Cult nation?

I’m very familiar with religious cults, from a professional perspective (as a former pastor and chaplain) and from counseling those trapped in them, trying to help them break free.  I’ve seen signs of cult-like behavior on the extremes of the American political spectrum, but I’ve never consciously equated the two fields.  Now the Federalist makes the resemblance clear.

Consider for a moment today’s culture, which is saturated with the constant agitation of political correctness. It rarely allows for any real discussion or debate without automatic vilification of those deemed politically incorrect. Sadly, this is especially true in the very place where there is a tradition of people expecting to engage in real debate: the college campus.

We can’t deny that political correctness has a lot of disruptive effects on discourse, such as inducing self-censorship that can cause us to feel socially and mentally isolated; manipulation of our basic fear of ostracism through the threat of smears; promotion of mob rule; and an authoritarian nature that promotes the power elites who use it.

Wait, those features are all rather cult-like, no? This acceptance of the anti-thought nature of political correctness is pretty much everywhere: 95 percent of the mass media promote it, 95 percent of celebrity culture promotes it, and obviously, on college campuses, the academics are 95 percent in compliance with political correctness.

You can’t deny that cult-like tribunals against “wrongthink” are pretty much everywhere––in the media, in celebrity culture, in our legislatures, among judges, in human resource departments all over the corporate world, and most obviously, on college campuses, where youth are scared to death of being ostracized for expressing a politically incorrect thought.

Consider also how many Americans mindlessly parrot the perceived popular opinion along with its empty talking points that are never up for debate. In fact, there’s very little debate happening today. When real debate happens, it gets shouted down or pushed into a corner of the internet dubbed the “intellectual dark web.” Increasingly, our minds seem to be operating in a dangerous state of isolation, especially with increasing censorship and control over our conversations by mass media and tech titans. How is such constant censorship not cult-like?

What should most shock us is how often Americans seem to increasingly mimic many of the behaviors of cult recruits: self-censorship, peer-modeled behaviors, emotions ruling their sense of reason, obedience to the mob, and adulation of politically correct idols and celebrities … Just as cultists check their brains at the door, too many Americans have likewise ceded their right to free speech on the thin promise of freedom from ostracism. That is a bad and dangerous deal that never ends well.

There’s more at the linkHighly recommended reading.

I’d like to emphasize that such behavior is not confined to one side of the political aisle.  I’ve seen it – and remarked on it in these pages – on both sides from time to time.  I’m always cynically amused by the reactions of some people, who criticize me for daring to call out their side when obviously the problem is entirely and solely on the other side.  Either I’m being a goody-two-shoes liberal, or an alt-right supremacist of one kind or another, or whatever.  Sorry, but I’m just pointing out the reality of the situation.  All of us can behave like cultists over our pet hobby-horses, given a chance . . . and many of us do.

I had the same problem as a pastor.  There are fundamentalists who insist that to doubt God or question one’s beliefs is a sign that one “isn’t saved”, or has weak faith.  Again, I couldn’t disagree more.  We’re human, with all the fallibility that implies.  We need to question the road we’re on from time to time, and re-examine where we’ve come from, and look at where we are now in the light of where we want to be.  All too often, we don’t undertake any sort of self-examination – or, at least, not an independent, careful, objective one – and so we can be led astray by those of stronger opinions who are in positions of authority or influence over us.

The same applies to blind faith in religious (or other) institutions.  Blind faith is always and everywhere dangerous.  Never trust anybody or any group to be faithful to the truth, and to what they’re supposedly called to be.  Rather, monitor their behavior, and see whether or not it comports to what it should be.  As Ronald Reagan famously said, “Trust, but verify.”  If they don’t pass the verification test, call them out, and insist that they fix the problem.  If they won’t . . . vote with your feet, and your wallet.

Think critically, be objective, and question almost everything.  It’s your life, not someone else’s – so don’t let them live it for you, or tell you how to live their life instead of yours.  That way, you won’t fall into the cultist trap.



