We love documentaries about cults. At this point we have watched more than I can even remember. Scientology, FDLS, Heaven’s Gate, Jonestown, Branch Davidians, NXIVM, Doc Antle, Children of God, Rajneeshpuram, we have seen it all.
I think what fascinates me the most is how the leaders (who seem more like ordinary idiots than idols) bring a bunch of people in and convince those people to do things that they wouldn’t ordinarily do. People in Scientology mortgage their homes multiple times, give every cent to the cause, and even swipe their children’s college funds to give money to the “church”, which is a tax-free entity. People fail to protect their children from polygamy, abuse, indoctrination, and physical harm.
The documentaries do a really good of showing you how people get sucked into something. They all want to be a part of something bigger and do good things. They feel like they are better than other people and the cult is how they set themselves apart from the rest of us.
I think most of us think we are too cynical to get stuck in a cult, but what about people born into it? Especially the FDLS and the various branches of the Mormon religion that still practice polygamy. Girls are intentionally taught that they are only worthy as a wife and mother of many. They are kept ignorant and not allowed to think about life outside of polygamy.
What I really struggle to make sense of is how did/does this happen? As much as women fight, why are they still treated like second class citizens in religion, school, family life? Like how do women not just burn it all down? I know my feelings are all very complex and although I was born female, I felt a sense of injustice that seemed so much deeper than everyone else I knew. Any time someone assumed that I liked or wanted a thing that I equated to girly, feminine, female, woman, I would feel this deep sense of rage inside me. And when someone seemed to be holding that against me in education, in the military, in medicine, I felt rage bubbling up inside me. It still becomes almost uncontrollable. I don’t know how more women don’t run away from these cults that treat them like second class citizens, but I also see “regular” women in religion and society accepting this subservient role and allowing themselves to be treated poorly. So I guess in a way, all of culture is a cult. When you are most focused on fitting in and being part of a community, you accept things that you might not actually want to accept, but you do it anyway.
I think the cult that upset me the most was NXIVM. It started out pitching all these improve your business and work life workshops. Become empowered! It turned into a cult where women were doing these naked rituals with blindfolds, having sex with the founder of the cult, and getting branded with his initials and the initials of another leader and actress. Women had to send in pictures of themselves naked and share things they wouldn’t want anyone to know to be a part of the group. They eventually became part of this “master-slave” dynamic, which had these women subservient to their master, which was another woman in most cases, but ultimately all of them were subservient to the founder. How did these women miss the disconnect from the empowerment in the beginning to this hazing and torture? How did sending private information to your master not feel weird and wrong? What made them decide that they would be safe in this structure?
I just don’t understand it. But then I watch a show like Catfish and I instantly understand how lonely everyone really is. If you can find a large group of people that you appear to have a lot in common with, plus a goal to do something big with your life, you are ripe for a cult. Are we all really just so lonely that we will send money to a stranger online who appears to be in love with us or we will allow ourselves to be blindfolded naked and branded with some unknown symbol? This are the types of things that occupy my mind most of the time. I just want to understand what makes humans do the crazy things they do.