RFC on eight or more sane cults
June 23, 2007 4:17 AM   Subscribe

Eight of the craziest cults evar. An honorable mention is being considered for the Taiwanese chicken cult.
posted by Blazecock Pileon (49 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
Where's Scientology?
posted by champthom at 4:23 AM on June 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


Somebody's been reading Fark.
posted by RavinDave at 4:34 AM on June 23, 2007


A cult is something you do not believe in but some others do, ie, Christianity, Judaism etc? or a cult is a religious belief that does not go back two thousand years, including Protestantism? Or a cult is any group that gets a tax break from the US govt. I distinguish between crazy cults (cargo, harmless) and big movements that focus upon charismatic leader, often do not allow one to leave, do lots of brain washing in a systematic way--ie, Scientology and the Unification Church. T
posted by Postroad at 4:38 AM on June 23, 2007


Protestantism's not even half that old, Postroad. It's a branch of Western Christianity, is all.
posted by pax digita at 4:42 AM on June 23, 2007


...an atheist UFO religion founded in 1970s which focuses on the social ideas of sexual self-determination, individualism, and humanitarianism in the spirit of sharing and responsibility, which, they claim, will bring a new age of wealth and peace guided by those with greater intelligence...

That sounds perfectly reasonable to me.
posted by randomination at 4:42 AM on June 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


Oh, and they mentioned the cargo cults on Vanuatu, but they didn't say a word about the island where Prince Philip is worshipped as a god.
posted by randomination at 4:44 AM on June 23, 2007 [3 favorites]


You (and they) forgot this one.
posted by Mblue at 5:34 AM on June 23, 2007


What about the Moonies?
posted by hopeless romantique at 5:52 AM on June 23, 2007


Ravindave, why the reference to Fark? What you linked to is a list of bizarre beers, published after the 8 cults thing... so - I don't get it?

Anyway, very interesting. Especially interesting to me is what popularly qualifies as a cult, as Postroad points out. It seems to me that every religion is a cult, but some cults are tolerated and/or embraced, while others are not.

Religions or sects that have a single, living, charismatic leader who exercises a great deal of control over his/her followers are the the groups that are most often branded as "cults", I guess - but by this standard, I suppose Tibetan Buddhism would be a cult.
posted by taz at 5:58 AM on June 23, 2007


Anyway, very interesting. Especially interesting to me is what popularly qualifies as a cult, as Postroad points out. It seems to me that every religion is a cult, but some cults are tolerated and/or embraced, while others are not.

Mormonism is the only one I can think of that's considered mainstream, if you consider the main element defining a "cult" to be secrecy, which I do.

Non-cult religions are open-- outsiders have access to all of their core beliefs and rituals. Cults are secretive and therefore controlling. Mormonism and Scientology are cults-- you aren't supposed to know all of their beliefs and practices until you're well involved in the religion. You as an outsider are strictly forbidden from witnessing Mormon rituals or seeing the inside of the temple. You don't even learn about Xenu, the alien warlord, until you've dumped tons of money into Scientology.

"Your 'friends' who aren't our religion can't come to your wedding" and "now that you've given us $60,000, the secret is that a cosmic bad guy released alien souls that infested your body" seem like just the type of manipulative, secretive stuff that should define a cult.

By this definition, the religions listed in the article might not all be cults-- I don't know what their policies on secrecy are. But they very well might be.
posted by Mayor Curley at 6:23 AM on June 23, 2007


Cults are to religion what weeds are to flowers—they tend to be a lot more successful, and without any official help, before they get their heads cut-off by officialdom.

Anyway, what's so crazy about these cults? Christianty believes there was this guy who could perform miracles and then came back to life after he was executed! To commemorate him, every month they ceremonially eat his flesh and drink his blood.
posted by humblepigeon at 6:29 AM on June 23, 2007


Can someone back up Mayor Curley re Mormonism?
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 6:40 AM on June 23, 2007


Cults are secretive and therefore controlling.

