Archbishop Cranmer produced a recent post likening the extreme devotion to President Trump found in some circles to a religious cult. For the avoidance of doubt, while I did not agree with the President on all points, I greatly admire him and consider that he was the best thing politically to happen to America since the advent of the Tea Party (not that I agreed with its entire platform or the simplifications its members were sometimes apt to make). For my American friends, I would also like to recommend this post on next steps. Back to Cranmer: as I read the article, I was struck by the deep need for belonging and community that causes some people to join cults and sects rather than more “mainstream” organisations.
As Christians, most of us are struck from time to time by the level of community we see in the Gospels, relative to our own lives. By this, I mean that most of us live ordinary lives with ordinary social relationships. These can, of course, be very profound, and my intention is not to suggest they are of lesser value (far from it). But when it comes to religion, most of us do not spend all our time with other members of church in the way that the Disciples did with each other and Christ when they travelled with Him in Judea, Samaria and Galilee.
In addition, most of our relationships are not entwined with the kind of Messianic expectation and fervour that characterises eschatological cults. Hope and despair are powerful forces, and entertaining them can cause significant changes in one’s behaviour. Furthermore, we also have damaged and unpleasant relationships in this life, ranging from low-level friction to much more serious conflict.
So we can understand, even if not ultimately condone, why people join cults and sects. We can see the appeal: unity, clarity, devotion, belonging, community, hope, vision, and support. Of course, there are also special communities that we would call legitimate, such as monastic communities. These communities remind us, perhaps in a fashion their architects did not envision, of the Age to Come. They are apocalyptic symbols of the changes that will one day come to our relationships when Christ returns, just as they are of the community that exists invisibly in heaven among the Church Triumphant, which eagerly awaits the resurection and makes intercession for the Church Militant below.
We find ourselves longing for the transformation of our relationships and wider society. There is so much evil and destruction in the world. Sin comes from within, like a miasmic wind blowing from the cavernous depths of the human heart. In fighting against sin and hoping for the Age to Come, we are apt to become cynical and hardened: grieved and angered at every disappointment, from the big ones in the political arena to the everyday struggles of church, home, and workplace.
I think it is also very easy to feel alone, especially in this period of lockdowns and “social distancing” (which always struck me as an oxymoronic phrase). We are blessed to have the twin communities of AATW and NEO, where conservatives like us can share our thoughts and feelings. We are also blessed with other forms of communication among friends for matters that are more personal. It is important that we keep these relationships going, because we need every kind of strength that the good Lord provides. We are a community and we need to keep saying that.
The days ahead are going to be very difficult and we are not necessarily promised an answer in this life. The living hope of Christ within us is ultimately founded on the resurrection of Christ and His saints, and the Age to Come.
The Seventh Trumpet will one day sound: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Messiah, and He will reign forever and ever.” Gloria Deo Omnipotenti: Patri et Filio et Spiritui Sancto – nunc et sempiternam, in saecula saeculorum. Amen.
I have recently been reading about the post-tribulational framework and may one day write about it when I have ordered my thoughts. For now, just bear that in mind if re-reading my previous eschatological posts, which are written from a pre-wrath perspective. The two view-points are actually fairly close (i.e. they overlap on a lot of points).