Monday, May 5, 2014

Sometimes Mentioning Hitler Speaks to the Probelm of Dead Orthodoxy, not Godwin's Law

Though mindful that “the metaphor is not the map,” the importance of noting the characteristics of destructive people as a function of recovery from spiritual abuse shouldn't be dismissed.

Reducteo ad Hitlerum?

Over the weekend, I stumbled over a clever and amusing photo meme comparing a leader of a high demand group to Adolf Hitler. I've obscured part of the photo here, but I think that it conveys a truth about the nature of the strikingly similar and eerie common characteristics shared by predators who run totalist groups. 

I am not innocent of doing the very same thing, as I once compared my own leader and his wife to Ahab and Jezebel in the heat of the fury of my anger – so early after the betrayal. I've also produced my own share of memes featuring the very same character in the meme. I'm no innocent party here, and I don't know that I'm proud of it. I do think that it is sometimes more healthy to laugh than cry, however.

Humor often helps to take the sting out of the pain of betrayal and tragedy. In an old interview with Mel Brooks concerning his many jabs at Hitler, he said that he saw it as perhaps the ultimate victory over the most cruel. You can laugh at them to demonstrate just how small they really are. (That's my inadequate paraphrase of his message.) Perhaps that's why I've always loved Monty Python's skit about “Hilter,” as it also shows the paranoia that characterizes these types of people. It helps you regain a little bit of what they stole from you. I will one day answer for all of these times I've laughed, engaged, and created such things, but I'm also banking on God's good sense of humor and irony, along with His enduring mercy. I think that there is a time and a place for such expression, tempered with moderation and appropriate timing.

When You're Not Playing the Hitler Card

The same infamous Nazi was introduced in a discussion this weekend at Spiritual Sounding Board. I drew from some of my comments there and have expanded upon them a bit more to illustrate an important truth about the predictable nature of both charismatic leader with simple solutions and trusting followers who are looking for answers to solve their complex problems.
Hitler is an extreme example which some used to unfairly taint an opponent through guilt by association. When brought up in an online discussion to do just that, it is called Godwin's Law. Yet, at the same time, when discussing thought reform programs, the analogy is not without it's value because it illustrates the problematic behavior of totalisic leaders.

There are far more small time operators who use the same techniques, but not to accomplish the same ends. Thank God. But it is worth considering that selling out just to accomplish some lofty ideal that becomes more important than the people in the process is the same whether you are Hitler, an Amway middle manager, or a minister. Given the right circumstances, and if the leader has the right solution to a problem that is perceived as dire, people will sell out to them, too.

I love that line out of Dostoevsky's Brothers Karamazov about the telling of a parable of when Jesus is approached by who I always imagine as Tom├ís de Torquemada, known for his ruthlessness during the Fifteenth Century's Spanish Inquisition. (Levity: I bet that you didn't expect that. Ha!) I think that the Grand Inquisitor passage it's one of the most brilliant pieces of writing in Western prose, illustrating remarkable truth about the nature of people.

In a pompous and condescending tone, he says to Jesus,
We have corrected Thy work and have founded it upon miracle, mystery and authority. And men rejoiced that they were again led like sheep.”

The Illusory Benefits of Following the Leader

In both her books on Totalitarianism and Eichmann, Hannah Arendt explains so many elements in the society at that time that made Europe, particularly Germany, very willing to listen to Hitler. He created the illusion that he had solutions to many painful problems that plagued that society, and each man's personal part in that society could be conveniently shrugged away as the “Jewish problem.” Money and greed and human need fueled the fire.

Hitler offered miracle through magic solutions to complex problems. His ideology held so much mystery, pulling on the pride of the German people as special before God and gifted as visionaries who could help to make the world all that it could be and should be. And following authority creates the illusion that at least some of people's personal responsibility for the outcomes are somewhat diminished (moral disengagement). “We were only doing the right thing through our loyalty to the expert who knew so much more than I did.”

Note Bandura's description below whose field of study was birthed out of the quest to understand the utter evil depicted through the Eichmann trials, what Arendt called “the banality of evil.” I think that what it elucidated squares nicely with the concept of total depravity.

Dead vs Live Orthodoxy

As part of many discussions I've had over the weekend, a notable theme emerged. This was the first element of that which came to my attention, a quote from the first of my writings on high demand religion that saw publication years ago.

