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Friday, May 11, 2007

Tom Wolfe's definition of "cult": a religion without political power

Let me stipulate that I am concerned about all these accusations, especially the stuff about the group's leadership trying to control the minutiae of everyday life. It brought to mind something I was told a few years ago when Julie and I were thinking of leaving New York, and wanted to move to a town where we could find a vibrant conservative Catholic community. We picked out this one fairly well-known place, and started researching housing there. Then a friend who lives there, a devout conservative Catholic, warned us that there was an aspect of the town that we would find hard to take.
It's the kind of place, we were told, where plenty of Catholic moms wouldn't let their children play with ours because Julie wears pants, which Good Catholic Women Are Not Supposed to Do. Things like that. According to our trusted friend, too many good Catholics there had taken a desire to do a good thing, and taken it way too far. In our friend's view, these people had adopted a siege mentality, and were sliding into operating out of fear -- terrified of the bad more than celebrating the good.We changed our mind about moving there.
Anyway, reading the Heritage Homestead stories, I am reminded of Tom Wolfe's definition of "cult": a religion without political power. The word is heavily loaded. Wendell Berry has observed that anyone who has the vision and the courage to dissent from the contemporary way of life is in danger of being condemned and ostracized. If you think about it, the grounds that some of Homestead Heritage's critics stand on to blast the thing would also get lots of religious groups condemned as cults. If a hierarchical, strictly regulated community of believers where individuality is suppressed is what constitutes a cult, then all monasteries are cults. Any community with what strike us as strict rules and a strong sense of separateness runs the risk of being condemned as a cult.
One of the critics of Homestead Heritage cites the group's prohibition of artificial birth control as a sign of cultishness. Hello! The Roman Catholic Church prohibits artificial birth control! (I know, I know, for a lot of these people, the Catholic Church is a cult. Still.) If the Homestead folks believe that contraception is sinful, expecting members of the religious community to observe the moral law there is not necessarily a sign of cultishness, any more than expecting people who profess Orthodox Judaism to keep kosher is a sign of cultishness. This is why I read stories like this keeping in mind that our society judges countercultural groups like this by the standards of radical individualism that pervade our thinking...posted by Crunchy Con @ 10:18 AM Permalink postCount('4315631833701141175'); Comments (15)

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