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Free and Equal Superman brings down Catholic religious orders

This interview came out in 1994, but I heard of it first just yesterday, on Facebook, of all places, thanks to one of my FB contacts who posted it. Some of you probably know all about it: It's the story of how the "non-directive therapy" of psychologist Carl Rogers brought down religious orders with frightening speed in California in the 1960's. The story is told by a former associate of Rogers, now-repentant Dr. William Coulson.

Coulson's tale and his way of telling it are absolutely believable. He talks about the jargon of psychology and its follies with the familiarity of one who knows them from the inside. Speaking as a Protestant, I found the story shocking and yet all-too-predictable. I could not hope to reproduce it, and I encourage you to find time to read it. Let's hope that if we know history we can have a hope of not repeating it. At a minimum, the moral of the story is, "Never let people come and do psychology seminars, or for that matter, any seminars, for your well-functioning religious community, with the goal of bringing you 'up to date.' Chances are, by the time it's all over, you won't have a religious community at all anymore, much less a well-functioning one."

I have only a few comments that won't, I hope, simply be wasting time you could be spending reading the interview.

First, Coulson's story is an indictment of the pseudo-science of psychotherapy. As he tells the story, Rogers started out doing therapy with people who had solid ethical upbringings and hence fairly well-informed consciences. Rogers found that by prompting them with questions like, "What do you think?" he could get them to give themselves therapy, in a sense, to find good answers to their problems for themselves. He then proceeded to generalize this to the ridiculous idea that all of us can thus find the right answers (in heaven-knows-what sense of "right") if only we are encouraged to look within ourselves, be authentic, get in touch with our true feelings, and so forth. Authenticity then, predictably, became identified with rejecting whatever you had been taught previously, and especially with all forms of religious tradition, and when Rogers chose to do further work on the West coast, he found all manner of horrors and destruction flowing from his method. No kidding. Man is fallen after all. I was reminded irresistibly of the amusing story Richard Feynman tells of his draft interview. He annoyed the psychiatrist and was declared psychologically unfit to be drafted. The psychiatrist wrote in his notes, "Very peculiar facial expression." Feynman says, "I know what that was. That was when I said, 'And this is science?'"

Second, the interview contains a stunning confirmation of both Zippy's idea of the free and equal superman trampling the untermensch and of my idea that "choice devours itself." Coulson tells of a spin-off group from Rogers which was charged by the State of California with forcing its female patients to have abortions. The reasoning ran thus: We want you to be free to hear your inner voice. You cannot truly be free if you are pregnant or a mother. Therefore, we will force you to be free by forcing you to get rid of your children. (They also pressured women to place their children for adoption before entering therapy, if the children were lucky enough to have been born already.) Coulson doesn't say whether the group's leaders were convicted or not.

Anyway, try to find time to read the whole thing.

Comments (16)

Satan is a very smart guy, never underestimate him.

I'm the one who posted that interview on Facebook. Thanks for picking up on it, Lydia.

Although this isn't the place to go into detail, I have personally experienced the effects of what Coulson was talking about. It took me years to recover, and I'm far from alone. Rogerian and other "humanistic" psychologies devastated the Catholic priesthood and religous orders during the decade following Vatican II. Not only did many thousands abandon their vocations; many thousands of other vocations were nipped in the bud.

Given that the so-called sexual revolution was simultaneously underway in Western society at large, the nodal point for what was happening among priests and religious was the ideal of sexual autonomy. That, more than anything else, was responsible not only for the falloff in vocations but also for the wave of sexual abuse that took place from the mid 60s through the mid 80s—the time period when the majority of the actionable cases occurred. Partly out of a misplaced sense of institutional self-preservation, but also because too many bought into the mistaken psychological fashions, the bishops belittled and covered up the problems.

The root problem was a general unwillingness and inability to see that listening to one's "inner voice" brought out more evil than good when the ideal of "authenticity" was taken to mean liberation from traditional morality. It seems younger Christians today, including younger Catholics, are beginning to understand that. Not many are as naive as people were back then. Unfortunately, the baby-boom generation is still invested in such false "liberation." Hence freedom for fornication, divorce, contraception, and sodomy are still taken for granted as preconditions of personal freedom. And that's almost as true in the Church as in the world.

There were a couple of good lines, like: "That was my first mistake,
looking for normal people in California." And the sharp mother who pulled her daughter out of IHS before it closed, saying, "Listen, she can lose her faith for free at the state college."

