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If You Are Hypnotized To Be A Good Catholic, Does It Still Count?

John Kelleher

This is one of those stupid questions, like an sit verum? (but is it true?), that covenantal moral theologies find ridiculous, if for different reasons.

An sit verum? is ridiculous because it imagines a dehistoricized foundation, a 'place', more lordly than the Lord of history, some time-less 'place' above, beyond, deeper than, the radically historical nuptial union of the Bridegroom with His Bride in the One Sacrifice; it presupposes a substance, a reality, more substantial, 'realer', than the Eucharist, the New Covenant, in terms of which it is possible to evaluate the Eucharist.

By contrast, "If you are hypnotized to be a good Catholic, does it still count?" is ridiculous both because the answer in one sense is so obviously No, and in another sense, because the answer is so obviously Yes.

The answer is obviously No because you cannot become a Catholic by means of hypnosis; only baptism can do that. No power, and no one, can make you a Catholic of any sort, but only the Lord Himself acting with His bride. Only they, One Flesh in the One Sacrifice, can immerse you in the Lord's death, breathe the Holy Spirit on you, replace your stony heart with a living heart, and begin in you a genuine history, not merely a perishable sequence of events, make you kin -- give you an unreproducible, precious, one-of-a-kind historical name, making you His brother and her son.

And the answer is also obviously Yes -- if you are already a sacramentally baptized Catholic and are hypnotized to be a good Catholic, it still counts.

The purpose of this essay is to shed some light on how covenantal moral theologies work, by showing why the answer to this question is so obviously Yes.

As a matter of method, covenantal moral theologies cannot take any psychology of man really seriously. While agreeing that some such -- that any such or no such -- can be used heuristically, covenantal moral theologies must remain radically skeptical of any theory of consciousness, intentionality, etc.

Why this radical skepticism? The answer is not far to seek; to briefly reprise:

Since covenantal moral theologies must refuse, as a matter of method, any foundation in any dehistoricized cosmology, or in either philosophy or natural science, then obviously any subsidiaries or tributaries or developments of those are perforce also refused as foundational.

This refusal is not grounded in any praise or blame of any particular instance of these. To the contrary, covenantal moral theologies do not a priori dismiss any particular past or future theory of (for example) Mind, 'community', 'the person', 'intellection', 'will', 'emotion', etc., nor any future category or idea, not yet conceived.

What covenantal moral theologies must refuse absolutely, as a strict matter of method, is any attempt to enshrine any particular instance of these as coterminous with the faith, or -- even worse -- as indispensable to the faith.

Thus we are not going to do here what we just said covenantal moral theologies must not ever do: proclaim some particular psychology (or the lack of one) as obviously true, and use that to prove something or other in covenantal moral theology.

We picked the word, 'hypnosis' because it evokes the world of oogie-boogie for some people. 'Hypnosis' is suspicious -- dangerous. All the better.

The facts are that lots of cultures have never heard of 'hypnosis', and that professional hypnosis societies have a hard time even telling us what it is: "hypnosis is inducing the state of being hypnotized" is not too far from some definitions.

Be that as it may, covenantal moral theologies, as a matter of method, are not able to evaluate 'hypnosis', place it within some psychological framework or other, discount its existence entirely, etc. Another way of saying this is that covenantal moral theologies are freed from caring about any of that.

For our purposes here, 'hypnosis' means: "some kind of influence." (Even such a vague formulation as that already rules out some things by implication, and already implies a great deal in itself, but heuristic devices are allowed in covenantal moral theologies -- if these are perennially subject to total evisceration by better questions, better foundations).

So, "being 'hypnotized' to be a good Catholic" means "being influenced to be a good Catholic." Moreover, without either weakening or strengthening the argument, if you like, it can even mean "being unconsciously influenced to be a good Catholic."

For, especially once we clarify that the verb 'influence' must mean something like "make a movement or change more/(less) likely," we can certainly find examples, both in classical theology, and, more pertinently, in the Church's liturgical, sacramental worship, of not looking the least bit askance at unconscious, even unwelcome, influence per se.

By your help, we beseech you, Lord our God, may we walk eagerly in that same charity with which, out of love for the world, your Son handed himself over to death.

Collect, Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year A

Our priest prays on our behalf for God to influence us. OK, we don't explicitly pray for God to influence us unconsciously. But how is God going to influence us in this regard? Well, in whatever way He picks! Whether we are conscious or unconscious of how it happens, we beg to be influenced, moved, to walk eagerly in sacrificial charity.

And of course the notion of an inchoate longing for God, the trahi a Deo, is ancient in the Church: for instance, any random perusal of St. Augustine's works will quickly find the concept if not the term. God attracts us -- moves us, influences us -- (Hi, St. Monica) often long before we are conscious of that, and/or -- yes -- sometimes even before -- well before -- we think that might be a good thing.

And in traditional moral advice there are also common sense warnings about falling in with bad companions and avoiding near occasions of sin, and exhortations to cultivate good companions and near occasions of good.

In other words, there exists a wide recognition that we can be -- that we are being -- influenced all the time, both consciously and unconsciously, to be a good Catholic, or a bad Catholic.

Et ne nos inducas in tentationem...
And lead us not into temptation...

Keep us from bad influences!

So, does it still count if our Father does what we ask, and keeps us from bad influences, and therefore we don't sin (as much)?

Or alternatively, should we refuse to pray as the Lord Jesus Himself taught us, and make sure that our actions count as virtuous, by deliberately exposing ourselves to temptations, so that we may reject them and thus be countably virtuous?

If we have any sense, those questions answer themselves.

Does it still count, if there are a million ways to sin that we've never even heard of? Does it still count, if some ways of sinning just don't appeal to us?

Asked and answered.

Does it still count, if some ways of sinning no longer appeal to us?


