I have a friend named Joel. I think he may be in a cult. See, Joel religiously follows a group of creepy-looking men who hold regular meetings, and every time they hold these meetings he will wear clothes that match them, paints his face; and when they begin their strange ritual, he will stand off to the side and scream at the top of his lungs. Sound terrifying? It is. Joel is, in fact, a Florida Panthers fan.
Joel’s obsession with the Panthers fits perfectly with the definition of “cult”. Because according to Wikipedia, a cult is “a religious or other social group with socially deviant and novel beliefs and practices”. Google’s definition adds that they are “a relatively small group of people”. Panthers fans are most certainly “socially deviant” and a “relatively small group of people”. Nobody cheers for the Panthers. Why would the hottest state in the USA have ANY need for a professional ice hockey team anyways? But this begs the question. What if, for argument’s sake, Florida wins the Stanley Cup this year and everyone starts thinking they’re the hottest thing since…well, Florida? Does that mean Joel is still in a cult?
This was a humorous illustration of a serious question. Does it not seem odd to you that half of the definition of “cult” is that it’s “small”? This has nothing to do with what they actually do. And last I checked, truth doesn’t follow crowds. Margaret Mead once said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” By our definition, she’s basically saying: “never doubt that a thoughtful, committed cult can change the world.” But suddenly that quote doesn’t sound so pretty. WHY?
I mean, Rosa Parks was “socially deviant”. The Wright brothers were “novel”. And America’s Founding Fathers were a “small group of people”.
I’m starting to think that “cult” is simply a catchall to label something that, sometimes, we haven’t actually taken the time to understand. Could you honestly say you’re only interested in things that are considered “normal”? Would you WANT to admit that? If you find yourself on the fringes of anything in ANY way – movies you like, music, social groups and activities – congrats! In a sense, you’re in a “cult”!
Now, I’m not saying that “normal” is always bad. My concern is when we judge how right something is by how many other people are doing it, or just because it’s “different”. If we all did that, how would anything EVER change?
I think this principle is at play in this line from Henrik Ibsen: “Friends are a costly luxury, and if one’s capital consists in a calling and a mission in life, one cannot afford to keep friends…many a spiritual growth is crippled within one.” I think this principle is also in this saying from Einstein: “the one who follows the crowd will usually get no further than the crowd. The one who walks alone, is likely to find himself in places no one has ever been.” In a sense, even the scene in Facing the Giants where the guy does the Death Crawl across the entire football field demonstrates my point. The player’s inability to see the norm allowed him to surpass the norm…we tend to be limited by the beliefs we are surrounded with.
I’ll admit it – I’ve been a part of groups that have been labeled “cults”. No kool aid was offered, though I’m sure one could find other things that might sound cult-ish about them. But before putting your judging-cap on, take a hard look at your own life first. Things that people would associate with cults – leaders attempting to control people, people breaking from families, brainwashing – I mean, those things are everywhere! News brainwashes us pretty good. The media is pretty controlling. So is the IRS. And traffic signals. It seems to me that it’s all simply based on how much you’re willing to put up with!
This article is not meant to be an encouragement to go off and join the cult next door. It’s simply to remind us that not everything that’s small or deviant is bad. Sometimes, it’s actually what we need. Gandhi was labeled a heretic once. But he overcame it and changed the world. He described the process like this: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win”. Like Curry Blake says, today’s heretics are tomorrow’s heroes.
No one would admit to only believing what society tells us, but where to actually GET your moral compass from – ay, there’s the rub. I’m not going to preach to you where to get your beliefs, but personally I have tried to not even get my compass from humans in general. That’s a story for another time!
Remember to run with the little guy every once in awhile (as long as they’re not manipulative and controlling). As I wrote in my high school yearbook – “only dead fish go with the flow”! And hey, there’s no culture without a cult, right? (Just kidding. Just had to put that in somewhere). Go Panthers!