Friday, December 11, 2009

Cults of Personality

I just had to explain who Jim Jones was to someone at work, which reminded me of this thought I'd had.

There's is always a danger of idolizing a personality to the point of worship. Whether it's a charismatic leader, like Jim Jones, or Charles Manson, or David Koresh, or Warren Jeffs, or *insert the name of any cult leader, ever, here*.

They're (often) handsome. They're engaging, they seem to *know* things, to *understand* things on a level that we don't. They seem more evolved, more 'enlightened'. They come preaching peace and love and unity, or doom and destruction for those who do not follow the 'path' that they are being revealed. And, they use our religious texts. They use the frameworks that we are raised on, just changed, ever so slightly - they *interpret* them 'correctly', and get to the 'true' message that's been lost for 2,000 years. And people believe. They *want* to believe. They *want* to be in the 'right' group. They *want* to work together for a better world. They're tired of fighting and struggling and dealing with prejudice and hate and the foibles of the fallen world. They're *desperate* for a leader, like the prophets of old, to come and *help* them. And they flock to these men, and will, eventually, follow them in whatever they command. Even murder.

These are, of course, the extremes. But even at a far less destructive level, we all have our favorite writers, don't we? Our 'pet' scholars? I myself am fond of Servant of God Fulton J. Sheen and his work. I'm quite fond of Kallistos Ware, as well. When I was a kid, I honestly thought Pope John Paul II was actually in charge of *all* the Christians (and I wasn't Catholic). I like Pope Benedict XVI.

On an even lower level, we all have bloggers/vloggers, people with converse with that we're fond of. That we look to as paragons representative of their faith. We look up to them, to one degree or another. We get attached. But then, how well do you really know the person whose blog you're reading? Unless you actually know them IRL, the answer is that you only know what they choose to publish. You don't know if, inside, they're chaffing under the restrictions of their faith. You don't know if they're ill. You don't know if there's trauma/drama going on in their personal life. You don't know if they're even sincere in what they say, or if they're merely doing it for attention. We become attracted to those who *seem* pious. Who *seem* to know what they're doing. And we follow them. We feel attached, and protective of them.

And then, what happens when this person that you feel like you know, changes? Sometimes so radically that you look at them and wonder who this is. (I think, without saying the name, we all know who I'm thinking of, here. I don't want to spell it out, because I feel like it's giving more attention to someone who (in my opinion) is seeking it for childish reasons.) And there's this tremendous upheaval in the community of followers for this person. People react with anger, sadness, fear, incomprehension, doubt of their own faith!

*This* is the danger of pinning your own faith on a human being. At the least, when they're proven to be 'only human', and flawed, you may be shaken. At the worst, you wind up written in the history books for murder and mass suicide.


  1. Excellent post! You said some really great things and now I'm going to wonder if you are really different from how you appear online. Hmmm.

    No, seriously, great stuff, Amber. I like how you related the bloggers to Jim Jones. Great analogy. You're so stinkin' brilliant.

    Loved this.

  2. Susanne,


    Hah. While I try to edit for privacy, what you see is what you get with me. So, horribly flawed and trying to work it out. :) Of course, you just have to take my word for that.... ;)

    Again, you're givin' me an inflated ego! :)


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