Sunday, April 06, 2014

In which the pond spends a Sunday moment meditating on the wealth of cultists throughout the land ...

(Above: Crumb doing the myth of Noah, kool aid story telling for cultists, if you happen to believe Noah was 600 years old when the genocidal god with management issues did her thing)

It's not easy being a liberal magazine, and trying to walk a path between crazed cultists and crazed cops.

Malcolm Gladwell does his best for The New Yorker in Sacred and Profane How not to negotiate with believers (outside the paywall for the moment).

But in the end he falters and falls into line with the believers and never mind that he's writing about David Koresh and the Branch Davidians, and a paedophile, control freak, gun freak who preached that the apocalypse was just around the corner, and surely did his best to bring that apocalypse on ...

Gladwell accepts the line of a Koresh follower, Clive Doyle, that given a couple of weeks, everything could have been amicably worked out. All Koresh had to be given was given a little time to write down his thoughts - put it in a manuscript - and all would be well.

Gladwell and Doyle make much of the way the cops didn't understand Koresh. Gladwell sees this as a failure on the part of the cops:

The second, more serious problem with the way the F.B.I. viewed the Branch Davidians was the fact that the agents could not accept that beliefs such as these—as eccentric as they were—were matters of principle for those within Mount Carmel. During the siege, two of the leaders of the F.B.I. team referred to Koresh’s theology as “Bible-babble” and called him a “self-centered liar,” “coward,” “phony messiah,” “child molester,” “con-man,” “cheap thug who interprets the Bible through the barrel of a gun,” “delusional,” “egotistical,” and “fanatic.”

But on the evidence Gladwell himself presents, Korseh was a child molester, a phony messiah, delusional, egotistical and a fanatic, a gun freak who'd stockpiled weaponry, and so on and so forth ...

Now the cops might have mishandled the situation - deploy a hammer and you're always likely to get an inedible cracked walnut - but the liberal ambivalence Gladwell deploys is also painful to behold.

He even drags in the nineteenth century cult of Mormonism and calls them quintessential Americans, like the Puritans.

So the quintessential American is a mug punter who falls for a huckster and a con man phony peddling a nakedly false cult replete with generous dollops of kool aid ...

Gladwell seems to want liberals to embrace cultists and the obnoxiously different. It's too easy to be a faux liberal:

The country club opens its doors to Jews. The university welcomes African-Americans. Heterosexuals extend the privilege of marriage to the gay community. Whenever these liberal feats are accomplished, we congratulate ourselves. But it is not exactly a major moral accomplishment for Waspy golfers to accept Jews who have decided that they, too, wish to play golf. It is a much harder form of tolerance to accept an outsider group that chooses to maximize its differences from the broader culture. And the lesson of Clive Doyle’s memoir—and the battle of Mount Carmel—is that Americans aren’t very good at respecting the freedom of others to be so obnoxiously different. Many Mormons, incidentally, would say the same thing. When the Mormons settled in Nauvoo, Illinois, local public opinion turned against them. Joseph Smith was charged with perjury and adultery, then arrested for inciting a riot. While he was in custody awaiting trial, in 1844, an armed mob stormed the prison and shot him dead.

To be genuinely liberal, you need to embrace the barking mad.

So the next time you meet up with a gun-toting crazy paedophile who calls himself the successor to Christ, the Lamb of the bible, remember to do your very best to embrace him in a generous and liberal way ...

There's a slightly different emphasis at work if you head off to the Adventists who had to deal with the way the wackos of Waco were linked with their more mainstream cult, as you can read in Branch Davidians (and Adventists) Revisited in The New Yorker.

The story itself is mostly a cut and paste with this concluding note:

As Adventists, we like to distance ourselves from what happened at Waco, but maybe Koresh wasn't so far removed from the Adventist tradition as we like to think.

Well that set the cat amongst the fundamentalist pigeons, and the main interest in the story is to read the comments below the fold.

Hang on, the SDA as mainstream thinkers?

Suddenly the SDA - which the pond always thought fondly of as a cult - began to sound normal and a little intolerant. This comment:

A recent convert to Adventism at the time, the Mount Carmel disaster alerted me to the dangers of associating with the fringe elements of the Adventist tradition. This ingrained adversion has served me well in navigating the peculiarities of Adventism. I was amazed that the connection between the Branch Davidians and Adventism was kept out of the press. As this article suggests, we are not that far from the extremism that manifested a Mt Carmel. If one has ever visited an Adventist self-supporting institution, it is easy to imagine that the mindset at Mt Carmel was not much different. 

