cults i have known

Webster’s dictionary online (well, I couldn’t really be expected to carry Webster’s unabridged around in my suitcase, could I?) — Webster’s online defines “cult” as:

1: formal religious veneration : worship

2: a system of religious beliefs and ritual ; also : its body of adherents

3: a religion regarded as unorthodox or spurious ; also : its body of adherents

4: a system for the cure of disease based on dogma set forth by its promulgator

5 a:) great devotion to a person, idea, object, movement, or work (as a film or book) ; especially : such devotion regarded as a literary or intellectual fad b:) the object of such devotion c:) a usually small group of people characterized by such devotion

cul·tic – adjective; cult·ish – adjective; cult·ish·ly – adverb; cult·ish·ness – noun; cult·ism – noun; cult·ist – noun; cult·like – adjective

My daughter’s recent job working in the office of an ND, that is, Naturopathic Doctor, brought this train of thought to mind. Not that I haven’t had it before, the iconoclastic desire to throw rocks at other people’s beliefs. Not that my daughter believes in it, she just has a job. Her mother, however, has or at least had a tendency toward being a true believer, although the objects of her belief, i.e. the cults she has associated herself with, have changed a bit over the years. Once upon a time she got hooked by Jehova’s Witnesses, there was a brief flirtation with Amway, of course the anti-fluoride movement, and she has more or less settled into a career in Waldorf Education. There is always the background rumble of conversations overheard in a health food store.

So what is a cult? Well, one man’s opinion, and that’s all this is, my opinion for good or ill, IMHO or in my not so humble opinion, cultism or cultishness is believing something because somebody said so. Somebody you want to identify with, like a spiritualist practitioner in a health food store. Republicanism. George W must be a good president because he found God.

My grandmother went to ND’s, slept with the window open over her bed at night. I never knew this side of her beliefs, I only heard stories from my mother. During my young life, my grandmother was unfortunately locked into allopathic medical treatments to stay alive. My mother, however, was a great disbeliever in anything that smacked of Hinduism, anything other-worldly, anything not firmly rooted in earth-bound reality. I tend to go along with her, perhaps not carved-in-stone all-the-way along with her, but a healthy dose of skepticism when confronted with questionable belief structures and world-views, and patently self-aggrandizing pitchmen, can keep you from sinking into a quagmire of disorderly thinking, not to mention keep you from foolishly wasting money. Ross Perot, former mega-wealthy entrepreneur and 1992 independent presidential candidate, was a religious guy. But he said whenever anybody wanted to open a business meeting with a prayer, he kept his hand on his wallet.

We don’t have to go into what 900 people did in Jonestown in 1978, or what happened in Waco in 1993. Suffice it to say that when people follow religious leaders, they can get in big trouble — or get somebody else in big trouble. For example radical Islam. Payback for the Crusades? Perhaps. Payback for the rape and pillage by Big Oil? Partly.

At the Chicago democratic convention in 1968, which was attended by 10,000-plus anti-war demonstrators, I found myself in a large crowd in a sports arena, being whipped into a frenzy by Abbey Hoffman and Dick Gregory calling for revolution. I was swept away with the emotion of the moment. Mob psychology. I understand now how Hitler did it, and undoubtedly many others before him and many to come.

Cultism on a smaller, lighter scale can be just silliness. One of the funniest scenes I have ever witnessed was in the Cheech and Chong original marijuana comedy “Up in Smoke”, where Stacey Keach, playing the narcotics officer, went into a bar disguised in an orange Hare Krishna robe with his wing-tip oxfords and white socks sticking out the bottom.

Cults can have somewhat more devastating effects, like Christian Scientists or other holy-rolling cultists refusing to seek medical care for their children. It can certainly waste your money, like falling for Amway or other multi-level-marketing scams. Or buying overpriced non-medicines in the health food store. I will stop short of poking fun at people who donate to their church, that is a bete noir I am afraid to challenge, a battle I will never win.

I should really add chain letters into the mix, really it is a math aptitude/intelligence test. If you send a letter to 10 people, each of them to 10, etc., how many powers of 10 does it take to exceed the population of the world? Anybody from Amway listening?

I did participate in a cult activity once. Also I have been dragged under false pretenses more than once, to some religious get-together or other, perhaps not involving handling snakes or rolling on the floor in ecstasy, but nontheless forced to sit in a hard chair and listen in excruciating boredom to some self-appointed modern-day savior preach his heart out while the crowd ate it up like a Thanksgiving turkey, swallowed it whole, hook, line and sinker. But I digress…I did participate in a cult activity once. Being young and foolish, in diametric opposition to being an old fool such as I may be now, I attended a meditation, seance, meeting, service, call-it-what-you-will, of the Sogogakai sect of Buddhism. This was held in the mid ’60s in Long Beach, California, and was sponsored, promoted and proselytized by some meth freaks I happened to know at the time. What I learned there was how to chant “Nam Myoho Renge Kyo”, sort of a mantra except that is a Hindu word. I don’t know if it ever did me any good, but I still repeat it when I can’t think of something or need to clear my mind. Do I believe? No. Does it work? Well, who knows? Would something else work as well? Probably.

Back to my daughter, who says: [Just an aside: When I interviewed at my current place of employment, I was told that I would undoubtedly change my mind about my goals of becoming an MD; “Naturopathy just works so well, It’s impossible not to believe.” I am interpreting this as: “Those three people with urinary tract infections that call everyday because it is not going away with ‘Visceral Manipulation’ and cranberry-pomegranate symbiotic formula (which, by the way is not an effective substitute for those evil things we allopathic learned people call antibiotics) are just kidding.” Homeopathic medicine, anyone? (You know, those little white sugar pills coated with “energetic” medicine.)

So WHY are there cults? There are 10 kinds of people in the world, those who understand binary numbers and those who don’t……No, seriously, folks, there are believers and non-believers. I have a vague sense that we are born with a specific-gravity in the belief dimension (hey, some things float by themselves, others need an inner tube). We are born wanting to believe, needing to believe, needing something to believe in, needing a leader to follow, needing a group to belong to. Or NOT! Heh. W.C. Fields said “A man needs something to believe in, I believe I’ll have another drink.”