I'm very familiar with religious cults, from a professional perspective (as a former pastor and chaplain) and from counseling those trapped in them, trying to help them break free. I've seen signs of cult-like behavior on the extremes of the American political spectrum, but I've never consciously equated the two fields. Now the Federalist makes the resemblance clear.
Consider for a moment today’s culture, which is saturated with the constant agitation of political correctness. It rarely allows for any real discussion or debate without automatic vilification of those deemed politically incorrect. Sadly, this is especially true in the very place where there is a tradition of people expecting to engage in real debate: the college campus.
We can’t deny that political correctness has a lot of disruptive effects on discourse, such as inducing self-censorship that can cause us to feel socially and mentally isolated; manipulation of our basic fear of ostracism through the threat of smears; promotion of mob rule; and an authoritarian nature that promotes the power elites who use it.
Wait, those features are all rather cult-like, no? This acceptance of the anti-thought nature of political correctness is pretty much everywhere: 95 percent of the mass media promote it, 95 percent of celebrity culture promotes it, and obviously, on college campuses, the academics are 95 percent in compliance with political correctness.
You can’t deny that cult-like tribunals against “wrongthink” are pretty much everywhere––in the media, in celebrity culture, in our legislatures, among judges, in human resource departments all over the corporate world, and most obviously, on college campuses, where youth are scared to death of being ostracized for expressing a politically incorrect thought.
Consider also how many Americans mindlessly parrot the perceived popular opinion along with its empty talking points that are never up for debate. In fact, there’s very little debate happening today. When real debate happens, it gets shouted down or pushed into a corner of the internet dubbed the “intellectual dark web.” Increasingly, our minds seem to be operating in a dangerous state of isolation, especially with increasing censorship and control over our conversations by mass media and tech titans. How is such constant censorship not cult-like?
What should most shock us is how often Americans seem to increasingly mimic many of the behaviors of cult recruits: self-censorship, peer-modeled behaviors, emotions ruling their sense of reason, obedience to the mob, and adulation of politically correct idols and celebrities ... Just as cultists check their brains at the door, too many Americans have likewise ceded their right to free speech on the thin promise of freedom from ostracism. That is a bad and dangerous deal that never ends well.
There's more at the link. Highly recommended reading.
I'd like to emphasize that such behavior is not confined to one side of the political aisle. I've seen it - and remarked on it in these pages - on both sides from time to time. I'm always cynically amused by the reactions of some people, who criticize me for daring to call out their side when obviously the problem is entirely and solely on the other side. Either I'm being a goody-two-shoes liberal, or an alt-right supremacist of one kind or another, or whatever. Sorry, but I'm just pointing out the reality of the situation. All of us can behave like cultists over our pet hobby-horses, given a chance . . . and many of us do.
I had the same problem as a pastor. There are fundamentalists who insist that to doubt God or question one's beliefs is a sign that one "isn't saved", or has weak faith. Again, I couldn't disagree more. We're human, with all the fallibility that implies. We need to question the road we're on from time to time, and re-examine where we've come from, and look at where we are now in the light of where we want to be. All too often, we don't undertake any sort of self-examination - or, at least, not an independent, careful, objective one - and so we can be led astray by those of stronger opinions who are in positions of authority or influence over us.
The same applies to blind faith in religious (or other) institutions. Blind faith is always and everywhere dangerous. Never trust anybody or any group to be faithful to the truth, and to what they're supposedly called to be. Rather, monitor their behavior, and see whether or not it comports to what it should be. As Ronald Reagan famously said, "Trust, but verify." If they don't pass the verification test, call them out, and insist that they fix the problem. If they won't . . . vote with your feet, and your wallet.
Think critically, be objective, and question almost everything. It's your life, not someone else's - so don't let them live it for you, or tell you how to live their life instead of yours. That way, you won't fall into the cultist trap.