HOW DO WE KNOW WE’RE NOT IN A CULT?
How do we know we’re not in a cult? How do we
know we haven’t reduced or simplified faith to the point of
Here are some warning signs: Does your church
have all the answers? Do your opinions convey a touch of arrogance?
Do you limit personal relationships to those in your own church? Do
you frequently refer to other churches as cults? Do you require
others to not only believe like you, but be like you?
Let’s face it. Most of us actually assume we can
fit God into our tiny heads. And when that happens, our church
becomes a "ghetto of truth." It becomes a "cult."
Truth, after all, cannot be reduced to the
"opinion" of any one person or any one group. And, the God of
History cannot be permanently anchored to the "vote" of any one
subculture or any one era.
Yes, there is One Truth! We see its signs in the
merging of differing perspectives—in the unity of diverse notions—in
a network of manifold meanings—in a system of distinct parts. We
recognize these signs when multiple impressions support and
corroborate each other—when varied revelations verify and validate
each other—when isolated beliefs bring richness and relevance to
And we find these mutual agreements even among
mutual disagreements—among apparently contradictory or uncongenial
Then, as a result, we sense a greater picture, an
integrated whole, a belief-mosaic. Eventually, this mosaic becomes a
vast relevance, an overarching pattern, a universal significance. .
. . . systems resting within systems—networks
nesting within networks.
These patterns of Truth are like holograms where
a single part evokes the whole, and the whole is in the part. They
are like the Internet where each link leads to the same vast web of
relationships. They are like a kaleidoscope where continually
changing patterns reflect something that never changes.
They are like a great polyphonic choir where
multiple melodies weave soaring similarities and where mingling
consonances sound significant because of equally significant
dissonances. Or, they are like exquisite choreographies where
individual dancers celebrate the same Great Dance.
And, if you are a scientist, these patterns of
Truth are like forward-looking physics where previously incompatible
theories eloquently converge in one, unified theory of the Universe.
Such patterns are not mere coincidence or
serendipitous luck. Nor are they the modern idea of "pattern" where
everything reduces to one, exclusive idea. Neither are they the
postmodern notion of "pattern" where anything goes. And, finally,
they are not the Eastern mysticism of "pattern" where we embrace the
whole, but destroy the parts.
Instead, these patterns represent dynamic,
flexible systems—worlds teeming with links and minglings. And we’re
part of them! When whole systems and their parts—including
us!—mutually determine one another, they take on powerful and
Yet, paradoxically, these patterns do not reflect
many "truths." They reflect One Truth.
The Web of Life
Life is relationship. Wherever we see life, we
see patterns or networks of relationships.
And, we know when these connections touch us. An
apparent coincidence, as example, may suggest a "bigger picture,"
consistent and coherent within itself. And we sympathetically
respond. We sense a bond between what we feel and something real
"out there." Further, we feel at home.
And, moreover, these bonds yield pleasure upon
Contrary to modern "logic," this is exactly the
way the brain works. The brain’s biology demands endless patterns.
Or, put another way, this is exactly the way the mind thinks. The
mind’s versatile and variable nature requires endless links.
Our thinking, in other words, is meditative. It
is a seemingly random series of serendipitous revelations with
multiple feedback loops. We could also describe these loops as
"to-and-fro" movements: We think in related images which give light
to the whole. Then, increased revelation from the whole gives light
to still more related images. Of course, each return or "loop"
generates a more complete picture.
This may seem like pandemonium for those who
preach a "proper" linear logic. Yet, chaos or information overload
"leads to pattern-recognition."1
Not surprising, then, this kind of thinking also
forms the basis for our beliefs. Faith, after all, is a mosaic of
belief—a process of truth—a web of conviction. When our individual
convictions support and corroborate each other, our confidence
grows. Our faith is affirmed in a myriad of ways, and the
affirmations just keep coming.
These affirmations reveal, in turn, a "bigger
picture," a greater web of remembering where we know things we
didn’t know we knew.
"Every comprehension of a whole acknowledges the
reality of it."2
A "Holy Holograph"
Scripture confirms this pattern recognition, for
Scripture is "relational" Truth. Its truths converge—its messages
interact—its "fruit of the Spirit" relate.
Granted, Scripture speaks with a multitude of
voices—sometimes even contradictory voices. It admits "many-sided
wisdom," "infinite variety," and "innumerable aspects."3
It concedes "many separate revelations," mere "portions" of Truth,
and the "different ways" God speaks through the prophets.4
Yet, these diverse voices (even conflicting
voices) do not mean we’ve lost the unity or the universal authority
of Scripture. For Spirit still speaks with one voice. That’s why
Paul wrote, "In Him all things consist (cohere, are held together)."5
God remains, after all, all in all.
Multiples, mosaics, and many-sided metaphors have
more in common with the origin of our faith than with the modern
traditions of our culture. Meditative, circular dialogues have more
in common with early prophetic voices than with today’s
production-line ideas. And biblical glory has more incommon with the
contextual beauty of the first believers than with the intellectual
"beauty" of the latest, literal "believers."
God’s Kingdom, after all, is a "holy holograph."
In many separate revelations [each of which set forth a
portion of the Truth] and in different ways God spoke of old
to [our] forefathers in and by the prophets.6
Pulling Things Together
Pattern recognition—the multilingual voice of
God—poses no threat to the minds of the future. For, once again,
prophetic voices are seeking signs of Truth in open-ended
connections, multiple lines of "reasoning," and interrelated
beliefs. They are moving beyond modern signs of "truth"—narrow
"truths"—ghettos of "truth."
In doing so, they are pulling things together
rather than tearing them apart.
The minds of the future are also moving beyond
the postmodern loss of Truth, the shared delusions of subjectivity,
and the seas of disconnected dots. In doing so, they are seeing
links of significance, connected dots, and the whole in the parts.
They are also discovering individual perspectives, unique
interpretations, and inspired points of view that are not without a
Metanarrative—not without a Universal Story.
In short, they are discovering the signs of a new
"how-we-know" holism—the patterns of a new transcendence—the unity
of a new Incarnation.
© 2010 Thomas Hohstadt
1. Marshall McLuhan, quoted in Derrick de Kerckhove, The Skin
of Culture (Toronto: Somerville House Publishing, 1995) p. 151.
2. Michael Polanyi, Personal Knowledge: Towards a
Post-Critical Philosophy (Chicago: The University of Chicago
Press, 1958) p.344.
3. Ephesians 3:10, The Amplified Bible.
4. Hebrews 1:1, The Amplified Bible.
5. Colossians 1:17, The Amplified Bible.
6. Hebrews 1:1, The Amplified Bible.