Channeling his inner David Brooks, Ross Douthat has cranked out a column notably clueless even by David Brooks standards. Douthat has decided we have a deficit of whackjob religious cults.
LIKE most children of the Reagan era, I grew up with a steady diet of media warnings about the perils of religious cults â€” the gurus who lurked in wait for the unwary and confused, offering absolute certainty with the aftertaste of poisoned Kool-Aid. From the 1970s through the 1990s, from Jonestown to Heavenâ€™s Gate, frightening fringe groups and their charismatic leaders seemed like an essential element of the American religious landscape.
Yet we donâ€™t hear nearly as much about them anymore, and it isnâ€™t just that the media have moved on.
Douthat notes that today’s “cult” leaders are a far more innocuous crew — instead of David Koresh, we get Joel Olsteen — and he thinks this is a bad thing.
The decline of cults, while good news for anxious parents of potential devotees, might actually be a worrying sign for Western culture, an indicator not only of religious stagnation but of declining creativity writ large.
The Branch Davidians were many things, but I never thought of them as creative. Anyway, Douthat quotes a couple of guys, one of which says that a wild religious fringe is a sign of a healthy center, and “a religious culture that lacks for charismatic weirdos may lack ‘a solid core of spiritual activism and inquiry’ as well.” Another guy says that â€œfewer crazy cultsâ€ are a sign that â€œwe have given up our sense of wonder at secrets left to be discovered.â€
If it’s creativity Douthat is worried about, he should rest assured there’s plenty of it out there, and most of it is in his party. Consider such creative folks as Ben Carson, Ted Cruz and Laura Ingraham, who on Friday told her radio audience that President Obama plans to expose our troops to Ebola to make up for colonialism. David Koresh was a slacker compared to such as these.
You don’t hear a lot about people being abducted by aliens any more, either, but when you’ve got a President exposing troops to ebola and crazed jihadi prayer mats / soccer jerseys mysteriously turning up in Texas, who needs UFOs?