Defining Cults

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Published on The Doomstead Diner on December 20, 2016

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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

    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 <health cults>

    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

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.

17 Responses to Defining Cults

  • dolph says:

    Jews are the most successful cult of all time.  Who would have thought – wandering the middle east and europe for thousands of years and now they have complete control over the global economy through controlling the value of the dollar.

  • Fred says:

    I don't agree with the above definition of "cult".  There is a difference between a cult and an orthodoxy IMO in that orthodoxy contains more formal structure that, at least theoretically, provides for checks and balances to protect the congregation or followers from rogue practitioners.  For example, the catholic church is not a cult because the clergy must pass formal muster within an education system and bureaucracy that is supposed to weed out unfit practitioners.  Cults are charcterized by the absence of any safeguards against a monopoly on the acsension to leadership.

    • RE says:

      I don't agree with the above definition of "cult".

      Take it up with Merriam-Webster.

      RE

    • K Dog says:

      It is not a matter of agreement.  Some people have english as a second language.  Agreeing or disagreeing with a well established dictionary definition denotes you as being a member of a cult of nonconforimity which has English as your own language. 

      In general nonconformity can be good or bad.  In your case dissagreeing with what the word cult means, which has a long well established and stable definition; makes me wonder if you will be calling 'rape' an 'enhanced seduction technique' once Presidient Trump grabs a few pussies in the White House.  Lose the lead Fred.

  • Pintada says:

    "… the catholic church is not a cult because the clergy must pass formal muster within an education system and bureaucracy that is supposed to weed out unfit practitioners."

    And yet, there are pedophile priests, and Bishops that protect them.  You are making the case that Jim Jones did not have a "formal structure that … " existed to protect the congregation from rogue practitioners.  In fact it is my understanding that Jim Jones had an entire team of enforcers dedicated to keep the "rogue" element from causing problems.

    I'm sorry Fred, you are defending your cult because you are obviously enamoured with it (a member?).  And you are defending it by stating that it is really big – it has educational systems and a buracracy – which misses the point of the OP.

  • John says:

    An interesting topic. Well within the scope of this definition is the concept of peak oil, and Malthusians in general. Of course, JMG fits within that particular "cult" as well, an acolyte perhaps, as opposed to a grand wizard or whatever his title is within his chosen group, as opposed to ones that he belongs within by association or utilization of their ideas in a dogmatic way.

    • K Dog says:

      Simply assigning people as members of a group which shares some common ideas but which is not connected by any rigid central dogma or set of core rituals; and which is otherwise ragtag; does not constitute a cult by the formal definition.  Identifying 'Malthusians' and grouping them together as a 'cult' is done in a perjoritive sense to intimate rightly or wrongly that their belief system is flawed as you are attempting to do.  If all Malthusians wore robes they would have a core ritual and that would make them a cult; but such is not the case.

      Being a 'Malthusian' can result simply from being educated well enough to understand that the world is bound by mathematical laws and subject to the laws of physics.  Membership then can have nothing to do with a 'belief system' at all.  There could be Malthusian cults where beliefs are viewed with religious veneration indeed, and there could be more than one kind of such a cult identified by differing systems of core belief and ritual.  That there can be more than one basic kind of 'Malthusian' shows that 'Malthusians' in general can't be viewed as a cult.  Cult membership is a lowest common denominator sort of thing. The ‘unorthodox or spurious’ part of the definition makes this so.

      • John says:

        Peak oilists are connected by rigid central dogma and core rituals, so sounds like it fits within the part of the definition you have utilized. They have symbols to worship, they focus on their particular beliefs and limit that focus to only the items that reinforce the central dogma. Malthusians I might have to grant you, because it is more of a general stereotype, and might not contain enough of the rigidity you mention, containing all sorts of end of the world ideas.

  • Ken Barrows says:

    My father used to drive around with a bumper sticker that said "religious are cults with more members."  Why, if Jim Jones had 10 million followers he'd be a religion.  Joseph Smith was a better marketer.

  • Spud Coolzip says:

    This is the introductory pamphlet from my religious cult.
    http://www.subgenius.com/pam1/pamphlet_p1.html

    • Spud Coolzip says:

      This our main recruiting video.
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o0x9ymMQUg8

    • Spud Coolzip says:

      Our main slogans:

      "Fuck 'Em If They Can't Take A Joke"
      "Too Much Is Always Better Than Not Enough"
      "Pull The Wool Over Your Own Eyes"
      "You'll PAY To Know What You REALLY Think"
      "Give Me Slack, Or Give Me Food, Or Kill Me"
      "If I Can't Whup It, I'll Go DOWN"
      "Bleeding Head Good, Healed Head Bad"
      "If You Act Like A Dumbshit, They'll Treat You As An Equal"

      "SCIENCE DOES NOT REMOVE THE TERROR OF THE GODS"

  • Spud Coolzip says:

    Become an ordained minister for only $35!
    Guaranteed eternal salvation or triple your money back!
    http://www.subgenius.com

  • K Dog says:

    People who visit the Archdruid report are for the most part not Druids.  I suspect few know this is also John:

    Golden Dawn Druids

     

    http://www.druidical-gd.org/membership.html

     

    The fact that he is both a Cult Leader and an intelligent man who can discuss collapse does not sit well with some people. A guy has to make a living and you gotta do what you gotta do.

  • tom says:

    Because Jim Jones is used to represent cults, one would do well to read an informative counter to the popular understanding.  https://www.ratical.org/ratville/JFK/JohnJudge/Jonestown.html

    Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn

    is part of enquiry into freemasonry/illuminati, > the NWO and the Vatican and Israel and many aspects of pedophilia. Check out these films: Spotlight, Call Me Lucky 2015, El Club 2015.  Is tickling a cult? decide for yourself after seeing the documentary Tickled 2016.   and is the CDC?  decide for yourself  after seeing Vaxxed. have you followed Pizzagate?  Werner Herzog's latest documentary 'Lo and Behold Reveries of the Connected World' will help you understand why all this is dovetailing here, now. In it Elon Musk says he doesn't dream, he has nightmares. 

    It's RE's faith in the other side that  keeps him (us?) going in spite of all. If it's there he's earning his place.

     

    • RE says:

      “It’s RE’s faith in the other side that  keeps him (us?) going in spite of all. If it’s there he’s earning his place.”

      SEE YOU ON THE OTHER SIDE

      RE

Knarf plays the Doomer Blues

https://image.freepik.com/free-icon/musical-notes-symbols_318-29778.jpg

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