Sunday, February 13, 2011

Cults: Scraping the Bottom of the Spiritual Barrel

"I was in a cult for 34 years. Everyone else could see it. I don't know why I couldn't... "

The above is a quote from Paul Haggis; Oscar winning movie director and thirty-four year devotee of the Church of Scientology. His story as to why he left the church as well as some choice bad mouthing of the church hierarchy appeared in New Yorker magazine this week. He expects fall out since the good folks who run Scientology don’t tolerate apostates well, and have long memories.

I imagine Haggis’ quote is uttered at sometime or other by every cult escapee. Why couldn’t he / they see what the rest of us could? What draws otherwise intelligent, productive and mentally stable people to devote their lives; donate their fortunes; accept isolation from not cultist family members; and accept the most transparently bizarre claims of known charlatans, madman and spiritual fanatics? There are a number of theories espoused by psychiatric medical professionals that purport to explain this phenomenon. I won’t rehash them here.

But what’s important is this: that same statement of incredulity made by Haggis could be and likely has been uttered by every escapee from any cult, religion, or spiritual community. After all, what makes a cult different than a religion? Typically the answer is the size of the group’s bank account and cash flow. And what makes an eastern ascetic guru who is credited by his adherents with having vast knowledge and insights and thus can provide them with a path to unique spiritual knowledge different from praying to a disembodied man-god to give one health, wealth and guidance; or asking some priest for forgiveness through penance? Not much.

The Romans perceived early Christians as cultists. No doubt main stream Christian sects would take umbrage with that label now. That can be attributed to their lack of understanding of the word which in fact defines the three major religions precisely.

On the other hand those same Christians are quick to dismiss Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormon, Santeria, Christian Science and other offshoots of Christianity as cults, using the word as an epithet - just as they all (indeed we all) dismiss Scientology as a cult. Never do they see their own “... particular system of religious worship, especially with reference to its rites and ceremonies.” as a cult.

I’ll admit to a similar prejudice, albeit for different reasons. I tend to reserve the term cult to describe all new age “higher power / enlightenment seeking” movements and all of the 19th century Christian hybrid religions. I have no basis for that, since Catholicism and the protestant sects are as well defined as cults as are any of them according to definition. But I justify the difference because by the 19th century, and certainly by the 20th, the progression of human experience should have by now rendered the invention of new nonsensical, non-material, irrational movements obsolete.

One could almost [note I said almost] forgive mainstream religionists for accepting Bronze Age,1st century, and 7th century supernaturalism. Developed by primitive thinking peoples and ingrained into succeeding generations by indoctrination it’s a virus that spreads and sustains itself. But I can’t even feign anything approaching understanding for people who embrace modernistic supernatural fictions, fallacies, frauds and fantasy. They have abandoned ancient pre-scientific ignorance and blind faith, replacing it with a modern version of stupidity.

Dig into the dross at the bottom of the barrel of religion, and just below the scum layer of fundamentalist religionists you’ll find cultists.


xenocephalus said...

Mr. Hump,

Great article in the New Yorker as you site! I was amazed at how often the legal system failed in its investigation and enforcement of obvious crimes related to scientology. For some time, I have answered the question "What religion do you belong to?" with "None, but I hear that flesh-eating and blood-drinking cult is very popular." Their eyes get wide until they figure out I'm talking about Christianity and communion. Then I either get laughed or sneered at. I did have one believer actually admit, "You know, that is kind of creepy when you think about it."!!!


NewEnglandBob said...

Xenocephalus: Almost all religions are creepy if you think about them.

Anonymous said...

What's with the cross on the podium? Scientology has nothing to do with christianity. Is this some lame attempt at making people beleive that it's mainstream?

Their leader, David Miscavige, is a sick and twisted psychopathic troll.
They actually call L.Ron Hubbards' science fiction books "scripture". It's truly laughable.

“If a man really wants to make a million dollars, the best way would be to start his own religion.” — L.Ron Hubbard

All Hail Xenu!

Joyce said...

If I can give my view as a Christfollower (which I know I don't have to ask permission b/c you've always graciously allowed me to chime in, not just as a Christfollower but as a friend), I'd like to explain why we 'mainstream' Christians believe these other offshoots of Christianity, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormon, Santeria, Christian Science, Westboro Baptist church and others as cults. I am writing this not to defend my own beliefs, but to explain why we dismiss these other religions.

