CULT (open release)

a biief treatment of the evolution of religion and cults, how Christianity started out as a cult to become a world religion, and how its cultic roots impacted on western societies – up to the crises of the present day

by HA!Man | 10 October 2020


they always come crashing down. these cults. but the more general and widespread they are and the more time they have to infiltrate all avenues of society (that difficult and essential thing of being together) the harder it is for them to go away.

them. what are they?

a cult turns participation into veneration. a cult does not work together. a cult swings together in awe and hopes of The One to do the job for them. they load The One with so much power and license that The One can hardly bear it. The One usually gets addicted to all of this and now would throw it back to the members of the cult not to dare NOT to praise and follow him (ahem, it’s usually a “him”).

so a cult is hierarchical. and it runs on only half the potential of all involved. a cult is like a get-rich-quick scheme. it is essentially a society of desperation.

to be more precise: it is a group of people that shuns general society in desperate times.

it had innocent beginnings – around the normal (and usually urgent) needs of early agrarian societies – the great thorn and the great original strength of civilization: harvest time! to note: for most of humanity’s history, we roamed around hunting and gathering. there was no get-food-quick schemes possible. our numbers remained low. we had to be mobile and small-grouped. no settlements. you go after the food. it does not come to you.

agriculture changed all that. now you can order your food around. you can grow it at scale, you can save for the winter, you can stay in one place. but for all of this, you need a lot of labour. so those babies.. they can be born and survive: the more the better! but having staked so much on what can only be harvested once a year, the seasons need to be reliable. utterly. hunter-gatherers can move and adapt much more easily in times of a stingy heaven. but as a budding civilization, with your houses, cities and palaces, you’re stuck in one place. if the river does not flow, there is mass starvation.

where do you go to get some help? to the gods, of course. especially gods that have dominion over harvest time.

for hunter gatherers, everything was still both matter and spirit. every plant, every rock, every animal had its spirits. and not that you thought about them as some being inhabiting the object, no, they were two sides of the same coin. you could only talk metaphorically about the ghostly side of reality. all was animated. there was no question that every observable thing had soul. soul was essential to anything being a thing. no discontinuity (yet) between humans and all else.

but as the civilized life became much more laborious – in the sense that humans behaved much more like machines, doing repetitive and soul-diminishing work, day after day after day – they lost spirit. and the calling out for your spirit to return to its home, became the first prayer.

and if I lost my spirit, I look at the world and see a world that has lost spirit. a stone, now just a tool, a brick. not an animated part of a living universe anymore. its spirit has gone elsewhere. all the spirits of everything have gone elsewhere and they gathered and amalgamated through time to become the stories of gods. and as matter now leaves us empty, as matter became objects of our control, but ultimately out of our control, the importance of these gods rose. the participatory nature of reality turned hierarchical. also the gods, they settled down. we built them statues and temples, so we can see them, find them: please come back, please come back and help us. direct us. give us life.

before civilization, that life, that being alive, was taken for granted. now it has become something that needs to be asked for. sacrificed for. religion is born.

it is no cult yet. but there cannot be any cult without the groundwork laid down by religion.

early on, there was little difference between a cult and a religion. religion was a general necessity. the wandering spirits of things needed organization, just as humans were now living in organized ways. the hierarchy needed establishment and stability, just as humans now lived a hierarchy of kings and emperors, of bureaucracy, of territorial protection, expansion, of civil servants and armies.

as with any body, there is always a head. hunter-gatherers had leaders, even though the spread of power and input was much more egalitarian. the head of a city state is a different thing. he needed to represent and hold together an exponentially larger grouping of people. hence the power accorded to him (ahem) was close to that of the gods. he could even be regarded as a god himself. and so, in their enthusiasm, people could elaborate on their veneration for such a king, or pharaoh, turning rituals into festivals and myths into hagiographies. it becomes a bit more than meeting general spiritual needs. it becomes a bit of a party. an indulgence. these were the first cults. and still innocent, as said before.

