Netflix has a new documentary series called “Wild Wild Country” about a cult that created/ took over a small town in rural Oregon in the 1980’s. It’s a crazy story, the cinematography is beautiful (except for the animations they add in) and the sound track is pretty on point. If you don’t want any spoilers, you shouldn’t read much further though.
The cult is, like most cults, devoted to a charismatic leader and, later, to his charismatic assistant. They build their own houses, establish their own infrastructure, grow their own food, and essentially create a world of their own.
After years of escalating tension, violence, crime, and dishonesty in the community (I’ll let you watch it to get all the details but, disclaimer, don’t watch it with kids), the cult’s leaders are arrested and the community disbands.
Although by the end of the documentary, you know the cult was an unhealthy environment, you’re left stuck by the devotion of the followers to the community and the joy they found there. Were they brainwashed? Hell yes. Was it a healthy community? Definitely not. But as followers were interviewed immediately following the collapse of the community and even decades later, all held a common view of some things that attracted them to the cult.
Acceptance, belonging, and love were all primary drivers for the people who had ended up radically devoted to this cult. Not acceptance of doctrine or love for the leader primarily, though those were certainly present. But, at a foundational level the devotees of this religious community were there because they felt accepted by others around them, they felt like they belonged to something greater, and they finally felt loved by a group in a way they never had before.
Watching it, I felt pained by the tragedy that it was for thousands of people to seek all those good things in what turned out to be a bad place. I’m not trying to turn this into some grand sermon illustration, but seeing people’s raw desire for care and belonging in the documentary series reminded me of the importance of loving and accepting others in the church and as a Christian. Of course people want love. Of course people want acceptance. Of course people want belonging. I want to grow as a person so that I can show the kind of love, care, and acceptance to others that we all so desperately crave. As a small part of the church, I hope I can contribute to a healthy community that meets people’s most basic needs in so many ways.
Image from The Atlantic