How do you start a new cult? I have a few good suggestions here if you can spare the time. It is not too difficult considering how incurably religious we are. We worship anything and everything. And I mean everything. We pray to cows, to goats, to snake, to monkey, to donkeys, to elephants, to fowls, and to fishes. And most recently to a football oracle named Paul the Octopus. We pray for luck, for fortune, for peace, for health, for wealth, for soulmate, for marriage, for career, for promotion, for protection, and for life after death. We spend millions of dollars on the most incredulous beliefs, whether religious or political, that the toms, dicks and bushes of this world have come up with. The bottom line is this: We need to believe in belief even if the belief in itself is wholly unbelievable to us. So, this clearly sets the stage for the birth of a new cult.
There are essentially 6 ingredients to start a cult and if you persist in it, with the hope of a man on angel dust, you can very well succeed in growing your own cult into a worldwide phenomenon.
The first ingredient is a leader. This is obvious. More blindingly obvious is to have a dynamic and charismatic leader. It is even better if your leader is a little wonker on the side. This will of course rule out the insane or mentally unsound for obvious reason. But then, come to think of it, maybe I am being overly cautious. Aren’t all cult leaders mentally unsound?
So, let’s recap. Your leader has to be a mental case, preferably, someone who lives on the edge of reality. Or, someone who is willing to push reality to the edge in order to serve his own twisted purpose.
You can find such a person in an ultra-religious meeting, a you-can-do-anything-if-you-believe seminar or a trailer park for social outcasts. If in doubt or lost, bring along the latest DSM 5 as a guide. Look for people who suffers from comorbidity, that is, those who have a combination of two or three (or even more) of the mental or psychiatric disorders listed in DSM 5.
In addition, the one trait to look out for is a narcissistic personality. This person must love himself more than he loves anything in this world or the entire universe. Also helpful is a bigoted outlook. This person must hate some people in some part of the world for no seemingly logical reasons. It can be the color, the sex or the race of the people that irks him to his grave. Or, it may just be a person’s demeanor, dressing or talking style. Whatever it is, this future cult leader of yours must be a bona fide bigot, period.
So, let me repeat the two traits to look out for in a cult leader. He must be a self-lover and an others-hater. Once you have found such a person (which is not too difficult to find in this materialistic, self-absorbed, power-driven world), half of your job is done. The other five ingredients, which relates to the belief itself, will naturally fall into place.
The second ingredient is a supernatural experience. This relates to the leader himself. He must be able to come up with an extraterrestrial, divine-inspired encounter in the likes of ET and Star Trek. Your leader can learn from the teachings of Joseph Smith who claims that he met with an angel called Moroni who gave him two gold tablets for translation into the Book of Mormonism. Or the experiences of Mary Baker Eddy who, in a lucky fall, came up with the foundational doctrine of her Christian Science Movement. She also claimed that she was miraculously healed of illnesses and was a divine messenger of God.
The third ingredient is a belief for deluded members to build their life on. This relates to the prospective congregation as a whole. A cult leader cannot stop with a supernatural experience without leading his members to the purpose such supernatural experience aims to bring. In other words, the exclusive encounter of the cult leader has to be interpreted and applied in the form of a mass belief.
So, the more outrageous the belief, the better. Just as grandiose is your leader, your belief must be equally, if not more, grandiose. This task is not too difficult. Just engage a credible Hollywood scriptwriter or read some out-of-this-world science fiction to cook up some pseudo-salvational, wholly-apocalytic, mind-numbingly incredulous, mumbo-jumbo and you would have gleefully arrived at the sweet spot of make-believe.
The fourth ingredient is to be a copy cat. They say plagiarism is the highest form of compliment to the original works or author. So, your cult will need the extra rocket fuel to boost it into fantasy orbit by borrowing ideas from the orthodox religions, in particular, Christianity or Judaism. This step is basically to add meat to your bony belief. The best way to promote your leader is to proclaim him the exclusive messiah who has come to save all and sundry.