But the overall impression leaves me nearly depressed at the malleability of the human soul. I read a lot about this kind of thing back in the 80's, and the return visit hasn't been pleasant.

Mr Luse:

Back in the mid and late 80s, I taught as an adjunct in three different houses of priestly formation. The formation director at one of them told me that he had to "break the faith of the young fogies" in order to make it "authentic." Fortunately, that wasn't the view everywhere else. Some people were beginning to realize what had actually been going on, and a few seminaries weathered the storm fairly well.

Things are somewhat better now than back then. But progress has been and still is made over the kicks and screams of the old guard....oops, the "progressives." There's still a ways to go.


"The old order's rapid collapse is a sign that it had deep flaws."

That's one response I've seen to accounts of the major changes over the past five decades. I kept that in mind while reading, and it is notable how Coulson's account contradicts it.

"The proof of authenticity on the humanistic psychology model is to go against what you were trained to be, to call all of that phoniness, and to say what is deepest within you," he says.

The IHM nuns were by his reckoning a strong religious order, built through lifetimes of customs and habits. But the psychologists' promptings led them to reject that order and destroy those traditions.

Their collapse wasn't necessarily due to some structural flaw their order had developed over time. Rather, the disaster's proximate cause was precisely the introduction and acceptance of novel schemes.

That destruction could happen to any of us, since it feeds off the magnanimity and concupiscence we all possess.

In the Fall, Man revolted by choosing himself as final arbiter. The sisters repeated this, and thus they too fell.

They simply didn't recognize the Serpent in his new guise.

Their collapse wasn't necessarily due to some structural flaw their order had developed over time. Rather, the disaster's proximate cause was precisely the introduction and acceptance of novel schemes.

I agree in general, but I would also observe: 1. Coulson also says that the order was already progressive before he got there. 2. The leaders of IHM seemed to place a great deal of trust - even faith - in a psychology group, without checking out and testing what they were claiming. A more appropriate response by those leaders would have been much more cautious, and would perhaps have submitted the training materials to a solid theologian. Even at that time, psychology was held as doubtful by careful Catholics. Perhaps the leaders, at least, were not quite so innocent as all that. 3. The IHM sisters chose those particular leaders. Why? Why were they choosing leaders who did not have a firm grip on their own proper Catholic doctrine, enough to be able to see, right off the bat, that there was something seriously fishy about looking within for authority?

I don't know the answers to these and probably nobody ever will. But my training has led me to believe that the ultimate culprit (in human terms) was a willingness during the 20th century to sever sound and deep classical teaching of theology from spiritual development, so that those in the orders who got one rarely got the other.

I went to a Catholic school in the 60's and 70's, and saw the destruction from the tail end - my earlier nuns were devout and believed the creed with all their hearts. Later nuns were almost universally into feelings, and discussions of morality instead of teaching morality. Fortunately for me, my parents pulled me out of school on a couple of days they did sensitivity training - I got to be truant with full parental approval! And they instituted a private Sunday school program to teach what the nuns were dropping.

Also bear in mind, these enemies were let in by the religious' superiors, and most of them swallowed the poison because they trusted their superiors that these men were good and had no cause to be suspicious, until it was too late.

Rogers and his vile band would never have gained a toehold in the first place, were it not for a previous rebellion in the hearts of many a clergyman. Despite St Pius X's best efforts, the Modernist cancer metastasized and this was one of its many evil fruits.

I appreciate Michael Liccione's emphasis on _naivete_. Is that not so true? I find it almost impossible to see stuff from the 60's and 70's now without feeling this weird chill. These were such incredibly naive liberals, going full steam ahead into social revolution and assume it would all be good. And they are to some extent still with us. Now, though, I think it's more possible to see in a sense the iron fist within the velvet glove. Things are hardening and becoming more themselves. There are still the naive liberals with us, but more often than not if you try to open their eyes you find out that they are absolutely committed ideologues and _want_ the things to happen that one might have thought would shock them. At the time that these nuns were inviting the serpent into their garden, I think their naivete might have been closer to absolute: "Oh, this is science." "Oh, this is renewal." "Oh, Coulson is a Catholic, so we can trust it." "Oh, but this is more compatible with Christian teaching than Freud or behaviorism." And so forth.

Thanks again, Lydia. You wrote:

These were such incredibly naive liberals, going full steam ahead into social revolution and assume it would all be good. And they are to some extent still with us.

