Set-Ups for Being Picked Off by Authoritarian Leaders – Part 1: Susceptibilities to Seduction by Those with No Conscience

Background

There has been an ongoing discussion about Douglas Wilson, about specific situations where there are allegations of abuse of authority, and about his leadership of Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho, and of the Communion of Reformed Evangelical Churches (CREC). Since I lived in Pullman, Washington, and Moscow, Idaho, during the beginnings of what turned into CREC, I have been watching this current situation unfold and reflecting on its roots. For my observations and opinions on the history of ministries in these two towns, see these links on The Wartburg Watch: Comment 1, Comment 2, Comment 3, Comment 4. (There are other comments I made related to certain types of Reformed theology and Reconstructionism. To find them, search the comments section of this post for “brad/futuristguy.”)

The following comment is one I posted in response to mirele, who talked about the seductive nature of Mr. Wilson’s system. My general thoughts on what makes us susceptible to seduction by those with no conscience are here in Part 1. In Part 2, I focus in on some aspects of “fatherlessness” that makes us particularly vulnerable to authoritarian men with charisma who provide precise answers to our questions and presence to meet our father-longing.

Part 1: General Susceptibilities to Seduction by Those with No Conscience

mirele wrote:

You know, when I was quite a bit younger, I would have found Douglas Wilson’s world quite seductive.

Thanks for your very insightful comment, mirele. As I mentioned in other threads about Douglas Wilson and Christ Church, I saw the beginnings of this current and very elaborate system when I lived in Pullman and Moscow from 1973-1987. So, I’ve been thinking about those source issues that led to where things are today.

The key word you said that struck me is *seductive*. I’ve been working on an article that explores what kinds of things can set us up to be groomed by authoritarians — the susceptibilities to seduction by sociopaths, as it were. Some of these factors are internal/personal, some are external/social in origin.

In light of the discussion about Mr. Wilson’s church-educational-community-political industrial complex in Moscow and beyond, I think some of these points might be of interest to consider. I’ll follow up with something about fatherlessness, because I think that’s a particular factor that we’ve consistently seen in the Neo-Calvinist/Neo-Puritan movements which focus their theological seduction on young men … and set them us as “fathers” in a patriarchal system.

Anyway, meanwhile, here’s my initial list of what can make us vulnerable to getting picked off by people of pathology, for what it’s worth.

* Fatherlessness that leaves “holes in the soul” and a longing for connection with a father figure — which a charismatic authoritarian man will gladly step in to act as and act out as. I suspect the dynamics here often lead to learned passivity, learned helplessness, learned devaluation of personal worth — and a false elevation of authority systems, masculinity, and patriarchy.

* Sincerity in wanting to please God and do what’s right — and authoritarians are ready to tell us precisely what those things to do are.

* Power as a magnet for drawing in whatever pleases self — and we seek roles that benefit us. [I see this happening with “commenders” and cronies who end up serving in high-ranking roles that keep theological dictators at the top of the pyramid.] This hearkens back to Frank Herbert’s quote that “Power is a magnet that draws the corruptible,” as a counterbalance to Lord Acton’s maxim that “Power tends to corrupt; absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely.”

* Linguistic philosophical perfectionism, and arrogantly believe the doctrines. This is an Enlightenment-era idea/ideal that assumes if we can just capture the precise language to describe our beliefs perfectly, then we will have captured the one and only true, right, and beauty philosophy/theology. This kind of pseudo-intellectualism and erudite elitism attracts those drawn by absorption with I.Q. (whether they’ve got the points or wished they did).

* Idealism, romanticism, and naively believing the doctrines because the system surrounding it and the purveyors of it appeal to aesthetics, sentimentality, and/or a throwback to a seemingly simpler time.

* Looking for security but ending up settling for predictability, stability, routine – i.e., legalism. I think this one is often based in fear, such as of how hard it is to live in an increasingly complex world, and the relative ease of just following some checklists that imply guaranteed outcomes.

* False identity – integrate self identity in people or things or organizational systems – not in God and who He made us each to be. When we integrate our lives in something outside ourselves, we lose the necessity to discern and decide for ourselves how we will navigate our way through life. Someone or something else dictates that for us.

* Naïve overtrust of authorities who are authoritarian, and fusing the role of overseer with the people who fill it — even if they aren’t qualified to serve in it.

I’m sure there are more. This is just my starting point after thinking for a very long time about various dynamics used to draw us into the orbit of a dictator and then keep us there …

Series continues with Set-Ups for Being Picked Off by Authoritarian Leaders – Part 2: Dynamics of Fatherlessness and Susceptibility to Substitutes.

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2 thoughts on “Set-Ups for Being Picked Off by Authoritarian Leaders – Part 1: Susceptibilities to Seduction by Those with No Conscience

  1. Very good points Brad. This one I think is the most outstanding: “False identity – integrate self identity in people or things or organizational systems – not in God and who He made us each to be.” When we allow ANYTHING, ANYONE to become our supreme leader, other than God, it is actually idolatry we are doing, and we go into bondage.

    Renewed dedication to God and choosing to love God above whatever else, can bring solution to this problem. I hope many people receive help from your very detailed work. God bless you.

    • Thanks for the feedback and encouragement, Jim. There are so many different vulnerability points that can be in our lives, and hopefully we all can discern better, healthier trajectories of transformation toward Christlikeness in spite of them.

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