Christian Book Touting Manly Aggression Inspires Violent Fundamentalist Meth Trafficking Cult
What if your million copy-plus bestselling inspirational book calling on men to act more manly, aggressive, even violent became a key source of inspiration for a ruthless cultic Christian paramilitary fundamentalist crime syndicate that controls most of the Crystal Meth traffic in the US and is fond of tossing severed heads into Mexican discos ? You'd probably feel awful. Or at least a bit embarrassed. As a June 25th column in the Colorado Springs Gazette that sounds like it could have been written by satirists from The Onion, Local Christian author laments popularity of his book among ruthless Mexican gang, (the post has since been re-titled, to the milder "Mexican drug cartel co-opts Springs writer’s message") notes, "Writers can't control how readers interpret the words they write." Very true. But has La Familia really "co-opted" John Eldredge's paean to the glory of male aggression ? We'll have a look at the book in question, Wild At Heart, by John Eldredge, in a moment. But first, a bit about the ruthless cultic Christian paramilitary fundamentalist crime syndicate fond of tossing severed heads into Mexican discos.
As Tim Johnson details, in a recent McClatchy News/Seattle Times story that's helped put La Familia back in the spotlight this summer, La Familia leader Nazario Moreno just came out with a 104 page booklet, Thoughts, with advice such as, "If you want to say 'I love you!' to those who surround you and to your friends, say it today." It's like a Hallmark card but, as Johnson details, a little incongruous too:
If it seems bizarre for the leader of a drug gang that beheads or quarters enemies to offer advice on Christian living, well, maybe. However, the gang known as La Familia Michoacana is a pseudo-Christian posse that mixes zeal and inspiring slogans in its pronouncements. Members are ordered to study the Bible and pray the rosary, even as they gun down police, dismember opponents and manufacture highly addictive crystal methamphetamine.Here's how Time Magazine's As Saul Schwarz summed it up, in a June 28, 2010 Time Magazine story, "Mexico's Meth Warriors,"
Mexico's newest drug cartel, and certainly the most bizarre, is La Familia Michoacana, a violent but Christian fundamentalist narco-gang based in the torrid Tierra Caliente region of western Michoacan state. The group is infamous for methamphetamine smuggling, lopping off enemies' heads and limbs, and massacring police and soldiers... Yet La Familia's leader, Nazario Moreno "aka El Mas Loco, or The Craziest One" has written his own bible, and his 1,500 minions hold prayer meetings before doing their grisly work.
Nothing like a prayer meeting before hacking people's heads off with Bowie knives - which is exactly what La Familia did to five men, in a stunt that helped put the violent narco-cult on the media map.
As Professor George W. Grayson, a senior associate at the Center for Strategic & International Studies and author of the new book Mexico's Struggle with Drugs and Thugs describes the 'severed head disco incident', in a report on La Familia,
La Familia burst into the limelight on September 6, 2006, when 20 masked desperados stormed into scruffy Sol y Sombra night spot in Uruapan, Michoacan, fired shots into the air, ran up to the second floor from where they tossed five human heads onto the black and white dance floor.
They left behind a message, written on cardboard: "The family doesn't kill for money. It doesn't kill women. It doesn't kill innocent people, only those who deserve to die. Know that this is divine justice."
...The day before, the killers had seized their victims from a mechanic's shop and hacked off their heads with bowie knives while the men writhed in pain. "You don't do something like that unless you want to send a big message," said a U.S. law enforcement official
It does send a message.
But the leader of La Familia has a kinder, gentler side too. As he writes in "Thoughts", "If you want, you can become a good Christian. Remember not to build walls or barriers but instead build bridges to unite people." Moreno also cautions, "Manners are a way of showing respect for others. If you don't have them, don't expect to be respected."
Moreno's advice on manners is actually a major point of divergence from Eldredge's approach in Wild At Heart, that good manners are emasculating to men and help make them gay:
" `Where are all the real men?' is regular fare for talk shows and new books. You asked them be women, I want to say. The result is a gender confusion never experienced at such a wide level in the history of the world. How can a man know he is one when his highest aim is minding his manners."
Oddly, Moreno's Thoughts may be a gentler, wiser book than John Eldredge's Wild At Heart, which according to Tim Johnson's McClatchy/Seattle Times story has been found in translation at raided La Familia safe houses.
As Joseph Michael Reynolds, a journalist and analyst for the Southern Poverty Law Center who has covered "La Familia" in considerable depth writes, in May of 2009 "an internal intelligence report on La Familia from the Mexican justice department surfaced in Milenio, bringing the news that the faith-based cartel grounds its indoctrination program on the writings of macho Christian author and veteran Focus On The Family senior fellow John Eldredge, who now heads Ransomed Hearts Ministries in Colorado Springs."
