Think Free


Corinthians, I and II

Ancient Corinth, urban street

Ancient Corinth, urban street (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Corinthians, I and II are letters written by St. Paul to the early Christian community in Corinth. Corinth was the city of Aphrodite, where temples of various Greek deities could be found.

It seems that Paul was concerned about members of the Christian community becoming too individualistic in their faith. Paul emphasizes the ‘body’ of the community, a body with many members. As such, each member has different gifts but belongs to a single body. And those gifts are meaningless if not rooted in unselfish love.

Paul stresses the importance of either unmarried celibacy or married sex, the former being more desirable. Everything else is regarded as sinful. He warns against falling back into idolatry, perhaps due to the community’s precarious location.

Toward the end of the second letter Paul defends himself, Titus and another ‘brother’ against allegations of fraud. Some in the community had voiced concerns that the collection money intended for Jerusalem would be pocketed.

On this point Mike adds:

Something you didn’t mention about 2 Corinthians is that because of the need to defend himself Paul has to describe his ministry. » See in context


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In the ‘original’ (1978) and ‘reimagined’ (2003) versions of the science fiction film and TV program Battlestar Galactica, the Cylons are a mechanical race of beings created by mankind but which have turned on their creator.

Image via Tumblr

In the reimagined TV series, the Cylons may look exactly like human beings. Not unlike the Hal 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey, the Borg and The Matrix, Cylons symbolize the possibility of mankind becoming endangered by machines. And on the sociological level, Cylons could be taken to represent the very real issues of depersonalization, alienation and, as sociologist Max Weber put it, the bureaucratization and rationalization of human beings in contemporary society. Not only that. As the above poster suggests, Cylons could represent hostile spies in otherwise healthy societies.

The background story to the Cylons is pretty complicated. It’s actually quite amazing how thoroughly the Battlestar Galactica writers fleshed out – maybe not the best metaphor in this instance – their identity.¹

The word Cylon, itself, stems from an actual Athenian nobleman.

¹ Especially in the reimagined series:

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Odysseus and his men blinding the cyclops Poly...

Odysseus and his men blinding the cyclops Polyphemus. Detail of the “Eleusis amphora”, a proto-attic work, c. 650 BC, museum of Eleusis, Inv. 2630. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Cyclops [Greek cyclops: round-eyed] – In Greek mythology, the Cyclopes are one-eyed giants, often employed as smiths and associated with volcanoes.

The cyclops appear in several ancient literature sources. In Homer‘s Odyssey, the Cyclops Polyphemus is tricked and eventually blinded by Odysseus. In anger Polyphemus tries to destroy Odysseus’ crew by tossing huge rocks at their ship during their narrow escape.

Although they have one eye, the cyclops should not be confused with the Asian idea of the “third eye” or, for that matter, with the Christian idea of the “single eye.”¹ Not to say that these ideas are identical. They’re not. The Hindu Siva, for example, burns his enemies to ashes with a heat ray that emanates from this third eye.²  By way of contrast, Jesus Christ never advocates this kind of violence. Even if they’re not the same, these two images of the single eye, Hindu and Christian, do share the connotation of some kind of privileged spiritual perspective.

By way of contrast, Wikipedia says this about the cyclops:

They were giants with a single eye in the middle of their forehead and a foul disposition. According to Hesiod, they were strong, stubborn, and “abrupt of emotion”. Collectively they eventually became synonyms for brute strength and power, and their name was invoked in connection with massive masonry.³

This clearly isn’t about spiritual insight. However, the cyclops do fashion thunderbolts (as weapons) for Zeus’ purposes. But they’re just the tool makers. It’s Zeus who decides how his thunderbolts should be used in the cosmic battleground.


² Many Hindus, of course, would argue that Siva’s death ray is only aimed at the inferior deities, these symbolizing the inferior aspects of the self.  An excellent book about Siva in Hindu mythology is Siva: The Erotic Ascetic by Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty


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Marble statuette of the Cybele from Nicaea in ...

Marble statuette of the Cybele from Nicaea in Bithynia (Istanbul Archaeology Museum), wearing the polos on her head (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Cybele was a Mother Goddess with local manifestations in Asia Minor, Greece and Rome. Some scholars believe that she originated in Anatolia around 6000 BCE. She appears in literature and sculpture from about the 5th century BCE onward. She presides over the gods, humans and beasts.

The lion was her sacred symbol. In statues, reliefs and coins she’s often depicted seated on a throne with a lion on either side.

Sir William Smith in his Smaller Classical Dictionary says

The Corybantes were her enthusiastic priests, who with drums, cymbals, horns, and in full armour, performed their orgiastic dances. In Rome the Galli were her priests.¹

In Rome she was introduced as an official state religious figure and hence closely regulated and officiated by upper class priests.

