When I was 18, I joined a cult. I joined because I was looking for certainty and security. I didn’t want to make mistakes, so I gave my will and my mind over to the cult leader whom I viewed as infallible.
Today, I see cult-like thinking and behavior all around me. It’s there whenever I watch the news or read the newspaper. Cult behavior is found on both sides of the political spectrum, but it is especially prevalent on the right at this time in history.
I see cult behavior when a leader or his followers attack someone, not because of their beliefs, but because he/she dares to question the leader’s behavior. The attack focuses on the person, not the issue of disagreement. It seems that the leader can do no wrong and that criticizing his behavior in any form is beyond the pale. This is an example of deflection rather than rational disagreement.
Rationalization is a means that some on the religious right use to explain away the unacceptable behavior of their leader. Our president is equated with King Cyrus, the ancient pagan Persian monarch whom God used to return the Jews to their homeland after a 70-year diaspora from what is now Iraq. The followers see that God is using the leader of our country to work out his purposes. The president’s behavior, though reprehensible, crass, cruel, crude and racist, is ignored because God’s ends justify the means. Perhaps this is true, but it also does not live up to the example of loving your neighbor as yourself, the basis of Christian belief.
I also see extreme behaviors on the left. There are two Democratic factions. One faction supports the moderate and patient approach as seen through the words and actions of Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer and Joe Biden. The other faction is further left and is more impatient and reactive. They feel that the only way to deal with our president is to go to the more socialist side, not caring that, in the eyes of the right, socialism is equated with evil. If the Democrats want to win the 2020 election, they’re going to need the help of moderates and independents.
According to a Jan. 3, 2017, Gallup poll, only 25 percent of the population considered themselves liberal, up from 17 percent, while 36 percent consider themselves conservative. Conservatives have not shifted much over the years, but now 44 percent of those in the Democratic Party are considered liberal. That means that approximately 39 percent of the voting population is independent or moderate.
Neither side can win the 2020 election without appealing to moderates and independents.
That’s why Biden leads in early polling with Democrats. But, based upon statistics, Trump’s divisive comments about four U.S. representatives (all women of color) will not appeal to the moderates and independents. How President Trump plans to win with this approach baffles me.
When I was in the cult, I tended to see the world in stark black and white terms. There was no middle ground for me. It was a sign of my immaturity. Stress on both sides of the political spectrum tends to drive people to polar extremes. My experience in the cult was the more insecure and uncertain I was, the more dogmatic and unbending my thinking became. Post-cult I became very conscious of those dogmatic tendencies as being a clear indication I was feeling very fearful. I see similar statements of dogmatism peppered throughout the press reports that bring back many memories. I don’t see much self-awareness from either the left or the right.
We are a nation of people driven by our uncertainties. Self-awareness and humility are the only real cures for either side on the road to election victory. From my cult experience, being able to live with ambiguity is a sign of maturity. It is not easy, but it is the only realistic route to wisdom.