Recently I had a dream. It started suitably nuts, as one might expect. I was driving an impossible vehicle, something like a giant geometric shape (triangle or trapezoid?), and having the usual traffic tie-ups, getting lost and so forth. I ended up driving down an offramp, through an archway and into the interior of a large building. “This is a little odd,” I thought. I got off the vehicle and started looking around.
He seemed harmless.
Almost immediately I was engaged in conversation by a man who seemed to know his way. We left the building and he showed me around the grounds of some kind of compound. When I asked him about it, he replied that they knew a lot about me from the background check.
“Really?” I asked.
“For instance, you used to attend church with a fellow named Junior. He told me a lot about you,” he replied.
“So you are familiar with the Church of Christ,” I said, wondering how they could have done a check on me already. Did they know I was going to get lost and end up here?
We continued our conversation, but I don’t remember much of it. He showed me through a large room full of people sitting at tables, making something. I couldn’t tell what they were assembling. The whole process was low-key: no small talk, no background noise. I mentioned that to my host.
“Maybe they would work better with some music…”
“There is music. That guy is humming,” he said.
“Well, that’s not exactly… Oh, my god! You’re Non-instrumental!” He was flustered and hurried me out, explaining that we didn’t need to interrupt the workers. Outside, I began to question him on the nature of his group, but that is when I woke up.
And that is when I realized that the Church of Christ Non-instrumental is a cult, and that, by extension, so are all churches.
A harmless cult.
I should add a word of explanation for those who are not familiar with the churches of Christ. There are several flavors of this sect, which do not get along well together. The one I was a member of was the Independent branch, meaning each congregation is autonomous, relying on guidance from the board of elders of the individual church. The Non-instrumental branch forbids the use of musical instruments in worship services, and is generally more conservative in their interpretation of the New Testament. The United Church of Christ is considered by the others to be the crazy uncle of the family, being extremely liberal in comparison.
As I said, they are all cults, by which I mean they are not innocuous. I suppose I need to explain the word “cult.” One might specify that cults must be unorthodox or extremist, but that is really just a matter of how well they fit within the prevailing culture, not whether they cause harm. My standard definition of cult is:
A religious or quasi-religious organization using devious psychological techniques to gain and control adherents.
Depending on how you interpret the term “devious,” I think that it applies to most, if not all, religious groups, Christian or not. Consider, for example, how “hell” is described to children. Regardless of whether such a place exists, does that doctrine not manipulate the minds of youngsters, moving them toward an attitude of fearful obedience to whatever the church deems important? However, not all sects teach the doctrine of an eternal place of torture, which brings up an important point. Is there a Christian sect that is so liberal and accepting as to be, if not beneficial to humankind, at least harmless?
That is a question I am investigating, which I will address later. My initial thoughts are that all versions of Christianity are harmful, but I want to be fair to all sides. Please feel free to add your thoughts on that. I know I still have much to learn.