Updated: Jul 23
Is cult the base word of culture and is there a quota to meet in a group to get to be considered a cult? Apparently the similarity is the the latin word cultus which means something like growth, to cultivate, adoration, or training. Most of those words imply more than one aspect of either culture or cult. A coincidence?
How would someone know that they are in a cult? I mean to anybody else it would probably be obvious depending on how extreme it is. From the specific angle of the 'cultivated,' what are the perimeters of being entranced or imprisoned in a cult? Could it be some form of mind-control, a blood-promise, or a contract? What exactly is needed? In two of the four definitions of the word cult the word religion is included. The other two involve an extremely popular person or thing with excessive admiration. In one the admiration is misplaced and in the other it's a societally acceptable(even if just a particular sect of society) thing. Who would decide however, if something or someone is religious or not? There is a recent movie in which a group of young people created a special name for their love of a band. Sound familiar? They spend days working and saving up enough money to go see their beloved band. They also lied, hustled an exploitable member of their group and merchandised said groupie to sneak out and go see this band, believing that the experience would make them "women". There are millions of stories with characters believing that achieving a particular goal will change their lives wholly and for the better. To be fair there is rarely catchy songs, big eyeballs and a submissive dad.
Religious people have done much the same things as the group of the aforementioned band, that is to say will do something unorthodox to see a "spiritual" leader speak or perform, albeit the audience for the latter is generally more able to purchase such tickets. On the other hand though, it is written in their very sacred text to not worship idols, much less purchase items from a place of worship. Have you ever seen a poster or flyer for a pastor coming to put on a show? Their name and face are the biggest part, who they want to attend or a vague description of what will be spoken of is next, followed by a location and admission, of course. Not at all unlike a flyer for a normal concert. I have been to both sorts of places and there is much the same sentiment in both shows. The drugs and beverages are different, but mind or mood altering all the same.
Then there's the extremely popular person or group. Can you not think of a "religious" person that is simply super popular? Perhaps their style is refreshing, their clothes are hip, they sing in a quire that they just happen to have an album out for. If they simply sing in a pleasing way or tell people exactly what they want to hear instead of something beneficial to them or at the very least try to perfectly follow the religious documents that brought their audience to them in the first place then what's the difference? I went to church a few times with my dad, even a "christian" concert and each time he enthusiastically proclaimed that the speaker or singer was talking directly to him. At this point in time my dad was never the least bit "christiany" outside of that setting and I was eventually skeptical of the whole situation. The fact that it took either begging from my mom or an acquaintance from work asking for him to even go to such an event was never lost on me either.
Of course there are other popular people, movies, books or anything that knows how to draw a crowd and keep them enthralled, be it purposeful or not, with promises or merely the gift of fantasies. Fantasies are like hopeful imaginations that inspire our very feelings to believe that we are in the midst of what we think is the greatest thing ever, in one form or another. In other words fantasies are awesome, but also horribly powerful. How brilliant or horrible is it when one person or group of people can invoke and possibly control such intense feelings in a group of people? And while it seems like most people going to a concert, book signing, movie, or play would be doing so willingly, what about the individuals simply going with a friend? The call of belonging, trying to appease a potential mate, or simply delivering on the request of a friend are all scenarios for an unbeliever to stumble onto the magic of belonging, but what about when it's required for a school credit or training for a job? Could the enthralling powers of a group in "worship" have unforeseen affects on the poor bloke just trying to be dutiful or make a living?
The word cult is simply....not encompassing enough or specific...or perhaps it's huge nature is meant to be a warning in that aspect itself?
Even so, what is more important?
1)A narcissistic leader
to enthrall people and then keep them, his or her "flock" in line? The initial promise of something seems easy enough. Find someone on the streets or even a low-energy person in a crowd of already like-minded people. There are doubtless clue words and possibly innumerable ones at that, that could be used to out someone's tendency or even proclivity to extremes. The desire to belong or search for purpose would probably come out in idle conversation for a pro. Is it solely dependent on a charismatic leader fishing for "clients" or a whole idea or promise set out to catch wayward wanderers like a net? What about the "prophets" that grift in along an idea or religion and shake things up or tweak them just enough? In the vein of a group of people begging out at a concert, could just the right timing allow just the most charismatic person in just the right mood-setting to hijack a "worshiping?" Some people are better at hiding their need for something more, but how do they know if they have just been approached by a conman or a potential bestie?
