exploring self-realization, sacred personhood, and full humanity
“The nature of psychological compulsion is such that those who act under constraint remain under the impression that they are acting on their own initiative. The victim of mind-manipulation does not know that he is a victim. To him the walls of his prison are invisible, and he believes himself to be free. That he is not free is apparent only to other people. His servitude is strictly objective.” Aldous Huxley, Brave New World Revisited
Editor's 1-Minute Essay: Cultism: A Temporary Stage of Human Developmental Growth
Mette Ivie Harrison: The Impulse to Cultism
Jiddu Krishnamurti: Why It's Harmful To Follow Gurus
I recently spoke on the phone with my old college friend, Adrian. We were discussing the threat of a new economic downturn. Adrian begins to laugh:
"You and I don't have anything to worry about. We'll never have to stand on a street corner banging a tin cup for loose change. We can always start our own cult religion, we were taught by the best."
And now we're both laughing at this; unfortunately, we do understand cults very well - we learned the hard way.
Adrian, circa 1970
Cultism: it's more than drinking the koolaid
Maybe you were you thinking of cultism in terms of crackpot minority religion. It's more than that.
- Tom Wolfe: "A cult is a religion with no political power."
Definitions of cultism easily devolve to bigotry; meaning, it's always the other guy's religion. Tom Wolfe well understood that consensus, majority opinion will sanctify and smile upon certain "crackpot" religious ideas while condemning less-popular minority views - as if reality were fashioned by voting. This kind of venal subjectivity, however, is just another example of egoic "me versus them."
But there is a larger picture to consider. Some years ago I came to realize that the spirit of cultism extends beyond religion to be found in every facet of society. There are hard-core versions, to be sure, but cultism's essence is a much bigger problem than "one, true doctrines" with which we disagree, or even the isolated and dramatic Jim-Jones kind.
- Philip S. Hoffman: "You can look at anything as a cult."
Hoffman is exactly right. Anything can take the form of a cult because people attempt to quiet the inner neediness, the sense of "I am not enough," by identifying with almost anything. We'll talk about this.
the meaning of the word cult
The word cult derives from a family of Latin words with the basic sense of "cut."
This core concept of "cut" leads us to images of refinement and fashioning; by extension, also to development, control, pattern, order, and system.
We see the root-word cult in cultivate, which, when applied to plants, offers the prospect of increased plant development and greater control over the growth process.
A cultured person is refined and developed, with social imperfections pruned and cut away, now conforming to well-accepted elite-group mores and codes of conduct.
A particular ethnic culture is one in which elements of life are ordered, chosen, and sanctified in a certain way; modes of living are systematized, given blessing or spurned, executed according to a particular pattern.
(1970) See my old 4020 John Deere on which I spent thousands of hours during my teens. My brother here is changing a plow's coulters or culters, the cutting edges, the knife-blades which cut and turn over the soil. Today, farmers don't plow anymore, having moved on to "no-till" seeding.
The very word agriculture, most significantly, contains this root-idea of "cutting," that is, a refinement and fashioning, an injection of order and system relating to the food supply. As Will Durant reminds us in his monumental Story of Civilization:
"Three meals a day are a highly advanced institution. Savages gorge themselves or fast [with the soporific thought,] 'I do not have to think. I have plenty of meat'… In the last analysis, civilization is based upon the food supply."
But my favorite insight from Durant regarding agriculture and civilization is this:
"Civilization is social order promoting cultural creation... It begins where chaos and insecurity end. For when fear is overcome, curiosity and constructiveness are free, and man passes by natural impulse towards the understanding and embellishment of life... A people may possess ordered institutions, a lofty moral code, and even a flair for the minor forms of art, like the American Indians; and yet if it remains in the hunting stage, if it depends for its existence upon the precarious fortunes of the chase, it will never quite pass from barbarism to civilization... The first form of culture is agriculture. It is when man settles down to till the soil and lay up provisions for the uncertain future that he finds time and reason to be civilized. Within that little circle of security - a reliable supply of water and food - he builds huts, his temples and his schools; he invents productive tools, and domesticates the dog... at last himself. He learns to work with regularity and order, maintains a longer tenure of life, and transmits more completely than before the mental and moral heritage of his race. Culture suggests agriculture, but civilization suggests the city ... civility [literally points to] the refinement which townsmen ... thought possible only in the civitas or city."