We must commit ourselves to orthodoxy and walk in faith, attentive to the guidance of the Holy Spirit in concert with our gifts of logic (1 Jn 3:19-21; 4:1-3). A renewed approach should not mean 'dead orthodoxy,' “the insistence on some kind of doctrinal purity at the expense of a warm, personal faith.” The goal should be 'live orthodoxy,' a faith that is both nourished in experience and grounded in truth, with room for both the feelings and the intellect. At times in church history, doctrine has been overemphasized, but that will unlikely be a danger in a society who’s every tendency is to deny truth altogether (pg 20, Gene Veith's Postmodern Times).

Maps and Metaphors

On Friday, I had an exchange with a cult recovery oriented psychologist about whether he had any opinion on another guy who is a lesser-known expert on trauma. What seems to happen in the field is that people who are more therapy oriented find some good treatments, but we don't have much of any idea how they actually work. (This is true of many medications, BTW, despite what many physicians will tell you.) I was listening to a lecture, decided that this other trauma guy might be an example of the made-up causation stuff, and I just turned it off. I then sought the respected opinion of this other person.

He popped off a brilliant statement concerning this problem of creating causalities of conjecture and speculation without any empirical evidence and passing them off to the trusting therapists as definitive “proof” of scientific fact. I'd mentioned that I liked some of the creative analogies that these types of folks used to describe the overall experience of trauma, but they fall apart on the “why.”

He said something that I found brilliant after mentioning how helpful metaphors can be in therapy:
"The metaphor is not the map.”

Five Points of Calvinism Metaphor Mistaken for the Map of the Gospel?

I guess the theme in my brain that was churning in regard to this discussion of these strange pseudo-Calvinists, as per that description that Veith used. (John Robbins called them “Ersatz Calvinists.”) These Evangelicals who are so program driven are trying to inject some life into their dead orthodoxy. Rather than getting back to the main, plain messages of Scripture, they try to be crafty and clever, so that they can brand and market something that is more palatable to both saint and sinner in a sin-drenched, postmodern culture that primarily understands everything in terms of existentialism which worships autonomy and freewill (that the ancient Greeks presupposed).

They use the five points of Calvinism which is more like a metaphor that helps us understand God's sovereignty, and they mistake it for the map of Scripture. They use the metaphor that explains an aspect of truth like a syringe full of novelty which they use to inject life back into their dead orthodoxy. Their orthodoxy is dead because man is at the center of it and not God. (They give all the right answers to the questions, but they interpret man as the central focus as something that serves man instead of allowing God to be the central focus, the Lord of all power, and the recipient of all glory and honor.) It's a subtle shift, but the displacement is what takes what we hope was once a live faith and turns it into nothing more than dead orthodoxy.

Mark Noll has called this use of these other crafted selling points that are distilled from the culture “theological innovations.” James Sire calls the end results of this “theistic existentialism.” And in misinterpreting the metaphor as the map, they don't even really see that they've become exactly what they claim to decry: they become humanists.

So men that we hope were at one point became Believers use theological innovations to try to revive dead orthodoxy by borrowing from the culture elements of novelty that are not Scripture to dress it up. (I think that Jesus called this the traditions of men, and it makes the Word ineffective.) And what results from making the Gospel merely something that serves man? Theistic Existentalism.

Bob Wright explains well in No Place for Sovereignty that the real problem is not the sinfulness of the world, for that has always been the case for us. It's syncretism. He doesn't use the term “New Calvinism” in his book, but from my exchanges with him, I know that this group exemplifies what he was writing about. Of these confused Calvinists he says:
And their gospel is no longer the theologically articulated gospel of forty years ago. Today it is a syncretic combination of secular methodologies and superficial biblical language aimed at “felt needs” rather than hellbound sinners. Can we really imagine the apostle Paul insisting that the gospel be made “user-friendly”? Paul taught that the power of the gospel is located in the preaching of God's Word, not in its ability to absorb intellectual pop culture” (pg 14).


HT to unnamed survivor of a high demand group per his FB meme dated 2May14.  I'd put in a direct link and proudly name him were it not at the risk of aggravating a pending legal matter.  Maybe when it's all said and done, I'll put in the link.