Actually, they're very much with us. Gay marriage, a concept that evoked almost universal laughter or disgust not so long ago, will soon have Big Mo. As Rod Dreher writes in an RCP article today entitled "Secular Liberalism as Consensus":

"If you can redefine [marriage] so that the sex of the parties has nothing to do with it, then you can redefine anything in human life any way you want," Kalb told me in an interview. "Man becomes the artifact of whoever is in power."

This, I think, is what scares ordinary people the most about the swift attempt to kick the foundation out from under traditional marriage. They intuit that there is something, well, tyrannical in the idea that virtually overnight, the long-settled meaning of marriage could change in a vast social experiment without historical precedent - and that any attempt to resist this radicalization stands condemned as God-intoxicated bigotry.

We've declined awfully far awfully fast. At least the Catholic Church is resisting the decline a bit more vigorously now. In society at large, that resistance is almost certainly doomed. But the seeds for a rebirth from the Dark Ages will have been planted.

I wonder: Were the naive liberals of the 60's, at least some of them, _nicer_ people than the ones we have around nowadays? Because I tell you, the ones nowadays sometimes seem to me like just pretend-nice. They're nice and just seem foolish and naive until you talk to them some, and then you realize they are damning the torpedoes because they want the torpedoes to be damned. So, for example, they wouldn't really care if marriage were devalued still more by homosexual "marriage," because they really don't care tuppence about marriage as most of us understand it. They _like_ the idea of one big experimental sex-fest with kids bopped around within big experimental "extended families." They think we are scary and weird for _not_ liking that. I can't help thinking that in amongst the steely-eyed totalitarians there were also at least some real babes in the wilderness around in the 60's who were just fools, but that the proportion of such mere fools is decreasing now and the proportion of steely-eyed totalitarians playing Mr. Nice-Guy only as long as it serves their purpose is increasing.

Fantastic post and discussion. Thanks for bringing this to our attention Lydia. I'd like to note that all was not lost for the IHMs. The order runs our parish school, good and faithful servants of the Lord.

A propos of Rod Dreher, he posts on this (gay marriage) quite frequently on his blog at Beliefnet. Every time he does, his combox is swamped with pro-gay marriage partisans shouting down the opposition. They're anything but a nice bunch. I think you have taken the measure of our contemporary sexual revolutionaries, Lydia.

Perhaps I oversimplified in denying "preexisting conditions." I wish there was more to flesh out what the speaker meant by "progressive," however. The only possible oddity I could glean was the part about the nuns going around playing classical music on streetcorners.

I'm actually a bit glad Obama's election has brought people to the realization of the decline in culture. There was a deeply false sense of security because Bush held the presidency.

Just before the 2008 election, The Simpsons showed George Washington and Abe Lincoln locking lips in a fake same-sex "marriage" ad.

Under an FCC under a Republican president!

While we were busy about Islamic ideologues, Leftists just kept throwing solvents at our country's foundations.

This interview has my blood boiling, especially as I think of the damage to our country, to communities, to family, to individuals, and to the most defenseless.

To rebuild the walls we must be like those in Neh 4:17, "Those who carried burdens were laden in such a way that each with one hand labored on the work and with the other held his weapon." We have to catechize AND defend the Host. It seems the trivialization of the sacred is the main attack of the enemy now. If defense of the truth is reckoned mean in this day, then we better be mean. (mean like St. Nicholas)

Oh, that there were one among you who would shut the doors, that you might not kindle fire upon my altar in vain! I have no pleasure in you, says the LORD of hosts, and I will not accept an offering from your hand. Mal 1:10

If our Bishops and priests would stop the reception in the hand, stop the girl alter boys, stop the openly defiant from receiving, stop the nonsense taking place during Mass, we would strike a severe blow in defense for the good of the faithful and the Gospel.

The day may be close when men, perhaps some Knights of Columbus, will have to risk their lives to stand between the Host and those demanding their entitlement of reception.

Lord have mercy

There was a deeply false sense of security because Bush held the presidency.
An important point. The function of right-liberal politics in this day and age is basically to provide bread and circuses for those with a conservative temperament.

What happened last time around, with Clinton, was the rise of Rush Limbaugh and talk radio: bread and circuses outside the walls. There is always hope that the conservative temperament in exile will be more introspective this time; but I'm not holding my breath.

For re the Knights of Columbus. I don't know of many councils but our few local ones here in NW kansas. They have no spirit of defense of traditional values and exist in the main to pay their (our) building utility bills through fund raisers and fish frys. Beyond rosarys for the unborn we fail do inspire beyond basketball games for the "unfortunate". One never sees the banners of old, processions, or public demonstrations of manly unity in defense of our Church or local parish. How sad.

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