but imagine this: there is a prolonged stinginess of nature, like, typically, a drought. there is widespread hunger and need. there is not much to do, as there is not much to harvest. life now is even more dreary than just being a machine in the great cog of the agricultural revolution. you’re more than stuck. you’re positively depressed (a formerly quite unknown condition to humans). the traditional gods, the king, the emperor, the state, all has failed you. where to go now?

hey ho, come along a friend who says: there’s going to be an extra big party for so-and-so god tonight. come join us! normally you don’t trust these parties, especially when it’s “extra big”. but your utter boredom and down-heartedness speak too loudly. you go. and at this party you encounter this very attractive and charismatic guy, who throws long speeches that you find entertaining, but more so, you find that they enliven your heart. you feel your sprit return. the whole party becomes a drug, a quick and effective boost to your soul condition. you’re hooked. you act a bit weirdly and have a bit of a hangover, but come the next party, it is so much harder to say no.

the thing is, it was not just a party. there was a message – coming especially from this charismatic figure: and that is that the state and its religion have indeed failed us. and that it is now time to turn our focus to this one particular god, whose mysteries are only now becoming more apparent. thing is, we, at this party, receive revelations that no one else knows about. it’s been there all along, but we’ve been blind to it. now is the time! the revelation is here! brought to us by this anointed prophet. and the time and place to find these, is to attend the parties.

the power of a cult: to create a reality within a reality. a society within a society. it is always parasitical, that’s why they always come crushing down in the end. for they are either thrown off by the carrier for stealing its blood, or they sponge on the carrier for too long, killing its capacity to provide.

a parasite is a get-life-quick scheme. so is a cult.

and so we arrive in the first century AD with the Roman Empire not quite being the Pax Romana for everyone. empire is a much bigger land-grabbing enterprise than a city state. the link between leader and subject are even more tenuous, than in the packed city state. often non-existent. the care, the organization and especially the accessibility of the state gods can become rather absent to many of its subjects. and, you guessed, a breeding ground for cults is created.

the intense religious and cultic developments of the first century is a complicated maze, even with the limited historical information we have left of it today. it’s a dangerous thing to try and simplify. so i am treading on thin ice here. but these are some outlines that I need to lay down for my story to progress.

in the thriving port city of Tarsus, influences came from far and wide. one such was of the Persian cult of Mithras, which became a leading so-called “mystery cult”. another was the popular Cult of Hercules, closely related to the figure of he Dying and Reviving God (which of course has its roots in the vulnerability of agrarian society to the cycles of the seasons). a young Jew, Saul, grew up amongst these influences.

Even though Judaism was an ethnic religion, there were two curious things at work which deeply shaped the spiritual make-up and development of Saul of Tarsus. One was that Judaism went further than the standard religions of the time, who defined themselves according to the nation and the state they served. If a nation was conquered, its religion was conquered too. It may be discarded, or spoils might be taken over. Religions and their gods were locally bound. But with their enigmatic history of displacement, the Jews developed a strong belief that their God was a God of all other people too. A universal, monotheistic God. The other thing is that by the first century, official Jewry became rather enmeshed politically as they cozied up to their Roman masters, leaving a vacuum for cults to thrive from within Judaism. One of the most prominent of these was the Essenes, who developed a wide network of cells, practicing asceticism and awaiting a new kingdom. Also important to the story of Saul, there was another, minor Jewish cult whose adherents were known as Galileans or Nazarenes.

Saul dramatically became a convert to the latter after first persecuting them fanatically in the name of Judaism. This cult later became known as the Christians – followers of the Christ. On becoming such a follower of this spiritual “Messiah” that would bring about a non-earthly Kingdom – Saul (or Paul) turned his considerable charismatic talents to proselytize for the cult, and through that also shaping its core tenets of faith. To convert more and more Gentiles, he built on Judaism’s universalist tendencies and, importantly, incorporated the Dying and Reviving God motive (amongst others) of the popular cults.

