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Desperate Man

When we lived in England I started and ran a business training/personal development company. We did work in prisons and schools as well as in management training. As part of the training we would often talk about belief systems, and I would state that everyone believed in something. One prisoner insisted, “Not me. I don’t believe in anything.” My reply was, “You have just stated what you believe in.”

What I mean by “belief system” is that everyone operates with a certain set of assumptions that they rarely examine. On this foundation of assumptions they construct a framework of beliefs through which they view life and which therefore gives order and meaning to their life. We all have such a grid even if (paradoxically) our “order and meaning” is nihilism and anarchy.

Humankind cannot bear the absurd chaos of true nihilism. The human spirit must fill the void. We insist on meaning, and our minds are constantly searching for a deeper pattern and meaning to it all—even when it is not conscious that it is doing so. The theologian says this hunger for meaning is a hunger for God. The thirst is not only to know, but to be known—not only to have intellectual order, but also to be unified with that loving intelligence that orders all things.

Abandonment to that Divine Providence is the end point of the spiritual life. The believer seeks to become so full of trust in the Divine plan and love for the Planner that we commend our whole selves into his care moment by moment, even when we do not understand what is happening–especially when we do not understand what is happening. At this point we begin to live within the power of God and begin to dwell at the heart of the love that Dante said is the power that “moves the sun and all the other stars.”

divine-providenceWhether we admit it or not, all of us believe there is a larger plan and underlying pattern. However, if we reject Divine Providence as a possibility, we retain the fundamental conviction that there is some greater power “behind it all.” Then instead of seeing that power as benign and benevolent, “The Unseen Power” becomes something to fear. Believing there must be an “Unseen Power” but rejecting God we search for another pattern, another plan and another planner, and this search becomes the vigilance of the hunted, the fear of the unknown; unseen power bubbles over into a kind of paranoia.

What is most interesting is that this deep-seated fear often exists within the religious who profess to believe in the Divine Providence. However, if they do not attempt to submit in faith and love to that providence, their belief remains merely intellectual assent to a theological proposition. They are in no relationship with the Divine Providence, so they fall back on searching for another underlying driving “Unseen Power.”

This paranoia has been with humanity in every age and has many forms. One of the most typical forms of the paranoia is apocalypticism. In some way the world is about to end because of the nefarious workings of “The Unseen Power.” Often the apocalyptcism will be lodged within a religious context. Preachers search their Torahs, their Bibles, their Korans, or the experiences of mystics or prophets for secret signs of the end times, and they end with hysterical predictions of the world’s end.

The paranoia is not, however peculiarly religious. It might take the form of financial, political, or racist doomsday-conspiracy theories. For the conservatives it’s the international banking families. It’s the Jews or the Freemasons, the Communists, the Illuminati, the Council for Foreign Relations, the United States government, the CIA, the liberal media, or a vast conspiracy of them all working together.

Lest the progressives feel smug, they have their own paranoid belief systems. For them the world is controlled by “a vast right wing conspiracy,” or the problem is global warming, nuclear disaster, overpopulation, discrimination or the world ecosystems collapsing causing global famine, while the oil-hungry cabal of American capitalists and the military-industrial complex continue to dominate and control the world.

paranoiaAll these are different forms of paranoia–the fear of “The Secret Unseen Power” whatever it is–that is going to cause the collapse of all things. This paranoia may be mild or rabid in form, but very often it worsens into a form of true paranoia. The fear becomes the main grid through which everything else is filtered. Every news item, every fact of history, every event on the world stage is interpreted as part of the paranoid world view, and when the fact doesn’t fit the theory, it is either rejected as a lie or it fits into the vast “cover up” of the facts that always accompanies real paranoia.

What interests me is that paranoia is the one form of mental illness that is almost impossible to be treated. You can see why: the paranoid person suspects the doctor and will not take his medicine because the doctor is part of the conspiracy. The paranoid person, like the self-righteous person does not think there is anything wrong with him. Everyone else is to blame. Tell the paranoid person that he has lost his grip on reality and you become “one of the enemy.”

The only remedy is reality, and the only reality is the one who is Reality itself. The solution is to first acknowledge the Divine Providence and then cultivate a child-like trust and obedience in the Divine Planner. If you are human you have to have some sort of belief system, so you might as well go with the one which not only offers peace of mind, joy and hope, but which also happens to be true. You might as well accept and co-operate with the Divine Providence.

The alternative is Devilish Paranoia.

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3 replies to this post
  1. Good piece! I’ve thought for some time that the global warming nuts are basically non-religious people who need a secular version of the apocalypse. Note their predictions are never *reasonable*, they’re always catastrophic in nature (which they then fret about as they fly to various global warming conferences in their Gulfstreams and Learjets).

  2. “The fear becomes the main grid through which everything else is filtered. Every news item, every fact of history, every event on the world stage is interpreted as part of the paranoid world view, and when the fact doesn’t fit the theory, it is either rejected as a lie or it fits into the vast “cover up” of the facts that always accompanies real paranoia.”

    As always another excellent piece, Mr. Longenecker. What you describe in the excerpt above is known in the counseling world as selective abstraction – only taking into account the experiences that fit into the narrative that we have chosen to believe is the truth, while rejecting all evidence to the contrary. It is exceedingly difficult to treat. The client knows that their present way of living and believing is causing them distress, but they find comfort in this modality because however troubling it is to them, at the end of the day it is what they know. People are more attracted to what they know than to what is best for them.

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