On Cults

M16 Eye

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What can be called a cult and what is religious intolerance toward the beliefs of others? This is the question, that I hoped, would be discussed openly and honestly as a result of the April 1997 apparent mass suicide of the Heaven's Gate group. Through such discussion, I believe, a re-examination of our values will lead to further maturation of our societies.

Following are some definitions, a brief essay, a list of cult traits to look out for, and a few links to sites I found browsing. This may help you with further research. I also list sites to what I consider the opposite of cult behavior, Community Building. By avoiding the pitfalls of cult behavior, we can achieve a sense of community that is one of the most deeply rewarding human experiences.

Definitions, Cult and Cultivate

cult, n. [Fr. culte, L. cultus, from colere, to cultivate, worship.]

1. worship; reverential honor; religious devotion. [Obs.]

2. the system of outward forms and ceremonies used in worship; religious rites and formalities.

3. devoted attachment to, or extravagant admiration for, a person, principle, etc., especially when regarded as a fad; as, the cult of nudism.

4. a group of followers; sect.

cultivate, v.t.; cultivated, pt., pp.; cultivating, ppr. [L. cultus, cultivation, from colere, to cultivate.]


5. to improve by care, training, or study; refine; as, cultivate your mind.

6. to promote the development or growth of; acquire and develop; as, he cultivated a social conscience.

7. to seek to develop a familiarity with; give one's attention to; pursue.

Quoted from Webster's New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, Second Edition

Cults and the Cultivation of the United States of America

If you see, how the word cult is derived from the Latin colere, to cultivate, the formation of a cult is clearly a process of cultivation, of refinement, of pursuit. In this broad sense, I believe, the United States of America may be referred to as a cult. The Declaration of Independence states: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness..." The Constitution of the United States of America is based on insuring the cultivation of Happiness. Americans have developed or, one might say, cultivated a social conscience that for example makes suicide, as was apparently committed by the Heaven's Gate group, a crime, a moral offense.

While it may seem absurd to many, in the minds of the Heaven's Gate group the pursuit of Happiness included suicide. This creates a dilemma for conscientious Americans as an unalienable Right becomes a crime. Only, if we admit to ourselves, that we are subjective, that we carry a bias to adhere to the "cult" of our founding fathers, can we act to resolve this apparent conflict. If we fail to admit this, we may fall prey to emotionalism and ploys to cover up resulting insecurities about our national identity. The behavior of a cult like the Heaven's Gate group becomes not only shocking but threatening. From such a threatened position, we will not find ourselves capable of compassion.

Without necessarily making an apology for our stance on suicide as a crime in light of our profession of the pursuit of happiness as an unalienable Right, we can acknowledge those who disagree. We can in the admission of our cultural bias show compassion and understanding for people who think differently. We can recognize, that the pursuit of happiness may at times set us on a treacherous journey riddled with paradox and fraud with dangers, for which we have no easy safeguard. We can acknowledge the attempts of others to pursue happiness without judgment and with love. We can also see from their example the roads we may prefer to avoid. Critical to this recognition is a vigilance about ourselves. When we fail to realize our own cult behavior, we are already lost and far down the road of self-deception.

With such vigilance, however, we can then begin to address difficult questions. What is being cultivated, refined, or pursued? How may we find religious tolerance? How may we appreciate cultural diversity without compromising our values? What brings happiness?

Click here for your e-mail comments (gk@netwrx.net)Any kind e-mail response, you wish to make, will be appreciated. Thank you.

Please understand that listing of other sites does not necessarily constitute my endorsement.

Copyright © 1997 by Georg W. Koester

Last updated: July 14, 1998

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