Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
The entire world, but especially the United States, is witnessing the growth of extravagant organizations that create or give rise to outrageous myths and practices clashing with society’s accepted lifestyles. Many of these organizations have instigated horrendous and contemptible crimes.
Other of these organizations do not necessarily lead to crime or any type of illegal behavior. Yet they are the agent for the incubation of philosophical or religious systems and new moral standards and cultural features undoubtedly censurable from the Christian point of view but seen as normal when viewed through the secularism professed by all the nations of the West.
The desire to halt the criminality engendered by some organizations and to preserve modern society from the influence of groups whose professed goals, while not criminal in themselves, differ dramatically from those generally accepted has generated a widespread anticult movement that is especially active in the United States because of the marked proliferation there of criminal and eccentric cults.
This movement would be justified and even praiseworthy if its goal were only to have criminality repressed, for it is necessary and just that criminality be repressed by the authorities supported by the general agreement; this support aids the authorities in the fulfillment of their duty.
A much more sensitive issue is that of the legal repression of cults which are simply extravagant and which, by themselves considered, do not tend to engender criminality; in such cases, they would be acting within the law.
It could be argued that certain kinds of extravagant behavior of themselves lead to crime and that, therefore, the law should establish preventive prohibitions against them.
If, however, a legislator were to champion this principle, which has various legitimate aspects, as a norm for modern legislative policy, he would have a difficult time handling the impunity that favors elements of corruption obviously responsible for multiple crimes and social disorders.
How does the public authority proceed in repressing something that has not transgressed the limits permitted by the law? Perhaps someone could devise a law against extravagance. But on what grounds will the religiously, culturally and philosophically neutral state base its criteria for determining the boundary between normality and extravagance? How would it distinguish in this elusive, confused realm of extravagance what should from what should not be punished by the law?
From the standpoint of the secular and neutral mentality of modern society, if someone were to wear a tricorn hat in public, a normal thing in the time of Louis XV, or walk down the street wearing the shoes of a maharaja, how would he violate the current concepts of law? And if two or more persons were to put on unusual clothes and stroll through the streets singing nonsensical verses, would their action be censurable if their singing did not disturb the peace or violate good customs?
By maintaining that the state should legislate on extravagant behavior such as this, the anticult movement raises many delicate and complex legal questions—all, note well, with implications in the moral and religious order. If the state were given the right to meddle in these matters, it would enjoy such a wide scope of action that, especially in light of modern totalitarian tendencies, a kind of official doctrine far surpassing the sumptuary laws of Byzantium or imperial China would begin to materialize— regulating not only matters of apparel but also matters involving how people feel or think about one thing or another.
Under the pretext of preventing extravagance, the modern state would claim the right to form, define and impose an official opinion on almost every aspect of human life, along with the right to repress all those who did not live or think according to that official opinion.
How, then, would such a regime differ from Russian or Chinese totalitarianism?
Someone might object that a tyrannical dictatorship would not arise in Western countries, where governments are elected by universal suffrage. This is a naive objection, for if the body of voters is given such inordinate power over each person in particular, the regime is no less tyrannical thereby.
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The solution to the problem of extravagance must be sought primarily in another realm.
The extravagant behaviors of which we speak are extreme manifestations of the almost general disorder of a society without religion. Where the true religion flourishes in a society, not only can a code of perfect morality exist, but it is also possible to instill in the citizens the seeds of the four cardinal virtues— prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance.
These four virtues provide balance to all social and human behavior. If they are upset, if they decay, or if they no longer exist in the social body, the result will be, if not sin itself, at least a somewhat extravagant and deviant behavior.
Now, harmful fruits such as these can be avoided only by the moral restoration of society, and no society can be morally restored without religion. But this is a realm that lies outside the sphere of the state. If the state alone attempts to correct these aspects of human life, it will become a kind of “church-state,” which, sooner or later, will arrogate to itself the right to judge the Church. It will pronounce on the vestments the Church uses in its liturgical functions and decide whether they are extravagant or not; it will then go on to decide not only on vestments, but on worship; and not only on worship, but on doctrine.
For example, the concept of extravagance frequently includes the idea of obsolescence. The tricorn hat, typical in the time of Louis XV, is not used today. It is obsolete. Who, then, has the right to say whether or not a certain liturgical vestment that came into use almost two thousand years ago and is used by priests today is obsolete? And whether it is extravagant or not?
