Thursday, February 12, 2009

Dear Sam: Stop using the 'C-word'

Before I move on in this series, many people has been e-mailing me complaining about my use the the term, 'cult'. I will try and explain here briefly.

All I mean by cult is an organization that has formally established methods of conditioning people's lives in a way that puts them under a single lens of authority and credibility that cannot be questioned or dissented from. The effect this often has is the formation of a powerful community that shares--under threat of expulsion or discipline--a single mind controlled by the narrow prescription established and codified by the leader and the inner circle of leadership.

You may wonder: Well, I can think of lots of organizations that function that way. What about the Catholic Church? Is that a cult too?

Here is the difference: In the non-cult there is a democratic sentiment--an openess to dialogue and debate--and a general lack of concreteness to the prescriptions in the organizations, especially evident in the practice of its members. In a cult, on the other hand, there is a tyrannical sentiment. In fact, many of the practices of the cult are intended to prevent dissent or justify it when it comes along.

This disciplinary aspect of a cult is its hallmark. It cannot survive unless the minds--and the bodies--of its members are thoroughly regulated and, more importantly, self-regulated. Carter G. Woodson makes this point clearly when he wrote:
If you can control a man's thinking, you don't have to worry about his actions. If you can determine what a man thinks, you do not have to worry about what he will do. If you can make a man believe that he is inferior, you don't have to compel him to seek an inferior status, he will do so without being told and if you can make a man believe that he is justly an outcast, you don't have to order him to the back door, he will go to the back door on his own and if there is no back door, the very nature of the man will demand that you build one.
So, when I refer to a cult, I am mourning one, or both, of two things:

1. An organization that disciplines the human mind and conscience with formal strcutures of discipline and authority in order to limit the horizon of one's thought.
2. The person who has lost the dignity of thinking--and even feeling through intuition--for herself.