Sunday, July 24, 2005

The Phenomenology of Charisma - Part 1 of 3

Eight years ago (1997), Len Oakes, an Australian, wrote a book entitled: Prophetic Charisma: The Psychology of Revolutionary Personalities. Building on the work of, among others, Max Weber and Heinz Kohut, as well as using insights gained through his experience with a cult-like group and leader, together with extensive psychological research involving testing, interviewing, and reading, Oakes sought to provide some degree of understanding and insight into the phenomenon of charisma .

While Oakes is to be commended for his attempt to bring light to an area which often exists in the shadows of our awareness, nevertheless, I feel his book is flawed in a number of essential ways. The following commentary constitutes some of my critical reflections upon Oakes’ aforementioned book.

The first problem I have is the manner in which Oakes approaches the idea of a ‘prophet’. In order to understand the nature of the problem surrounding Oakes’ use of the term ‘prophet’, his theory will have to be delineated somewhat.

To begin with, and as the aforementioned title indicates, Oakes engagement of charisma is through a psychological study and not from a religious or spiritual perspective. Therefore, one can acknowledge and appreciate that the way in which he defines the idea of a ‘prophet’ will be in a manner which is compatible with the psychological thrust of his study.

Notwithstanding the above acknowledgement, there are always advantages and disadvantages surrounding any choice one makes for a working, or operational definition, of a given term. Consequently, one needs to determine if, how, and to what extent Oakes’s manner of defining key terms may introduce distortion and/or problems into his inquiry.

According to Oakes, a prophet is characterized as anyone who: (a) proclaims a mission containing not just a recipe for salvation, but a mission which does so in a way that seeks to revolutionize conventional values; (b) draws, gathers, or attracts individuals who become followers of such an individual and seek to implement the guidance provided by the person being referred to as a ‘prophet’. Oakes tends to lump together a number of people, ranging, on the one hand, from: Jesus and Muhammad (peace be upon them both), to, on the other hand: various Swamis, ministers, alternative community leaders, and the like.

Oakes suggests that, despite whatever differences may exist among those individuals to whom the label ‘prophet’ is given, what all of these individuals share in common are qualities such as: (1) a capacity to inspire people; (2) a resistance to, and opposition toward, various forms of conventionality; (3) possessing a remarkable and compelling personality that tends to set them apart from most people; (4) a grandiose sense of self-confidence which is the source for a great deal of optimism and fearlessness with respect to propagating the mission of salvation; (5) a natural capacity for acting which well-serves a ‘prophet’s tendency to manipulate people; (6) great rhetorical skills; (7) self-contained, independent of others, not given to self-disclosure; (8) a capacity for social insight that seems to border on the preternatural. Using the foregoing definition, Oakes identifies individuals such as: Madame Blavatsky, Bagwan Shree Rajneesh, Prabhupada Bhaktivedanta (Hare Khrishna), L. Ron Hubbard, Joseph Smith, Sun Myung Moon, Jim Jones, Werner Erhard, and Fritz Perls, as instances of modern day ‘prophets’.

Depending on how one understood the idea of ‘salvation’ in the above definition of ‘prophet, one could expand the boundaries of the set of individuals who constitute ‘prophets’. For example, Adolph Hitler, who many Germans saw as the salvation of the German people, could, on the basis of the stated definition, be considered a ‘prophet’ because he attracted people who sought to follow his guidance concerning the nature of life and, as well, because some dimensions of such guidance sought to revolutionize certain realms of conventional values -- and, in fact, Oakes discusses Hitler along these lines at various junctures in the book on charisma.

Oakes also lists Fritz Perls and Werner Erhard as exemplars of modern prophets. Since the sort of ‘salvation’ which Perls and Erhard sought for their clients does not easily, if at all, lend itself to spirituality, religion, or mysticism, then, if individuals like Perls and Erhard are to be considered ‘prophets’ in Oakes’ sense of the word, one also, potentially, might be able to apply that same definition to a great many other people besides Perls and Erhard who gave expression to various artistic, literary, philosophical, scientific, psychological, social, economic, and political theories. Indeed, consistent with Oakes’ definition of a prophet, there are many personalities across history who developed theories and paradigms that were intended, in one way or another, to serve as ways to salvation, and who, in the process, proposed an overthrow of conventional values, to one extent or another, as necessary realization of salvation, and, finally, who attracted people who were interested in learning how to live their lives in accordance with the teachings of the ‘master’.

