27 September, 2014

The Cult Deficit - NYTimes.com

The Cult Deficit - NYTimes.com:

most children of the Reagan era, I grew up with a steady diet of media
warnings about the perils of religious cults — the gurus who lurked in
wait for the unwary and confused, offering absolute certainty with the
aftertaste of poisoned Kool-Aid. From the 1970s through the 1990s, from
Jonestown to Heaven’s Gate, frightening fringe groups and their
charismatic leaders seemed like an essential element of the American
religious landscape.

we don’t hear nearly as much about them anymore, and it isn’t just that
the media have moved on. Some strange experiments have aged into
respectability, some sinister ones still flourish, but over all the cult
phenomenon feels increasingly antique, like lava lamps and bell
bottoms. Spiritual gurus still flourish in our era, of course, but they
are generally comforting, vapid, safe — a Joel Osteen rather than a Jim
Jones, a Deepak Chopra rather than a David Koresh.

in the last few months I’ve encountered writers taking note of this
shift, and both have made a similar (and provocative) point: The decline
of cults, while good news for anxious parents of potential devotees,
might actually be a worrying sign for Western culture, an indicator not
only of religious stagnation but of declining creativity writ large.