In his post, titled From Focus On The Family to La Familia Michoacana, Reynolds provides some tantalizing details from the leaked Mexican Justice Department report:
The report says La Familia leader, Nazario Gonzalez Moreno aka El Loco o More Chayo ("The Craziest") has made Eldredge's books salvaje de corazon required reading for La Familia and has paid rural teachers and National Development Education members to circulate the Colorado-based evangelical's writings throughout the Michoacan countryside.
It seems that La Familia leader El Mas Loco ("the craziest one") is quite taken with John Eldredge's Wild At Heart, and that's proving rather embarrassing to Eldredge.
As the June 25th Colorado Springs Gazette column Local Christian author laments popularity of his book among ruthless Mexican gang (now re-titled) quotes John Eldredge, "It brings me sorrow and anger to know they are doing this, and I renounce their use of my words in this way." As Barna describes in his sympathetic column, posted in a Gazette column called "The Pulpit" describes,
"In Wild at Heart,; he writes approvingly of men's innate love of weapons, combat and hunting.
"Aggression is part of the masculine design; we are hardwired for it," Eldredge writes. "If we believe that man is made in the image of God, then we would do well to remember that "the Lord is a warrior (Exodus 15:3)." "
When the macho passages in Wild at Heart are read in context, it's apparent that Eldridge's animosity is toward what he sees as society's emasculation of the male. His remedy is physical adventures in nature and an embracing of the Bible.
"If (La Familia members) actually read the book," Eldredge said, "they would know that submission to Jesus is central to the entire message. They seemed to have missed the central point, which gives context to everything else." "
So why might the leader of La Familia have gotten the idea that Eldredge's book justifies violence ? Flipping through available pages of Wild At Heart, on page 9 I find a chapter sub-section titled "A BATTLE TO FIGHT" with the following,
"Capes and swords, camouflage, bandannas and six shooters--these are the uniforms of boyhood. Little boys yearn to know that they are powerful, they are dangerous, they are something to be reckoned with. How many parents have tried to prevent little Timmy from playing with guns ? Give it up. If you do not supply a boy with weapons, he will make them from whatever materials are at hand. My boys chew their graham crackers into the shape of handguns at the breakfast table."
His boys chew graham crackers into handguns. OK. Moving along, Eldredge's passage concludes with,
Aggression is part of the masculine design, we are hardwired for it. If we believe that man is made in the image of God, we would do well to remember that "the LORD is a warrior, the LORD is his name." (Ex. 15:3)"
The next paragraph delves further into the allegedly bloodthirsty, primal nature of little boys with, "Little girls do not invent games where large numbers of people die, where bloodshed is a prerequisite for having fun. Hockey, for example, was a feminine creation."
On the next page, the cute little boy-architects of mass-death morph seamlessly into brave soldiers storming the beaches of Normandy and Iwo Jima. It's in our blood, says Eldredge, we yearn for violence - "Women didn't make Braveheart one of the best selling films of the decade. Flying Tigers, The Bridge Over The River Kwai, The Magnificent Seven, Shane, High Noon, Saving Private Ryan, Top Gun, The Die Hard films, Gladiator--the movies a man loves reveal what his heart yearns for, what is set inside him from the day of his birth."
It's all very dramatic. Eldredge wraps up with, "Like it or not, there is something fierce in the heart of every man." But as detailed at Lt. Colonel David Grossman's Killology Research Institute website, abundant research shows that humans (both sexes) have an instinctive aversion to killing members of our own species. Most soldiers, except for an estimated two percent who are sociopaths, have to go through specific conditioning before they're willing to fire weapons at other humans in combat. For example in World War Two (prior to the development of such conditioning) according to one study only 15-20% of U.S. riflemen fired their rifles in combat.
Indeed, a question from page 91 of Wild at Heart suggests men may have instincts that lead them in directions other than to fantasies about gunfights and war - "Why is pornography the most addictive thing in the universe for men ?" Eldredge probes deeply into the male psyche with the suggestion that men are just trying to get back to the Garden, back to Eve. Yes, back to Eve. It's at once a seemingly ridiculous but strangely incestuous suggestion - all men really want to do is heal their damaged manhood by copulating with the supposed mother of humanity :
"You see, every man remembers Eve. We are haunted by her. And, somehow we believe that if we could find her, then we'd also recover with her our own lost masculinity."