The first form of culture was agriculture, which allowed for stability of life, an ordering and systemization, as the food supply became more predictable; all of which allowed for a refinement and control regarding daily living.
but what does the term cult signify in reference to religion and philosophies of living
Given the above discussion of cultism as systemization, we begin to see that a definition within the arena of religion and philosophy will relate to a patterning and ordering of ideas.
And now we must ask the question, "Is there anything wrong with bringing order and pattern to our religious views and philosophies of living?"
The answer is nuanced and can easily lead to confusion.
ordering and patterning of data has been one of the great achievements of civilization
Aristotle was one of the fathers of classifying information about the world. He organized living creatures in terms of mobility and apparent mental capacity. This was a great advancement for humankind.
In our day, Mortimer Adler undertook the massive project of cataloging and ranking what he called "the great ideas" of the last 2500 years. These 102 most important topics derive from the writings of history's greatest thinkers.
bringing order and pattern to data is one thing - but when attempts at system and control are brought to bear against human beings, now we've stepped over the line into dark cultism
Many of my writings deal with this cultish assault upon the dignity of the human essence; as such, I will not attempt to reproduce those discussions here, but will refer you to my core articles:
However, I will offer a brief summary of this issue.
how do you bring system and order to an entity whose capacity, like an inner cosmos, as Father Benson eloquently stated, has "no discoverable upper limit"
How do you build a fence around the infinite, the illimitable? How do you contain, bring pattern and formula, to creatures who are like the prairie with its magical panorama of endless horizon - unbounded, untrammeled, unfettered; an inexhaustible human aptitude - vast, wide open, without discernible demarcation; the wondrous sacred destiny of those "made in the image."
here's the most important point I would have you know about the essence of dark cultism
The history of science and philosophy is a chronicle of humanity's quest to control and manage the forces of nature. In early times, primitive man saw himself as helpless pawn of the gods; but with the hard-won discoveries of science and philosophy, humanity began to cast off fear-based concepts of superstition and fate, taking to itself a sense of mastery over the world. It's been a long, slow climb out of the pit of ignorance into the sunny, open air of rational, enlightened thought.
All this is well and good, and we need more of it. Here we find the good version of cultism which seeks to fashion and shape, pare and refine, manage and control, the wild and untoward elements arrayed against us in nature.
At this point in the process, however, some veer off into dysfunction. While the clear-thinking scientist and philosopher will season their views with generous sprinklings of humility, dark-spirited cult leaders reject such equanimity; the former readily admit to partial knowledge and incomplete understanding of the universe...
Dr. Richard Feynman, Nobel Laureate, considered to be "the most brilliant teacher" of physics: "We do not yet know all the basic laws [of physics]: there is an expanding frontier of ignorance... one needs a considerable amount of preparatory training even to learn what the words [of physics] mean... Each piece, or part, of the whole of nature is always merely an approximation to the complete truth, or the complete truth so far as we know it. In fact, everything we know is only some kind of approximation, because we know that we do not know all the laws as yet. Therefore, things must be learned only to be unlearned again, or, more likely, to be corrected."
Confucius: "Real knowledge is to know the extent of one's ignorance."
Professor Daniel Robinson, Georgetown and Oxford Universities: "What is there? - the common answer is, Look around!... but ancient man engaged in spear-fishing and learned early that where you think the fish is in the water is not quite where the fish is, and you've got to learn to adjust to the fact that your senses might deceive you. Might they always deceive you?"
Bertrand Russell: "The biggest cause of trouble in the world today is that the stupid people are so sure about things and the intelligent folks are so full of doubts."
