Saturday, September 17, 2011

Avoiding the cult of personality pitfall

difference of opinion

Sometimes it's hard to accept that a person could have an opinion about a situation that might seem contrary to what you believe is true. Even more difficult to accept is when a person has an opinion that appears to be critical of someone who is wildly popular. And sometimes, we don't want to scrutinize a situation, even though it warrants scrutiny, because we have developed a sense of trust in the person in question (although we only know him based on his exterior works) and want to protect what we believe is a reputation that does not deserve to be impugned. And often, the person who dares to suggest there may be a reason to be wary ends up being -- scrutinized.  Ironic! Nonetheless, there is more to be said, that must be said...


As is the case with many celebrities, we are often disappointed by who they turn out to be in "real life". Their celebrity status blinds us, and even convinces us, that they are better than we are. But, in the case of celebrity, we must take a step back and realize that people who are in the public spotlight are the same as we are. They just seem to garner more attention -- have a charisma that surpasses that of the average man. Yet, they still make mistakes, commit sins and have their own personal idiosyncrasies.

Why do we place human beings on a pedestal? What is it that makes us fall in with the "cult of personality"?

When a charismatic personality rises above the average personality, it draws people to itself. And when that personality speaks with conviction about a topic that is worth believing in, it creates a ripple of excitement among those who believe. And if that personality continues to amass support, intensify its message and increase the numbers of those who follow, you have a movement.

Movements can be wonderful things -- those that followed Jesus became known as Christians -- and that movement, which at Pentecost became known as the Church, has been around for over 2000 years. But, Jesus was like us in all things, but for sin. That is what separates God, who creates and inspires movements, from men who do the work to lead those movements inspired by God .

Those who trust in anything or anyone but God, who think they know better than legitimate authority, who reduce solemn institutions to pigeon holed bureaucracies to be worked around instead of obedient to, cause sadness, discouragement and dissent from those institutions. They shake the foundation upon which they have built up their noble goals.

There have been any number of charismatic figures who have taken good people down the paths of disillusionment, or worse, much to their ultimate surprise: Hitler; Jim Jones; Jimmy Swaggart; Rev. Marcial Maciel; Congressman Weiner, Charlie Sheen, etc. Regardless of the message, or the temporal good of the work performed, something more must be observed and assessed -- yes, even judged (that word has become taboo, but it is necessary to judge human actions).

Is the person, in public as well as in private, living a life of virtue. That is the difference between someone who does God's will (or the secular "good"), and someone who wears the facade of holy intention (or the secular, good intention).

When a charismatic person has won over the masses, they can easily fall into pride as a result in their rise in status. Sometimes they may even decide that they are no longer subject to the rules -- that the work they do somehow elevates them above the fray -- that they are the only one who can do said work.

Shouldn't there be controls in place to protect both the reputation and work of the leader, and the hearts of those who follow? Shouldn't there be a standard of behavior that is routinely tested to ensure that no one person, especially a person in authority, can become overly inflated by his position? And, those who engage in the work under such a leader, shouldn't they have the security of oversight and legitimate scrutiny to prevent unwanted upset and scandal?

We are all human; we will all make mistakes, even our heroes. The one and only Person Whom we can trust and follow into any endeavor, be it spiritual or temporal, is Christ Jesus -- because He is trustworthy. If our gaze falls from His Face to the face of a human person, if we try to trust a human person with the same trust we afford Christ, he becomes an idol. At which point, the danger to both leader and follower is inestimable.

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