Today, some people are drawn to her cult and, perhaps, numinous power – or what they believe is her numinous power. So her worship continues in the 21st century among New Age and neoPagan religious groups.²

¹ Sir William Smith, Smaller Classical Dictionary [revised by E. H. Blakeny and JohnWarrington], New York: Dutton, 1958.

² See

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Cupid and Psyche

Cupid and Psyche (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Cupid ((Latin Cupido, “desire”) comes under many guises. As the Roman god of Love, he’s the son of Venus.

The 2nd century Latin writer Apuleus portrays him in The Golden Ass as the lover of Psyche. But the timeless tale of Cupid and Pscyhe goes back at least to the 4th century BCE, where its depicted in Greek art.

Depth psychologists have much to say about the relationship between Cupid and Psyche. In Jungian archetypal psychology Psyche is taken as the cold, somewhat icy soul in need of a “shattering” or “melting” from the warm, sensitive Cupid. Cupid, on the other hand, risks utter destruction unless Psyche’s gaze is tempered with love.

In the language of symbols, the successful union of Cupid and Psyche represents a fruitful togetherness, not unlike the Yin and the Yang, love and knowledge or affection and wisdom.

In art Cupid is usually depicted naked. He’s often winged with bow and arrow, wearing a boyish or cherub-like countenance.

In folklore, Cupid, like the Indian kama, afflicts human beings with a proverbial “dart to the heart.” His marks invariably fall in love or become filled with desire for another person. His chief mythic parallel is the Greek god Eros.

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Culture Hero

A modern day trickster via Tumblr

A culture hero is a prominent figure within a given society, often taking the form of a mythical person or animal with roots in ancient or proto-history.

In some instances the culture hero is a trickster, using wiles and well-intentioned disguises to save the community from some grave peril.

The culture hero may also be a real person inspiring a stagnant or perhaps ethically corrupted society, such as a rock star, a film star, an inventor, a discoverer, an admired politician or monarch, and so on.

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Cults (and Religions)

Image via Z_D_ at Tumblr

Cults and Religions – What’s the difference?

Many debate the differences between religion and cults. Some say there’s no difference. In other words, religions are cults and cults are religions. But this kind of thinking arguably doesn’t do justice to the complexities of faith and the supernatural.

One difference seems to be that, in a cult, a charismatic leader is undeservedly glorified. Some say that this would make Abraham, Jesus Christ, Mohammad, Buddha and Mahavira cult leaders. But cults also display a relatively short longevity (after the leader dies, the cult dwindles away). This didn’t happen in Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism or Jainism. So they can’t be called cults by that standard.

Another difference is that cults typically isolate new members from their families and unbelievers. Religions tend to be less drastic, with most (not all, mind you) accepting interfaith relationships.

Steven Hassan, an expert on cults, says

Since all destructive cults believe that the ends justify the means, they believe themselves to be above the law. As long as they believe that what they are doing is “right” and “just,” many of them think nothing of lying, stealing, cheating, or unethically using mind control to accomplish their ends. They violate, in the most profound and fundamental way, the civil liberties of the people they recruit. They turn unsuspecting people into slaves. ¹

Others say the difference between religions and cults is a matter of degree, especially with those religions and cults that attract, institutionally legitimize and reproduce authoritarian personality types and the legalistic beliefs and structured practices that these individuals participate in.

In these instances, religious or cultic affiliation apparently provides a convenient means for the psychologically immature to overlook unresolved emotional issues. Accordingly, some critics of religion maintain that religious affiliation provides a safe but essentially cowardly means for unleashing centuries of culturally and perhaps genetically inherited anger onto those who don’t wish to sacrifice their free will to the dictates of an institution.  These critics say that most religious institutions must incorporate (or reject) new developments within the context of their limiting teachings and traditions.

This too, seems somewhat simplistic. For religious believers will often say they are fully choosing to cooperate with God’s will as progressively revealed to them within their particular religious organization. Apparently there’s a richness in their spiritual life that the secular critics just don’t get. And individuals belonging to orgqanizations seen by outsiders as cults often say the same thing. “You don’t understand…”

This can make it difficult to tell the difference between a religion and a cult. Meanwhile, many new religions are cropping up. And some say they’re nothing more than cheap covers created by creepy masterminds aiming to get tax breaks on donations made by gullible believers.

When in doubt, draw a chart

One of the definitions for “cult” in Merriam-Websters dictionary is: “a religion regarded as unorthodox or spurious; also : its body of adherents.”