Oakes borrows a distinction, made by Heinz Kohut -- a psychoanalyst -- between ‘messianic’ and ‘charismatic’ personalities in order to try to frame Oakes’ way of approaching issues such as ‘prophets’, charisma, and narcissism. Among other things, this distinction lends a certain degree of specificity to the discussion of prophets and helps address the issue of why people such as Perls, Freud, Hitler, and Erhard are part of the same group as a variety of individuals who are oriented in a largely religious/spiritual/mystical manner.

According to Oakes, messianic prophets: (1) tend to identify God as an ‘external’ source of inspiration; (2) often interact with Divinity in terms of a personal relationship which has an ‘objective’ nature; (3) usually teach by means of revelation; (4) seem to be motivated by a fantasy which construes one’s individual existence to be part of the Godhead; (5) are psychologically oriented toward the external world and, as a result, able to perform reality checks; (6) frequently described as being very consistent with respect to behaviors or beliefs and, therefore, seen as stable over time; (7) are fairly modest with respect to making claims about themselves; (8) seek to do works of virtue and excellence in conjunction with the world, as well as to work for what is perceived to be the welfare of others; (9) apparently resigned to experiencing an eventual decline in influence and, as a result, often willing to make preparations for transition in leadership; (10) tend to generate new laws which foster a form of release that, ultimately, serves as a source of helping to constrain society; (11) give emphasis to doing ‘God’s work’ which is at the heart of the messianic mission; (12) inclined to be other worldly and withdraw from the world’s corrupting potential; (13) treat truth and duty to be the two highest forms of ethical expression.

On the other hand, for Oakes, charismatic prophets: (1) locate Divinity within rather than externally; (2) filter their relationship with ‘being’ in terms of impersonal forces; (3) teach by example rather than through revelation; (4) are motivated by the fantasy that ‘I and the Godhead’ are one; (5) tend to be out of touch with external reality and, therefore, unable to run reality checks; (6) perceived as being inconsistent with respect to both beliefs and behaviors which leads to considerable instability over time; (7) fairly immodest and given to bouts of self-aggrandizement; (8) are not interested in the welfare of others, but, rather, are likely to be antisocial and self-serving; (9) often self-destruct or fall from grace through behaviors; (10) oriented toward rebellion, a certain lawlessness, and consider release/freedom to be good in and of themselves; (11) seek recognition rather than to be a vehicle of God’s work; (12) use the corruption of the world as a justification for amorality and the opportunistic exploitation of circumstances; (13) consider love and freedom to be the highest forms of ethical expression.

For the most part, Oakes considers messianic and charismatic types of prophets to constitute groups that are, to a large extent, mutually exclusive categories. In other words, if one compares the 13 points outlined above in conjunction with both types of ‘prophets’, then, whatever quality or characteristic is said to describe one type of ‘prophet’, there tends to be an absence of any common ground shared by members of the respective groups and, as well, in relation to any of the 13 characteristic, members of two groups tend to be proceeding in very different directions – sometimes in diametric opposition -- with respect to each of the points.

Oakes does indicate that elements of each type of prophet may be combined in different sorts of permutations so that some individuals may give expression to mixed combinations of both messianic and charismatic types. However, on the whole, Oakes seems to believe that in most cases one can identify a given ‘prophet’ as being either of a messianic kind or a charismatic kind.

Although, as noted above, Oakes alludes to the possibility that a given individual may give expression to qualities and characteristics from each of the two sets of characteristics, he doesn’t pursue this possibility in any concrete manner. Consequently, one doesn’t really know what he means by his allusion other than that he states it as a possibility.

One could imagine someone who teaches by example (a charismatic trait) as well as through revelation (a messianic characteristic). In addition, one could conceive of an individual who located Divinity both within (a charismatic tendency) and without (a messianic quality). One also can acknowledge the possibility of there being ‘leaders’ who did not focus on just love and freedom (a charismatic property) or on just truth and duty (a messianic feature) but on all of these qualities together … that is, love, freedom, duty, and truth would be part of an integrated, harmonious whole which were in balance with one another.

