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Sunday, May 31, 2009

A cult dissected

Are cults bad? Yes, they are, for the most part. It's not always what they teach, but it's the effect they have on their members, and the society at large. The problem is, they proliferate like cockroaches, because people have a need to congregate and belong to something larger than themselves. Cults are not only religious in nature; there are personality cults, for instance. It may be useful to know, generally speaking, just what a cult looks like.

Now, I'm not taking aim at any cult, but just laying out what I think the general characteristics of a cult are. Why do something like this when there are a few million other sites out there who can do the same thing (and in fact do the same thing)? Well, because I can - it's my blog, after all. But also because I think a lot of people can benefit from a mature discussion of cults and cultic behaviour. I know, I know, many atheists (especially of the strawman kind, of which there are distressingly a large number) believe all religions and belief systems are cults, but bear with me.

Contrary to popular belief, cults do not necessarily have to espouse different doctrines to mainstream religions. Heretic cults do, but not all cults. However, if you do espouse mutually antagonistic doctrines to the core doctrines of a mainstream religion, then by definition you are a heretic cult, and there are no two ways about it. For example, in Christianity, almost all denominations are in agreement that (i) the Triune God created the universe (let's not quibble over the amount of time it took, because let's face facts, time is a relative thing whether you're a YEC like myself or not); (ii) Mankind was created to be stewards over creation, but we screwed it up; (iii) Through God's plans, which included raising up a people and a nation unto Himself, the Israelites (or the Jews, as they are commonly called now), so that His Son Jesus Christ, a Jew born to Jews who is somehow both fully God and fully Man, having a dual-nature, may be born and raised in their midst, we now have the opportunity to become part of God's family, and (iv) we may become godly but not Godlike or Gods ourselves. Any group holding doctrines contrary to this and still calling themselves Christians are cults. Of course, if they
don't self-identify as such, then they may or may not be cults; not sufficient information.

A surefire way of identifying a cult is by looking at the way they treat their members. Some or all of these may apply;
  1. Their idea of obtaining new members is aggressiveness and persistence. Sometimes annoyance, but that is a subjective issue. Unfortunately, the ways and means of such expansions are hard to pinpoint; at some stage, though, it may simply become the law of the land.
  2. As you delve deeper and deeper into the inner councils of the cult, there are initiation rituals that become less and less open to the rest of the world (and even the group itself).
  3. You are encouraged very strongly to limit your social exposure to fellow cult members. Your entire life must revolve around cult activities and group interactions, so much so that even your marriage is dictated by such membership. Marriage to a non-cultist (if permitted at all) must serve to bring them inside the cult, and your children must be indoctrinated into the cult as soon as possible. In some cults, your money is sucked away from you, and you're basically guilt-tripped into this.
  4. Exiting the cult is forbidden on pains of death, or worse. What could be worse? Well, a total severance of your former relationships, even with your spouse, or children, or other family. You will be shunned, a social pariah amongst the other cultists, generally blacklisted and blackballed. In severe cases, 'interventions' may be staged which include brainwashing, social reconditioning, etc.
No matter how large or outwardly respectable any organisation is, if two or more of these apply, then you are surely dealing with a cult.

All cults look on outsiders (non-cultists) in one of two ways (and there is no third way); (i) potentially future cultists, and thus to be persistently approached, or (ii) fools and enemies of the state, either to be destroyed on sight or to be judiciously used to further cult goals before discarded and destroyed, depending on how dangerous and intelligent they are perceived to be. Outsiders are never seen as neutral; if they cannot be brought into the fold then they cannot be trusted or relied upon as friendly.

All of this, by the way, is the default, 'ideal' operational mode of a cult. That is to say, it's the theory, at any rate. In practice, it's not so simple as all that. It depends on the size of your cult, as well as its influence on the neighbourhoods and communities the cult has a presence in. It also depends on how committed the individual cultists are - as with all groups, you can have those ranging from the most fervent fundamentalists, to those who are Cultists In Name Only. Of course, the range is not as great, and by the very definition of a cult you'd have far more committed members than not.

Applying these rules of thumb, however, can help you identify a potential cult before you enter into any kind of relationship with them. By these yardsticks, JWs and Mormons are cults, Islam potentially verges on being a cult, and sadly enough, historically speaking, Roman Catholics and Protestants both have acted in rather cultish manners.

Such cultish behaviour, by the way, is only exaggerated online. Go ahead; join any Internet forum you wish; say one on, oh, Manchester United. Then say something complimentary about Barcelona, or Real Madrid, or Liverpool. Just try. I guarantee you, you will instantly see what I mean.

1 comment:

Juhani said...

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