This is no different from your leader engineering a babel-like coup to take over the mercy seat of the divine. I call this fourth step, “Dethroning the Orthodoxy”. Many false prophets have already claimed that they are the second adam, the christ, the savior of this world. And many have predicted that the end time will come or has come or has already come, or has just passed but will come again. The trick is to recycle the end time scare as many times as possible and never fail to tell the members that the end time will come in your leader’s lifetime.
This self-deification will give your leader the heavenly edict to do anything he wants and get away with it almost magically. Warren Jeff, the ex-leader of the Church of Jesus of the Fundamentalist Latter-days Saints, had done just that. He got away with many things because his members worshipped him as the christ. He got away with the celestial marriages of 180 wives, a coffer of more than a hundred million dollars under a Trust that he practically controlled, with men who are prepared to take a bullet for him and women, even young girls, who are all too ready to throw their virginity at him. Alas, he got caught eventually because he got ahead of himself I guess.
Now comes the fifth ingredient. This is the ingenious part and it is embedded in this caption, “Salvation by works only.” Unlike Christianity, where we are saved by faith through grace, your cult cannot “cheapen” itself to that confession. The mantra is: Work. Work. Work.
Mormonism, for example, is up to its blistered neck with rituals. They have the Mormon temple ceremony, the secret handshakes and the reception of special undergarments. The last ritual sounds like what Tom Jones would get thrown at during his mega-concerts.
You see, the last thing that you want in a cult is to cut off the middle man. You need to make the leader the sole custodian and dispenser of salvation. He would have to stand in between his deluded god and his disillusioned members. Telling them that they are already saved by faith and it is a free gift would cut off the middle man, that is, your cult leader, and it would give your member full autonomy (or freedom) to come to their savior directly (an a la Martin Luther’s reformation). This would make the leader redundant. This is a big NO-NO for cults to survive and thrive. In the end, it is all about control.
It is also incumbent on your leader to make the goal of salvation as unreachable as possible. The members must always fall short of the leader’s regal-like glory. It is therefore a never-ending measuring up of the unrealizable self-professed perfect attributes of the leader. In other words, the leader is the benchmark and the members are the gnomes that can never measure up.
In short, it is important to monopolize salvation and to keep it close to your leader’s chest as if his life depended on it. Remember, the moment you liberalize salvation, your leader and the cult will become obsolete, and your members will be free to seek the truth for themselves.
If this happens, more likely than not, they will find it (that is, personal salvation, which is another word for “wake up their ideas”) and your membership, your secret personal property accumulation, your bank account embezzlement, and your wives acquisitions will all suffer irreparable damage.
Finally, the sixth ingredient to establishing a successful cult is to always keep your organizational structure tightly controlled. The best structure for a cult is morbid authoritarianism. There must be a clear line of authority from your untouchable, unchallengable, and unimpeachable leader to his starved-for-truth members. Very much like a Mafioso family structure, your cult will benefit from a culture of fear, intimidation and threat of life and limbs.
Always let your members know who’s the boss in the organization and never hesitate to punish, with immediate effect and without exceptions, any transgressors, rules-infringers and rebels in order to set an example for all to follow.
In a rather twisted way, your cult leader will have to keep another insidious balance in mind, that is, the balance of vain hope and villainous fear. Keep the pulse of your members close to your leader’s heart and always read the right signals coming from the members. When hope is down, pump it up with more delusionary sermons. When freedom is threatening to erupt, rein it in with fear of earthly and afterlife punishments. Threats that one may lose his or her salvation for disobedience is a good measure to keep the members in their place.
Remember that your cult is only as powerful as your next obedient member. When you lose control over your members, when they see through your gimmick and hypocrisy, you will bleed membership.
So, don’t take away hope, an invaluable existential bait, from your members. Hope is the glue that keeps your cult “alive and kicking” and you will do well to not be miserly about dispensing it once in a while. Essentially, you can take everything from your members, their property, their integrity and their intellect, but leave a slender tortuous trail of hope behind for their feeble picking. Once this is done, no matter what happens, your members will be more than prepared to risk their lives for you.
Let me end with this quote from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, which is most apt here, “You can have power over people as long as you don’t take everything away from them. But when you’ve robbed a man of everything, he’s no longer in your power.”
So, good luck setting up your new cult. I hope the experience will be as fun as the tips I have given above. Cheerz.