It was a winning mix and the Christian cult grew steadily over Asia Minor, although still largely under the radar. After the fall of Jerusalem, a cataclysmic event that dealt a heavy blow to official Judaism, the organizational network laid out by groupings like the Essenes provided a sudden and widespread welcoming environment for the Christian cult to take a firm hold. With hopes of political liberation for many in tatters, Christians offered an emphatically spiritual worldview, awaiting the immanent arrival of a totally new earth and heaven, not wasting too much time with worldly considerations of finding solutions to the mundane problems of the day.

Evangels – the genre of victory stories of Roman generals – were beginning to be written with Jesus (“Saviour”) as the heroic figure who would usher in this Kingdom of Heaven. Interlaced with elements of the Jewish Wisdom tradition and of course the widely venerated Old Testament (Septuagint), also drawing in a good dose of traditional mythical material, these Gospels went out to Christian communities giving a more human touch to Paul’s largely heavenly Christ. Jesus of Nazareth, the miracle working godman who was told about to have walked the earth amongst the common and the poor was on course to become the Hollywood blockbuster story of its time.

What started out as a sect soon had the numbers to afford more elaborate hierarchies and gained in power and influence. The Roman authorities took notice. It also slowly moved away from its mystical roots as it tried to raise its status to something more official and generally acceptable. Under the leadership of the early church fathers, metaphors became dogma and stories turned into histories. As the Roman Empire kept faltering over the next two and a half centuries, the alternative reality proposed by Christianity became so strong that the state finally succumbed and took it over as official religion in 325 AD.

This was awkward. In stead of having a state with an integrated religion that grew up along with it and served the spiritual needs of its general population, the state now adopted a religion with cultic roots, a religion that says there is another, ultimate reality that transcends the state, a reality that we, the religious hierarchy – are the custodians of, not you, the political power that be.

And so, for a number of centuries to follow, in stead of the peace that the state was looking for, the rather presumptuous child it had taken into its fold kept vying with and for the ultimate earthly power, becoming filthy rich and authoritative by itself in the process.

And further on the cycle continued: just as the Essences got fed-up with power hungry Jewish officials, the Protestants become fed up with the monolithic Catholic Church, its massive and overly decorated cathedrals, its golden statues and endless taxes. Like the Essenes, the Protestants thought themselves as returning to a more pure and original form of the faith, in other words, more cultic than the broad universality of Catholicism. But soon princes and kings sided with the one or the other. For another couple of centuries, Catholics fought Protestants for earthly power, land and subjects on countless blood-drenched battlefields, both with much finance at their avail and copious amounts of ready-to-die soldiers to draw on.

Against the backdrop of all this power play, the spawning of cults continued unabated. Especially during the 19th century, as Protestant countries led the Industrial Revolution, with new layers of machine-like lives and misery thrust upon the common population. It was the time of the great Revivals in Britain with electrified preachers like Charles Spurgeon, whose sermons still informed my own faith as an Evangelical youngster a hundred years later.

In the modern day, the meaning of the word cult came to denote the more extreme, localized uprisings, with main stream Christianity quick to distance itself from such quackery. Like the doomsday cults, with their stockpiles of emergency food, underground bunkers, or compounds rife with sexual abuse and dramatic suicides. We pity them. A cult today is said to be a bunch of people off their rockers. But the central problem that gave rise to them in the first place remains: the problem of societies where there is no meaningful and ongoing political participation and sharing of power and goods by and with all of its members.

The lure of the cult is belonging. Of finding clear and easy answers. Of giving it all over to The One who would make it happen for all. But the existence of a cult in society is that once it has taken hold, it saps the energy a society needs to function as a whole – the parasite effect. In fact, the disabling goes two ways: society fails the individual, giving rise to a cult. And the cult then inhibits a society even further to function properly.

