“Religion and values” in U.S. society has been a special focus for my research, writing, and teaching for many years. I am hardly an expert; but I do have an informed historical understanding and a keen interest in socio-cultural movements and trends. And I continually ask critical questions. Those questions certainly go beyond the United States of course. Right now, however,  much  of my attention is on an authoritarian cult group that goes under the name “QAnon” or simply “Q.”

“Q” followers yearn for another Great Awakening. They believe the current U.S. president, their Messiah and savior, is waging a war against an elite group of Satan-worshipping pedophiles in government, business, and the media. Key among those evil people, they believe, are former U.S. president, Barack Obama, former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, and billionaire philanthropist George Soros. Using apocalyptic religious imagery, “Q” cultists believe that through an imminent event of “biblical proportions,” a kind of domestic military action known as “The Storm,” thousands of people will be arrested, taken prisoner, and eventually executed. This will bring in a new age of utopia for faithful “Q” followers. And DJT will make it happen.

Wild fantasy? Perhaps. “QAnon” does have thousands of supporters and it is growing. It is a well organized, and a well financed authoritarian cult.

In chaotic times, authoritarian cults flourish because they offer simple answers for complex situations. They focus on feelings more than thinking. And they surrender body and soul to the all-wise and all-knowing cult leader who – often after creating chaos — promises salvation out of chaos. My reading of history confirms that, far too often, in  chaotic times, freedom, democracy and human rights are easily lost, because people begin to focus just on themselves. They loose their moral consciousness, or they simply stop thinking.

The transition from democracy to an authoritarian cult begins when the leader lies all the time and discredits truth as such. In Orwellian style, words get reversed meanings: “lies” become “truth.” “Facts” become “fake news.” That transition is complete when people are no longer able to distinguish between truth and feeling, between facts and fantasy. They begin to celebrate their own blissful ignorance.

In our turbulent socio-cultural and pandemic times, regardless what one thinks about “Q”, I thought it might be helpful to review the main characteristics of authoritarian cults:

Authoritarian cults assume religious dimensions because they are systems of belief, practices, symbols, and rituals, that propose answers for the big questions about life, meaning, and security.

Authoritarian cult leaders often proclaim goals anchored in ‘”law and order.” In fact, however, their goals are more often self-promoting personal goals: promoting their own wealth, gaining power over followers, and satisfying their personal need for adulation.

When the authoritarian cult leader wants something to be true, he (usually a “he”) simply announces that it is true. Anyone takes issue with his thinking is accused of being part of an evil plot against him.

Politically, the authoritarian cult leader works to create an autocracy: a regime in which the authoritarian leader is above the law and the leader’s words in fact become the law.

The cult leader speaks the “Truth,” while the media,“trouble-making protesters,” and intellectuals spread “fake news” and “lies.”

In an authoritarian cult group, all questioning, all doubts, and all dissent are not just discouraged but strongly punished, in one way or another.

The authoritarian cult leadership dictates how members should think, act, and feel. Feelings are important.

For cult leaders and followers, “Law and Order” becomes secretive, right-wing domestic terrorism, or “vigilante justice.”

An authoritarian cult group is elitist. It claims a special exalted status for itself and for its leader. The leader is considered the Messiah, with close to limitless power.

The authoritarian leader’s special mission is to save humanity from leftist intellectuals and other dangerous people and groups.

Authoritarian cult groups have a polarized, “them” and “us” mentality. “They” are the evil and satanic enemy. Xenophobia and racism, and often misogyny and homophobia, become virtues.

The authoritarian cult leader is not accountable to any other “authorities” because the leader is the all-wise and the only real authority.

Authoritarian cult followers are stiff necked and hard of heart. Their only interest is safeguarding their own position and power. Compassion has no place in their values system. They want to be strong. For them, compassion is weak.

Cult followers, therefore, believe their exalted ends justify whatever means deemed necessary to achieve their goals: lying, violence, and killing.

Authoritarian cult leadership induces feelings of shame and guilt in wayward followers in order to influence and control them.

Subservience to the cult leader or group requires members to cut ties with family and friends. The cult group becomes the new family.

The most loyal cult members (the “true believers”) believe there can be no worthwhile life outside the context of the cult group. All other people are dangerous and should be eliminated.

Well, we can read and find this interesting…….. Or we can Observe, Judge, and Act.

Christianity is not a cult.

Authentic democracy is not a cult.

Take care, Jack

9 thoughts on ““Religion and Values”

  1. A brilliant analysis and summation of these very dangerous cults! Yes, we should all “observe, judge and act”. Also, “Christianity and democracy are not cults.” For many of us, “acting” could include financial support to those who preach the Gospel. tell the truth and/or protect our democracy.

  2. There is good and evil in the world. Through out mankind there has always been this struggle. My research on Q is that these are good people, not a cult. uTube, “out of the shadow” “fall of cabal” and “Q team take down A-Z”.
    Steve Smith
    Class 1975

  3. Dear Jack, Often when I read your posts, I feel simultaneously inspired and depressed! There is a very good articlein the most recent issue of VANITY FAIR, entitled “HE IS THE CHOSEN ONE TO LEAD AMERICA.” IT DESCRIBES TRUMP FOLLOWERS AS A GNOSTC SECT. The author of the piece was interviewed by Bill Moyers (available on his site). He says Trump told his followers at the Tulsa rally that “if the election doesn’t go our way, you know what to do.”
    Keep ip the excellent work. Harry

    1. Dear Harry
      I remain optimistic…Yes we need to act but act together….and reinforce our hopefulness by looking at the witness of constructive people….They are truly there! Warmest regards! – Jack

  4. I’ve been trying to read as much as I can about this QAnon as well, Jack. Their formation is based on a right-wing conspiracy theory. I find the scariest thing about these people, and followers of the current “leader” of the country, is that they refuse to believe truth, even when they can see it. How do we ever heal this division when we have no base to begin the conversation? And, it horrified me when people, who identify as Christian, don’t recognize evil when they see it before their eyes.
    Thanks for your timely, thought-provoking reflections.
    Peace and Love

  5. Dear Jack,
    This is, perhaps, one of the more sobering articles you have written because many of the elements of QAnon seem to be so prevalent. The one big hope that I have is that there will be more Americans who value true faith, genuine freedom, and true democracy who will remove the present leader via the ballot box. Despite the call for a possible violent reaction to an election that goes against his wishes, there is still a massive group of people who will defend our democracy as it has been designed. A “revolution” is easy to spout out about in theory but a much bigger task to muster the physical power to accomplish. I would like to believe that there are more conservatives who realize that their leader isn’t a real patriot or defender of the republic. Yes, there are many crazies but how many will burn down the house to prove a point. We must believe that truth and good will prevail. We are part of a large group of standard bearers who will hold fast.

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