2)Or is it more about the need?
The need of something more than oneself or simply the lost individual both seem like quite the catch for a group that has needs of servitude, money, or an egomaniac seeking adoration. The person with no path or not enough of themselves(still a child*) to want something not outlined by someone else....not imagined or validated by someone "amazing" would be fantastic prey. The physically, socially or mentally hurt person with not enough energy, self-esteem, or not enough soul. Is it really so bad to be knocked down with nothing
to lose and a plethora of decisions to be made? Is it really so bad to be lost? Gandalf made it seem pretty awesome. Gandalf was full of purpose, motivation and perspective. In fact there are plenty of "lost" people throughout history that eventually felt something and went on to do great things. Many had mentors or friends, but what about the one called on by a group or faction?
Anakin did just fine under Obie Won, but being exposed to the full Jedi council showed the corruption, which was enough to plant a seed of doubt. A doubt that Darth Sidious was able to exploit. This idea is most easily shown in the epic dramas written to entertain if not enlighten us, but where is it in history? People are "recruited" all of the time for school, a particular sports team, a job, or a cause. The one on one interaction with the recruiter is generally a good experience every time. Knowledge is usually passed and assurances given, but as soon as a host of managers, coaches, or teachers are involved, things change. Money is expected sometimes and time itself, which is more valuable than probably anyone fully understands. Beliefs and rules not mentioned beforehand are expected to be followed suddenly. Secrets are more easily brought to the light. Your morals and loyalties do not always matter. They are more interested in your talent, money or energy and always your time! Even if you realize that the group, job, or cause is not what you expected it would be can you easily turn away? Especially if you paid money upfront or indignantly stood up to a critic about your decision. Pride is a nasty thing and people love to say, "I told you so."
Does absolute power by singular being or faction corrupt? Does the fact that cult leaders or councils are generally unchecked in their groups, while at the same time their power is actually amassed by and totally dependent on the minds they recruit give this ponderance any credence? If the group leaders are only empowered by their following then it makes perfect sense for them to try to stay on top of them. Strict rules, hazing, or tests would be helpful, as well
as the utilization of peer pressure. The fear of the disapproving stares of ones peers can be a terrible thing and the fact that you do do not know what they are capable of could be terrifying. The belief, whether it's unfounded or not, that no one will back you up for defying the leader or leaders is a strong deterrent. Perhaps a child spurned often by an intimidating, bully of a parent would have a tell that the cultist leader could exploit? Or could someone simply be born into a cult?
At one time I did my best to keep my head down while at home, because someone was always drunk and any disobedience or misunderstanding was dealt with by yelling and throwing things. For most of my life I was deafly scared to look anyone in the eyes for fear that they would somehow take offense and verbally assault me. It made my first jobs horrific at times. I did things that I didn't want to do and even though I was scared, I went to work every day, because it was expected of me. In fact I did not stop freaking out around people until I moved away from my aforementioned tormenter, otherwise known as dad. In tangent with my mom, who lied and manipulated me to do exactly what would not make him angry, I always thought that I was the weird one. I doubted my reasoning, thoughts, and even my mind sometimes, because she would go as far as gaslighting. She essentially held herself hostage, as she claimed he would hurt her if my siblings or I did anything he didn't like. Of course that was just apart of life until I moved out of their house, which I did as soon as I could. Years later however, after I finally moved far away I realized just how severe things were.
Before moving far away I had spawned and would do the "right thing", and bring my children to see their grandparents. Seeing my dad mean-mug them anytime he felt slighted in the least or felt that they were being disrespectful to my mom, who did nothing but give them candy and encourage them to have fun and do whatever, until he was around caused a hate to grow inside me. My mom then played the perfect victim, head down and looking way more tired than she just had until he left. He went as far as to shame them for the braids in their hair and even though I didn't catch it at first, my mom began taking down their hair any time she got the chance. Being a mom this hurt me more than my parents doing like things to my siblings and myself. They were hurting my kids and I had to figure out a way to stand up to my bullies and get over my shameful agreeableness once and for all. I had been trained to doubt every decision or thought I made and this was the root cause of it. I did stop visiting as much.