The cultic roots of Christianity never left its body. When and where it became the dominant and mainstream religious force of a nation, it infected that people with a cultic sense of superiority and exclusivity – all its pretences of personal humility in spite. This cultic presumption provided justification for all sorts of abuses. Apartheid was one such abuse. In this case, the insecurity of whites, especially of Afrikaners, being a white minority in black South Africa, was projected outwardly as a kind of strength – the strength of being the flag bearers for civilization in a dark continent, holders of the final truths of the Christian Bible and the knowledge tomes of Western Enlightenment. The charismatic figure of a man like Hendrik French Verwoerd appeared like a saviour to many whites and he was venerated in cultic fashion, allowing him the power to cynically orchestrate the lives of the masses in order to serve the economic and security demands of the minority. And also cultic-typical was the confident declaration that “the rest of the world does not understand us, they don’t know the whole truth about South Africa.” Complete with a secretive men-only organization called the Broederbond, Afrikaners heartily coalesced around this inhumane cult, powerfully backed by a cultic religion, where an almighty God could easily be appropriated to be the vanguard of an elect people, heroically finding their way through an unforgiving and atheistic desert.

This is the cult I grew up within. There was little doubt in my little mind that we were the elect recipients of Truth, that damnation rightfully belonged to all on the outside of the narrow circle of the faith and that life was all about pleasing, following, obeying and praising The One who elected and saved you in his boundless Grace. And most importantly, this was all only a prelude to the Glory to Come. The real life was never here, but always there, in the future – a poverty of presence which is a symptom of deprivation. Not of abundance.

And it all came crashing down, as cults do. Apartheid crashed in the face of a real and agonizing human reality. Cults do not allow a lot of air to waft through. Eventually they suffocate in their own ossifications of truth. The marriage between the main Protestant churches in South Africa and the Apartheid government also broke down. Power and prestige left them. Much of the Christian religious energy shifted itself in a new direction, a fresh lifeline. And that was the American South.

The story of cults as I have related it so far, is a limited one. It is the Western version of the story. But I will confine myself to that, for now. In the leading western nations, Christianity as a dominant social force has been waning seriously over the last two hundred years. The pillars on which the original cult built its truths are largely not trusted anymore. Science has intervened, as well as a lot of spilled blood and abuse. The text of the Bible is 2000 years old and its contexts are largely outdated and outlived. But there is one first-world bastion of Christianity that remained curiously isolated, curiously wealthy and curiously effective in its missionary efforts. And that is the so-called Religious Right of the not-so United States of America. Us Afrikaners received a hard wake-up call with the fall of Apartheid and are still working through the shock waves of losing political dominance. Many thousands of us simply ran off to “safer” (read whiter) parts of the world. Others are trying to rebuild the walls of Apartheid in their private spheres. But conservative Americans, especially the Evangelicals, were for long only on a slow burner of decline, while still enjoying much of their former glories as a reigning majority.

More and more, this cookie is crumbling. Demographics are changing. Secularization is creeping steadily into the veins of American society. All against the background of a “Christian West” that in general is largely no more. Just like Afrikaners of the early 20th century, the Religious Right is feeling the pinch. They are anxious. Their cultic world is under threat.

And hey ho, who hops along? The Donald. On his final con act. The most incredible story of early the 21st century: how an immoral and irreligious man became the saviour for the last outpost of mainstream Christianity. The jaw-dropping veneration of a man by devout Christians as if he can do nothing wrong, even as he does things wrongly all the time.

This should be clear: that the Trump phenomenon cannot be explained without the acknowledgement of the cultic roots of Christianity. Along with the powerful Fox News Corporation, Trump amplified this cultic reality from where much of the world can easily be written off as fake news and a dangerous threat to the great American (white and Christian) way of life. Immigrants can be treated with near-Nazi-like remorselessness and the mundane necessities of governmental care can be neglected to the point of national crisis levels. Even a deadly pandemic can be downplayed and handled with the utmost irresponsibility. Even the Donald himself getting ill from the virus can be turned to emphasize his presumed invincibility and strongman characteristics. This is the power of cult: no worries, America will be Great Again. One day. As for now, the party must go on. Salutes and all. The abuse, the corruption, the human toll, the utter moral depravity of it all, can be swept under the carpet. And for all and each of these, there is sure to be a Bible verse to back you up – a book that with all its inherent inconsistencies, does carry this as a golden thread: a belief in your own and your God’s superiority: the “Righteous” shall prevail.

