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  Thursday, February 19, 2004

The use of the term "cult" to denigrate non-mainstream Christian denominations like Seventh-Day Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses, Christian Scientists, and Latter-day Saints was popularized in the 1960s.  Yet when real religious cults like the People's Temple (Jonestown) and the Branch Davidians (Waco) emerged in America, they were led by Christian ministers and were populated by what can only be termed fundamentalist Christians.  The irony seems lost on Christian apologists, who show a remarkable inability to draw the obvious conclusion, still thinking the term "cult" applies to everyone but themselves -- how convenient, how self-serving, how hypocritical.  Since the term "cult" is here to stay, what we really need is a defensible definition and exposition of what a cult or cult behavior is, to counter the inaccurate, perjorative use perpetuated by Christian apologists.

Enter Arthur Deikman, a practicing psychiatrist and academic, who in 1990 published The Wrong Way Home: Uncovering the Patterns of Cult Behavior in American Society (my short summary and review is posted here on this site, with a permanent link on the sidebar).  I stumbled across it at my local library.  Wrong Way Home is the first discussion of "cults" I have encountered that succeeds in defining the phenomenon objectively and considers the degree to which it is reflected in institutions of all types in American society.  Corporations, the government, the military, religious denominations or congregations -- all these groups might reflect cult behavior.  Per Deikman, "cult behavior" is a particular type of group dynamic to which any group or institution may succumb, characterized by a strong emphasis on group compliance, dependence on a leader, devaluing outsiders, and avoiding dissent.  Knowledge is power; understanding Deikman's discussion of cult behavior will allow you to recognize it in the institutions you affiliate with and avoid some of its deleterious effects.  Go read my review, then find the book and read it too.

You may be the kind of person (and there's nothing wrong with this) who is comfortable in hierarchical organizations, who likes clear lines of authority, and who favors defined rules and clear directives.  If so, this book will raise your awareness of how those exercising power in such organizations might unwittingly (or perhaps quite wittingly) lead their department, division, agency, congregation, or denomination to adopt these modes of behavior and conduct.  Forewarned is forearmed; if you don't know what to look for and recognize, you are vulnerable.  If you are informed, you can be part of the solution rather than part of the problem in your favorite corporate entity.

On the other hand, you may be the kind of person (and there's nothing wrong with this either) who has never been comfortable in corporate settings, whether that be in business corporations, the military, bureacracies of any sort, or corporate religions.  If so, this book will help you understand why you are not comfortable in those organizations.  Maybe you don't have "a problem with authority," maybe you aren't an incurable non-conformist, maybe you haven't simply succumbed to the wiles of the adversary.  It is possible you simply have a naturally heightened sensitivity to the attributes of cult behavior in organizations and are uncomfortable in such settings.  This book will help you understand why you are running an arts and crafts shop in Newport Beach instead of following Dad's footsteps up the corporate ladder.  Or maybe why your uncle quit his Mormon mission after three months.  Or maybe why you feel a little nauseous after every weekly department meeting.  You could really learn something from this book. 11:35:49 AM      

The latest FLDS report on the Religion News Blog is entitled 'We fear another Waco'.   It begins: With the authorities in hot pursuit, a Mormon 'Prophet', Warren Jeffs, has gone to ground with his 70 wives - and enough ammo for Armageddon. Andrew Gumbel reports from a community in fear.  I don't see a happy ending to this situation, which seems to be spiraling toward some sort of confrontation between the FLDS guru and state authorities. 8:32:34 AM      

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Last update: 3/3/2004; 12:35:57 AM.