Some time ago I introduced the “Larry King Rule,” which states that the normative value of any given Mormon doctrine can be determined by imagining how President Hinckley would respond to it on Larry King.
Now for a new rule!
Some reading to get you started. This Rolling Stone article about Scientology contains some really insane stuff. When I read it a few months ago, I found myself horrified by the cultish behaviour of the Church of Scientology. What crazy people! How can they believe that stuff! They do what?!
But here’s the problem. Anyone googling “Mormon” and “Scientology” might conceivably end up at this page. Their reaction: “Mormons calling Scientologists cultish, LOL!” In the words of Bill Maher, “Mormons should just be glad that Scientology came along and made them the second weirdest religion.” As I read the article, I realised that a similar description of Mormonism could make us seem cultish. Not wishing to be a member of a cult, this gave me pause.
Much of the problem here is the definition of “cult,” which often seems to mean not much more than “small religion, weird beliefs, strict rules.” If you are a large religion, your beliefs become less weird, and if you practice them strictly you are a “monk,” or “deeply religious,” not a brainwashed cultist. So, much of it has to do with scale.
Still, there can be cultish elements in religion. As I read about them in relation to Scientology they struck me as things to be avoided by sensible people, even dangerous. So I formulated the Scientology Rule, also know as “Don’t Be Cultish!” Briefly it is:
If your religious behaviours are such that if practised by a Scientologist and observed by you would seem cultish, re-evaluate them pronto! The best way to imagine this is to place our behaviours in the context of Scientology. Here are some examples:
- Scientologist pays 10% of his income to the church because he sincerely believes his church worthy of support. (Not cultish.)
- Scientologist pays 10% of his income to the church because he sincerely believes that is what the immortal L. Ron Hubbard expects of him. (Pretty weird, but not too cultish, at least if you substitute L. Ron Hubbard for God.)
- Scientologist pays 10% of his income to the church because he sincerely believes if he doesn’t he is going to join Brooke Shields in hell. (Cult alert! Cult alert!)
- Scientologist pays 10% of his income to the church because if he doesn’t he cannot enter the Inner Sanctum of the Thetan Temple. (Ah, um, er…)
Tricky, eh? In other words, there are things we do that would appear very cultish from the outside. Are they only OK because we do them, because we’re right and they’re wrong? (Quite cultish if coming from the lips of a Scientologist.)
Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the Scientology Rule. Judge not Tom lest ye be judged.
Are there cultish aspects to Mormonism?
If so, how do we avoid them? Should they be avoided? If not, how can we justify them?
Oh, and before it comes up: I do not believe the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to be a cult, but like all religions, we can be prone to excessive devotion. I am very happy to be a member of our rich and edifying spiritual community. I also believe anti-depressants to be the work of the devil….Wait!