The Resistance and Self-Fulfilling Prophecy


Sean Johnson



A couple weeks ago, I introduced the idea of “self-fulfilling prophecy” in relation to Bishop Williamson’s discouraging and defeatist counsel in a recent Eleison Comments, stating my belief that:

To take the completely defensive and fatalistic posture His Excellency is advocating is to GUARANTEE defeat; it is to allow ourselves to be overrun in what is sure to become a self-fulfilling prophecy, creating precisely the situation His Excellency thinks exists now.

In this article, I would like to explore this idea of “self-fulfilling prophecy,” and apply that principle to the current situation in the Resistance (insofar as that incohesive “body” of clergy and faithful can be described in a monolithic sense), to see whether or not it runs the risk of falling into such a situation.

According to this well-written Wikipedia article, a self-fulfilling prophecy is:

…a prediction that directly or indirectly causes itself to become true, by the very terms of the prophecy itself, due to positive feedback between belief and behavior. Although examples of such prophecies can be found in literature as far back as ancient Greece and ancient India, it is 20th-century sociologist, Robert K. Merton, who is credited with coining the expression “self-fulfilling prophecy” and formalizing its structure and consequences. In his 1948 article Self-Fulfilling Prophecy, Merton defines it in the following terms:

The self-fulfilling prophecy is, in the beginning, a false definition of the situation evoking a new behavior which makes the original false conception come true. This specious validity of the self-fulfilling prophecy perpetuates a reign of error. For the prophet will cite the actual course of events as proof that he was right from the very beginning.

In other words, a positive or negative prophecy, strongly held belief, or delusion—declared as truth when it is actually false—may sufficiently influence people so that their reactions ultimately fulfill the once-false prophecy.

Self-fulfilling prophecy are effects in behavioral confirmation effect, in which behavior, influenced by expectations, causes those expectations to come true.

How, precisely, does this notion of self-fulfilling prophecy apply to Bishop Williamson’s approach to the Resistance apostolate?

Firstly, His Excellency seems to me to be unduly swayed by private revelation (even contradictory ones), and prophecy.  For example, in a recent brief interview, His Excellency was asked the question, “What are Catholics to make of the Second Vatican Council?”  Answer: “The Second Vatican Council was a gigantic step forward in the great Apostasy predicted and prophesied toward the end of the world.”

Thus, His Excellency’s starting point for his approach to the Resistance apostolate is not the public revelation of the Church (Scripture and Tradition; doctrine and dogma), whose truths are certain and obligatory, but rather private revelations and prophecies whose teachings are optional, non-obligatory, sometimes contradictory, and most importantly: Uncertain.

This is not at all to suggest that His Excellency denies anything in public revelation!

Just that it is interesting to observe an uncertain, fallible, possibly untrue basis for His Excellency’s approach to the apostolate being given preference to the certain and infallible quality of public revelation.

But having embraced the private revelations and prophecies (e.g., Holzhauser; Akita; Fatima; Valtorta; Garabandal; LaSalette; etc) as a basis for his worldview, it is only natural to conclude that the end of the world is imminent.  And if the end of the world is imminent -truly- then “hunkering down” and praying the Rosary while waiting for Heaven to intervene has a certain reasonableness to it: Why build seminaries, constitute religious orders, endorse Catholic Action, encourage vocations; etc. if the end is near?

It would all be frivolity and folly.

But its also a huge gamble: What if his excellency is wrong?

What if the world has many hundreds (or thousands) of years to go?  In that case, we will have recklessly ascribed to an end of the world scenario which resulted in snuffing out our Lord’s Resistance (and Church), such that the question our Lord asks in Scripture comes about: “When the Son of Man returns, will he find faith on Earth?”

Moreover, if His Excellency sees no reason to rebuild because the end of the world is imminent, does this not ensure that the remnants of traditional Catholicism get completely overrun; that the enemies of the Church are given free reign; that without any Catholic resistance in the world working to counteract the gains of secular humanism inside and outside the Church, that in such a scenario we are actually HELPING to prepare the soil for the advent of Antichrist?

It is in this way that His Excellency’s fatalism/defeatism becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: By mistakenly believing that the end of the world is upon us, the “hunker-down” strategy removes all the soldiers from the field who could have prevented or forestalled the advent of the Antichrist, such that now the Church is given over even more completely to him; the world situation becomes daily worse, and the mistaken premise upon which His Excellency’s approach to the apostolate was based in the beginning guides our actions (i.e., “hunker-down-ism”) into creating the very situation in reality, or, as we stated above:

In other words, a positive or negative prophecy, strongly held belief, or delusion—declared as truth when it is actually false—may sufficiently influence people so that their reactions ultimately fulfill the once-false prophecy.

The solution to combating a self-fulfilling prophecy is what is known as a “self-defeating prophecy”

self-defeating prophecy is the complementary opposite of a self-fulfilling prophecy: a prediction that prevents what it predicts from happening. This is also known as the “prophet’s dilemma”.

A self-defeating prophecy can be the result of rebellion to the prediction. If the audience of a prediction has an interest in seeing it falsified, and its fulfillment depends on their actions or inaction, their actions upon hearing it will make the prediction less plausible. If a prediction is made with this outcome specifically in mind, it is commonly referred to as reverse psychology or warning. Also, when working to make a premonition come true, one can inadvertently change the circumstances so much that the prophecy cannot come true.

It is important to distinguish a self-defeating prophecy from a self-fulfilling prophecy that predicts a negative outcome. If a prophecy of a negative outcome is made, and that negative outcome is achieved as a result of positive feedback, then it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. For example, if a group of people decide they will not be able to achieve a goal and stop working towards the goal as a result, their prophecy was self-fulfilling. Likewise, if a prediction of a negative outcome is made, but the outcome is positive because of negative feedback resulting from the rebellion, then that is a self-defeating prophecy.

