Back in the 1990s, the group Living Colour had a hit single “Cult of Personality”. In keeping with my recurring theme of titles inspired either by song or movie titles, this week’s post title is inspired by that song.
a. Obsessive, especially faddish, devotion to or veneration for a person, principle, or thing.
b. The object of such devotion.
(emphasis is mine)
Among many things that a cult is, to me it is fanatical devotion to something (or someone), as I’ve illustrated in the above excerpt from the definition of the word cult. There are many cultish devotions I’ve encountered in this world. One in particular that I remember was when I moved back to my home country of Canada after living for a number of years in the United States. I went to the United States border station nearest to where I live now to turn in my Alien Registration Card (commonly called a “green card”). The immigration officer seemed highly perplexed that I no longer wanted to live in the United States, almost as if I must have had some sort of mental problem. I assured him that I was completely fine moving back to Canada–after all, it’s not like we’re a strife-torn unstable country. I grew up here, and survived my childhood quite well (with that evil socialist healthcare system we have here). I’m happy where I am here in Canada, and I’m happy for those who like living in the United States. I have found that Americans have a bit of a cultish devotion to their country, their flag, and their constitution, and that has always puzzled me somewhat. This is not unique to Americans. Many others are similar. A friend of mine who lives in Japan has told me of how there is a deep undercurrent there of the attitude that they (the Japanese) are far superior in all ways to everyone else. Nationalism and patriotism can extend into cultish devotions sometimes. So can religious devotion–in fact, that devotion all too commonly crosses into the cultish domain.
The religion I recently left, Christian Science, has very cultish qualities. For one, its founder, Mary Baker Eddy, is put on a pedestal by some that is almost equal to Jesus (a pretty long and indignant stretch if you ask me). She is often referred to as “Leader”, “Beloved Leader”, and historically was referred to as “Mother” (that one is just creepy to me). I start to think about North Korea in this context, and their “Dear Leader” Kim Jong Il. It is also taught by some in the Church that she is the “woman from Revelation” (see Revelation 12). In some ways, Christian Science is very much a cult of personality. Portraits of Eddy are found in many a Christian Science practitioner’s office, Christian Scientist’s homes, and when I worked at The Mother Church, I saw her portraits in some people’s offices (that always kind of disturbed me).
Eddy also sought to prohibit members of her church from reading “obnoxious” books (Manual of The Mother Church, Article VIII, Section 12, p. 44)–a form of exertion of control. My (and other’s) interpretation of this provision has held that she didn’t want people to read anything critical of her or Christian Science, and she especially disliked anyone who had their own take on Christian Science that challenged her own. Christian Scientists will sometimes also foolishly go to their graves, sometimes in the most painful and gruesome ways, from the effects of illnesses that can be treated medically because they fanatically believe they will be miraculously “healed” through their study of Eddy’s writings and the Bible. There are other ways throughout the Manual that Eddy continues to exert high levels of control over the church she founded. Today, Christian Scientists have a fanatical devotion to the Manual and to never deviating one iota from it.
Christianity in general has some tendencies that seem cultish to me as well. I have always had a huge issue with people who ask me if I “love Jesus” or have “accepted Jesus into my [life/heart/whatever]”. How can I love someone who died 2,000 years ago, and for that matter may or may not have even existed? Some controversial new scholarship is putting forth the idea that Jesus may have been entirely a fabrication by Roman authorities to placate a restive populace in a troublesome province known as Judaea.1 I wonder what will happen if that turns out to be true. Absent of proof other than the Bible, I have my doubts as to Jesus’s actual existence too. I was raised to be a critical thinker, and I think I’ve finally truly become one, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I think everyone should be a critical thinker, and question things.
The fanatical devotion to the person Jesus by some Christians borders on cultishness, as I see it. It almost seems like some Christians love Jesus more than they love their spouse or kids–well, he did exhort his followers to abandon all (including family) to follow him (Luke 9:61 – 62). Yeah, a real family values kind of guy. It’s crazy. Fundamentalist Christians are thoroughly convinced that those of us who do not “accept Jesus” are going straight to hell. Anytime someone says that to me, I always offer to save them a seat when I get there.
If loving Jesus and putting him first in your life brings you spiritual salvation, I’m happy for you. But, don’t expect me to think it’s a great idea, and don’t tell me I’m going to Hell–that’s just plain offensive to me. I respect everyone’s right to their religion, but I don’t have to have respect for their religions. I think many religions are inherently evil, and are largely about repression and control. I’m sure many religious people think my spiritual path (I follow First Nations/Native American spirituality) is the “devil’s work” and will lead me straight to Hell, and I’m fine with that. Think what you want, and I’ll think what I want. Ideas deserve scrutiny; they deserve to be questioned. Religion is an idea, and it deserves to be questioned. I’m done with the kid-gloves treatment and free pass that religion gets. And frankly, I’m also tired of my tax dollars subsidizing religion via charitable exemptions that churches and other religious institutions receive. Religion is the biggest tax exempt scam going right now.
Islam is probably the fastest growing cult around. Their prophet Mohammed is revered with extremely cultish devotion. Any faith where tens of thousands are drawn into the streets in violent protest because some newspaper publishes cartoons of Mohammed is a cult. Any faith where people will sacrifice their lives in acts of terrorism for the “glory” of Allah/God is a cult. Any faith that represses people because of their gender is a cult.
When fundamentalist Christians call for homosexuals to be executed or beaten, or radical Islamists call for infidels to be slain (and act upon those calls, as they often do), their religious beliefs (not to mention their sanity) should be pointedly and not necessarily politely called into question. They are inflicting their pernicious beliefs on others, and advocating harm and murder. That’s the line not to be crossed, and anyone who stands by and lets it happen in the name of “freedom of religion” is aiding and abetting these atrocities. Also, the moderate Christians, Muslims, Jews, and others who stand by and say or do nothing, while their more radical brethren speak and act, are condoning these evils by their silence.
1 Williams, Rob. “Story of Jesus Christ was ‘fabricated to pacify the poor’, claims controversial Biblical scholar.” The Independent. The Independent. 10 October 2013. Web. 2 November 2013. <http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/story-of-jesus-christ-was-fabricated-to-pacify-the-poor-claims-controversial-biblical-scholar-8870879.html>