I keep going over the same question in my head. This happens especially after I post on right wing Catholic cults. I keep wondering why did so many of them have their start up in Spanish fascism? Why are so many of them so successful at preying on well meaning Catholics whose desire is to find a more meaningful and spiritual expression of their faith?
The thought struck me that their leadership may have learned from what I see as Communism's really fatal mistake. Communism tried to drive out man's sense of religion, seeing it as a failing that left people open to manipulation by religious authority. Since communists weren't interested in a competing authority, they really went after religion. They saw religion as a power issue. Their mistake was confusing man's drive for spiritual meaning, which seems to be innate, with religious expressions of that drive. They may have stamped out the external expressions of spirituality, but they made no headway with the spiritual drive itself.
Seeing this, Spanish right wing religious leaders may have decided that the old ways are the best ways. Instead of working against the spiritual drive, they co opted it for their own purposes. They went right back to a medieval version of monastic Catholicism with it's stress on piety, ritual, and obedience, while adding a good dose of Vatican I infallibility. This allowed the word of charismatic leaders to be confused with the word of God. For good measure they added a huge dollop of fear.
They've been successful in putting very tight boundaries on a human experience which operates in the exact opposite direction. Unfortunately, when people leave these cults, they have pretty screwed up and thoroughly conditioned neuro chemistry. It's far more likely to pump out the adrenaline of fear than the peace of the transcendent relationship with God they sought.
The neuro chemistry of spirituality moves one to experience fewer boundaries around the perceived sense of self and towards experiences of more connections outside the self. Coercive religious practices work against this by rigidly controlling personal expression and focusing followers to strive to achieve spiritual progress by pursuing the permission of the leadership. They are taught spiritual progress is never something one accomplishes on their own. That's where the devil will get you.
Recent research from the National Institutes Of Health seem to have isolated a gene, VMAT2, which is very active in spiritually oriented people. This gene produces specific monoamine neuro chemicals which effect perception and emotion. (Another monoamine family member that most people would be familiar with is serotonin.) People experiencing the release of these specific neuro chemicals lose a sense of self, experience a sense of exalted peacefulness, and feel connected to the entire universe. They permanently drop the older more rigid boundaries of their perceived self and world. They never return to them. They and their brains are changed.
Here's an explanation from Dean Hamer who wrote the book "The God Gene". This is part of a more extended interview.
"So basically this VMAT2 gene, which you have been able to isolate, affects those brain chemicals--which in turn, you feel, affect people's sense of spirituality?
Exactly. That's the theory. The best interpretation is that the monoamines are affecting higher consciousness. By higher consciousness, I mean the way that we perceive the world around us and our connection to it. We see all of these sites and sounds and smells and data coming in. We make it into sort of a coherent picture like `that's a person', `that's a building', etc. Furthermore, we're able to place ourselves precisely in that picture at all times. We know where we fit and we know that we're the same person that we were yesterday. We know that we'll be the same person tomorrow. There's never any discontinuity in who we are. We never think we're somebody else.
Yet there are stories of holy people who do feel like their own personalities have evolved or changed.
Exactly, changed. Or they feel like they're not on Earth anymore or they feel like they've reached Nirvana, if you're more of an Eastern type.
All of those are examples of people's consciousness changing, and I don't mean that in a flaky way. I mean it very particularly. Their relationship to the universe is somehow changed, and that's a very deep spiritual experience. I would say that every great religious leader had that type of experience. (And additionally, their perception of themselves and how they relate to others also irreversibly changed. Once you have these spiritual experiences you are incapable of going back to the old self. If you try, in some vein effort to conform, you put yourself in a great deal of psychological trouble.)
Jesus went to the desert, Muhammad had all these flights, and Saul on the road to Damascus became Paul. Moses talked to the burning bush. Buddha spent a long time under a tree, contemplating. That's really the heart and soul of spirituality, changes in consciousness. Monoamines play a very important role in the brain, in connecting ourselves to the world around us."
A lot of the rules and rituals used by most cults prevent adherents from experiencing this sense of transcendence. Some push the notions of obedience and a form of scrupulousness. These will focus a follower on their subjective sense of self, and how they relate to the leadership and rule. This is great for the cult, but the truth is real spirituality strives for the loss of self, not an obsessive focus on the self. Losing a sense of self takes a different set of tools. While obedience and scrupulousness may be paths to religious success, they are not good paths to spiritual transcendence. This can be seen in the difference in how Jesus related to the world as opposed to how the Pharisees related to the world.
To finish this, the VMAT2 gene is all about acting from the spirit of the law, not necessarily obeying or enforcing the letter of the law. I guess you could say VMAT2 is not a gene which enables one to engage in blind obedience or adhere strongly to a particular religious identity. From the standpoint of religious authority, it's not user friendly. But from the standpoint of Jesus's teachings, it's probably what He was trying to activate.