Reason for a New Age

The Cult

Posted by publius2point0 on 2010/04/25

A cult is, by definition, a group with extreme or unusual ideas (compared to the rest of the society it exists in). This doesn’t particularly mean that it will remain extreme or unusual; any great movement was likely started as a cult like Christianity, Marxism, Fascism, or Republicanism.

You might be surprised to know that cults a fairly common thing. Within the modern US there is as many as 5000 independent cults actively operating. I presume that most of these are New Age sorts of organizations, but more importantly to our discussion is pointing out that a cult is not necessarily a religious group. The Manson Family, for example, was a cult which believed that there would be a race war in the near future; Or Tatenokai (Shield Society), lead by author Yukio Mishima with a belief that Japan needed to return to a militaristic foundation. But you are probably not aware of them because, simply, most of them are lame. It’s the varying reasons for that lameness, however, that makes this an interesting topic.

Before a cult has found any sort of mainstream support, it was almost certainly founded by a single individual. The desire to start a cult generally has to do with his feeling that a movement of some sort is necessary in modern society. More often than not this is because he feels that he and his needs have been ignored or repressed by the world around him. This may be to some extent justified, or it may be more a need for attention. More often it is the latter and even when it is the former, that is just incidental to the man’s desire for attention. There are very few cases of a need for a leader to arise and that leader being picked from amongst his fellows as the most reasonable and trusted of all of them and being imbued with the power to lead them. Far, far more often a movement is started by a single man (plus or minus a girlfriend or wife) who goes out and recruits people to his cause. He may or may not claim divine revelation at this point.

But the thing is, it is hard to assemble a strong support if your views are strange and extreme. The sort of person with strange and extreme ideas who desires attention and followers is generally unlikely to be particularly sane nor methodical. Generally this results in a small crew of him, his girlfriend, and a random assortment of further followers traveling about ranting about strange things, or getting together once a week to rant in private, come up with silly rituals, and get drunk or do drugs.

If he is a bit more organized or militaristic he might instead focus on building a fortress and he and his followers take up life there, inbreeding and plotting to take over the nation.

I’m not sure how many groups there are in the US of militaristic, often nationalist cults collecting arms and preparing for war in some impromptu commune in the forest. But the thing to make note of is that they certainly do exist, and yet seem to never actually do anything.

With most cults being started by attention seekers, lunatics, and the incompetent, I would postulate that there is still enough of a subconscious realization that trying to take over the nation would simply get you killed, or that trying to demonstrate that you were God incarnate would simply lead to you having to appear before a far more skeptical audience and make a fool of yourself as you tried to prove your powers. And that same subconscious realization tells you that you’re actually doing pretty good as the big man of a group of devoted followers. You have your choice of women, including your own daughters, everyone around you thinks that you’re the smartest and wisest person ever, and all you have to do to maintain this is to bluster about “the time” being just ever so slightly in the ambiguously near future which is not now. Everyone else accepts this because deep in their subconscious they don’t want to get shot nor be shown to be lunatics either. The status quo is a nice and safe place to rest.

The Move from Cult to Acceptance

While a cult is nearly always started by a lunatic or attention seeker, at least in the case of the latter, this doesn’t mean that he can’t be fairly successful. Mao Zedong, for example, was highly competent at both military and political matters. Though of course as soon as he achieved some amount of success, he had his photo plastered on every wall in sight and had a few palaces built for himself.

More often though, an idea will succeed because one of its believers happens to be far more skillful and intelligent than the originator. While the people who start cults are generally creepy bastards, the people who join cults are fairly often actually decently respectable and seemingly intelligent people. I’ve seen the reason for this suggested as being that when people are in a dark time in their life, some have a hard time turning down any offer of warmth and care from a group of strangers (like a cult), and then once they are in and dependent on the cult as their surrogate family, the ability for people to convince themselves of anything kicks in. (See the series on Evolution, Instinct, and People.) This person then, being far less insane, and of high intelligence, should he have a chance to take the reins of the cult can actually advertise and organize it into an effective and expanding fleet. Examples of this might include Paul of Tarsus, Malcom X, Sidney Rigdon, and David Miscavige.

And on the rare occasion, the original cult is more-or-less co-opted by the rest of society because society really is felt to be in a poor state by the masses, not just those at the lunatic fringe, and the cult happens to be one of the sort closest to the idea that is in vogue. You will note, for example, that of the names listed as leaders of the Sons of Liberty movement (i.e a series of cults), you likely recognize very few of them. Samuel Adams, cousin of John Adams, for example was likely fairly loony and over-the-top. And in fact, the Sons of Liberty were even still a much tamer and sane version of The Loyal Nine. None of them ended up having any part in the following revolution nor the government of the eventual nation because, most likely, they were incompetent and insane. Indeed, it seems that the longest blurb I was able to find about them was itself written by a person of similar ilk.

