“Religious and political movements promise much, but ultimately fail to deliver.
History sadly teaches us this tragic lesson.
There’s most certainly a buzz to be had from joining up and riding its euphoric wave of momentum, though at journey’s end we tend to end up beached and somewhat disillusioned.
We movement junkies eagerly scan the charismatic horizon, looking for the chosen one, the leader who’ll lead us into our particular version of the promised land.
Sadly, all we discover is their all too human feet of clay, once we’ve lower our gaze from their beguiling beatific smile.
No, the only real change for humanity lies within.
Outside we tend to take one step forward and two steps back.”
I don’t know about you but I’ve joined a few movements in my time, albeit mainly religious ones. Some of us prefer the political variety, jumping on board to change the world in the blink of an eye. For others both brands are almost inseperable, with the cause being heavily sponsored by the Divine.
Today I watch movements arise and fall from the sidelines. Why?
Well, simply after years of involvement I’ve no longer any faith in them. Some might say that’s a cynical approach to take but I’d have to disagree. I reckon that it’s a realist’s approach to these outbreaks of utopian fervour and optimism.
So why do we join movements in our search for meaning and a better world?
Well, they seem to strike a chord with our deepest longings for an Edenic innocence and wholeness. The desire to return to a primeval default setting I guess. Whether political or religious promises to return us to the way things ought to be. A place where suffering is no more and we all share the bliss of our common humanity. A worthy goal undoubtedly, but one that I reckon can’t be achieved by signing up to the last popular mass movement.
In a nutshell, the movement is humanity’s shortcut attempt at getting back to an ideal world. The trouble is that it can divide the world even further into two opposing camps: those who get it and those who don’t. I’d better explain.
All movements have defining characteristics. If they don’t they don’t stand out from the crowd. A movement must be different, a challenge to the prevailing status quo. In setting itself up as reformist, it must differentiate itself from the rest of the crowd. In my own case I was part of the early Christian Charismatic scene, which burst onto the religious world stage of the late 60s and 780s. Suddenly, all types of denominational Christians were having ecstatic experiences and discovering the ‘heartbeat’ of early Christianity. Speaking in tongues, or glossolalia to give it its posh name, quickly became the mark of a Spirit-filled believer. In Ireland, the land of so much staid, dour religious observance, the Charismatic movement quickly became the best show in town, especailly for idealistic young followers of the Nazarene like myself.
They were certainly heady days as we travelled the length and breadth of Ireland laying hands on anyone willing to receive the claimed ‘Baptism of the Holy Spirit’ with accompanying tongues speaking. Catholic nuns, Presbterian elders, Anglican priests all piled in as momentum grew and new forms of being Christians materialised. We really believed that we were on the cutting edge of a new revival, where the dregs of legalistic religion would be exorcised forever.
Of course, not all were convinced and in hindsight, rightly so. As non-Charismatics looked aghast at out outpouring of religious enthusiasm, some hit back, causing the movement to begin to look at setting up its own organisational structures. The us and them of Christian history took on a new form, with New Churches perceiving themselves as the inheritors of the Early Church mantle. The trouble is that such an establishing of boundaries for the sake of identity only repeated the historical mistakes of all reformist-revivalist movemnts, viz. the sectarianism of religious belief.
Yet, the particular group that I was involved with wanted more, so collectively we joined the American Shepherding movement, an authoritarian hierarchical organisation that placed each member in a structural pyramid of power. Beguiling international leaders, with charisma dripping off their every word, led their movement into a self-destructive cul-de-sac, where many once sincere believers gave up the Ghost for good. The gory details of my ecstatic journey through the minefielf of both movements have been recounted at length in my wee book, ‘The Prodigal Prophet’ for those who have travelled a similar path. One thing that I’ve painfully learned over the years is that the greater the zeal, the more dangerous the movement, especially if its led by those of compelling charm and a hint of ego.
But what of political causes and crusades? Well, may I suggest that these too have a touch of the religious about them, claiming the moral high ground as their raison d’être. All political movements, whether Right, Centrist or Left, have a Utopian carrot dangled in front of their members, one that can be achieved if only they can get into power. The politican and the anti-politican are both playing the same game. A beatific vision that draws the restlessness of their supporters into a pliable conformity, one that can lead them into office. Sadly, like their preacher prototypes, the frontmen for social change will either join the status quo bandwagon, or retreat from the battle, broken and disillusioned.
So then, that doesn’t augur too well for the human family. Well, yes and no, for there is another way. Once our crusading spirit is set aside, the authentic agent of change comes looking for us as we mope under our Jonah-like Juniper tree. But more of that next week.