A cult is defined as a group of people with a religious, philosophical or cultural identity, sometimes viewed as a sect. It is often existing on the margins of society or being exploitative towards its members. But this includes devotion to a person considered to be a saint. Loyalty is the sticking point of its members.
A cult is quite similar to a sect. But differing in that a sect is an offshoot of a larger group, sharing particular (often considered unorthodox) political and/or religious beliefs. A cult is characterized by leadership structures. Loyalty is considered virtuous, even though one might have his own better judgment of situations.
Any member of a cult is hypnotized to think that disloyalty invites condemnation. In Christianity, one is made to fear losing heavenly benefits. In ZANU PF politics, you risk being regarded as belonging to a loathed opposition party.
We have to first deal with the origins of a cult in Christianity, before delving into other areas, with similar patterns. Christianity is founded upon Jesus, mistakenly considered as promoting cultish tendencies. However, Jesus was not a cult leader.
He never encouraged His followers to leave Judaism, except subscribing to the fundamentals of Jewish principles. The eleven disciples were expected to teach only what Jesus commanded them to teach. Jesus never deviated from the Scriptural references, as embodying Judaism.
Corruption had rigged across Judaism so that correcting such errors invited suspicions against Jesus. Nonetheless, each time the religious leaders confronted Jesus, He always used Scripture to show their error. The mission of Jesus was to fulfil Scriptural significance.
Having long deviated from the origins of Judaism, tradition had taken over, rather than maintaining the fundamentals of Judaism. The Jews sought to obey God’s Laws, but without establishing the reasons why. Without understanding the fundamentals, humans are susceptible to manipulation.
Jesus never detached Himself from Judaism. He only denounced the additives imposed by leaders, who assumed being knowledgeable. Judaism had been laden with treachery and ignorance, due to leadership structures, imposed without applying fundamentals. The danger is always in mixing truth and error.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practised the latter, without neglecting the former.You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel”(Matthew 23:23-24 NIV).
From all the castigations levelled against the Jews, one observes authoritarianism as the culprit. Jesus knew where the Jewish religious problems lay. They had the Law and Prophetic Scriptures at their disposal. But they had twisted them to suit their nefarious agendas. In Jesus we see the Master coming to remove the landmark deceptions that had infiltrated Judaism.
The Cultish tendencies manifested in the Jewish religion, even without clear rivalry against the Jerusalem citadel. To restore truthfulness, required demoting those occupying leadership positions. This could not be possible without a fight, as common with human nature. Jesus offered to die, rather than those leaders.
Before He left the scene, Jesus established a group of twelve, whom He conferred with apostleship, meaning messengers. In other words, the apostles were not regarded as leaders, but carrying the message of Jesus. This is why Jesus specifically instructed them to teach only what He taught.
They were not supposed to teach anything else, except what Jesus taught, without additives. Nevertheless, they later received the gift of the Holy Spirit, hitherto, not accessible to humanity. Those baptized similarly received the Spirit, to be in direct communion with God and Jesus (John 14:12-21).
No one is expected to superintend over those having received the Holy Spirit. God’s communication would, therefore, manifest among Christians, even though Jesus was no longer physically observable. He instructed those apostles to never entertain authoritarianism. Leadership was to be interpreted as meaning servanthood, rather than domineering.
“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted (Matthew 23:8-12 NIV).
Except for Paul, who may have missed this instruction, the other apostles maintained what Jesus taught. They never exercised authority over others. Their responsibility was only ensuring that the message reached the intended audience. Those baptized, received the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Generally, in this world, there has always been people assuming superiority over others. But this is erroneous when considering the datum that all humans were created in God’s image. One may hold some knowledge, ahead of others. But that does not entitle the same person to be superior. This is the only reason why Jesus encouraged humility among leaders.
The story of the apostles ended when persecution visited the Church with a vengeance. All the original apostles were killed, including their followers. But the words of Jesus were not decimated. The four gospel books, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, provide the undiluted teachings of Jesus. These are available for anyone desiring understanding Jesus’s teachings.
It was only after Emperor Constantine had ascended to the throne that Christianity was allowed to operate freely. This was the time when Catholicism got established. With or without good intentions, Catholicism revived authoritarianism into Christianity. Nevertheless, no true Christian, as directly answerable to God, succumbs to authoritarianism.
Catholicism is the biggest cult, ever established in this world. It is similar to the Jerusalem establishment, prior to Jesus, except that it asserts being Christian. The Catholics were assumed as standing for Jesus’s principles. But, bear in mind, tragedy is found in mixing good and evil, or falsehood and truth.
This is just as in electricity, combining the positive and negative currencies, would generate a spark. The first-ever dissenter from Catholicism, was a German Professor of religion, Martin Luther. With his ninety-five theses, he became the first-ever, to challenge Catholicism. He may not have been the first to observe errors in that establishment.
The common challenge with authoritarianism is that it bestows fear among ordinary people. Hence, authoritarianism and cultish conditions are related. All cults have got one thing in common—authoritarianism. The followers fear being regarded as renegades. To Christians, being condemned by those in authority means being condemned by God.
