(Roughly) Daily

“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven”*…

 

cult

The Easter ‘Passion of the Christ’ procession in Comayagua, a small town in Honduras

 

Cults, generally speaking, are a lot like pornography: you know them when you see them. It would be hard to avoid the label on encountering (as I did, carrying out field work last year) 20 people toiling unpaid on a Christian farming compound in rural Wisconsin – people who venerated their leader as the closest thing to God’s representative on Earth. Of course, they argued vehemently that they were not a cult. Ditto for the 2,000-member church I visited outside Nashville, whose parishioners had been convinced by an ostensibly Christian diet programme to sell their houses and move to the ‘one square mile’ of the New Jerusalem promised by their charismatic church leader. Here they could eat – and live – in accordance with God and their leader’s commands. It’s easy enough, as an outsider, to say, instinctively: yes, this is a cult.

Less easy, though, is identifying why. Knee-jerk reactions make for poor sociology, and delineating what, exactly, makes a cult (as opposed to a ‘proper’ religious movement) often comes down to judgment calls based on perceived legitimacy. Prod that perception of legitimacy, however, and you find value judgments based on age, tradition or ‘respectability’ (that nice middle-class couple down the street, say, as opposed to Tom Cruise jumping up and down on a couch). At the same time, the markers of cultism as applied more theoretically – a single charismatic leader, an insular structure, seeming religious ecstasy, a financial burden on members – can also be applied to any number of new or burgeoning religious movements that we don’t call cults.

Often (just as with pornography), what we choose to see as a cult tells us as much about ourselves as about what we’re looking at…

Cults are exploitative, weird groups with strange beliefs and practices, right? So what about regular religions then?  “What is a Cult?

To get a sense of terrain in question, visit Wikipedia’s page “New Religious Movement” and consult their “List of new religious movements.”

For a sense of how time can convert a “new religious movement” into an established faith, consult the “Timeline of religion.”

And for (one) opinion of where all of this might be leading, see “Tomorrow’s Gods: What is the future of religion?

* John Milton, Paradise Lost

###

As we ponder piety, we might recall that today is the concluding day of International Clown Week.

Screen Shot 2020-08-03 at 2.46.55 PM source

 

 

%d bloggers like this: