Are you in prison, or perhaps just temporarily in the local jail? Or have you been living your life imprisoned, and do not even know it? So many have been imprisoned by their own bad habits and addictions for so long that they do not see the walls that close them in. And millions upon millions live imprisoned by ideologies of one stripe or another. They are trapped in their fixed beliefs. And they most likely do not know it, or willingly embrace their imprisoning beliefs, having no idea how to live as free men sprung from prison.
1. Institutional Prison: Often one must deal with at least three kinds of ideological prisons that may intrude on our everyday life. Possibly the least obvious of the three prisons, and probably the least insidious, is the prison of institutional life. It may affect and infect one’s thinking, loving, living. The type of prison I encounter often is what has been called “churchianity.” Among Catholics it is especially marked, because the “faithful” have been propagandized for centuries with the belief that in some non-rational, usually unexplained way, the Catholic Church is “the body of Christ,” or even “the Kingdom of God on earth.” Many everyday Catholics unthinkingly accept that the institutional church is “divinely instituted,” and hence shares to a high degree in divinity and in God’s prerogatives: holiness, unity, wisdom, truth, goodness. Many Catholics have unthinkingly swallowed the belief that their Church is itself a “holy” institution. Consequently, the “faithful” have often been unwilling and perhaps even mentally unable to criticize the wrongdoings of their institutional leaders—bishops, priests, deacons. The clergy have perpetuated the belief in the “holiness” of the church precisely because it produces more docile, uncritical, and willingly paying members. “One holy catholic and apostolic church” easily becomes a cover and a mask for an often highly unholy, non-catholic, parochial clergy. In short, many are the Catholic “faithful” who have been duped into unthinking acceptance of false teachings, foolish claims, and some wicked and destructive practices. If one doubts the truth of this claim, follow the news in our country, or elsewhere in the world, with exposés on one bishop or priest after another who has stolen from, deceived, molested, or badly treated the unsuspecting and all-too-accepting Catholics whom they supposedly “serve.”
2. “True faith” prison. There is a second kind of prison entrapping many in our midst, and this one also strongly affects the “body of Christ,” or self-declared “believers in Christ.” Among Catholics, it often takes the form of an unthinking acceptance of “Church teachings,” including whatever they happen to be told by pontiff, bishop, priest, or deacon. At times it shows up as “Father says,” or “this saint taught that,” or “the official church teaching is….” In each case, what is offered is an appeal to some supposed authority as “true,” without reasoned thinking and testing of the truthfulness of the particular assertions. It is usually more fundamentalistic Catholics who fall into this trap or prison, although the “progressive” wing, too, has been duped by some “leading theologian” who has “seen the light” and proclaims his “certain truth” to unsuspecting and gullible men and women; these “theologians” promise a “transformation of the world” and “revolution” through “social action.” And they fool many.
As bad as the Catholic ideological prisons are, one finds perhaps even thicker iron bars and heavier concrete walls among Protestant, evangelical prisons. Frequently one encounters “Bible-believing Christians” who seemingly have closed their minds and live imprisoned in “the Bible,” assuming and loudly proclaiming that “every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” is in “the Bible,” and every word in the Book is “true,” and to be unthoughtfully accepted as “God’s word,” “God’s truth.” These “Bible-believers,” however well-intentioned they may be, however endearing their “personal commitment” and “personal relationship to Jesus” may be, are both deceived and unwitting deceivers of others. They are as imprisoned in their “Bible” as many Catholics are imprisoned in “the holy Mother Church.” It is sad and disturbing to see, but all-too-common.
