“Just another guy with a blog.  No big whoop.”

January 6, 2011

How to Start a Movement

The psychology of leadership and followership, explained here in just three minutes, rings true. As I watched this, I thought about great movements, started by a lone man or woman, that have accomplished great good for many people. Examples that come to mind are St. Ignatius of Loyola — the Society of Jesus, Blessed Mother Teresa — the Missionaries of Charity, and St. Benedict of Nursia — the Benedictine Order. Of course, there are many other great founders of Catholic religious orders who are rightly included in this category (St. Francis, St. Dominic, etc.).

But it's also true that "lone nuts," as the video presenter Derek Sivers says, can effectively start movements, too, by getting enough people to follow them until a tipping point occurs and the "movement" gains enough momentum to become a force. Sometimes, they are bad and destructive and, amazingly, sometimes they can be good and beneficial. A notable example of a leader who left a path of some good but also a great deal of destruction and misery in his wake would be Fr. Marcial Maciel, founder of the Legionaries of Christ. Pope Benedict recently branded Maciel a "false prophet," which seems to be an apt description of his devious, squandered life. As for the religious order he founded and the lay movement associated with it, we've seen many of his former followers walk away from them, shaking their heads in bewilderment, sadness, and disgust. Many more who feel that way, from what I've been hearing lately, are poised to walk away soon. Personally, I think they should, given what we now know about what Fr. Macial hath wrought and how he went about wroughting (and rotting) it.

Anyway, it seems to me that the moral of this little video is that each of us should be consciously aware of at least three things:

1) Just because someone is out there doing something attractive, daring, and noteworthy is not in itself sufficient evidence that he or she is worthy of being followed by you or anyone else. Yes, it's certainly possible that he is worthy of a following, of course, and it's true that what he is beckoning others to join in with him to accomplish may also be an excellent and worthy cause. But it's just as possible that he isn't and neither is his cause. It's usually more prudent to take a wait-and-see approach, especially when it's the Church's wait-and-see approach. In due time, the truth or error or admixture of both will come to light, sometimes shocking those who thought they had it pegged, only to discover that they were wrong. ("Signs-and-wonders" enthusiasts and devotées of unapproved alleged Marian apparitions should take special note of this. Just ask those unfortunates who avidly fell in with Veronica Lueken and fell for her false but widely believed [for a time] "apparitions" at Bayside, NY.)

2) Just because others — even many others — are flocking to a movement or an alleged apparition is not in itself evidence that the movement or alleged apparition is worthy of being followed. Even if everyone in the Catholic "in crowd" is jumping into the conga line behind some charismatic leader or alleged apparition "seer," don't let that suffice as proof that you should jump in too. It's not. That tendency to follow the crowd is known as falling for the fallacy of argumentum ad populum, and a lot of people get suckered into bad situations because they don't recognize that. In other words, fifty million Frenchmen can be wrong.

And 3) If you are Catholic, don't forget that you already are a duly registered member of the One True Movement established by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself: the Catholic Church. The older I get, the more I've come to see that while sub-movements such as religious orders, lay apostolates, and other worthy groups are surely necessary, important, and helpful to the life of the Church, they should never become substitutes for the Church. They should never be allowed to morph into, as sometimes happens, a religion within a religion. Good, wise, and holy founders like St. Benedict and St. Ignatius would have been horrified at the thought of their movement becoming for some a substitute for the Church.The danger, it seems to me, is that we can forget, slowly and imperceptibly, that Jesus Christ is our leader and the "movement" He has called us into is the Catholic Church. The more consciously determined we can become to be spiritually and materially active there, in the Church — in our parishes and dioceses, united with the pastor and the bishop, most importantly — the better. Anything else, however good it may be, is purely secondary.

I discuss "150 Bible Verses" with host Doug Keck on EWTN's "Bookmark" show