The Great Fear of Cults

A Vital Subject with a Vexing Aspect

On the Painful Truth and other websites, there is a genuine effort being made to protect people from deception, abuse and pain at the hand of cults. Laudable efforts because we should all be afraid of the cult mentality. But as usual, the typical advice goes only part way.

A sidebar link on the “Banned by HWA…” website is to a site called “Cult Awareness and Info Network.” (I thought immediately that it is surely just coincidence that the initials spell CAIN.) Clicking on this link, I was taken to a page with a heading of “Cult Awareness and Information Library.” Then the site guide posed the question, “what is CAIC?” Having already lost touch with the Network and now lost in a Library, I admit to not having a clue. Much copy was then laid out as good reasons for this site’s existence (what it “stood for”), but I still had to search for a while for the meaning of that “C.” Finally I located a footer on the page that showed the final C stood for “Centre.” [I just now added this to my Word program dictionary to get rid of the wavy red line.] Webster says that this is a British spelling, so perhaps much has been lost in translation!

This is not about picking a fight with some other writer; it’s about a wide-spread problem in semantics. In my estimation, the real loss in translation has been the meaning of the term, “cult.” Back to Webster, the first meaning of the word, cult is “worship; the system ofoutward forms and ceremonies used in worship.” The first singular, blunt synonym for cult in Roget’s Thesaurus is “religion.” Amen!

With respect for the person and work of the late founder of the CAIC website, Jan Groenveld, I still must offer critical comments here. Finding no open method of contacting those who now run the site, I hope they might encounter this writing and perhaps consider some foundational thoughts. It is also my sincere hope that whoever is carrying on the work begun by Ms. Groenveld is doing so with the utmost care and deep concern for the many who are seeking answers. I humbly submit alternative views.

The opening salvo on the CAIC page states: “Both Cults & Isms are listed here. Not every group mentioned on this site is considered a destructive cult. Some are ‘benign isms’…” This is, in my humble opinion, a completely misleading (actually, false!) and dangerous assertion. Is this meant to imply that religious groups such as Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses [Ms. Groenveld had been involved with the two sects and apparently wanted to protect others from these and similar cults.] who take their beliefs seriously and try to live every day by their tenets are more to be avoided than, say, Methodists or Presbyterians who practice a more “social circle” type of religion? That appears to be the gist of the website’s content. And maybe that’s what she found desirable. Perhaps she saw the “old-time religion” practiced by millions of folks wanting simply a “form of godliness” as a good thing. But none of it is benign!

Give me some of that ole’-time benign Catholicism, Vicar! Make me so comfortable in your huge presence that I forget completely how murderous you have been. Give me Baptists or some other “mainstream” Christians to save me from “the cults.” Make me feel safe inside your large benign group of believers who still march to the tune of “Onward Christian Soldiers;” make me blind to the fact that even without your guns and swords, you are still ready to kill for your beliefs.

Yes, I realize my views are going to seem radical. After all, doesn’t everyone have to believe something? W. C. Fields said, “I believeI’ll have another drink!” I personally believe life can be better for humans if we would simply become better humans! Who needs all the grief offered by all the gods?

There has been much said, especially among respected (!) religious teachers about cults and the need to recognize them. Recognition should be easy! Do they preach tenets of belief? Cult! Have we lost all dictionaries and good sense? Or have we developed newer meanings, as yet unwritten, that give “good” cults respectable titles while giving “bad” cults an apparent slur by calling them what they all are? They’re equal, folks!

Okay, okay – they’re equal in the sense that cult means religion or worship. Admittedly some fanatical groups are especially hazardous to one’s health because they preach against medicines or doctors. Others get people all emotional and fearful of the outside world, then pull a Georgetown or similar suicide ending. But really, how many of these outliers have there been and how large are the total numbers of duped people dying because of them? Not a fraction of the number who died at the hands of mainstream crazies in the Middle Ages who took up sword and marched in crusades to cut down all heretics. For sheer death toll reduction, it would have been better if these godly nuts had done the suicide thing.

Question: where does the “mainstream” designation take hold? Would you say Anglicanism has made it to mainstream? Quakerism? Seventh Day Adventism? How about Lutheranism? Shintoism? Sikhism? Or possibly Christian Scientism? And maybe even Scientology.

I don’t mean to sound harsh or deprecatory toward CAIC because I do appreciate the effort anyone is making to try to help people; it just astounds me that these folks sound so authoritative. Where do you suppose is their foundation for flat statements of “fact?” Here’s a bold quote from the site: “World religions such as Judaism, Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism etc are NOT cults!”
Holy jokes, Batman! Is this some kind of smoke?

Screaming for attention by its absence in the above listing is Christianity! Are we to assume the writer means that (A) Christianity is not a “world religion” equal to these mentioned? Or (B) Christianity is so huge and so dominant (so correct?) that it need not even be mentioned? Perhaps there’s a (C) option (a quite logical one): Christianity is so broken into tiny splinters, many of which are “destructive,” that the huge Abrahamic following called Christianity should not be listed as a singular religion. In that case, why didn’t some of the bigger groups of benign Christians such as Lutherans, Methodists or Catholics make it into the list of acceptable world religions which are NOT cults? [Interesting that Buddhism makes the cut here, even though their fundamental beliefs do not include a god!]