So it was with Apartheid. So it is with the Religious Right today. And it is all going to come crashing down. And at that point, the real saviours are not the angry men and the get-popular-quick schemers. The real saviours are those with the open human heart, who feel the pain, who know that real healing lies in a return to the here and the now. They are usually older and wiser. A figure like Mandela, after Apartheid. Like Adenhauer after Nazism. And perhaps a figure what Joe Biden can be like after Trumpism. A simple good old Joe who can bandage the broken leg of the boy who thought he could fly.

I wrote all of this for two main reasons. Or to put it this way: two things that lie heavily on my heart prompted me to give words to them, words that will impart something of the broader gravity of the situation, the historical loadedness of this point in our ongoing story.

The one is that Western society has been weakened considerably since it embraced a religion with cultic roots. Just consider: all over the Western world, wherever you go, you can recognize towns from afar.. by what? By their church steeples. That is how dominating a whole set of beliefs became, a set of beliefs rested on the presumption that there is only one truth, and that belongs to “us”. Moreover, that this truth is not fully revealed: that finding it in full lies only in the future. Truths that do not belong to “the world”. Truths infallibly anchored in an unchanging book. Sunday after Sunday these intellectual rituals played out in the minds of the majority of these societies. How effective can the people’s political participation be, walking out from those walls, underneath that pontificating steeple?

In the town where we live, we are confronted with multiple social issues and service delivery challenges, not to mention weak and divided leadership. But where do the citizens go to gather regularly, where do they find their sense of belonging? They go to a whole bunch of different church buildings each Sunday. There is no town hall. They never convene to talk to each other as citizens, to vent grievances and find solutions along with the leadership. Except in extreme cases. Often with extreme consequences.

Essentially, we do not have a community here. We only have a loosely connected collection of cults – cults that preach general morality, yes, but more especially provide spiritual escape from reality. Indeed, churches engage in charity. But a healthy society does not need charity. It works together and fix its own problems. We have more than enough resources to do this in our town. But we are limping along. In stead of thriving, we are our own charity case.

The second reason for my writing is that 3 November is fast approaching. A cult is basically responsible for America’s woeful response to the pandemic as well as the breaking down of an international order, that, with all its imperfections, still prevented rogue leaders and kleptocrats to run wild – a situation that is now dangerously growing under our noses. Another four years of Trump will keep his followers in a happy trance, but will amplify the wider damage, all of this in a time when global warming – our biggest existential threat ever – asks for more cooperation, not less. It asks for more inclusive participation, not more cultic isolation.

Cults cannot be wrong (to themselves). Trump is stuck with winning. That is why he is hard at work to crush what’s left of American democracy in order to keep winning. Winning for himself, mostly. He is a wounded animal whose character became deformed by his wounds. Cults are the painkillers for the wounded. And as such, to point the finger at cults would ultimately be ineffective. For wounds to heal, the real and final answer, and responsibility, is, as always, a political one. Not just regards political leadership, but also political activism, activation and action. By all.

The party that carried Trump to the throne is drunk with him. They have abandoned principles. They have abandoned reason. They have abandoned even policy itself. They only hang on to Trump’s Tweets. The veneration is complete. In that sense, Trump equals Hitler, equals Mugabe, equals Stalin and equals Mao (the list goes on, of course).

The assassination of Verwoerd was the beginning of the downfall of Apartheid. Hitler drove his country and people into utter devastation through the madness of perpetual war. Kim Jung Un is on a downward slope because heaven – as promised – is not arriving for the North Koreans. Mugabe ran Zimbabwe to the ground with people starving. Against which tragic wall would the Trump reign crash?

