Faith Works 2-5-11
A Cult You Might Be a Member Of
It's been a while since I wrote about cults.
I feel about cults and their influence much as C.S. Lewis did about Satan and all his works: you can actually spend too much time talking about them and help their cause more than your own.
How much is too much? Almost any amount can be, mused Lewis, after which he wrote a whole book showing how our world looks from the point of view of a senior demon, who was advising (or let's say "preparing") a junior nephew in the dark arts of temptation.
Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, said Emerson, so in the shadows of those two older and wiser eminences, I will venture into the murky waters of cult influence.
There is a cult that can't be said to be growing in pervasiveness, since it's been around for a very long time – some might say as long as time itself. Most of us know that this is a sad, shabby, false belief system, and look down on those we perceive as having gotten tangled up in it . . . and there are precious few of us who aren't actually members of the cult whether we know it or not.
(And most of those who are emphatically not "in" let themselves be defined almost entirely by their not being in it, which means the cult oddly controls even their lives.)
What is this malevolent, destructive, subversive cabal? Oh, you ask like you don't know.
It is: the Cult of the Next Thing.
There. I said it out loud.
The Cult of the Next Thing has infiltrated every church, mosque, synagogue, cathedral, praise barn, or rental hall where a congregation gathers. The Cult of the Next Thing is weaving its ever clutching tendrils through every denominational structure there is, whatever the faith.
The Cult of the Next Thing whispers sibilantly into your ear "things will be better as soon as the Next Thing comes along." When you start to suspect you need to be moving along yourself, because everything where you currently worship, where you practice your faith, is getting kind of old and stale and over-familiar, the voice of the Cult of the Next Thing says seductively to you "when you find the Next Thing, everything will be different."
The object of worship in this world-dominating cult, the Next Thing, is always almost here, nearly ready, just about perfect. It just requires that you let go of what you've known, and usually those people you've gotten close to (or been irritated by), and move on to get just a little closer to the promise of . . . the Next Thing, which will fix everything.
The Next Thing is easier, cooler, smarter but also simpler, more effective (or will be once the kinks get worked out), shinier, has fewer calories, and whitens your teeth while slimming your figure. The Next Thing gets you more in tune with God without actually having to listen closely or strain or wait for a deeper understanding, because the Next Thing IS a deeper understanding just by being what it is.
And by moving to the Next Thing, you show your taste and discernment by so doing, as opposed to all those still stuck on the last thing, whatever that was. I forget.
On the other hand, there's this fellow who said that the Kingdom of God was not the next thing, but is within you. If you move on to the next thing, you really aren't any further away from the Kingdom, but just by making that shift you didn't automatically get any closer to it.
When you start getting habituated, not to say addicted, to the experience of the shift, the move, the transition to the next thing, that can – itself – actually block your approach to what's been within you all along.
Perhaps the true worship you need to find is best located not by going back, nor by moving on yet again (in tools or techniques, which church or discipline, whatever), but by stopping where you are, with all the flaws and problems there so painfully apparent all around you. Stop, and reflect, and look at your own role in creating an atmosphere of thankful praise in your heart.
You might be surprised by what happens next.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he's fallen into a few cultic traps himself. Tell him about your experience of the Next Thing at email@example.com, or follow Knapsack @Twitter.