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Authoritarian Dynamics in Religion, How Corruption Begins to Take Hold and Spread

By Upendranath Das a2022 03 29

Segment 02

“Rationalization: The Counterfeit of Reason”

It is important to understand that the above deviation is not necessarily premeditated. More likely it comes about by neglect. The leaders, being concerned about the visible goals of the organization, may neglect to take responsibility for keeping the right dynamic going in the group. They may lack awareness of how important the right dynamics are, and that this change of dynamics, is the ever-present danger to religion.

The deviation could also be owing to a private agenda, one so private that the persons responsible are ignorant of their own motives. Most people, unfortunately, are unaware of the power of humans to rationalize their motives, not conscious that their reasons are but a rational expression of an irrational drive. 

Psychoanalysis has demonstrated the ambiguous nature of our thinking processes. Indeed, the power of rationalization, this counterfeit of reason, is one of the most puzzling human phenomena. If we were not so accustomed to it, man’s rationalizing effort would clearly appear to us as similar to a paranoid system. The paranoid person can be very intelligent, make excellent use of his reason in all areas of life except in that isolated part where his paranoid system is involved.

It must be stressed that the rationalizing person is not in touch with his true motive. Like the paranoid person, the rationalizer is oblivious to that isolated part of his consciousness where the irrational drive is hidden. Thus, a person may give a perfectly logical reason to justify his decisions and actions, when at heart that is not at all his true motive. We have experienced in ISKCON that sometimes they cover-up some act of moral turpitude “for the sake of not harming the faith of the younger devotees”, which sounds like a very good, considerate reason, however, is really a rationalization. Under critical scrutiny, one finds that the act of covering-up does more harm to faith.

Coming clean—honesty, humility, and so forth—even after a transgression, does not harm faith. Rather, it fosters faith. So, the reason given cannot be the real reason. It only appears to be a rational reason.

What, then, is the irrational reason? Say, for example, the leaders want to be perceived as infallible, and they believe that is really necessary for the success of their service, then a more likely reason for the cover-up is fear of the perception that if one leader is fallible, then perhaps all of them are fallible. This could cause a faith problem. The leaders, secretly fearing that this would cause a breakdown in leader/follower relations think,

“Better to cover up this problem of the transgression and not have to face the faith problem.”

When the cover-up fails, of course, the faith problem becomes considerably more serious. The reason is obvious. One vice was covered-up by another vice, dishonesty. Now we have two acts of transgression against principle. The rational-sounding solution to the first infraction, cover-up, turns out to be inadequate, shortsighted. Hence it was really a rationalization for something else.

Unfourtuneatly, this kind of “covinging it up” dynamic was to common place in ISKCON since Srila Prabhupada departure.  The greatest and mother of all “cover up’s” transpired in 1995 – 1996, and was given the name by Srila Prabhupada disciples who lived in Vrindavana, as the other “GBC”, or the “ Gopi Bhava Club”, which I personally take credit for exposing at that time anonymously.  There will be an assay about this soon, for it will demonstrate what authoritarian dynamics can accomplish, in even a benevolent institution like ISKCON.

It is surely a great task to keep the religion both alive and pure, moving in the direction the founder established. Leaders, knowing this natural tendency to run off the road, have to be vigilant to keep everyone properly focused and to keep the proper dynamic within the group. To be successful, the leaders need to educate themselves in a variety of skills, for the sake of their service. If they neglect to get this education, they may be very sincere, however, if they are heading in the wrong direction on the highway, being sincere is a small consolation. Moreover, if they are leading others in the wrong direction, it is no solace at all.

Owing to the power of rationalizing, while officially the original ideals may remain as accessories or symbols of the religion, there is the threat of losing the spirit, which Prabhupada called “churchianity.” This losing the spirit occurs after the founder is gone. It can be mild or extreme. In mild cases, the mission may splinter into many groups and limp along without the life and cohesion it once had. In the extreme case, the consolidation of power by the new leadership becomes the primary purpose and the true mission becomes secondary. Hence even a religion founded on humanitarian values, while those values may remain as official doctrine, the practical experience of the religion can be perverted into an authoritarian dynamic, symptomized by submission to power, and a lack of love and respect for the individual.