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A Cautionary Tale

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A reader sends a cautionary tale. It’s so interesting that I’m sharing it with you:
I’ve been thinking a lot about the soft totalitarianism you’ve been warning about for quite a while now.  You’ve been able to explain things – and draw others’ observations into the dialogue, too – to give a very full and very accurate description of what’s happening here.
My parents lived through World War II.  All of my uncles served in various capacities, and one – a hero who defended Wake Island during the Japanese bombardment there – was taken prisoner at Zentsuji POW camp for the duration of the war.  The family never knew he was alive until the war ended, and then we found out a lot about his starvation and frequent torture at the hands of the guards (he weighed 80 pounds when he was liberated).
But tellingly, I knew nothing of these events through my parents or grandparents directly.  I found out about the Nazis by reading “The Winged Watchman” by Hilda van Stockum when I was a young and avid reader.  And when I was about 10, I stumbled upon an article in Life Magazine from a concentration camp survivor that was certainly not meant for young eyes.  It was so horrible that it was incomprehensible to me.  When I was 13, living on a Marine base, I found Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and was deeply struck by it.  I read more of his books in the ensuing years.  And so I was launched out on an off-and-on quest to understand how these sorts of things could happen.
At the same time I lost my Catholic faith.  It was the late 60s and the Mass suddenly changed and became a guitar hootenanny and holding of hands (shudder).  The “new Mass” had completely obliterated the transcendence and reverence of the Holy Sacrifice.  I was left without a mooring.
Irony of ironies, I wandered until I found my way to a Hindu meditation group at age 18.  I was a misfit but a seeker after truth and God, and I needed to be part of something that was “bigger than myself.”  I stayed in that monastery for 28 years.  I loved the monastic life part of it, but as the years went by and I finally matured, there were increasing signs of unhealthy attitudes by the hierarchy, loss of morale among the “worker bees” (sometimes we worked round the clock on senseless and unthought-out projects), and just plain nutty pronouncements to keep us in line, such as:   if someone left the organization after taking final vows, their families would be negatively affected for 7 generations in the past and 7 generations into the future.  (Karma and reincarnation were, of course, core beliefs.). I remember thinking when I first heard this gem, “What the heck?!  Who made that up?”).  This was how we were controlled to not leave, or we would bring shame (and some kind of retribution) on ourselves and, obviously, our ghostly dead relatives.  We were infantilized. There were unspoken rules and regulations, secrecy about generally everything, and when bad things happened, the truth was rarely spoken, and we all knew it.  We received explanations that the Chinese government would be proud of.
There I was — living in soft totalitarianism.
I remember feeling irked, when visiting my mother and sister once a year, that they’d ask my opinion on certain social issues, and I’d always say something like, “Well, Master (what we called the dead but “ever-living” guru) said that……”.  Finally, they’d look at me and ask, “But what do YOU think?”  They felt I was brainwashed and they would be right, really.
The longer I was there, I was asked to be a spiritual counselor to younger ones and to interview potential new nuns.  The more I listened to their stories, the more I realized that this religion was attracting a surprisingly large number of people who were emotionally dysfunctional.  They would either want to join because they were escaping a failed life “in the world”; or they had some significant issues that spilled over into their everyday relationships with other people, making things really difficult.  And this group was no place for them to work out their deep-seated issues.  Most were deeply sincere, but many were not going to succeed and cause endless disruptions because no one there was qualified as a therapist to help them.
Because of the constant over-work (I had an ultra perfectionist work supervisor) and emotional tension, I developed an aggressive cancer.  I had to apply for chemo agents as an indigent because the organization didn’t have health insurance for its own members at that time.  But I was given time off to recuperate.  Boy, did I do a lot of thinking!  That was the beginning of the end for me there.  I began speaking up and no longer used “Ketman.”  That did not go over well with my superiors.  Still, it took another 2 years to leave, but when I did, I was given the courage – don’t ask me how, but it was Divine Grace – to be totally open and vocal to everyone about why I was leaving – contrary to the modus operandi of leaving at midnight without anyone knowing.  The last week I was there was a living hell and I was accused by the hierarchy of leaving because I was in “delusion.”
After leaving, I experienced some bitter years of regret – I lost my youth there and had to start over from scratch at age 45 (we did not get a salary and I had no money of my own and had to ask the group for some) – to realize how I’d duped myself for so long.  I had no experience with banking or living in the world, having entered the organization out of high school.  (And yes, I had taken my final vows, but so far I’ve not heard from any of my long-lost relatives about any fiery retribution raining down on their incorporeal heads.)
I had come to that group emotionally immature and had my own issues until those kept coming up often enough during my life there that I knew I had to face them.  I can’t say all was bad because I made many good friends and I learned a huge amount about human nature.  I developed compassion and stretched myself out of my comfort zone.  I also read a ton of Catholic saint books from their library; also accounts of Rev Wurmbrand’s terrible tortures in Romania and Corrie ten Boom’s imprisonment at Ravensbruck, which gave me a very full picture of totalitarian regimes, perhaps subconsciously helping to see my own situation more clearly.
I eventually made my way back full circle to Catholicism and the Latin Mass (no thanks to the current disastrous Pope who seems bent on being woke himself).
Still, when we hear about how people are hooked into wokeness, it makes perfect sense.  Just as my parents did not tell me about the Holocaust and what happened during the War – until much later when I would ask them about it – the parents of this generation probably never talked to them about this either (if they were ever taught it in the first place), so a huge and vitally important part of world history was lost very, very quickly; and I suspect a great number of my generation had no faith and therefore could not pass down any spiritual anchor or tradition to which a young person could feel part of.  So wokeness and ideologies become substitute religions, and the fervor of these religions is astonishing and scary.
We have really failed our duties to the next generation.
I didn’t mean this to be so long, but I did have a cautionary tale to tell, for what it’s worth.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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