Saturday, September 23, 2017

What's a Cult Anyway, Part II

Roy Masters presents himself as a Messianic Jew and a Bible believing Christian. He's not a Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox, which I suppose makes him Protestant by default. Masters is a "new" teacher in the sense that he innovated a certain theological understanding and attained a group of people who follow his comprehensive teachings.

He does not, however, wish to be seen as "New Age," or as a "cult leader." Rather, he asserts he falls squarely within the "Judeo-Christian" tradition. His comprehensive packaging of his theological teaching is indeed novel. However, I would argue the vast majority of the components of his teachings can be traced to earlier traditions in Christendom, many of them "dissenting" or "eccentric" traditions.

So here is what he believes, or claims to believe:

1. The God of the Jewish and Christian Scriptures.

On matters of biblical canon, I think he follows the Protestant canon (book of 66) with questions as to whether the Song of Solomon is inspired. If that book is, he rejects the sexualized reading of it. He may well believe some of books rejected by Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant traditions are inspired. I saw him quote the Gospel of Thomas in one of his lectures as though it were inspired. That may make him some kind of Gnostic (sorry Eric Vogelin fans).

2. The mystical tradition of Christianity. 

I don't know whether there is a connection between Gnosticism and Christian mysticism. But Roy Masters' devotee David Kupelian explicitly notes that tradition as authoritative:
Then there’s the famous 16th century Catholic priest, Saint John of the Cross, who authored the Christian classic “Dark Night of the Soul” and others. He said this: “Love consists not in feeling great things but in having great detachment and in suffering for the Beloved” (that is, for God). And this: “If you purify your soul of attachment to and desire for things, you will understand them spiritually. If you deny your appetite for them, you will enjoy their truth, understanding what is certain in them.” This is a mystery. We spend our lives coveting and acquiring the possessions and relationships we think will make us happy. And here we’re being told that to find true happiness, we must somehow forsake these very desires. How? And more importantly, why?

By the way, for his efforts at religious reform, John was imprisoned by religious authorities and flogged publicly every week, only to be returned to isolation in a tiny cell barely large enough for his body.

And what about Jean Guyon, the 17th century French author of many Christian books including “Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ”? She gently nudges believers in the direction of “retreating inward, and seeking after tranquility of mind” in order to do all things “as in the Divine presence.”
 3. A view of "the God within" and revelation that is like what old school Quakers taught. 

This may also parallel the above mentioned non-Quaker mystical tradition of Christianity. It's about being still and listening to your conscience in order to channel and truly understand revelation from God. Those Quakers were the group who focused most seriously on the 3rd Person in the Trinity -- the Holy Spirit -- as God who gets inside of man and speaks directly to him. Without it, no one will ever truly understand what the Bible means and how to properly put it together. It will just be citing verses and chapter of word blather.

Likewise Masters, after these Quakers teaches the Bible is NOT the "word OF God," rather the "word FROM God." True revelation is wordless! It's a wordless word that one receives in a state of stillness. Then, after channeling this "understanding," we do our best to put it into the imperfect words of language. The understanding precedes the language words.

This is how Quaker Robert Barclay put it in 1675:
Nevertheless, because [the Scriptures] are only a declaration of the fountain, and not the fountain itself, therefore they are not to be esteemed the principal ground of all Truth and knowledge, nor yet the adequate primary rule of faith and manners. Yet because they give a true and faithful testimony of the first foundation, they are and may be esteemed a secondary rule, subordinate to the Spirit, from which they have all their excellency and certainty: for as by the inward testimony of the Spirit we do alone truly know them, so they testify, that the Spirit is that Guide by which the saints are led into all Truth; therefore, according to the Scriptures, the Spirit is the first and principal leader.a Seeing then that we do therefore receive and believe the Scriptures because they proceeded from the Spirit, for the very same reason is the Spirit more originally and principally the rule, according to that received maxim in the schools, Propter quod unumquodque est tale, illud ipsum est magis tale: That for which a thing is such, that thing itself is more such.
Yes, the "fountain" is the truth; the scriptures are not "the fountain," but rather a declaration of the "fountain." As we will see below, Roy Masters doesn't believe in the Trinity; but he does believe in the Divine. When I first read the above quoted passage by Barclay it reminded me of what Masters teaches. The divine within precedes the written Word and is instructive. Because the scriptures testify to that primary wordless fountain of truth, that is what justifies the words of scripture as valid and true. Not vice versa. Don't put the cart before the horse. The scriptures are the cart, not the horse.

