Monday, December 20, 2010

Is the Zeitgeist Movement a cult?

Is the Zeitgeist Movement a cult?
By Neil Kiernan a.k.a VTV

Where did the accusations start that the Zeitgeist Movement was a cult? Well as most unfounded statements about the Zeitgeist movement it usually starts with someone who is angry because they were banned from the forums for being jerks. The next phase of this generally leads to them going from being ardent supporters of the RBE and TZM to suddenly needing to find ways to demonize the thing that “rejected” them. It's not uncommon for people to do this. Though it is not exactly rational. Generally people who have to resort to such aggressive conversational tactics have a lot of un-expressed anger. So they lash out at people they are debating with. And when they are called to task for doing so, they scream “authoritarian” at the people telling them to stop. Because after all they don't want to be told what to do. (Never realizing of course that by attacking someone they are trying to dominate them psychologically and therefore are seeking to take authority over them.)

On my show we have been over that topic many times. And am working on a film project to cover it even more in depth. The reason I sought to review it was because we needed to get at the core causes of why this “Oh yeah! Well your a CULT!” nonsense generally starts. They are angry for being in their minds “rejected” because of their aggressive behavior. So now it's time to ad hominem the group that cast them out to protect their pride. The irony that generally what caused them to leave was not that they suddenly saw flaws in the RBE itself. Just that they don't like being asked not to be bullies on the forums. But of course suddenly they hate the RBE too.

It reminds me of an angry kid who is told he can't be part of a club some of his friends have formed so they say with anger: "Oh yeah!??? Well I didn't want to be part of your stupid club anyway!!!" Then they might go form their own club in retaliation. -cough RBOSE COUGH!-

So the accusations of “cult” emerge. I have ignored this entire concept for some time because it seriously sounded so silly I didn't even feel it needed to be addressed. In my recent debates I decided to debunk it entirely. It didn't take long. It was then however that it occurred to me that most people didn't even really understand how subjective this concept of “cult” was and therefore it was very easy to cast a dark shadow on anything by using that word. This is largely because of the vague nature of the concept.

One of the books that Jacque Fresco strongly recommends is “They Tyranny of Words” by Stuart Chase. If your interested in the book you can find it on for a decent price.

Anyway, one of the major things that Mr. Chase covers in the book is that words generally have many meanings and psychological effects. And rarely do you have any idea what someone actually means when they use a word to convey a concept. People's idea of what a word means is highly influenced by their culture and environment when they learned the word. There are all sorts of other factors with it.

Take the word “Communism”. Say that word out loud in the United States and people get a negative feeling right away. Say the word “Capitalism” in Soviet Russia and you would of gotten the same reaction. There was a reason for that. It was that people on both of these sides had a vested interest to psychologically condition the people in their perspective countries to dislike the ideology of the other country. Thus, the “cold war”.

I remember for years growing up during the “cold war” being told that Communism was bad. Though for years I never really understood why, or even what Communism was. This was also to the benefit of the people propagandizing Communism. If you say something is bad enough people will feel socially compelled to go along with that. I mean after all, if a lot of people say something is bad it MUST be bad right? Especially if they said it on TV!

There are a lot of other words that have been “charged” by our culture to have negative connotations. Say the word “democrat” and this generally leads you to “liberal” which is considered synonymous with “socialist”. Which is in turn synonymous with “communist”. See how that works? And what is the word “communist” associated with? Well generally with “fascist”. So now by calling someone a democrat in some circles this also means they are a fascist. It conjures up images of gulags, Stalin, an evil oppressive regime that spies on you with the KGB and sends you to prison in Siberia. And that is EXACTLY what their opposition want. There is a similar set of reactions you get with “republican”. Generally means “rich”, “greedy”, etc.

Now how do these associations measure up with reality? Without going into the Socialist/Communist tangent too much further, I would point out that all of the socialists I have ever spoken to, Paddy Shannon and Brian Moore being two of them, one of whom is a well known filmmaker, and the other is a former presidential candidate for the socialist party, neither of them had any support for the idea of fascism. Or totalitarianism. In fact, both of them had a great deal of respect for personal freedom. They just felt that people would have a lot more freedom and quality of life in a world where resources were shared equally rather then being owned by a few people who demand servitude out of anyone who wants to have access to what they need to survive.

So what does all this mean to the concept of “cult”?

