Cult leaders wanted

Yesterday, during a lecture, I was shown this video:


I’ll not ask my readers to watch the whole thing, but the gist of it is that people should change the world by uniting with small groups of like-minded people under whoever steps up to lead the way on that particular issue. The point is, you don’t need to create a demand for a movement, it’s already there; it just needs someone to lead it. Incidentally, the video dates from 2009 so it was rather prescient as far as Donald Trump’s election is concerned.

What I took away from it was that, in an age of increasing secularism, people are flocking to those who can give them the spiritual satisfaction they used to get in church. I’ve mentioned before that people don’t really get more secular, they just shift their faith onto something else; just because they don’t worship at the altar of a regular religion, it doesn’t make them non-believers. A few years ago I read John Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven, which includes a history of Mormonism. Its founder Joseph Smith was a teenager during a period called the Second Great Awakening:

The Second Great Awakening was a Protestant religious revival during the early 19th century in the United States.

The revivals enrolled millions of new members in existing evangelical denominations and led to the formation of new denominations. Many converts believed that the Awakening heralded a new millennial age.

A combination of economic and social changes had caused many people to grow disillusioned with the traditional denominations, leading to hundreds of sects popping up headed by all manner of chancers promising salvation. Joseph Smith was physically imposing and staggeringly charismatic, and so it was his particular cult that grew into an established religion while most of the others died out. I was reminded of the clamour of the masses to worship something, anything, during the Second Great Awakening when I watched this video. In the 9 years since it was made, I think the clamour has only grown louder.


18 thoughts on “Cult leaders wanted

  1. Ahh, 2009. That innocent time. From the transcript:

    “Hugo Chavez did not invent the disaffected middle and lower class of Venezuela. He merely led them.”

    And how did that work out?

    (Never mind the irony of a member of an ethnic & religious tribe lecturing the rest of us about secular tribes.)

  2. Entirely true. A friend of mine left judaism and filled the hole that left with increasingly-extreme environmentalism.

    It was interesting to watch her faith in one diminish, then for her faith in the other one to grow once the void in her soul appeared over time.

    Some people seem to just *need* that kind of thing in their lives.

  3. I’ve had this question brewing for awhile: If humanity does indeed have a religious instinct (I’m sympathetic to this theory), then are there still people exempt from this? In other words, if you have left traditional religion and don’t fall for all the questionable replacements, then what is your alternative? Aren’t you human like the rest? Or is your “new religion” just something “less harmless”? I’d say many here would fall into this latter category, so I’d be interested in your answer. I’m not trying to be provocative. I’m genuinely interested.

  4. @Howard Roark – I don’t find I particularly need anything to fill that hole. I don’t think there’s anything more to it than that, to be honest.

  5. Ol’ Chesty Chesterton had a line about this, which, it turns out, he never really said.

    Howard – there are always exceptions to every rule. But I think the people who truly possess no religious instinct – I think “yearning” might be better – are quite rare.

    Instead, there’s a populous gap between people who have no such yearning and people who’ve found what it is they seek. This group possesses the desire to have faith in something, but has simply not yet found something that fits the bill. They may find something tomorrow, or never.

    If they never find a religion, it doesn’t mean that they never wanted one, although they might not have realised what they wanted.

    A good comparison would be love: very few people don’t want to fall in love; a much larger group would like to, but haven’t found Mr. or Mrs. Right. Some of them will do so; some won’t, and so will find something else to love (typically a cat); and some won’t, and will be unhappy that they weren’t able to scratch that itch.

    Back to religion: some irreligious people eventually find faith in a “proper” religion; some sublimate the urge into something else, like politics; some never find faith in anything and are presumably just a little bit unhappy about it – unless they were the rare truly irreligious person.

    The only other thing to add is that the religious yearning can, I think, be broken up into several sub-yearnings – or it might be better to say that religion scratches a number of itches – community, moral order, a sense of the supernatural, a sense of something big and important, whatever. You could scratch these itches together, or separately; you could only scratch some of them. Enrivonmentalism, for instance, probably doesn’t give its adherents a sense of the supernatural, but it ticks the other boxes.

