Friday, January 13, 2012

Persecution Complex

This past week, a discussion page on Facebook for Community of Christ members came under attack when one of the most vocal and conservative Restorationist ladies returned after a two month absence. She immediately got to work in stirring the pot, throwing out accusations against people for "attacking" her or her kindred conservative soulmates who post on there. Who is this woman and what is her agenda? I'll get to that. First, some background info.

Community of Christ is a worldwide church that began in 1860 in the aftermath of the splintering of the Latter Day Saints movement when the founding prophet was murdered by a mob in Carthage, Illinois in 1844. According to church history, Joseph Smith, Jr. wanted his son, Joseph Smith III to be the next prophet, but little Joseph was just a child at the time of his father's death. Brigham Young claimed to be the real successor and led the largest group to found the state of Utah. When Joseph Smith, Jr. formed the church on April 6, 1830, it began with the simple (but common) name: Church of Christ. Various incarnations later, it became The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and the people who did not move west with Brigham Young reorganized the church into what became The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, led by Joseph Smith III when he was 24 years old. From the start, this smaller group was formed out of the dissent from the painful Nauvoo experience, when the Prophet Smith received his strangest revelations (baptisms for the dead, eternal marriage, men becoming gods, polygamy). He was also the Mayor of Nauvoo, which was bigger than Chicago at the time, and the leader of the Nauvoo Legion, a para-military group. He also found time to run for president in 1844 (yeah, Mitt Romney is not the first Mormon to run for president, nor the second or the third).

As Joseph Smith's church grew and grew, with members creating a "Zionic community" on land reclaimed from a swamp in a bend on the Mississippi River, the power went to his head. What once was a democratic church became more autocratic and dissent was squashed. In fact, his shutting down of the Nauvoo Expositor newspaper when they threatened to publish critical articles about him led directly to his arrest and ultimately his assassination by an angry mob.

Most of the members went west with Brigham Young. Many who remained in Nauvoo did not like or trust Brigham Young. These were people who were dissenters in Nauvoo. They did not like what they saw going on, including Joseph Smith joining the Masonic Order and then ripping off the temple rituals for use in LDS Temple rituals. So, from the start, the RLDS Church was about dissent and keeping together a group of people who did not always agree on doctrine and ideas. Though the membership numbers grew at a much slower pace than the much larger LDS Church and finally seemed to settle at 250,000 (a number I heard my entire life), it has become a very democratic church (the leader of the church is referred to as either President or Prophet and any revelation he receives from God is put to a vote at World Conference, held every few years at the headquarters in Independence, Missouri). For anyone who has been to World Conference, the debates can get quite heated. This was especially true in 1984, when the prophet at the time, Wallace B. Smith (the great-grandson of Joseph Smith, Jr.) presented a revelation to the church body that women could be called to the priesthood.

This revelation did not sit well with the more conservative minded members of the church. Eventually, more than 50,000 members left the church and formed breakaways, using the word "Restoration" or "Remnant." A "Restorationist" is a conservative former member who often still harbours a grievance against the church for "abandoning" them and "following the popular trends of the world." Of course, there have been other "heresies" (in 1996, President Smith retired and called the first non-Smith to be his successor; in 2001, the RLDS Church changed the official name to "Community of Christ", which brings us back to the founding name, with an evolved twist). When I first started posting on the church's official webboard on the website in 1999, I "met" some Restorationists and let me just say that they are very unpleasant in how they discuss issues. They are rude and nasty and do nothing but complain and complain that the church of their youth had abandoned them. Even though they are conservative and disagree about the women in the priesthood, they also hate the Mormons, so they won't join that church. Instead, they just harass members of the Community of Christ, lobbing the usual accusations and epithets that conservative evangelical Christians often do (if you disagree with their very literal view of the Bible, then you are deceived by Satan or Satan's spawn trying to tempt them away from God).

This is what happened this week on the unofficial church webpage. A woman named Cyndi Diercks (who is a Teabagger activist in the Quad Cities, which is another reason why we naturally wouldn't get along) is one of those Restorationists with a grievance against the church. Her modus operandi is easy to figure out.

First, she'll post a very conservative statement, which claims to be directly from God. For example, "If you're pro-choice, you're killing God's children and He will deny you when that day of judgment comes" (she did not actually say this, but I want to give you an idea of what she says on there, and this is her actual belief, anyway).

