Monday, March 3, 2008

Week of 03/03/2008

Of Cults, Real and Defamed
– by David Matthews 2

In the various worlds that make up organized religion, the word “cult” has a very simple definition. It is used to describe any religion that is not their own. A cult is not considered a “true religion” in any manner of being, because they firmly believe that THEIRS is the ONLY “true” religion.

Oh, sure, Roman Catholics will grudgingly admit in public of “other religions”, but in their hearts and in their declarations of faith, they only recognize ONE church, ONE belief, and ONE path to salvation. Everyone else is following a cult as far as they are concerned. The Southern Baptist will tell you something similar, only with THEMSELVES as having the only “true” faith, and the Catholics as being the “cult followers”. The Baptists, of course, have the courage to actually ADMIT to it and say it out loud… at least amongst like-minded people.

A cult is a social organization of like-minded people, often (but not always) led by a charismatic figure. This figure is sometimes seen as some kind of messiah. It is a closed group, one where individuality is subverted for the collectivist whole. And while privacy is often forbidden for the members, secrecy is abundant, especially surrounding the inner circle of this charismatic leader.

Yes, there ARE actual religious beliefs that fit the definition of a cult. Quite often we will hear about them after something horrific happened. The Heaven’s Gate group was one such cult, and most of us didn’t even know it until their members committed suicide in 1997. You probably remember the Branch Davidians and their standoff with federal forces in 1993 ending in the fiery death of 76 men, women, and children in Waco. You may also remember the late Jim Jones and his little massacre in 1978. Anytime you hear someone talk about “drinking the Kool-Aid”, that’s where it came from. Let’s not forget Charlie Manson’s little organization in the 1970’s. That “family” is also considered a cult.

It is for these reasons that the word “cult” is given a negative connotation. When you hear the word “cult” you instantly believe that the people in it are either being scammed or they’re on the path to their own deaths.

A cult is considered destructive because it subverts all forms of individuality, turning the members into literal extensions of the leader and of his or her inner circle. Once in a cult, YOU, as an individual, are no longer relevant. You are indoctrinated into the belief that YOU are merely the extended limb of the group or of the leader. You are trained to give up everything that you have known in the past, every connection you had previously to family and friends, and everything that you had previously believed; and to embrace the group as your new family, your new friends, and your new existence. And if you ever consider leaving or even questioning that group, it is treated as a life-threatening decision. YOU are not there to think. YOU are there to do whatever it is you are told to do, without question and without hesitation.

And here’s the important part: the word “cult” doesn’t just apply to religious groups. Cult-like behaviors are abundant in society.

Our armed forces are a cult! They HAVE to be that way in order to do their jobs. They worship a messianic leader named “Uncle Sam”. They destroy all vestiges of individuality and incorporate to each member a new purpose and a new mission. Privacy is considered irrelevant, but secrecy is certainly abundant.

But we don’t consider the armed forces to be cults, mostly because they have an overall constructive purpose. They defend the country against outside threats. They have helped those who were brought in that lacked purpose or discipline and changed their lives for the better. This is why we don’t want to consider them to be cults, because cults have a NEGATIVE connotation to them.

There is one more element to the U.S. Armed Forces that separates them from your more traditional cult groups, though, and that is they DO allow you to leave… eventually.

Fan groups are considered, to some extent, cults. Whether they are fans of Britney Spears or of the “Star Trek” series or even of one-season TV shows like “Firefly”, some of the tenants of cultism are there.

Users of the Macintosh computer system have taken on many of the cult-like tendencies in the support of the Apple corporation. They worship Apple founder Steve Jobs. They praise all things that come from Apple, be it the iPod or the iPhone or the iMac. And they are indoctrinated to have a passionate HATRED of all things Microsoft. They certainly are a SMALL group when compared to the vast number of people who use regular computers.

But of late there has been a different use of the word “cult”, and it is one that this commentator finds disturbing, not to mention quite possibly libelous.

I’m talking about using the word “cult” as a verbal weapon to blatantly dismiss a movement or an idea outright.

Case in point: critics of the FairTax Plan that has been circulated in Congress for several years now and is the subject of several best-selling books and political rallies have decided to declare the whole idea a “cult”. Jay Bookman of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution is the one that you can blame for this little stunt, having made the original declaration in his regular newspaper column in December of 2007. To substantiate this fraudulent claim, Bookman and others have declared that the FairTax Bill was actually some Scientologist idea from the 1990’s. And of course Scientology has been declared a “cult” by several groups, not to mention countries like Germany, therefore anything coming from Scientology is a “cult”.

