Lesson: How to recognize cults.
Thesis: Cults are everywhere and they’re mostly beneficial.
304 pages, ★★★ (probably four stars in paperback)
“Cults” is an inaccurate title. This book instead refers consistently to “charismatic groups” with flattering prejudice as the nomenclature suggests. The author mostly analyses “Moonies”, the People’s Temple and Alcoholics Anonymous. Admittedly, it seems inappropriate to lump the outrageous (Moonies), the demonic (People’s Temple) and a recovery group (AA) under one category. The thesis of “Cults” is that cults are everywhere and they’re not all bad.
According to page 4, for a group to qualify as a “cult” (or, “charismatic group), it must:
- have a shared belief system
- have a high level of social cohesiveness
- are strongly influenced by the group’s behavioral norms
- impute charismatic (or sometimes divine) power to the group or its leadership
Using the definitions outlined in this book, I could qualify just about any group as a cult. Using these definitions, the Armed Forces, Scientology, Goldman Sachs, Catholicism, Apple, the Hell’s Angels and book clubs all qualify as “charismatic groups” too. And they’re not all bad.
The University of Cambridge, too, satisfies all the four requirements of a “charismatic group”:
- they believe they are better than non-Cambridge people, and a high grade will bring satisfaction (a high salary, a PhD, etc.);
- they are extremely cliquey;
- they have “formal hall”, “bops”, “balls” and other strange rituals found nowhere else;
- they boastfully impute charismatic power onto themselves (but not to the leadership).
In my view, universities are definitely “charismatic groups”. When approaching the end of their educational railroad (high-school, graduation, etc.), students panic and apply for a continuation of the same meaningfulness that their old schools used to provide. These people go on to study BA, masters, a second masters, a PhD, and so on. They love the titles, the rituals and the sense of purpose these educational ladder-rungs (and their diplomas) give them. I read Cults book to understand this phenomenon.
The book tells us that charismatic groups (such as universities) provide a “set meal” of meaning to people who lack it. People are likely to turn to such groups when at a “nadir” resulting from sickness or trauma (see my Fight Club review) and embrace the spiritual element that such groups provide them. Surveys show, like the protagonist of Fight Club, that most people try many different groups before settling into one.
Charismatic groups are like spiritual buses: they take you close to your destination, even if it’s not exactly where you wanted to be. The best places are off the spiritual bus-routes, so the last part of the spiritual journey involves leaving the “charismatic group” and going alone.
It teaches you not how to recognize and avoid “charismatic groups”, but how to recognise and use “charismatic groups” safely. Give this book to help anyone who’s been brainwashed and it’ll help them start thinking for themselves. ★★★
- Cults & Mind Control (powersthatbeat.wordpress.com)
- Since we are on the topic of cults vs. religion… I pose you this question…. (bluepearlgirlsworld.wordpress.com)
- The Amazing Seductiveness of a Cult Leader Who Knows the Future… Because She’s Been There (io9.com)
- What’s A Nice Girl Like You Doing In A Cult Like This? (callingoftheheart.wordpress.com)
- Mark Driscoll And The Mars Hill Churches: When Discipline Becomes Control Becomes … ? (bigcircumstance.com)