If one questions some particular assertion of these “bible-believers,” such as assertions about “the Trinity of three persons,” or about “salvation for the elect,” or even about the unchallengeable truth of “the Bible” itself as the “Word of God,” one immediately encounters a mind that is imprisoned in rigid, unyielding beliefs: one assertion follows another, with no attempt by these biblical fundamentalists to stand back from the “Bible,” and question its legitimate claim to be “the very word of God,” and beyond critical examination. “The Bible says” takes the place of well-reasoned arguments open to the light of further scrutiny, examination, refinement, and possible negation. “It is true because the Bible says it is true” in fact amounts to the assertion that “the claim is true because I say it is true,” because each of these “Bible-believers” has her or own interpretation of what particular texts say or mean. Without reading the texts in their original languages—Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek—they claim with certainty to know and usually to understand what a particular writer intended to communicate. The worst of these tendencies becomes apparent when they flip open the Book of Daniel, or the New Testament Book of Revelation, and begin to pronounce on “things that will soon take place.” That the author had no conception of how history would develop, and what the future in truth would look like, seems not to have crossed their imprisoned minds. Nor would this point even register in the finds of these book-imprisoned people, because they actually believe that “God wrote the Bible” (or Qur’an) or at least “inspired” it so that it is all “true.”
A Caveat. Before progressing to examine political ideologies and their “true believers,” a few words of caution seem fitting. First, some of the prisoners of Catholic institutionalism and Protestant biblicism are well-intentioned, kind, good human beings and citizens. I do not wish to impugn their motives or their characters. But they are imprisoned in their beliefs, and I feel some human duty to warn them of their entrapments. Furthermore, as Aristotle wrote while sharply criticizing a particular teaching of his long-time mentor and friend, Plato, “We must prefer truth to friendship.” Yes, we must. Unfortunately, one often finds a relatively weak interest in truth among adherents of various “religions,” Christian or non-Christian. “Believers” often seem to have surrendered their human duty to seek truth to contentment with the various belief they have been taught—Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, and so on. My own interest in truth requires me to examine their mental imprisonment in Churchianity, or Bibliolatry, or “Holy Qur’an,” even though I have genuine friends dwelling in these and similar prisons. On the other hand, I am aware of the danger of being too critical of mental prisons such as have developed in Christianity (and Islam) over the centuries. A human being who lives within an ideological prison rarely turns to reason, to philosophy, to mystical experience after the walls of the prison have been exploded, and he has “escaped like a bird from the fowler.” In this regard, the self-proclaimed philosophers of the Enlightenment did a great deal of damage to many persons. They dragged them into their self-proclaimed “enlightened state,” and left them with little or nothing on which to feed. They tore away the living God in the name of the “God of reason,” or “Enlightenment.” In fact, however, the western European “Enlightenment” was a period of intense intellectual foolishness, with some genuine light thrown on real problems. The various “philosophies” (in truth, non-philosophical ideologies) of the late 18th into the 20th centuries were largely destructive of traditional human life. Men hell-bent to “change he world” (young Marx’s coinage) brought much violence, bloodshed, and loss of meaning to real human lives. “Proclaiming themselves wise, they became fools,” and their foolishness often led to mass murder, or at least to the death of the spirit. Far better for a young man or woman to flip through their Bibles in search of “God’s word” than to live godlessly in a world presumed devoid of meaning. “By their fruits you will know them,” and many fundamentalistic Catholics and Protestants at least show their “beliefs,” mistaken though they be, in deeds of charity and human assistance. So a word to the would-be wise: “Let those with ears to hear, hear.” Others may sleep in their prison cells.
