Which one is your favorite? I prefer Jim Jones and the People's Temple over Marshall Applewhite's Heaven's Gate cult. There's something about the whole Jonestown mass suicide/massacre that is more impressive than black track suits and Nikes, with a purple diamond sheet covering your rotting corpse. Also, Heaven's Gate followers were all about comet Hale Bopp veiling a mothership. Come on, this is not a good enough reason for me to castrate myself and live off of Crystal light for the rest of my short life.
There have been smaller cult's popping up now and then. There was the Scandinavian one that I barely remember happening after the Heaven's Gate suicide fiesta. Oh, and the Japanese nerve-gas-in-the-subway path to God. David Koresh and the Branch Davidians would have just ended up as an eclectic rock band if the ATF didn't crash their compound (damn you Janet Reno). Seriously though, that group would have ended up the same way that most of these cults do, and that's badly. I've been thinking that we're due for another wave of these cults popping up before 2012, the year the Mayan calendar ends.
Let's examine what a death cult is: A system of religious beliefs that have death as a pathway to salvation as their core doctrine (and/or the death of a central figure brings about life), all of which consists of a body of followers. What part of that sounds different from that old time religion? I bet the only difference is that it's a matter of numbers and adherence to conventions.
Aren't most of us taught that our real treasures are elsewhere and to get there we must first die? Now I can accept that things can get better when I die, but I don't want to live my life thinking that I must forfeit something here so I can get it there (that's omitting sane sacrifices). That to me smacks of social control. Now here's the most devious part of it all, these more conventional groups don't tell you to off yourself, or speed up the process. Why is this? Because there is a need for you to stick around and do what they want you to do. "They" are in the real sense shepherds and a lot of us are the livestock, or as you might have gleaned from my profile message, chattel: property. They use the death cult concept to serve themselves. They would get nothing out of it if you were to kick the bucket prematurely. However, this is but one part of the "They concept" (revealed later). Some parts would actually benefit from your death, say, at retirement; while another depends on the senior turnout at the polls--kind of a double edged sword--try to guess which ones I'm referring to, it's fun. Anyways, I digress.
Who are "They"? Good question. I don't know how to refer to them in any other way. It's so overlapping and redundant, an MLM of mass manipulation, a trickling down of dividends and awareness, if you will. I think that a number of us are aware of it and are savvy enough to use the system while not letting the system become us.
Continuing, They is a product of "We", the masses/people, and is an interaction of religion, business (who use the "live for today, buy before you die" spin), and government (you are unsafe, unless...). Business and government are the oftentimes heartless two-thirds who I said that I'd mention to you from before. They "is", and while not actually being any one of the three, the "is" is the sum of its parts. It's sort of an omnipresent entity of our own making that actually competes with God (his foil), rather than draws us closer to him. We do this to ourselves, I believe.
Let's focus on the religious part term for a bit. They is born of necessity, convenience, and culture. They are demigods who act as relative intermediaries between the celestial authorities and ourselves. By this I mean that they are not go-betweens, rather that They are a cultural model on earth of what we perceive our celestial authority to be. It's how we relate the concept with the reality and how we cope with our own inevitable death. This is what we get out of the deal. It relieves us of the burden of the highest levels of leading with it's responsibilities, moral guidance, and salving life's ugly realities. Just be aware of their motives before surrendering yourself to their way.
Salvation is more perceptively attainable when it comes with a trademark. "This is an official pathway to God as sanctioned, certified, and anointed by the Lord himself, so said the founder who had it revealed to him in a hot dog stand." So said some guy (boy, I feel sorry for the real messengers--God's got to tell somebody). "I've never met God, but Bob said he did and I believe him, 'cause Bob would never lie. Now my eternal soul hinges on what Bob's unverifiable experience has produced. I guess that I'm caught in a catch 22 of exercising faith." Now this sounds more like our harmless crazies only cult, doesn't it? But switch out Bob with Moses or Abraham, and hot dog stand with a mountain top and what do you have?
I think that the best way to choose a death cult is to see what kind of fruit that they bare. Do they want you to make an immediate "jump" to salvation? Why do They want your money? They all do because nothing runs just on sunshine and moonbeams, right? Well, at least nothing can run on moonbeams. Make sure that your money is going to do the kind of good that you expect it to and that you get your God money's worth. It's God's money and he should know how to spend it properly, right? Find out where it goes, that'll tell you volumes about the religion that you subscribe to.
Continuing on with this process of scrutiny, what kind of men and women lead the flock? Do their financial welfare and interests depend on church funds? If so, are those leaders using that to profit unjustly? What amount of this money goes back into the flock? Is there manipulation of the flock for political purposes, saying that blessings and/or their salvation depends on their compliance? They might use the concept of one's death as a sacrifice for all to inflict guilt, rather than hope, or using your own inevitable death as leverage of fear and uncertainty to get you with the program. You perform a role in mortality so that you may "live" in happiness and paradise in the hereafter, death being the gate; They are the hinge that swings that gate, manipulating our perceptions of death.
See how the concept of dying to live can be used to benefit a few relatively powerful people? See how government could use a benign facade in religion to affect minds and votes. Think of how a crafty politician plays the religion card and how religious leaders apply pressure to politicians to get what they want. So it is what it is, then, right?
Well, there is hope for religion, I believe. In a good religion this element is minimized enough to where it doesn't effect your spirituality and at least some of us on this earth have a choice of which religion we'd like to follow. But, we still can be slave to the concept of death and making deals to overcome death's trappings in order to secure a better life beyond--our insecurities can betray us into making hasty commitments and life choices. We have words and exhortations that tell us what is beyond and what to do. We get warm fuzzies and revelations of our own as to what's true, but still we do not actually know. It is our lack of knowledge of the hereafter that is our weak spot and the reality that only death will bring about the answers is the real kicker.
We need placation and succor. That is why cults can get a number of people to commit suicide and why a good deal of the rest of us are willing to go along with the name brand "safe" religions, some of which might belong to the They. I know what I believe and it's as arbitrary as the next differing view, yet I continue. However, I continue with a knowledge that while I must have conviction and faith, I must also be humble enough to accept the possibility that I might have been misled. Because, if I am prideful and not open to this possibility, if I have not the truth, truth will pass me by unnoticed.
Just remember this and you'll be okay: If you live your life so that you won't have to fear the reaper, no one will be able to hold your afterlife as collateral. I don't have a problem with following a path to God. I just have a problem with the traffic cops, tour guides, the idiots, and toll booths along the way.
(This post has been updated and altered since)
4 years ago