Yes, it is some kind of smoke – a thick smoke screen laid down by a progression of adroit religionists even more artful than Herbert Armstrong! There have been frauds who managed over millennia to brand all newer or smaller groups with the derisive cult label so they, the big names, can stand above all others with pride. Real godliness, no?

So Armstrongism didn’t reach the all-important “mainstream” designation. Then again, old Herb isn’t necessarily done just because he’s dead! Many popes and other ancient religious leaders lived, pontificated and died long before their legacy spread to become the powerful forces the various maincults are today. Saul of Tarsus started a cult based on this-and-that, rumor, fantasy, etc., and established it on his letter writing and salesmanship skills. Sound familiar? And until nearly three hundred years later, when his little sect was promoted by an emperor, it was practically unheard of.

Catholicism, prior to its huge growth and eventual acknowledgment as a “major” and “mainstream” religion, was the new cult on the block! It was concocted to suck up the Pauline Christian sect and all other willing (and unwilling) believers of all types, long after the supposed god in human form was purportedly sacrificed for mankind. Exactly when did this rag-tag little sect lose the cult (in Latin) label? No doubt it was when the emperor ordered the term to be halted, sometime after proudly announcing his new Roman state religion was a universal (catholic) church. And remember, the growth of the Catholic Church has been at the expense of innumerable (perhaps millions) of humans. These once breathing, walking, worshipping, sincere folks weren’t just duped and left complaining of confusion; they died for their beliefs and/or heresies. Its eventual size and acceptance did not lift the Catholic Church above its amorality and elevate it to some status above cult; it merely made it more powerful, hence more destructive.

Anyone truly in pain due to the “destructive Armstrong cult” should consider that proverbial leap from the frying pan into the fire: become a part of the Catholic cult! Or the Judaic or Islamic cult!

Again, the above point fits all religions equally. All are cults! The only thing HWA lacked was the dumb luck that would allow him to gain enough in numbers to dominate more of the world’s believers, or to find an emperor ready to stamp his particular sect as a state religion. Armstrong himself stamped his cult as “the one true church,” but try as he might, he just never got to the right emperor with his gifts of crystal!

People contributing to this and other blogs write passionately about the destructiveness of the WCG. Yet in my reading of so many passionate words decrying deception, it appears people are inviting yet more of it! The majority of former Armstrong followers seem to be headed blindly into some new search for – what? The one true church? Really?! That blinding light in the head needs to be quenched! One venerable fellow (now deceased), a former HWA friend whose long and well-written letter is linked to this site, stated near his conclusion that Armstrong’s followers have been so brainwashed that there is possibly no hope now to guide them into “right channels.” And where might these “right” channels exist? On your television where glib god mongers continue to dupe millions as did Herb & Ted? In local assemblies of god-fearing friendly neighbors who just want to practice the old-time religion? Or in the large denominations which must be “safer” because they are “mainstream?”

Credit where credit is due (to a point), here’s a fine premise and summation found on the CAIC website: “A goldfish living in a bowl that is painted black on the outside will never know it lives in a bowl unless someone takes it out and shows it the rest of the world. Mindsets can be like that — locked into a `thinking box’, unable to see outside because the web of beliefs is so all-encompassing.”

I sing the praises of the above insight. But why stop so short? Apparently the fish analogy has to be accommodated by keeping the fish in a big tank after showing it out of the tiny black bowl. But there’s a much bigger world still outside the tank. So let the fish grow legs! Let it walk away from that web ofbeliefs the writer mentioned. Let it explore the far horizons and scale the high peaks!

My fellow goldfish, we can leave the bowl and the tank! We have the power!

But let’s get a little closer to logic here, if anyone wants to actually think. It’s doubtful a goldfish will know the difference even when shown the outside of the painted bowl which had been its prison. Humans should be able to do so; humans have not only legs but brains – the ability to grasp the concept of thought. As an ultra-free escapee from all cults, I can tell you it’s pretty beautiful out here in the larger world with the clear view back at the prison. These old legs can no longer take on mountain climbing, but the brain is free to climb, soar, dart and weave as though no limits exist anywhere in my universe. Seeing it all from my new vantage point, I can say that nothing, in my estimation, has ever been as limiting to humankind and to the future of all life on the planet as has been the burden of belief in a supreme being.

Why do people continue to follow any of the thousands of disparate belief systems? Why is it seemingly impossible for mankind to civilize yet farther and finally grow away from religion? Because of tradition and fear. We were all, including Herbert, Loma, their parents, their grandparents, your ancestors and mine, born into the need to believe because belief required it. Fear to not believe required belief. Original ignorance guides all!

I dream, as did Bertrand Russell, of a time when belief is finally overcome by education. A time when fear is overwhelmed by knowledge. A time when humans finally stop hating each other because of their traditional divisive sectarianism. I wish all humans could be simple humanists; that we all could guide our actions by the simplest of all moral obligations – the Golden Rule. Little more is needed, other than traffic lights!