flaws.
When Christians are drawn into the cult-like world of political ideology, it increases their danger of becoming Pharisees. A conservative friend was lamenting the lack of “really good sermons.” As our conversation progressed, it became clear that in his mind, a “really good sermon” was one focused on abortion or homosexuality; in other words, a sermon that challenged those he saw as outsiders but did not challenge him. Of course, there is a liberal counterpart to this, which laments the fact that sermons aren’t aimed at xenophobia or greed. Political ideologies have divided Christians into opposing groups, each of which sees Christianity as being primarily about defeating “the other guys” instead of about a loving and humble relationship with God and our neighbors.
Both political parties are corrupting because they are “totalitarian.” Just as nothing in a cult member’s life is separate from the cult, political ideologies are increasingly affecting every area of life, from healthcare to education. Religion is no exception. Political platforms often determine the stances that Christians take. This is a serious problem, as the letter to the Hebrews warns us: “Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teaching.” The Christian message does not align with either of the major political parties.
Political ideology contrasted with the Gospel
Jesus tells us: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.” Is this the message of any political leaders today? Do they not rather encourage their followers to seek revenge, to hate opponents, and wish for their downfall? Don’t they encourage a fixation getting what is owed us?
Jesus tells us: “Happy are you poor”; and “It will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven.” Is this the message of either political party today? Or do they rather hold out promises of ever-increasing material wealth to those who vote for them?
Jesus tells us: “But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.” Do our political parties encourage us to become angry, to call our brothers and sisters fools… and worse?
Before his Passion, Christ prayed that we might be one as he and the Father are one. Our political parties, on the other hand, produce division; it is their basic strategy, just as it is the basic strategy of the cult.
St. James tells us: “Listen! The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.” Jesus tells us that the sheep and the goats will be divided depending on how they served the poor. Yet Jesus also tells us: “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” Neither of our major political parties upholds both social justice and the sanctity of marriage.
The Gospel message can’t be divided up. Christians can’t pick and choose the truths they accept, but this is what both political parties want us to do. C. S. Lewis said, “The devil always sends errors into the world in pairs—pairs of opposites. And he always encourages us to spend a lot of time thinking which is the worse. You see why, of course? He relies on your extra dislike of the one error to draw you gradually into the opposite one.”
We can’t let ideology warp our understanding of the Gospel. Instead, we must “be transformed by the renewal of our minds, so that we may discern what is the will of God, what is good and perfect and true.”
This website strives to serve this renewal by providing a place where those with different viewpoints can interact in friendship. Please join our mission, and pray for unity among Christians.
Prayer from Fratelli Tutti
O God, Trinity of love, from the profound communion of your divine life, pour out upon us a torrent of fraternal love. Grant us the love reflected in the actions of Jesus, in his family of Nazareth, and in the early Christian community. Grant that we Christians may live the Gospel, discovering Christ in each human being, recognizing him crucified in the sufferings of the abandoned and forgotten of our world, and risen in each brother or sister who makes a new start. Come, Holy Spirit, show us your beauty, reflected in all the peoples of the earth, so that we may discover anew that all are important and all are necessary, different faces of the one humanity that God so loves. Amen.
Cult dynamics may be more common than you think.
It might seem that most normal people don’t have to worry about cults. The reality, however, is that cults are merely dysfunctional communities, and their obvious flaws are merely an exaggerated version of common social problems.
There is a strongly felt lack of community in the modern world. This lack produces both a desire for community and a level of inexperience which can make negative dynamics more likely.
In this episode, Malcolm Schluenderfritz and Peter DeGoede discuss a few of these negative dynamics. They try to show the ways that these dynamics can crop up in everyday life, and examine some of the underlying problems.
Some Problematic attitudes
They discuss how cults are marked by dishonesty, both to members and to the wider world, and by a lack of openness to the truth. This type of mentality can afflict any group with divides the world into insiders and outsiders. Group members can become OK with not knowing the truth.
Cults are usually based on fear, but many seemingly harmless communities are also based on fear of the outside world. In particular, parents are afraid that the world will corrupt their children. That’s not a groundless fear but if it is the basis for community formation, everyone will suffer.
An obsessive focus on the nuclear family can actually become selfish and unchristian. Families may do well to avoid the more problematic aspects of our culture. On the other hand, if a focus remains on the negative, it can lead to greater evil. Christ illustrates this point with the Gospel parable of the man who swept his house of a demon, only for seven demons to return.
Focus on the Negative
A focus on the negative can also blind individuals and groups to the evil that is found inside, in individual souls or in a group. We’re all sinners, and we should ground our spirituality in humility. Christ comes to be with us in our weakness and failures. We shouldn’t try to find perfection, which can lead us to gloss over problems.
Any attempt to follow Christ will create a certain amount of division. We have to make choices that will possibly alienate us from those around us. At the same time, such division can lead to cult mentalities by dividing the world between insiders and outsiders. Catholics should not make choices which turn fellow Catholics into outsiders. We have to remain united to the body of Christ, even if this can be a source of pain or frustration at times. In doing so we will be imitating the Saints, who preached a radical message which could be divisive at times, but who nevertheless remained faithful to the unity of the Church.
Along the way, a number of other topics are discussed, including the opposition between choice and culture, “family envy”, the difference between natural virtue and Christianity, liturgy as chosen, and the felt lack of control in the modern world despite our technological abilities.
Header image: a plan drawing of Port Royal convent, the center of the Jansenist movement in France.