  6. This is resacralisation – the removal of the sense of “the sacred” from one set of ideas and practices, and placing it upon another set. What’s interesting are the limits to what can be considered sacred. Although many churchgoers were apparently luke-warm and simply conforming to traditions and social pressures, there is no doubt that some religious people accessed extremes of creativity and personal devotion. The same can’t really be said for sport and shopping. Maybe the real fanatics have moved into politics or environmentalism, or maybe the health and well-being crowd.

  7. I don’t belive we’ve ever found a group of humans on Earth with no religious belief, have we? Also, peace and plenty weaken faith. It’s when the four horsemen are abroad and you’re losing loved ones that “Please God don’t take mine” comes to the fore.

  8. I’ve always framed this as people needing some quantity of irrational belief in their lives, or they’re unlivable. If you don’t have something filling that void of need for the irrational and transcendental, you’re going to wind up in a well of ennui and despair over the pointlessness of it all.

    Religion usually serves this purpose for a lot of people, but if you abandon religion, the need for that irrational gets filled by something else. I recall with a certain amount of wry amusement a friend of a friend who proudly announced that she’d finally overcome the “religious programming” her parents had provided, and was now an atheist.

    It wasn’t too long after that in the conversation that I asked about the jewelry she was wearing, and got a ten-minute lecture about the healing power of the crystals she was wearing, in order to prevent her aura from becoming mis-aligned, and her developing arthritis because of that…

    Yes; female. Yes; white. Yes; college-educated. Yes; working in the “helping professions”. Yes; completely and utterly whack-a-doodle.

    Religion fills a void. Empty your life of it, and something else will fill that void. We all have it–If any of us were truly, completely rational, then we’d just end the whole thing based on realizing the essential empty futility of it all… Whether it’s faith in religion, duty, obligation to others, or the Great Jujube in the Sky, we need that irrationality to be fully human.

  9. Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) ticks all the religion boxes. As it’s unscientific (using the term correctly) & faith-based, it is not possible to discuss the topic rationally with its adherents.

  10. Did sort of wonder that myself, Mr Drummond. Since TimN’s paying for the course, wonder if he’s worked out what watching this cost him. VFM?

    And “Tribes” seems a strange concept to associate this line of thought with. Tribes tend to define themselves by what they’re not. Not a member of any other tribe & not non-aligned. Exclusive not inclusive. The peaceful, culturally enriching Middle-East is a signal example of tribalism. Tribes don’t tend to go around looking for new members. Unless as slaves.
    Think the word the guy was looking for was “cults”. But s’pose you’re not going to sell many videos advocating cults. Except to Scientologists.

  11. Tim, as Hector and bloke in spain observe, it’d be interesting to know the rationale for the inclusion of the video by your prof. Your take from it is clear, and cogently expressed. What was his?

  12. I don’t have any yearnings for the irrational & transcendental. If anything the opposite. I was brought up in Church of England as a kid & my father was a churchwarden. So we went to church regularly & I did the usual Sunday School stuff & church events etc. Then we moved house so a new church – same old Sunday School. Then I took up bellringing to get out of Sunday School as much as anything. I did get confirmed, but I was questioning it all even then & probably wouldn’t have done so a year later.

    I’ve never had a feeling of ‘losing my faith’ & needing something to replace it. A lot of absorbing science as a teenager & getting into tech stuff at that age gave me a lot of basis on which to craft a world view that didn’t require a supreme being, and I don’t fall into a well of despair because I don’t believe in one. Have I got a faith? I guess it’s a faith in the probity and asymptotic accuracy of the theoreticians & experimentalists that have crafted our cosmology & creation story (I don’t see it as a myth), since I can’t repeat all the experiments & theoretical proofs myself.

  13. I Think Red Dwarf nailed it and summed it up in a 1 1/2 minute discussion:

    People must believe in something and religion is probably the oldest and best established belief going though as others have pointed out, AGW, Social Justice, Jedi-ism and the Great Flying Spaghetti Monster are making inroads into the more formal and established religions.

  14. I think I might be one of the weird ones who has no need for religion, and never has had any religious belief. I was brought up in a strict Christian household, and even as a small child (aged 3-4, I can remember the room I was in at the time, and being in that room means I was no more than 4, as we moved after that) I remember having the conscious thought ‘Why are you [my parents] talking about stuff that isn’t real?’

  15. Think the word the guy was looking for was “cults”.

    Indeed, hence the title of the post.

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