Cults and their Leaders: An Exposition

For my Expository Project, I wanted to research something new, something interesting, and most importantly, something that fascinated me and to break new ground in the process. This, along with my previous interest in comparative religion, is what drove me to choose cults as my topic. In the end, I am most satisfied with my choice: I was able to delve into an informational black hole, about which the general public knows very little, and pry from its depths a multitude of thought-provoking facts and opinions.

When I began the project, I set out looking for information about the history of cults, and came across one of my largest research-based articles almost immediately: while there is a wide variety of literature on cults, a miniscule portion of it goes beyond the basic information about any. Compiling what I could from the few reliable sources I had found (mainly, the two books I checked out at the Clarence Dillon Library, as well as a handful of reliable websites), I realized that my interview was either going to make or break my entire Exposition.

Very soon after completing my timeline, I began the search for an interviewee. I happened across this website while researching at home, and the next day began searching for a person who would not only be willing to be interviewed by me, but would provide enough useful information to warrant the effort. After a substantial number of e-mails, I eventually found Mr. Don Beck, a former Peoples Temple member, who had spent a good portion of his life affiliated with the church. He had spent a summer in Jonestown, but was living in California on the day of the mass suicides.

Mr. Beck, while incredibly informative, also gave me something more: a sense of life as a Peoples Temple member. Unlike the books and articles I had studied up to that point, he expressed his own opinions, while keeping his perspective completely unbiased. After speaking with him on the phone, I realized the significance of what he had told me: in a way, I had been “enlightened.”  I had become aware, beyond what most are, in this field.

Finally, in mid-May, I began to think of topics for my third branch. I was tentative at first, but eventually ended up using the idea that first came to me: comparing the modern religions, that most follow in this day and age (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam) to the cults I had studied. The results were not what I had expected: after a more concise set of analyses, more and more similarities between modern religions and religious movements seemed to appear. While never exactly alike, it seems that, in a way, these cults are not nearly as different as most make them out to me. This, in itself, was a sort of “graduation”, in terms of my knowledge of the subject: I had finally moved myself completely past generalization, and opened my eyes to the oftentimes misinterpreted truths of cults.

Studying a wide variety of religious movements over these past two months, I have finally come to understand most of the veracities of this secretive sector of our human existence. However, this still does not answer my one, original question: how exactly have the behaviors and patterns (both of cults as well as their leaders) formed, adapted, and evolved over time? The answer is very simple: any and all creation and change is brought on by outside factors, as well as fear. Cults (in the vast majority of cases) use the influences of the day and age, combined in a lethal cocktail with a healthy dose of anxiety. As time progresses, cults will continue to use their ostensible senses of reality (in whichever time period) to garner followers, money, weapons, or a combination of the three.  This, in my opinion, is the lifeblood of all of the cults I have studied: to leech upon human error.

And yet, will most thrive for long? Unless I am heavily misguided, the answer is a resounding “No,” for the same reason that almost all cults ever created have failed, as well as what I oppose, mentally: almost all humans consider cults to be evil – even satanic – affronts to whichever deity they happen to believe in. From said fact, no cult will ever conceivably ever be able to hold a measurable amount of power. Despite the smsll number of people who can be coaxed into joining a cult, there will never be enough to create any organization with an even comparable amount of membership. In short, while cults will continue to both evolve, as well as come into existence, the human thought process will crush any plausible chance of attaining a level akin to that of our world’s major religions. This, upon closer examination, is irony: in the ignorance I myself oppose, the world is, in a sense, just the tiniest bit safer.

Last modified on September 30th, 2013.
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