by Kevin Theis
When I was growing up in the early- to mid- 70's, cults were all the rage.
This is not to say that cults did not exist before the 70's- far from it. But at the time, Americans were turning inward and self-examination was what the times they were a-changin' into. This led to a lot of people looking far outside of their comfort zones in an attempt to "find themselves" and charistmatic "religous" leaders snapped up these self-seekers by the armload. The more gifted of these modern messiahs had the ability to build up enormous followings and amass millions upon millions of dollars. The modern cult was born.
Now, cults, as you may know, come in all shapes and sizes. For the ultra-violent dirty hippie crowd, you had the Manson "Family." Charles Manson convinced a farmload of freaky-deaky kids that he was the Second Coming and they went out and slaughtered people at his direction. The images of the young men and women who followed "Charlie" (as well as the terrifying pictures of Manson himself) served to turn the peace-loving hippie stereotype on its head. (And, not incidentally, to ruin the Beatles' "White Album" for a whole hell of a lot of people.)
For real follower followers, though, you had Sun Myung Moon, who ran an outfit called the Unification Church. Well, that's what they called it. We called them "Moonies." Mass-marriages, huge business deals and, as a bonus...they brainwashed your ass. Boo-scary!
Got some extra cash and a lot of free time? Maybe Scientology is your racket. Rid yourself of engrams and all your money at the same time! Or if chanting, colorful costumes, provocative hairstyles and names with very few vowels in them was your thing, the Hare Krishas were more than happy to have you aboard.
But the big news in cults back in the seventies came from South America. In November of 1978, the news broke that over 900 people had died/were killed in Guyana at the headquarters of the People's Temple in Jonestown. For those of you too young to remember, this was a cult started up by a guy named Jim Jones that began in Indiana, transferred to California and eventually settled at its own compound down near the Equator. When the entire compound self-immolated, the Jonestown massacre resulted in the largest single loss of American civilian life in a non-natural disaster until 9/11/01. And that's saying something.
This horrifying event led to a worldwide backlash against cults which, to a large degree, worked. People, for the most part, stopped running off to join up with such groups and the leaders that inspired such movements weren't fooling very many people anymore. The modern cult movement was, suddenly, dying.
Now? Cults are alive and well again. Only, we don't call them cults anymore. We call them movements. The latest, the "Tea Party" movement, is one such cult. An anti-tax movement protesting a President who...hasn't raised taxes. Can you get more brainwashed than that?
The Fox News cult is bigger than the Hare Krishnas and the Moonies put together. Right wing bloviators, parroting GOP talking points and then spurring their viewers on to criticize and bemoan every move this president makes (good or bad, helpful or otherwise)? That's an uber-cult, baby. And they know how to rake in the cash.
The Apple cult. The Microsoft Cult. The Cult of Glenn Beck. The Cult of NPR.
And then there are the two biggest cults of all: the GOP and the Democrats. And, yes, I include myself as a member of the latter. But that doesn't mean it isn't as much of a cult as the other side. We both have strict orthodoxies, we are both big into recruiting, we have the most sacred sorts of sacred cows, we deify our leaders and excommunication (unless in extreme circumstances) is very rare. Oh, and we also dutifully shovel money at them. Cults. That's what they are.
So while we're not spoon feeding poisoned Kool-Aid to kids or hitting people up for cash in airports, is this really part of a healthy society? A blind obedience to our ideological masters?
I dunno. But until the other side disbands their cult, I'm not going anywhere.
Okay, everybody, now pass the plate...