The reason so many people are attracted to cults, and not just wackadoodle religious cults but also political cults like neo-Fascist white supremacist cults and fanatical supporters of Donald Trump, is explained by psychologist Steve Taylor, Ph.D., writing in Psychology Today.
It all comes from a desire to return to the ‘safe’ authoritarianism of childhood, where decisions were made for you by authority figures who provided you with a safe and secure environment and catered for all your needs. It’s for these reasons that we remember our childhood with affection. As Steve Taylor puts it:
I felt that they [his parents] could protect me, provide for me and take responsibility for my life. If there were any problems, I was sure that they would work them all out. If there was anything I didn’t understand, I was sure that they would tell me the answer. I didn’t have to worry about anything. I could go to school, play and have fun, and they would take care of the rest.
After relating how he found it disappointing and disturbing when, at the age of perhaps 11 or 12 he began to realise his parents didn’t know everything and that they had human failings like anxiety and shyness he explains:
For many people, the phase of early childhood represents an ideal which they long to return to (if only subconsciously). How wonderful it would be to worship powerful parental figures, who take responsibility for our own lives, protect us from the world and provide answers to all our questions!
Cult Leaders and Corrupt Gurus
The urge to return to this ideal state as one of the reasons why some people are attracted to charismatic cult leaders and gurus. Although many people seek gurus because of a genuine impulse for spiritual development, others are motivated by a more unhealthy impulse. They are not actually seeking enlightenment, but a return to a childhood state of unconditional devotion and irresponsibility. They want to abdicate responsibility for their own lives, and hand it over to the guru, or cult leader. They don’t need to worry about anything, because they guru will guide them in the right direction. They don’t need to think for themselves, because the leader knows all the answers. They don’t need to struggle in their lives – they can just bask in the love and protection of the guru, as they did with their parents when they were young children. I call this impulse the ‘abdication syndrome.’
Given that we now know creationism is, like conspiracism, the result of a childish form of thinking – teleological thinking where everything is assumed to have sentience and nothing happens without agency causing it – it is not surprising that fundamentalist creationists and conspiracy loons form the bedrock of Trump’s support. Nor is it surprising how quickly fundamentalist evangelical Christians abandoned their principles and joined the Trumpanzee cult, claiming Trump to be some sort of national saviour (a Big Daddy figure) sent to save them from the baddies all around.
One only needs to listen to Trump-supporting loons like Michele Bachmann, whom I wrote about yesterday, and Jo Rae Perkins, whom I wrote about a while ago, to see this in all it’s glory. Both full-blown Christian fundamentalists and conspiracy nutjobs who sees plots and enemies swirling around them and Donald Trump as the one to protect and save them.
But why do these dupes cling so tenaciously to obviously corrupt, incompetent and fraudulent cult leaders like Donald Trump, Kent Hovind, Ken Ham, Kenneth Copeland and Jerry Fallwell Jr? Steve Taylor explains:
Part of the problem is that, once people abdicate their lives to a guru or cult leader, they find it impossible to believe anything negative about them. When a guru does act immorally, his followers explain away their behaviour, as some kind of ‘divine play’ or test. They are sure there is some rational, spiritual reason for their actions. This is exactly the same syndrome as when young children find it impossible to believe anything negative about their parents. The disciples refuse to accept that the guru is imperfect because they don’t want to give up the sense of protection and safety that the gurus gives them. They don’t want to face having to take responsibility for their own lives.
No matter how often or blatantly Trump lies or how manifest his incompetent narcissism becomes, there will always be those childlike fundamentalists who are still prepared to abdicate responsibility for their own lives in favour of their Big Daddy cult leader.
Originally published by Rosa Rubicondior, 09.13.2020, under the terms of a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International license.