By that definition, Catholicism is a cult (Opus Dei).
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:04 AM on June 23, 2007



Can someone back up Mayor Curley re Mormonism?


Straight Dope on Mormon weddings
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:08 AM on June 23, 2007


By that definition, Catholicism is a cult (Opus Dei).

No by that definition, Opus Dei is a cult. And we're not the first ones to think of it.
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:10 AM on June 23, 2007


I would consider Opus Dei to be a subset of Catholism. People in Opus Dei are not Opus Dei-ists, but members of a secretive order of Catholism. Much as Scientologists segregate their followers by "levels".
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:14 AM on June 23, 2007


I would consider Opus Dei to be a subset of Catholism. People in Opus Dei are not Opus Dei-ists, but members of a secretive order of Catholism.

Oh, I agree. And I think if the Roman Catholic Church was worried about managing its image it would say "those people are part of some splinter group, they are not Roman Catholics."

But having a (tiny) subset of cultists in your organization doesn't make the entire organization a cult. Catholics are generally very clear about their processes and beliefs. Actually, there are probably other orders of Catholicism that are cults beyond Opus Dei. Catholicism is kind of unique in that it has all those orders with vastly different practices and they're all ostensibly Roman Catholics. So I would agree with you that some catholics are cultists, but not every catholic is in a cult. I'm not even sure now that I would consider Catholicism to be one religion.
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:26 AM on June 23, 2007


No discussion of crazy cults is complete without Rick Ross.
posted by stinkycheese at 7:43 AM on June 23, 2007


Tossing in "cargo cults" at number eight was a bit weak. I think of cargo cults as being an anthropological phenomenon of a different kind from the sort of cults that pop up in more modern societies.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 7:59 AM on June 23, 2007


Ever notice how the house of worship of a "cult" usually ends up being described as a "compound"?
posted by Tube at 8:26 AM on June 23, 2007


The word "cult" is imprecise; while on one hand it implies both a dastardly leader and nefarious mind-control techniques, it is also used to describe the animistic beliefs of the cargo "cultists." Their inclusion here seems like a bit of a stretch.

or on preview, what Lentrohamsanin said.
posted by malocchio at 8:36 AM on June 23, 2007


So, where is Jim Jones? Or the Urantians?
posted by beelzbubba at 9:04 AM on June 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


Yeah, this list leaves out a few.
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 9:10 AM on June 23, 2007


Mormonism is the only one I can think of that's considered mainstream, if you consider the main element defining a "cult" to be secrecy

what about scientology? that's mainstream and they're pretty fanatical about secrecy.
posted by andywolf at 9:38 AM on June 23, 2007


I have to disagree slightly with Mayor Curley. IMO, the Mormons are experts at riding that fine line between religion and cult.
posted by barkingpumpkin at 9:42 AM on June 23, 2007


Whoops... link should be Mayor Curley
posted by barkingpumpkin at 9:44 AM on June 23, 2007


yeah, I'm not sure that Mormonism should qualify as a cult since their secrets are so boring.
posted by sineater at 9:54 AM on June 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


I've always thought that Krishna Consciousness was a cult.

One thing that I've always wondered, though - how badly does one need to fuck up in order to become a Krishna?

Seriously. Think of all the crazy-ass born again Christians that you've ever met. They always have some story like -

"Yeah, so I was smoking $3000 worth of crack a day, whoring my 12 year old daughter on the street, and robbing every old lady in sight. And then things REALLY started to get bad..."

you zone out for a while, and ten minutes later they're still going on -

"and after I finished filming Horror in the Zoo Part IV, I was like, 'this is it. This is the last baby koala bear that I torture for an underground snuff film. I'm going back to church.' And that was how I found Jesus."

Everybody then smiles and hugs and feels all warm and fuzzy inside. However, I would guess that there's a point at which even Jesus won't forgive you. And at that point, you become a Krishna.
posted by Afroblanco at 10:02 AM on June 23, 2007 [3 favorites]


Everybody then smiles and hugs and feels all warm and fuzzy inside. However, I would guess that there's a point at which even Jesus won't forgive you. And at that point, you become a Krishna.