  1. "I had the same problem as a pastor. There are fundamentalists who insist that to doubt God or question one's beliefs is a sign that one "isn't saved", or has weak faith. Again, I couldn't disagree more.".

    I think you're in safe company there. One of my favorite stories from the New Testament is that of the father who brings his son to Jesus to be healed. Jesus tells him it's possible if he believes and the man replies "I believe, help my unbelief."

  2. In an offhand way, we're all "cult members", whether we're consciously aware of it or not.
    Actually, this has always been the norm for everyone.

  3. Particularly of note at the link:
    (3) Systematically create a sense of powerlessness, fear, and dependency in the person.
    Yeah… we hear a lot of that from certain quarters, don't we? Often disguised as "empowerment" through some form of privileged access to Central Authority. (OctothorpeBelieveThisWeeksOddlySpecificClassOfPeople.)

  4. Communism (and its little brother, Socialism) is a religion. That's why its adherents conduct regular pogroms. Their faith runs counter to reality – but that doesn't matter to the faithful.

  5. I was involved with a fundamentalist Baptist Church, for some time way back. I actually went to Bible college for about a year, with the thought of being a pastor.
    One problem with the Baptist groups is that on issues of doctrine where they leave the teachings of the Bible, they cannot adequately answer why they are doing so.
    One instance was a young girl, who got pregnant out of wedlock. She and her boyfriend were going to get married. The church leaders wanted her to stand up before the entire congregation and apologize, with the explanation that it was about church discipline. Now, I have no problem with church discipline, if it is done following the Biblical model. However, there is nowhere in the Bible that says if you sin, and admit your sin, you must still get up and publicly apologize.
    In fact, Mary, the mother of Jesus, found herself in the same circumstance, and the Bible says that Joseph, BEING A JUST MAN and not wanting to publicly shame her, sought how to put her away privately. That seems pretty clear.
    The woman at the well, who Jesus had a conversation with, believed on Jesus, and Jesus said for her to go and sin no more. Now, we all know, and Jesus certainly knew, that it would be an impossible task for the woman to sin no more. UNLESS He was telling her that now her every sin was paid for, and therefore she actually could not sin, in regards to how God saw her, and how she was positionally now a child of the King.
    Sadly, I was young, and naive, and afraid to speak up and voice my concerns. I was also guilty of getting my first wife pregnant out of wedlock, when we were little more than kids ourselves. So I kept quiet, and watched as the congregation, under the leadership of the Pastor, voted to remove her name from the church membership roles.
    At a later date, my ex wife and I ended up divorced, after 11 years of marriage. I did not want to divorce, but my ex wife was pretty serious about not wanting to be married to me anymore. So I went along with it, with my heart breaking. The people of the church were nothing but supportive of my ex wife, in spades, as we used to say. They helped her financially at times, or with moral support, etc. I went to our small town grocery store, and was standing in line behind a member of the church, and I said, HI. She turned and looked at me, saw who it was, and turned her back on me and never spoke to me again.
    I should mention that I was a deacon in the church from age 25 or so, up until I stepped down due to the fact that I was trying to work on my marriage, which ended at my age 30.
    The sad thing is, I had both given sermons, and taught young adult Sunday school, and tried to stress relationships and scripture, and I actually thought that I was doing a good thing. Yet after failing myself at marriage, the biggest thing that I not only thought about, but dreamed as well, was, " Where is the Love?"
    Church should not be a museum of Christians who have things all together, but rather a hospital to heal the broken hearted, and those whose spirit needed lifting up, to allow them to get closer to God.
    Since all stories need an ending, I worked in a steel foundry for 35 years, and my wife of the present was in the office. We met and fell in love, got married, and while I had 3 children from my first marriage, my 2nd wife's goal was to adopt. She did have a miscarriage, which tore her apart. She tells me that she somehow knew that she would never bear children, but instead would adopt. We went through the process and adopted 2 sisters, from our state, and would never doubt our decision at any time.

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