It didn't feel like what I would call cult-like until later. I used to just nod at whatever they were saying and act accordingly to any news that I heard. I generally did this as I am naturally a very nice and submissive person, but after I moved away and began speaking with members of my extended family I realized that my parents had lied about almost everything to do with them. My family wasn't the racists that my mom had painted to try and make it okay for my dad to be that way and my cousin wasn't a horrible parent. Nor was my aunt a horrible person determined to ruin my mom's life at her every move. These people may have their faults, but they were sensible and accepting. It was almost a shock to not be enveloped in judgement, hatred, and gossip.
Eventually my parents visited and I stopped acting shocked or interested when they spouted what I then knew to be lies. That was a problem. I could feel it in the air. It was simply not enough that I ignored whatever horrible, divisive thing I was being told, much less if I tried to say it could have been a misunderstanding or that they may have their reasons. Then I began just walking away when they kept fishing for me to agree with them and demonize someone else. Family members that they were just a few minutes ago interacting with "cordially," they would swoop on as if they were vultures in search of easy prey and I was supposed to validate their feelings and judgement.
Another problem. Now not that their behavior particularly needed any religion to be cult-like, I mean they shamed me for not going with their group which was essentially how I was raised to be, but they were also new, reborn again "christians". So they judged relentlessly, but if I did ever try to point that out, then they would indignantly exclaim that they were supposed to sin, because only Jesus was meant to be perfect. I think this is were the problem with self-righteousness comes in. As someone that has no problems with anyone's beliefs and had been dabbling with the idea of going to church, this was very off-putting.
So, we have the unholy adoration which was essentially what my mom had for my dad and tried to force onto her children. It did work well when we were children, what with the forced peer pressure, judgement and bullying, but later the perverted religious practices from the bible and even using "honor thy mother and father" as the end all, be all of the rules of life was too much.
Is it normal for children to be born into "puritanical" cults, be they pure and traditional, perverted and self-serving, or purely ideological fads from the present culture? And if so.....what happens to the kids that never realize that they are in one? That never truly find themselves-whether that means escaping their family, peers, or whatever organization they are recruited to under false pretenses.
I know that life gets complicated. Not every child has parents and not every parent gives a flip about their children. As a matter of fact most people let the state i.e. public or private or charter or religious schools raise their children. Likewise so many parents are enthralled by some ideology or the other and are totalitarian when it comes to their spawn. I didn't notice that I was stuck in some kind of weird boxed off world until I found some distance. I knew that there were irregularities between the actions of my parents and their words, but I was so used to letting things go to protect my mom. I did horrible things to "protect" my mom. Cognitive dissonance is really a thing. During that time of distance I got used to telling the truth and being freer and more comfortable overall...I mean after I visited some cousins that weren't at all the monsters that my parents had accused them of being I couldn't ignore the feelings of wrongness any longer. It was because I had a chance to get used to not letting things go, to not complying to nonsense, to not judging people who's stories I had no idea about, and not letting myself be lied to(something that involved self-esteem and being in an environment that I wasn't constantly reminded of my shortcomings and failures) that I defaulted into causing drama in the face of absolute tyranny....by not feeding false, emotion-driven, drama.
It's hard, but it is possible to stand up for the truth and what's right and it's possible for an overly agreeable person to "be mean." It's not always obvious who is playing you. Spoiler: if you can't question something or even introduce a different narrative to a subject then you are not allowed to be yourself**. You are in fact being dictated and if your oppressor is playing the field then you are probably being used to cause more negativity and harm. Is it wrong or oppressive of me to think that everyone should be able to think and feel for themselves as long as they are not causing any undo suffering and that every pawn should get to decide whether it wants to be used, who it wants to be used by, and if it wants to be a pawn anyway? Of course the pawn has the perks of being taken care of to the extent the king sees fit, likewise it is sacrificed when the king sees fit......
*When I say, "still a child" I do not mean children specifically and I not mean to insult. There are an inconceivable many admitted adults that have no idea what they want to do with their time. They do not know themselves.
**When I say, "be yourself" I mean to be able to react and behave calmly. To get to think about things and situations in accordance to your own morals and not with the pressure of placating somebody else.