I always knew George Harrison was into some evil shit.
posted by kid ichorous at 11:08 AM on June 23, 2007


I think it's cute that some people think it's unusual for mainstream religions to be secretive. It's just adorably naive. I guess they just haven't ever heard of Catholicism.
posted by JekPorkins at 11:46 AM on June 23, 2007


Can I jump on the Catholicism smacking bandwagon? As someone who grew up within this particular religious tradition, I can attest to the lack of transparency (and the enabling of such by many adherents) within the larger organisation.
posted by maryh at 11:56 AM on June 23, 2007


JekPorkins,
There's no need to be condescending. No one was saying that it's unusual for mainstream religions to be secretive. I think using secrecy as a good, but not perfect, indicator of "cult" status is valid, along with perhaps the focus on a single charismatic leader (or group).

Catholicism, while it does have it more secretive orders, is relatively not secretive overall. It would be helpful if you would elaborate on what you are referring to when you call Catholicism secretive. It openly publishes and spreads its beliefs and practices (ie, the Seven Sacraments, it's organizational structure, its version and interpretations of the Bible, etc). It allows outsiders to view its rituals. Mayor Curley got it right: while there are some Catholics who might be called cultists, Catholicism as a whole is not a cult, if we define a cult as a religious organization that makes its beliefs and practices secret to outsiders.
posted by Sangermaine at 12:44 PM on June 23, 2007


Hey, what about the Church of the SubGenius?! X-Day is coming... THIS WILL BE THE YEAR!

Death to the pink boys and conspiracy dupes!
posted by SansPoint at 1:34 PM on June 23, 2007


I'll agree with the folks who argue that "cult" is an imprecice and loaded term. Essentially it means "religion that I don't like and/or find bizarre".

There can be legitimate reasons to dislike a religion [1], some are dangerous to their own members, others are dangerous to outsiders. That's fine. But, and I know I'm going to get seven kinds of hell for this, it still doesn't make the term "cult" legitimate, or create any objective distinction between a "cult" and a "religion".

I'll definately agree that most religions with a single, charismatic, leader have a tendancy to be creepy, much like the 24/7 BDSM types who *really* get into it are creepy, and for much the same reason.

But the controling behavior that many people here are identifying as cult is frequently present as a sub-group or undertone to almost all religions. The Catholics have Opus Dei, the various Protestants have any number of similar groups, etc. When you have a large group of people getting together believing in irrational stuff you'll occasionally get controling types who take advantage of the inherent irrationality of religion; to me it seems that dangerous and controling religions are an unavoidable byproduct of the less dangerous and controling religions.

Take any religion, turn the faith knob up to 11 and, presto, you've got a "cult". No one wants to admit this, because theoretically faith is one of the good parts of religion, the religionists of all sorts claim to have faith, want faith, boast about their faith, etc, but when you show them people with the real thing they start screaming "OMG its a cult!!!111" The truth is that faith means uncritically and irrationally believing in something for which there is no evidence, and that's not only potentially dangerous its also frickin' stupid.

On a second, and only marginally related note, any follower of a religion who rags on the goofy practices and beliefs of any other religion is being a twit. When viewed from the outside all religious practices and beliefs are equally goofy; yes, even yours. Some, as noted above, are more dangerous than others, but all are goofy. The only reason you don't find your religious practices silly is because you've been raised to find them normal.

[1] I, without exception, find all religions to be pretty dislikeable, and I'd like to think that my reasons are legitimate. Individual religious people, like all people, can be nice or jerks, crazy or sane, etc. But I haven't yet found a religious group or organization that isn't batshit insane; the nice and/or non-batshit insane members of those religions seem to just ignore the batshit insane parts.
posted by sotonohito at 3:52 PM on June 23, 2007


Metafilter [NOT A CULT].
posted by dov3 at 5:16 PM on June 23, 2007


Good to see North America and Japan representing themselves well.
posted by kisch mokusch at 5:50 PM on June 23, 2007


What sotonohito said. The "cargo cult" sound to me like a bunch of generic ol' animists who rubbed up hot and heavy against the Twentieth Century. And I'm a disappointed that not only the Scientologists but the Moonies, Branch Davidians, and John Africa's MOVE organization couldn't make the cut.

