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May 16th, 2007

Overlooked Blurb on Cults

I wrote a blurb about cults in the context of SGI and, since I speak with equal authority on that subject as did the arrogant OP (when he said "I know cults") yet the blurb was overlooked, I decided to keep it here in my memory banks because the words just flowed in the original response.  So here it goes:

I think one must be careful with labels because using them makes us vulnerable to the very stereotypes that the label conveys, such as "cult". If someone is looking for a bad apple to use against a larger group, such as Buddhists, then that person will find an example that matches their prejudices. Evangelical Christians and Pat Robertson come to mind; not all Christians are like them yet 'their kind' is pejoratively exemplified as 'what is wrong with Christianity' or, even more insidious, 'what all Christians secretly believe'. So I find generalizing one SGI Buddhist or calling SGI generally "cultish" as perpetuating a stigma against a kind of Buddhism which may or may not warrant a judgement against SGI or, even worse, all Buddhists. And I'm saying this as a non-SGI (and possibly a non-Buddhist).

The only practical meaning for "cult" is political. If a religion is clandestine -- meaning some group acts against a government in the shroud of religion --, then there's good reason to suspect "cultish behavior" and seek judgment against that religion's adherents on behalf of the state's welfare.  The rational for this reaction is obviously defensive but I think we underestimate our irrational reasons for labeling people: we fear them. The seemingly insuperable power of altruism turned evil -- aka. groupthink -- scares the shit out of individuals and I find that realization a more satisfying reflection on what we fear from these SGI's, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Branch Davidians.  My reflection on this irrational fear of cults -- and perhaps the fear of any set of beliefs organized as a "religion" and antagonist to our personal beliefs -- conjures up a motto from another cult, albeit a fantastically misunderstood one:
I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.
(Bene Gesserit litany from Dune by Frank Herbert)