The Cultist and Terrorism

Anyone who has seen the movie In The Name of the Father will be aware of the fact that the IRA was bombing people in the 1970s. You might ask yourself then, when it was that Ireland won and established itself as its own separate nation. The answer, in case you don’t know, is 1922.

The original organization which won the independence of Ireland started at earliest in 1914 and had within an 8 year period won independence from a much larger and more prosperous nation. Since that time, IRA remnants and new IRA organizations have come and gone, slowly losing the competence and genuine motive to continue. For example, if we look at the Saor Éire or the Saor Uladh you will note that their nominal goal of fighting the British seems to have been put on the burner in return for holding up banks and making off with money. If you look at the militaristic, nationalist sorts hiding out in fortresses in the US, when you do hear about them it is also generally because they have pulled a heist of some sort.

While a cultist group may cause problems and proclaim itself as revolutionaries or terrorists, the truth is that they are many times more bluster than they are bite. They cause problems because they are crazy and armed, but they are far too disorganized, far too scared, and far too interested in the cult of self to dedicate themselves to a committed and competent attack on their target.

Now, this isn’t to say that the movement can’t be co-opted, nor that one of the followers can’t show himself to be a real and successful leader, but more often than not you would do just as well to ignore any real threat as arising from that group. Even if, at worst, they blow up a hot dog stand every few years, killing a few people, this act of “terror” still pales compared to the number of people hit by a bolt of lightning so far as a real threat is posed. If you look at Iraq and the problems of stabilizing the nation after the fall of Saddam Hussein, the issue was Insurgents (i.e large, popular movements) not Al-Qaeda. It’s quite likely that the 9/11 attack was planned and undertaken by the Hamburg Cell independently of Osama Bin Laden. Mohamed Atta was likely the Malcom X/Sidney Rigdon sort of rare believer who was smart, charismatic, and motivated enough to actually move ahead in his beliefs rather than feeling happy blustering a bit and maintaining the status quo.

A competent and motivated leader, like that of the original IRA, will either have succeeded or failed in his goals within a space of a few years. You will know when the battle has started and you will know when the war has ended. There will be a clear and convincing strategy for success and an organized and effective apparatus for controlling the forces will be apparent. I am perhaps too out of the loop from day-to-day news to have been able to note such a semblance of organization and drive on the part of Al-Qaeda and other such terrorist organizations, but I suspect that I am correct in the belief that Osama has largely been slightly better at self-promotion than others of his type, but any real threat to America, Europe, or the rest of the Middle East comes from far more organized and coordinated organizations — like governments.

Saor Éire


4 Responses to “The Cult”

  1. Roberta said

    This is an interesting subject. First off, I do agree that the biggest threat to any free peoples are governments (many times their own governments) not the boogey man of a cult leader, terrorist, or any of that ilk. A cult leader or terrorist can be thought of like a great white shark in the water: it can do a lot of damage to a few, but little to many. But an out-of-control government can do a lot of damage to many and leave unscathed only a few.

    Even though I am not a religious person in any way — maybe even only nominally a Christian, having been baptised a Methodist as a baby, but never really having attended church — I could even be categorized an agnostic — I do find the ‘historical’ Jesus an interesting character since his very existence on this earth has probably done more to shape the future of most countries/people — for good or ill depending on one’s particular perspective and/or beliefs. If nothing else, the total conversion of the mighty Roman empire to Christianity is a testiment to that contention and, from there, Christianity went on to dominate and influence most of the rest of the world for two thousand years. Today, we have Islam challenging Christianity as the dominant religion, and of course we have strong secular, political viewpoints challenging as well: Socialism/Marxism, libertarianism, fascism, etc.

    I want to challenge your assertion that Jesus was a cult leader, as you define it, in that the historical Israel had many of these types of characters (they were called prophets but their real purpose was to challenge the established political order and so were an important counterpoint to an overbearing governement — they were almost more political than religious — even though, obviously, there were religious components as you couldn’t get away from that in ancient societies).

    However, for argument sake, if one were to classify Jesus as originator of a cult, you categorized the original cult leader as a sort of creepy bastard, a loony, wild-eyed sort of person, whereas the follow-on person of a cult which eventually becomes successful is the smart, methodical person who understands marketing. I think that you are missing a somewhat important component in successful cultism: I do believe that you’re right in one way — that almost all cults start with a crazy sort with wild ideas and most never get off the ground because they are so crazy and wild-eyed and the original leader really is a loon. In the case of Jesus, though, Jesus was not the originator of his particular ‘cult’; he had a mentor who could really be said to be the original ‘cult leader’: John the Baptist.