The word “cult” has all sorts of negative attitudes associated with it. People immediately are taken to thoughts of the Branch Davidians who burned to death in Waco Texas in an alleged mass suicide. Or the Jones-town cult that drank “the kool-aid” to kill themselves. The bizarre practices of the church of Scientology,(A note: Not all Scientology followers are in the "church") Bohemian Grove, etc. The problem with the word cult is that it's definition is so loose that it is very easy to throw that word at anyone, or rather any group of people who hold a similar idea. We will get into that directly. But the word is not even always used in a negative light. A movie can have a “cult following”. And when someone makes that distinction they generally don't mean that there is some religious sect of people worshiping the film, or it's actors, etc. And sometimes it just refers to any group of people who happen to like a given concept, or thing. “The Kiss Army” affectionately refers to the “cult” that follows the rock band “Kiss”. They love their music and their image so collectively they have this in common.

So, does this mean that all “Kiss” fans would drink Kool-aid and kill themselves with Cyanide if Gene Simmons asked them to? Or even most of them? Or even any?

Does it mean that the “cult following” of the original “Highlander” film would be willing to burn themselves and their children to death if the writer Gregory Widen asked them to?

(Note: I don't doubt that people have done some stupid things and associated it with either of these things. But that is individual crazy people, and is not facilitated by the groups in question. A crazy stalker killing someone to impress their object of obsession is obviously not the fault of the object in question.)

So, lets break down what the word “cult” means.

1. a particular system of religious worship, esp. with reference to its rites and ceremonies.

2. an instance of great veneration of a person, ideal, or thing, esp. as manifested by a body of admirers: the physical fitness cult.

3. the object of such devotion.

4. a group or sect bound together by veneration of the same thing, person, ideal, etc.

5. (From Sociology.) a group having a sacred ideology and a set of rites centering around their sacred symbols.

6. a religion or sect considered to be false, unorthodox, or extremist, with members often living outside of conventional society under the direction of a charismatic leader.

7. the members of such a religion or sect.

8.any system for treating human sickness that originated by a person usually claiming to have sole insight into the nature of disease, and that employs methods regarded as unorthodox or unscientific.

OK, looking at each of these individually, lets examine them and compare them to the Zeitgeist movement.

1. a particular system of religious worship, esp. with reference to its rites and ceremonies.

6. a religion or sect considered to be false, unorthodox, or extremist, with members often living outside of conventional society under the direction of a charismatic leader.

7. the members of such a religion or sect.

5. Sociology. a group having a sacred ideology and a set of rites centering around their sacred symbols.

The Zeitgeist movement does not advocate religion at all. In fact, if anything it is counter religion. Though being non-religious is not a condition of being involved in the Zeitgeist movement it is a predominantly atheist movement solely because we value the scientific method, not religion and not superstition as the arbiter of decision making. People are free to have their own beliefs. And so long as they are not advocating something theocratic, as in the idea that their religion should have a place in making laws for other people to be forced to follow, we don't care.

In the world we propose, people would be free to pursue whatever religion they want. And as I pointed out during the Rudy Davis interview, we would not be making any laws nor would we ever advocate laws being made to force someone to be atheist. Or not to practice any religion.

However, we also would not be willing to stand by and allow them to make laws to force other people to participate in their religious practices. We won't pass laws against women wearing scarves on their heads. But we also won't allow laws to be passed to force women to wear scarves on their heads.

For some people not being willing to help them be fanatic alone means that we therefore want to take their freedom away. That is too bad but it is not logical.

I have had to deal recently with someone who insists that because there are some sources quoted in the first Zeitgeist movie that quote from various pagan religions that we therefore advocate paganism. I had to explain to him (over and over) that the sources in the first film were to compare religions and how they were similar in an attempt to prove that Christianity itself was not anymore “divinely inspired” then any of of the pagan religions it copied.

We have also had to deal with some people who have suggested that because Jiddu Krishnamurti was in the beginning of the second film that therefore we advocated the theosophical society. The theosophical society was yet another religious group that you could call a “cult”. And apparently they worshiped a god they called “Lucifer”. Jiddu Krishnamurti left the group and went on to pursue philosophy on his own. The problem with these never ending distinctions is they of course only quote the ones that are helpful to their quest to prove we are some sort of evil sun worshiping cult.

For example, the first Zeitgeist film starts with a recording of a devout Buddhist named Trungpa Ripoche. Are we therefore a Buddhist movement?

Among the sources of the first Zeitgeist film is also “The King James Version of the Holy Bible” We also frequently quote Martin Luther King Jr. and obviously we are not a Christian movement.