... was followed by this response:

Branch Davidianism was never Adventism. They took the name, they had their roots (long ago) in Adventism, but they had departed and skewed the message so much that it had no relation to what they were promoting. LGT has no relevance to this discussion. LGT'ers are not following a cult leader who leaves the audience spellbound by his "knowledge" and interpretation of prophetic scripture. They follow the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy. 
By the way, as much as authorities failed in how they dealt with the siege, Koresh was not as harmless as some make him out to be. Talk to some people who were Davidians and left. Yes, he was a paedophile. Yes, he was obsessed with guns. Yes, he was a control freak and you had no business arguing with him. Yes, he even claimed to be Jesus Christ himself (at least to one person I know). Some who left had to think of schemes of how to get out without being suspected. A classmate of mine left school around the age of 14 and moved over there and became one of his "wives" and bore his child. (What her parents role in all this was I have no idea.)

And then it was on, the cult v non-cult, and Koresh v the 'mainstream' SDA rolled on for pages.

And the story reverberated elsewhere. Head off here, where the Sheperd's Rod preaches (you've been warned), and you can find an attack on the serious misconceptions perpetuated in Mr. Gladwell's article which devolves into a number of arcane questions. The alleged misconceptions included:
  • David Koresh was the successor of a series of prophetic leaders going back to the ministry of William Miller in the early 1830′s. 
  • That Christian religious traditions that expect the soon return of Christ (“millennielists”) are connected or associated with Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses. 
  • That David Koresh saw himself as the one who was to unlock the secrets of the seven seals when in fact this was already done by Victor Houeff.
Well it's a relief to know that the secrets of the seven seals had been decoded before Koresh did the job, but it reminded the pond of how difficult it is for some liberals to deal with fundamentalism in what might be seen as a judgmental and disapproving way.

Even when judged by ordinary standards fundamentalists are locked into a barking mad unreality - which at various times has involved denying the sun rising because the earth revolved around it, the moon glowing because of the sun's light (rather than it being made of luminescent cheese), and gravity continuing to work as Newton explained it, and the theory of evolution even more solid than the day Darwin proposed it, and atoms splitting the way Einstein suggested it ...

And it reminded the pond of the fundamental mysteriousness of fundamentalism, and the way that some people are suckers for con men.

Like L. Ron Hubbard.

The pond was reminded of Russell Miller's excellent but now very old expose of Hubbard's cult in Bare-Faced Messiah, which it seems is at last going to get a run in the United States, or so Bare-Faced Messiah: The book Scientology tried to ban (forced video) suggests. The pond picked the book on remainder after its initial release, and was genuinely astonished, and now it seems the cult will have to endure the expose all over again.

Did Miller prevent thousands of people being defrauded and ruined?

Not really, but at least it makes a refreshing change to the way that Scientology is now treated by gossip columnists as a branch of showbusiness:

"A union between the Mission: Impossible hunk, 51, and 31-year-old Moss, who's also a Scientologist, would likely please Church of Scientology officials. 'Friends think it would be great for both of them - and Scientology,' said an insider. According to the source, church leaders would probably 'be delighted to have their leading member become involved with another celebrity Scientologist.' By all indications, Tom and Elisabeth - called Lizzie by friends - would make an ideal high-profile couple." (here)

Uh huh. Never mind that's a cult that's defrauded and ruined the lives of thousands, who's Tom Cruise fucking this week?

How do these simple and blatant cons hook so many?

But then you only have to think of Mormonism and Catholicism and Anglicanism and Hinduism and all the other cons offering the one true path to enlightenment and an eternity in paradise. The cults have been working these angles for centuries.

The main difference is that we don't give the same scrutiny to the more ancient cults that we give to new, freshly painted, modern cults.

Yet the old cults produce about the same amount of drivel.

There, for example, amongst the Sydney Anglicans, is John Mason trading off on a movie about a myth to produce Engaging with Noah.

