2008-03-29

The GOOD legacy of a fundamentalist and cultic life: 9

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by Neil Godfrey

Continuing from Leaving the Fold Marlene Winell’s encouraging list of some of the good one can take away from the fundamentalist or cultic experience, mingled with my own thoughts . . . . (See also her newly established Recovery from Religion website.) — earlier posts under the Winell and Fundamentalism categories linked here.

Moral development

Marlene Winell speaks from the perspective of one who grew up in a fundamentalist cult. I am perhaps a little more familiar with those who joined cults in their maturer years. I’ll address my own kind, those closer to my experience, first (not part of Marlene’s book):

Many who “join” or “become members of” cults (the difference has significance, as I hope to explain in a future post) do so for idealistic reasons. Many are in some fashion utopians. They are the same sorts of people, I think, who are candidates for joining a counter-culture commune, or a radical extremist political movement. Contrary to common opinion that they must be as weak and floppy as a woolly upper storey, it is in many cases hard-headed idealism that has led them into a place where they can find approval for embarking on the total self/other-sacrifice that fulfils their idealistic bent. The moral grounding of such an idealist (it surely goes without saying) includes the ultimate golden codes such as love one another, don’t judge, be merciful, kind, etc etc etc. Such innate moral thinking is not easily going to desert one. But what such a one can take from the cult experience is a more humane judgment in living out such ethical ideals. One can be more in tune with the “little” double-binds and contradictions that cultic life introduced — the hurts that were inflicted on loved ones, and even virtual unknowns, — in the pursuit of the highest ethical ideals. Result: a little more judgment and compassion, for all, including “the less deserving”, in the exercise of the ideal virtues. Even at the cost of compromising some of that idealism.

The cult experience can bequeath this mellowed, and enriched, legacy.

Marlene Winell addresses those who knew the idealistic teachings as children and teenagers. Learning the Do’s and Don’ts of basics no doubt kept many from harmful experimentation that could in cases have proved permanent, even fatal.

And the highest ideals of Christianity, of most religions, really are good, not bad. Love one another . . . . , do unto others. . . . , be merciful . . . . , don’t judge . . . . , etc. Others may imbibe such ideals without religion, or through other religions, but that’s fine. The end product is the same. And it’s a decent person. A good start. By all means we must develop our own standards. But such a base is not a bad one to start from.

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