Monday, November 20, 2017

Cults of Personality and the Power to Resist

I clicked on this story just out of idle curiosity about how Charles Manson died.  The story didn't really specify, so I'm assuming it was old age; Manson was 83 years old, after all.

I read the story, which told us about his life, and I was briefly plunged into memories of youth group days in the late 1970's and early 80's, where we did consciousness raising about how we could recognize a cult before we got caught in the clutches of one.  We all assumed that we'd head off to college where cults would try to lure us in and hold us captive.

That did not happen to me; the closest I got to cults was when a sorority asked me to rush in my Senior year, and I came to an event, just out of curiosity.  I was shocked by how much money I'd have had to pay, so that was it for me.

As I read the article, I thought about how many people are still vulnerable, either to charismatic people like Manson, or to the lies that advertising/pop still try to sell us.  Sociologists and psychologists have tried to explain the reason why bright young people would follow Manson, and many of them have focused on the free-love era of the late 1960's, when social norms have been overthrown, leaving a vacuum.

In so many ways, so many of us are still vulnerable in this way.  We have a sense that the old rules are no longer in force, but we don't have a new set of rules to guide us.

I am grateful for my church for many reasons, but one of the main ones is because of the roots the church has given me with a set of ancient rules that still seem valid to me:  love each other, love God, look out for the poor and oppressed in your societies.  Trust in the power of grace; there's no need to castigate ourselves or each other.  But we don't get a free pass to just behave any way that we'd like.  God calls us to our best version of ourselves--and in this way, we create a better world.  If we go back to the roots of loving each other and looking out for the poor and oppressed, we will be on our way to solving some of the thorniest social issues.

And hopefully, we'll build immunity to the evil, like Charles Manson, that occasionally walks among us.  Our light will overcome it.

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