Our Readers' Opinions
December 21, 2010
Signs of a religious cult


Editor: A religious cult is a group of people who build their beliefs and doctrines on scriptural obscurities and espouse anti-establishment and anti-government dogma. A cult is usually led by a charismatic, misguided, paranoid, psychotic, schizophrenic or megalomaniacal person. This person suffers from a persecution syndrome and rails against governmental authorities. This person seeks out impressionable and gullible persons as followers.{{more}}

The leader of the cult systematically and methodically indoctrinates followers by constant and repetitious chanting, ranting, raging and railing against governments and authorities. They engage in scare and fear mongering. They preach a the-sky-is-falling, end-of-the-world Armageddon doctrine. They subliminally indoctrinate their followers into thinking that the government is out to get them and to deprive them of their civil and religious liberties and freedoms. It matters not which political party is in government; that party and government automatically become, in the twisted psyche of the cultist, a diabolic force to be vanquished at all cost and its leader the devil personified. (As in, the American government and George Bush or Barack Obama. Republican or Democrat does not matter. If you are the government, you are ”the devil”)

The most notable of cult leaders in the twentieth century was the Reverend Jim Jones. He was an American preacher who, in 1978, convinced his followers to leave the United States and move with him to the jungle of Guyana. In Guyana he established a communal farm. He confiscated the passports and other documents of his followers. He kept their social security and other retirement cheques. His followers, many of them retirees, who had never worked on a farm were forced to work to produce their own food, since he had told them that they could not trust food coming in from outside. He in effect shut them off from the outside world once they got to “Jonestown” – the camp was named after him.

The American government managed to get word that something untoward was happening in the Guyana jungle. A Congressional Delegation was sent to Guyana to investigate. The delegation was led by Congressman Leo Ryan of California. Once in Guyana, the delegation got to Jonestown via light aircraft and landed at the private airstrip of the camp. They interviewed many of the cult members, who were willing to talk with them. Some members were too afraid of Jim Jones and his henchmen to talk with the investigators. The delegation identified several persons who said that they were there against their will and expressed a desire to leave.

The day the delegation was to depart to return to the United States and report their findings to Congress, they were taking some of the persons who could fit on the small aircraft along with them. Jim Jones knew that his scheme was about to be exposed back in the United States. As the delegation and the cult members attempted to board the aircraft, they were ambushed by Jim Jones’ assassins. Congressman Ryan was shot dead and others were injured. Jim Jones had already ordered his henchmen at the camp to mix a lethal concoction, a witches’ brew of cool-aid laced with the deadly poison cyanide. He got on the public address system and ordered all the people to congregate at the courtyard of the compound. He whipped them into a frenzy with an incoherent diatribe of religious slogans and anti-American chants. He told them that the “doomsday” he had always warned them about was here; that the “infidels” had come to destroy their paradise, their utopia, and it was now the time to put themselves beyond the reach of the “wicked anti-Christ” by drinking the cool-aid. Those who did not want to drink it were either force-fed or shot point blank. On that fateful day, over eight hundred men, women and children perished in the jungle of Guyana along with the cult leader.

In the mid-nineteen nineties in Waco, Texas, another cult leader by the name of David Koresh led a group called the Branch Davidians. Mr. Koresh set up a compound in Waco where he and his followers lived. Mr. Koresh (born Vernon Howell and changed his name to David Koresh), though a high school drop-out managed to get persons of much greater academic accomplishment to follow him. He had people with bachelors’ and masters’ degrees in the sect.

It was reported that Mr. Koresh was in the habit of having sexual relations with the wives and daughters of his followers. Also that some of these children were minors. Based on this report, federal agents from the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) Agency went to the compound to effect an arrest warrant on Mr. Koresh and a search warrant, since it was reported that he had been stock-piling weapons and ammunition, preparing for a show-down with authorities. When the agents attempted to gain entry to the compound, two of them were shot dead by David Koresh and his followers. A siege of the compound ensued. It lasted for several weeks. Like Jim Jones before him, David Koresh, using a public address system, urged on his followers in a rambling tirade about the “infidels” that, as he had prophesied, had come to rob them of their heritage and their paradise; and that this was the fulfillment of the apocalypse he had predicted. He urged them to fight to the death.

Overtime, hostage negotiators and other acquaintances of the sect were allowed to take some of the women and children out of the compound. Sadly, as the world watched on live television several weeks into the siege, the compound went up in a great conflagration. Dozens of men, women and children perished, along with their paranoid, schizophrenic cult leader, Mr. David Koresh.

There are lessons to be learnt from these two sordid episodes of Jim Jones and David Koresh. Just because some over-zealous religious exponent may be articulate and charismatic does not mean that you should swallow hook, line and sinker of what they have to say. Sir James Mitchell warned recently to be careful in dealing with “religious extremists.” They can never be tamed or pacified. The bedrock of their religious beliefs dictates that they oppose secular authority, period. Beware of religiously sanctimonious Pied-Pipers.

Benson Plaugh-Feddows