(Before the Internet was invented Masters once noted "Bibles" are just books of paper, the inherent quality of which is no greater than toilet paper, fit to wipe your ass with. It's not the paper; it's not the print that is holy.)

4. Arianism

Masters does not believe Jesus is God, but rather the Son of God. The Son of God is NOT God the Son. Jesus was there "In the Beginning," (first born of creation). And Jesus is the "Word of God." But English translations improperly state that the Word OF God "was" God. Rather, like Scripture itself, the "Word of God" (Jesus) was "from God," not God Himself. So John 1:1 should be translated as saying "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was FROM God."

5. The Holiness Doctrine

This is something that Masters has gotten a lot of flack for. The media has said he claims to be "sinless." No. He claims rather that he DOES NOT SIN. But he used to before he was saved (as the Bible says no human except Jesus is "without sin"). This is exactly what evangelical revivalist Charles Finney posited. And Matthew 5:48 and I John 3:8-10 are the scriptural justifications for the doctrine.

6. An Augustinian View of Sex.

Masters believes, after Augustine, celibacy and chastity are the ideal. I'm no expert in Augustine and Masters' teachings here are a bit difficult to understand, but I try. Masters thinks that the "begetting"of the human species is somehow mysteriously tied to the fall of man. Sex is only appropriate between a married husband and wife. But even there it falls short of the ideal. Orthodox Protestants believe, if you are married most anything goes, even contraception. Catholics believe if you are married, as long as the sex is Thomistic, anything goes. Masters believes it's immoral for a man to be addicted to sex with his wife.

If a man is addicted to sex with his wife, it's a sign of not being saved. Indeed, if a young man is already saved, he, like Jesus and St. Paul, wouldn't need to get married, because he would have, out of his holiness, transcended his sexual desires. And part of the salvation process is for a married man to transcend his sexual desire for his wife and treat her like a father treats his daughter. (Similar to how Roman Catholic dogma says men and woman who aren't married in the eyes of the Church must live as "brother and sister" until they are. Masters uses the "father/daughter" analogy).

Along the way, while a man is getting saved, that's when children incidentally happen in the context of marriage. Masters is almost 90 and has five children and many grandchildren (and I think great grandchildren). Yet he brags about how he hasn't had sex with his wife in I think around 50 (or more) years.

7. Judeo-Christian meditation as essential for salvation. 

This is where Masters gets accused of being "New Age" and or "Eastern." You can listen to the meditation exercise here. There is no funny sounding mantra. However, it does sound like something from the meditation/mindfulness movement, which has eastern origins. The mindfulness way of life, I should add, also parallels Stoicism, which is a Western philosophy.

Masters argues his meditation is, unlike all the others, "Judeo-Christian" because it anchors you to the God of the Bible. Sure there are seeming similarities to Eastern teachings. But as the Stoic example demonstrates, sometimes different cultures come to the same or similar conclusions through different channels.

But the other meditation exercises are dangerous because they in a sense "work" like his does, but without anchoring you to the God of the Bible, which is what is special about his. Masters argues that being in a state of stress -- fight or flight, anger or anxiety -- is less than ideal, and signals an unsaved state. His meditation exercise supposedly makes you immune to stress. You don't get angry or experience anxiety, no matter what happens.

Buddhism and other Eastern meditation exercises also promise something similar. But the difference is, by being anchored to the God of the Bible, the meditator will not sin. On the other hand, the Eastern meditator are anchored to nothing. So they can get immune to anger and fear, but go on sinning with a big grin on their face, like the Cheshire Cat.