3. Secular and political ideologies.
The largest, thickest-walled, most destructive prisons in our midst are not found among churchy or Bible-believing Christians. Christian prisons at least have the benefit of being attacked from all sides in our secular culture, forcing their adherents to engage in some examination of what they believe, and why. The worst prisons by far are found among political ideologues, who range over a wide spectrum: from jihadist, gnostic Islam to “Enlightened intellectuals” to “Progressives” to absolutists and totalitarians of various stripes. Everyday we are bombarded by the intellectual terrorism of these “knowers” who have all the answers. They have “holy Quran” or “Science” or “Progress” at their backs, and they are as hell-bent as Karl Marx ever was to “transform the world” (Marx’s phrase from his Theses on Feuerbach, repeated by candidate Obama in 2008, for one example of recent usage). These political ideologues spew out their poisonous deceit on everyone, usually aided by complacent or even complicit cooperation from the loud mouthpieces of the mass media: television, Hollywood, propaganda-music, politicians, academicians, entrenched bureaucrats, and the like. In present day America (the USA), leftist, self-described “progressive” intellectuals and politicians utterly dominate the public scene with their obscene addiction to “liberating” political ideologies. Again, in this regard, a Muslim jihadist and an American university professor have far more in common than either of them suspects, or could admit: they have “knowledge” (or perhaps ideologically fixed “science”) that gives them “certainty,” and with this weapon in their minds and mouths and sometimes hands, they set out to force their “vision” of “truth” and the “good life” on everyone else. Woe to those who do not share their ideology, because they can be killed in one of at least two ways: murdered outright, as by ISIS jihadists; or have their minds and spirits murdered or at least vivisected by godless, secular, self-inflated “intellectuals,” whom we encounter throughout American society today. One cannot turn on the television without hearing some of these ideologues popping off about whatever supposed evil they are seeking to destroy or overcome, from “climate change” to “the cult of Trump” to “right-wing conspiracies,” when all the time these highly vocal “intellectuals” and “political leaders” are in fact the cultists of the occult, believers in their self-enclosed gnostic truth. The reason they hate their opponents, as is evident everyday in our country, is in part because they are convinced of their own “expertise,” “scientific knowledge,” superior intelligence, or their “enlightened state,” and of course their own “good intentions” and “compassionate hearts” to “make the world a better place.” They are, in effect, terrorists of the spirit.
The prison in which these ideological knowers live gives them the power and the right, they believe, to spew out their “learning,” and to force their views on others. Their most evident victims are the young, propagandized from earliest years in mass education all the way through “higher education” at our colleges and universities, in which genuine freedom of thought and of speech are persecuted and destroyed by these would-be totalitarians who dominate campus and social life. Whereas Catholic and Protestant prisons, briefly described above, are relatively minor in their effects on society as a whole, the political ideologues dominate American society and culture in nearly every aspect of our lives. They most infect the governing and learned “elites.” And rather than remain quietly in their prisons, and in their prison-worlds centered in Washington, Boston, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Portland, and Seattle—to name some of their most intense enclaves—these ideologues are rapidly creating an entire prison network in our country. They are busy building what amounts to an American Gulag Archipelago not restricted to prison camps, as in the former Soviet Union, but penetrating every home through mass media, internet, and our ever-new technological devices. Intellectual and cultural ideologues are building a “New Society,” and it increasingly looks more and more like the concentration camps of totalitarian regimes, only now with a higher degree of mind control.
4. What is to be done? First and foremost, each person must examine himself / herself, and honestly ask how unthinkingly, uncritically they hold to their most cherished beliefs. I do not hold out great hope that most will do this, because the prisons about which I am writing are largely self-chosen, and serve to give the inmate some sense of security and “certainty” in an uncertain and often threatening world.
Second, it is better by far for a “Bible-believing Christian” to study closely and to love the Gospel of John or the Letters of the Apostle Paul, then to abandon any concern for “the word of God.” It is better by far for an institutionalized Catholic to listen attentively to the gentle wit and wisdom of Fr. Benedict Groeschel, for example, then to reject the entire Catholic hierarchy because some bishops and priests have done evil and worked hard to cover their tracks. And it is better for genuinely scientific minds who value the scientific method to caution the enthusiasm of half-learned know-it-alls, and admit that many questions about which “progressives” rant are and ought to be open to study and debate. A strong internal awareness in each of us that we ourselves may be wrong in our most intensely held beliefs would go a long way to restoring some balance and sanity in our ideologically-diseased and damaged body politic. The wisdom of humility is the key to escaping from our prisons. “God alone is truly wise.”
—Wm. Paul McKane
7 December 2019
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