Apostle Paul, I Corinthians 13, The Message translation: "We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete... When I was an infant at my mother’s breast, I gurgled and cooed like any infant. When I grew up, I left those infant ways [of believing in complete information] for good. We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist..."
Ralph Gomary: "Instead of accepting information as fact, we ought to be taught that it is only a fragment on the edge of the unknown. That pushes us to look further."
J. Robert Oppenheimer: “There must be no barriers to freedom of inquiry … There is no place for dogma in science. The scientist is free, and must be free to ask any question, to doubt any assertion, to seek for any evidence, to correct any errors. Our political life is also predicated on openness. We know that the only way to avoid error is to detect it and that the only way to detect it is to be free to inquire. And we know that as long as men are free to ask what they must, free to say what they think, free to think what they will, freedom can never be lost, and science can never regress.”
... but the latter, the dark-spirited cult leaders, with bloated vanity, speak pompously of:
- infallible teachings by infallible teachers
- "one, true doctrines" offered by a "one, true church"
- infallible, holy books
- exclusive possession of "the truth"
- exclusive commissioning, directly from God
I could go on.
everything you’ve ever learned or heard or read or were taught is wrong
Everything, including what Grandma said, or what your PhD research revealed, or what you learned from 40 years of experience, or what the Nice Young Man at Church preached to you -- is wrong.
Everything you’ve ever come to believe as true, as a fact of the world, is either patently wrong, wrong on its face, or effectively wrong, obsolete-wrong, in that, though an aspect of it might be true enough, as new information becomes available, it will find itself in a more expansive, more complex setting, thereby rendering what we thought to be a final answer as something childish, utterly incomplete, a mere subset of a much larger reality – to be cast aside as a few-years-old college textbook, for sale now in the bargain-book bin for 50 cents.
Newton’s “clockwork” universe seemed so authoritative that, in his day, it was taken as the very voice of God, with no major new discoveries in physics deemed to be possible. And his “laws of motion” were impressive and did take us to the Moon and back. However, today the Newtonian worldview has been relegated to status of mere subset of a larger system. This same paradigmatical diminution is currently afflicting Einsteinian explanations of the cosmos. It’s a big place out there with lots of knowledge to be discovered, and, at best, we perceive “one grain of sand.”
There is no fact of the world which shall escape this degradation. There is nothing that you can know about the world that can endure the onslaught, as Abraham Lincoln used the phrase, the “silent artillery” of new discovery, new research, new insight, new information. All “final answers” are swept away in this tidal wave of progress.
I said “fact of the world” and that which we may know “about the world.” All externals tumble and swirl and dance a death of obsolescence. What I say here is true in our world and also in the worlds to come. All knowledge, here and there, like a river’s torrent, moves inexorably forward.
Ralph Gomary, President, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, quoted in Forbes, Jan. 11, 1999: "Instead of accepting information as fact, we ought to be taught that it is only a fragment on the edge of the unknown. That pushes us to look further."
But in this condition of perpetual change, motion, and evolution, there is one aspect of life to remain ever immutable. When you find love, the real love, it will plant a flag of permanence in your heart and being. Like an ember glowing, radiating, warming, it will live within you. Permanently. And though its initial visitation may have occurred decades ago, the warmth of that ember fades not, changes not. It will be there tomorrow, next year, and a million years from now, and beyond. Settled, abiding, imperishable.
Facts of the world, things to be known about the world, are derived intellectually. But love, true love, is apprehended as an altered and elevated state of consciousness. It is eternal as the soul; indeed, it lives as inherent aspect of the soul. Ultimate Reality itself might be defined by it.
Editor’s note: The foregoing observations of life are mine alone as fruit of my own meditations. Later, to my shock, I realized that the apostle Paul had offered the same view in I Corinthians 13. He spoke of the transitoriness of knowledge, and did so within the context of unremitting love.
Adrian and I ask ourselves, why did we put up with that nonsense for so long?
