Ask anyone if they belong to a cult and your answer will resoundingly be “No!” When we define a cult, the vast majority of us synonymously assert that a cult is a Religious Sect or some organization that claims it possesses the exclusive rights to The Truth. While this is certainly true, this is not all that is true. This division within the modern mind, allows people to distrust all religion and convince themselves that by avoiding religion, they will avoid subscribing to a cult.
Let’s clarify things so we can share a definition of terms. Cults can be either religious or secular. The division is not so much whether a cult is a religious cult, but whether it is a destructive cult. Every club, organization, institution, and affiliation by their very definition will qualify, at least in part, as a cult. The most basic definition is the subscription to a particular group in order to reap some benefit or experience that is not possible otherwise. No, my son’s model airplane club is not going to control his life nor isolate him from his family, nor exploit him for all his money, time, or resources, but without membership, he cannot fly at the local airfield. Without abiding by the rules, he can’t continue his interest in his hobby. It’s minor, but it is quid pro quo. He must wear the club placard to fly.
I want us to start at this broad understanding, because it allows us to see how our own desires, interests and goals bring us into communities of people who share such things in common. Community is a byproduct of people going in the same direction. This opens up the reservoir of grace when we look closer at those cults which demand more from it’s constituents. This wider truth means that we must not blame, or label others as stupid, naive, gullible, or weak who are living under the shadow of cultish power plays.
Those who pridefully look down on those in religious cults are not exempt here. As you’ll see, each of us is deeply convinced that our source for The Truth is the best one. We think our grasp of The Truth is all the Truth there is. The Atheist who despises religion and belief in anything that is not empirically measurable has gleefully enlisted in the cult of empiricism, whereby only hard facts and data are trusted as The Truth. Within this sect, are leaders and spokespeople who promulgate the notion that only Matter and Motion exist and science can ultimately explain all things. This seems benign. This seems safe. Yet, over a lifetime, a person will open up their wallet, their schedule, and their seat of their very being to entrust this materialist philosophy without ever seeing just how hypocritical it actually is. Such cult members use mathematics, they appeal to reason and logic, and they love their kids. All of these things are presupposed to exist yet none of these are empirically measurable. This Cult teaches a truth which cannot even exist within it’s own definition.
I work in the sciences and when I invites such people to consider this hypocrisy, they have no answer, but most cannot extract themselves from their framework of understanding. They could lose their social standing, their jobs, their families, or their identity if they embrace a wider perspective. How is this unlike Scientology, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Amish, Mormonism, Islam, or Catholicism or Protestant fundamentalism? Sure, none of these is as extreme as the cults depicted in Hollywood productions, or those that make headlines like in Waco Texas, but each organization exists only because it makes a trade with each member.
Do you see the bigger problem?
It is certainly a huge step forward to extract oneself from a cult which abuses a person sexually, financially, physically, spiritually, or socially. We should all do everything we can to help those trapped within such evil environments. When the knock comes to our door we must not avoid them, argue with them, nor join them, but offer loving support and help if they ever wake up and need help to leave.
While liberating oneself from such a cult may be a great first start, he or she cannot obtain freedom by entrusting yet another system. Furthermore, remaining distrustful of all systems usually leaves people stuck in a hybrid state whereby they live with one foot in and one foot out of many systems as a means of survival. This is the postmodern dilemma of quasi-consciousness in which much of our world lives today. This semi-permeable fecal membrane of distrust is as close as most come to experiencing freedom because he or she at least holds on to some measure of control-or so post-modernism would like think.
We all enter our beloved cults because each promises something for which we are seeking. Eastern philosophy tells us that the problem then is our seeking. We become trapped because of our desire, thus freedom is relinquishing desire. For me this is too simplistic, while I do agree with the aspect that our desires are not good gauges for a happy life.
If we look a bit closer, we can see that all people of all ages, all stages, all nations everywhere are all ultimately in an ontological pursuit. This means we are all trying to find out who we really are and why we are here and what our purpose ultimately is. Because we each possess this deep existential question, we each gravitate to what seems like the most fitting answer. This is a huge, watershed awareness but it comes embedded in our postmodern quasi-conscious, free-floating, unattached arrogance and we get no further.
Thus, the path forward for our modern world is actually to go back, to deconstruct our way back into our existential question, where all people stand upon the equal footing of UN-KNOWING. We must regain a pure pursuit of our true name, our true identity, not the fake ID which is offered by every institution, every principality and every power in the world. We must find our hunger and thirst for who we truly are.
Now this gets interesting.
Only our Maker can tell us who we are. Without a “Maker” we are random bits of matter and motion and lots of time. Random cannot possess meaning, and nihilism is the denial of the common ground of our shared existential question. If the answer to who am I is; “You are random byproduct of a gaseous star fart.” Then all that is left is hedonism or nihilism. We must avoid these dreadful, empty traps.
Only our Maker can tell us who we are. If true, then we are on a precipice of joining another cult. We know that cults value the institution more than the individual. We know they value their frameworks and containers more than the contents. If a cult-free community exists, it must be a place where extreme diversity exists simultaneously with extreme unity. It cannot be a place of religious transaction because people would be judged based upon their merit, achievements, and production. Surveying all the worlds religions, is there even one of them which could fit this description?
This begs the question. If religion and irreligion cannot satisfy our ontological pursuit, what can? The very existence of our existential question presupposes an answer, and it is our desire for it which gets us into trouble, but which also leads us to satisfaction. If it’s not religion, then what is it?
Relationship. It’s a relationship between yourself and God. This relationship is experienced in seven billion different ways -a way for each of us. Too many for a religious structure to codify and ratify and require of any of us. This relationship is also shared between us all. Innies and outies belong to cults. Love belongs to relationship where back and forth exchanges allow for one to know another and diversity reflects back who we are and who we need to become. It’s interesting how everyone wants this. Everyone thinks they have found bits of this. It seems there should be a clear map of this for all to see.
An historical figure subverted the power of every institution known to man. Not a single power play could name him, none could say he belonged entirely to them. He was free of cults and he modeled how to live in such a way as to know and be known by our Maker and how to function in a society with a pantheon of cultish deities and systems. He did not eradicate institutional power, nor try and overpower them. He subverted each one with a power that lovingly healed each person at their point of need. This figure was material, a man, just like you and me, yet he possessed a nature which was beyond this world and his wisdom proved he was from beyond the mind of man. Like all of us, he was part in, part out.
If your cult detector is going in the red zone, fear not. I’m not suggesting you join a religion. My work is to free us from such traps. While cult after cult after cult has used the Christ story and the bible to suck us into institutional alignment through fear and power plays, Jesus’ very message was the opposite. He points us not to a religion which threatens us, condemns us or uses fear to extract our time, talent and treasure, but to a Kingdom where the rules of paradox are at play. Rising up is obtained by going down and self-emptying. Giving is how we receive. Letting go and surrendering is how we hold onto anything, influence through service replaces authority through title or position.
What many in the world have discovered, once we have been extracted from our prideful cultish entrapments, is that this “Kingdom” is here, right now, in the midst of us. It exists wherever two or more are gathered together. It’s not a promise for the winners, it’s not a way to avoid punishment if you identify as a loser. It’s not a place solely to which we are striving to go, it is THE place from which we are all invited to live.
The only thing that stops us from living and experiencing the freedom of this Kingdom today, right now, at this moment, the only thing causing resistance to this kind of life is the same as it always was and always will be: that thing is our preferred and beloved cult. Your cult, your delivery system of truth, is the only thing standing in your way. Do you dare to question it and discover what answer awaits you outside of this framework?
I hope its worth it to us, because our beloved cult stands in the way of the New World.