New age cons

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Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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  1. A couple of things jump out here:

    1) No surprise this was outside Sedona. People are just a little on the hippie-kooky side there (although is a beautiful town).

    2) There was a good article somewhere (can’t remember) earlier this week that touched on this story and the way that Native American spiritual practices have been appropriated by New Age folks. Of course the problem there is that the Native Americans themselves started the trend with the way they have commercialized their culture. E.D. I’m sure you are very familiar with this in AZ. I heard so many contradictory and far-fetched notions of Indian spirituality while I was out there that it just sort of got to be ridiculous. Ask 3 Navajo about their spiritual beliefs and you will hear 3 different stories. So it’s very easy for con men to steal some of this away.Report

    • Well a lot of that is just tourism. And a lot of that is perpetuated by white people making a buck off of native American spirituality, though to be sure many natives do that as well. You get used to it living here. Actually you don’t even notice it at all until you drive to Sedona – the nexus of new age nonsense. The veritable vortex of silly rich white people wearing turquoise.Report

  2. Avatar Alex Knapp
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    says:

    It is inexplicable that anyone would pay this kind of money, first of all, to sit in an oven for five days. It’s even more strange that people, once in the oven, would endure this to their deaths.

    Not religious, I take it?Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Alex Knapp
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      says:

      No – I am religious. I have never once been asked to pay $9000 for my religion, nor to sit in an oven. I would say the divide between religion and cult is pretty wide.Report

      • Avatar Alex Knapp in reply to E.D. Kain
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        says:

        Out of curiousity, how do you define the difference?Report

        • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Alex Knapp
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          says:

          One requires you to pay to join (or to remain a member). Even tithing (see below comment) is not required by religion, though it strongly suggested to help out with a community you choose to belong to. Beyond this, a religion does not require you to jump through hoops to learn its truths, revelations, beliefs, etc. You can learn all about them even if you’re not part of the religion. A cult requires membership and usually a financial commitment to learn its truths, revelations, etc. This is why Scientology is without a doubt a cult.

          To answer also the simple difference between how many people are in it that greg mentions below, I think this is totally missing the point. You could start a religion and it wouldn’t be a cult so long as you didn’t require members to pay or keep secrets, etc. Religions are open and free even if they do require certain observations, customs, etc. The demands of kosher eating are a far cry from requiring people to pay all their money to live in a compound somewhere.Report

          • Avatar greginak in reply to E.D. Kain
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            says:

            Mormons???? religion or cult?Report

          • Avatar Alex Knapp in reply to E.D. Kain
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            says:

            Even tithing (see below comment) is not required by religion, though it strongly suggested to help out with a community you choose to belong to.

            So Mormonism is a cult? (A Mormon is required to be a full tithe payer in order to enter the Temple.)

            Some religions have historically required mandatory sacrifices (doves, etc) in order to participate in religious events.

            Some state churches in Europe require that one be a taxpaying citizen to be a member, because the Church is supported in part by taxes.

            Beyond this, a religion does not require you to jump through hoops to learn its truths, revelations, beliefs, etc. You can learn all about them even if you’re not part of the religion.

            By this definition, certain varieties of Buddhism are not religions, the Ancient Druids were a cult, not a religion, Mormonism is (again) not a religion, and Gnosticism isn’t a real religion.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to E.D. Kain
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            says:

            Three fun definitions.

            Totally Cynical: A “cult” is what a religion is called when it is not the religion shared by the speaker.

            Less Cynical but Still Cynical: A “cult” is a religion without any political power.

            The best definition of cult I’ve seen, but it’s not that funny: A cult is a sect that gets most of its adherents as adults through conversion. A religion is a group that gets most of its adherents as children raised into the faith.Report

            • Avatar greginak in reply to Jaybird
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              says:

              I think the totally cynical is the best for my tithe.Report

            • Avatar Bo in reply to Jaybird
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              says:

              The best definition of cult I’ve seen, but it’s not that funny

              The funny way I’ve heard that phrased is: Cults brainwash you when you’re 25; Religions brainwash you when you’re 4.Report

            • Avatar Trumwill in reply to Jaybird
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              says:

              To me the difference between a Cult and a Religion is that the former is insular, secretive, seeks to remain culturally isolated, and does not wish for others to know what they know. A Religion is more extroverted, seeks converts, and wishes to integrate or change society rather than retreat from it.

              The FLDS is the quintessential example of a cult. The Pentacostals are not. Regular Mormons are somewhere in between, though I would place them more on the “Religion” side due to their intense extroversion. Scientologists are similarly situation, though slightly more on the “Cult” side than Mormons (though perhaps still on the Religion side of the middle).Report

  3. Avatar greginak
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    says:

    So you don’t belong to a religion with tithing like the mormons then. giving up money to be part of a religion is pretty darn traditional. I think part of the difference between a cult and religion is how many people are involved and how long it lasts.

    “The veritable vortex of silly rich white people wearing turquoise”

    Funny and sadly true.

    The cult leader was the guy who did the book The Secret which was pretty much magical thinking, new agey bs and offensive to most thinking people.Report

  4. Avatar Chris Dierkes
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    says:

    When I read the title I thought there was going to be some weird group of New Age conservatives. Dammit. Wrong kind of cons (or is there a difference? 🙂Report

  5. Avatar Bob
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    says:

    “It’s even more strange that people, once in the oven, would endure this to their deaths.”

    It’s not strange at all considering the fact that these folks did not enter the sweat lodge, “oven,” knowing that death awaited.

    If we are to believe what we read many saints endured martyrdom for their beliefs, they chose an “oven” rather than renounce their faith. Now that is strange.

    I’m not defending the conman, he should and will face charges and probably years in prison. But the fact that he was able to find – let’s be charitable and call them – seekers seems less strange than martyrs willingly accepting death.

    The seekers that died in the sweat lodge did not enter looking for death. They sought some purifying ritual that went criminally wrong.Report

  6. Avatar Seth R.
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    says:

    “Cult” is nothing more or less than a word that means “religious activity I don’t like.”

    It’s more or less a completely useless word.Report

  7. Avatar Peter
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    says:

    If you think that Mormonism is a bad cult, you should check out this reference to a cult that existed a couple thousand years ago. It required it’s members to sell their belongings and give the proceeds to the church leaders, There is an example of one couple who died for holding back a portion. Acts 4:34 – Acts 5: 10.Report

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