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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Cults and culture

Crazies are a sign of the times

Cults isolate and insulate themselves. Fears, insecurities and anxieties constitute the inner thinking and acting dynamics of these circles. In a time of vast voids, like our own technological sea change, people become ripe for exploitation.

Many of us are vulnerable to charismatic speakers and advertising messages of one sort or another. In our neurotic age of glitz and glamour, we fall when our fake idols fall. Whenever the idols are found to have feet of clay--such as celebrities, athletic heroes or movie stars--additional insecurities come to the fore.

The deaths of 39 Heaven's Gate cult members in California illustrate the point. Manipulated by empty slogans and shibboleths--sacred and secular--they were putty in the hands of a skillful manipulator.

Tolstoy said that much evil comes from highly placed individuals. The easy stereotypes should be avoided (Ted Turner of CNN-TV said, "It was good to get rid of the nuts").

When ABC-TV's news commentator Ted Koppel gave a speech at Duke University, he said that the Ten Commandments were not 10 suggestions but laws to live by. His words were meant for media types like CBS' Bill Paley, Ed Murrow and Bill Shirer--all of whom were alleged to have committed adultery--as well as the crazies of the paranoid hyper-right.

In fact, moral bankruptcy can come from both left and right--both can have a center void.

The Murrah Federal Building tragedy represents a failure, and we should all reflect on such a tragedy.

One of the Ten Commandments--the eighth--has a great deal to do with slander. Words stereotype and, in a sound-bite age, all groups can be made vulnerable.

When James Burmeister was convicted of a racist killing at Ft. Bragg, his crimes were falsely associated with things German and thus vulnerable to false stereotyping.

We may live in a crazy time. But crazies come out of a world of emptiness that words can create.


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