Our culture has cultivated an uncultured passion to declare supporting Trump a cult. Those that declare Trump and likeminded people subculture, have themselves become cultic. So we have cultured a ‘Cult of Trump’ and a ‘Cult of AntiTrump.’ (Is your mind blown yet?)
It took me several minutes to type that. But don’t tune me out yet. If you’re tired of anything political, fear not. This is about a word, not politics.
The word cult is interesting. In grad school, we used the word in a basically neutral way. As we studied Ancient Near East religions, we would say the ‘cult of the Egyptians’ or the ‘cult of Israel.’ It was the people’s particular culture of religious norms and practices, not any evil or nefarious ongoings. But I was warned by my advisor the word itself was mutating in meaning.
The word itself has a very positive history. It comes from Latin meaning to care for, tend, till, grow. It implied devoted attention to. This we get the word cultivate – to grow.
The Membean website, a site designed to help grow one’s vocabulary through word association, has the above graphic that connects agriculture, horticulture and more. A Culture is what society has grown into. It grows and changes and develops.
However, as stated above, the word itself has grown in meaning. A few hundred years ago, it became connected to religion and a devotion to a set of beliefs. It was a group of people devoted to the teachings and ways of a particular leader. It soon developed to beyond religion and could mean a cult following teachings that were sociological and non religious (like the cult of Keanu or the cult of baby Yoda, or both.) The line between religious and sociological is very blurry here. So to be a cult of _____, you are devoted to, care about, share and cultivate the teachings and practices of a person or their world view. But the change of meaning didn’t stop there.
Today, it has taken on a almost prejudicial, if not curse word, meaning. It’s describing one, or one’s ideas, as unsavory, dangerous, and fringe. It demeans one and their beliefs. One might even say it is verbal bullying. This is not to say people’s ideas are not fringe, even counter cultural, but to label them ‘cult’ might be a lazy way to be pejorative. One psychologist says no one should ever use the word ‘cult.’
I leave that discussion for other venues. But I do challenge you to be aware of the words you use. Be cautious and clear. Words have power. And often your words may not be heard the way you mean them to be heard, so clarity is important. Take time to be cautious and caring.
It seems several of my blogs recently have been on using our words and conversations wisely. Can this be overemphasized?
One last thought. What do you want to be described as? What passions and teachings do you hold in reverence? Do people see it in the way you live? And do those ways cultivate love, truth, kindness, and care?
So, if they call me a devoted, sold-out follower of someone or someway, I hope they do not see a politician, a trendy philosophy, or an entertainer. I hope they Jesus?