Why Such True Believers?

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How is that ordinary, seemingly rational people can become invloved in groups, particularly some New Age groups, with apparently strange, if not (according to many) ridiculous beliefs and practices?

Reasons can be numerous.

People are still people. They have needs.pecially important are the need of self worth, the need to be accepted and loved, the need to reach out to others and give love in relationship and service. It is, most often, when people are not having some of these needs by family, friends, and other normal support networks (including the church) that they are most vulnerable to other people who will try to meet those needs. When, such, apparently caring and supportive people respond with acceptance, the newcomer generally forms a trust relationship in which it becomes easier to accept what the caring person or community believe and do. In such situations people respond to one another at an emotional level, not with a critical, rational or analytical approach. So what seems strange becomes acceptable because those who gave love and acceptance when it was most needed.

People want leaders to follow. Part of being human is learning to look up to others (often because we look down on ourselves). We want our heroes - those who have achieved things we could not. Our society promotes "celebrity status" for a select few who are raised above the common crowd of humanity as if they are somehow better human beings (even in Christian circles we have developed the notion of celebrity Christians - special people - a cut above the rest). Add to this the fact that modern life, especially in developed nations, is becoming more and more complex and confusing with seeming constant change - this makes people seek stronger personalities to guide and lead them through the maze of existence. There have always been more followers than leaders - and therefore there are always more seekers looking for answers, for meaning and purpose - willing to listen to those who claimm often with strength, assurance and charismam, that they have the answer for those who follow them.

People want to be more significant. Many people struggle with their self worth. They want to be significant in a society that is increasingly dehumanising and impersonal. Once business, from the corner grocer store to the banks, treated people as valued customers of personal worth. Personal service was vitally important in treating the customer with respect. This was incorporated in cliches such as "The Customer is always right. Those days have gone. The corner shop with the friendly grocer who got to know the customers personally has been replaced by the big grocery chains with uninterested "check out chicks". The friendly bank teller and manager has largely been replaced by ATMs. People are being reduced to numbers in computer data backs all the time. In such an enviroment people respond to those groups where they are treated personably and with warmth. When people are told by their leaders that they can have a healing ministry, if they do a course or follow the lead given in the group or by the leader, they accept strange, even contradictory claims and beliefs - often with enthusiasm. Now they will be significant. A person to be looked up to by others. It also allows an outlet for the goodwill and motivation of most people who want to help others.

People want to be happy. We have been led to believe, in westernised society, that we should be, and have the right to be, constantly happy. This has led to great discontent, and even disillusionment for many, for it is an unattainable goal. The man who wrote the song "Don’t worry be happy" never found what he sang about and committed suicide. We have lost the concept of inner joy, regardless of outer circumstances. If things get difficult we don’t persevere and work harder at overcoming problems, we switch to an alterntative. This seems to be happening more and more in relationships. More and more people, especially women, it seems, are suddenly walking out of marriages and moving in with gurus, groups or others of like mind. It usually comes as a shock to everyone else involved, but often the response is that they haven’t felt happy and are now deciding to follow their own heart and destiny.

The sad thing is that there is such a mixture of people with claims of power, truth and the answers to life. Many claim they have spirit guides (or angels, or ascended masters, or some other "guide"), who can not only provide direct guidance for that individual, but also, through them lead and guide others. And many followers accept such notions - because they want help in coping in life.

Once, if you went around informing people about voices in your head telling you what to do, friends would try hard to get you to a doctor, hospital or medication - which often stopped the voices. Now, if you tell others you are hearing voices, people will follow you and try to listen to the voices as well.

As a result there are leaders of all sorts of religious and pseudo-religious groups including the sick, the sincere, and the sucker-seekers.

There are those who gather a following, who are actually mentally and emotionally disturbed, whose true nature is often not discovered until they have caused considerable havoc in the lives of a number of people.
Then there are those who are sincere and sane, but who are caught up in their imagination and believe their own stories. They become so convinced of their own claims that they are able to lead others into similar beliefs with a great deal of conviction - even if it is all fantasy and wishful thinking.

Unfortantely there are the con-artists, the frauds and charlatans who know what people want to believe and deliberately play to the crowds with deception and manipulation to feed their desire for power and control and an increased bank balance.

Today we have to learn to tell, not only truth from error, but also leaders who are genuine, as compared with the sick, the sincere but mistaken, and the deliberate decievers seeking "suckers" to take in and use. More than ever before we need to question what we hear; think things through thoroughly for ourselves; check out the evidence in context to see if it adds up - we especially need to read the Bible in context when so many misuse and abuse it; and we need to make religious commitments primarily to Jesus Christ - not some celebrity person, "teacher", or visiting authority, nor some group or organisation.

(From TACL Vol 18 #3 May/June 1997)