But why should one need authority to be able to believe in Jesus? The number one suspect, on that reality, is ignorance of what idolatry implies. But this is clearly delineated among the Ten Commandments:
“You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below”(Exodus 20:3-4 NIV).
Jesus did not exalt anyone on earth, and He did not seek to be exalted by anyone. One is not Christ’s follower when not behaving like Jesus. There is an aspect of checking information and holding fast that which the person considers true, as provided by Paul (1 Thessalonians 5:21).
The authoritarian culture does not allow others to think differently. Everything coming from those in authority is regarded as coming from Christ. One is considered rebellious, as long as deviating from authoritarian consideration. The considered good subordinates are those always taking orders from ‘authority’, without question.
Consider this viewpoint, as applicable to what has gone wrong in our country. Criminal bills get tabled in Parliament, coming from an authoritative body called Politburo, in the ruling party. Such bills would be assumed as protecting the interests of the sitting president. Legislators would endorse, even when disagreeing, as long as initiated by leadership.
Failure to do so disqualifies the legislator, then assumed to be of the opposition. Authority requires legislators to toe the line when considering themselves as disciplined party cadres. In other words, those legislators are not allowed to think independently.
They are expected to idolatrously advance leadership wishes. For anyone desiring to know the mechanics of cultish behaviour, ZANU PF is out there, for a free study. Most of what gets passed in parliament, leaves one baffled—wondering what kind of smoke those parliamentarians would have taken to think like that?
But, as a matter of truth, those people would not be intoxicated, except desiring to be ‘disciplined’ and ‘loyal’ to the leader at the top. It doesn’t dawn on them that the same leader would not be different from them, in any way.
Naturally, ordinary humans desire to protect their own interests, more than protect the interests of others. That is a survival instinct. Being disqualified by a party that facilitated one’s election, would be considered suicidal, as automatically terminating one’s legislative privileges.
Therefore, when elected on a party ticket, one is expected to toe the line or be disqualified. It is not surprising, therefore, that legislators would dubiously pass bills that are disadvantageous to ordinary people. Shall we revisit Professor Martin Luther, whose behaviour opened the floodgates for Protestantism?
Was he a hero or a villain? Let us leave this to individual viewpoints. But a group that detaches itself from the main, to form another group, is considered a sect, being an offshoot of the main group.
Therefore, there is no way one can be free from the sins of the original group. Christianity is different from the viewpoints of this world. The safest way of handling such problems is in accordance with Biblical teachings:
Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him. This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters”(1 John 3:15-16 NIV).
Nothing short of how Jesus behaved, makes one a true Christian. In the case of Martin Luther, anyone is free to construe different viewpoints. He was excommunicated. Without a Biblical reference authorizing excommunication, Martin Luther could have refused excommunication. This would have led to his murder or incarceration.
His being murdered for the truth would have upgraded him to the status of other saints. As to whether God endorsed what he did, after excommunication, remains to be revealed by God Himself. But Scriptures are clear in that spiritual calling is senior to everything.
All protestant movements cling to authoritarianism. They need repentance if desiring salvation. Otherwise, they are prophetically projected in Revelation 17. True Christianity is not characterized by devotion to individuals, or institutions, besides Christ.
As to what happens when Christians are allowed to worship freely, only God knows. But one thing is certain; those Christians would individually be answerable to God. This is just as, on judgment day, no one answers for other people’s sins.
In other words, God will not listen to silly excuses like having obeyed authorities in leadership. This is just as Jesus clearly stated that all are brothers. Very few people take time to review Scriptures:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”(Matthew 7:21-23 NIV).
One can be zealous for Christ, but as long as one clings to the principle of authoritarianism, one is erroneous. The Jews failed because of authoritarianism. Authoritarianism makes the Roman Catholic dogmatic, even long after the founders are dead.
Authoritarianism causes denominational churches to remain stuck in their dogma. Authoritarianism has kept ZANU PF in power, for over forty years, even with glaring blunders. Authoritarianism causes education to produce unusable scholars, in general.
There is a need to flush out authoritarianism and put, in its place, facilitators in schools. That is the only viable way of enabling scholars to succeed. Currently, we have an educational system where students confer value on others, without them taking full responsibility.
Only information technology and a few other disciplines have been fortunate to have characters who challenged authoritarianism. However, the area that needs the eradication of authoritarianism most is Christianity. If those professing to follow Christ, stopped being loyal to their authoritarian groupings, the world would be enlightened.
Andrew Masuku is the author of Dimensions of a New Civilization, laying down standards for uplifting Zimbabwe from the current state of economic depression into a model for other nations worldwide. A decaying tree provides an opportunity for a blossoming sprout. Written from a Christian perspective, the book is a product of inspiration, bringing relief to those having witnessed the strings of unworkable solutions––leading to the current economic and social decay. In a simple conversational tone, most Zimbabweans should find the book as a long-awaited providential oasis of hope.
The Print copy is now available at Amazon.com for $13.99