On the other hand, one could not be both stable (a messianic trait) and unstable (a charismatic property). Moreover, one cannot seek to genuinely enhance the welfare of other people (a messianic characteristic) and, at the same time, be antisocial (a charismatic quality).

One cannot be both relatively humble (a messianic tendency) and engaged in self-aggrandizement (a charismatic inclination); nor can one both sincerely seek to be removed from the world’s corruption (a messianic characteristic), as well as exploit that corruption to justify one’s own descent into one’s own amoral version of such corruption (a charismatic quality). One cannot be both attentive to the external world and, as a result, be capable of monitoring one’s behavior in the light of that world (a messianic property), while, simultaneously, being out of touch with that external world and, therefore, unable to run various kinds of reality checks intended to constrain one’s behavior (a charismatic property).

Furthermore, Oakes does not directly discuss the possibility of there being ‘prophets’ who were stable (messianic) but caught up in the throes of self-aggrandizement (charismatic), or ‘prophets’ who were interested in serving God (messianic) but wanted recognition for their efforts (charismatic). Oakes also does not speak about ‘prophets’ who might engage in reality checks (messianic) and, yet, also have a tendency to rebel, flaunt convention, and become entangled with legal skirmishes of one kind or another (charismatic) – in other words, a person might pay attention to the external world in order to better understand how to subvert it and manipulate it.

One could expand upon the nature and number of such permutations and combinations. Almost all, if not all, of the foregoing possibilities fall outside the horizons set by Oakes’ exploration into the psychology of charisma.

One does not know how Oakes would respond to any of the foregoing other than to, perhaps, acknowledge them as possibilities which require further study. What one does know is that, in general, Oakes is inclined to place messianic prophets in a largely, if not wholly, spiritual-religious context, whereas so-called charismatic prophets tend to be perceived as individuals who do not necessarily participate in activities which can be described in religious, spiritual, or mystical terms.

Thus, individuals such as Hitler, Frued, Perls, and Erhard can be studied along side of overtly religious/spiritual figures such as Madame Blavatsky, Gurdjieff, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, Jim Jones, and Joseph Smith -- to name but a few. This is because the characteristic which ties these individuals together is not spirituality, per se, but the quality of charisma which can be manifested in both religious as well as non-religious contexts.

One wonders why Oakes chose to use the term ‘prophet’ -- as opposed to, say, ‘leader’ or some other comparable word -- in order to refer to individuals who proclaim a mission of salvation, seek to challenge or overthrow conventional values through that mission, and, in the process, try to induce people to participate in that mission by, among other things, applying the mission principles to their own lives through looking to the individual on a mission as their guide or teacher concerning how one should go about accomplishing this. One possibility is that Oakes wanted to concentrate on what he perceived to be the ‘function’ of a ‘prophet’, independently of religious and spiritual considerations.

Thus, if one removes the element of spirituality from the idea of a prophet, and just looks at the behavior of such an individual, then, according to Oakes, prophets are individuals who: (a) proclaim a mission; (b) couch the nature of that mission in terms of some kind of salvation; (c) often run into conflict with certain conventional values which exist at the time the mission is pursued; (d) seek to attract adherents to the mission, and (e) serve as a guide or teacher for those individuals who are trying to incorporate the mission’s principles into their lives. If one separates the element of spirituality and religiosity from the ‘functional behavior’ of a prophet, then, individuals -- irrespective of whether they represented a religious or non-religious context -- might be considered to be observing ‘prophetic’ behavior if they satisfied the conditions specified by Oakes which have been outlined above.

From a traditional, spiritual perspective, an individual does not proclaim himself or herself to be a ‘prophet’ or become a prophet by arbitrarily proclaiming that one has a mission. A Prophet is someone who has been appointed by Divinity to serve in a particular capacity for a given community.

Secondly, to reduce the task of a Prophet down to being a mission of salvation is problematic. To be sure, prophets do speak about the issue of salvation, but they also speak about: knowledge, truth, spiritual potential, identity, purpose, justice, death, and purity in ways which transcend mere salvation and re-orients one toward the possibility of additional realms of the sacred … sometimes referred to as the mystical dimension of spirituality.