Mason flirts with the practicalities of the myth, before settling the matter by treating the myth as historical fact, with an important moral:

What is important for us here is that Jesus regarded Noah as a historical figure and treated the event of the flood as a reality. 
Just as the flood occurred, just as Jesus’ predictions about his own death and resurrection, and the fall of Jerusalem, were all fulfilled, so too will there come a day when he returns in all his glory. 
Heraclitus, a philosopher of ancient Greece, taught, ‘Unless you expect the unexpected you will never find truth, for it is hard to discover and hard to attain.’ And G.K. Chesterton once remarked, ‘Truth is stranger than fiction.’ 
Our danger today is the same as it was at the time of Noah. The people then were so taken up with their own lives, so proud of their achievements, that they forgot they were but creatures and rejected the reality of God. If only they had been humble enough to turn back to God while they had time (17:26f). Jesus’ reference to Noah and the flood is a chilling reminder that we ignore God at our peril. NOAH, the movie gives us an opportunity to talk with others about the larger realities of life.

Where to start? So Jesus certifies Noah as an historical figure, and the flood as a reality, and that makes it a done deal?

So historical figure Noah lived to 950, Methuselah cracked 969, and Adam scored 930?

So truth is stranger than fiction?

So that's it? Here, have some more kool aid?

About this point, you realise you might as well attempt a discussion with Koresh about the seven seals.

And yet these cults have real consequences.

For reasons that are both bizarre and mysterious - verging on the mystical - the pond ended up in Bathurst yesterday.

In that town the Catholics have almost an entire city block at their disposal in the heart of town, and the school, St Stanislaus College, is perched at the top of the hill with the best views in town:

No doubt it picks up tidy subsidies from the state and federal governments, and helps explain why the Catholic church does so well in terms of wealth and turnover (the other not so big school in town is The Scots School, run by the Presbyterians, with it famously claiming a cult of the bag pipes).

Tax free, government money, assets in the billions, and making a profit by hiring lawyers to screw its victims? Now that's the way to run a cult. Why it makes L. Ron Hubbard look like an amateur ...

If you read its wiki, the school's claim to fame has now been overshadowed by the issue of child sexual abuse ... and some of the links still work and take you to stories like David Marr's Priests and Justice ...

The moral of this Sunday meditation?

Well surely it's to beware of cults, especially cults that speak of Noah being an historical figure and his story an actual reality endorsed and certified via god, through Jesus. And that's before you get on to other cultists who demand your 14 year old daughter and offer you an Armalite ...

And beware of liberals who tread softly around the cultists, lest the cultists take offence at liberals failing to understand the deep and abstruse thinking of the cultists ...

(Below: more Crumb, in which the genocidal god fails to control her anger management issues)


  1. Worth watching The Nostradamus Kid again. The Shepherds Rod even make an appearance.

    1. Oh dear, the bloated Bob. Thanks for reminding the world that Bob's SDA childhood helps explain a lot ...

  2. I had the "pleasure" of waking up this morning to a Chris Kenny column in Adelaide's Sunday Mail (don't judge me, I've tried to convince my parents to stop forking out for the subscription, to no avail. Your condolences, though, are much appreciated).

    Kenny’s article is called "Cry Freedom - two extremes of conversation we need to have." And, yes, he is still going on about the Racial Discrimination Act curbing freedom of speech. It turns out the current debate over s18c is not only "hypocritical and paradoxical" but "no one seems to notice" it either. That's what I was going to say! But before I could get too worried about actually AGREEING with Kenny on something, it turns out he was not referring to his suing the ABC over The Chaser’s free expression of ideas all the while cheering on the repeal of the Racial Discrimination Act because: Freedom of Speech (au contaire, Kenny makes clear that defamation law is still sacrosanct, freedom of speech be damned), but about jailed Al-Jazeera journalist Peter Greste.

    It turns out that one is simply not allowed to support both Greste and 18c. Because jailing journalists on spurious grounds of tarnishing the national image is EXACTLY THE SAME as not tolerating virulent hate speech. Well, not quite. Kenny makes clear the debate over 18c is "more important to the free expression of ideas" then the Greste case. Luckily he adds "in this country" lest anyone get the idea Kenny thinks that jailing journalists is so passe compared to Andrew Bolt’s rights to racially abuse.