The references to religion in the Zeitgeist movement are for the purpose of showing that all religions are questionable. And false institutions. And that superstition is irrelevant. And generally founded on nonsense. If we were some cult trying to get people to worship Lucifer, or advocate the occult it would be somewhat counter-productive to state that all religions are BS. (And I don't mean bad science). And to encourage people not to worship anything. Much less Lucifer.

I also had to explain (over and over) that the first film is not relevant to the Venus Project or the Zeitgeist Movement. Jacque Fresco himself although atheist does not endorse the first film. If you want proof of that you can find it on my website during my interview with him in Florida that I have uploaded to YouTube.

He kept insisting that since the first Zeitgeist film had occult or allegedly Luciferian authors in it's list of sources that therefore our movement was based on satanic ideas. Finally, I point blanked the individual and asked them where in the Zeitgeist Orientation guide (or any publication talking about the movement or the Venus project) that it suggested that members of the Zeitgeist Movement venerated Lucifer or suggested that people should? He of course could not find that anywhere. This would be because we are not a religious movement and do not suggest anyone be religious. Ever. If our goal was to spread Lucifer worship it would of been pretty easy to state that.

So concluding this part, the Zeitgeist movement is not a religion. Does not advocate a religion. Does not encourage religious practices. Has no rituals. Or ceremonies. We obviously don't have any “sacred ideology” and do not have any “sacred symbols” because we don't believe in the concept of anything being “sacred” because we don't believe in religion. And that basically disqualifies it from all of the negative connotations that are generally brought up when using the world “cult” in the derogatory.

So what about this one?

2. an instance of great veneration of a person, ideal, or thing, esp. as manifested by a body of admirers: the physical fitness cult.

A lot of people in TZM do admire Jacque Fresco for his work. Nobody is building any shrines to him. Nobody believes he is God. Or mystical. I know people who admire Muhammad Ali for his boxing prowess. That doesn't mean they worship him. So, religion again is out of the way here.

But as the definition provides a non-religious example in the “physical fitness cult” we come to the non-negative connotations of the word “cult”. Being devoted to physical fitness is not a bad thing. Being a “Kiss” fan is not a bad thing. This is where the word gets very subjective. Because you could say neo-nazis are basically the cult that venerates Adolph Hitler and his racist ideology. And obviously that is not a good thing. But it's still not religious.

But when you really look at this closely, cults seem to be everywhere.

The Republican Party. The Democratic Party. The Socialist Party. (In fact, just about every political party could be considered a “cult”. )

Labor Unions. The Feminist movement. The civil rights movement. Any organization that advocates certain principles. Hell, the Salvation Army is a “cult” by that condition. Charitable organizations are cults by that definition. The list goes on and on and on.

The reason we run into trouble, is as demonstrated in “The tyranny of words” there are often multiple meanings and multiple spins on any word or concept.

The Zeitgeist movement like any other group that suggests a certain ideology has people who oppose that ideology and seek to therefore actively oppose it. And propaganda is a powerful tool for defaming an ideology. So very much like the word “communist” being used to attack socialists, the word “cult” is used to attack us. Only it's worse. Because anything can be a “cult” if more then one person is interested in it.

So, by this definition. Allow me to direct your attention to a few “cults” out there.

The anti-conspiracy cult. We can use the Conspiracy Science forum users as an example. A group of people who collectively feel strongly about a certain set of ideals. Are very abusive to people who oppose those ideas. In fact they spend hours and hours of their lives stalking into the personal lives of people who advocate what they oppose in order to defame them.

The Free Market Capitalism cult. Some have called it the “Cult of Ayn Rand”. Again a group of people who collectively feel strongly about a certain set of ideals. Are very abusive to people who oppose those ideas.

Here is the difference. Since I have a habit of being fair where those who call us a “cult” do not. I do not believe that either of these groups has rituals, or a specific religious belief. Though they can both be rather fanatical to the point of being irrational. I don't see either of them passing out Kool-aid with cyanide in it to end their lives in protest of a world where some people believe in conspiracy theories or don't think the Free Market is a good solution either.

But when these people try and make that distinction when it comes to us they take advantage of this association of words to suggest that we are some sort of “Jones-town cult drinking the Kool-aid.”

Even though we as a movement hold no religious beliefs at all.


8. Any system for treating human sickness that originated by a person usually claiming to have sole insight into the nature of disease, and that employs methods regarded as unorthodox or unscientific.

