Curbing cults (religious & political): An antidote

Curbing cults (religious & political): An antidote

Clinton Chisholm

Monday, November 11, 2019

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Beyond the legitimate concerns about what may be happening within the Qahal Yahweh group in my home town Montego Bay, Jamaica, we need to be mindful of the cultic tendencies within far too many churches in long-standing and 'upstanding' denominations, as well as within the 'die-hearted' tribes of the People's National Party (PNP), Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), and other political groups.

Cult is a negative term now (replaced by 'sect'), though it formerly meant simply a smaller group (with differentiating distinctives) within or drawn from a larger group. So, Christianity began as a cult of Judaism (the religion of the Jews), and Rastafari in its early days was seen as a cult of Christianity. With reference to Islam, the 'Black Muslim' group is regarded as a cult of Islam.

One dominant marker of most cults or sects tends to be the tacit or expressed maxim “once the group or its leader has spoken all thinking stops”. This tendency to stifle or eliminate individual thought is, in my view, unhealthy intellectually and potentially dangerous, practically.

One antidote which is almost always dismissed by groups with cultic tendencies is fostering critical thinking, that is, encouraging all to feel free to raise legitimate questions of everyone and everything and refusing to give mental/behavioural assent until cogent responses are provided.

Within Christian groups the tactics of stifling critical thinking are many, including the mindless quoting of biblical passages out of context — like “Touch not the Lord's anointed,” or “To obey is better than sacrifice…” — to which texts a thinking person should ask how is asking for an explanation of or a reason for a certain belief or practice touching anyone, and whether one should sacrifice one's God-given mind and mindlessly obey that, concerning which, one has no sensible rationale.

The fact that a leader prefaces his/her ideas with “thus says the Lord God” is not sufficient to warrant my mental or behavioural assent. Is the leader careful to expound a biblical text in light of its context, for instance, or does that one simply issue commands minus justification.

Many will call me, and no doubt have called me a rebel, radical, renegade, or the weird Jamaican coinage “reptobate”, but I remain resolute in seeking to “love my God with all my…mind” as scripture commands in St Luke 10:27 and reserve the right to question anyone and anything.

I go further, while serving as a pastor I encouraged congregations to raise questions right after my sermons or Bible studies because I am not above blundering logically or beyond misinterpreting a text of scripture.
Very awkwardly, too, I told them that I reserve the right to ask them questions about what I shared, at times, too, to ensure that they were engaging their minds with mine during the sermon/study. I still do this as a guest preacher!

Lay preachers and pastors who utter inanities and expect listeners to echo verbal support without first engaging their brains find me a humbug, but, quite frankly, I do not give a rat's rear end.

No matter how 'charismatic' a church leader or pastor is, if and when you speak your utterances do not reflect care in language use and logic, I remain unimpressed.

I reject the nonsense that “when God measures a person he does not put the tape measure around the head but around the heart”. Undiluted rubbish, given the fact that the God of the Bible prizes careful thought.
In Isaiah 1:3 the prophet as God's spokesman, chides:

“The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master's crib; but Israel does not know, my people do not consider.” (New King James Version)

In verse 18 God invites, “Come now and let us reason together.”

Do church folk not remember that for the Apostle Paul's transformation comes by “the renewing of the mind”? (Romans 12:2) Why then do we give the impression that nonsense/foolishness is sanctified when uttered in church?

I have a problem with political diehards for whom their party or political leader can do no wrong, despite evidence to the contrary. At election time I examine the candidates in my constituency then vote. So, in my voting life since 1972 I have voted for the odd PNP, JLP or National Democratic Movement (NDM) candidate. Maybe I don't know enough to be a diehard, but that's me.

I choose to remain A Controversial Clergyman, as my latest book on critical thinking attests.

If we allow and encourage critical thinking everywhere, we could reduce the veritable political and religious cults or sects.

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