I’ve had friends taken up, almost literally, in spiritual ventures. That’s right; cults, churches, movements, rites, and rituals. I was active in some regions of what we used to call the counter-culture. Sooner or later, many of us took the plunge into some religious or spiritual experience that we thought would make irrevocable changes in our temperament; me included.
Most of my friends emerged on the other side of the charismatic movements with some residual beliefs but a strong disdain for controlling individuals and movements. Then again, some never reemerged, and to this day, I wonder what became of them.
There did not seem to be any pattern as to who would get involved; those raised in secular environments or those from strict religious backgrounds. One pattern always seemed to emerge, though was control – control the access of the individual to information or people outside the “bubble.” this could be through physical isolation, diet, but mostly control of information.
Most of my friends and I came through these experiences with a deep individualistic sense of the spiritual and religious. But in my case, I also came to have a profound disregard for the sort of control that can flow into a group from the pulpit.
Many seem to regard the Evangelical movements as stand-alone phenomena. I view them with a suspicion derived from having seen and lived through similar “faith-washing” idiocy of the sixties and seventies. Leaders speak ex-cathedra from the pulpit determining how you live your life in its most intimate detail. The playbook is the same, just jazzed up with modern technology and marketing techniques.
As a result, I tend to view individual spirituality as a beneficial personal choice and organizational spirituality as a potential means of mind control.
Reflecting on the cost of cults to the individual, I’d agree with Heinrich Heine that “Experience is a good school. But the fees are high.”