Cults and Fascism

Fascism: a governmental system led by a dictator having complete power, forcibly suppressing opposition and criticism, regimenting all industry, commerce, etc., and emphasizing an aggressive nationalism and often racism.

What is the connection between cults and known fascist governments, such as Mussolini’s Italy or Hitler’s Germany? How can someone say that they are similar?

Consider an article on Live Science, titled “What is Fascism?” This article quoted Robert Paxton, a professor emeritus of social science at Columbia University in New York who, according to Live Science, “is widely considered the father of fascism studies.” In 1998, Paxton published an essay, “The Five Stages of Fascism,” in the Journal of Modern Medicine, and noted seven feelings that work as “mobilizing passions” for fascism:

“1. The primacy of the group. Supporting the group feels more important than maintaining either individual or universal rights.”

Cult members are often told to do what is best for the church or organization, even if it means giving up their own individual rights.

For example, Jehovah’s Witnesses have said:

“At times, peace among spiritual brothers has been disrupted because a failed business venture led to loss of money and perhaps to accusations of fraud. Some have taken their brothers to court, but God’s own Book helps us to see that it is better to suffer loss than to bring reproach on God’s name or disturb the peace of the congregation.” (November, 2016, Watchtower simplified edition, pp. 12-13, paragraph 9)

Cults and high-control religions might encourage or outright demand that women stay in abusive marriages rather than bring the shame of divorce on the church, or make it seem as if the cult’s advice on marriage is not successful.

Also, high-control religions and churches might encourage, ask, or outright demand that children give up schooling or their own career ambitions in order to work full-time for the organization.

“2. Believing that one’s group is a victim. This justifies any behavior against the group’s enemies.”

Jehovah’s Witnesses, as an example, are consistently told that they are under attack by Satan himself, and that Satan uses many methods or outlets for his attacks; the May 15, 2015, Watchtower simplified edition, pp. 3-8, claims that Satan “controls the whole world,” and that he uses “false religion” to attack Jehovah’s Witnesses.

In this post, I bring out how Jehovah’s Witnesses have also likened those outside their religion to “pests” who need exterminating, justifying their belief that god will soon step in and destroy everyone who is not one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Scientology is said to employ a “fair game” tactic, allowing their members to attack former Scientologists by any means without sanction from the church.

“3. The belief that individualism and liberalism enable dangerous decadence and have a negative effect on the group.”

Independent thinking or behavior are seen as a hazards in the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses; the July 15, 2006, Watchtower, p. 22, says, “In modern times, a very small number among God’s people have become disgruntled with some aspect of Christian teaching and have murmured against the earthly part of Jehovah’s organization. … Pride may play a role, and some fall into the trap of independent thinking.”

“4. A strong sense of community or brotherhood. This brotherhood’s ‘unity and purity are forged by common conviction, if possible, or by exclusionary violence if necessary.'”

Jehovah’s Witnesses outright refer to their religion as a brotherhood; from the April, 2018, Watchtower, p. 19, “Today, the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses gives encouragement to Bethel family members, to special full-time field workers, and indeed, to the entire international brotherhood of true Christians.” The January, 2018, Watchtower simplified edition, p. 19, says, “…as soon as we watch the various programs on JW Broadcasting, we remember that we are part of an international brotherhood.”

A shared brotherhood is also expressed in many high-control churches through the practice of shunning former members, as practiced by Scientology, the Amish, and other such groups.

“5. Individual self-esteem is tied up in the grandeur of the group. Paxton called this an ‘enhanced sense of identity and belonging.'”

The February 15, 2015, Watchtower, pp. 12-13, says, “To fight spiritual apathy, Christians need to have a clear view of who they are, and they must take reasonable pride in their distinct identity. As servants of Jehovah and disciples of Christ, we can find in the Bible descriptions of who we are. We are “witnesses” of Jehovah, “God’s fellow workers,” as we actively share the “good news” with others.”

Tad R. Callister, Of the Presidency of the Seventy, of the Mormon Church, offered a 2012 devotional titled, “Our Identity and our Destiny,” which said, in part:

In keeping with the theme of this week, I would like to discuss with you a vision of who we are and what we may become. At a recent training session for General Authorities, the question was asked: “How can we help those struggling with pornography?”
Elder Russell M. Nelson stood and replied, “Teach them their identity and their purpose.”
That answer resonated with me, not only as a response to that specific question but as an appropriate response to most of the challenges we face in life. And so today I speak of the true nature of our identity and a correct vision of our divine destiny.

Actor Tom Cruise has also spoken of Scientology in grandiose terms and has praised how the church enhances a person’s identity and self-esteem:

“6. Extreme support of a ‘natural’ leader, who is always male. This results in one man taking on the role of national savior.”

Extreme examples of cult leaders and excessive devotion by their followers include Jim Jones, David Koresh, and Charles Manson. Other religions and churches are often led by a small group of men who still enjoy excessive or extreme devotion and obedience.

The religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses is led by a small group, called a governing body, the members of which are always men. This group refers to themselves as the “faithful and discreet slave,” and demands strict obedience to their instructions and interpretations of the bible, even associating that obedience with a person’s salvation. For example:

“Anointed Christians and those of the great crowd show that they are ready by obeying what Jehovah teaches through the faithful and discreet slave.” (September 15, 2012, Watchtower simplified edition, pp. 25-26)

According to their website, Mormons also believe that their leaders are prophets and “inspired men”:

As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we are blessed to be led by living prophets—inspired men called to speak for the Lord, as did Moses, Isaiah, Peter, Paul, Nephi, Mormon, and other prophets of the scriptures. We sustain the President of the Church as prophet, seer, and revelator—the only person on the earth who receives revelation to guide the entire Church. We also sustain the counselors in the First Presidency and the members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as prophets, seers, and revelators.

“7. ‘The beauty of violence and of will, when they are devoted to the group’s success in a Darwinian struggle,’ Paxton wrote. The idea of a naturally superior group or, especially in Hitler’s case, biological racism, fits into a fascist interpretation of Darwinism.”

Biological racism is the belief that science somehow proves that some races are superior to others in intelligence, moral characteristics, and so on. This thinking was promoted by Hitler’s teachings that whites, and especially Germans, were a “master race.”

The term “Darwinian struggle” and “Darwinism” refers to the “survival of the fittest” thinking, or the belief that a stronger, faster, or smarter animal species would naturally conquer other species.

A fascist government might apply both these areas of thinking; they believe that they are superior to others in intelligence or morality, and this supposed superiority then allows, or even obligates, them to conquer other races. They then feel justified in exterminating or somehow subjugating another race; this thinking is what allowed the Nazi regime to imprison or exterminate Jews, gypsies, and others, and was applied in the United States in order to justify the genocide of Native Americans and the owning of blacks as slaves.

Some cults and religious groups employ this thinking to justify waging a “holy war” against outsiders. Other groups, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, do not take up arms against others but do believe that their god will step in and perform this extermination.

Fascism is, in of itself, a type of cult, and cults can often be described as fascist in their thinking and in control of their adherents. While the two are often thought of as being very different, once you dissect their lines of thinking, you note the similarities quite easily.

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