    John baptized Jesus — thereby making Jesus John’s disciple — and several of Jesus’s later disciples were also at first disciples of John the Baptist, most notably Peter. John the Baptist was considered ‘the more dangerous and well-known’ of the dissidents at the time; he was arrested and beheaded by Herod Antipas, the ruler of the Roman Jewish state because of fear of a mass rebellion under his considerable influence. After John’s execution, Jesus came to the fore. It could be stated that John the Baptist was the original ‘cult leader’ and that Jesus was more like ‘Mohammed Atta’ in that Mohammed Atta was the ‘martyr’ who sparked the current Islamic Jihadism that the world is experiencing right now as a result of his ‘martyrdom.’ Jesus, as well, knew and planned that he was going to die when he entered Jerusalem on that Passover Day of 30 AD. He was provacative on purpose, and his purpose was to die a martyr with public crucifixion which was the Roman way of executing political dissidents. Like Mohammed Atta who died ‘in a big way’ to jump start the radical Islamic Jihadism movement, Jesus knew he needed to die ‘in a big way’ in order to jump start his form of radical change — initially started by John the Baptist.

    Although, lest someone read this and think that I am saying that Jesus is in any way compared to a horrific murderer like Mohammed Atta, let me say that ‘NO!’ of course not! I am merely saying that, in my argument as to whether Jesus was a loony, wild-eyed cult leader or not… that he wasn’t. Perhaps, the cult ‘originator’ was John the Baptist (who lived in the desert in a cave, had many disciples and baptised people in the Jordan River and subsisted by eating locusts and wild honey) and that Jesus was the ‘Mohammed Atta’ of his/John’s particular movement. In other words, Jesus was the smart, charismatic one who was motivated enough to move ahead in his beliefs — even to the point of becoming a martyr — rather than feeling happy blustering and maintaining the status quo.

    Let it be said that this is the ONLY way that Jesus could ever be compared in any way to Mohammed Atta! And, in fact, now that I have done that…I feel like I need to go and take a shower!

    • Firstly, let me point out that my point is not that cultists are terrorists. My point was that statistically speaking cultists are incompetents, cowards, crazies, and/or egomaniacs. Anyone who is successful in just about anything is statistically highly unlikely to be the founder of a cult.

      The only source of information about Jesus is the works of people who were believers, written decades or centuries after he lived. The closest thing that exists to a description of him from anyone outside of the church is Celsus, writing around 170 AD (Jesus died around 30 AD).

      So the first thing to note is that no one outside of Jesus’ circle seems to have even heard of Jesus during his own lifetime, and in fact no one felt it worth mentioning him or his followers until almost 150 years later.

      The description that Celsus leaves us with is, indeed, of a creepy bastard:

      Chaldeans [the three kings] are spoken of by Jesus as having been induced to come to him at his birth, and to worship him while yet an infant as a god, and to have made this known to Herod the tetrarch. Herod sent and slew all the infants that had been born about the same time, thinking that in this way he would ensure his death among the others; and he was led to do this through fear that, if Jesus lived to a sufficient age, he would obtain the throne. [Matthew 2:16.] But if, then, this was done in order that you might not reign in his stead when you had grown to man’s estate; why, after you did reach that estate, did you not become a king? Why instead do you, the son of God, wander about in so mean a condition, hiding yourself through fear, and leading a miserable life up and down? Jesus having gathered around him ten or eleven persons of notorious character, the very wickedest of tax-gatherers and sailors, fled in company with them from place to place, and obtained his living in a shameful and importunate manner. In company with your disciples you go and hide yourself in different places!

      If you read the account of Jesus’ death in the Bible, you will find that the picture presented even there is not all that admirable once you dump anything magical. Matthew tells it that Jesus walked up to a group of merchants and started to let their cattle go running free, breaking the items they were selling. When the local officials appeared to get rid of Jesus, he cussed them out and ranted like a loony, “You blind guides! You remove the smallest insect from your food. But you swallow a whole camel! How terrible for you, teachers of the law and Pharisees! You pretenders! You clean the outside of the cup and dish. But on the inside you are full of greed. You only want to satisfy yourselves. You nest of poisonous snakes! How will you escape from being sentenced to hell?” Walking through the downtown area of a major city every day, I can certainly envision any of the various homeless crazies shouting much the same thing when getting tossed out of Starbucks. Anyone else, not so much, and particularly not the all-loving all-accepting ideal of benevolence that is Jesus.

      For various reasons, I don’t think that the exchange with the traders at the market was what led to Jesus’ trial, so let’s turn to the Gospel of John and the Festival of Dedication (starting at 10-22). The story begins with the general populace heckling Jesus for making grand claims without proving any of it. Now Jesus (according to his decades later biographers) made a witty repartee that sounds very enlightened and wise. Personally, I doubt that this is accurate because the response to his enlightened and wise response is that people start pelting him with stones and telling him to stop claiming that he’s God on Earth. I would tend to believe that the reason they give for stoning him is exactly what they say it is. Again, Jesus makes a noble and benevolent speech…! Just to be fleeing from the crowd and the authorities the very next sentence.

