Monday, March 12, 2012

The "Virtues" of Suffering in Spiritually Abusive Systems

At the blog From Bitter Waters to Sweet, Mara Reid asks the following concerning the New Calvinism (NC)

I see from the example in the post (that of a woman being abused "partaking in Christ's suffering") that NCs can come off as ambivalent about helping/stopping suffering when it rears its ugly head.

Do they take it a step further and actually emphasize suffering as a goal/way of life?

In other words, it's one thing to tell a suffering person that they shouldn't seek to change their situation. It's another thing to tell a happy person that they should actively aspire to be suffering.

#1:  Neoplatonism among New Calvinists and Adherents of Quiverfull/Patriarchy

My husband's perennial first response is that it is neoplatonism, or Christianity that has been infused with secular ancient Greek philosophical ideals. Plato taught that the body was bad and the spirit was good. We have to make the body suffer and we have to resist delights of the flesh to achieve spiritual insight and enlightenment. This neoplatonism did transfer over into Catholicism.  With all of the parallels to Roman Catholic ideology in NC and their perversions of Catholicism, it doesn't surprise me.

All of these religions are works-based systems of salvation, so one must suffer in penance to purge sin. Suffering indicates and confirms release experientially, and grace is such a MIRACLE, those who follow works-based religion can't believe that they get grace based on faith alone. So they mix works in there so it seems to them like more of an even exchange.  You have to replace faith with something.

(This always makes me think of Monty Python's Holy Grail with the monks in the beginning who chant and then whack themselves in the head with a board after each phrase.  It was their commentary on the inconsistencies in this old, Roman Catholic practice.)

#2:  Image Consciousness as a Function of Spiritual Abuse

It seems to be an integral part of the patriarchy movement, as Lynne notes. Hillary McFarland talks about this in her book, Quivering Daughters. Families take on the cause, and when they suffer the tough elements of poverty because of their willful choices, it is seen as virtuous. For example, consider women like Nancy Campbell's daughter suffering by having no heat, living in a flooded house, it is suffering directly for Christ and His cause, not a lack of dutiful stewardship or immaturity.  It's better and more holy to use the "old paths" instead of the new ones, as dipping your child in kerosene to remove lice (the proof that you're being persecuted for your faith) instead of buying an inexpensive shampoo which does the same thing without risk of harm.  It's better to raise and butcher goats (a very dirty process) to make soap which you cannot freely use because you have no hot water and limited water than it is to buy a bar of soap at the store.

These folks aren't really suffering for the cause, and it brings no spiritual benefit, but it “proves” to the person that they are special to God and that what they've done is important. (That's a primary element of spiritual abuse according to David Henke.) 

It is also translated in the person's head as righteous persecution for righteousness. That is very Puritan, but today, it's all about image consciousness as much as it is "proof" of one's spirituality and self-righteousness. They want to look different to get attention. New Calvinist Russell Moore said that we should seek to be a “kingdom of freaks” (Different By Design conference audio 2007). It's the proof that they are better than everyone else.

#3:  The "Virtue" of Producerism

Then, there are people like Chip Berlet who see it as an integral part of the outlook of "Right Wing Populism" in the United States.   It is a way of perceiving the world -- a way in which people are taught to process what happens to them and how they fit in with the world, and it values labor. It is very common in high demand groups and is a way of controlling and motivating a group.

You can read more about it here, but it is a system characterized by
1. Producerism
2. Demonization and Scapegoating
3. Conspiricism
4. Apocalyptic Narratives and Millennial Visions (in patriarchy, through dominionism)

In this case, we're talking about the aspect of producerism which gives the group cause to see people in terms of all black or white. You either labor and are part of the cause (or part of red-blooded, hard working America), or you are the problem. This gives them an intellectual reason to feel morally superior to “the problem.” (Remember how Hitler had that “Jewish problem”?)

In producerism, people are divided into two categories: producers and parasites. The parasites, either those who unworthily partake of the fruit of the labor of others or those who labor against the cause are labeled as evil. This allows the individual to disengage morally, giving their own sense of ethics over to the group and it's cause, and they can treat those non-producers as lesser beings. It's a way of letting the virtuous end justify the means. When that happens, you can justify treating those “lesser beings” immorally, and you can have license to do anything you want yourself.

This dovetail's with Paul's noting that the system of New Calvinism is really all about antinomianism. These guys want to do whatever they see fit without paying all of the consequences, and they moralize and "one up" themselves on the moral ladder while they "one down" everyone else in order to do it. They redefine people and terms to fit their desired endpoint. As Lynne aptly notes in her comment, in patriarchy and NC, women are blamed for quite a bit, right down to original sin.

Really, it's an adult revamp of primitive ego defense mechanisms with a bit of tribalism mixed in. They are not mature enough to care about others in a healthy way, so they reduce their opponents to level the playing field and give themselves an advantage. That's what small children do, thinking in oversimplified terms and the most basic of categories of black and white. In terms of Robert Lifton's criteria of thought reform, it's a part and a function of the Demand for Purity, and it involves the Dispensing of Existence. In reality, people and groups of people are very complex, and we are all a mix of good and bad (the Image of God mixed with our sinful natures). We don't fit all that neatly into categories and stereotypes.

Does anyone remember the line from Orwell's 1984? “He who controls the present controls the past. He who controls the past controls the future.” Just drop whatever inconvenient evidence that defines the past (or doctrine) differently into the “memory hole” to wipe it away from the discussion and the world of thinkable ideas. Make it a set of “unwords” and replace it with “Newspeak.” Is this any different from one of Doug Phillips' favorite sayings of“He who defines wins”?   In New Calvinism, they don't redefine sin like Emergent Christianity does, but they redefine the process by which God redeems us from sin. (No suffering, no redemption.)

#4:  Gothard's Grace Points to Keep Away Sin Cooties and Gain Power

 And then there's the weird psychology of seeking out suffering in Gothard's weird twist on Roman Catholic Theology wherein you earn grace through suffering so that you can keep the sin cooties away. Suffer, and you'll bank up power points to do what God really wants you to do.  It's Gothard's special understanding of the hidden formula in the idea that God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (I Peter 5:5).  There's a whole section on this abberant doctrine of his in the Big Red IBLP Book.  

You have to go out to seek opportunities to be humble, and then you can bank up meritorious works.  It is similar to the Roman Catholic idea that you could bank up good works as salutary acts to keep yourself out of purgatory or buy someone else's way out.   There are many similarities between New Calvinism and Gothard's system because they both merge justification and sanctification.

From Valerie Tarico's interview with me concerning Gothard's system and complementarianism:
Gothard's additional errors contribute to the overall harmful nature of his ideology. Because favor with God must be earned through works of submission, one must have a structure that requires submission. He misinterprets key Scriptures about authority, perceiving that the church and the family operate under a military-style, chain of command authority structure. Because one must work to accumulate this mystical substance of merit, mistreatment and abuse merely provide needed mechanisms for accumulating merit. Unless an authority requires a Christian to commit an overt sin, Gothard teaches that all authority must be obeyed at all costs.

. . .  Those who live at the top of the food chain fair well, but in the process of this chain of command/humility system, those who fall at the lower end of the hierarchy are required to submit and suffer all manner of injustice to improve their character and work God's mystical and often indiscernible divine plan.

Read more about the errors of meriting grace as an aberrant Christian teaching here and here.