The anticult movement, whose initial anticrime motivation is perfectly understandable, has not limited itself to the combat of the illegal and criminal practices occasioned by some cults. Now it is galloping to the rescue of the social equilibrium and, even more, to the rescue of the mental equilibrium and common sense of all. It is rushing to mold every aspect of human life. Once again, “Orwellian” despotism looms on the horizon.
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Curiously, there are anticult organizations that have extended their attacks in every direction but that of socialism and communism. Why do they not consider them philosophical cults? Why do they not consider any of the aberrations of the hippie and rock movements extravagant (even though these movements are openly Satanic in many of their rituals)? Why? It is symptomatic that they frequently lash out against the enemies that communism seeks to overthrow.
It is impossible not to conclude that, in the practical order, these anticult groups pave the way for communism and lead to global totalitarianism.
Thus, these anticult organizations and socialism/communism appear to be complementary.
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In the United States, the controversy surrounding sects has produced volumes of works; advocates and adversaries have resorted to sociologists, psychiatrists and other specialists to confirm their various speculations.
According to theological-canonical terminology, the problem assumes terms different from those common in current American usage. According to the latter, a sect can be defined as an organization whose followers adopt a strange doctrine and a lifestyle different from the norms of modern society. In theological terminology, a sect is primarily characterized by its dissent from the doctrine of the Church or by disobedience to the legitimate ecclesiastical authorities; in short, it is distinguished by a rupture with the Faith or by disobedience to the Church.
In today’s relativistic world, the Catholic Faith is unfortunately no longer recognized as the standard, and today’s disoriented minds seek other criteria to define their positions.
A criterion based on the doctrines of the Catholic Church has, in many cases, been replaced by one based on conformity with the current trends or rupture with the established customs of a given society or ambience.
Thus, persecution of sects is often based on erroneous criteria; and in the general paganization of the modern mind and modern customs, it is not rare for societies and ambiences accepted as the norm to increasingly deviate from what the Church teaches and commands.
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In the United States, the term brainwashing has had a profound impact on public opinion. It was first used in 1950 by journalist Edward Hunter, Jr., in a series of articles for the Miami Daily News and the Leader Magazine, wherein he described the tortures to which Americans were subjected in the Korean War when they fell into enemy hands.
Because that torture was intended to obtain false confessions and to change the ideological convictions of the prisoners, and did, indeed, seem to have some such result—although for a short term—the reporter used the metaphor brainwashing. This expressive term caught on not only in the United States, but throughout the world. The metaphor was specifically applied to the communist methods of pressuring minds to procure false confessions and change the victims’ ideology.
With the proliferation of cults, some sectors of public opinion understandably began to use the expression brainwashing as a tentative explanation for the behavioral changes in the followers of new and strange doctrines. The supposedly logical reasons that could have had a part in someone’s “conversion” to a cult were considered as incidental in the analysis of the phenomenon. The neophyte had severed his domestic or professional ties or had broken from society in general, and this break was considered sufficient evidence that he had undergone “brainwashing.” This followed the general thesis that no one breaks away from the ambience in which he lives unless he is subjected to some external violence. Once this gratuitous thesis was accepted, no one doubted the scientific validity of such a conjecture.
Thus, to the notion of cult was added a new element: a cult is a group that uses “brainwashing.” From this, a petitio principii, follows the inverse logic, with its obvious fallacy: “brainwashing” is what cults use to recruit followers.
In America, renowned scientists and prominent university professors began to study the subject and concluded, much to the surprise of public opinion in general, that brainwashing is a strong journalistic catchword, but one devoid of any scientific content.
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I am sure that, in publishing this work on “brainwashing,” the American TFP and the Foundation for a Christian Civilization intend to return the subject to the only realm in which it can and should be adequately studied.
Today, the disturbing extravagant behaviors of so many cults should be fought through logical persuasion. If their unfortunate followers are brought into the fold of the Holy Catholic Church, if all things are restored in Christ—according to the sublime motto of Saint Pius X, Omnia Instaurare in Christo—then the scattered sheep will find, in the bosom of the family or the society they have abandoned, the pure air that their souls need in order to fully develop their potential.
This ideal, for which we fight, provides yet another important reason why this study was prepared and published.
In unison, not only the communists themselves but also their “useful innocents,” the leftists of all shades and especially the “Catholic leftists” classify many Catholic groups faithful to the traditional teachings of the Supreme Magisterium of the Church as “cults.”
Adding insult to injury, they accuse such Catholics of using “brainwashing” on their proselytes.
The object of this work is, then, to repulse this offensive and to disarm those who have launched it: the communists and their “fellow travelers” and “useful innocents.”