The following chart compares some of the main beliefs and practices found within religions and cults. This is not the final word. The items in each column don’t universally apply and many of the distinctions made in this chart are debatable. In keeping with the classical sociologist Max Weber, however, this chart offers ideal types.

Ideal types are generalized constructs. They don’t provide precise definitions and they’re not comprehensive. But they are thought-provoking. And that’s their main purpose.



  • Glorification of God (or for Pagans,gods/goddesses, often said to be different manifestations of God)
  • Revealed truth claims
  • Prophecy, especially but not necessarily in the past
  • Primacy of Love (for God and neighbor)
  • Heavenly, cosmic and/or social justice
  • Emphasis on freedom and free choice to humbly cooperate with a divine plan
  • Emphasis on God’s mercy
  • Inherent human dignity
  • Life a priceless gift from God
  • Human beings created slightly lower than angels (Catholicism)


  • Glorification of charismatic leader holding a particular theory about truth and demanding absolute loyalty to themselves and organization
  • Revealed truth claims
  • Prophecy
  • Primacy of cult’s survival (unless group is suicidal, in which case it survives in another world or cosmic plane)
  • Emphasis on blind obedience
  • May emphasize punishment and/or impending doom
  • Human beings inferior or underdeveloped compared to cosmic entity or entities embodied or mediated by leader


  • Officiated by priests, pastors, ministers,rabbis, imams, or equivalent (may or may not be hierarchical)
  • Use of a sacred text(s) describing moral truths and often archaic cosmology
  • Usually congregate at specific buildings (e.g.temple, mosque, church)
  • Often involves rites, sacraments, or festivals
  • May involve worldly sacrifice for spiritual causes and rewards
  • Group and private prayer
  • Mystical but not magical component (except Pagans often say “‘white magic” is religious)
  • Messages from a single leader, possibly disseminated by an inner circle
  • Use of text(s) describing truth, often with an abundance of hard-to-prove cosmic theories (e.g.Earth was seeded by aliens)
  • Based on an extreme scenario (e.g. world is”evil” or “primitive”)
  • May involve orgiastic ceremonies, chanting,dancing, and mind-altering substances
  • Involves worldly sacrifice for spiritual causes and rewards
  • Group or private prayer to the leader or the being/energy he or she allegedly embodies (e.g.aliens, wise eternals, etc.)


  • Missionary work and potential converts welcomed(except in traditional Hinduism, where one can only be born a Hindu)
  • Limited theological debate permitted
  • Pilgrimage (essential, advantageous, or accepted)
  • Actively concerned with social betterment, charity and building a community of believers
  • Involves almsgiving and donations for missionary activity
  • Pedagogy, scholarship, scripture reading, cultural and artistic events
  • Clearly proscribed ethical guidelines
  • Economic support through members
  • Meditation, contemplation, prayer
  • Unethical recruitment style, including deception and false promises
  • Discussion and democratic change forbidden–critical outsiders “don’t understand”
  • Members exploited for free or inexpensive labor
  • Separated from the outside world
  • Previous family ties severed
  • Members adopt new names and family identity
  • Manipulation of members’ emotions, hopes and dreams
  • Often ruthless methods of control
  • Selling of magical elixirs and/or ill-founded philosophies
  • Leader coldly views recruits as”investments” instead of free human beings
  • Subtle or aggressive brainwashing

Ideal Attitude

  • Loving God and others
  • Avoidance of selfishness
  • Humility
  • Enhancement of individuality (except for some Hindu and Buddhist meditative ideals of negating individuality in Brahman or Nirvana, respectively)
  • Loving obedience to leader and cause
  • Psychological and financial dependency
  • Possibility of arrogance (i.e. “we know best”)
  • Loss of individuality


  • Organization continues and often grows after death of founder (Weber calls this the ‘routinization of charisma’ but this overlooks the idea that genuine Spirit may continue to inform and inspire a religious community throughout the course of history)
  • Finances usually or partially open to public scrutiny (e.g. figures are posted in Catholic parish bulletins but the Vatican Bank isn’t open to public scrutiny)
  • Violence condoned in extreme situations (e.g. The Just War)
  • Organization usually has relatively short longevity-dwindles after death of founder
  • Finances concealed
  • Sometimes former members speak of a cult’s alleged use of scare tactics through financial or physical threats
Above chart elaborates on many sources, including Gregg Stebben’s Everything You Need to Know About Religion (The Pocket Professor, Denis Boyles ed., New York: Pocket Books, 1999: 25-26).

¹ Steven Hassan, Combatting Cult Mind Control, Rochester: Park Street Press, 1988, p. 36.

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