By the Editor From the Office of Prayers and Petitions Dept. of All Matters Except Finance, Health, War and Love Life To M. Jayalakshmi, Earth-Plane Female, Old Soul, Class 655-X Because this matter of cults is already dark and depressing beyond the endurance of good men and the imagination of dull ones, I respond to your petition in a not-altogether-somber tone. Yes, there is humor in heaven. Where do you think these things begin? Some will object to whimsy on so serious a subject, little understanding that Big Bugaboos and Little Minds fear the whip less than the quip. Never you mind. Some people always object to things, thinking that they make the world a little more objective by that. No one ever loved them enough to whisper in their ear that it just makes things more objectionable. That said, let me answer the matters contained in your Most Urgent Plea and Appeal to the Powers That Be. Such Powers are, of course, but they don't do the little things. That's my job. You may continue to address your prayers to Them, but don't expect a personal reply from the Impersonal. Look for subtle changes in your life. Coincidence is God's way of doing things anonymously. Now, let me restate your four solicitations: 1. Please get my daughter Anjali out of that dreadful, awful, wicked cult. By the way, what is a cult? 2. Are cults as bad as people here are saying? Is there such a thing as a good cult? 3. Why does it seem most cults are offshoots of the Christian faith? 4. I will stop smoking if You get her to join a proper Hindu cult instead. One with good food and water. A conflict of prayers delayed our response. The cult your daughter joined is petitioning this same office for new members. We are obliged, as you know, to fulfill the yearnings of all souls without exception. This morning your prayer was granted by finding four younger souls to take Anjali's place. Reference devas, many of whom were librarians and black-belt Trivial Pursuit masters in recent incarnations, advise me that cult comes from the French word colere, meaning "to attend, to cultivate, to respect." Seems it was first used in the 17th century, but not popularly until the middle of the 19th. Originally it meant something quite lofty–"worship, reverential homage to a being or to divine beings." More recently its stock fell to "a particular form or system of religious worship, especially in reference to its external rites and ceremonies." Now it often just names "those other guys' religion." Misguided folks who have fallen for the fallacy that freedom is something you procure by staying away from powerful people define a cult as any group which controls one's life and strongly guides one's thinking. It is an organization, with a central authority figure, that imposes strict rules and expectations on members and may even exercise control over what one eats, when one sleeps, what entertainment one has access to, what books one can or cannot read. It may even monitor members' sex life, forbid the free use of certain language, require that official clothes be worn and demand obedience to rules while denying all challenges to the leader's authority. Under that definition everyone's grandparents ran the biggest cult operation in town–the family. Families do all the above, and more. So do the Boy Scouts, boarding schools, the armies and prisons of every civilized nation, Olympic-bound sports teams and virtually every religious order ever founded. Clearly, if we think it's good to preserve human institutions which "brainwash" young minds with the persuasions we call culture and the rites we call religion, then the above definitions don't work. So thoughtful people have evolved better ones. Cult-bashers have a point. They recognize that some groups, like some families, are harmful. So let's define a cult as "a malevolent group, often with a charismatic leader, which deceives and abuses members and causes real harm to the society in which it functions." That brings us squarely facing your second question. The whole premise of good and bad is not much in vogue here. It's out of favor, unchic, like wearing ermine to an anti-vivesection rally. The politically correct interrogatory is: "Are there cults which help a human soul to evolve toward self-understanding and liberation from birth, and are there others that inhibit the process?" Yes and yes. Most cults are OK; some cults are harmful. We're not talking about the Mormons, called a cult by mainstream Christians. Or the Pope, whom Jehovah's Witnesses accuse of heading up a cultish Catholic Church. No, the dangerous cults are those that arm themselves with automatic rifles, preach fear and hate-thy-neighbor isolation and stockpile cyanide awaiting the Last Day. Here in the Inner World we have the Museum of Cultural, Intellectual and Religious Artifacts and Heresies. It's where souls, recently disembodied, deposit all the no longer useful concepts they held so tightly to while on Earth. It's a crowded place, full to the rafters with antiquated attitudes and unfounded fears that never fail to make strong visitors chortle and weak ones weep. The religious section has been expanded twice. To your third question: there is an impulse in Christianity to think of the End of the World, the Apocalypse, the Day of Judgment–which is always capitalized as its such an important calendar date. When you have this idea that the end is near, coupled with the notion that you may well be the One, the Messiah sent to call the flock home, well, you have all the ingredients for callous, clannish, Ku Klux trouble. Mix in an abusive childhood, add a smattering of kinky sexuality, stir by a needful but adoring following and let simmer until it all boils over in Waco, Texas, or Georgetown, Guyana. I tell you straight out–it is because of this millenarian migram that Christianity holds the world record in cult production; which is not to say anything of Islam, since the association of religion with humor is fundamentally not funny to a Muslim. You have asked about Hindu cults. We just don't have any really good ones. Rajneesh comes to mind, but he was a renegade Jain, not a Hindu, so we can't take any credit there. TM is high on many lists, but they make no claims of being Hindu, and the only danger they pose is a ruinous loss of human anxiety. Nope. There are no really credible Hindu cults. And that's because Hindus don't have the stomach for it. They don't possess the littleness that a cult cultivates in members. They see God everywhere and in everyone, and that renders them congenitally inept in the arrogant arts. Moreover, they seem quite incompetent when it comes to the essential craft of forcing their beliefs on others and exceedingly negligent in sustaining the struggle for a lost neighbor's salvation, thinking, as they do, that each soul must and will ultimately attain its own spiritual liberation. They are, to put it quite plainly, too occult to be a cult. I hope all this helps and want to ask a favor in return. In March when Waco went wacko, the media used Koresh's radical Christian cult to, of all things, bash the Eastern faiths. Listen to a paragraph from page 60 of the March 12th Newsweek. "Toward the end of the 60s, repeated shocks to the American psyche prepared the way for mesmerizing gurus. Coincidentally, changes in US immigration laws allowed a number of Hindu, Buddhist and other spiritual masters to migrate here. Among them: the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, teacher of Transcendental Meditation, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, the South Korean whose well-heeled Unification Church is developing into a worldwide faith. Since these masters are their message, their movements are labeled by many as cults." If you find it objectionable, say so. Write to Newsweek at 444 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10022.