Thirdly, to say that the intention of a Prophet is to clash with conventional values, or to rebel against such values, or to start a revolutionary movement which opposes such values, this also is problematic. A Prophet of God seeks to speak and behave in accordance with the truth, the reality of things, and while it may be the case that what is true does conflict with certain, conventional values, the purpose of giving voice to the truth is not to generate conflict, rebellion, or revolution.

Moreover, even if were true that some conventional values were opposed by a given Prophet, one need not suppose that, therefore, all conventional values in a certain community would become the focus of opposition. Whether conventional values became objects of conflict, or which values might became objects of conflict could depend on a variety of circumstances and, consequently, to maintain that a main feature of the ‘prophetic’ mission is to revolutionize conventional values is far too sweeping and ambiguous a claim.

Prophets are sent to remind and warn people about a variety of things. They are sent to induce people to seek out the truth in all things. They are appointed in order to encourage people to be loving, thankful, sincere, honest, kind, forgiving, tolerant, modest, generous, considerate, friendly, respectful, aware, co-operative, hopeful, persevering, patient, peaceful, and to be inclined toward seeking repentance (with respect to both human beings and God) for the mistakes one has made. Prophets are also sent to discourage people from being: deceitful, exploitive, abusive, unjust, lacking in compassion, cruel, arrogant, hypocritical, dogmatic, intolerant, unloving, unfriendly, disputatious, immodest, thoughtless, insensitive, and so on.

There may be vested interests and various centers of power who become threatened, for one reason or another, by the activity of a Prophet, but the intent of a Prophet is not necessarily to wage war or rebel against those who have vested interests. Historically speaking, whenever and wherever possible, conciliation, harmony, peace, compromise, and negotiation are pursued by Prophets -- not confrontation and conflict.

Fourthly, a Prophet is not necessarily trying to attract followers. A Prophet is seeking to speak the truth as well as to offer guidance for anyone who is willing to engage that truth and guidance with a receptive heart and mind.

A Prophet is trying to assist people to realize the potential of their own relationship with the Truth/Reality. A Prophet is not trying to attract a following. The fact that a community of people may arise around that individual may only mean that they are a community with a common set of purposes rather than an amalgamation made up of a leader and his or her followers.

Of course, the foregoing points all raise the question of whether, or not, there is anyone who is actually appointed by Divinity to serve in a special, Divinely-ordained role of a Prophet. For the most part, Oakes tries to stay away from this issue and, therefore, restricts his discussion to what people claim to believe concerning their status as a ‘prophet’, quite independently of considerations of the truth or falsity of those claims.

However, Oakes does stray from a largely neutral stance when he says that messianic prophets tend to operate in accordance with the ‘fantasy’ that they are, in a yet to be explained -- and possibly ineffable – sense, “part” of God, whereas charismatic prophets are, according to Oakes, motivated by the ‘fantasy’ that they and the Godhead (or the psychic mother/father) are one … that they are ‘God’. In other words, Oakes is making a statement about what he perceives to be the truth status of much of what a ‘prophet’ says when Oakes maintains that no matter whether one falls into the category of a messianic prophet or one is subsumed under the category of a charismatic prophet, both sets of individuals are motivated by a fantasy concerning their relationship with God.

One is free to believe whatever she or he likes about the truth or falsity concerning the existence of Divinity, or the ‘authenticity’ of a given spiritual claim about being a ‘Prophet’. However, one cannot assume an aura of neutrality on such issues, while simultaneously trying to claim that, say, someone’s understanding concerning the nature of his or her relationship with Divinity is necessarily rooted in fantasies of one kind or another.

To be sure, there are individuals who do suffer from delusions concerning their self-professed Divine nature or special status with God, and so on. Nevertheless, this does not automatically force one to conclude that anyone who makes such statements is delusional or under the influence of a fantasy or myth of some kind … this remains to be determined on a case-by-case basis.

One cannot assume one’s conclusions. Assumptions ought to be clearly identified as such, and there should be some thought given to how one’s conclusions might be affected, adversely or otherwise, if the operational definition one is using -- in this case, the idea of who and what a ‘prophet is -- turns out to be problematic, skewed, or incorrect.

Further evidence of the foregoing bias shows up in a variety of places in Oakes’ book, but, perhaps, one of the clearest expressions of this slant comes in the conclusion when Oakes asks, and, then, answers a question:

“But is the prophet really an enlightened spiritual being? If this question asks whether the prophet has personally experienced with the fullness of his being – with his feelings and his relationships – a spiritual reality, then, the answer appears to be no. Indeed, quite the opposite is true; it is the very shallowness of the prophet’s feelings and relationships, his pervasive narcissism that prevents him from ever entering into a genuine relationship with another, or ever having anything other than pseudo feelings for others.”

The foregoing statements may be quite accurate in their portrayal of the individuals whom Oakes actually studied in the field, and, as well, this sort of characterization may even be true of many of the religious, revolutionary, and charismatic personalities about whom Oakes read during that phase of his research. In addition, Oakes is making an important point when he makes the quality of behavior a crucial, defining feature in determining whether, or not, someone should be considered to be a fully realized spiritual being.

Nonetheless, one hesitates to apply his conclusions across the board to any and all ‘prophets’. Although Oakes does not say so directly, the implication of his foregoing perspective tend to extend to such spiritual luminaries as: Jesus, Moses, Muhammad, the Buddha, Krishna, David, Solomon, Joseph, Abraham, and a host of others (peace and blessings be upon them all) who are considered to be emissaries and prophets of Divinity.

To be sure, in the context of Oakes’ study, the aforementioned remarks concerning whether, or not, prophets are spiritually realized human beings is primarily intended to refer to those individuals who fall into the category of ‘charismatic prophet’. However, and as will be developed shortly, because Oakes’ idea of charisma is, itself, problematic, a variety of difficulties arise in conjunction with his belief that, in general, ‘prophets’ are not really enlightened spiritual beings.

Part of the problem here is that some of the previously noted characteristics which, supposedly, differentiate between messianic and charismatic prophets raise some questions. For example, Oakes claims that one of the distinguishing features of a charismatic prophet is that such individuals tend to identify themselves with the Godhead, and, so, one might be puzzled about the idea of prophets not being spiritually realized human beings when one remembers that Jesus (peace be upon him) is reported to have said: “I and my Father are one” (this is a statement of tawhid/unity, not identity or incarnation).

Is Oakes prepared to claim that Jesus (peace be upon him) was not only an unrealized spiritual being but, as well, was, if one accepts Oakes’ logic, a charismatic prophet who was narcissistic and incapable of forming genuine, sincere, loving relationships with other human beings? If so, where is the evidence for this, and, if not, then, perhaps, his theoretical framework will have to be modified accordingly.

Or, consider another possibility. According to Oakes, two of the characteristics of a charismatic prophet involve (a) locating Divinity within, rather than through external channels, and (b) filtering one’s relationship with ‘being’ through a set of impersonal forces rather than through a personal relationship with a ‘God’.

Presumably, on the basis of the foregoing, one might be required to place ‘the Buddha’ (peace be upon him) in the category of a ‘charismatic prophet’ since Buddhism is often portrayed, rightly or wrongly, as filtering one’s relationship with Being through non-theistic forces of, to some extent, an impersonal nature. Yet, if one does this, is one forced to conclude that ‘the Buddha’ (peace be upon him) was a spiritually unrealized human being who was inclined to narcissism and only capable of having pseudo, shallow relationships with other individuals?

Similar questions arise in conjunction with some of the remarks made by Oakes concerning the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). For example, Oakes indicates (page 182) that Muhammad (peace be upon him) was among a group of historical personalities who led successful movements and passed away with their integrity intact – i.e., no scandals. Oakes also identifies others who he judges to be like the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in this regard – e.g., Father Divine, Phineas Quimby, Prabhupada, Kathryn Kuhlman, and Ann Lee – that is, ‘prophets’ who led successful, scandal-free movements.

These are individuals who did not self-destruct as is the tendency of many individuals who may fall into the category of ‘charismatic prophets. Yet, at another juncture in his book (page 94), Oakes seeks to use Muhammad (peace be upon him) as an example of a historical prophet who, in Oakes’ opinion, “played the part of a wounded innocent”, by going into seclusion, in order to manipulate his wives into accepting his “dalliance with a slave girl”.