Anyone who posts a comment challenging it or even questions her statement or comment to someone else's statement, she will claim that you are "attacking" her. In her mind, this gives her a license to launch a full scale attack on you, with all manner of insults. Even more incredulously, she will then write something about how she's trying to discuss an issue but is a victim of personal attacks that she can't believe how nasty and rude they are. So, not only does she have a "Persecution Complex", but she also projects her actual behaviour onto other people. When she levels an accusation against someone else, its pretty much a confession about what she's doing. Everyone can see that except her. I don't know if she's paranoid or schizophernic, bipolar, or just plain batshit crazy (is there any teabagger who isn't a ranting loon?), but she's clearly dysfunctional and a troublemaker. Based on many of her posts, I am so glad that I don't know her in person. What a miserable person she must be to always seek to cause conflict on a rather peaceful board (when we had a discussion about atheists in the priesthood back in December, it was heated but never devolved into personal attacks). Its amazing that this teabagger is so blind to her own actions and gets sanctimonious, pretending that she's a complete innocent and that we who disagree with her political and religious views are "the attackers."

Even worse than her attacks, though, are the "prayers" that she occasionally posts on the page. Its completely self-serving and sanctimonious, in violation of what Jesus advised his followers (as you can read in Matthew 6). Today, a debate had ensued over one conservative young lady's slanted comment regarding how peace can only happen if everyone accepted Jesus and believed the Bible, which is an extremely naive view that ignores Christianity's long history of churches persecuting other Christian churches. The debate covered homosexuality, abortion, sin, and sex. Quite a few times, Cyndi warned this young lady to be prepared for personal attacks, which never came. Whenever someone refuted a point made by one of the conservatives, there was Cyndi lobbing more firebombs of personal attacks, accusing those who disagreed with being against God or deceived by Satan or being Satan's minions trying to trick this girl out of her morals, etc. The same old, same old.

While the debate is long and meandering, I'm posting the "prayer" that Cyndi wrote on there so you can see just how insincere / phony and sanctimonious it is. Here's what Cyndi wrote:

"Oh dear God, please protect Ashley, these people can not stand that she remains strong in commitment to you. Protect her, embrace her in your warmth. These words of Satan attack her as they did Job your servant Lord. Be with her, I pray through Christ' holiest name AMEN! Ashley may the love of God be with and protect you from harm. I am crying for your soul... may you continue to survive the storm."
And:

"They mock you Lord in your temple in your home, they seek the destruction of your kingdom. They equate Man who was made in your image to mammals just animals.......having sex. I am sorry for this page, I am sorry for the hate, I am sorry that you gave your life to be mocked in your home. How you continue to love is beyond my capabilities.... I must ask you for strength to move forward in love. They have no idea what it is they have done.. they cannot understand your love and desire because of their lust.... I pray in your most holy name Amen!"

Seriously...who talks like that to God? Its all condemnation of people she doesn't agree with, whom she feels are "evil" or deceived. What her "prayers" tell me is that she has a very childish understanding of God. She asked "how you continue to love is beyond my capabilities..." Well, obviously, because her comments are drenched in hatred. Her insecurity in the face of intelligent discussion is obvious. For me (a "heathen" in her view), its not difficult to understand how God can love. God is the embodiment of love. The reason I know is because of the spiritual experience I had in August 2001 where I felt "at one" with the entire universe, and the intensity of that love was so powerful, I thought my body was going to explode. If you believe in an all knowing God, then that God would know the true nature and true motives of each person on earth and nothing would be surprising. If Cyndi can't understand how God can love everyone equally, perhaps she's never felt real love before. Her love is conditional on ideological conformity to her view of the world.

In the first "prayer", she wrote "these words of Satan..." which is the kind of inflammatory attacks that she also condemns (the irony of her ideological blindness is hilarious). She's a case study in psychological projection. Here's how its defined (from Wikipedia):

"Psychological projection or projection bias is a psychological defense mechanism where a person subconsciously denies his or her own attributes, thoughts, and emotions, which are then ascribed to the outside world, usually to other people. Thus, projection involves imagining or projecting the belief that others originate those feelings.

Projection reduces anxiety by allowing the expression of the unwanted unconscious impulses or desires without letting the conscious mind recognize them."

She does this repeatedly with her accusations of being attacked and then attacking other people all because they disagree with her views.

