Saturday, 14 April 2012
There is an important thing to remember when approaching this particular subject. That is the fact that far too often we can get all caught up in names. No group is ever going to call itself a “cult” and no one ever joins a “cult” for that matter. The word “cult” is just a label that carries negative and religious overtones. But the simple fact is that you should be wary of any group that displays the nine warning signs I’m about to discuss.
Deborah Layton was a survivor of Jim Jones' cult. This was the group that was made famous by the mass suicide in which the group drank poison Kool-Aid in the 80's. In an interview following the event, she pointed out: “You join a religious group. You join a political organization. You join a self-help group. Then things change gradually and at some point you stop and ask, ‘What am I in?’”
So I can't stress this point enough: Any group you affiliate yourself with, it doesn’t matter if that group is religious or secular in nature. It doesn’t matter if the group calls itself a church, book-club, or Atheist discussion group. Even in a political action group, if you see these warning signs then keep your radar up.
The first warning sign is when the group discourages questions about their doctrine and philosophy. The reason we have our minds is to use them. The wise say that knowledge is power. There is real truth in that. Following the group is easy. Sometimes it’s even beneficial. But challenging what you are told and questioning your convictions is difficult, especially if you’re challenging convictions that you’ve personally identified with. That’s why it’s best to start from the beginning in asking why you believe what the group believes. If you don’t ask these basic questions then that leaves you in a vulnerable position where you will be taken advantage of, and could even be killed. Even scripture itself tells us to question authority.
When the group is following one human leader, and s/he has unquestionable authority, it can be a dangerous thing. There is an old saying and I believe it: Absolute power corrupts absolutely. This is where many, many churches go wrong. It’s also why in scripture you never see the early Christians under the charge of one man. Jesus is described as the head of Christianity. Bishops elders and such were always described in the plural tense whenever used in scripture. Further, Paul warned us about false teachers who: “glorified themselves above the Lord.” Even Jesus himself took on the role of servant when he was with us, rather than political or military leader.
Next warning sign is when they forbid dissent. Maybe this one goes along too closely with “discouraging questions” but the point bears repeating. And to be fair all organizations have at least a degree of this.
Being on the inside does not make one right. Further, right and wrong are dependent on the merits of the argument, not the rank of the individual. I often think about the universities in our country when I think of this warning sign.
It’s common to hear a secular fanatic saying “Imagine, if you will, that you are a doctor. You've spent about a decade of your life going through intensive schooling, you've dedicated much of your life to attaining this knowledge, and the credentials that come with it showing that by an impartial institution you have earned a title that indicates you are an expert on the human body. How intensely pissed would you be if you walk into your office to tell a patient that they have a brain tumor, and she looks up from her smart phone and matter-of-factly tells you that no, it's actually an imbalance of chi that's causing her headaches and dizzy spells. Now, instead of starting on the treatment that will make her better, you have to focus your energy on convincing her that not only are you right, but she is wrong.” That quote is not from a fanatic; that’s a direct quote from Krisco (a.k.a. GodlessLiberal).
The fallacy here is the fact that you could study all you want till the end of time, and that “study” doesn’t make you right; it doesn’t make you wrong either. The doctor’s feelings may be hurt, but the decision is not about the doctor's feelings. It’s about the patient’s right to choose. Even with all the best education and technology at his disposal, and however unlikely the secular fanatic believes it is, doctors are human and don’t know everything.
Here’s a really important one. When you’re told that you must sever contact with family and friends who are not a part of the group. This is a huge red flag. This is how a group makes an attempt at isolating its members. Isolation is a very dangerous thing. The reason they want to isolate you is exactly the same as why groups discourage questioning their doctrine.
Ruling that if you leave the group you can never return is another huge red-flag. This is another form of isolationism and intimidation. I cannot stress enough just how dangerous these two points on isolationism are. They were at the very center of the Jamestown incident. So just like if you’re told to sever contact, should you find yourself in an organization that tells you this one, then don’t walk away: run!
Having a lot of off-center ideas is not a problem in and of itself. But it is something to be wary of. In fact this warning sign makes me think a lot about the atheist groups that Hector and Connor are associated with. Because I doubt these two started off as the prejudiced jerks they are today. I know Connor personally and can say that’s almost certainly true in his case. They probably got trapped by assuming the non-religious nature of their groups was mutually exclusive with being a cult.
To quote Deborah Layton again: “One of the ways we do a real disservice to our kids is that when something like Jonestown happens we tell them that they were just a bunch of nuts. This sets up our children to one day be in a situation that is a little bit weird and think, ‘Oh, it can’t happen to me.’ Their antennas won’t be up.”
You often hear terms from adherents of these groups like fence-sitter and I.N.O.’s ([title] In Name Only) For example if you’re a Democrat you’re a D.I.N.O. or if you’re a Republican you’re a R.I.N.O. When doctrine is so extreme that even semi-adherents are called I.N.O. or referred to by the term "fence-sitter" then that’s a red-flag.
When their way is the only acceptable way, you should be concerned. Fear and intimidation is how the single leaders mentioned above control their masses. And in reality that’s the big character difference I was talking about in the control and compassion article. Thinking back to the I.N.O. fallacy I mentioned above. This is the core issue in the two points. It leaves no room for rationality or common sense, and that leaves you vulnerable. for example my own best friend for example; says that if any so-called gay person disagrees with him on any of his core beliefs, they must be self-loathing. In his mind there is no other explanation. How can anyone even reason with that kind of irrationality?
Likewise, Xangans who have been on this site five years or more remember that “Republican-Christian preacher” and his daughters who ran the church out of their basement like Fred Phelps’s clan. But I digress, the important question you should be asking yourself is: “Is the group’s position so weak that it can’t withstand at least a little scrutiny?” If your answer is yes, then it’s time to ask yourself why you are supporting it.
There is nothing inherently wrong with secrecy in a group, at least not in moderation. Most groups will have this to a degree. The first Christians had to keep secret or be fed to the lions. People like Galileo and Leonardo Da’Vinci had to keep a great deal of secrecy in their progress. In Germany the resistance had to keep a huge amount of secrecy. But keep your guard up. While I raise a softer flag over the “one leader”, “forbidding descent”, and “off center ideas” points; when these three points are combined with secrecy it usually leads to the next warning sign.
Last and certainly not least: Endorsing bad behavior is a huge red-flag. Abuse of power is a hallmark of dangerous organizations. That’s why the first Christians were so against the one human leader concept. Like I said about the isolation flags above when you find yourself in this kind of group, don’t walk away run!
Have you ever known anyone who was involved in a cult? What can you say about what their experience was like? Based on the points listed above, is there someone you know who you think might now be involved in a cult?