Oakes does not provide any evidence to support his interpretation of the foregoing judgment. He states the foregoing as if it were an obvious fact and beyond question.

However, why should one accept such a judgment or interpretation? Why should one suppose that Muhammad (peace be upon him) was ‘playing’ the role of a ‘wounded innocent’? Why should one suppose that he was trying to manipulate anyone? Why should one suppose that his relationship with the ‘slave girl’ was a mere “dalliance”?

Oakes is using a number of pejorative labels in reference to the Prophet. Where is the independent evidence which indicates that any of his ways of describing the situation are evidentially warranted rather than expressions of Oakes’ arbitrary biases being imposed on something about which he has no genuine insight or understanding?

For Oakes, one of the defining features of charismatic prophets is their capacity for, and willingness to, manipulate others. Indeed, one of the features which, supposedly, permits us to differentiate ‘messianic prophets’ from ‘charismatic prophets’ is the amazing social insight possessed by members of the latter category -- a capacity which, according to Oakes, allows such individuals to, in a sense, know which buttons to push in order to maneuver people in a desired direction.

Consequently, as was the case with respect to the implications -- for both Jesus (peace be upon him) and the Buddha (peace be upon him) -- of Oakes’ foregoing quote concerning the lack of spiritual enlightenment in relation to ‘prophets’, once again, one is faced with an implication which paints Muhammad (peace be upon him) as someone who, according to the implications of Oakes’ logic, may have been spiritually unenlightened, narcissistic, manipulative, and capable of only superficial, shallow relationships with others.

One of the arguments which some individuals have leveled against theoreticians like Freud is that he used his understanding of abnormal behavior and psychopathology to set the tone for what he considered to be healthy, normal psychological development. According to such critics, when one starts with a certain kind of sample set -- namely, people suffering from pathology -- one may not be able to validly make the transition from: what that sample says about the nature of the people in such a sample, to: claims concerning the psychology of human nature in a population of people who do not suffer from such pathology.

Similarly, by using certain, arbitrarily decided-upon, behavioral and functional characteristics of individuals as the basis for labeling various individuals as ‘prophets’, one might wish to pause for a moment and ask whether the behavioral and functional characteristics being cited really are reflective of how an actual ‘Prophet’ might think, feel, act, or be motivated. Even if one wishes to argue that the latter considerations should not shape and orient a study in psychology, nevertheless, one still needs to take note of the lacunae which are, potentially, present when a researcher tries to do an end around, or ignore, the idea of ‘authenticity’ with respect to someone who claims to be, or is perceived to be, a prophet, and, as a result, employs arbitrarily chosen criteria to shape the operational definitions one uses to establish categories, differentiate individuals, and orient one’s research.

If the definition of a ‘prophet’ does not necessarily reflect historical and/or traditional considerations, and if the sample being studied does not necessarily reflect historical and/or traditional ‘realities’ concerning the lives of Prophets, then, one should, at the very least, raise a caveat concerning the validity of applying the results of a given study -- like that of Oakes -- to a larger population containing some individuals who may actually be individuals who were appointed by Divinity to pursue goals, purposes, and activities which are in contradistinction to Oakes’s operational definition of ‘prophet’ and who are neither necessarily delusional nor under the influence of one, or another, fantasy with respect to their relationship with Divinity.

What difference do the foregoing considerations make with respect to understanding the idea of ‘prophetic charisma’ or the psychology of revolutionary, religious personalities? As it turns out, perhaps a great many problematic ramifications may arise as a result of such considerations, and this might be most clearly described and explained through an examination of the way in which Oakes talks about two other themes: charisma and narcissism, within the context of a theory which claims to be directed toward helping us understand the nature of: ‘prophetic charisma’.

I do not feel it would be distorting Oakes’ position to say that, to a major extent, the phenomenon of charisma is, for him, an expression of, and rooted in, the phenomenon of narcissism. At least, this does seem to be the case as far as the idea of the psychology of religious personalities is concerned – both with respect to ‘prophets’ as well as their followers.