The following is how Reference.com defines "persecution complex":

"A persecution complex is a psychological condition where a person believes that other people are conspiring against him to bring about his ruin or downfall. This belief has no basis in reality and the actual facts may be radically different to what the individual is convinced is true. The condition based on an irrational fear compels the person to imagine a fantastic scenario, where everyone and
everything appears to be an enemy. According to psychiatrists, a persecution complex is an exaggeration of an actual situation or may be totally without basis in reality, where a person's inner life picture is projected into the environment and the people present there. The symptoms of a persecution complex basically revolve around the fear and suspicion of the individual, where everyone is an enemy. The inner life is tumultuous with an imaginary world that has no basis in the reality around. Every action arouses suspicion, mistrust and anger, as the complex generates a feeling that everyone is trying to harm or destroy the individual concerned. A persecution complex is not a disease, but the symptoms are close to paranoia."
Wow, this describes her, as well. If she's not careful, this could be either the early stages or a sign of mental illness. Ever since my experience with the religiously fanatical Mormon roommate at BYU who I suspected was bipolar, I have been interested in mental illness. What causes it? Is it genetic (I hope not!)? Is it the result of drug use, due to the delicate chemical balance in our brains? Is it a spiritual effect of thinking incoherent thoughts and basking in hate and suspicion of other people? Is it "contagious"?

Besides Cyndi, there was a young man who claimed to be Jewish and Mormon and Community of Christ and RLDS. His rants were incoherent ramblings and he also claimed to have been given a message directly from God to share with the rest of us, which is basically the same old doomsday scenario that we need to repent of our evil ways because the wrath of the Lord is upon us and the only way to save ourselves is to repent. This troubled young man, who went by the name BaurakAle, posted a disturbing picture that he drew that was filled with demons, fire, blood, an all-seeing eye, snakes, a God that looked like a cross between Gandalf from Lord of the Rings and a troll, and even a UFO abducting a human. When several of us reacted in horror to the images and posted our thoughts, Cyndi saw this as another opportunity to condemn us because she saw "beauty" and a "divine message." Really? I had posted a comment, "If this is an indication of what's currently in your mind, I wish you much peace." I don't believe that a person who was truly at peace with himself would have drawn such a dark and disturbing picture. Based on his incoherent thought processes, his drawings, and his messianic complex, I got the strong impression that he was a church shooting waiting to happen. He even bragged that he got thrown out of a church when he told the pastor that he was a wolf in sheep's clothing.

This troubled young man shared that his father was brutally murdered and his mother died of cancer and since his "contact with God", his friends have abandoned him. Well, if he's as confrontation and belligerent with them as he was with those of us on the board, then I'm not surprised. No one likes to be preached at. How difficult is this for evangelical conservatives to understand?!?

Ultimately, he got deleted from the page for violating a request by the moderator not to post negative comments or statements. As soon as the warning was made, he posted a statement condemning all of us to hell. Wow. So insightful. I personally, though, would not have deleted him. I didn't mind engaging him in conversation because I believed my rational way at looking at things could have helped him. Unfortunately, he had no voice of moderation in his life. Perhaps he was schizophernic. I have no idea. All I know is that based on his comments, statements, and drawing, he has much in common with the guy who shot Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords last year. How do we keep borderline personalities in the realm of moderation and community? By engagement. Unfortunately, women on that page get too sensitive and see attacks where none might exist. Guys can be a bit more crude in our conversations and "insults" (most women probably would not like the kind of debates guys have in the Navy). For me, I don't care if some evangelical condemns me to hell or call me Satan's spawn, because I kind of expect them to go that route when they can't match the logic of my arguments. Plus, its not like I believe in a Satan anyway.

This back and forth did get me thinking about psychology, though. I think I should've become a psychologist. I'm very interested in how people think about things and it is fascinating to see someone who is incapable of knowing herself and how she comes across to people. Because she's a high profile teabagger in Iowa, I found a video interview of her online. She speaks with clenched teeth and shifts her eyes back and forth. Her body language reveals a cold person. There's no warmth emanating from her at all. When the guy who interviewed her asked if she likes any politician, she responded that she doesn't. She thinks they are all corrupt. The complete opposite of me. I admire many politicians. I know they aren't perfect and they are only playing the game the way its set up. There's good people doing good things, but ideologues can't see it.

I also laughed when I watched the video. True to form, the demographic group I do not get along with at all is all there. Cyndi is an overweight, middle aged, conservative evangelical white woman. Of course we're not going to get along!! I just survived four years in the job from hell with an office full of employees of those characteristics.

The take home message of this post? Moderation is a great thing. Fanaticism, ideology, and paranoia are not good qualities to have. Life is so much better when you can laugh, be easy-going, and have a process that constantly checks yourself against ideological extremism. The Buddha spoke about the Middle Way. The ancient Greeks wrote about the Golden Mean. A wise man once said moderation in all things. This is good for the mind.

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