5. DOOMSDAY CULTS
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… are synonymous with tragedy and disaster. But no cult is constituted as a doomsday cult, but it evolves into such a cult under the influence of a mentally challenged leader. The leader is the heart of a sect. He inspires power and influence and he identifies himself with the Messiah or with an important end-time prophet. He brings knowledge about new ways of redemption and news about imminent disasters. No group is a doomsday cult without the approval and the support of the leader. The psyches of the individuals and of the leader are in a relation of symbiosis: the adulation of the followers feeds the egocentrism of the false messiah, while the latter takes the responsibility of redeeming them. The leader controls the concepts of the individual, inhibits mental freedom and suppresses critical thinking. For him, the obedience of the followers is like a drug; it is never enough, he always needs more.
Sectarian communities are subhuman social organizations, grotesquely masked by a grandiose message. The control of the sect is strictly based on the use of fear. The fear of God’s wrath constrains the individuals to remain inside the sect to be part of those exempted from experiencing the prophesied terrifying events. But because the leader is seen as the instrument of God, spiritual salvation is not a question of ethics, but of endurance to abuses. Anything is allowed when you think that you represent God. Jim Jones forced his adepts to confess their mistakes in front of the congregation, only to have a reason to publicly humiliate them.
The propensity to violence is often accompanied by sexual abuse – a method through which the leaders aim to create a personal, intimate and dominating bond with their subjects. Messiahs seem to have a problem with sex. Jones forbade sex between unmarried followers, but he voraciously engaged in sexual relations with members of both sexes.1333 When he was 19 Koresh had a relationship with a 15-year-old girl who got pregnant.1334 Koresh was suspected of having sexual relations even with Lois Roden, the 70-year-old former leader of the Davidians. The two had to conceive the future Messiah through a miracle as in the case of Abraham and Sarah (Genesis 18; 21).1335 After he took the control of the Davidians, Koresh annulled all the marriages and claimed exclusive access to women. God, allegedly, had asked him to establish the “House of David,” a superior and pure human race that would populate the new Paradise. Koresh fathered 14 children, some of the mothers being only 12 years old. The obsession for purity quickly triggers pedophilic tendencies. In 1995 Kiri Jewell confessed that she was only 10 years old when Koresh sexually molested her, after which he read for her from the Bible.1336 And in 2008 Wayne Bent, the messiah of the Lord Our Righteousness Church, claimed that God told him to have sex with seven virgin girls of the congregation.1337
Ironically, the messiahs of doomsday cults perceive themselves as the only people with lucid minds in the world, but they manifest obvious symptoms of paranoia. While Jim Jones publicly spoke about the virtues of the social gospel, behind the scenes he consumed drugs and he despotically controlled his adepts. Amid the assassinations of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, Jones often said that his life and his church were threatened by evil exterior forces which aimed to destroy them. In order to test the loyalty of his followers, one day he made all those attending the sermon drink a beverage prepared in advance, after which he told them that it had been poisoned and they would all die together.1338 Likewise, Asahara’s public mission was to take upon him the sins of the world and to offer spiritual powers. But the theological and social failures made him see Jewish, American, Freemason, British or Japanese conspiracies everywhere.1339
The unstable character of a messiah may be the result of pure insanity, of a personal tragedy or especially of a traumatizing childhood. Messiahs never admit they are wrong because this contradicts the immaculate image they have of themselves. The adulation they need covers in fact their greatest fear, that of being rejected or being faulty. The act of rejection reactivates repressed feelings of abandonment, neglect, disappointment and totally changes their vision of the world: mercy turns into hate, salvation into destruction and peace into war. Their aversion to society is a retaliation against the society and the dysfunctional families that made them suffer. The “decadent” society must be cleansed not because it is indeed decadent, but because it is decadent in relation to their person. For them, the perfect society can only be the one in which they receive the much-needed acceptance. Jones grew up in a poor family, with a drunken and unemployed father and a mother always gone to work. All his later actions reveal the desire to change the world that made him suffer: he joined the Communist Party, he identified himself with America’s enemies and racial tolerance was a revolt against his father, a member of Ku Klux Klan.1340 Koresh never met his father, and his mother cohabited with a violent alcoholic. A strange and lonely character, it is believed that at the age of eight Koresh was raped by a gang of older children. Below average in school and diagnosed with dyslexia, he was placed at first in a special school, and then he abandoned education at the age of 17. Both Jones and Koresh found a sick refuge in religion.1341
It is no secret that religions exert a certain control over their adherents. But cults take this control to a whole new level. For adepts, leaving the cult is never easy; cults are structures of power that allure and trap people. Their propaganda suggests that people should be able to think for themselves, but behind closed doors members are told exactly how and what they have to think. In order to get the spiritual satisfaction they were looking for, adepts are ready to make compromises. They accept a matrix of thought that is not their own and lock up a good portion of their own minds. This process enables the leaders to penetrate very deeply into the lives of their subjects, asking their material values and their secrets as a guarantee of fidelity. The abandonment of the corrupt world and the embracing of the pure world of sectarianism marks the beginning of a period of brainwashing, manipulation, violence and terror. The members are robbed of their individuality and identity, and their physical and psychical liberties are continuously restrained up to the point when the messiah comes to have the right of life and death upon them. They simply do not realize or they do not want to admit what happens to them. Driven by fear, by shame or even by a kind of crushing certainty that eliminates doubt, people get to act in ways they never thought they would. In fact, the followers play a double role: their worship feeds the egomania of the prophet, while their fanaticism forms a living barrier against intrusions. They accept to be abused because they invested huge amounts of time and money in the cult, separated themselves from society and they have nowhere else to go. As the hierarchical relationship strengthens, the outside world is more and more portrayed as toxic, poisonous, murderous, the leader and the cult being the only saving solutions. All the good that happens to them is because of the cult, and everything that is not good is due to their fault or to the outside society.
Sectarians sometimes discard their current names and adopt new, pompous names, in an attempt to embellish or to hide their true insignificant identity. This process signals the spiritual rebirth and the denial of the shameful past. Jones directly entitled himself the “Messiah” or “Jesus Christ.” Shoko Asahara was initially named “Chizuo Matsumoto,” and within the cult he declared himself to be Christ and the Lamb of God.1342 Wayne Bent, after so-called visions, changed his name to “Michael Travesser.” After he had been affected by the Jerusalem syndrome, David Koresh returned to Waco more determined than ever to establish the Millennial Kingdom1343 and one of his first things he did was to signal that he was a new man. In 1990 Vernon Howell legally changed his name to “David Koresh.” The first name was taken from King David, while “Koresh” is a transliteration of the name of the biblical Persian king Cyrus (which in modern Romanized Persian language is written Kurosh).1344
It is difficult to understand how some people throw themselves into this nonsense. The obsession for religion or for the end of the world may be a reflection of the sense of uncertainty toward life, of the sense of hate toward society or of the sick fascination with superpowers and elitism. Sects seem to exert a special attraction upon those who experience an emotional cocktail of depressions, frustrations, confusion regarding the meaning of life, loneliness, lack of interpersonal communication, lack of a sexual life, a monotonous lifestyle, unhappiness with their work or their achievements, they want a new ideal or they pass through an identity crisis. Some people want to experience a certain state of spirituality, not only to contemplate it. By adhering to small obscure groups the individual tries to fill his spiritual void and to confer a purpose to his meaningless life. He wants to be special, to have something that is rare and valuable. So, as long as reason is eclipsed by faith, aberrant religious movements will never lack human material. There will always be people who are ready to use religion in exploitative purposes and people who are ready to deliver the responsibility of their redemption in the hands of a charismatic leader.
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