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Anthony North

The world of cults

June 1, 2007 | Comment icon 19 comments


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The On 19 April 1993 tanks stormed the ranch of a Branch Davidian break-off group at Mount Carmel, Waco, Texas. In the resulting inferno, some 80 cultists died, including their leader, David Koresh.This was a stark image from a cult. A small group of people seemed to be against the world, and the world hit back. Such abnormalities as cults breed suspicion, which leads to fear, and the result can so often be Apocalypse.

They're not mad
The fate of the People's Temple was equally disconcerting. Headed by the Rev Jim Jones, this 1,000+ strong cult withdrew to Jonestown, a purpose-built complex in Guyana, but when their existence was threatened in November 1978, they committed mass suicide. Events such as the above lead many to the conclusion that cultists are mentally inferior, drop-outs, or plain mad. But as Professor Eileen Barker showed in a major study in the 1990s, most cult members are young, intelligent and middleclass. What seems to drive them to a cult is a search for meaning in a world that seems to deny the existence of spirituality. With only materialism to live by, it is not enough for an increasing number of searchers.

Subtle transition
If a searcher meets a cult guru, such as Jones or Koresh, the result can be transition, the searcher turning into a disciple. But how does the process of transition occur? Many commentators speak of 'brainwashing' and other absurd terms. The answer is more mundane. The first part of the process can involve a psychoanalytical trick known as 'transference.' Here, a confident guru takes upon himself the angst felt by the searcher, and in reflecting these feelings back to him, can ensnare him through pure empathy. Once this is achieved, the process can be completed by convincing the searcher that it is the 'outside' world that is responsible for how he feels. Known as 'psychological distancing', the process gives the searcher the knowledge that only the guru can know him and look after him. The searcher is now open to the 'reeducation' that is needed.
How the guru is born
How can a guru achieve this so easily? The answer can be found in the life pattern of the future guru, which is amazingly similar in them all. It begins in childhood, and a feeling of alienation from the rest of society. The future guru is often an awkward child who becomes a loner. Due to this he turns in on himself, becoming the archetypal searcher, but the spiritual philosophy that can rise from this is extreme. Jones and Koresh, for instance, knew the Bible off by heart by their early teens. In early adulthood, life is a failure and a crisis comes when the person approaches mental illness. If he succumbs, he will be no one, but the guru is born when the illness sparks a religious experience that places him at the centre of a meaningful spirituality. This knowledge is all-encompassing, and the person who emerges is a confident charismatic, capable of defeating the will of any searcher through a process akin to hypnotism.

It's vampiric
This process is known throughout mythology and religion. In nearly all myth there is the 'hero' who walks a similar path, usually transforming society as he progresses. And nowhere is the process more obvious than in the life of the ultimate 'guru', Jesus Christ. Jesus grows up a troubled, questioning child, and this leads to a crisis. He goes off into the wilderness and is tempted by the Devil (a mental illness?), and the man who emerges is a charismatic who can influence people and do miracles. Sadly, the one important element that is left out of the Gospels is the fact that the guru's confidence is simply a mask, for underneath he remains a cauldron of insecurity and angst. In a real sense, the guru needs constant validation himself, and he feeds psychologically from his disciples as much, if not more, than the disciples gain their validity from him.

Heading towards danger
Here lies the danger of the cult. The psychological processes are such that a status quo arises between valid religious ideals, and communal self-destruction. If the cult becomes too insular, or is threatened, as happened with the Branch Davidians and People's Temple, self-destruction can be the result. But for most, this point is never reached, and many can go on to do good work and even grow and transform into a valid alternative religion. However, this aside, there is one vitally important thing we need to realize about cults. In the life pattern that leads to the guru, what we really have is an extreme version of the life pattern of the successful person, struggling to find his role as a youth, realizing his future through transition, and gaining the confidence to succeed. This is a message that tells us that cults are important to understand, for in a lesser way, the processes are vital to us all. And in understanding those processes, we could maybe learn how we, too, can so easily go off the rails and self-destruct.

http://beyondtheblog.wordpress.com/2007/03/19/cult-watch-2/



http://anthonynorth.com/essays/the-unexplained

Comments (19)

