Democracy and the Cults

Posted: April 9, 2011 in Thoughts

With the ‘Lokpal’ issue being calmed down (at least for the time being), i was just fidgeting over the net searching for some good article or document over governance and challenges (yeah weird habits i have :)), after some time i just accidently came across this BBC documentary over ‘Sathya Sai Baba’ and his frauds.. followed by the last year accusations on Asharam Bapu and the chaos in Punjab.

With a queer interest in cults and their leaders, whom successive Indian governments and institutions have long and corruptly protected, I pondered further and further for hours, ranging from Indain and Europian countries to the U.S. And I found a striking fact: governments, and indeed whole societies, fail to face the problem of cults, no matter which the country is, no matter how sophisticated and developed the society is.

The ‘answers’ of totalitarian regimes are of course to be repudiated at the outset. Indeed, in their authoritarianism, these closely resemble a great many cults, in any case!  In some sense, they can indeed be deemed cults. Charismatic, autocratic leadership, enforcement of group-think, devious propaganda, and punitive styles exercised against those who question are some characteristics that loom large.

In facing the problems posed by cults, our democratic institutions fail abysmally. Typically, our governments and societies fail because of certain mistaken and exaggerated notions about religious and other freedoms concerning beliefs. The channels of wide discussion, debate and action need to be opened up. Problems posed by muteness – or sometimes by smarmy and false appearances that all is sweetness and light – in the face of ‘political correctness’ need to be faced as a co-operative, rather than divisive, endeavour. We have found that many academic communities seriously offend, for they do not regard apostates as useful subjects for research. Still further, academies need to do a great deal of soul-seaching in facing problems of orthodoxy, in which academics care far more for their emoluments than for speaking out fearlessly.

For too long, it has been overlooked that many cults violate those very notions of freedom which we need, of course, to cherish and uphold.

Certainly, care needs to be exercised in defining what is and what is not a cult, and this level of information is best, in my view, arrived via deliberations across whole communities in consultation with each other. It will not help very much if we see cultism as offending against the canons of this or that mainstream religion. It is the mentality itself that needs to be understood and addressed.

What would hold communities back from engagement? Surely, it is fear. Often unconscious or unacknowledged. There needs to be serious thought about how whole communities can be brought to see that, by avoiding such threats to freedom, very broadly defined, they expose themselves to far greater problems. One cannot but think of examples such as the social paralysis, and the terrible failure to act in democratic interests, that existed in Germany at the time of the Weimar Republic, prior to the triumph of Nazism.

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