On Pentecostalism

Emotions galore: Pentecostalism.

I have received some time ago from the Catholic Truth Society some of their newest booklets. Among these one has caught my attention: “Pentecostalism”.

The booklet is very interesting because it explain to a Catholic in simple words and in rather concise form what Pentecostalism is, why it has so much success and where the danger of the approach lie. In particular, the aspect of the direct relationship with God attracted my attention.

You see, for us Europeans (let alone: Italians) people saying things like “The Lord directed me to do so and so” really sound arrogant to the point of blasphemy and therefore such expressions are, in the Old Continent, unheard of. One is tempted to ask whether the Lord has sent an email, or perhaps a text message, and whether the broadband connection is rather expensive.

It turns out that such expressions derive from a sincere, if naive, desire to really have a “direct line” with God. Not one in the Catholic sense (the relationship with God developed through faithful prayer, Mass attendance, submission to the rules of Holy Mother Church and prayerful carrying of the crosses God decides to give us), but one in the literal one: do this, don’t do that. Therefore it can happen that when one questions some decisions which to one appears rush, but which to the person in question have clearly come via Divine Broadband (say: a man marries a woman he has known only for two weeks because “the Lord directed him to do it”) the reaction can be rather harsh and unable to comprehend how a third party may put in question what the Holy Ghost himself has clearly directed him to do. By reading the booklet I suddenly understood the logic behind the assassination of Marvin Gay from his preaching father: no idea whether he was a Pentecostals but hey, if the Holy Ghost has directed him to do so….

I am frankly glad never to have met a Pentecostal, because by all my admiration for religiously fervent people (even if, alas, heretics) I can’t imagine a discussion with them being anything else than a ridiculous barrage of “the Holy Ghost Himself has given me the Truth, so shut up”. I can also easily imagine what consequences such mentality may engender; the Lord has directed me to ask from you for so and so much money, might the pastor say; the Lord has directed me to file for divorce, will the bored husband (in perfect good faith, probably) soon declare, and so on.

And in fact, the entire exercise seems to be strongly based on a personal relationship with God which is – and cannot but be – highly emotionally charged. Now, emotions can play very dirty tricks to us. Particularly when we proceed to brainwashing ourselves every day; particularly when we ardently desire to be “directed” in some way; particularly when all this happens in religious matters, with their explosive emotional potential.

Emotions are like a faithful dog. If we train them every day they’ll do exactly what we want them to. Nazis, commies and all other nut cases have successfully manipulated themselves to utter stupidity by just picking highly emotional themes and fully delivering themselves to them. Che Guevara could kill in cold blood a couple of dozen prisoners at a time without any big perturbation. Dr. Goebbels understood the power of emotional self-suggestion with great lucidity, it is surprising that the devastating potential of such purely emotion-driven approach is not yet fully recognised.

Please compare this with Catholicism. A rigid, coherent system of rules valid in all situations and at all times. A complicated, but universally applicable system of criteria to resolve moral dilemmas and difficult situations (think of the doctrine of war; or of the “double effect”). A link to the Lord which doesn’t need (though it may have) an “emotional relationship” at all, but on the contrary asks for worship and submission even from those not graced with mystical experiences or with a strong feeling of God’s presence. A closely knit system of moral rules to which even the Pope is bound and which are therefore guaranteed not to be abused under the pretence of an “inspiration from the Holy Ghost”. The resulting impossibility of the absurd consequences of such “direct line” mentality (husband says that the Holy Ghost has directed him to move to California; wife thinks that the Holy Ghost has directed her to keep her husband in Arizona; I wouldn’t want to be in that kitchen….).

The desire of a direct line with Heaven, of an intimate contact with God is an understandable one and I do not doubt that many of these Christians are sincerely devout.
But between desiring something and being let free to believe that our conviction is the fruit of Divine inspiration the step is very short, and very dangerous. It is the deification of whatever we feel strongly enough about, a life spent listening to gut feelings rather than solid common sense; the constant danger of having solid moral rules polluted by individual preferences and the constant abuse of the Holy Ghost, forcibly hijacked as the inspiring force behind – say – both the marriage and the divorce.

Thank God for Holy Mother Church, asking us to submit to rules which not only make a lot of sense, but are immutable and not at the mercy of the whim of religious leaders or, unavoidably, of our own fantasies of broadband connection with Heaven.

Mundabor

Posted on February 25, 2011, in Catholicism and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. I once worked in a Catholic hospital that served a primarily non-Catholic population. Because of this, the pastoral ministry staff kept a Pentecostal minister (ministress? it was a woman) on hand.

    The nuns (very liberal) who ran the pastoral ministry once allowed the Pentecostal minister to hold a prayer service in the hospital’s chapel (there was a consecrated altar there and the blessed sacrament was reserved in the tabernacle). I was, much to my chagrin, invited to attend, and because of my position I could not say no. As you might expect, there were some bible readings, a lot of hooting and hollering and “being moved by the Spirit,” and even an interpretive dance or two.

    What really struck me was how little a sense of the sacred they had. All the readings, dances, and music in this Protestant service were directed from the sanctuary. The worst part was, since Pentecostals are about as low-church as one can get, they had no idea what the altar was for, and used it as a table to hold the props they used for the dancing and singing. The whole experience was so foreign to me that, except for mentioning God and Jesus a lot, I could hardly believe I was at a Christian gathering. I did not have much hope for real Christian unity at the time, but whatever hope I did have was shattered right there.

    • NSS,

      did you have the impression that they were at least sincerely interested in Christian values, or did you seem to notice that the desire for entertainment and emotionalism was prevalent?

      Your description reminded me of the famous scene in the “Blues Brothers” movie where Jake Blues “sees the light” and James Brown is the preacher….

      M

  2. It was hard to tell, I would have to say that it was both in equal measure. You also must understand that these were primarily people who had been raised in Pentecostal or similar traditions: they were not people who consciously rejected a Church that retains apostolic succession. It was the only way they knew how to worship; I’m sure if I had brought one of them to a High Mass in the EF, he would have been just as disconcerted as I was.

    One thing I was glad about was that no one “spoke in tongues,” which is in vogue amongst many Pentecostals. This is where they break down into gibberish and screeching, claiming to have been overcome by the Holy Spirit and to be communicating some important message from him. This is completely in contrast to the Biblical event, when those blessed with tongues were able to speak and have people of different languages understand them.

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