The term for a faith-based community of relatively recent origin is “new religious movement.” But if you really dislike that community, you resurrect a word already reviled and apply it to your target—you say it is a “cult.” That way you don’t have to demonstrate that the group is bad. Your label does your work for you.
Time was when if you fell under the spell of a charismatic leader, withdrew from normal societal contact, and began doing strange things, you just might be part of a cult. Today, the word is expanded to cover those thinking outside of the box that we are not supposed to think outside of. If the box of popular goals and thinking undeniably led to fulfillment, that might not be such a bad thing, but everyone knows that it does not.
Says religion.wikia.com of the term “new religious movement:” “Scholars studying the sociology of religion have almost unanimously adopted this term as a neutral alternative to the word ‘cult.’” How can it not follow that “cult” is therefore not scholarly but more in keeping with those who want to stir up ill will, if not hate?
It is akin to yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater. People may act upon it. They particularly may do so if “cult” is coaxed just a little bit further in the public eye to become “extremist.” Such a thing has happened with regard to Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia under the guidance of anti-cultists.
Anton Chivchalov has described himself as an “observer of the persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia.” He covered the Supreme Court trial resulting in a ban of the faith, as well as the appeal and events thereafter, with a steady stream of tweets. As to anti-cult apostates stirring up hate, he wrote: “The active participation of apostates in the trial against Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Russian Supreme Court is a vivid example of their unprincipled and indiscriminate cooperation with anyone, if only against us. And I’m not talking here about how incompetent and preposterous this participation was (none could testify anything about extremism). Only emotions, zero facts. But this activity is also utterly immoral, since they want to send innocent people to jail. They are not sincerely misled, like many others. No, apostates are well aware that Jehovah’s Witnesses neither killed nor rob anyone, yet they are happy to prosecute us on criminal charges. Of course, they still consider themselves good Christians. [Apostates from the Witness faith do not necessarily become atheist, however the ones that align themselves with anti-cultists usually do.] And it is completely beyond my understanding that with all this hatred towards us they are offended that we don’t want to communicate with them!”
Many other new religious movements are shaking in their boots that their turn will come next, for they all have their own apostates eager to grab the popular ear. In Russia, Witnesses are officially designated “extremist,” a designation shared only with ISIS. As the human rights group khpg.org points out, “you can’t claim that people are ‘terrorists’ or ‘extremists’ and then simply knock on their doors to arrest them, though in all cases there is nothing at all to suggest that resistance would have been shown. Instead, there are armed searches, most often by masked men in full military gear, with the suspect hurled to the ground and handcuffed, often in the presence of their distressed and terrified children.” This has become the reality for many Witnesses and it is a direct result of those who expand the definition of “cult” to cover people not covered previously.
Note how this meme plays out in the following event. Note also that it has nothing to do with controversies that have dogged the faith in the West: A mass shooting occurred in Crimea, and the shooter’s sole parent, raising him alone, is said to be a Jehovah’s Witness. Let us assume that it is true. This is not a safe assumption, for another Witness was recently denounced by Russian media as having a cache of arms. It turned out that her non-Witness husband had a few rusted and inoperable souvenir grenades from World War II. Nonetheless, one must start somewhere. Let us assume that mom was a Witness.
Khpg.org reports: “Whether or not his mother is, or has ever been a Jehovah’s Witness, there is no proof that Roslyakov had any religious beliefs, or that his mother’s alleged beliefs affected him in any way….the entire ‘story’, as presented, for example, on the Russian state-controlled Vesti.ru, is based solely on value judgements which are presented as though they were facts.
“The Vesti.ru report is entitled ‘The Kerch killer was surrounded by supporters of totalitarian sects.’ It claims that Roslyakov’s mother…‘forced her son to live by the rules of the banned organization.’
“It then asserts that people who ‘have pulled themselves away from it’ are sending messages of sympathy to the bereaved families and claiming that ‘all that happened was the result of pseudo-religious upbringing.’
“The supposed ‘expert on religious sects’, Alexander Dvorkin, makes allegations about the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ faith that are seriously questionable, as does the Russian Orthodox priest interviewed. None of the claims are in any way checked or analyzed, nor is the viewer offered anything in the way of an alternative point of view. The Crimean Human Rights Group is surely correct in identifying all of this as hate speech, which can result in crimes being committed against the targets of attack.”
Note that simply being raised as a Witness is said to account for his crime. He simply snapped amidst an intolerable upbringing. It wouldn’t have happened otherwise. There have never been any other mass shootings. “Oppressive” religion is solely to blame.
He must have snapped substantially, for Jehovah’s Witnesses are one of the few groups on earth whose members categorically reject violence for any reason. Yet they are the ones said to be at fault when a young man does a 180 from his taught values. This ridiculous perception prevails because of anti-cultists, whose champion in Russia, Mr. Dvorkin, is soul-mate to Western anti-cultists, he even having the Western connection of a French NGO.
