George Walford: Cultivating the Cults

Cal McCrystal writes about a book, due out later this year, from the Centre for New Religious Movements at King’s College, London, which estimates that there are 400-500 cults in Britain.

Scientology is now an old story and so are the Moonies, but we had not previously encountered the Bugbrooke Christian Fellowship, which bans Christmas, or the Aetherius Society, which believes Jesus lives on Venus. Others are the Children of God and the Divine Light Mission, the Orange People of Bhagwan Rajneesh and the Fill-the-Gap Mission, while TV-am has its own Media Cult. Millions of people – in the major German cities one in three – are said to be in search of their selves with cults spreading to serve them, and in Tilford, Surrey, a sect of 5,000 follows Hazrad Mirza Ghulam Ahmed, a self-proclaimed Messiah.

The parallel with England of the 17th Century, with its Ranters, Familists, Grindletonians, Fifth Monarchy Men, anti-Trinitarians, Hermetics and the others is irresistible, and yet there is a difference; we now have sciences, philosophies and political theories they did not. But the popularity of the cults confirms that these advances do not mean society as a whole has moved toward higher levels of rationality, any more than the increasing height of a tree means its roots have left the earth.

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DOES IT seem to you that the TV forecasters speak of the weather the way petowners talk about their darlings? When they tell you this has been the wettest summer since Noah built the Ark, they use the tone of loving admiration with which Fido’s owner tells you of the brute’s latest achievements: “Yes, he chewed up daddy’s slipper and then he ran out into the road and caused a terrible accident, didn’t he, the little sweetiepie!”

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India’s wheat yields have doubled over the last two decades. But those of Britain have doubled in only one decade, and are now nearly four times those of India. (C. Johnson TLS 10 OCT 86)

from Ideological Commentary 29, September 1987.