I wondered, what's special about eight as a number of cults to describe in this freakshow of an article? Did that many result in the requisite number of words?
posted by pax digita at 6:47 PM on June 23, 2007


Mmm, join the Mormons, get to be the god of your own planet with spirit children and many wives.

Nahhh, nothing cultish about that at all.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 7:33 PM on June 23, 2007


No Amway?
posted by kafziel at 9:07 PM on June 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


I'm confused as to the mention of the "Taiwanese Chicken Cult". Maybe the link you posted to just doesn't give a full picture, but it basically just sounds like one crazy nut convincing families to sign over their mentally ill and misfit relatives to be enslaved to work on a chicken cult.

It doesn't seem like the chained pairs are "cult members". It seems like they have been placed in a tragic, miserable life without any say in the matter whatsoever.
posted by tastybrains at 3:35 AM on June 24, 2007


Comments about the Taiwan insane asylum.
posted by nickyskye at 8:09 AM on June 24, 2007


Strictly speaking, Krishna Consciousness is not a cult in that sense of the word, it's simply a subsect of Vaishnavism (Vishnu-worshipping Hinduism). One may even read their scripture online (actually Dogpile gave 51 links, some to different versions/translations). This does not mean that all Vaishnavism, all Hinduism, or all religions are not bullshit, of course.
posted by davy at 8:23 AM on June 24, 2007


yeah. as I said in the other thread,

.
posted by exlotuseater at 10:07 AM on June 24, 2007


I think there is a misunderstanding of the word 'secrecy' as applied to cults. Catholicism is not secretive in the same sense as a cult, because even if you are dealing with wacky Opus Dei and their mysteries, they won't pretend not to be Catholics. Scientologists, on the other hand, will conceal the connection between their Narconon drug rehab program and L. Ron Hubbard.
posted by johngoren at 10:40 AM on June 24, 2007


nickyskye: regarding your last comment in the Taiwan thread: true, this thing should be seen in the context of the historical development of psychiatry in Taiwan. Mental institutions have been quite barbarous in all societies, I think, until relatively recently. Bedlam, in London, was a prime example. Perhaps the Taiwanese were slow to catch up with modern western methods (which are constantly up for debate, anyway); perhaps the chicken treatment was a huge step up on what happened before.

However, my gut reaction (IANAP) is that working in a battery hen farm would completely screw the heads of various types of patients. Psychotics, schizophrenics & depressives would, I imagine, cope particularly poorly. It would be interesting to see any psychiatric literature that evaluates the success of these programs.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:30 PM on June 24, 2007


They left Web 2.0 off their list.
posted by goatdog at 9:17 AM on June 25, 2007


They left Web 2.0 off their list.

As all good cults do, they sacrifice young virgins to thee Smouldering Beaste ov Trademarke.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:44 AM on June 25, 2007


The "cargo cults" mentioned in the article are bizarre. I'd never heard of them before, and given the fact that the south seas islanders generally had experience with foreign traders for many years prior to the period the article mentions, I'm not sure I believe this account. Lots of European and American companies set up plantations on the more hospitable of those islands during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, using the islanders as indentured workers. With all that contact between cultures, it seems unlikely that a misunderstanding on the level of the "cargo cults" could be made.
posted by voltairemodern at 12:35 PM on June 25, 2007


As a Volunteer with the Peace Corps my father represented JFK to a cult that worshiped him. They feted him and then gave him some baubles which he had to turn over to the Embassy.

I am not kidding, this really happened.
posted by Pollomacho at 2:09 PM on June 25, 2007


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