Some enemies of Witnesses in the West, who hurl the “cult” label liberally, are gleeful over this development, even though it results in machine guns pointed at the heads of their arrested and shackled former loved ones. More typically, however, they disapprove of it. Some have denounced it. But their verbiage is directly responsible. Their denunciation is akin to the California campground arsonist denouncing that the state has burned to the ground. One must not be obtuse. Once you release the hounds of hell, you find that you cannot control just how many they maul.
And what have the Jehovah’s Witnesses done to deserve such an outcome? Do they interpret the Bible differently? Do they publicize the view that this grand experiment of human self-rule will one day end, to be replaced by God’s kingdom? Surely such a view should be allowed to stand, even if ones adopting it change their life goals accordingly. Not everyone will think that the present world sails proudly upon the high seas, with sharpshooters in the bow ready to blast to smithereens icebergs as they approach. Some will think it more likely that the Titanic will hit one. Must that view be stomped out of existence by bullying anti-cultists?
Christianity started as a religion of the working class. It took the scholarly Paul to make the connections with the Law of Moses—a feat that might not be expected of fishermen and laborers. The upper classes cared little about such doings, and so references to the faith in Roman writings are few and unflattering. Earliest of them is from Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus, who point out that when suspicion fell upon Nero for setting fire to Rome, he blamed the Christians instead.
Writes the historian: “Hence, to suppress the rumor, he falsely charged with the guilt, and punished with the most exquisite tortures, the persons commonly called Christians, who were hated for their enormities. Christus, the founder of that name, was put to death as a criminal by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea, in the reign of Tiberius, but the pernicious superstition, repressed for a time, broke out yet again, not only through Judea, where the mischief originated, but through the city of Rome….Accordingly, first those were seized who confessed they were Christians; next on their information, a vast multitude were convicted, not so much on the charge of burning the city, as of hating the human race.
“And in their deaths they were also made the subjects of sport, for they were covered with the hides of wild beasts, and worried to death by dogs, or nailed to crosses, or set fire to, and when day declined, burned to serve for nocturnal lights. Nero offered his own gardens for that spectacle, and exhibiting a Circensian game, indiscriminately mingling with the common people in the habit of a charioteer, or else standing in his chariot. Whence a feeling of compassion arose toward the sufferers, tho guilty and deserving to be made examples of by capital punishment, because they seemed not to be cut off for the public good, but victims to the ferocity of one man.”
Let us pass over what first draws our attention—the barbarity of it all—to dwell on the evil reputation of those early Christians that made it possible. From where did it come? How can it be that, three decades after Jesus’ death, his followers were “hated for their enormities?” How can it be that they were convicted on the charge of “hating the human race” as much as of setting fire to the city? How can it be that they could so readily be thought “guilty and deserving to be made examples of by capital punishment?” They could not have been made the scapegoat without that ugly reputation, no matter how vigorously the depraved emperor had pointed to them. How did they acquire it?
Professor G. A. Wells, author of The Jesus Myth, opines that “the context of Tacitus’ remarks itself suggests that he relied on Christian informants.” No genuine Christian is going to say: “We hate the human race,” but exactly the opposite. It was their “informants”—their apostates, that spread the ill report!
A faith that is “anything goes” will produce few apostates. What would they apostatize from? Repeatedly we read in scripture that apostates “despise authority.” How does that become a problem unless there is authority? They love “lawlessness.” How does that become a problem unless there is law? They favor acts of “brazen conduct.” They have “eyes full of adultery,” and they are “unable to desist from sin.” How does that become a problem unless there is someone to tell that they cannot carry on that way? Not only is the nature of apostates revealed in the above verses of Jude and 2 Peter 2, but also the nature of the Christian organization. A faith too bland to produce quality apostates is too bland to be given the time of day.
Persecutions today are not like in Nero’s day. The mistreatment of Christians in Russia is not the mistreatment of Christians in the first century. History is not repeating—but it is beginning to rhyme a little. Jehovah’s Witnesses and other “new religions” are under assault by a modern “anti-cult” movement, incensed at their “authoritarian” nature—just as first-century apostates to the faith were of theirs, and misrepresented it popularly as being “haters of the human race.”
Jesus said to his followers that “if they have persecuted me, they will persecute you, also.” Those of his footsteps were separate from the greater world—insular to it—even as they tried to lend a helping hand to those within. Their insularity was the source of different expectations, goals, and conduct that their apostates could work into a lather in their attempts to foment opposition. It is the same today, with miscues of the faithful—some real and some concocted—blown up beyond all bounds of reason in efforts to eliminate arguably the most peaceful and law-abiding people on earth. When Kingdom Halls are burned to the ground, as were two in 2018 Washington State amidst six separate attacks, can it be possible that the still-at-large arsonist will not have been whipped into a frenzy by the incendiary C-word? Screaming that word pushes the crazies over the edge; such is the power of hate speech and it is the reason authorities distinguish it from normal protected free speech.
From the book TrueTom vs the Apostates!