Cult. Cult cult cult cult cult cult cult cult cult cult cult cult cult cult cult cult cult cult.
If you’re a fundamentalist or if you have been, you’re sweating just reading that. I know. I so know. You’re beginning to scramble inside to find reasons I’m wrong because it feels like you just got kicked in the groin. You’re wanting to kick back. To kick me.
If you’re not a fundamentalist or never have been, you’re eyes are wide open and your jaw is starting to drop. Cult? REALLY? Are you sure?
If you’re an academic who studies religion, you’re saying, “Weeeeeell, the notion of a cult is problematic. The original use of the term, of course, comes from ‘culture,’ but what is a cult qua cult but a marginalized religion (or culture) that has not yet reached a particular status? Christianity was considered a “cult” at one time. And we gain nothing intellectually by pushing a liminal group further outside the boundaries.”
I’ll say it plainly:
Fundamentalism is a cult.
Not just cultic. Not just cultish. But a cult.
A friend passed along this 2006 documentary recently asking, “Does anybody know this guy? Joachin Sullivan?” Watch:
Know him? He was my student as was his sister. We stayed at his house on Big Sur when we were on BJU Ensemble in 1992. I found his picture in my BJU Vintage. Yeah, we know him.
If you roil at the thought that the religious culture in which you and yours have lived for 100 years is a cult, watch Joachin’s movie Join Us. It may not parallel your experience, but it exactly parallels mine as a BJU faculty member. Nearly everything about it.
If you are completely unfamiliar with the dysfunction that Join Us highlights, I’m relieved for you. Maybe watching it will help you understand how easily good and earnest people get trapped.
If you are a scholar of religion and American culture, we have to judge the dysfunction of religious communities. We have to. The empathetic model can only take us so far. “Live and let live” is killing people.
If you want to understand more, here’s another documentary. When it comes right down to it, if it talks like a cult, walks like a cult, and smells like a cult . . .