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Happy Easter

On Christianity And Mind Control

Robert Chiesa, SJ
July 15, 2018


I don’t know if you are aware of a man named Matsumoto Chizuo (or Asahara Shōkō), founder of the doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyō, who was executed last week. He was the center of the Aum cult that was responsible for killing a number of people and for terrorist acts like releasing sarin gas in the Tokyo subway system, back in 1995. One of the concerns expressed when this man was executed last week was that his followers would try to divinize him, make him into a saint or a god.


As I was watching this news on TV with a priest friend of mine, we both saw a similarity between the execution of Matsumoto and the execution of Jesus. Looked at from a mere worldly angle, both were condemned and executed as dangerous criminals. Jesus had been considered a dangerous terrorist, preaching against the holy temple and even carrying out a terrorist attack within the temple in overturning the tables of the money-changers. After his execution, officials tried to stop Jesus’ followers from preaching about him and divinizing him. His tomb was empty, but the rumor was that the disciples had stolen the body and were now blaming the authorities for condemning someone they claimed to be a holy man. The similarities are striking.


At the time these atrocities centering on Matsumoto Chizuo occurred, commentators were talking about how his followers had been recruited and retained through what is called “mind control.” This is true of cults and dictatorial political regimes in general. People are brainwashed into seeing things the way the cult leader or dictator tells them to see things. I asked my priest friend,

Have you ever thought that we Christians might have been brainwashed into seeing things as the leaders of Christianity have told us to see them? We have learned to repeat that there are three Persons in one God, that the Second Person became man and died for us, and that he is risen from the dead and is present with us especially in this celebration of Mass and in the reception of the Eucharist. That’s what we have been taught. Have you ever thought that we too might be victims of some great mind control?


I was not surprised to see that my priest friend agreed with me, but gave me the same answer I have always held—that if it were simply a human phenomenon, simply another cult, it would never have endured for 2000 years with so many great minds concurring in it and so many people dying as martyrs to maintain that faith. Cults or dictatorships tend to be terrorist or suicidal, but Jesus tells us to love one another and to turn the other cheek when struck on one side. Surely there have been many embarrassing and intolerable incidents in our own church history—when so-called heretics were beheaded or burned at the stake in the name of religion.


But we have repeatedly been called to repentance, to reforming our conduct, and to seeing our place in the overall history of humanity.


Each one of us is a mere dot on the long line of humanity’s history, but we are placed there by God to serve as witnesses to the great faith that has endured for so many centuries and which God is leading to the fulfillment of history in Jesus, as Paul says: “that he would bring everything together under Christ, as head—everything in the heavens and everything on earth. … Before the world was made, he chose us in Christ, to live through love in his presen(Eph.1:3-14) 

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