But in order for them to pass this libelous fraud off, they had to first change the name of the organization. The FairTax Plan is being spearheaded by the Americans for Fair Taxation, but the critics have declared the plan to come from a group called the Citizens for an Alternative Tax System, whose leader was an affirmed Scientologist.

So let’s see… “Americans for Fair Taxation” and the “Citizens for an Alternative Tax System”. Yeah, I can see how they got those two groups mixed up, couldn’t you? That’s like calling a Dell computer an iMac simply because of its colorful cover.

Seriously, I couldn’t spin crap that bad… and I’m a published writer!

So… why the lie?

Simple: because they can’t debate the idea without LOSING!

This has been the standard tactic from critics of the FairTax Plan. They can’t condemn it without first having to LIE about what it is or what it can do. First they tried LYING about what it is and declared that it would ADD taxes on top of what people are paying right now instead of what it would really do, which is to REPLACE the current system entirely. Then they had to LIE about the tax percentage. Instead of 23%, they declared it would have to be 30%. Then they declared that the “rich people” would get away with paying LESS in taxes when in fact they would have to pay ALL of the taxes along with everyone else, and they wouldn’t have any exemptions or deductions to fall back on.

LIES on top of LIES on top of still more LIES and followed up by even more LIES. The only thing seemingly HONEST coming from the critics is that they really HATE the FairTax Plan and will do ANYTHING to keep it from being discussed, never mind implemented.

So rather than debate the matter, people like Jay Bookman have declared the FairTax Plan to be a CULT, and therefore not able to be debated against. It saves them the continual embarrassment of being on the LOSING side of the argument. They don’t have to fabricate any more lies or distort the information at that point, all they have to do is say “it’s a cult” and walk away.

The same goes for supporters for Democratic presidential wannabe Barak Obama. Once upon a time, Hillary Clinton was supposed to be the easy-win nominee, and then suddenly you had all of these passionate supporters of Obama coming out, doing videos, getting energized over the election… and unlike the pop-star treatment of Howard Dean in 2004, this didn’t fizzle out after the primaries got started! Obamamania continued and thrived and he’s actually won some SERIOUS primaries and caucuses! Now all of a sudden he’s considered a serious contender!

And that’s not supposed to happen, according to the Clintonites and conservatives and the neo-cons.

So in order to justify this phenomenon, the Clinton supporters and the conservatives and neo-conservatives have dismissed the whole thing as simply being A CULT!

That’s right folks, if you voted for Barak Obama, then you supposedly joined A CULT! Your mind isn’t your own! You’re now a mind-numbed liberal zombie. Well I suppose that’s better than a mind-numbed conservative zombie, right?

It’s easy to claim that Obama has no substance when you accuse his supporters of being brain-dead cultists. You don’t have to do anything to back it up either. You just have to make the declaration and that’s it. The stigma alone is enough to shut up any discussion of the matter.

Let’s get brutally honest here… the word “cult” is rapidly becoming just as much of a destructive, stigmatizing word as “racism”. Sure it quickly dismisses the issue, but it is intellectually lazy, disrespectful, and potentially libelous.

Let’s not forget the signs of cultism, folks. You’re talking about a close-knit group that pretty much shuts itself off from the rest of society. It has very little or no expectations of privacy, yet it is also surrounded by secrets, especially by those in the “inner circle”.

You can get away with calling a fan group a cult because they are seen as a close-knit group shut out from the rest of society. You can even get away with the lack of privacy because they seem to know everything about the subject of their fandom.

But a political movement to reform the tax laws in this country and a presidential candidacy are certainly NOT cults! Both of these things FAIL to match any of the signs of a cult. Reforming tax laws and running for president are certainly not EXCLUSIVE groups. They’re not trying to ISOLATE themselves from society. Quite the contrary, they’re trying to be as INCLUSIVE as possible! As for privacy, replacing the current INTRUSIVE tax code with one that simply taxes consumption is CERTAINLY as private as you can get. And anyone who has actually READ the FairTax books by Neal Boortz and Congressman John Linder or visited the FairTax website will tell you that there are NO surprises or secrets with this idea.

Ironically, the people who have been tossing about the word “cult” of late are also part of a cult-like group. It is an exclusive group, quite often proven to be isolated from the rest of the world, or at least from any semblance of reality. It’s not so much of an organization or a religion as it is a groupthink; one that has kept Democrats and Republicans in office, and has kept liberals and conservatives in key positions of power. It is the “cult” of the status quo. It is the groupthink that says that what is going on right now MUST stay in place at all costs, and that any kind of change must be meaningless and superficial only.

With that kind of mentality firmly in place, you can see why the people in that groupthink would want to project their problem onto others, especially when put into a position where they simply cannot win.

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