Cults! ‘Oh, God!’ I hear you say, ‘he’s back on the religious kick. How boring.’ Well, yes, I suppose I am, but actually I probably never left it, well not for long anyway because of its endless fascination. Three events got me thinking about cults: firstly the Cruise/Holmes divorce, secondly, a song sung by George Leybourne that Chris has been working on called ‘Shy, Shy, Dreadfully Shy’ in which Leybourne evidently parodied a certain Shaker of the time and thirdly a news report on the capture in Japan of the last fugitive of the Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult, ending a 17-year manhunt. Katsuya Takahashi is suspected of involvement in the 1995 sarin nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway system that killed 13 people and injured 6000. Another former member of Aum Shinrikyo, Makoto Hirata, turned himself in to police after nearly 17 years on the run. Nearly 200 Aum Shinrikyo members have been convicted in connection with the sarin attack and other crimes. Thirteen are awaiting execution. Aum Shinrikyo began as a spiritual group in the 1980s, mixing Hindu and Buddhist beliefs but developed into a paranoid cult obsessed with Armageddon. Cult leader Shoko Asahara is among those on death row. Aum Shinrikyo has reinvented itself as the Aleph group, which continues to operate as a spiritual group and is believed to have about 1000 members.
So what is the difference between a cult and religion, between a sect and a cult? Maybe a cult becomes a religion after a long period of time when it gains millions of followers whereas a cult is of a brief duration and its followers may be fanatical but are relatively few in number. All religions must have started off as a cult and cults branch out from established religions and sects, witness the Davidians in Texas, an offshoot of 7th Day Adventists. Eighteen years after Waco that resulted in the deaths of at least 76 people there are still Davidians who believe that Koresh was God so, like the Aum Shinrikyo, the cult is still alive if in a different form. That cannot be said for the People's Temple Christian Church when in 1978 the bodies of 914 people, including 276 children, were found in Guyana South America after a mass suicide; the charismatic (mad?) leader of the cult, Jim Jones, killing himself with a bullet to the head. The dead, evidently intense fearful of the end of civilisation, had consumed a soft drink laced with cyanide and sedatives.
So what about Scientology? Is it a religion or is it a cult? Started in 1952 by a writer of science fiction, Ron L. Hubbard how different is it say to something like ex-footballer David Icke’s belief that a secret group of reptilian humanoids called The Babylonian Brotherhood controls humanity? They include (he says) such figures as George Bush and Queen Elizabeth. So much for secrecy. .’ Oh, boy! . I was watching a programme on religion on the net and a young man was heard to say ‘I don’t really know what it is all about…but I want to go to heaven!’ It was a cry from the heart and that is the basis of religion, sect, and cult; but in the words of Christopher Marlowe, atheist and blasphemer, ‘We remember nothing before we are born and we will remember nothing after we are dead.’