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← A Year After the Non-Apocalypse: Where Are They Now?

Zeuglodon's Avatar Jump to comment 29 by Zeuglodon

The thing that struck me while I was reading this was that I felt more sympathetic to the cult followers than I thought I would feel. Forget for a moment the fact that many of us here have seen enough media, spoken to enough people, thought about different ideas and had different personal responses to dismiss these cultish ideas as hogswallop. Imagine what the view would be like from a cult followers' life, both before and after. How does this state of affairs happen?

An emotionally inspiring idea comes along, and they look into it, and then find something which, if true, would seriously effect their lives. It's a danger, something momentous happening. But there's hope, and it has a certain social and moral appeal (the salvation aspect). It seems so utterly convincing that it must be true. They haven't experienced anything like it. The worldview increasingly seems to suggest that this is something to be certain about, and they end up sacrificing so much of their time and energy into it. Then the inevitable happens, and the choice is either to get further mired into the beliefs that they're now so emotionally dependent upon or to face up to the trauma of being so completely wrong. People are only as skilled as their psychological processes allow them to be.

It's tempting at this point to say that they brought it on themselves, and this is true. But look at how this process works. The bad ideas are passed around via media (books, Internet, radio, television etc.) and people talking. By definition, their exposure to ideas is limited, and if they get a restricted amount of info then they'll have that little amount to take. Someone suggests looking into a book, and the personality of the person gets them so absorbed into it that it almost becomes an obsession. I'm particularly interested in the paragraph that describes this consumption of attention:

It’s been noted by scholars who study apocalyptic groups that believers tend to have analytical mindsets. They’re often good at math. I met several engineers, along with a mathematics major and two financial planners. These are people adept at identifying patterns in sets of data, and the methods they used to identify patterns in the Bible were frequently impressive, even brilliant. Finding unexpected connections between verses, what believers call comparing scripture with scripture, was a way to become known in the group. The essays they wrote explaining these links could be stunningly intricate.

They also get social recognition, which feels good and which might be confused as them being told that their views are correct (after all, many of us like it when we're right about something). It's basically a psychological trap, and their own minds are working against them.

It might well be that "curing" the most dedicated members is impossible, but it seems a pressing concern is to prevent this scenario from occurring in the first place. I'm not suggesting censorship, heavens no, but I can't help but think that populations of people would benefit more from public media, cultural, and educational systems that promote true or good ideas. By definition, this would entail rejecting many others, but if the result is a more scientifically literate populace and fewer victims of cults, surely this would be a good thing?

Thu, 24 May 2012 17:52:36 UTC | #943322