    Interestingly, he classifies Liberal party members opposed to the rewrite as “vertebrae-challenged” – because what really takes spine is unreflectingly following the dictates of the party leader who himself is unreflectingly following the dictates of a foreign media mogul!

    It turns out that we should be alarmed that 18c resulted in Andrew Bolt’s “thoughtful” pieces being banned (at which point I really should have stopped reading. Anyone who mistakes Andrew Bolt as someone capable of “thoughtful” writing is not worth my time. But, sadly, morbid curiosity forced me to continue). Never mind the fact that Kenny can still recite the point Bolt was trying to make without getting into any trouble. Free speech has been impinged and must be restored! But no, let’s make sure that defamation is still beyond the pale; because those ABC dogs will pay for thinking they have the same rights to freedom of expression as us regular bigots. Never mind that the general consensus that Bolt would have fallen foul of defamation law too.

    But wait, what about “the chilling effect it has on the ability of people to freely discuss race-related issues”? HOW has the discussion of race-related issues been affected? So you can’t repeat certain WILFUL LIES about certain people. So what? Does he not understand the function of “fair comment”? (Rhetorical question, clearly he doesn't.) It shows how detached from the real world Kenny has become that he thinks the people Bolt racially vilified could have “responded publicly, in print and on the airwaves. This is the contest of ideas.” We don’t all have the luxury of guaranteed column space to attack our foes at will, you know. We’re not all fully paid-up propagandists for foreign moguls, Kenny!

    Finally, Kenny is dismayed that poor, sweet Andrew Bolt has himself been attacked. “it also allowed Bolt’s ideological opponents to unleash merry hell on him, tarring him as a racist.” I hate to break it to Kenny, but no one needed a judge to tell us that Bolt is racist, he has pretty capably convicted himself with his own words in that regard.

    In conclusion, I’m sorry, Dorothy, if I’ve stolen some of your fire for a future post, but after reading this garbage and logging on to find you hadn’t mentioned it yet, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to tear Kenny a new one myself.

    1. Oh Mel, Mel, you could never steal the pond's thunder, remember it's therapy and remember Chris Kenny can't take satire, since he seriously believes that people take seriously - as opposed to satirically - the notion that he does things with dogs. And then he writes drivel that makes people think he does with things with dogs ...

      Here's hoping this was therapy, and that you can convince your parents to stop subscribing. Can they use the intertubes? Do they know how to breach a paywall? The elderly must learn these ways ...

      Condolences are in order. Enjoy a sunny or a rainy day, treasure life, and if you step in dog poo, look on the bright side and think of it as teaching Chris Kenny's column a lesson ...

  3. Mel and DP - thank you. If Bolt is not a racist, how do explain the comments on his moderated blog? He blocks well-considered comments pointing out his mistakes or making any critical point, but allows this sort of crap.

    "International Jewry is hell-bent on widening censorship laws all over the Western world... But why would Jewry act in this way? That question raises some of the deepest and most uncomfortable facts that are hidden in twentieth century history. And it is precisely in order to keep these facts untouched or "beyond discussion" that censorship is pushed so intensely. Because when you start to untangle the common held view of events in the last century that very power complex that Jewry rely upon starts to disintegrate.

    Dr No of Sydney."

    "I am sick of Israel moaning all the time as if they were the only country who lost people, far more died to give us free speech"

    "Aboriginals have a recessive colour gene that dilutes as you extend out the lineal heritage. The Negroid colour gene does not"

    "if some numbnut leftard or racist ethnic sook hates you, you are off to the courts to have your day. That is why 18C MUST be repealed."

    1. Thanks Anon, that's truly astonishing. Mind numbing. Like stumbling into a sewer.

      Actually the pond has to confess that the pond didn't quite believe that a respectable newspaper would allow these sorts of comments to stand, as opposed to being breaches of their guidelines

      News Limited group publications aim for the highest editorial and ethical standards.

      Editorial employees and contributors should be open-minded, be fair and respect the truth.

      So we googled your quotes, and there they were, embedded and unmoderated, in the Bolter's blog. It genuinely is a sewer for racist thinking ...

      Thanks for having the intestinal fortitude to go there. If you find any more examples of coprolites (that's dinosaur poop for any stray Bolter) send them along. We could do a piece just cutting and pasting together the coprolites so all could marvel at the giant pile of dung ...


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