Cult Thinking and Queer Thinking as Polar Opposites


First, check out my Introduction to Queer Thinking.  It outlines how queer perspectives exhibit “non-binary” thinking.  Binary thinking is all 1 or 0, black-and-white, all-or-nothing, with no imaginable space in between.  Non-binary thinking celebrates complexity, diversity, and ambiguity that is present everywhere: in nature, in divinity, and in humanity.

Sadly, small cults (like Heaven’s Gate, Jonestown, and the Branch Davidians) have arisen that take the reverse approach, having a strict approach to “truth” and “falsehood,” who’s in and who’s out, etc.  There is no place for a spectrum in their narrow worldview.  That leads to my main thesis: Cult thinking is very binary, and queer thinking is very non-binary.  As such, they are polar opposites.  (Of course, as a queer thinker, I’m not going to say that every person or organization is all one or the other.  That would be ironically contradictory!  Every institution (political, religious, and educational) has elements of both binary and non-binary thought, and no group can or should be all one or the other.  As such, this post is not out to criticize or praise any particular political party or religious organization.  But it does show the poles at both ends, and I’m expressing a preference for one end of the spectrum over the other.)

Here are some contrasts:

Cult thinking is intolerant of ambiguities and complexities.
Queer thinking thrives in ambiguities, overlaps, blurry spots, and blends.

Cult thinking maximizes expectations and obligations.
Queer thinking encourages non-conformity to expectations and obligations. (Cult thinking usually involves black and white/all or nothing dichotomies, especially whether one is “in the group” or not. To be in, you have to be all the way in, and if you are out, you are all the way out and must be avoided. This leads to high levels of conformity.)

Cult thinking has a high emphasis on recruitment, assimilation, and conformity.
Queer thinking has a high emphasis on support of the “other” as they are and loves diversity.

Cult thinking subordinates the good of the individual to the good of the group.
Queer thinking subordinates the good of the group to the good of the individual. (In queer thought, minorities should do what’s authentic and right for them, even if it makes things uncomfortable for a larger group.  I should add that queer thinking does not at all promote individualistic anarchy.  It does not promote a situation where everyone ideally should fend for themselves.  What it does do is acknowledge that in a situation that is set up for the good of a majority population, for that majority, the good of the individual and the good of the group are aligned, because the society is designed for them.  In that situation, and in that situation only, are people whose needs don’t fit the design of the society justified in finding innovative ways to meet their own peculiar needs and to be true to themselves.  Right now our social world is designed from top to bottom for straight cis people, and LGBTQ people should do what’s right for them, even though it will make things less “pretty” in the eyes of those who wish we were not there.)

In a cult, the group is narrowly focused on a living leader to whom members display excessively zealous, unquestioning commitment.
In the queer world, there is no central authority, and we focus on diversity and celebrate a multiplicity of voices, even when they are contradictory.  We love those ambiguities!

In a cult, insight flows down the pyramid of power.
In queer organizations, insight arises upward from the lived experiences of the individuals, who are the source of knowledge about their reality. (So, even the flow of knowledge and information is backwards between queer and cult thinking.)

Cult thinking leads to isolation and death.
Queer thinking is life-giving and leads to flourishing and growth.

So in all these ways, cult thinking fortifies binaries and categories, and queer thinking dismantles binaries and categories. LGBTQ people should be proud that queer thinking is the opposite of cult thinking, because we are an especially brilliant light to the world, an important safeguard, and an essential part of the checks-and-balances of any society.

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