The arrogant decrees of Religion represent a throw-back to totalitarian views of the Middle Ages; to borrow a phrase of Nobel Laureate F.A. Hayek, it's all "counter-Renaissance," anti-humanistic, and unscientific.
Here's where the "cutting" of their brand of dark cultism comes into play: Dear Leaders attempt to mold and fashion, pare and refine, a hostile world with promises to make it all safe and secure. Dark cultism offers to create certainty in an uncertain world; predictability and absolutism amidst endless vicissitude.
We speak of charismatic leaders who draw to themselves an intoxicated "cult following." I think we can now see what this means. The party-faithful, in a psychology of the "inner child seeking for a strong father-figure"...
be it in a religious, political, corporate, pop-celebrity, or other context, delude themselves into believing that their Dear-Leader Hero will be able to fashion and shape, pare and prune, systematize and order, reality itself into a form less terrifying and more certain. For thousands of years, cult-followers have been seeking "saviors" to rescue them; but as Eric Hoffer masterfully points out, it is an ill-conceived attempted rescue primarily from their own sense of "I am not enough," the "spoiled self."
“To do anything that suggests a taste for solitude, even to go for a walk by yourself, was always slightly dangerous. There was a word for it in Newspeak: ownlife, it was called, meaning individualism and eccentricity.” George Orwell, 1984
"The Wizard [of Oz, metaphor of society's thought-police] is threatened by the inner journey. The whole administrative structure of the manufactured reality is threatened." Adrian Smith
I need not ask others why such illusion is applauded. I need only bring to mind my own days in cult-religion with its "one, true this" and "infallible that."
Why did we put up with the nonsense? Why didn't we just walk away? Why did we stay for so many years?
We allowed ourselves to be psychologically bullied because of then-present states of mind - our diminished levels of awareness and consciousness at the time. We had not yet sufficiently grown out of fear-based mentality and into self-respect and self-love; as such, it seemed reasonable to seek for some form of impressive external authority who promised to save us from our own "spoiled selves." As Aldous Huxley stated, in the masthead quote at the top of this page, those dominated by cult-religion do not realize that they are not free. In those days, I didn't even realize I wasn't free.
everybody's looking for something, some of them want to abuse you, some of them want to be abused...
Sweet Dreams Are Made Of This
everybody's looking for something
some of them want to use you
some of them want to get used by you
some of them want to abuse you
some of them want to be abused...
the spirit of dark cultism, with its promise to reshape and redistill reality, making it safe and certain for you, is found in every aspect of society, not just religion
It is very important to understand that the spirit of dark cultism is to be found in all aspects of society. We find it in politics, the corporate world, the arena of music and the arts with its celebrities, in materialistic science, in academia...
- Courtney Love: "Being a rock star is like being a cult leader - [like having] your own religion."
Dark cultism will be found wherever human dignity is up for sale due to lack of self-knowledge; where people willingly merchandize themselves to Dear Leaders in exchange for empty promises of hope and change, security and safety.
Take back your life, declare your independence today, from this slavery, this mind-control -- all forms of cultism.
the ‘spoiled self’ can find immortality, not as an individual, but in merging with a collective-ego institution
George Orwell, 1984: "We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship... The first thing you must realize is that power is collective. The individual only has power in so far as he ceases to be an individual. You know the Party slogan Freedom is Slavery. Has it ever occurred to you that it is reversible? Slavery is freedom. Alone - free - the human being is always defeated. It must be so, because every human being is doomed to die... [but, he can find immortality] if he can escape from his identity, if he can merge himself in the Party, so that he is the Party, then he is all-powerful and immortal."
1984 was “assigned reading” for Mr. Olig’s senior English class. In those long-ago days, with little life experience, I could not grasp or appreciate Orwell’s profound – even, unique – insights into the dark side of human nature. Look at the above quote. What an incredible perception by Orwell! It would take me 50 years to understand what he meant.
