Defining Cults

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Published on The Doomstead Diner on December 20, 2016

Discuss this article at the Doom Psychology Table inside the Diner

What defines a cult, and what defines a cult leader?

These are questions which preoccupied Diners this week, with respect to John Michael Greer, author of the Archdruid Report blog, collapse writer and former Archdruid of the AODA, one of the Druid sects operating out there these days.

The main question which evolved in this discussion is whether Druidry is a cult, because given the fact he had the title of "Archdruid", it's hard to make the case he was not a leader.

Now, generally speaking people do not like being identified as either cult leaders or cult followers. So if you call something they subscribe to a "cult", they get upset.  Reason for this is because a few cults have ended very badly at the hands of some less than sane people that ran them.  Examples of this often given are Charles Manson, Jim Jones and David Koresh.  So to people who focus on these cults, the word cult itself has taken on a very negative connotation.  In and of themselves though, cults aren't either necessarily bad or good, and they are very common.

Here is the modern definition of cults, as defined in the latest edition of the Merriam-Webster dictionary:

Definition of cult

    :  formal religious veneration :  worship

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

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

    :  a system for the cure of disease based on dogma set forth by its promulgator <health cults>

    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

cultic play \ˈkəl-tik\ adjective
cultish play \-tish\ adjective
cultishly play \-lē\ adverb
cultishness play \-nəs\ noun
cultism play \ˈkəl-ˌti-zəm\ noun
cultist play \ˈkəl-tist\ noun
cultlike play \-ˌlīk\ adjective

Now, insofar as Druidry is concerned, there is formal veneration and worship there, CHECK #1.  They hold ceremonies, they built Stonehenge, etc.  Now, today there isn't a whole lot known about what original Druids believed, but the modern incarnation has developed their own rituals, not to mention the costumes.  So CHECK #2 also.

Is Druidry unorthodox or spurious?  Well, not many people believe in this religion today, so it's definitely unorthodox.  Whether it is spurious or not would be a matter of opinion.  However, you still gotta check off this box as well because it's an OR logical connector, and Druidry satisfies one of the conditions. CHECK #3

Druidry does not appear to meet the 4th definition of cult, since as far as I know it doesn't cure diseases, although possibly some Druids believe in various kinds of Spiritual Healing.  Still, I would not check off on this definition for Druids. NO CHECK #4

Definition 5 speaks to the individual or Cult Leader.  There are many people with great devotion to Mr. Wizard, his ideas and his writings.  They post up all the time in his commentariat.  In fact they are about the only ones even allowed to post in his commentariat, since he axes the posts of anyone who disagrees with him all the time. lol.  I know this to be factual, since most of my posting got axed from that commentariat before I quit trying to post up there.  So you can CHECK #5 as well here for Mr. Wizard.

Now, what about some other religions or belief systems?  Are they cults too?  Well, IMHO most of them are, yes.  They may not meet as many of the Merriam-Webster definitions as the Archdruid does, but they still meet some of them and are also cults.  Roman Catholicism is a cult, and the cult leader is His Popeness, the Vicar of Christ on Earth, currently Pope Francis until he croaks and the White Smoke comes up from the Vatican anouncing a NEW Glorious Leader for all RC's to follow.

Capitalism is also a Cult.  It's not usually regarded as a Religion, but in fact it is.  People believe in this and have Faith in stuff like the Free Market and the Invisible Hand that supposedly controls it, with absolutely NO EVIDENCE either one of these things really exist.  They are incredibly dogmatic in these beliefs as well.  Far as Leaders go, they're all the Bizmen and Banksters that make a lot of MONEY.  It's EZ to tell who the Tyler Durdens Worship on Zero Hedge.  It's the big Hedge Fund managers like Crispin Odey, Bill Gross, Kyle Bass, etc, etc, etc.

The issue here is that due to their exposure to media and the very nasty end a few cults came to, the word "cult" has taken on a negative connatation to these people.  So whenever they hear the word "cult", they immediately picture up all the DEAD PEOPLE in Jonestown or in Waco.  They let their emotions run away with them and don't understand the meaning of the word because of that. The definition in the dictionary is quite clear however, and it's up-to-date also, Merriam-Webster provides a new edition every year at the very least in paper form, the online version is updated daily.

When I use the word "cult", it's a description of a group of people and their belief system. It's often explicitly religious as in the case of Druidry or Catholicism, but sometimes more secular like Capitalism.  In fact you have cults around Rock bands too, like the Beatles or the Rolling Stones or Queen.  There are even cult followers of people like Kim Kardashian!  Cults are all around us, some good, some bad, some fairly innocuous, but they exist everywhere, and so do the leaders of these cults.

To be a real cult, there has to be a Uniformity of Belief to begin with, which means everyone in the cult accepts the given wisdom of that cult, whether it comes in a long diatribe off the keyboard of Mr. Wizard or in a Tweet from Kim Kardashian.  Enforcement of the Group Think of a cult can come in many ways, some "soft" and some "hard", but whatever the case everyone in the cult has to buy into the core principles of the cult, usually espoused by the cult leader.  Cults are not generally Democratic institutions.

Some cults like Catholicism and Capitalism have been WILDLY successful over time, others such as Druidry and Tribalism not so successful.  Quid Pro Quo though, you can't say any NEW cult that pops up is either good or bad or will be successful or unsuccessful.  There are MANY cults to pick from these days to join up with, but really until the Cult Leader asks you to drink the Kool Aid and go for a ride on Haley-Bopp, you cannot say a priori that one is good or one is bad, that depends strictly on your opinions and your beliefs.

Cults will be with us until Homo Sap and Sapience vanish from the Earth.  My value judgements on Mr. Wizard's cult are my own, you are free to make your own value judgements there.  It's still a cult though, and he is the Leader of that Cult.