A self-defeating prophecy to counteract Bishop Williamson’s self-fulfilling prophecy is precisely what I am advocating: When the day comes that the world situation is such that the Church must return to the catacombs to preserve its very survival, then and only then will it be time to hunker down and wait for heaven to intervene.

Until then, we have a King to defend.  And our business is to be about the restoration of His kingdom.  This hopelessness which would have us all lay down our arms, even before the first shot is fired, and clear the field for the enemy, approaches treason against Him whom we are to give all for.

I will fight this vision until the end, out of loyalty to our King.


The Hidden Church:

There is yet another aspect or principle which ensures the realization of this self-fulfilling prophecy, which one might call the “private Resistance.”

The private Resistance is a conscious approach to the apostolate which seeks to remain below the radar; to stay out of the public gaze; to spread itself by word of mouth (if it spreads itself at all); to consciously forego many aspects of Catholic action (conferences; books/magazines/publicly published articles/websites/etc).  It fears to make itself known.

Basically, it replicates the Church in the catacombs

Once again, such an approach might be considered necessary amidst bloody persecution for the very survival of the Church in those times.  Yet objectively, the Church is constituted as a public institution, known to the world by its conspicuous visibility.  Conversely, how can we not notice the opposition between the idea of a hidden Church, and the visible Church constituted by our Lord?  If faith comes by hearing, then how can we refuse to preach it?

The hidden apostolate requires the faithful and clergy to seek out this kind of Resistance, yet how can they, if they are not made aware of its message?  Worse still if its message is one of despair, chicken little-ism, and hopelessness.

Naturally, such a vision has absolutely no attraction for the faithful (except for apparition-obsessed types), and the end result is again a suicidal, self-destructive approach which succeeds in bringing about the very prophecy it wrongly diagnosed in the beginning.


Reflecting back in time:

When in April/2013 His Excellency came to St. Paul for a conference, on a weekday, and during work hours, we were able to draw 100 Resistance faithful, despite less than ideal attendance conditions.  It was at this time that His Excellency began expounding upon Holzhauser’s “Seven Ages of the Church,” and thereafter giving the Resistance (whose existence preceded his entry into it) a new vision for the apostolate:

The end was near; independence instead of hierarchy; eventually a hidden resistance which really had nothing public to say.

The result?

In St. Paul today we are lucky if we can muster 20 people.

Nobody was buying what Bishop Williamson was selling, and forced to choose between a liberalizing SSPX or a doomed and depressing Resistance, most chose the former.  After all, if Menzingen goes liberal, subjectively I can still maintain my own personal faith despite them.  But with this new kind of resistance, well, we won’t even have any priests!

The Resistance has languished because of this reorientation of it: We have gone from rebuilding to surviving.

What began as a contingency plan to carry on the apostolate of the SSPX as it was created by Archbishop Lefebevre was morphed into a premature acceptance of Fr. Calmel’s O.P. vision and Benson’s “Lord of the World” scenarios before their time.

When the faithful meditated upon the inevitable results of such a vision, they saw no future in it.

Yes, there would always be a dwindling number of faithful who managed to find a Resistance bishop somewhere, but rebuilding has given way to an illusory survival mode; “we just need to survive,” we are continually told.  But it seems an excuse to avoid reaching our potential.

Suddenly what was possible in 2012 was no longer possible in 2013.

Or, because a superior general can subvert an entire order (has it not always been the case?), we will do away with hierarchy.  If we have had subversive popes, should we do away with the papacy?

So the die is cast, and until these bishops shake themselves free from the idea that we are already in survival mode, their approach to the apostolate will continue to diminish the Resistance.


Clearing the air: 

One person accused me of making a “vicious attack” on Bishop Williamson.  In good faith, that was never my intention.  As my apology post mentioned, I lamented the tone/tenor of that post, but it is the idea and vision I oppose, not the man.  In my mind, we are allies who are having a rather profound difference of opinion.

And yes, I realize one of us is a bishop, and one of us is not.

Ultimately, it comes down to this: If in conscience (rightly formed or wrongly) I believe the approach to the apostolate the bishops have endorsed is deleterious to the very survival of the Resistance (much less its growth and rebuilding), then how can I remain silent in the matter?  Would I not then become the very “yes-man” some have accused me of on prior occasions?

Another person said to me (paraphrasing), “Your post could have been lifted from a Pfeifferian website.  Are you now heading in their direction?”

Apparently, it is not possible to disagree in any matter whatever, without being accused by simplistic minds of having flip-flopped.

Even one of the bishops, in a recent conversation when I pointed out to him that despite his errors, Fr. Pfeiffer was at least public and committed to rebuilding when he left the SSPX, and for his efforts he grew dozens of Mass locations, giving people hope and inspiration…  But I couldn’t even get the thought out.  Before I could complete it, he told me, “Then go with them!”

Everything a Pfeifferite says is not wrong merely because he is a Pfeifferite.  If one told me that 2+2=4, should I reject it because he was a Pfeifferite?

In my mind, I am with the bishops, even if I disagree with their organization of the Resistance apostolate in light of the qualitative and quantitative decline this vision has resulted in: It will keep our chapels empty, and SSPX chapels full.

Is one not permitted to voice a disagreement without being accused of being an enemy?  I have cast my lot with these bishops, and I give them my support.  I want to help the Resistance, but not into the foxholes, but for the rebuilding of Christendom.  That process begins with replicating the model of the SSPX, and not blazing a new path into the unknown.

So long as this fatalistic, hidden, independent vision remains the basis of Resistance, our hopes are all narrowed to a little congregation in France (the SAJM), and a couple allied religious orders, which have maintained the traditional apostolate.

Everything else will disappear like Powers Lake.