In Zeitgeist Addendum, Peter points out that science took us from believing that demons caused disease, to modern medicine. And obviously we do not advocate methods that are unscientific.

While I have seen some members of the Zeitgeist Movement who are against vaccination. Or are Vegan, or whatever none of those ideas are held by the movement itself. If vaccinations do not work then science will prove that. If being Vegan is the way then science will prove that. But neither of these things are a belief that is currently advocated by the Zeitgeist Movement or the Venus Project.

In conclusion:

It is very easy to call any group of people who hold a similar ideology a “cult”. It is also something that because of it's subjective nature can be difficult to disprove. But as I have demonstrated in this article the world “cult” has many definitions that refer to groups of people for different reasons.

The “religious cult” does not apply.

The concept of a “social cult” or group of people who happen to hold the same ideology or admire certain people for holding that ideology applies to a LOT of organizations. And is not by any means directly related to the idea of the “religious cult”. “Kiss” fans come from all different religions, from cultures all over the world. And members of the Zeitgeist Movement tend not to be religious, and do also come from cultures all over the world.

So if someone wanted to say that there was a “cult following” of Jacque Fresco they could say the same thing of the “cult of Barack Obama”. Or the “cult of Ghandi”. Or the “cult of the civil rights movement” that tended to admire Martin Luther King. These distinctions can be made just as easily as the “cult of Adolph Hitler”.

In essence, the word “cult” is so flexible in what it means that anyone who has really considered it should have a hard time taking anyone seriously who tries to use it as an attack.

As stated in Wikipedia:

“The word originally denoted a system of ritual practices. The narrower, derogatory sense of the word is a product of the 20th century, especially since the 1980s, and is considered subjective.”

Subjective, meaning that it can mean a lot of things to a lot of people and is therefore not in of itself a concept that is solid in it's foundations.


  1. "The bizarre practices of Scientology" and you put that in the same sentences as the Bohemian grove.

    You are doing the same thing as the bashers are doing to you. You are assuming what you hear in the reports on the web is true for all Scientologists which I am not one of the church. I am very unhappy you are doing the same thing as the bashers are doing.

    Please get correct facts before you say these things. The St. Petersburg times does so and other respected news reports have done so. The put a difference between the independents and the church.

    I thought you would not do this and I supported you whole heartedly this past year. I expected better from you.

    If the VP picks at groups like this it will not grow.

    We have nothing to do with the Bohemian Grove or their suppressive harmful practices.

    We work via auditing which is a personal counseling to help people be more of them selves and shed stuff that is not themselves and often you get a shining new happy person out of it.

    The church type is black Scientology for profit, power and gain of the leader of the cult.

    I ask you kindly learn to differentiate.


  2. When some say the Zeitgeist Movement is a cult or communist I usually just say,"Let's say most Nazis liked cookies, I like cookies. Does that make me a Nazi?".

    People just does not seam to understand that almost everything can be said to be anything if you just use word that have no solid meaning in todays society.

  3. Not much is changed. It still appears we approve of the church's actions. We do not do anything bizarre. We expose the church as well as the critics do.

    It is called the Freezone and Independents. Lately I like the term Independents. Some may have their beliefs but in time I consider that will go away due to being away from that suppresive group.

    We do not support the church nor it's actions. You parentheses do not state this.

    We don't have slave camps or beat the people or take a person's last dime or their homes.

    What is done is people work to have counseling. At the upper levels it is considered spiritual counseling but the lower levels is every day self examination.

    So it is still linked to the church indirectly.

  4. I agree Barbra Lee. Saying scientologists do bizzare rituals sounds like you havent spoken with scientologists about what they really do. Sure i think the e meter sounds really wierd. BUT that doesnt mean that all they do is wierd. The people saying bad things about them are usually people who left the church.
    You say people that leave the zeitgeist movement becurse they disagree with some things we say and that they say bad things about us becurse theyr just mad at us. Then you must asume people who leaves scientology does just that.

  5. You're absolutely right. Former 'members' like Anticultist simply developed a grudge and use the cult angle to throw even more mud.
    Lately I've been wondering why TZM attracted so many outright trolls. It's a bit strange if you ask me. Maybe some folks feel that new ideas need to be not only challenged but should disappear altogether?

  6. Ed V it's not unique to TZM. Everything that is active on the internet attracts trolls. That's one of the reasons I am making a film to address the act of trolling itself.