Sunday, 11 August 2019

How to Start a Cult

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If I was to start a cult these are the steps I would take:
  1. Reinvention: Every cult leader worth his salt has an image that he/she must work hard to maintain, from the clothes they wear to the way they conduct themselves. Saffron or white robes, smart casual western dress, formal wear, (a white suit is effective, as are robes, turbans, etc.) all will be determined by the image you want to project, but it must be consistent, people must recognise you instantly from your appearance and persona. Maybe this is why so many cult leaders choose to come across as still and contemplative rather than active and energetic.
  2. Novelty: It is important to have a message. The best messages have some novelty, revolve around issues of Revival, Renewal, Restoration, Transformation. It’s good if it is a ‘lost’ message, or something misunderstood until you came along to explain it. You can look really good if you can compare yourself favourably with ‘corrupt Christendom; the confusion of the churches is a puzzle only you can solve. But some tradition must be worked in because it is familiar and a role for Jesus is essential. You may bring new Scripture or, if you don’t want to take the risk of being branded heretic from the off, bring new, fresh commentary to established Scripture. You are going to recapture the best of the past, put it together with your new revelation, and make a better future.
  3. Simplicity: The message must be simplified and presented in sound bites. People laugh at politicians for repeating the party line on news programmes but if you repeat something often enough it becomes the truth. 'Strong and stable government,' 'A new day is dawning,' 'God is doing a new thing,' 'New wine skins,' 'Follow the prophet,' etc. These become a mantra that makes it easy for your followers to articulate your message and feel good for doing so without actually having any depth of understanding.
  4. Target Have a target audience. This is typically young people and intellectuals. Young people because they are old enough to have realised the world is a mess, naive enough to think they can 'make all the difference,' but young enough that they don't have the wisdom and discernment to help them make sound judgements when they hear your mantra. Intellectuals because they are older, educated, convinced they can take their education and make a difference in the world if only they could find a way; you provide the way. They also mistakenly think only stupid people join cults and so their guard is down. They can be won by flattery and a sense of purpose like everyone else.
  5. Hierarchy: Restrict access to yourself, dividing followers into groups and individuals that compete for your attention. By all means speak to crowds, but allow only a select few access into your inner circle. This makes them concentrate on how to get closer to you as the source of meaning for them. It constructs a cohort of followers that is most faithful in doing the work for you, putting out your message, reassuring the ordinary members, modelling the best and most faithful example for others.
  6. Exclusivity: Restrict access to the world. We conduct our lives according to the social norms of wider society. By restricting access to those norms of behaviour you create in them a tabula rasa, a blank slate on which you can write your own social norms. This is sometimes achieved by physically removing people from the world into a community, which has the added advantages of constant, direct control. Having members in community makes them more easily controlled and encourages them to spy on each other for any dissent. It is more usual to separate peopl socially, spiritually, and intellectually by holding a lot of meetings, to which they 'must come' if they are to grow, having them spend time reading, meditating, etc. suggesting they cut ties with old friends until they are rightly emebdded in the group.
  7. Popularity: Accept that not everyone will like you. Play to the crowd that does, demonise those that don't.
  8. Grooming: You should be able to groom key people, an exhausting and demanding process but essential if you are to build an inner circle and competition to enter it. This involves active listening, making someone feel they are the most important person in the room, even in a crowd. This means keeping eye contact, having a listening posture, mirroring (reflecting back their own posture and expressions), cutting out all distractions, quickly picking up on concerns, hopes, and fears and speaking to those specific points, or distracting from them with a picture of a better world where these things won't exist. 'Keep the faith friend.'
  9. Proselytising: Keep an emphasis on recruitment, calling it evangelism. This achieves two things; (1) it focuses followers on repeating the message, reinforcing their own conviction, and keeping them busy (2) it gets new recruits to replace those who are bound to leave the fold.
  10. Contest: Create competition for succession, making vague promises to various members of the inner circle, making them vie for your attention.
What would you add to the list?

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