Thursday, September 22, 2011

Strong criticism from former members of a religious organization: What experts say

The departure of a member in a religious organization can cause pain and big problems for both the person who formerly committed his entire life for the organization and for the organization itself.

One such problem is the existence of extraordinarily fierce criticism made by these ex-members towards the former organization they once showed devotion to.

Cardinal Christoph Schonborn
discussed this phenomenon:

departure or dismissal may ... occur after someone has already made a final commitment. Some of those who have left a community keep in friendly contact, following their own way by mutual agreement. Of course, communities approved by the Church will - in case of conflict - offer their members and ex-members the opportunity to approach the appropriate Church authorities.

Some ex-members cannot come to terms with their negative experiences and make them known from the platform of the media. People living together will experience their limitations and weaknesses. It is, however, unjustified, to present personal difficulties within a community as if they were a general experience. On the whole, negative experiences of individuals are painful for the whole Church community.

Massimo Introvigne, a sociologist of religion who wrote an Encyclopedia of Religion, defines three types of narratives or stories constructed by former members of new religious movements:

Type I narratives are from defectors. The narrative assigns responsibility to the failures of the leaver. He expresses regret and acknowledges the organization's high moral standards.

Type II narratives are from ordinary leave-takers, a phenomenon that happens everyday. They lose interest and commitment, and goes to a new one. They hold no strong feelings concerning their past experience in the group, and usually feel no need to justify themselves. They may make "comments on the organization’s more negative features or shortcomings" while also recognizing that there was "something positive in the experience."

Type III narratives are from what is technically called apostates. These ex-members dramatically reverse their loyalties and turn into a professional enemy of the organization they have left. These apostates often join an oppositional coalition fighting the organization, often claiming victimization.

Bryan R. Wilson, Reader Emeritus of Sociology of the University of Oxford and honored as "one of the most distinguished sociologists of the 20th century", having exercised "a crucial influence on the sociology of religion", stated that apostates of new religious movements are generally in need of self-justification, seeking to reconstruct their past and to excuse their former affiliations, while blaming those who were formerly their closest associates.

Wilson, a professed atheist, challenges the reliability of the apostate's testimony by saying that the apostate "must always be seen as one whose personal history predisposes him to bias with respect to both his previous religious commitment and affiliations, the suspicion must arise that he acts from a personal motivation to vindicate himself and to regain his self-esteem, by showing himself to have been first a victim but subsequently to have become a redeemed crusader."

He also asserts that some apostates or defectors from religious organizations rehearse atrocity stories to explain how, by manipulation, coercion or deceit, they were recruited to groups that they now condemn.

While these experts say this, it does not follow that religious organizations are beyond reproach and are perfect. The Catholic Church wants to continue purifying itself and its members want to continue purifying themselves, re-converting to Christ. But so too the whole of humanity should continue purifying itself, especially from modern-day errors such as atheism (no God), secularism (no dedication to God and to religion), relativism (no truth) and hedonism (no moral standards, only pleasure). And instead turn back to Christ as one society.

As Cardinal Schonborn put it:

In our time, a new desire is arising in different countries of the world, in spite of all human frailty, to live up to the message of Christ and to serve the Church in unity with the Holy Father and the Bishops.

Many see new charisms as a sign of hope. Others experience these new awakenings as something strange; for others they are a challenge, by others again they may be experienced as an accusation, against which they vindicate themselves sometimes reacting with reproach in turn.

Some promote a kind of humanism that has less and less to do with its Christian roots. But we should not forget: "If the Second Vatican Council speaks of the 'ecclesia semper reformanda', it speaks not only of the necessity to think anew about the structures of the Church, but more about the constant renewal of the life of the Church and about questioning some long-established and treasured ideas which may be too much in keeping with the spirit of the age."

For further study:




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