The Qualities of a Cult
Charisma is often considered a good quality to have. A way to influence others so that they behave positively towards you and look to you as a leader. A charismatic is an inspiring figure who can easily manipulate submissive types into doing their bidding, which more often than not is self serving, and at points down right sinister. Today we slosh around in the murky mires of the Cult. A cult is a group of people all sharing a similar, non-mainstream world view. Most cults are religious in nature, but only vastly successful cults get the official title of religion. However, there are cults which centre around ideas or philosophies rather than spiritual conviction. For today’s show we will stick with the religious sort.
Religious cults are most successful whenever they are of the doomsday variety. This means that as a part of their belief system, some sort of endpoint is expected. This could be the end of the world, the coming of a saviour or an event such as the rapture. The attainment of this apocalypse is usually the primary reason for a cult member to commit themselves to the cause. It is their major article of faith. Psychologists have blamed a phenomenon called dissonance reduction for this. This is when the process of waiting causes cognitive dissonance, and so to repress this mental anguish, they redouble their faith, even if doomsday comes and goes with nothing happening. This is a type of self fulfilling prophecy because the very act of making the prophecy is enough to forever increase the faith of the followers. This can often lead to the membership being willing to commit ever more extreme and inappropriate actions in the name of faith.
What is and what is not a Cult?
But before we go any further, the Gnostic Heretic wants to clarify a point about cults. Quite often, the term is misused as an ad hominen by both Christian and secular groups to discredit others who have different views from themselves. As a result, certain secular groups are often referred to as a cult by various trolls and ne-erdowells because it has some sort of ritual element which acts contrary to the mainstream beliefs of that community. So here is the definition AIR uses: “A cult is any faith based religious movement which has a small but fanatical following.” You could really envision them as baby religions. Indeed most mainstream religions began as nothing more or less than a fanatical cult with a handful of extremist adherents encircling a charismatic leader promising the end of the world. Remind you of anyone?
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Christianity started out as a Cult
Jesus, or Yehoshua ben Yosef to use his real name had all of the personality traits associated with a cult leader. From a very young age he is shown to have an unusually high level of charisma. Indeed he was able to enter the temple in Jerusalem as a young boy and astound the seasoned, bearded rabbis with his impassioned and systematic knowledge of the Torah. He was in effect, preaching to the preachers. He would not have looked out of place in a charismatic evangelical church service today. But like many modern day cults, when Jesus grew up and started to diverge with mainstream Judaism, he entered into competition with it. His charisma was drawing people away from the traditional religion, to an upstart new one. Many modern cult members are social outcasts disenfranchised from the world at large, the cult offered them another option. A home and a family who would better understand them.
When Jesus’ ministry started to get rolling, he attracted a small but fiercely loyal group of followers. They would start wandering around as a big family spreading the word about the new cult from town to town in order to grow their numbers a little more. As they walked, they all looked to Jesus for instructions, they held onto his every word. They were very much under his charismatic spell. It was not long until the Jesus cult began to irk not just Jewish authorities, but the Roman Empire. Jesus’ version of the apocalypse was the Kingdom of God. The Romans interpreted that as a claim of kingship over Judaea. An act of treason. Now any half hearted followers would realise then that their course of action was folly, but fanatical cultists would be willing to die for the cause. And so they willingly sold their belongings for swords to stage an uprising in the Garden of Gethsemane. This then led to the arrest of Jesus and the banning of his cult. You would think with their leader extinguished that the cult would fizzle out, indeed it almost did like many others. However Jesus’ followers were so brainwashed that they started wandering through the Roman Empire preaching the cult in his place. One by one they got themselves executed in one way or another. They knew they would, but it did not matter. They were totally willing to die for the Kingdom of God.
A modern day Suicide Cult
Let’s compare this to a modern day cult: Heaven’s Gate. This cult, founded in California by Marshall Applewhite and Bonnie Nettles attracted nearly fifty members. It was a UFO cult which believed that the earth was due to be recycled, cleansing it of all life. The only way to survive was to spiritually enter a spaceship hiding behind comet Hale Bopp. Of course, the only way to enter anything spiritually, was to leave your body behind. The membership committed mass suicide on March 26th 1997. Police found them lying in beds, covered with cloth and wearing identical clothes. They had ingested a lethal amount of phenobarbital mixed in with applesauce and vodka. The decision to commit mass suicide came when the cult was under pressure by the police, and the families of the members. Their extreme lifestyles became more and more unsustainable. It is always at the crisis point that the apocalypse must come. This is exactly the same as the Jesus story. When Jesus was executed, his followers went out on their suicidal mission, believing the Kingdom of God was imminent. To them it was coming in their lifetimes. They had to martyr themselves now to receive God’s grace.
It was only by incredible luck that Christianity became a world religion rather than a forgotten, obscure, militant sect of Judaism. But since it did, its practice has been entirely normalised. People are not creeped out and disturbed when they hear the stories in the Gospel. But they are creeped out, and often pour scorn over, the behaviours and habits of cult members. Jesus was the Marshall Applewhite of his day. The Christian martyrs were taking the poisoned apple sauce and Vodka of the day. When will we open our eyes and view Christianity in the same way we view Heaven’s Gate: as dangerous, irrational, fanatical, cruel and if driven to it, suicidal and more often than not, homicidal. A religion is nothing more than a successful cult.
The Gnostic Heretic writing for the Apollo Institute of Reason Air Review©