Oakes indicates that someone can be referred to as charismatic when she or he is perceived to embody something referred to as “ultimate concerns”. This embodiment of ultimate concerns may be in relation to either oneself or others, however, the meaning of ‘ultimate concern’ tends to vary from person to person.

However, when an individual has extraordinary needs (and extraordinary needs is linked to the formation of a nuclear self early which is colored by, among other things, narcissistic forces) in relation to whatever a given ‘ultimate concern’ may turn out to be for that person, then, according to Oakes, the perception of the embodiment of that ultimate concern in another human being gives expression to an extremely powerful magnetic force of attraction. This conjunction of ‘ultimate concerns’, ‘extraordinary needs’, and the ‘embodiment’ of such concerns in a person who, as a result, is perceived to be a vehicle for: accessing, being in proximity to, and/or realizing such ultimate concerns, is considered, by Oakes, to be at the heart of the phenomenon of charisma.

Although the foregoing description does not specifically limit charisma to spiritual contexts, nonetheless, Oakes does believe that charisma constitutes a spiritual power with a considerable potential to revolutionize society. Moreover, he believes charisma has the capacity to spiritualize the extraordinary needs and ultimate concerns of those who are seeking to have their needs and concerns fulfilled.

It is hard, at this point, to understand just what Oakes means by the idea that charisma can spiritualize ultimate concerns and extraordinary needs. If a given ultimate concern is not already spiritual in nature, or if an extraordinary need is not already rooted in spirituality of one kind or another, then, how does charisma, per se, spiritualize either ultimate concerns or extraordinary needs? What does it mean to spiritualize something?

Furthermore, since Oakes has indicated that charisma is a function of the perception that someone embodies the ultimate concerns of oneself or others, and since he has indicated that charisma is a function of the perception that someone will serve as a means to the fulfillment of one’s extraordinary needs, then, one wonders about the precise dynamics of how either charisma, or its alleged spiritualizing dimension, works. After all, on the basis of the foregoing considerations, charisma seems to be something which is conferred on a given human being – e.g., a prophet -- as a result of the perceived embodiment of one’s (or another’s) ultimate concerns in, say, a ‘prophet’ due to the extraordinary needs of the one doing the perceiving.

If the foregoing characterization of things is correct, then, charisma is not something which a ‘prophet’ possesses. Rather, charisma arises -- and, sometimes, Oakes appears to suggest as much -- when the right alignment of ‘prophet’, ‘ultimate concerns’, ‘extraordinary needs’, and perception takes place. As such, charisma is a function of the dynamics of a certain kind of relationship between two, or more, people.

What a seeker brings to the equation are: ultimate concerns, extraordinary needs, and a perceptual mind-set which is actively or passively looking for something that resonates with those concerns and needs. What a ‘prophet’ brings to this dynamic are: his or her own kind of extraordinary needs, together with a set of qualities which not only resonate, to some degree, with the concerns and needs of the seeker, but which, as well, are perceived to have something of a supernatural-like aura about them -- that is, there is something about the relationship which appears to be largely inexplicable, magical, mysterious, and resistant to any kind of easy explanation … something which is experienced as seductive, alluring, magnetic, compelling, and somewhat mesmerizing.

One of the qualities which Oakes believes plays a significant role in the felt presence of charisma is the ‘prophet’s’ talent for observation and an accompanying special ability to derive, from such observations, penetrating insights into the nature of on-going social dynamics as well as the extraordinary needs and ultimate concerns of individuals who engage the ‘prophet’. Someone once remarked that one society’s technology may appear like magic to another society which does not understand the principles through which such technology operates, and, similarly, when someone does not understand how a given person has arrived at her or his insight into one’s extraordinary needs, ultimate concerns, or the surrounding social dynamics, then, the individual with insight may be perceived as someone who has magical-like, supernatural-like capabilities and powers simply because one may not understand how such insight is possible.

Do some ‘prophets’ actually have psychic, occult, extrasensory, or non-ordinary powers of perception? Oakes does not believe so. He believes everything is explicable through the manner in which ordinary abilities and talents may be developed to an amazing degree by individuals who have extraordinary needs that are dependent for their fulfillment on the existence and use of such capabilities.


Anab Whitehouse

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Long story short: They are all the same. A bunch of megalomaniacs and "spiritual" bullies. Terrible people!