Being America, there is one powerful weapon that can crack this cookie: democracy. Trump can be ousted definitively by a powerful vote against him, as much as he would kick and scream against it till the day of his last breath. May this ousting happen, and without a major fall-out.

The painful truth about cults is that they create the downfall that they are afraid of in the first place. The depressed person turns to alcohol to alleviate the darkness. And hey ho, it works! Until the morning after. Until years after when the same person who only suffered from a depressed mood to begin with, is now a social wreck and needs serious attention to get rid of the addiction, if that is possible at all.

It comes down to the old saying that there is nothing like a free lunch. If the state does not provide, get it fixed through political action. Don’t grab the bottle. Don’t disappear to that party where you can wallow in a presumed perfect future, as if you’re going to win the Lottery. Don’t fall for the populist who is more busy ingratiating itself with the drug of power, rather than being a facilitator for you to be participating in what affects your life in a real way.

The Roman Empire was grotesquely aloof and relied way too much on its armies to maintain control. Today’s national governments are better than that (lessons learnt) and democracy certainly brought a sense of belonging to the general populations. But variants of more true participatory democracy are only found in a few less consequential countries and some pockets of localized experiments today. Otherwise one has to hark back to those hunter-gatherer days to find something of the kind.

We all want to belong. We all need to. But cults are not the answer. Not the long term and reliable answer. Cults are only a symptom of the failure of politics. It is politics that needs fixing. And a fixed, healthy polity is one where each individual participates meaningfully on an ongoing basis. Not just once in four or five years. Where the belonging stretches out to all. And not only individuals, but all spheres of community. From the family upwards – through the local community, the district, the province, the country, the region, the continent, the globe. Democratic participation is very poorly distributed as it is. It is further severely compromised by the immense powers of that other modern day techno-quasi-cult, the hierarchical corporation. And politics is still dominated by the national level, which in itself is still very vulnerable to the greed of klepto- and autocrats. The answer is not a new cult (like QAnon, which is a curious 21st version of a cult: wholly based in cyber-reality). The answer is to broaden, extend and nourish commonality through working, talking, deciding and dreaming together, without the barriers of exclusivity.

This broad-based collaborative way of being come almost naturally for all animals, and have been our natural way for most of the last 200 000 years, since the time we became modern humans. But civilization brought us the kind of powers and possibilities that have been hitherto totally unknown to life on this planet. It also brought immense responsibilities, a reality we, after 10 000 years, have not yet fully come to terms with. Nature is now forcing us to. There is no spiritual, scientific or technological short-cut through this. The lunch, still, is not for free. We simply have to take this up. Learn. Bend. Listen. Talk. Question. Open up. Take Hands. Work. Act. Find the togetherness. Find one’s role within that. It’s a local call. It’s a global call. It’s an urgent one.

Understand the sect. But don’t try and kill it. Fix the conditions that gave rise to it. That is what Mandela achieved here in South Africa (he did not achieve everything. But some he did against all expectations). He did not focus on the dangers and threats coming from the extreme left and right. He spread the table. He set the conditions for coming together. He opened that to all, extremists included. Crimes must be punished, yes. But extreme views were allowed to be aired – not in the holy confines of the cultic cave, no. Come to the table! This is where it happens. And if your views can hold their own there, we are here to listen, to talk, to discuss, to find our way.

The result was that the views that were incommunicable (those that cannot create commonality) faded off. And so did the threats of the loud mouthed. The table won out, because there was leadership to provide it. And so, through the thick of many nights, common ground was found between to the formerly oppressed and the former oppressor. And a new constitution was born, the envy of the world.

Mandela was religious. And one could argue that a certain cult grew around him as people were overwhelmed by his deep generosity and ability to break through barriers of hate and revenge. But he consistently resisted the formalization of any cultic aspects regards the political sphere. He was the inclusive leader who would also visit an extremely cultic community like Orania to emphasize a common humanity.

Ultimately, a cult is a trap. Cult is making a shortcut of culture. Cult is escape. Culture is all-embracing. A cult venerates. A culture cultivates. Carpe Diem. The time is always now, the future an outgrowth, not a replacement.

