The “cult” in culture: what draws the line?

By on January 20, 2015
Opinion Headline

I’ve been hearing a lot about cults lately – most of which being the ones that have made headlines for atrocities against mankind. Yet, among the 5,000 cults in America as of 2005, along with the many that have existed in the past, not all are notorious for casualties or detrimental to their followers or others, according to religionnewsblog.com.

These, however, aren’t the ones that have come to my recent attention .

In my QU101 class, we had discussions and watched videos about the most notorious cults in our nation’s history – tied into a bigger theme about the individual in the community. I went to see the horror movie Annabelle in theaters, where a murderous cult resembling the ‘Manson Family’ played a big role early in the plot. And, even more recently, the 80-year-old psychopathic ringleader himself, Charles Manson, received a license to marry a 26-year-old woman who visits him in prison.

From everything I was seeing – from the violent to the benign, the mass-suicides to mass-murders, the day-tripping hippies in the woods, to the knife-stabbing ones behind bars for life – I naturally began questioning what it was that could drive someone to carry out horrors like the ones I was seeing, or even to join a cult in general.

I eventually narrowed it down to one thing.

To have a cult, you need humans. It may sound elementary, but you truly do need them; and you need ‘all’ of them. You need their soul. You need a person so empty, so hungry for a sense of identity, that they’re ready to be filled with artificial love and accepted by a prophet with open arms; to be laced with a new belief system, manipulated through a repetition of hidden messages and preachings of a new order.

Many in this state probably have their backs so turned to the outside that they don’t even identify their affiliation as a “cult,” until it’s characterized as one from an outside source.

I wondered further: are there cults in plain sight that we simply cannot see? I think the answer is yes.

Partially.

There are many cults across the nation (close to 5,000, as I mentioned earlier) that have been recognized and defined as such – whether they made headlines or not. On a lighter note, however, there is not a large percentage of people  in the severe and solitary condition to be led astray. And, given the huge population of our country, it is easy to assume 5,000 cults wouldn’t be accessible to even a solitary percentage of more than 300 million. This is why you won’t find yourself dealing with many cults in your time.

I did, however, happened to get myself wrapped up in it, so I pushed ahead further and asked myself: what could these “potential” cults possibly be? What could become an escape for someone as Jonestown – the isolated community in Guyana built by The Peoples Temple cult, where followers were brainwashed into committing a mass suicide at the hand of their leader and self-proclaimed deity Jim Jones – was for an unfortunate few in the 70s?

This is where I hit a dead end; or better yet ran into too many ends. So many things, honestly more than I can count, could technically become a potential cult. Our cell phones and other devices. Celebrities. Music. We often hear the term that one is “obsessed” with things like these. Perhaps that’s a start.

What it ultimately boils down to, is that something doesn’t have to resemble the formal idea of a cult just for it to be a cult – it merely needs to have the same effect a cult does on its followers. It’s all about the humans.

A person lonely enough, upset enough, confused enough, can create a cult-like attachment or belief in anything, anything that they can devote themselves to when they feel that they have nothing else. Around us are claims of violent video games driving people to commit real shootings, of people using electronics to the point of needing rehabilitation. These are firsthand examples of the cult buried in our culture.

I’m not saying this to reveal an inconvenient truth about humanity, but instead to emphasize the power that aspects of human culture has on humanity itself. A power that, in a time of need, has the potential to lead to detrimental devotion in certain hands.

We are powerful – but what we’ve created for ourselves has grown to rival even our own strength. You can spend just as much time, if not more, in front of a TV screen instead of having a conversation with a group of friends, or curled up with a book rather than out at a party. I think it’s easy to see how someone in a dark state of mind, perhaps a depression or separateness, could cross the thin line from a fascination, to an obsession, to a worship of what shelters them.

So, based on this, couldn’t a book about “phonies” hypothetically be what inspires a man to kill one of The Beatles?

I think the answer depends on us.

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About Sal Siciliano