      After this point, Jesus seems to have gone into hiding in Bethany, specifically at their compound at the base of the Mount of Olives. The area of Bethany was essentially the ghettos and the area behind the mountain was particularly bad because the mountain blocked out the sight of the area from the nicer areas of town, so they tended to push all the bad stuff in that direction.

      Now, when finally an arrest warrant went out, one of Jesus few followers turned him in. But, the patrols who showed up to grab him had no idea who Jesus even was; Judas had to point him out as the police arrived. When they tried to take Jesus, apparently Jesus had a full-time bodyguard who tried to hack off one of the policeman’s head.

      Instantaneously, all of Jesus followers except (reputedly) Peter fled the scene and in fact fled Jerusalem, denying knowing Jesus.

      When Jesus went up on trial, there were scores of people (“false witnesses”, the Bible denounces) who testified against him, but none who testified on his behalf. When someone came up to ask Peter if he knew Jesus, Peter swore up and down that he had no idea who the man was, and fled Jerusalem himself.

      After Jesus had then been convicted, all the people who were to be executed that week went before the public, with a chance to be voted to be spared. The general masses chose some other guy to be saved. Those who even recognized Jesus simply made fun of him for calling himself the King of the Jews.

      Now while it does make sense for people to flee when execution possibly awaits, at the same time there isn’t a strong sense of loyalty in any of this. There isn’t a strong sense that Jesus had a lot of confidence in his power nor in his personal safety (despite, theoretically, looking forward to and accepting his own execution). There isn’t a strong sense that anyone outside of his own small crew of followers that anyone at all respected him, if they even knew him. And if anything, whenever he spoke it simply annoyed or antagonized everyone around him. Looking at what occurs, there’s no reason to believe that Jesus was actually all that smooth a talker. The Bible might record a fine and reasonable speech, but who knows whether any of that actually came from Jesus. It’s far more likely that Paul or one of his followers wrote it decades later, or that Peter recalled something that John the Baptist had once said from when he was still a follower of John the Baptist (before he was a follower of Jesus, which was before he was a follower of James the Just, which was before he was a follower of Paul of Tarsus).

      If you go by the wisdom of trusting what a person does, not what he says, I advise looking at the Bible in the same light. If it sounds like Jesus was saying something enlightened and intellectual, but people don’t react like it, that’s probably because he didn’t. If the Bible says that Jesus performed some magic but everyone around him is skeptical or throws stones at him, that’s probably because it wasn’t a very convincing demonstration. If Jesus is said to be looking forward to his death, but in truth seems to be hiding out in the depths of his stronghold for a few weeks after the police started searching for him, it’s pretty unlikely that he was actually looking forward to or expecting such a thing to have happened to him.

      • Roberta said

        You will find this an interesting link on whether Jesus actually existed or not. Although there are people who believe that he did exist, and others who do not, it sppears that, for the most part, even totally secular historians do believe that a person by the name of Jesus did exist and started the ‘cult’ of Christianity, or maybe continued it after the execution of John the Baptist. The most famous and most oft cited historian of non-Christian roots who mentioned Jesus in his history of ancient Rome, was Josephus,a Jewish historian well-integrated into Roman society who was born about 7 years after Jesus’s death. Even though it is true that Josephus actually did not live during the time of Jesus, he lived well within living memory of Jesus and certainly knew people who had personally known Jesus, or, at least those people had told Josephus that they had known him as, certainly, Josephus thought that he had existed as a real person. Who really knows, though — this has been an ongoing discussion for hundreds of years!

      • Whether Josephus mentions Jesus or not is a matter of debate. There’s a high probability that at least half of what Josephus wrote about Jesus was an interpolation by the later Christian church — presumably destroying works which didn’t conform at the same time. It’s also decently likely that the original text may have referred to a different person.

        It all might have been created from thin air, expanded from a list-like mention, or been the result of switching names. In the two centuries following Josephus’ writings, no one felt any particular need to reference Josephus as a source — and this was at a time when any one work was either the definitive work or there simply was no work on the subject at all — either because he didn’t mention the early church, or because what he said was so scanty and trivial that quoting him offered nothing of value.

        And even accepting what Josephus does say:

        “The brief and compact character of the Testimonium stands in stark contrast to Josephus’ more voluminous detailing of other individuals, even including those of minor importance; for example, Josephus’ account of John the Baptist and his death, describes his virtues, the theology associated with his baptismal practices, his oratorial skills, that John’s influence was so great that Herod was afraid of John’s ability to incite the people to rebel against his regime, the circumstances of his death, and the belief that the destruction of Herod’s army was a divine punishment for Herod’s slaughter of John” More info

        I’d suggest reading the following for a treatise on how provable Jesus is:

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