Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Dangerous Power of Religion: from mainstream to cults

By Sara Niles

Religion has been a powerful force throughout history and it remains a powerful force in the lives of billions around the world today. Religion can be a force for good that tilts the moral compass in the right direction, or it can be both good and bad, or even mostly bad. In order for religion to help individuals remain spiritually and mentally healthy, there has to be a balance. Life is about finding and keeping a healthy balance in relationships, responsibilities, and in behaviors toward self and others. Religion can help an individual balance life’s responsibilities while maintaining good personal well –being while taking care to respect the rights and wishes of others as a socially aware individual. The application of solid religious principles often means acting in good will toward others and using the Golden Rule as a measuring stick with the once popular WWJD or What Would Jesus Do, as an internal mantra that guides one’s actions. The flip side of the positive power of religion is the dangerous amount of influence many religious sects and groups hold over the faithful.  The power of bad can sometimes become concealed within the power of good, as in the case of sects and cults that deviate from the mainstream religions to form small microcosms. It is within the confines of respectability that some religious groups entertain single focused leaders with hidden agendas, some of whom are sociopaths seeking to control large numbers of vulnerable people. In other cases the religious group contains dogma within its code of operation that teaches obedience without question, and total and absolute devotion to the religious teachings that is disguised as the direct edits of God, or his representative. The power that a religion holds over its converts becomes dangerous when there is no room allowed for free thought or to question.

There are approximately 19 major world religions which are divided into 270 large religious groups, according to David Barrett, et al., the editors of the World Christian Enclyclopedia

 There are, however, many smaller branches of each religion as a result of various leaders breaking free to form subgroups. In America, the Christian religions dominate the religious climate, with mainstream Christian religions grouped into over 217 denominations. The Roman Catholic Church is indisputably the largest Christian religion in the United States Fast Facts

If one aspires to the Christian faith there are many choices to select from, although once selected, some do not allow for a change of mind. I was a Jehovah’s Witness for almost thirty years, my devotion was forged during my childhood, and it stood solidly, unchallenged and unquestioned until one day when  I was shocked into awareness. Although the Jehovah’s Witness religion fosters good among its faithful, the cultish requirement  of obedience without question and the unspoken creed that prohibits ever ‘leaving’ the faith under  the threat of being banned from contact with family and friends for life, is in fact too much control to be healthy. In spite of the subtle cult-like features, Jehovah’s Witnesses operate as a mainstream religion with over  8 million members worldwide

 With most of its members content with the rules and regulations that they voluntarily choose to live by, and with  most being family oriented and morally pure in practices, the threat ratio is not great.  I simply outgrew the limitations imposed upon me by the Jehovah’s Witness creed, and as a result of leaving, I have no substantial contact with former friends and family. Jehovah’s Witnesses are primarily  virtual ‘sheep’ that willingly give up control in order to feel protected and safe in the ‘fold’, while living in the world, but separate from the world, as they practice isolationism from all things worldly. Jehovah’s Witnesses are on the lower tier of cultish religions, and although the religion shares a few traits with cults, they are definitely not comparable to hardcore cults.
The more sinister religious cults operate under the control of men like Warren Jeffs, David Koresh, and Jim Jones. Warren Jeffs was the leader of the fundamentalist sect of the Church of Mormon, or the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints (FDLS), an offshoot from mainstream Mormonism in which men took plural wives, even allowing old men to illegally ‘marry’young girls who were merely children. Jeffs was convicted of sexual abuse of children and sentenced to Life in Prison in 2007.

YouTube Prophet’s Prey: Warren Jeffs

David Koresh and Jim Jones were not only after the souls of the unwary and vulnerable, they wanted their money, and eventually took their lives. David Koresh  was a violent misfit armed with charisma and a nearly photographic memory of the Bible, which became tools he used to manipulate the members of a religious sect called the  Branch Davidians located in Waco, Texas.

Koresh gained control of the sect when the prophetess died, and eventually became the voice of God to his followers as he set rules that were not to be questioned or challenged. Koresh decreed it his right to have sex with whoever he chose, including children because God spoke to him. The violent nature of Koresh led to the accumulation of thousands of firearms within the walls of the Branch Davidian compound and a showdown with the ATF in 1993 after a 51-day siege. David Koresh and 75 others were burned as the compound went up in flames.Waco Siege

Many of the children who were held hostage within the compound before the inferno, were interviewed later by Dr. Bruce D. Perry, the chairman of research for Baylor University, revealing the degree of extreme abuse and trauma suffered under the cult leader who ran the paramilitary religious community using “sex, violence, fear, love and religion…all intertwined”New York Times: 1993

Jim Jones ruled the Guyana religious cult using the same tactics, and led his followers to the same end, only Jones used guns and poison Kool-Aid to kill 913 of his followers , resulting in the infamous 1978 Guyana TragedyNew York Times: The Story of Jim Jones

In all of these cases, religion lost it force for good when individuals were deprived of free thought and were totally controlled by an individual or an entity with bad motives. The follower becomes the victim of the leader when individual will is denied. The fear to question was implanted within the mind of the followers so that questioning was equated with being unfaithful, and being unfaithful was equated with being damned by God himself. The problem with such thinking is God was not the arbiter of the beliefs, men were.

Religion power over people can be exploited to the point of creating monsters, such as in the case of ISIS, in which the power of the group feeds off misdirected religious zeal and huge chunks of land and oil worth billions of dollars. Much like the American religious cults that are breakaways from mainstream, peaceful religions, ISIS is supposedly ISLAMIC which is the peaceful religion practiced by over one billion Muslims; however, with a twist-ISIS is ISLAMIC but in no way are they peaceful.

ISIS has become an international super-threat that has boldly claimed via its leader that ISIS is a ‘Religion of War’ not a ‘Religion of Peace’.  ISIS has all of the deviance of David Koresh and Jim Jones with a thousand times the power, a thousand times over.