Since every breath of any and all of the kin of the Bridegroom with His bride is an act of worship; since the plain last factum of a faithful child of Mother Church on this earth, his death, can serve as a perpetual indulgence, an acceptable offering, in remission of all his sin, Yes, it still counts.

Are we freely responsible -- does it count? -- when we breathe? When we die? If we are kin to the Bridegroom with His bride, One Flesh in the One Sacrifice, then the answer is Yes.

As slaves, all we could hope for was to satisfy, endlessly, the requirements of The Eternal Rulebook In The Sky; as sons, sometimes our Mother is quite happy just to watch us breathe.

Often -- too often -- we are weak, not strong; asleep, not awake; stupid, not smart; oblivious, not canny; cowards, not heroes; and imperturbable in our own sins. Sometimes, just continuing to breathe, while we stay out of trouble, is all we can manage. Must we imagine that our Lord and our Lady, who are delighted simply by our breaths, are infinitely displeased by this? Must we imagine that making some sins less easy for us, or some goods more attractive to us, is a bad thing?

And can we imagine how Evil and its minions and hangers-on and fellow travelers might feel regarding even our smallest efforts to make it easier for us to resist, and to do good instead?

On the other hand: must we imagine that making sinning a little more difficult, or doing something good a little easier, alone constitutes The Way of radically historical rites, beliefs, and prayers, works, joys, and sufferings by which we are and willingly remain our Lord's brothers and hence our Mother Church's sons?

For sometimes, it is not enough merely to bask in our free gifted kinship. After all, as anybody who has ever been responsible for anything at all attests: there's always something -- something to mend, something to grow or plant or harvest; and sadly there also always seems to be something lurking, on our doorstep, even in our house, that is wayward, dangerous, destructive, that we need to guard against, resist, constrain, fight, push back, and if temptation happens not to trouble us when we must act to bring about good or to defend it, and if we are stronger for the task and more willing for it, then all the better: for we have work to do.

And even when, temporarily, we have no immediate task, the evangelical counsels still beckon, including our Lord's command to preach the gospel to the whole creation, in season and out; and beyond even those, we still 'search' to bring gifts, however humble, even if these are simply our breathing, both to our kin, and into the world.

Our best efforts, our sincere intentions, can be perverted, of course. They can be twisted in others' hands, or twist even in our own. "Safe" is a relative term: a devoutly Catholic family can bring their eager, innocent daughter to a convent to begin her novitiate, think that they are giving their daughter to the Lord, and later discover that the convent was wicked; they had given her not to the Lord, but to the New Age.

If it is not too far to imagine that nuns, that entire convents, can be influenced, moved, to wickedness, then we must also imagine that outside of the sacraments themselves, none of us are absolutely safe, whatever we do.

Caution is often a good thing. Nonetheless, caution is not a vocation. Sometimes it's time to leave our nets behind and follow Him; and that does not qualify as 'caution' -- this is not covenantal moral theology, but merely an observation. Covenantal moral theologies cannot tell you when it is exactly the right time to be cautious, and when it's time to do more, to try more, than that.

If hypnosis, or any other non-sacramental influence, can help to free us from an inclination to sin, or make good more attractive, or make us stronger in The Way, then it counts.

Without His death and resurrection, absent the Eucharist, apart from the Bridegroom with His bride, One Flesh in the One Sacrifice, we cannot be kin to them, or kin to each other. But since we can, since we possess our kinship in sacramento and hence in ecclesia, as gift, it counts.

For our rest is not a stasis, nor a final cessation of motion; nor does it consist of standing around, harp in hand, sleeping on presumed laurels.

For we have kin; this is our hope and our glory; and hence we have -- we are -- gifts to give both in ecclesia and via ecclesia, gifts as easy and thoughtless as our breathing, gifts as difficult and brutish as our sufferings, and gifts so complex and wonderful as to be a surprise and a delight to God Himself, beyond our imaginings.

In the One Flesh in the One Sacrifice, in the sacraments, in the Eucharist, we have kin, we are kin; we live, not alone, not aimlessly or futilely, and not by our puny efforts to perfectly obey the dictates of The Eternal Rulebook In The Sky, but solely there, with Him and her and all their kin, as kin to them, within a living continuous history with them of true lovely gifts, particular real works, and specific faithful obligations.

So, if we are, consciously or unconsciously, wittingly or unwittingly, willingly, or even unwillingly, influenced to be a good Catholic, Yes: it still counts.

If someone says, "Look into my eyes... Secretly you have always wanted to be a non-sinner in this way, and now we are going to free that person in you who is and who has always wanted to be a non-sinner in this way... Increasingly you no longer have a taste for this sin... Every single day this sin tastes more and more like ashes in your mouth now... Even thinking about this sin makes you uncomfortable, you immediately want to get away from it... Being around people who justify this sin gives you creepy, icky feelings and you just feel sorry for them... You really, really don't like this sin and you can't understand why you ever liked it except that you used to be pretty confused about a lot of things... You're different now, you are a non-sinner in this way, and it's perfect... You have an immediate, strong impulse to stay far, far away from this sin because it is so unattractive... Every day you learn more about how to avoid this sin and to do much more attractive and wholesome things instead, such as [ ]... If you have setbacks, you learn from them and you know that you are being guided to understand and appreciate and enjoy much better instincts ... Every day now you find yourself with a growing need to do much more attractive and wholesome things, such as [ ], and you will continue to enjoy it... Every day your need to do much more attractive and wholesome things, such as [ ], will grow and grow in you, it will become irresistible, uncontrollable, you will have to, and you will like that very much... Every day you will find reasons to do so much more attractive and wholesome things, such as [ ], and you will continue to enjoy them ... ." and it works, then heck Yes, it still counts.

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