As a Bible believing Christfollower, I believe what the Bible says -- some of it told in figurative stories (such as parables, the Song of Solomon, etc.) and much of it literally. I gladly accept other Christfollowers in mainstream Christian religions such as Methodists, Pentecostals (although I've seen some pretty dangerous practices in some of the more extreme Pentecostal churches, particularly the health/wealth teachings and the accusations of having unconfessed sin in your life and that's not why you are healed, as well as extreme emotionalism that they consider to be the Holy Spirit moving), Baptists, Lutherans, Calvary Chapel, Assemblies of God, and although I have met many true Christians in the Catholic Church, the Catholic Church doesn't believe that Jesus is our Mediator but Mary is, even though the Bible calls Jesus our Mediator, and they have misinterpreted Elisabeth's calling Mary 'blessed' (a simple Greek lexicon would explain what blessed means in that text; heck, in the sermon on the Mount, Jesus calls all of us blessed!)and their tendancies to add extra-biblical dogma that is no where in the Bible). I also don't believe in the literal changing of wine and bread into blood and flesh and can't find anything in the Bible to support that weird thinking. Jesus gave wine and bread and said, "Do this in memory of me." I'm not totally against the use of confession but not in the way that the Catholics use it. I do believe that confession is good for the soul and helps you to let go and move on. Any self-help group such as AA (or any secular group that's similar)will tell you the same.

There are many churches that abuse. I've belonged to one of them. They were into shepherding, which means that any major (or sometimes even minor) decision had to be 'blessed' by the pastors and I had to be accountable to them. I definitely call many of their tactics 'cultic'. When I finally made my decision to do what I had decided to do, I was told that I was 'no longer under their covering'. I was terrified at first but was fortunate enough to have good people around me that supported my decision and helped me recover from walking in fear.

The same applies to the other sects that you mentioned. The Bible says that you shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it. The JWs have rewritten and deleted many Bible words. The Mormons have added other books which they consider scripture. Likewise have Christian Scientists. Santeria, like Catholism, focuses on saints rather than biblical teachings. And although you didn't mention Westboro Baptist Church, I think that we can all agree that they are a cult in a most disgusting way.

Do I think that these people (with the exception of WBC) are evil? No. I believe that they are misled (in the same way that you think that I am misled).

But I hope that my Christian view may explain a little bit on why I consider some of these other religions cults.

That's my view and I'm sticking with it. :-)

Dromedary Hump said...

Thanks for that.

Of course you are seeing this from only one perspective: that of your preferred religious position.

Paul added many words to what Jesus said. Jesus never said abandon the Hebraic laws. He never said give up circumcison, kosher food, wearing mixed fibre clothes, killing your unruly child, etc.

Jesus never said that women should not preach, and should remain silent. The list goes on ad nauseum.

So if the addition or subtraction of words to Jesus' teachings/sayings renders that sect a "cult", it includes every Christian denomination that follows the Bible beyond the very few words of Jesus. It includes yours.

Secondly, if you look up the definition of the word cult, you'll see it precisely mirrors main stream Christian doctrine. Thus, while I explain why I call scientology a cult, it could as well apply to your church; if the english language is to be respected.

Ross said...

DH, are you trying to say that the apostle Paul corrupted Jesus's teachings?

Just some more random questions:

Are you suggesting that Jesus would condone the killing of children?

Are you aware of Romans, Corinthians, and Galatians? In each of these epistles Paul deals with problems of legalism and the extent to which the Law is binding upon the Christian's life.

NewEnglandBob said...

Ross, do you realize that the New Testament is a fairy tale and that Jesus never existed? All these stories came from other cultures.

Dromedary Hump said...


Corrupted Jesus teaachings? Not only corrupted, he redacted, changed, altered and reinvented Jesus.

I am sayig that Jesus on three occassions (Luke 16, Matthew 5, John 10, et al)said that those who would break the least of the laws will be called the last among men.

He was a Jew, and as such would have been familiar with the 613 laws of the Tanakh. While hemayhave interpreted the laws differently than the Pharses, he did not negate he clearly stated. Thus, YES... stoning of a child who was rebellious/ disrespectful to his parents would indeed have been endorsed by Jesus. (Mark 7).

The fact this doesn't fit in with your preferred interpretation of Jesus the Man-god is simply indicative of the effect Paul had on his image, who was not the historical jesus.

Yes, Paul spent lots of time and effort mealy mouthing and justifying and apologizing for his abandonment of Jesus' directives on the law. That you see this as some kind of endorsement of from jesus or satisfactory defense of Paul's direction of the cult is evidence of your having more devotion to Paul than to Jesus.

But this isn't your fault. While Thomas Jefferson could discern where the scripture was corrupted by early cult leaders, and thus created his own bible with ONLY the words of Jesus, very few Christians are willing to, or capabile of, separating the two. Christianity has become Paulism.

Ross said...