During the late ’70s, a German man called Erlo Stegen started a Christian commune in the Kwazulu Natal country side. It was a cultic call to be more true to the tenets of the Gospel. People came to be healed, fed and find community. To our family, especially my mother, “Kwasiza Bantu” was a peek into paradise on earth. We listened enthusiastically to cassette tapes of Stegen’s sermons. He spoke the Word. His words were music of Truth and Power to our Bible-attuned ears. We once visited the place. Stories of miracles and the radical changing of people’s lives for the good abounded. If only the whole world could be like this! Mainstream Christians would criticize Kwasiza Bantu. To us though, it was clear that those who criticized were working in the hands of Satan. For this is a place where the Holy Spirit was at work. Where the contrast between Light and Darkness was so much clearer.

That was fourty years ago. Kwasiza Bantu still exists today. In fact, it became huge. It spawned companies producing bottled water and food to supermarket chains, with millions of rands in turnover. The humble compound became a virtual self-contained town, with Erlo Stegen still at its head. But a seven month investigation by a major news agency brought to light systemic abuse that ruined lives over decades. Dubious political alliances and a sharp division between the haves and have-nots. Corporeal punishment of an extreme sort abounds and a sickly obsession with confession keeps adherents in a perpetual state of guilt and fear of excommunication. All which are typical hallmarks of a more extreme kind of cult. More formal and authoritative enquiries are piling in right now. The big companies that were started off from this compound divested themselves. More and more stories of shame and damage are emerging. The dream is coming crashing down.

Which brings this whole issue to my own doorstep: how is it that I once viewed them as a kind of ultimate community, a foremost example of what it should be to be a human being? I could only have that inner warmth towards them because of being in cultic strains myself. And how did I come to writing this essay on cults, viewing them from the outside, regarding them as a strain on human society? As a diversion from what it is to be human and humane?

It came about because the cultic orientation I myself had towards the world, came crashing down too, leaving me dead and wounded inside, literally wanting to die, to end a life that has lost its meaning. And yet I am alive today. And life has meaning, has momentum. Has community.

Leaving a cultic environment is no joke. It can be lethal, either because of being targeted as an enemy, or because of the vast emptiness it leaves one with. And it is complicated, because there is noting within a cult that does not have roots in wider reality. It is only a parasite, after all. It is also especially hard to take leave of those intense highs, the uber-warmth of that kind of togetherness and the comfortable sureties provided by its carefully constructed paradigms. It can be so cozy from within, that the world on the outside can easily look cold and lost, where no true joy can be found.

But this is the tale that any addict can tell you. About the exceptional highs that the drug serves you with, and the exceptional horror to disentangle yourself from its binding grip.

Beware of untempered love and joy. It burns at your vitals. And you start to lose certain sensitivities that are there to prevent you from being blind to the feelings of others.

I found that the “world out there” was not as lifeless and loveless as I believed it to be. I found that it is less ecstatic to face one’s limitations (including death) and to be creative at life, rather than waiting to be saved. Less ecstatic, yes, but I also found that most people don’t really want or need extreme gratifications. I learnt that addiction is not a widely venerated state of being. Even most people practicing a religion with cultic roots and elements of it (there are others besides Christianity) still has enough sense to realize that we can only fix our most pressing problems if we take responsibility and act in collaboration with each other. And at least, the faith community that I left did not persecute me.

There is life after the cult. And there is a life possible that would prevent the formation of cults.

This is what 3 November is all about. A chance for the most powerful country on earth to put the addiction on hold. A chance to prick at a bubble that is holding much of the world at ransom.

As for me, even now, still, something in me fear the exclusion that can follow for writing about it all in the way I just did.

But this is the thing I know, the thing that keeps the fear of exclusion at bay. The thing that invites conversation because it speaks in an honest way.

And that is that we all share spirit. All of us. Sharing it.

And that there is no secret code to it.


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