I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the power of belief. What we choose to believe—or disbelieve—has significant influence on how we see the world. I know in my case I’ve picked up some pretty odd beliefs. Things that at the time seemed right but upon closer scrutiny turned out to be an obscure opinion or twisted understanding rather than fact.
Let’s consider cults. I’m fascinated by groups of people who follow strange teachings that offer enlightenment. They claim be the only correct way to find peace, perfection, happiness, fulfillment, God…i.e whatever is missing in your life. What ultimately drives these groups is a type of group-think or brain washing.
Belief in a cult is communicated through separation, isolation, paranoia and rules and affirmation. This is done through the teaching of one leader and a host of others who enforce the adherence to the belief and reward those who act appropriately.
What fascinates me most is how even the newest believers throw themselves so fully into their role of defender and evangelist. Perhaps it’s because our society has taught us to put out head down, do what we’re told and wait for the reward.
There’s nothing wrong with doing well, following rules or being part of something bigger than us. Goals are healthy, passions should be followed and dreams should be chased after. The problem comes when we set aside our suspicion and lay hold of unquestioned beliefs. (Kinda like Multi-level Marketing but that’s a different post.)
I see a lot of practices used by cults are used within the evangelical church. Fostering and atmosphere of absolute control is unhealthy. Telling followers “we are the only ones with the truth—even among other Christian practices” is dangerous. The fear of losing faith can drive people to do and believe some very sketchy things. Being shunned is used as a weapon against those who disagree.
As an example (I know I’m grabbing at low hanging fruit here) are end times beliefs. I spent several years in a church where the pastor was revered as a prophet, writing dozens of books about the end of the world. We were told we were the only ones who knew the signs and the time frame—the pastor denies ever setting dates but he did. The interpretations didn’t pan out. Political, economic and natural disasters didn’t come. We woke up. We were lied to.
More recently, in a small group I led, several members were convinced the world was coming to an end because of the four “Blood Moons.” Nothing happened. Yet these men persisted in looking for the end because they were taught to believe it was just around the corner.
What troubles me today is not end times hogwash but the refusal of the evangelical church to accept the possibility of differing viewpoints. We have access to great amounts of information. We should be wiser than we are. Why is it that open discourse is so distasteful to some Christian leaders? Perhaps they understand in order to control people you need to control beliefs.
Here’s a list of documentaries I’ve watched recently on cults (and some scary practices within the evangelical church). Most can be streamed. Google them for more information:
Wild, Wild Country (Bagwan Shree Rajneesh)
Holy Hell (Budafield)
Going Clear (Scientology)
Scientology the Aftermath (TV series)
The Cult Next Door (Bill Gothard—Institute for Basic Life Principles)
Jesus Camp (Evangelical church kids)
Just for fun here are some recent fictional representations of cults on TV and film:
The Eternal (Science Fiction)
The Master (Drama)
The Path (Drama series on Hulu)
Apostle (Supernatural Horror)
The Invitation (Suspense/Horror)