DH, Jefferson was more deist than Christian. Source: The Trivialization of God: The Dangerous Illusion of a Manageable Deity. Colorado Springs, CO: Navpress, 1995. p. 47.

Dromedary Hump said...


I am very much aware of Jefferson's deism. That's not the question. My reference was to his Jefferson Bible which you can read about anywhere on the net. Here's a link:

My point was clear: Jefferson perceived Jesus as a wise teacher and took only his words from the Bible ...leaving behind all the dogma, superstitional miracles, and Paul's rewrite of jesus' intent and words... all of which were "unauthorized additions" (if you will) to Jesus' own words and intent of his ministry.

Now, i notice that Jefferson was the only point you picked out from my rather extensive post which responded toyour questions. I'll assume that my replies are accepted as is, or that you are unprepared/unwilling to refute them.

Ross said...

No, I just didn't have time to respond earlier. I just read through Mark 7 and can't find any verses that support your argument there. Thinking about the gospels, I can't see anything in them that supports this line of reasoning either.

The first verse that popped into my head when I read your initial response was Luke 17:2 (cf Luke 10:21, Matthew 18:6, Mark 18:24). I also think of all the children Jesus healed (Luke 8:41-42, 49-56, John 4:46-54, (Matthew 17:14-20, Mark 9:17-29, Luke 9:37-43). In the stories of feeding multitudes, children aren't named, but they were there. These passages have layers of meaning, but to me, they also show that Jesus loved children.

Obviously you see things differently.

In short, disagree with you. As a personal project, to resolve this issue in my own mind, I'm going to go off and do a topical study about Jesus, his attitudes towards children, and what he taught about how they should be treated.

If you discount the apostle Paul, this also means discounting most of the NT as well. I would add that the other apostles accepted Paul as one of their own, and his writings as Scripture (Galatians 2:1-10, 2 Peter 3:16). In one sense your objection is nothing new. Paul had to defend his apostolic credentials against his opponents in his second letter to the Corinthian church (2 Corinthians 11 & 12). By nature, Paul was a humble man, but was forced to boast because of his opponents undermining his work.

Ross said...

NewEnglandBob, is your avatar pic Bonzo from the Ronald Reagan film Bedtime for Bonzo (1951)? Next time I visit this blog I'm going to respond to your statement that Jesus never existed.

Dromedary Hump said...


Here let me help you:
Jesus criticizes the Jews for not killing their disobedient children according to Old Testament law. Mark.7:9-13 "Whoever curses father or mother shall die" (Mark 7:10 NAB)

You shouldn't have had that much difficulty finding it.

As for your bible verses referencing children...I have no idea what you are talking about. I said that Jesus never sought to eliminate the laws... he endorsed their being observed...all of them. It was Paul who decided the laws were invalid, contradicting jesus. I gave you chapter and verse. all of mewhich relate to this:

“For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass the law until all is accomplished. Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:18-19 RSV)

But, instead of responding to that you went off on some tangent about Jesus and children. You seem to have issues following straightline discourse.

Yes, discounting Paul discounts the New Testament. Jefferson understood it, most biblical scholars see it as Paul's book, not Jesus'. That was the whole point.

You say paul was a "humble man". Really. Besides PAUL'S OWN contention in Corinthians, Galatins, and Phillippians THAT HE IS HUMBLE, what source do you have that corroborates this? None.

Paul was the greatest PR man and cultist in history. He was the Joseph Smith and L Ron Hubbard of his day. And just as believable to anyone who has an iota of rationality.

NewEnglandBob said...

I have no problem discouting the NT and Jesus and the rest of the silly fairy tales. One could just as easily study Harry Potter. Lol

Dromedary Hump said...

NE Bob...LOL. Yes, discounting the NT and the OT is pretty easy if one embraces reality and rationality.

Funny thing: I bet in all other endeavors Ross requires evidence, proof, and fact before he accepts or buys into a premise or action.

Yet, when it comes to buying into mind numbing dogma to which he invests hours and hours of praying and begging on his knees, he depends soley on a 2,000 yr old book of cultist idiocy and "faith." Such a waste of time that could be spent on genuine education and intellectual development.

Dromedary Hump said...

This is interesting and underscores exactly what I was saying to Ross about Paul's "humbleness". It's from a Christian website:

"We must evaluate the character of Paul free from the shackles that the churchmen have clamped upon us. Then he comes through in his true colors.

A truly meek and humble man would never boast of his lowliness as Paul often did; a truly meek and humble man would never boast of his superiority, as Paul sometimes did. What others cannot reveal about him because they were silenced long ago, he in his own words reveals about himself."

I rest my case.

longhorn believer said...

Hump, that was a lovely dismantling. When Ross called Paul humble, I just shook my head. Watch out! Here it comes!