What's pornography to men ? Eldredge lays it out - "If a man can feel an erection, well then, he feels powerful." As he observes a page later,
"Femininity can arouse masculinity. Boy oh boy can it. My wife flashes me a little breast, a little thigh, and I'm ready for action. All systems alert. She tells me in a soft voice that I'm a man and I'll leap tall buildings for her. But femininity can never bestow masculinity. It's like asking a pearl to give you a buffalo. It's like asking a field of wildflowers to give you a '57 Chevy."The axiomatic logic is ironclad - women are like pearls and fields of wildflowers, men are like buffalos and '57 Chevys. Of course. But men are like Mel Gibson in Braveheart too.
On page 22 of Wild At Heart, we run into an extended tribute to Scottish rebellion leader William Wallace ( played in Braveheart by Mel Gibson.) Wrapping up the several page hagiography, Eldredge drops the loaded question, "Is Jesus more like Mother Theresa or William Wallace ?" Of course we already know the answer. Jesus is more like Mel Gibson, lopping off heads with his broadsword.
Then Eldredge quotes someone named Tremper Longman, who claims, "Virtually every book of the Bible--Old and New Testament--and almost every page tells us of God's warring activity... what would Miss Manners have to say about taking the promised land ? Does wholesale slaughter fit under "Calling on Your New Neighbors." "
At this point it's hard, really, to know what to say. The aggressive little boys have now turned into a Biblical horde commanded by God to sweep into the land of Canaan and hack every last child, woman, and man to bits. Is Eldredge a proponent of genocide ? I suspect he'd deny it but it's easy to see how a would-crime syndicate cult leader might get, well, ideas from Wild At Heart.
On page 26 we're into Samson's hyper-violent macho credentials with,
You remember that wild man, Samson ? He's got a pretty impressive masculine resume' : killed a lion with his bare hands, pummeled and stripped thirty Philistines when they used his wife against him, and finally, after they burned her to death, killed a thousand men with the jawbone of a donkey. Not a guy to mess with. But did you notice ? All those events happened when "the Spirit of the LORD came upon him" (Judges 15:14, emphasis added).
It just goes on and on like this. On page 117 we're back to Jesus and the godly violence:
"The kingdom of heaven suffers violence," Jesus said, and violent men take it by force." (Matt 11:12 NASB) Is that a good thing or a bad thing ? Hopefully by now you see the deep and holy goodness of masculine aggression and that will help you understand what Christ is saying. Contrast it with this: "The kingdom of heaven is open to passive, wimpy men who enter it by lying on the couch and watching TV."
What's fascinating about John Eldredge and his book Wild At Heart as compared to Nazario Moreno's Thoughts is that Moreno, the leader of a savagely violent, cultic drug syndicate nonetheless seems to have written a book that's more in tune with the classic spirit of Christianity, while Eldredge, who makes a point of trying to seem nice, has written a book that seems to celebrate an ethic of violence.
But John Eldredge has a side that, if little publicized, is distinctly not nice. In the 1990's
In 1994 Mike Shaver, writing for Freedom Watch, infiltrated and recorded a major national conference of anti-gay activists sponsored by Colorado-for Family Values (CFV) - "a closed-door, invitation-only conference for nearly 40 national organizations committed to "roll[ing] back the militant gay agenda." "
As Shaver observed in his July/August 1994 Freedom Watch story, "if audio- taped portions of the proceedings are any indication, once the cameras are gone, anti-gay forces emphasize very different themes than those touted in public."
Eldredge was one of the major speakers at the top-secret conference which had the participation, according to Shaver's report, of many of the most well known organizations of the Christian right including "Focus on the Family, Concerned Women for America, Christian Coalition, Family Research Council, Traditional Values Coalition, Eagle Forum and the American Family Association."
"Anti-gay heavyweights" at the conference along with Eldredge, who at the time was Focus On The Family's Director of Seminars and Research and architect of FOF's Community Impact Seminars, included Paul Cameron, Peter LaBarbera, and Judith Reisman.
Speaking at the conference, John Eldredge was emphasized the need for public relations gloss, but then proceeded to demonize the gay rights movement as ultimate evil:
"To the extent we can control our public image, we must never appear to be bigoted or mean-spirited. And you noticed the qualification--- to the extent we can control our public image. We must never APPEAR to be attempting to rob anyone of their rights, of their constitutional rights...
...I think the gay agenda, and I would not say this as frankly as I will now in other cultural contexts, I think the gay agenda has all the elements of that which is truly evil. It is deceptive at every turn...it is destroying the souls and the lives of those who embrace it, and it has a corrosive effect on the society which endorses it, either explicitly or even implicitly."