Cults – what does the word bring to mind? There are thoughts of blind devotion. There most certainly is the charisma or power of a leader over his followers. Finally, there is the absolute certainty of purpose. Whether one thinks of Jim Jones, Hitler, or the Messiah of Israel, these things are to be found in each. While success and efficiency are characteristic of a cult, personal freedom and expression are not. While it may not be so in the beginning, a black-and-white thinking surely emerges in times of change or of crisis. What is to be done to keep one’s mind and thinking protected and active at all times?
What are cults?
Wikipedia introduces the subject of the cult as follows:
The term cult usually refers to a social group defined by its religious, spiritual, or philosophical beliefs, or its common interest in a particular personality, object or goal. The term itself is controversial and it has divergent definitions in both popular culture and academia and it also has been an ongoing source of contention among scholars across several fields of study.
Come to think of it, over a period of interacting with someone or observing their responses, one can identify some key fixations. The examples are numerous at the present time. Think of those for or against Donald Trump, Narendra Modi, or those for and against Brexit, demonetization of Rs. 500 and 1,000 bank notes in India, Islam, the Catholic church, the Protestant movement etc. A particularly noteworthy example for me are Jehovah’s witnesses. This is largely due to personal experience.
How black-and-white thinking develops and manifests itself?
We have to acknowledge one thing here. When decisions have to be made which will have an effect on the rest of the life of a person or a society, weakness is simply impermissible. It is the single-mindedness and unity that achieves unparalleled results. This has to be remembered.
When a crisis or an emergency develops whom would you rely on? Would you prefer that the army deal with a terrorist threat, or the local civilians with arms? After an earthquake or a flood, who are most efficient to deal with it? Cults of one kind or another are best equipped. A group of people like Jehovah’s witnesses is in fact always prepared for the worst. Pessimism, doom, and disaster continue to linger in the background of all of the group’s thinking at all times! An exploration past the superficial teachings immediately reveals this to be the cornerstone of the group’s thinking.
Black-and-white thinking is always waiting to take over the analytical and critical thinking abilities of the person. This is the conditioning. This is the programming.
Preventing black-and-white thinking of cults from hijacking the mind
A willingness to be uncertain is the greatest defense against black-and-white thinking. While no one wants to linger for an extended time in such uncertainty, it is nonetheless a safeguard. Only impatience produces the desperation for escape, and that is when the mind is too stressed to function.
Our current way of interacting through social networks, how governments and leaders have become reactionary, and the speed at which decisions are being made are all indicators of disaster. These are not just indicators of imminent disaster; the process itself is unsustainable. The speed and volume of information cannot be made the criteria for our thoughts, decisions, and actions.
Detachment is needed, and so is patience. While the American mindset has typified an aggression in international affairs through its various administrations, the ongoing social fragmentation has done the same to its society. This has been characteristic of the Western societies. This lack of social cohesion and emphasis on freedom have given an opportunity for the greatest good and the greatest bad at the individual level. The conditions were always there for interest-groups and cults to form. At the same time, the family structure and communities have been undergoing deterioration.
Black-and-white thinking requires an opportunity for the stress to diffuse. If the stress can diffuse into legitimate outlets like social and community support, there is a possibility for reform. There is the possibility for communication, despite ongoing uncertainty. This uncertainty is better than war and other such irreversible damages.
There is much beside clearly marked standards
A preoccupation with ideas such as truth and absolute certainty is an ongoing stress to the mind. With all the books ever written by men, we have yet to find the very final answers that can unite all understanding. But wait a minute! Is there such a great unifier of all understanding even possible?
The nature of this world shows nearly endless variety in all existing creation. There is so much life on this earth, and if one considers the possibility of other such planets with life, it is most humbling. We do not even know our own selves well enough and yet we never seem to hesitate to be certain about God, government, religion etc. Truly, our way of thinking and approaching matters has undergone immense change.
Appreciating these things is possible when we step out of a cult-like mindset. Cults and all such social constructs made by humans are in an endless pursuit to confine the mind, to take away its freedom, to limit its possibilities. I, for one, still and always will appreciate ideas like God’s Kingdom and eternal life. If not for myself, I surely believe, there are human beings who would be well-suited to and users of such opportunities in a beneficial way! Whatever be our judgments on ourselves or others, the most regrettable thing to see is the loss of human potential through misdirection and arrogance.
There are too many other related matters. Those can be addressed only at a basic level in a series of upcoming posts on this site. Hoping to do just so!