The Message Often Gets Lost on the Followers

Tim Bean

9/20/2012

Let’s talk about cults.  No, no, not the religious, “drink the Kool-Aid” type; let’s talk about cults of personality.  Sorry, again I don’t mean the song by Living Colour, but damn do I love that song.  I am specifically referring to what happens when many people begin to, for lack of a better word, “worship” a person, at the expense of that person’s message.  History is littered with examples of this happening, and as a student of history I can tell you that few, if any, have ever turned out too good for all parties involved.  In fact I offer a challenge to anyone who can give me an example of how the blind faith in a person has really ever turned out a net-net positive.

The first response to that challenge will undoubtedly be Jesus, who according to the gospel is more than a person, but also the son of God.  Well, sadly, history has proven many, many times over that bad things have happened by those who failed to follow Jesus’ message of peace, love, and understanding of all people, instead using faith as a reason to seek vengeance, coercion, and well, pretty much everything that goes against the message of Jesus.  Please, please, PLEASE do not take what I am saying as me believing that Christianity in its entirety is a cult.  I am not, I am simply saying that there have been those who use their religious beliefs to pursue things that are in direct opposition to the teachings of the messenger – in this case Jesus.  If we all tried our hardest to adhere to Jesus’ message then I think the world would be a better place.

Perhaps the greatest historical example of cults of personality is none other than Adolf Hitler; modern history’s biggest boogey man.  Hitler actually aimed to be worshipped.  He purposefully used his oratory skills to enflame the passions of a down trodden German public, giving great, fiery, and passionate speeches to hoist himself, and the Nazi Party he helped to create, into complete dictatorial power over the country he professed to love.  He was successful in his aims, and many, Germans revered him so much as the savior of their country that they allowed their blind faith in he and his party to drag their country into complete and utter devastation.  Well, without going into a complete history lesson here, I hope everyone knows what happened there.  The Cliff’s Notes version is this; somewhere between 7-9 million dead German soldiers and civilians (yes those are just the Germans) roughly 10% of Germany’s prewar population.  Of course we can never forget the estimated 6 million Europeans of Jewish faith that he and his party were directly responsible for murdering too.

Hitler is but one dictator that allowed, encouraged, and inspired people to blindly follow him into the consolidation of power, and eventual iron fist rule.  Mao Zedong, Pol Pot, Pinochet, Kim Il-sung, and his descendants in North Korea; where the population is encouraged (forced) to treat the supreme leader in a godlike fashion  – which is ironic because communism derisively views religion as the opiate of the people.  That’s just a smattering of people who worked to develop an aura about them that lead to their absolute control.  Before anyone knew it in each of these countries they were completely beholden to, and in fear of, the person whom they followed.

Deifying a person is a dangerous thing, and it takes a strong and humble person to resist the power that many people who follow them will gladly give to them.  I am too suspicious of those who proffer to have all the answers, and who have an all or nothing approach to leadership.  Our first President, George Washington, was essentially given the keys to the kingdom, sort to speak, and he turned it down, and declined a third term as President saying something to the effect of not wishing to replace a hereditary king with an elected one.  He knew the dangers of concentrated power, because he fought against it.  He also knew that it was the then new America idea of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness that was bigger than he was, and is.  He wanted people to believe the messenger and not worship the messenger(s).

I often quote the founders here, but it is not because I think that they should be in some sort of pantheon.  I know they were but men, with the many failings that come with being men.  Few, if any of them were seeking absolute control, or the fawning of public adulation, they had a different and far broader goal.  They envisioned a place where each person (back then it was literally “man” today it would be person) was essentially their own king/queen and government was to be their subject.  So, my quoting of them is not to lay prostrate before them, it is to spread their message, and it is the message that far too often gets lost with many people.

Take for example some of the now called “Paulites,” there are many people who love Ron Paul, and some of those people take this affection to the point where it is Ron Paul or no one in their eyes.  Forget the fact that even Ron Paul has referred to himself as a messenger of liberty, but there are some who wish to place him on a pedestal such that none can achieve such lofty heights.  I choose to believe in the message, while accepting, that at times, the person delivering it may be perceived to be flawed by some.  For the record, Ron Paul was the one who got me interested in pursuing and joining the liberty movement, so I am a fan and know his voice will be sorely missed in Washington D.C.  His retiring means that more people who believe in the message need to step up.

This now brings me to this “lovely” little image and campaign ploy here by the Obama campaign:

The caption reads:

“There’s a new way to show that you’re voting for someone who represents us all. Choose one of your reasons for voting and write it on your hand, then pledge to vote.  You can share a photo on Twitter and Instagram with #ForAll.  Check out some of the photos—you might even recognize a few of the faces.” 

Umm, to quote one Facebook post:

 “Pledging yourself to one man is what dictators ask for not democratically elected officials.  Also “for all” unless you smoke pot, happen to be successful and actually what to keep the fruits of your labor, are a pacifistic (sic), are gay (until recently when it became politically lucrative), are suspected but not charged with a crime and detained indefinitely (NDAA).”

Most people will see this campaign as nothing; which hopefully it is; and that all it says it to “…pledge to vote.”  Nice word play Obama campaign, but I think it is apparent the “who” is that people are asked to pledge their vote to.  For now I might dismiss it as fairly innocuous, and perhaps more than a little silly, misguided, and cheaply using celebrities to boost popularity with the masses.  There is also the fact that there is no way anyone could live up to and fulfill all of those promises being pledged to him or her.  Yet, in politics it is often promise everything and deliver little or nothing; so mission accomplished.

This is the opening paragraph from Reason Magazine’s blog called Hit and Run, regarding this campaign; “Once upon a time, there was a controversial political leader who asked his followers to pledge their devotion to him and his policies by making a certain hand signal. His name was Barack Obama.”  There is an allusion to another person in that quote; three guesses on who it might be.

 

I claim that human mind or human society is not divided into watertight compartments called social, political and religious. All act and react upon one another.  (Mahatma Gandhi)

 

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