A psychopath is someone who can do wrong without a sense of guilt. It's the difference between a stressed out angry compulsive person who does harm and feels guilt (not a psychopath) and someone in a calm and blissful state who can stick a knife in an innocent person and sleep peacefully that night (a psychopath).

Indeed, Buddhist monks score high on the psychopathy index.  It doesn't mean they are horrible people. Rather that they are calm and peaceful. So if they did choose to do wrong, they would feel peaceful about it. No guilt. Their meditation helps to anesthetize real and necessary guilt feelings. Masters claims his helps men to stop sinning and once they cease sinning entirely, they feel no guilt because there is nothing to feel guilty about.

There is a lot more to Mr. Masters' teachings, but I think the above captures 7 key points. I don't necessarily agree with everything he says. Rather I view him like Immanuel Kant viewed Emanuel Swedenborg. Kant had a love/hate fascination with Swedenborg.

But as a civilized gentleman, I'm trying to be fair. One thing about Mr. Masters' teachings that bother me is his theology is extremely politicized. Public figures Jesse Lee Peterson and the above mentioned David Kupelian are devotees. And they teach moral truth is on the side of the political Right. The extreme socially conservative Right.

My opinion is if there is a God, His truth transcends politics.


Art Deco said...

And they teach moral truth is on the side of the political Right. The extreme socially conservative Right.

Waal. Try to make a career for yourself in the Democratic Party if you argue

1. Abortion should be unsafe, illegal, and rare.

2. Enforced secularism is neither constitutionally required nor good policy.

3. No one has an enforceable entitlement to traffick in pornography

4. Consensual sodomy is an abuse of human sexuality and properly treated as a common crime (see prostitution).

5. 'Academic freedom' is not a license to turn public education into a sandbox for political sectaries.

6. The state should not subsidize the traffick in contraceptives.

7. The state should not conduct or mandate discussion of human sexuality in the public schools.

8. Schooling is a fee-for-service activity which should be (most places) financed by vouchers and conducted by private philanthropies.

Only this last observation would have been particularly contentious in 1948.

Tom Van Dyke said...

One thing about Mr. Masters' teachings that bother me is his theology is extremely politicized.

Huh? Today's American Protestant mainline reads like the Democratic Party platform.

As for the Unitarian Universalists, it is impossible to cleave to this "religion" without a belief in leftism; belief in God is optional.

In the middle of the twentieth century, when contemporary Unitarian Universalism was formed, our public theology was shaped by our resistance to the public civic Christianity of the day. Because we had adopted humanism so thoroughly (even our theists and Christians were humanists), we were the church that allowed disbelief at a time when church membership and attendance was at an all time high. We believed in “deeds not creeds” and in building heaven on Earth and in “social action.” We were militants about the separation of church and state. We were increasingly drawn toward an oppositional stance in society.

We have identified systemic oppression as what Unitarian Universalism’s Seven Principles oppose.

On a theological level, we were quite content to be sure of what we didn’t believe and much more vague about what we did believe.

Then, the 1960s turned to the ’70s and then to the ’80s, and political conservatism came to dominate U.S. culture. Liberals were thrown on the defensive, and UU congregations became, in many parts of the country, safe havens and sanctuaries for beleaguered social liberals, cultural liberals, and political liberals. We described our congregations as gatherings of “like-minded people.” We said that our congregations were “beacons of liberal religion,” which betrayed the assumption that aside from the light of our steeple, it was mostly dark out there.

Art Deco said...

Huh? Today's American Protestant mainline reads like the Democratic Party platform.

When your clergy consists of people who want to be den mothers on salary and organizers of potlucks and your seminary faculty consists of people who want to play word games and school aspirant den-mothers-on-salary and your denominational leadership consists of the den-mothers-on-salary most inclined to institutional politics and silly PR babble, that's what happens.

I'd refer you to an issue of the New York Times Magazine which profiled a tool named Jeffrey Vamos, then enrolled at (IIRC) Union Theological Seminary. Unlike the vast majority of seminary graduates. he went into f/t ministry and is still employed in that capacity 30-odd years later.

The remaining laity are those who put up with these characters.