How often have we seen some aging Dear Leader – be it in a political or religious context – going about his or her untoward business of oppressing the unwary, enacting laws which reduce personal freedoms, employing policies which denigrate human dignity. We see these white-haired mannequins on television, appearing as “warmed over death”; they might even have themselves carted out of the "terminal-cancer ward" for a business meeting. And we are left to wonder, “Have you nothing better to do during your last days on Earth? Why aren’t you at home playing with your grandchildren or tending a rose garden? In a very short time you will be food for worms and maggots, and here you are, with your last gasp of strength, doing all you can, as usual, in your elitist ways, to obfuscate, deceive, and lord it over others.”
But, Orwell explained the madness to us. There's a tortured coherency and logic to the insanity, if you create a certain premise: They don’t really accept that they’re going to die. Not really. Well, their bodies, grudgingly, might have to move to a more confined office-space, six feet under - but the “legacy” will live on. Yes, the vaunted "legacy"! How often do we hear Dear Leaders coveting their “legacy”? - so very important to them. Why is that? Let me translate this code-language:
“Legacy means that I have cheated death and will live on, immortalized, in the Collective-Ego Cult. My checkered individuality, my ‘spoiled self,’ no longer exists. I have gloriously merged with the ‘body-politic’ and now enjoy a derivative existence, one that shall go on and on, unfettered by the weakness of the flesh. I am an immortal god via the magic and mysticism of the Ageless and Eternal Cult.”
Subliminally, they really believe this stuff. They have to, they're driven to, in order to silence the inner yapping of "I am not enough." "Slavery is Freedom," don't you know. Once the "merging," the ego-identification, takes place, the "spoiled self" seems to be gone and the "false self" feels so much stronger.
What an impolite welcoming for them on the other side, to wake up in a “rat cellar.” So much for coveted legacy. But, from our perspective, look at how this sordid psychology works. Is this not amazing, Orwell’s penetrating insight? He's exactly correct.
Editor's last word:
Freud’s colleague, Ferenczi, perceived that hypnotism, per se, does not exist. Hypnotists do not hypnotize, as such -- no external force can unilaterally invade another's unwilling mind; rather, the hypnotist convinces people to hypnotize themselves via the secret compulsion to merge with power-figures – what Freud called “transference.” Hypnotism reflects no domineering outside force but an inner slavishness, a hidden tendency toward blind belief and uncritical obedience. This compulsive neurosis of the fearful “inner child” to identify with strong “father-figures” finds ready expression in the sordid dynamic of all forms of cultism. The terrified “inner child” finds security and safety from the dangers of this world, and the next, by latching onto strong “father-figures”; in so doing, the obedient “child,” conveniently, has no responsibility, is “just following orders,” and hides behind the protective mantle of the all-powerful "infallible" cult-guru. This self-delusion and prevarication, this shirking of an existential duty to grow up and to be one's own person, earns for itself tragic consequences in the afterlife.
Similarly, in the "Repression" article, see Dr. Norman O. Brown's discussion on how humankind "creates culture" and civilization "in order to repress himself"; that is, to escape those aspects of the world which seem frightening to the "inner child."
And notice below how Einstein speaks of "fashioning" a private world suitable to a particular philosophy of life; how we attempt to "substitute this [private] cosmos ... for the [objective] world ... and thus to overcome [the world as it is]." This is the essence of cultism: a redistilling of reality led by personal agenda, making it "the pivot" of one's life in an effort to find "peace and security," which, one fears, cannot be obtained outside the domain of a Dear Leader.
Albert Einstein: “Man tries to make for himself in the fashion that suits him best a simplified and intelligible picture of the world; he then tries to some extent to substitute this cosmos of his for the world of experience, and thus to overcome it. This is what the painter, the poet, the speculative philosopher, and the natural scientist do, each in his own fashion. Each makes this cosmos and its construction the pivot of his emotional life, in order to find in this way the peace and security which he cannot find in the narrow whirlpool of personal experience.”