Those who know me will be aware that I’m an atheist as a result of a mindset which requires proof over pure faith. I have nothing against religion per se, my girlfriend is Catholic, and I see benefits in the moral codes which those who are members of religions follow. I’ve even been known to go to church on occasion, and not just for weddings and funerals. No, I enjoy a good sing and the lovely toasty feeling that I get in the soles of my feet…
What I don’t like are religious extremists (those who will interpret the teachings of their chosen religious code for their own end) and cults. As is often the case a quick google of “definition of ” brings you straight to Wikipedia, which defines a cult as follows:
The word cult in current popular usage usually refers to a new religious movement or other group whose beliefs or practices are considered abnormal or bizarre
This gives rise to a couple of questions. Firstly, why is a “new religious movement” needed to worship someone who lived over two thousand years ago and is well represented by other, more established and more accessible religions? Secondly, and appreciating the the definition allows for a degree of subjectivity, why do cults have “beliefs or practices are considered abnormal or bizarre”?
It is further investigation into the culture of cults which identifies why they exist and why they have beliefs and / or practices which may not exist within mainstream religions.
Most religions require the followers to adhere to certain practices and to maintain a required standard of personal conduct. For example, taking communion within Christianity, remaining kosher as a Jew and the avoidance of alcohol and other stimuli within Islam.
These seem to do little to have a detrimental impact upon the members of a religion (apart from bacon withdrawal). Where a cult may differ is in the invasive nature of the practices within a follower’s life. Wikipedia explains these practices as “Mind Control”:
1. People are put in physical or emotionally distressing situations;
2. Their problems are reduced to one simple explanation, which is repeatedly emphasized;
3. They receive what seems to be unconditional love, acceptance, and attention from a charismatic leader or group;
4. They get a new identity based on the group;
5. They are subject to entrapment (isolation from friends, relatives and the mainstream culture) and their access to information is severely controlled.
One point which I personally think has not been included within this list is the financial cost of being a member of a cult. If we look at the better-known cults, the majority have a requirement for a payment to the organisation in order for the members to remain in good standing with the church. This can lead in certain cases to the members being placed in “emotionally distressing situations”, specifically when the payment to the church is required from gross income and does not take the ability of members to take care of themselves financially following that payment. The payment must be made irrespective of whether it means that you’re unable to feed your family.
Cult members often retract socially from their friends and family. They have new “friends” and “family” within the church, people who share their beliefs, people who the church would encourage them to mix with. I’ve mentioned previously that my girlfriend is Catholic, yet her church is happy for us to mix, and places no pressure on me to become a member of the church. Surely acceptance and understanding are the main teachings of any religion?
It’s the “entrapment” which is most concerning however. Again, a quick google will provide any number of results giving us stories of people who describe their “escape” from a cult, how their families have disowned them following their religious separation, how religion seems to be more important than family. Why do cults require that family members become estranged, purely because one member is no longer a member of the cult?
I only tend to blog about things that concern me, things which cause real distress; this blog is no exception. I have a friend who has become a member of a cult, yes we make light of the situation, we have banter about his new religion, but I’m left questioning how healthy their relationship with their religion is.
I value the comfort, loyalty, friendship and love of my personal relationships over everything else in my life, and like to think that if those who I’m close to need me, they know that I’m there for them. It’s distressing to me that what should be the most important day in someone’s life is the day on which their religion will exclude the majority of their family and friends from celebrating with them.
It’s fairly public knowledge that the last couple of years have been rough for me, something that I blame myself for in getting married too quickly after meeting someone. Going from the start of a relationship to marriage is not something to be rushed, especially when there’s a likelihood that children will be involved.
This blog has been written in one hit, between meetings. Some of the grammar may be wrong, there may be spelling mistakes, but those are nothing in comparison to the mistakes which I’m encouraging someone else to avoid. I may hurt some feelings by posting this, but it’s meant with good intent.