While reading Bonnie Zieman’s book, Cracking the Cult Code, I came across a concept of cult elitism. Her use of the word elitism is something I continue to think about since reading it. Elitism is the belief that one belongs to a select group that is superior to others.
Elitism, as promoted by cults or other spiritually abusive systems, serves to separate the devout from all others. The elite can be elite by membership and not by merit. This is an important feature because it allows members to reject the wisdom and education of others who have studied and who have learned, and may have criticisms of the group. An example of this is when members discount interpretations of scriptures that collide with the group teachings. Elitism teaches members to ignore scholars and scientist alike, because the only authority that matters is the group’s leaders.
Elitism shows up in many attitudes. Sheep/goats. Saved/unsaved. Us/them. Those with the Holy Spirit and those without the gifts; speaking in tongues/unable to speak in tongues. Then it grows into “We need to save them.” They will be punished by God for being wicked. Once the believer accepts this line of reasoning, about others (i.e. those outside the group) it become dangerous.
When people outside the group are labeled as “other,” it becomes possible to wage spiritual warfare against them. It becomes possible to cut them out, exclude them, lie to them, and ignore their suffering. At its height, elitism makes one gleeful at the thought of the death of millions at the hands of an angry god, and joyful that one belongs to the right group. At its height, an religious zealot can justify murdering others.
Being in an elite group has no guarantees though. In an elitist group, one’s position is precarious. One slip up, and you can be banished. The result is members may become perfectionists and they police one another. It is an insecure situation and one must be hyper-vigilant. One can feel fraudulent and a false self can form because there is no allowance to form an authentic self because the person must adopt every one of the group’s views, thoughts, and behaviors. Elitism crushes individuality.
Once a person leaves an elitist group, their elitism comes with them. They may begin to look for the truth, thinking, “That wasn’t it, so I must keep looking.” They are vulnerable to the next elitist group that comes along. The person who has exited, is also vulnerable to returning to the original group. The ex-member needs to step back and do their own research and healing.
Elitism is a tool to keep people in, so when someone leaves, they look at others with distrust. People outside the group are everything that the group has vilified. The person who leaves can be very judgmental of others and is at risk of self-isolation.
Cults teach you to judge others negatively. It will take mindfulness and the use of thought stopping techniques to overcome. Mindfulness means noticing when you judge others. “I just judged that person.” Thought stopping means stopping that thought. Literally say, “Stop judging.” Counter your judgement by identifying positives. "She is very kind to me." Take notice when others are being kind, loving, or generous.
I have noticed how I judge others. Examples include: What a terrible driver. (Meaning: everyone should drive like I do.) Look how that person dresses (Meaning: they should dress the way I think they should.) Signs of this are when I catch myself thinking they should or why don’t they, or when I call strangers names or curse at them because they did something I didn’t like. It’s elitism. I am more aware of what I am thinking. Slow down. Stop judging others.
I also judge myself very harshly. This is a holdover from growing up in an environment that did not allow me to try things and succeed based on merit. It’s cult programming that goes back to the days when I was indoctrinated with bible quotes like, “The heart is treacherous; Lean not on your own understanding.” I work on this by reminding myself, that I am only human- no better or worse than others. Psalm 139 has helped me; I am fearfully and wonderfully made- even with my quirks. Also remembering the commandment to love my neighbor as myself helps. It’s a commandment to love myself. I fight scriptural indoctrination with gentler scriptures, like God is love.
To wrap this up, I’d like to share two poems I recently wrote.
It is not us and them,
I am not elite in knowledge,
nor in shame.
I am neither prefect,
I discover that others share
my hopes and dreams,
joys and sorrows.
A lifetime of judging others, grows weary,
and this anger, I try to release.
It is not them and me,
It is us and we,
It is love.
We are all humanity;
I am learning “we.”
Wading into Ordinary
When I shed this elitist, cult crap,
that divided the world into camps
of “those who obey” and those who don’t,
“those who love” and those who don’t,
“those who know” and those who don’t,
I can wade into ordinary, dip a toe
into solidarity, with everyone.
I can say: I am open,
I am still deciding,
I’d like some support,
I’m okay; you’re okay,
Let’s get together, sit under
This olive branch,
And enjoy a cup of tea.
My blogs take on all topics related to recovery, including commentary on the intersection of spiritual abuse and current events.
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