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Comment icon #10 Posted by Lt_Ripley 16 years ago
by strict definition all religions are a cult - politics too can fall under this heading cult /kʌlt/ Pronunciation Key - Show Spelled Pronunciation[kuhlt] Pronunciation Key - Show IPA Pronunciation noun 1. a particular system of religious worship, esp. with reference to its rites and ceremonies. 2. an instance of great veneration of a person, ideal, or thing, esp. as manifested by a body of admirers: the physical fitness cult. 3. the object of such devotion. 4. a group or sect bound together by veneration of the same thing, person, ideal, etc. 5. Sociology. a group having a sacred ideology a... [More]
Comment icon #11 Posted by Eric Raven The Skeptic 16 years ago
For some that easier said than done. Those who join these charismatic individuals, are themselves lost, and trying to find their way, I know for a time I was, many have tried to sway towards one belief or another, yet through it all i found my true faith and place in this world. I am a Watcher, no matter what anyone says or thinks. I became this of my own accord, for I fit nothing, but myself. ~Watcher People join cults because they are lonely or desperate in some way. The cult provides something for them.
Comment icon #12 Posted by Mr. sasquatch 16 years ago
All cults aren't that bad! There are some good ones that have done good, harmless things like the Hare Krishna Movement, Church of Satan, New Age Movement, Raelian Religion, etc. I don't see how these are worse than any of the big religions, just cause they are different. Many say the leaders are just freaks who want some attention Well of course their leaders want attention, some of them are bad, but most just think they have good ideas that need to be shared with others. If you say it is stupid to follow them, well then you are calling all Christians, Jews, Muslims, and Buddhists stupid. For... [More]
Comment icon #13 Posted by weareallsuckers 16 years ago
All cults aren't that bad! There are some good ones that have done good, harmless things like the Hare Krishna Movement, Church of Satan, New Age Movement, Raelian Religion, etc. I don't see how these are worse than any of the big religions, just cause they are different. Many say the leaders are just freaks who want some attention Well of course their leaders want attention, some of them are bad, but most just think they have good ideas that need to be shared with others. If you say it is stupid to follow them, well then you are calling all Christians, Jews, Muslims, and Buddhists stupid. For... [More]
Comment icon #14 Posted by Eric Raven The Skeptic 16 years ago
All cults aren't that bad! There are some good ones that have done good, harmless things like the Hare Krishna Movement, Church of Satan, New Age Movement, Raelian Religion, etc. I don't see how these are worse than any of the big religions, just cause they are different. Many say the leaders are just freaks who want some attention Well of course their leaders want attention, some of them are bad, but most just think they have good ideas that need to be shared with others. If you say it is stupid to follow them, well then you are calling all Christians, Jews, Muslims, and Buddhists stupid. For... [More]
Comment icon #15 Posted by Lotus Flower 16 years ago
All cults aren't that bad! There are some good ones that have done good, harmless things like the Hare Krishna Movement, Church of Satan, New Age Movement, Raelian Religion, etc. I don't see how these are worse than any of the big religions, just cause they are different. Many say the leaders are just freaks who want some attention Well of course their leaders want attention, some of them are bad, but most just think they have good ideas that need to be shared with others. If you say it is stupid to follow them, well then you are calling all Christians, Jews, Muslims, and Buddhists stupid. For... [More]
Comment icon #16 Posted by celina 16 years ago
Subtle transition If a searcher meets a cult guru, such as Jones or Koresh, the result can be transition, the searcher turning into a disciple. But how does the process of transition occur? Many commentators speak of 'brainwashing' and other absurd terms. The answer is more mundane. The first part of the process can involve a psychoanalytical trick known as 'transference.' Here, a confident guru takes upon himself the angst felt by the searcher, and in reflecting these feelings back to him, can ensnare him through pure empathy. Once this is achieved, the process can be completed by convincing ... [More]
Comment icon #17 Posted by celina 16 years ago
That was interesting and it make a lot of sense. I like the part about ensnaring through empathy. I don't know why people get caught up with gurus, it's much better to follow your own path and do your own study. there not gurus actually. Guru is a legit term for holymen in Buddhism/Sikhism/Hinduism. And much older than any abrahamic branch of faith to be called new age movements etc...
Comment icon #18 Posted by Mr. sasquatch 16 years ago
It all depends on the "Cult" I guess. Some of them refuse to let their members have anything to do with the outside world and keep them ensnared within the group. The will of the person concerned will just grow weaker and weaker. It has not been unknown for the families of people caught up in some cults to be "snatched" back and deprogrammed. The very fact that someone would need to be "deprogrammed" shows just how out of order some of these cults are. The difference between some cults and religions like Christianity, Judaism and the rest is that the latter are not kept in captivity, they keep... [More]
Comment icon #19 Posted by FairyJosie23 15 years ago
I fully agree with the article that David and Jones were cults.... they were very obviously human men who showed definite signs of mental illness. Who coerces their followers to kill themselves? ... But I also find it interesting that the author lumps Jesus Christ in with these men... Christ didn't coerce his followers to kill themselves, and his message was all about peace. I find it interesting, too, how many people are so determined to believe that Christ was just a normal human... especially on here, if you're willing to believe in aliens, Bigfoot, and the such, why is believing that Chris... [More]


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